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Today we reach the end of our summer long countdown chronicling the 25 greatest NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: The Duel (Opening)

  1. Ninja Gaiden / Composer : Keiji Yamagishi / Release Year :1989

It’s plausible (indulge me), to say that without Keiji Yamagishi’s 1989 album for Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, the video games industry might not have made it this far, or at the very least, we’d be sitting in a very alternate version of 1985. Story would have remained an afterthought, music in-game treated as some exorbitant luxury: some would have it, and others wouldn’t. It’s that simple. Where certainly there had been fine examples before Yamagishi’s treatise, his peers were indeed vocal: Konami’s 1987 Castlevania and Nintendo’s 1985 classic Metroid immediately spring to mind, neither matched Yamagishi’s fetish for scale .

Ninja Gaiden is one of the first records to truly capture the character of its franchise: loose and nimble, stark and conflicted Ryu Hyabusa is given such an articulate baritone that people stopped dead in the streets, simply to breathe him in. He could be reading penny saver advertisements, Publishers Clearing House propoganda, the latest polls that no one seemed to care about: it didn’t matter; when Yamagishi’s foil was flapping his jaws, the public remained entranced.

You’d heard action and drama scored in games before, but really, you hadn‘t; no one had until Yamagishi’s platter arrived at their door. His union brought something filmic, a depth far beyond the general discord, his sound outclassing even the most high end titles and stymieing, once and for all, the noxious potpourri found to be emanating frequently from Nintendo’s more bottom feeding scores.

Playing back the tapes some 26 years later, you’re still likely to be caught up and transfixed by Yamagishi’s multiple ticks. The tracks aren’t all that long, and they’re quick to reach their refrain, but for what they lack in excess, they replace with a kind of fixation: you’re more than happy, insistent even to hear Ninja Gaiden’s main cues for hours, maybe even to complete nausea. You’re convinced that there is no other way to hear these tunes. I’m here to tell you: of course not, you might miss something, and so what’s another go around?

It’s a dare really, find something better than Yamagishi’s Information and Coercion ; try to top Masked Devil. What intro level music surpasses Pushing Onward? How about Unbreakable Determination? Go ahead, I’ll wait here….(years pass)………..Time’s up!

So, I entreat you, be thankful everyday for Keiji Yamagishi, and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Without them, your idea of video games might have been irrevocably skewed. It’s difficult, I know, but imagine games today being as bare bones and empty as the worst Atari 2600 shovel ware. Those lengthy stories, that character development, that cinematic touch, and of course the music all gone! Crisis averted.

Listen, I hear Yamagishi’s a real sucker for mail and stickers, and I think it’s time we all sent over some thank you cards, don’t you?

Essential Tracks: Information and Coercion/ Evading the Enemy/ Masked Devil / The Duel / Rugged Terrain / Seeking Truth / Unbreakable Determination / Nowhere to Run

Update: Keiji Yamagishi is part of the fantastic creative collective Brave Wave. He currently has a new record that can be found here. Spoiler: it’s incredible!

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Listen: Good Weather

  1. Mr. Gimmick / Composer: Masashi Kageyama / Release Year: 1992

Composer Masashi Kageyama’s score for Sunsoft’s Mr. Gimmick is neither the product of a script, nor of action, nor of canned applause and least of all not something built from a predetermined and circumscribed path. The NES employs a rather hollow core for use in the creation of its music, a stingy meridian that utilizes a pitiful gratuity of sound samples and carries even fewer channels with which to screen its broadcast.

Its design, seemingly in perpetuity, is partially responsible for muddling every composition ever written for it. That is, of course, with the exception of one: Mr. Gimmick. (Gimmick in Japan)

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Listen: Happy Birthday

 Writing for the NES requires constant adaptation, as the movement from organic strings to sound type to numbered values removes a vast number of the elements that make it accessible to the public at large. Not everyone can understand nor decipher, nor appreciate your love for this music, and it is because, for better or worse, the fact is that many of its human elements have been stripped away.

When you think of these compositions, hear them playing, you’re most likely to envision machines, and not the people who actually wrote the songs. One’s personal enjoyment of 8-bit chiptunes is tied to a process of surrender and acceptance, and it is an invitation that few willingly grant passage.

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Listen: Lion Heart

It’s with all of this in mind that I’d like you to forget for a moment the litany of restrictions I’ve just painstakingly described, because as I stated in the beginning, absolutely none of it applies to Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. Catharsis is not a term I’d assign to many of the forebears of this genre, but I do so without reservation. On top of that suspension, I’d like to add an indulgent, rather liberal heaping of praise when it concerns Kageyama’s 1992 score.

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Listen: Slow Illusion

 Again the NES, solely judged on its sound chip, has but a few splintered emotions to explore, and such a small percentage of its composers understood exactly how to fully manipulate it. Kageyama, however, is one of the VERY select few to cultivate such a flush and widely versed terrain of play despite these limitations. While most will hit a particular type of note over the head, beat it to death even (the action game score, the joyous platformer, the haunted house, and the space mission ), Kageyama plays naturally and without repetition in response to changes in the situation, but he’s also a person, a friend who’s alive and in the room: someone you can see, someone you find ease in talking to, and someone you can reach out and touch.

Kageyama realizes, like any truly brilliant musician does ( and I’ve said this many times before), that music cannot be directed nor come from a place of convolution or duplicity: People will always see right through it. It has to be real, and it has to be come with a willingness to speak with and to counsel as many people as is conceivable.

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Listen: Cadbury

Close examination of Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick reveals a deeply personal tale, one that is easily identifiable, but one that’s told with such affably sweet tenderness, and with gentle, but unflinching introspection that it can be emotionally overwhelming. Kageyama speaks at times low, describing the pained frustrations to be found within his own past, things he‘s perhaps not proud of, outbursts he’d rather forget, and if could dial back a clock to a certain moment in time, he’d do so without a second glance. It’s universal.

And yes, I’m getting a sense of all this directly from his score.

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Listen: Just Friends

This is but one single angle of this particular recording though, and many times, more than can accurately be accounted for, he’s prone to beaming. Kageyama is nothing less than effulgent in his recollections, snapshots recalling everything from the bizarre inconsistencies in the shapes and colors of fall leaves, wind on his face during bike rides on isolated strips of road, being surrounded by friends; all their separate bonds, and how during the winter if you stand a VERY certain way, half slouched, hands out to your sides but still in direct sunlight, it can make you forget the cold. His tales fly at you with such charisma and warmth that by the night’s end, you’ve felt you’ve known him your entire life, already sharing inside jokes betweeen the two of you and having exchanged phone numbers, the logical next step is becoming best friends. Kageyama’s happy to oblige.

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Listen: Sophia

 Probing the album even further, you begin to realize how all-encompassing Mr. Gimmick truly is. Our composer shies away from nothing; if it is something to be found in daily life, he’s included it here to sumptuous effect: birthday mornings, falling in love, the paralysis of a sudden tragedy, grades of sunshine, family around a table, afternoon breaks, trying to fall asleep and friendship. There’s more though, throughout Mr. Gimmick’s entirety, its lengthy musical sojurn, Kageyama holds your hand. It is unprecedented, the feeling of closeness that he creates, it’s amplified, radiant even, and it bests the typical separation anxiety that comes with most albums from the NES library. There are no words for it, and it’s the only one of its kind that has ever left me sobbing and in tears.

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Listen: Good Night

So, what makes the difference here? What makes Mr. Gimmick the very best NES soundtrack ever made? Well…there’s a thing about nostalgia, and nostalgia is something that’s tied to each and every game on this list. Let us take an example, The Legend Of Zelda’s over world theme; it’s amazing, but it’s a permanent memory. If you heard it today for the first time, you’d probably still love it very much, but I’m not sure that you’d be able to relate to it as readily as you would to Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. While Zelda’s theme remains completely incredible, my guess is that if you found both Zelda and Mr. Gimmick together in a play list you might in fact skip over Zelda’s theme in favor of Mr. Gimmick. Why?

It’s simple, Zelda is a recollection tied to very specific moments, and in the given scenario you might not exactly be feeling its very explicit pull. Mr. Gimmick on the other hand, regardless of any lingering sentimentality, remains something stunning and unsurprisingly current. Kageyama’s album plays more like the records in your own collection, and when called upon, has the ability to not only scratch the more familiar of your itches, but also encourages further experimentation in the pursuit of new retrospection. It’s what elevates his work over all others. Kageyama’s not the product of some blurring reminiscence, and he’s not stamped by time. He’s physically always going to be there with you when playing his songs. He’s not separated by language, not hamstrung by the actual distance between himself and his audience, and not at all afraid to share with you personally: there‘s both trust, and love there. Masashi Kageyama and his music never seem to concern themselves with the preoccupations of this industry: it is never about dungeons, shoot-outs, evil undead hordes, or aliens…his primary concern is making music that fosters a direct connection with the audience he cares so much about.

He’s happy playing his saxophone, content in between to joke loudly , or listen intently all the while, smiling…the only living boy in New York.

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Listen: Paradigm

It is for all these aforementioned reasons, for his genius and inspiration that Masashi Kageyama and the music for Mr. Gimmick earn without question the award for the Nintendo Entertaiment System’s single greatest soundtrack ever made.

Essential tracks: ALL OF IT…don’t miss a single beat.

Update: At the time of this writing Kageyama is currently in preparations to record a brand new album, his first in years. He’s also joined the spectacular roster of artists commissioned by the wonderful folks at Brave Wave. Please look forward to it.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen : Heat Wave

  1. Bionic Commando / Composer: Junko Tamiya / Release Year 1988

To aptly describe the overwhelming sensation of Junko Tamiya’s Bionic Commando score, I’d like to borrow a lyric from Smog singer-songwriter

Bill Callahan’s tune, Diamond Dancer:

She was dancing so hard, she danced herself into a diamond.. dancing all by herself, and not minding…doing the thing as she dreamed it.

These lines illustrate to perfection the devotion Tamiya placed into this work, realizing that when you deliver to your audience, you don’t deliver silver nor platinum…to those you love, you give diamonds.

Bionic Commando showcases Tamiya’s superb registry of dexterous italics: her sense of extending a dip or climb, that rolling sound at first LONG and gorgeously scenic, but whose final revolution becomes both an intricate coil of serous and choppy flutter, all tracked and sequenced over the top of one other. It’s truly lyrical, and what’s more, Tamiya makes it all sound so effortlessly natural, like the original written notes had not undergone the rigor of translation from strung guitar to compressed sound files

Capcom’s Bionic Commando is also somewhat of a signpost for Kamiya. In under a year, she’d be on board for compositional duties for 1989’s Strider; that same year she’d suture the loose ends that still remained for the iconic Final Fight. She wrote 1990’s Sweet Home, Street Fighter 2010, and finally Little Nemo. This wave of brilliance, rather cruelly, went un-credited, as was common practice in the 80’s. Tamiya spent a considerable amount of her career under the pseudonym Gondamin.

Bionic Commando’s score is an opulently versed yield, a richly potent seed of things present and to come for Tamiya, and as it stands, a critical, a defining moment for the framing of video game portraits as complemented by the color of their soundstripe.

Essential Tracks: Heat Wave / Albatross Encounter / Leap Of Faith / BC theme / Ok, We’ll Move / Intro Film

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Listen: Bubble Man

  1. Mega Man 2 / Composers: Takashi Tateishi / Release Year 1988

In 1988, Capcom composer Takashi Tateishi had every reason to feel emboldened. The scoring work he had done along with his partner Manami Matsumae for Mega Man’s 1987 baptism, effectively wrote the prologue to the eight-bit sound bible, a genre still swaddling about in its infancy.

The reaction to their work resonated with players on such a deep and fundamental level that Tateishi began fielding requests from his fans on the streets. Naturally, some level of hubris and celebrity also seemed to follow suit.

When recording sessions began, for unknown reasons, the pair splintered a-la Sam & Dave, and the duo was a duo no more.

Tateishi was now a single artist, brazen, impudent and determined to deliver THE follow-up expansion to the preface he had co-written almost two years earlier.

Tateishi’s initial scrawls were frenzied, desperate even…a string of stillborn compositions. Banging away on a quickly detuned piano, drifting aimless solos on clarinet and harpsicord…Tateishi, thinking the magic would somehow coalesce quickly, labored over fruitless months.

Tateishi was however under the erroneous belief that the sequel would remain a near facsimile of the original: simple, short and quickly turned around to market. That was until he received THE call: the size of Mega Man 2 would be TRIPLE that of the original.

The melodies he’d abandoned in favor of their truncated version, the multiple act opera he’d dropped because he’d be short on money to pay the troupe of tenors he’d hired, and the stunning finale ensemble of players he’d assembled, dispersed like a crowd in a riot: It was all fair game now, and everyone was invited back.

Mega Man 2’s soundtrack could and indeed would be made without sparing a single expense. Armed with an inspired and impressive cache of instrumentals, Tateishi went to work assembling his a,b,c, and d sides of vinyl. If he was going to do it, it would need to encompass at the very least, two records. It makes sense that the rest of the biblical text he had spent so much time fleshing out found life as the world’s first video game double album. This is how fortunes change, world order is altered, and history is made permanent…written.

It’s tough being the seer, the burdened prophet…you’ve got an awful lot to say and such a tiny window in which to decree it.

Essential Tracks : Bubble Man / Metal Man / Air Man / Crash Man / Heat Man / Wood Man / Quick Man

Don’t forget, that you can purchase both Bionic Commando and Mega Man 2 right here, and right now on Sumthing.com

Next week, the end of our countdown, see you then.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

So…………….. my latest obsession is Fallout Shelter. Seriously, Bethesda couldn’t have come up with a more brilliant way to generate hype for this fall’s Fallout 4.

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Fallout Shelter is a mobile game, currently available for iOS but forthcoming on Android. It’s a free-to-play sim, where you act as the overseer for a vault. The vault runs on power, and your “dwellers” require food and water. You build your vault accordingly, creating rooms that generate those resources to keep the vault powered and the dwellers fed and watered.

Beyond building rooms that make your resources, you can build rooms that train a dwellers S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which is Fallout’s character skill set. Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intellect, Agility and Luck.

Your vault faces a variety of dangers, including raiders, fires and radroaches. To combat raiders and kill the radroaches, you need weapons. To acquire weapons, you can send dwellers out to the Wasteland. They’ll also stumble upon outfits for your dwellers that boost certain SPECIAL skills, and they’ll bring back caps (money).

vault overview

There are goals for you to reach – these vary widely from “Collect (amount) of Water” or “Send 6 Dwellers to the Wasteland”. Many of these goals reward you with caps, but occasionally, you’ll get a “lunchbox”. Each lunchbox contains caps and a chance to get a fancy dweller with great skills or a powerful weapon.

And that’s how you can spend your own personal money on the game – buying lunchboxes.

My first vault was a delightful failure. Everyone died. There were fires and raiders and roaches and death and sickness and starvation. I tried to go too fast with too few resources, and not enough dwellers.

My second vault has been a stirring success, helped largely by my checking account. I bought two lunchbox packages, which started me off with some serious caps to invest in my vault. It cost me $19.98 of my own cash and it was completely worth it. I’ve spent far more on games I enjoyed far less. Although, if you have patience, there’s no need to spend real cash on the game. You can “rush” rooms to produce resources, and you receive a tiny caps bonus for doing so. Each time a dweller levels, you get caps. Your explorers bring back caps. Completing goals gives you caps. It’s not unreasonable to expect success for free in this game.

Currently, I have 146 dwellers in my vault (Vault 878). Occasionally, dwellers will come to your vault looking for shelter, but you can also make new ones! If you put a male and female dweller in a room alone, they’ll produce a little kiddo dweller, who grows up into a productive adult dweller. If you have a couple of dwellers with high Charisma, this happens really fast. Like, put-them-in-a-room-and-two-minutes-later-the-female-is-pregnant fast.

You get to name the baby once he or she is born. I name all of my children after classical composers, although this gets tricky with the ladies (in a soul-crushing way), so I name a lot of the baby girls after my cat June.

I’ve accidentally placed siblings in a room expecting them to copulate, but the game says NO to incest. It’s hilarious, actually:

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The animation is fantastic, the dwellers say funny things, the concept is old but this game is so fresh. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. The MUSIC is excellent, with that mid-20th century jazz sound so integral to the Fallout universe. Here’s a look at my Game Room, where dwellers hang out to increase their Luck skill (high Luck means more caps):

vault close up

I have two minor complaints: sometimes, it’s difficult to navigate around the vault without picking up and dragging dwellers on accident. I don’t have a tablet, so I’m on a tiny iPhone 5s screen. If you’re in a hurry to move someone, it can be frustrating.

Also, BATTERY SUCKER. Big time. I used to make it to the end of the day without charging. No longer. Too bad one of the vault rooms can’t generate power for your device.

Play this game. It’s insanely fun. Be patient. Train your dwellers. FALLOUTSHELTERFALLOUTSHELTERFALLOUTSHELTER

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Tropics Of Torture

 

  1. Super C / Composer: Hidenori Maezawa / Release Year 1990

It’s Contra you remember most, but it shouldn’t be. Konami’s late 80’s action iconography turn stands mostly pale, absent of lips, a bust formed of fictile adjoining parts: A mannequin decorated for windows. While wholly serviceable, pleasing to the senses even, it’s useless in any form of function or utility. You play dress up with it, and so what? 1990’s Super C is a moment ignorant, forgetful of all this needless preening. Fact is, Contra’s action shuffles slowly, stops frequently, and poses, mostly making a spectacle of its many inconsequential shades of eyeliner. We’re talking music here, right? Absolutely. Contra’s first record is all of these above things: My God it’s beautiful, but why SO many photographs? Super C is Contra high on the muck, and the evidence is everywhere…starting with the cover art.  Contra’s glossy finish, its fatted, contented cover stars replaced with Super C’s oozing alien gurgle bubbles: Goodbye style council.

Composer Hidenori Maezawa’s flawless reworking of the arcade’s original score retains all of its savage cuff, and avoids becoming some pared-down, balding affair that’s struggling to simulate the full wig.

Less the stately glitz of its predecessor, and more the busy hands of men  hastily running an unbroken sprint through fields of terrestrial slop,

this is how you do left to right.

Essential Tracks : Gates Of  Fort Firestorm / Lair Of The Jungle / Fruit Of The Doom Defense / Red Falcon’s Poison Palace / Tropics Of Torture

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Listen: Stage 1

  1. Batman / Composer: Naoki Kodaka / Release Year: 1990

The reality of Batman’s 1990 NES score is that it is not made for action.

This however is the entire point of this work, which is concerned primarily with the study of deeply pronounced flaws of character or of the physical body: a man pondering his disfigured limbs, subjugating his need for control and justifying his perverse addictions. Its level of melancholy is categorically startling, and rarely does Kodaka see the necessity to veil or shroud his intent. Everything is touched with a sense of overcast, a sensation that feels not simply heavy but burdensome. Madness is a delicate thing to entertain, but Kodaka gives ample room to both cerebral persuasions( sickness and clarity) as they vie for place at the forefront of every moment as it changes. Batman NES is long seeded turmoil at the moment of its transformation into a path, where despite a chosen side, every action bears whispers of the other.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2 / Intro Scene / Game Over / Stage 3

The final four entries are here…stay tuned.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

I had to purchase a new headset out of necessity (in a gamer sense) last week. My roommate sat on my Turtle Beach Ear Force PX4s and broke them. Bummer.

I decided to give Sony’s PlayStation Gold Wireless Stereo Headset a try. Here are my impressions of both, beginning with the Turtle Beach PX4s.

Firstly, the PX4s sound fabulous. I liked the depth of the audio, and I felt present in the game. I have zero complaints about the audio quality out of the PX4 headset. Good job, PX4, you sound nice on my PS4.

The PX4s are comfortable on top of my head, too. The headpiece didn’t dig into my skull, the ear pieces held up great considering how often I had the thing on my head. Granted, if given the choice, I prefer gaming with my stereo on, not a headset, but if I’m chatting with friends, it’s on. Speaking of chatting…

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Stupefyingly, the PX4s aren’t Bluetooth compatible with the PlayStation 4. I’m not sure if that ridiculous oversight falls on Sony or Turtle Beach. This is what that means: if you don’t want to chat with anyone, you’re fine. You can use the headset without connecting it to anything, so long as it’s charged. If you do want to chat with anyone, you need to plug in a 24” or so cable from the headset to the controller.

Want to get up and refill your water? You either take off the headset for the short trip to the kitchen, or you bring your controller along for the ride, but it’s connected to the headset so you constantly have to carry it around and can’t set it down for lack of mobility. DUMB.

Does your cat want to be in your lap? Move the cable first or the cat will lay on it because the cat doesn’t give a s**t, and then you have a 20 lb. cat impeding your movement.

Even better, let’s say you need to charge the headset while you’re wearing it. Now, you have one cable coming out of your right ear connecting the headset to the PS4, in addition to the cable coming out of your left ear connecting the headset to the controller. It’s a tangled mess, and it’s frustrating and needless.

The PX4s aren’t exactly elegant in their appearance, either. I looked like an air traffic controller, but from the ‘80s. The mic isn’t internal, so it curves down in front of your mouth. Not that I’m an advocate for eating while playing, but c’mon, we all do it on occasion – I bet my mic is disgusting, now that I think of it. It’s probably best off in the dumpster.

The PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset has a giant advantage over the PX4s in that they’re made by Sony, and therefore really super duper compatible with the PS4. When you hit the PS button on the controller to bring up the home screen, you’re given icons indicating both the charge your controller has and the headset. With the PX4s, I had to wait until the low battery indicator started beeping (LOUD) before I knew to charge the set.

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Initially, I didn’t have the audio settings tweaked to my liking, and I felt like the game sounded distant. I’ve messed with the settings and the Golds sound much, much better now. I feel like the PX4 has a slight advantage in terms of audio quality, but the perks of the Gold Wireless make up for any small degradation of sound.

And yes, they are completely wireless. I felt like a free woman walking around the house, chatting with my friends as I grabbed a drink from the kitchen or stepped outside to check if the cat was getting rained on or not. The range isn’t fabulous, but I don’t have a giant house, or even a big one, so it works fine for me.

I don’t think the Golds are as comfortable as the PX4s on my head – I’m literally speaking of on my head. The Golds seem to dig into my skull a bit. However, the Golds kill it in terms of having an INTERNAL MIC. There is no mouthpiece stretched in front of my gaping maw. Liberating! I don’t have to move a mic to take a drink!

Oh, and the price? The Golds are cheaper, which brings me to what I imagine will be my obvious conclusion: if you’re looking for a great headset under one hundred dollars that’s actually wireless and sounds great, buy the Golds for sure. They look neato too.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: Bloody Tears

  1. Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Composers: Satoe Terashima and Kenichi Matsubara / Release Year :1988

There are those who argue in favor of the soundtrack Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse over Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I’m not among this camp…not at all. While still excellent, Castlevania 3’s musical accompaniment somehow feels forced. You can’t shake that disease: the sinking feeling that it has been worked over numerous times, changed hands, redrafted then abandoned, then yet again further retuned; the band has simply been playing too long. It tends to happen when you’ve been commissioned to follow up the sounds of a genre landmark, a masterpiece: everything bitter.

Simon’s Quest, as judged solely by its accompaniment, is an invariably fascinating narrative, where every hundred to thousand listens only enhances the nature of its perfectly metered, yet fleeting couplets. In theory, simplicity such as this usually begs some level of ephemera, but it is that same concise use of assonance, that fluidity of the tongue that extends its lifespan infinitely. Simon’s Quest, more so than residing incumbent entries or past manipulators, equips the series with a true identity, and makes incalculable inroads on every single sound made in its name going forward.

More proof? How many more times can you possibly remix Bloody Tears?

You see my point.

Essential Tracks: Bloody Tears / Message Of Darkness / Monster Dance (night theme) / A Requiem (ending) / Silence Of Daylight / Within These Castle Walls

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Listen: Transmission Screen

  1. Strider / Composer: Harumi Fujita / Release Year: 1989

One of the more unlucky recipients within the late 80’s Strider trifecta (part manga, part arcade game, part original NES title) had to be the team behind Strider NES. The game, completely stripped of ALL the glamour of the headlining arcade machine, being piloted by a truly baffled collective left to interpret the still burgeoning, unwritten lore, and minus ALL the trademarks of a then single entry series, would make any sane individual reach for their transfer form, or at worst, accept terms of severance from the company. The story of NES Strider’s island of mock-ups and submission rejection letters remains an untold legend.

Despite the numerous setbacks and the scant prickly thistle with which they were given to work with, Strider NES was an ambition given light by the smallest band of only the most zealous of believers within Capcom. Composer Harumi Fujita makes her unforgettable, one of a kind monotype print from a combination of every scattered, impossible, and nonplussed moment: a scramble to set tone and create enough plausibility for Strider Hiryu to exist in the frame.

Fujita drags in every last favor ever owed to her, making adjustments and taking payouts in real time, forcibly projecting her still gargling sing-song onto Hiryu. It’s an INCREDIBLE ride as she’s unfazed and ready to set over the top of Strider’s world, whatever the moment brings, whether a conscious stream or a rambling cuckoo’s nest of flying irrelevant debris. Scope is not something Strider is left wanting, and Fujita’s lens has covered the world, all of it, brilliantly.

Pyramids, future world, dictators, red dragons…Africa: whatever, just toss it on the pile, and give her a minute.

Essential Tracks: Transmission ScreenKazakh Theme / China Theme / Africa theme / Red Dragon Theme / Title Theme

A break next week, but the list comes ever closer to the end.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go play some NES!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

E3 is the worst, and here’s why: it gets me excited for the end of summer. With all the terribleness we go through each non-summer in Minnesota, I expect to languish and linger in the long, warm days and forget about cold weather. Yet each summer, E3 pulls out its carrot on a stick and forces me to anticipate the Season Which Can’t Be Named.

So here’s a shout out to the games I’m looking forward to playing when the snow comes:

FALLOUT 4 FALLOUT 4 FALLOUT 4 FALLOUT 4444444444444444444444444444444444

Fallout-4-Fallout-Logo

I’m excited for that one…

Seriously, Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games ever. Never mind that my first playthrough was short because I didn’t realize I was ending the game. My second, third, fourth, fifth playthroughs were just fine. Holy s**t that game was amazing. I can’t wait for Fallout 4.

In fact, in the meantime, I’ve been playing the mobile/tablet game Fallout Shelter. If you’ve not picked it up yet, you must. It’s like a tower sim, only you’re the Overseer of a Vault (number is your choice). I have 42 dwellers at the moment, although several are dead following a pretty intense radroach infestation. I can revive them once I make enough caps. The graphics and audio are top notch, and someday, when my dwellers are successful enough, I can build a Nuka-Cola plant. WHO WOULDN’T WANT THAT?!

Next level of excitement: Destiny: The Taken King. I hate that I love Destiny. I really do. The initial DLC, with the Crota raid, was short and annoying. The next bout of DLC with Petra and the House of Wolves is amazing and I’ve had a great time getting back into the routine of the game. The upcoming DLC this fall, The Taken King, has received some well-deserved bad press, but looks amazing. I hope they fix that price point, or find a way demonstrate that they (might) care about those of us who’ve been there from the beginning… it remains to be seen.

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The introduction of three new classes? Yes. Sign me up. My favorite Destiny class is the Warlock, and I look forward to the new super power she’ll receive.

Believe it or not, I’m pumped about the new Call of Duty. Please don’t hate. Call of Duty: Black Ops III might be a good time. I was always more fond of the Treyarch iterations of CoD. I can’t say I’m too excited about doing multiplayer with 12 year olds who now have cyber abilities, but a four-player co-op campaign might be fun (if it’s longer than 8 hours or so).

I’m SUPER pumped about Housemarque’s new game, Alienation. The makers of Dead Nation and Resogun seem to always delight with their downloadable titles. Alienation is supposed to come out this year, but no date is set yet.

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I’ll pick up Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection so I can replay the first three Uncharteds before the 4th comes out in 2016. I feel like I was mostly alone in my overall dislike of the third game – I like the first 2 the best. It’ll be nice to get back into that series – it’s been a while since I climbed around as Nathan Drake.

My biggest surprise, however, comes in my excitement for Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence. I don’t know a single thing about this franchise, proving my disappointing ignorance in gaming firsts (it’s one of the first sims from thirty years ago) but this game looks amazing. Several years back, I went through a stint of sims when Civilization: Revolution came out for PlayStation. I think I’ll heartily enjoy Nobunaga.

Well, what are you excited for this <shudder> fall/winter?

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

LAGRANGE POINT

Listen: Departure and Arrival

 

  1. Lagrange Point/ Composer: Akio Dobashi / Release Year 1991

A powerful piece of 80’s Japanese pop nucleus Rebecca, composer Akio Dobashi, now newly leased from the rigors of his record company following the group’s implosion, sought a refuge both immediate and vastly distant from his unraveling present. Unwilling to surrender, and perhaps caught amongst an avalanche of inter-band political disputes and documents foisted upon him thick with alien legalese, Dobashi voluntarily lost himself inside the work for Konami’s Lagrange Point.

Confrontation, long the hallmark of Konami’s established sound, was something lost on Dobashi. The expectation to dedicate all available midi rifles on the decoration of boorish action set pieces was turned instead to light tufts of airy meringue. Lagrange Point lies between the dulcet lyrical introspection of Paul Desmond’s indigo melancholy, and the smoldering psychedelic all-hours apothecary the likes of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. Despite this, Dobashi’s lines for Lagrange remain compulsively clean, leaving plenty of room for his melodies to gambol free of mother ship turbulence. Lagrange Point is Akio Dobashi’s final demarcation whose forward trajectory flies completely bereft of the weight of his colorful past… and all the more for it.

Essential Tracks : Satellite Base / Theme Of Iris / Physical Energy / Fighter’s Sadness / Fighter’s AwakenDeparture and Arrival / Fortified Zone / Last Fort – Bio Palace

Double Dragon 1

Listen: Mission 2

  1. Double Dragon / Composer: Kazunaka Yamane / Release Year: 1988

It has never been easy to speak of Double Dragon’s rapidly advancing age, but age it has. So much so, that I find it hard to comment on it with any sort of length when asked. It comes with loving something so intently for so long. And I’ve loved…Double Dragon’s the reason I am here now.

Once a record found specially, specifically sewn into the sleeves of my jacket, is now more in line with composer Jerome Kern’s tired, and receding standard The Folks Who Live On A Hill, than Walter Hill’s Warriors. It’s a lazy approximation at best, and one of contempt more driven by the fear of my own passing years, than anything laid within the grooves of its shock black vinyl. BUT. Shaking away those preconceived thoughts, the disaffected memories of some youth long gone, reveals much the savant in its composer Kazunaka Yamane. Double Dragon’s carefully earmarked mix of tracks STILL burns the back of the throat when ingested without caution. A prophet’s goulash of athletic tenor, staccato no-wave, and lowest-brow street funk, Yamane heard the sound of the genre in the oak, LONG before his imitators began bludgeoning his corpse for loose change. While the attraction may not draw the numbers it once did to its storied sights, it remains an essential cassette tape unaffected by warble, and ambivalent to the lost decades. Still snarling and all spittle: that’s my boy.

Essential Tracks: Mission Start / Mission 2 / Title Theme / Mission 1 / Secret Area (cave) / Mission 3 / Boss theme

The end is near, stay tuned!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

mother

Listen: Dungeon Theme

13. Mother / Composers: Keiichi Suzuki & Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year :1989

Think loose and play faster! It’s how composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka perform 1989’s NES classic Mother, like some fabled fear and loathing lost weekend dragging around in an addled stupor, down a couple grand, but with just enough energy to make the sunrise. Hilarious, strangely but beautifully cool, defiantly bohemian, and singularly offbeat, their instruments may have died in the making of this experiment, and the pair may have narrowly escaped with nothing more than mail order catalogs, but boy…that was some siesta. Mother’s score is the summit of a towering holy mountain.

Essential Tracks: Fallin in Love / Field Theme / Battle Theme 1 / Magicant’s Theme / Dungeon Theme / Live House Song

Final Fantasy Box Art

Listen: Title Theme

12. Final Fantasy / Composer: Nobuo Uematsu / Release Year: 1987

From every angle, and from any perspective, Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy has no equal rivals. Uematsu’s rudimentary foundation still stands statuesque, born of complexity, and far out measures the available pant sizes found within the NES sound storefront. These pieces push the hardware to limits of shattering exhaustion. For every second of film, our composer is at the reins charging harder and louder and longer than his previous now seemingly infantile siege. The sound of a man, turned new man, turned man alive. To quote the Pixies Black Francis, “Gigantic, gigantic a big, big love!”

 

Essential Tracks: Battle Theme / Garland Shrine / Matoya Cave / Airship Theme / Overworld Theme / Title Theme

MikeTysonsPunchOut_zps636d9f98

Listen: Little Mac Down

11. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out / Composers Yukio Kaneoka, Kenji Yamato and Akito Nakatsuka Release Year: October 1987

I once likened the soundtrack of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out to that of an operatic Cthulhu: a beast who will wow you with its vocal range, then devour your torso as you have been sufficiently hypnotized and possessed by its disease. Read into that what you will, but I still stand by that statement, as it aptly summarizes the work of our three composers going elbows deep into your brain matter, prodding, and testing…waiting for that one true desired Pavlovian response. Punch-Out remains an elixir of near perfect proportions ingested under the false guise of sugar water placebo, but once absorbed carries all the concentrated wallop of thousands of side effects in full play, all at once.

Everything in moderation.

Essential Tracks: Fight Theme/ Bicycle Training / Opening Title / MatchWon / Game Over

Stay tuned for the top 10!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

My friend Holly was over the other night, and we were shopping around for games on the PlayStation store. Keeping an eye out for local co-op games, we stumbled across Beach Buggy Racing by Vector Unit. It’s a karting game, just like Mario Kart, and it’s soooooooooo worth the ten bucks (it’s on mobile devices too).

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There are multiple game modes, including split screen racing. Subsequent split-screen races have resulted in ridiculously close games, determined by whose bumper crossed the line at the most crucial instant, full of laughter, trash-talk, tears, anger and joy. I’ve experienced wins and losses determined by hundredths of a second.

The 25-plus power-ups do the usual; there’s dynamite (which only detonates if you hit or get hit by something), the “moon” power-up releases gravity so opponents fly up into the air, there’s a springboard you can drop, missiles you can fire, and a few varieties of boosts.

All the maps have shortcuts, of course. Some shortcuts live up to their name, others are amazing if you can pull them off, and the remainder are too risky to try depending on your speed. You can change out your character driver, each of which has his or her own special skill made to confuse, wreck or outrun opponents. You unlock each new driver by winning a boss race against him or her. These are tricky endeavors.

The cars range from lunar rovers to buggies to muscle cars and sports cars. I’m partial to the muscle car, although it’s not the fastest of the choices.

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Career mode takes you through a series of races, culminating with the boss fights at each stage, and as you upgrade your kart and win more difficult races, you earn more money, etc.

The championship mode consists of four stages of rally races for each car, but you need to have each car leveled up as you progress through the stages. It’s expensive, and there’s grinding involved. Players can earn money in races, however it’s not much unless you win, and even then, it’s slow-moving in the beginning.

Once I got my muscle car leveled up enough and learned the tracks, I discovered the best way to earn cash: Quick Race mode. My muscle car can race at the highest difficulty, and if I win (or shall I say, when I win), I receive 500 bucks to invest back into whichever car I choose.

Aside from already getting hours of split-screen mayhem in with my pals, I’ve played the heck out of this game on my own too. Best part – when Holly got home that night, she bought it. Her scores show up next to mine, and I keep finding all the races where she beat me so I can beat her back, even when we’re not playing together. It’s pure, innocent bliss to beat your friends, isn’t it?

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For some reason, LittleBigPlanet Karting didn’t do it for me when it came out. I can’t say why at this point, it’s been so long since I played it, but I guarantee it didn’t grab me like Beach Buggy Racing has. I’ve been longing for a game like this, and Vector Unit delivered.

The music is clever and fun, although I turned it off. It’s not unusual for me to turn off music in a game if the music serves no other purpose than to exist. The music in BBR doesn’t tip me off to any events, so it’s unnecessary to my success as a player (haha! But true). Therefore, I’ve been enjoying the viola da gamba suites by J.S. Bach – a suitable soundtrack for racing!

Or listen to whatever music you’d like. As far as Beach Buggy Racing goes, buy it. Play it. Love it!

——————–

Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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