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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: 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

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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!

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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.

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!

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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.

Snake's Revenge

Listen: Searchlights Searchlights and Sentries

15. Snake’s Revenge / Composer : T Ogura / Release Year 1990

Despite Snake’s Revenge being a sloppily ill-coordinated takeover of creator Hideo Kojima’s legendary series (shame this wouldn’t be the last time), it does retain one truly remarkable asset, composer’s T Ogura’s largely, criminally overlooked score sheets. Half a collection of snapshots of some stillborn Bayou Billy sequel and half a mixture of dashes comprised of Life force, Commando, and Contra, Ogura’s compositions cleanse the palette, clearing the slate of the previous decade of Konami soundtracks. This track-list isn’t something that could have been developed in 1986, 1987 or 1988, and it plays fixatedly reaching towards this new decade (you can actually hear it on Searchlights and Sentries). Ogura employs grandiose 17 piece drum sets, where every cymbal has some form of resolute purpose, and hires in excess of a hundred plus session players all contracted specifically to play some VERY heavy bass. There’s so much lobbing about of the thick and heavy, that it’s amazing they were able to stamp and package its contents into something so small, gray and ordinary.

Welcome to the 90‘s.

Essential Tracks: First Mission / Searchlights and Sentries / Boss Battle /

Enemy Train / Metal Gear Fortress / Surrender Theme / Underground Theme

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Listen: Game A Music

14. Gyromite / Composer: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year: 1985

To Hirokazu Tanaka, 1985 perhaps felt no different than any other year, as his order of day went blessedly unaltered. Up he went sometime about 3 A.M, he’d score out hundreds of sonic billboard legends until around noon, maybe a short ride in the country then a return to tinkering until 2 A.M. where he’d begrudgingly sit (not lie) and catnap, his hands still pressed against the keyboard should the mood strike pre R.E.M. sleep. He’d done it for years; this particular Wednesday saw no cause for alarm. It was just Gyromite.

If you can name it, and it’s NES, chances are Tanaka wrote it, half lucid but STILL dreaming. It’s what separates him from EVERYONE else: That one eye open, one eye shut, never a foot in either plane, all dream, but somehow manifested on very real 8-track reels. In 1985, Tanaka seized the opportunity afforded him by Gyromite’s spastic, haywire hard lines, and one by one, inch by inch, volunteered to unknot the bedraggled mess of coils and strands now somehow impenetrably fused together.

This is at the precipice of the NES, and Gyromite is a crude, oafish and unreceptive choir to Tanaka’s gorgeously resuscitated harmonies. In a gaming music landscape still vastly littered with the likes of Atari’s soulless bleeping Morse-code long-players, Tanaka openly fought the rot, and taught the hardware to sing: bright combinations, doubled keys, and looping scales. It’s all basic, but that makes it no less revolutionary. Sure, there might be others, but here, I’m counting it as a true first.

Essential Tracks: Game B Music / Title Theme / Game A Music / Phase Begin

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.

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Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White are a composing duo called Finishing Move Inc. These two weren’t on my radar until early this year, when I learned they were writing the soundtrack for Double Fine’s Massive Chalice.

If you’ve not heard their music for the game, take the opportunity to do so now. Massive Chalice is a turn-based strategy game (which means I’d be terrible at it). The narrative takes place over generations of heroes and warriors and such that you breed together, hoping that genetics will help you create more powerful characters and such.

The game happens over the course of years and years, which presents an issue musically. The issue isn’t necessarily a problem, per se, but consider this: how music does represent a time and/or place in your own life?

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. I had an interesting conversation recently with Paul Ruskay, the Homeworld composer, and he pointed out two varieties of soundtracks for sci-fi: the John Williams Star Wars orchestral approach, and the Vangelis Blade Runner synthetic approach.

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Massive Chalice isn’t sci-fi, however Finishing Move (the Brians) still needed to figure out a way to write a timeless-sounding score with elements that reflect the narrative itself. As a player, you’re controlling characters like alchemists and hunters in a game with “chalice” in the title. All signs point to medieval-ish castle-y type settings, right?

Finishing Move accomplished this through a blend of acoustic plucked things (like guitars, mandolins, etc), piano, drums, synths and many others.

In the Thick of It” is a great example, because you get both right off the bat. For my ears, the drums alone can make the connection to that fantasy-type setting. The plucked instruments are icing on the cake.

The Main title track, “Timeworn”, defies a lot of this logic (if you want to call it that), containing mostly electric guitar. Still with the drums, though. I love the heavy (use of) electric guitars here, and I like the tonality with the lowered 6th scale degree and the major third in there – good stuff.

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The People’s View is super. First of all, the interval of an ascending fifth is a recurring theme throughout the soundtrack, and you hear the deeply human sound of string instruments like violin and cello, playing that ascending fifth over and over again. It’s a mournful sound, but sheesh it’s lovely.

Here’s a super nerdy thing I enjoy: I like the modulations, you know, how they change keys sometimes and stay in a different key for a while before heading back to the main key for the loop. It happens in a couple tracks, and I’m not kidding, this is something you don’t often hear in video game music. Wanna know why? I’ll tell you! So video game music loops, right? And it takes a certain amount of time to establish a key, which we as listeners like – we want to know, oh, we’re in a major key or a minor key and this is home. Given that it takes this “amount” of time to convey to listeners that a piece of music is in a specific key, it takes a certain amount of time to move to another key. And after you hear that new key, the composer has to make it back to the original key to make the loop work. w00t!

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Anyway, as I said, Finishing Move employs this technique in a couple tracks, and here’s one: “To Battle!

Have you played Massive Chalice? Sadly, I have not. This music makes me want to, though, even though I really would be horrible at it. Spend some time today and listen to Finishing Move’s music for Massive Chalice!

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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: Journey To Silius: Stage 2 / Blaster Master: Area 1

18. Blaster Master/ Journey To Silius / Composer: Naoki Kodaka/ Release Year/s 1988 and 1990 respectively

Despite everything contained within composer Naoki Kodaka’s recordings for 1988’s Blaster Master, and despite its master tapes indicating in bold that indeed these takes were the finalized project of some many years of work, Blaster Master’s score wouldn’t see total completion until Kodaka and developers Sunsoft released Journey To Silius two years later. The software titles may have been billed as separate projects and created under totally different guises, but their makeup and melody feel largely complementary, logical extensions of each other. Where Blaster Master is swathed in color, more lively, and purposefully artless, Journey To Silius is just the opposite, and plays MUCH more measured and alarmingly grey: a drastic departure from the swaddling clothes of its sibling. STILL. This is ONE single vision split across years, and when gathered together under one roof, it becomes plain that these once adjacent tenets have shared housing before, a line of string laid across the floor being all that separated them. Their matching collection of DNA, makes light of their trivial differences and begins to align and adhere with little fuss made between its molecules. The idea that these scores were sovereign unto themselves was simply an act of subterfuge through business enterprise. This is meant to be heard as a dual album, and one single, startling opus.

Essential Tracks: Blaster Master: Area 3 / Area 1 / Area 5 / Area 2

Essential Tracks: Journey To Silius : Title Theme / Stage 2 ThemeStage 3 ThemePrologue

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Listen: Ghosts and Goblins: Stage 1 Theme

17. Ghosts and Goblins / Composer: Ayako Mori / Release Year 1986

Composer Ayako Mori’s score for Capcom’s 1986 NES port for Ghost and Goblins, is an indurate drill of reverent Kumbaya simplicity. Mori, not one for lengthy conversation, prefers to illustrate Ghosts and Goblins as an extenuating figure: threadbare, with only a few largely garish and inconspicuous flourishes to fill out the soul of the dehydrated Goblins supplicants. It’s not about the excess of words, it’s about simple statements in the presence of something celestial. Here, Mori places most of her emphasis in Ghosts and Goblins on the sound of stunned deferential gawp. This is a yokelish slack-jawed prayer that focuses on the repetition of single syllables of incantation instead of verbose, sputtering, winded sermons to ingrain its message. Mori’s is a voice both constant and droning, yet her reiterations, her unnecessary repetitions remain incredibly passionate, and likewise should be considered more than just some humble radio amplification…this is an invocation: follow the benediction, these are the words, hallelujah.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2

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Listen: Duck Tales: Himalayas Stage

16. Duck Tales / Composer: Hiorshige Tonomura / Release Year 1989

It’s with no considerable lack of graft that I imagine composer Hiroshige Tonomura went about the business of scoring Capcom’s 1989 Duck Tales. The television show on which it was based was mere weeks away from its production end. The idea of enticing its now aging original child audience to look back on Duck Tales both nostalgic and with some measure of retrospection at the curmudgeon age of 10, would be like asking them to provide pointed examples of alliteration throughout James Joyce’s Ulysses: They wouldn’t understand, and it’s never going to happen. This was the year of Batman, not Disney’s Scrooge McDuck. Armed with no tested or gorgeous simulacrum for Tonomura to imitate, and no template with which to vanquish this indifference, our composer ,tottering and disjointed, entered into the contract to conceive the compositions for Capcom’s Duck Tales. Despite the mood, Tonomura succeeded. The temptation may have been to score the game purely with saccharine: sickly glazed, aimless but irritatingly bright, like some condescendingly kaleidoscopic game of stick and carrot. Rather than insult though, Tonomura discards that caloric emptiness for genuine feeling, and succeeds in tapping into all the base emotions of a child: joy, fear, and love. Tonomura muses playfully, gently cajoling his skeptical onlookers to join him, no matter their imagined embarrassment on playgrounds and no matter their psychological need to fight their passing infancy. Tonomaru wants them to realize that there is nothing wrong with being incredibly young and that no harm will come to them for simply singing along. Ardent, funny and unapologetically warm, Tonomura’s recordings demonstrate just how effective tone of voice can be, no matter the passage of time.

Essential Tracks: Moon / African Mines / Transylvania / Amazon

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

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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.

Outside and standing alone against the patio’s railing of a third-floor hotel room is a desperate father. The father stares out into the night’s sky, not caring for the tremble of the blowing trees or the rapid crashing of the pellets of rain. It’s raining again, and Ethan Mars has failed to find his missing son.

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This is the moment when I had to pause my gameplay to sweat over all of the choices I have been making in Heavy Rain. Did I make the right choice? Could I have made a different choice? Is there any hope for my character? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, and encouraging, yes!

As a single-player detective game for the PS3 console, Heavy Rain is an interactive narrative-driver, but instead of running the script to its end, the player is capable of determining the direction and fate of each of its four characters. Each action or inaction from a character can cause the storyline to change thereafter. It’s crazy addicting, deciding the habits and motives of each character, and I think my favorite feature is that my overall decisions will impact and resolve the game in one of a multitude of different endings.

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I remember when I had to decide to undertake a critical assignment with Ethan Mars – to agree or disagree, thus influencing his role in the plot forever – and the sole reason that made his decision so deliciously dramatic was the music in the background.

Many of the music tracks in Heavy Rain are stimulating, moment-enhancers, but the strongest emotional ride of them all, the “thrumming of the soul’s chords,” is the track “Painful Memories“. The track drifts in and out with a piano’s gentle touch, and it’s somber sound captures the mood of the game perfectly. Composed by Normand Corbeil, who has also composed the soundtrack for Beyond: Two Souls, his performance in Heavy Rain’s soundtrack has allowed the player to digest and share in the difficulties that the characters have been dealing with.

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I feel like if I was ever in an emotional crisis and I wasn’t sure of which direction to take, I would hope that one of Normand Corbeil’s tracks would be playing in my background. It intensifies the scene in everything!

Do yourself a favor and purchase Heavy Rain. Be creative and ridiculous with your character’s actions during the in-the-moment gameplay. Listen to “Painful Memories” whenever your emotional bubble is soon to explode, preferably, during the precipice of a long-going rainstorm – you’ll thank me later.

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Sean Berry is a literary romantic with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. In Brooklyn, New York, when he’s not chasing after subway trains, he could be found at the local coffeehouse with a laptop and large latte.

His most memorable video game moments are traversing the plains of Hyrule alongside an annoying fairy (Hey!) and spending countless of mouse-smashing hours commanding the armies of the ProtossTerran, and Zerg.

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: Inside The Tree

20. Wizards And Warriors/ Composer: David Wise/ Release Year 1987

Developer Rare has worn many a wedding ring, and money has changed

hands in pursuit of its exclusive courtship more times and for far more capital than any corporate ledger would likely (within the realm of comfort) admit to. It wasn’t always this way though. At some point, Rare pre-transmogrification to behemoth studio, were just some guys, likely not even guys…dudes: swearing, funny, OCD eccentrics who loved text adventures and who favored command line computer code over vodka and tonic. To be fair, maybe they had a few tiny flasks. Composer David Wise’s score for 1987’s Wizards and Warriors feels like peering through a, for your eyes only, garage days memoir: nuts and bolts, labored failed experiments anchored by dryly comedic notes on the best of days, and single filthy drawings illustrating the worst. Wise’s Wizards and Warriors was an album decades beyond its time, spearheading and prophesizing the intimate attachment of the player to the score laid within the cart. Despite the hiccups in its fevered stitching, Wizards and Warriors remains one of the earliest and best examples of VGM exploiting a feeling. Some prefer later-era Wise, but I’ve always thought this was him at his most candid.

Essential Tracks: Forest Of Elrond / Outside The Castle / Inside The TreeTitle Screen

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 Listen: Title Theme

19. Skate Or Die/ Composers: Rob Hubbard / Kouji Murata/ Release Year 1988

When this list reaches completion, if nothing else, please remember the number one spot, and do not forget Skate or Die. For those who argue against the merits of 8-bit generated scores: you’ve truly not heard enough, nor have you heard the right pieces, and most certainly have had no acquaintance with the anarchic proclamations of Rob Hubbard and Kouji Murata’s Skate Or Die.

The orchestration here is beyond the scope of creatively barren company mandates, not by numbers created, nor its complexity stripped for the sake of cash: It’s real.

Skate or Die’s cassette tape demos can be likened to a runner’s high: air in the lungs, a tensing and then relaxing of muscles brazenly insistent on their own immortality, yielding only to moments without law or reason…physically letting go.

The gorgeously reworked album comes courtesy of Konami composer Kouji Murata, who burnishes the original’s instructions by increasing the tempo, lending a spangled falsetto to the treble, and un-muting whole channels of seemingly lost and questionably muddied, scuttled audio layers.

Despite the reins being handed over, this is ALL Murata’s show. Live and altogether unstable, Murata’s presence as a new front man, is one that gives all. Hours later, despite all those bottles to the head and all stage dives gone spectacularly wrong, Murata’s credible and exceptionally authentic. After all, if we are being real here, skate boarding is nothing more than a wheeled rock show waiting for a bit of glass.

 

Essential Tracks: Title Theme / Skate To Jam / Skating To Downhill / Skating To Pool Joust / Skating To Ramp Freestyle

Stay tuned next week for more of the very best NES soundtracks.

Dedicated to Jacob Thorp.

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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’ve been drawn into this game called Hohokum. It came out last year (forget that I’m late to the party, celebrate that I showed up), and it’s free for PS Plus users this month.

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There isn’t a tutorial, and the only sense I get that I’ve progressed is by collecting little eyeball-snake friends. I think I’ve collected four or five of them. The music is chill and responsive to objects you touch, although it’s not even the music that draws me to the game.

Hohokum is a gorgeous playground of randomness. You play as a long thin snakelike being with an eyeball at one end, making it look a ton like a giant sperm. While I found this distracting and odd at first, the beauty and exploration of the game make it a non-issue.

If you check out the work of artist Richard Hogg, you’ll get a good sense for what the game looks like. There are bright colors with simple shapes, and Hohokum is your playground within that art. Of all the games that tout some sort of meditative vibe, this takes the cake for me.

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thatgamecompany gives a strong showing in this “chillax” gaming category with titles like Flower and Journey, but even these games have semi-stressful levels with enemies to avoid. I’ve not encountered any sense of danger in Hohokum whatsoever. Sure, there are objects you’d better not touch, but it won’t kill you.

Even in Dear Esther, where the entire point of the game is to walk around and look at things, there was always this sense of wanting more – of wanting to be able to interact with items – of wanting to feel some sense of accomplishment.

This is absent in Hohokum.

I’ve put several hours into the game, and I still don’t quite understand the home world, or how you travel between areas. Sometimes, you’ll enter a portal from one world to the next, and then go back to that portal assuming you’ll return from whence you came, and this isn’t always the case. Now, if you’re in a fantasy MMO of some sort, and you expect to return, this is an issue. Not in Hohokum. It just doesn’t seem to matter. In some ways, it’s the perfect metaphor for life: Everything will be fine.

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In my mind, Hohokum is brilliant. You might ask yourself, or me, “What’s the point?”

I have no idea. I have no clue. I don’t know how many levels there are (I don’t want to look it up). At one point, I did a Google search for something along the lines of “red elephant bird hohokum” to see what I should do with a being described as such, but I never could come up with an answer. I carried the bird-elephant around until it hopped off on its own, purportedly to where it wanted to go.

This seriously is the first time in my life where I do not care what the end game is. I don’t care how to get to the end, and I don’t care if I collect all my eyeball sperm friends, because once you collect them, they don’t appear to do anything (I refuse to look that up too).

In many ways, and I’m certain the developer of Hohokum understands this carefree attitude to the game; it’s the perfect antidote to every other game I’m playing (right now, that includes Awesomenauts, Dungeon Hunter Alliance, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Ether One, and a word game on my iPhone).

Of course, once I pick up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I might forget all about Hohokum and how calm it makes me feel to play. I’ll check in with you next week!

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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.

Measuring the worth of hundreds of Nes musical scores isn’t something I would call an enviable task. For one, you’re somewhat limited by your own scope: what you’ve heard, what you love, and what your definition of classic consists of. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to disagree. Then, there are the lines that have already been drawn out: it’s been done to death; we’ve already seen this particular pattern play out… what could possibly be different here? Instantaneously, a short list of candidates begins forming inside the head: it’s Zelda, Metroid and Mario Brothers, or some switching of position of those three. So, I’ve chosen to disregard this common holy ground: You might not see them in this countdown…I know. BUT. If we can’t even have an open dialogue about what also might be just as worthy of those top spots, then we’re not being realistic. Let’s have some fun!

Agree or disagree, here are 25 of the very best NES soundtracks ever made.

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Listen: Castle Entrance

 25. Shadowgate/ Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno / Release Year 1989

Composer Hiroyuki Masuno, was no stranger to the crafting of beautiful things when he signed on with Japanese development house Kemco in 1985. Early on, Masuno’s arrangements show promise, and his employers, eager to build upon his sparse balsa wood compositions, are desperate to provide him with a fitting muse.1986’s Uninvited plays a minor footnote to 1988’s palatial Deja-Vu, but it is Masuno’s 1989 score for Kemco’s reinterpretation of Icom Simulation’s Shadowgate is where he finally leaves all fragility behind. Shadowgate is a sequestered bitter labor of protracted, carcinogenic stanzas and boreal darkness. All stone, all remoteness made possible through the draft created by Masuno’s frigid echo.

Essential tracks: Title Screen / Subterranean Cavern / Banquet Hall / Courtyard And of course…Castle Entrance

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Listen: Bernard’s Theme

 24. Maniac Mansion / Composers: David Warhol, George Sanger, David Hayes / Release Year 1990 

When looking back through all of your library of NES vinyl, one thing becomes alarmingly, glaringly apparent: Most musical scores were handled by a single individual. At the time, while integral to every game they were written for, the creation of these records was seen as nothing more than a burden put upon game development companies: It ranked a costly expenditure eating away at the collective’s profit margin. Why pay three musicians to do the work of 1? While this stingy method of corporate rancor may have thrived for most of the NES’s lifespan, there are those few rare instances of hiring a dedicated house band. David Warhol, George “The Fat Man” Sanger, his band “Team Fat” and David Hayes all had a hand in banging out Maniac Mansion’s schizophrenia, one frenetic jam session at a time. Maniac Mansion’s score is a towering monolith hemorrhaging thick, slovenly streams of both diatribe and compromise. The confusion all this interplay generates is fascinating, though, as the languages these composers speak tend to stumble over the others’ more complex dialect. Any effort made to make directions clearer, only adds to their voices growing louder, drowning out all aim and meaning. Sophisticated as it is entertaining, Maniac Mansion is potent math rock for 80’s console sects.

Essential Tracks: Dave’s Theme / Razor’s Theme/ Syd’s Theme/ Edison Family Tentacle theme/Bernard’s Theme

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Listen: Stage Theme

 23. Kung Fu /Composer: Koji Kondo / Release Year 1985 

Take a minute, and think of your favorite NES soundtrack. Now, strip and separate each and every layer that you can from it. What do you hear? Chances are, not much. The addition of sound on sound on sound works only when all the pieces are present. The melody you hum inside your head ceases to work once you’ve extracted some of the required pulp. Now, test it further: can you hear the tune in its entirety without omitting any of the piece’s subtler elements…on the blades of a moving ceiling fan? Try it. Can you hear it on the air? Composer Koji Kondo’s flawless translation of arcade coin-op Kung-Fu Master’s single theme in no way relies on the fattening of the anemic source material. Kondo’s take is one to one: Exact. Kung Fu’s rolling monotony, while admittedly meager, rubs on you like an infection, and hearing it for less than 5 minutes comes with a guarantee: As you’re lying there, trying to fall asleep for the night, you can still hear EVERY single inch of it mercilessly rotating overhead.

Essential Tracks: Stage Theme/s

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Listen: Stage 1 Theme

 22. Rygar/ Composer:Michiharu Hasuya /Release Year 1986

It’s 1986 and Tecmo’s Rygar is mere months from completion. Sadly, Composer Michiharu Hasuya’s ardent love of Red Sonia comics and Sundays spent full regalia in a small band of Japanese Amtguard enthusiasts have failed to reach the heights of immersion requested by his employer. Time had grown short, but looming deadlines can be kind. So what makes up Hasuya’s Rygar? All the leather as seen in Krull, all the official D&D rule books by TSR, and ALL the many legions of brass: Exhibit A: the noxiously loud trumpets from Stage 1… fairly hard to forget. Hasuya is THE barbarian, and not Lothar playing amongst barbarians. Heavy costuming aside, Hasuya’s exhaustingly physical musical presence demands examination and multiple replays.

Essential Tracks: Theme For Stage 2/ Theme For Stage 5/ Theme For Stage 6 / Overworld theme

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Listen: Second and Fourth Guardian

 21. Aliens 3/ Composer Jeroen Tel /Release Year1993 

By most accounts, the NES was a dead system by 1993. Yet, there were those still clinging to the innards of a machine whose carcass had no new secrets to reveal to whoever probed it. Dutch composer Jeroen Tel, however, would most likely relate a very different tale. Tel’s last and desperate act of NES console archeology produced this anomalous and sprawling corridor crawl: it’s not about what’s left to be uncovered, but what is already in situ. Aliens 3, however, isn’t just an assemblage of existing sound frames. NO. Tel’s redirection of the old circuitry, produces some rather brilliant scrambles of code. Aliens 3 is all hot solder, and dangerous sparking experiment.

Essential tracks: Prisoners Die , Missions 1 and 2, Missions 3 and 4,

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

What are some of your favorite NES soundtracks? Sound off below.

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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.

Did you ever play Black on PS2 or Xbox? EA Games released it in 2006. My cousin and I spent hours amounting to days trading off levels in Black. I waited years for Black 2 before I realized it would never come. In this time, I’m unsure what Black 2 would look like, other than another overly masculine first-person shooter. I’m content with my memories of Black the first, but I’d probably play the hell out of some kind of port.

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Black has a fabulous soundtrack, written by Chris Tilton and recorded at Newman Scoring Sound stage. Michael Giacchino co-wrote the theme, and Chris wrote the rest.

Listen to Tunnel Trouble. Listen for the muted trumpets (sounds a bit like this sort of). There are bassoons honking around underneath, then this great flute solo. The flutist is using a “flutter-tongue” technique – think of how you roll your Rs – it’s like that. It’s a neat section of acoustic music.

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I like Ambush as well, with its bits showing off French horns and the occasional cello. The tracks titled Bunker Buster and Bunker Buster #2 are variations on the motive that opens each cue. In effect, the first 12 notes you hear come back in various ways throughout the piece. If you drew a line in the shape of those first 12 notes, it would be an angular line. And even though the opening has six beats to the measure, it’s not long before Tilton starts mixing up the meters and we, as listeners, tend to lose our footing a bit. It’s an effective way to create anxiety for players.

Simplicity. Tilton’s soundtrack for Black is an excellent example of how to write a great score for a first-person shooter that uses an orchestra. Just an orchestra. It’s aural simplicity. I like it when composers to more with less. I’m a big fan of that. Hey, let’s see if we can get a port of Black for next-gen, huh?

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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.

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