Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Let's Listen: TV to Pocket

at 6:47 PM
The Game Boy saw three generations of Nintendo living room consoles before changing its sound hardware. That means three generations of handheld ports and three generations of ported tunage.

DuckTales 2 - Egypt

NES version:

Game Boy version:

It's easy to assume NES and Game Boy music must be pretty similar. They've both got two melodic channels, a bass channel, and some room for noise and sound samples.

However, right off the bat, you can tell that the instruments in these two have drastically different timbre. The NES version sounds normal, while the Game Boy version exudes, uh... weirdness. The easiest track to spot this is the background bass track. It keeps a simple, rhythmic background melody going to complement the drawn out, wavering main melody. Its unusual sound gives it more prominence in the Game Boy version, however. I'm also not sure why the noise drums are missing from the Game Boy version.

Comparing the two, it's easy to see how we got the unusual Wario Land soundtracks.

Donkey Kong Country and Land - Voices of the Temple

SNES version:

Game Boy version:

Like the previous track, Voices of the Temple aims for a slow, mysterious feel. As you'd expect, the Super Nintendo's sound hardware allowed for greater subtlety, with greater attention to dynamics and instruments that sounded like actual real life things.

But the Game Boy, she didn't have the benefits of superior sound. So, when Rareware took Donkey Kong to Game Boy, they retooled Voices of the Temple to work with the ol' chiptune sound. The track begins with a familiar melody for the first 33 seconds, but from there, it launches into an adventuresome bridge for the next 20 seconds or so. There is a little bit of production to lend the feel of a crumbling ruin (note the echoing), but most of this song's flavor comes from its melody.

Donkey Kong Land's soundtrack is worth remembering if only for its ability to reinterpret the SNES version. Unfortunately, the graphics aren't as graceful, choosing to rip every asset from Donkey Kong Country and paint it in four colors. At its best, it's ugly, and at its worst, it's an unviewable mess.

Magical Tetris Challenge - Minnie's Theme

Nintendo 64 version:

Game Boy Color version:

Just for full disclosure, I don't know the difference between Game Boy and Game Boy Color sound.

I've never been fond of the Nintendo 64's sound in general, but Magical Tetris Challenge makes it sound like a friggin PlayStation. This is the best sound you'll get out of it this side of a Rareware title. Granted, it's also sickeningly poppy. At the very least, it's got a superfunky bass that would make Toejam and Earl jealous. I guess, when you put it all together, it's a soundtrack for people that really like My Sweet Passion.

The Game Boy Color translation is hit or miss. Being a poppy, melody-friendly soundtrack works in Game Boy's favor, meaning that the core of each song easily translates to a square wave. The trouble comes when Capcom tries to approach the richness of the Nintendo 64 music with its overabundance of tracks. Minnie's theme in particular works well because her background tracks remain just that when they're translated to the Game Boy Color. You get some of the Nintendo 64's depth without going overboard.

Unfortunately, there's no Game Boy Color version of Wolf's theme. There is this fan creation, though, using Konami's NES VRC7 sound to capture the appropriate funk.

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