Several years ago, I had came up with one of the silliest music-related posts yet: Comparing iconic game show themes to NES versions of the same. Since there were a lot of game show games on the NES, I figured it would be an interesting little thing to write about. In addition, it was an exercise to see how composers took the Ricoh 2A03 sound chip on the NES and make good tunes out of them, while also seeing how accurate their arrangement of the show’s theme was.
Volume 1, published back in 2013, covered most of the first wave of GameTek game show games, which were all developed by Rare. David Wise, who at the time was Rare’s sole composer, did a fine job in most cases, even if it felt like he deviated from the source material in some cases, like with Double Dare.
Volume 2 was published several years later in 2019, and covered the post-Rare era of GameTek game show games from 1990-92, where various companies such as Softie, Incredible Technologies and Imagitec were now developing the games. In that post, we had we had fairly notable composers like Barry Leitch and Rob Wallace, to lesser-knowns like Leif Marwede and Mike Pierone give their own unique spins of the likes of stuff like American Gladiators, or in the case of stuff like Classic Concentration, completely original work.
But GameTek wasn’t the only publisher of game show games for the NES. There was another. One publisher that was known rather infamously for their average to poor quality games. As someone I know from the game show community once said, “If the game features this logo, stay far away.”
Hi-Tech Expressions is a fascinating publisher. They never created any original works, they were strictly a company who licensed existing properties and had contract developers make those games for them. The modern equivalent these days would be someone like GameMill Entertainment: Their bread and butter strictly making games based on existing licenses from TV shows or movies, rarely if ever making original IP of their own compared to similar publishers who’d go on to do bigger things, like THQ.
Most of Hi-Tech Expressions’ games were mediocre-to-bad, and their NES output was no exception. They graced us with three NES game show games, all in varying levels of quality. But we’re not really here to gauge if the games are any good, we’re here to see how accurate the composer’s tunes were to the theme song the show was based on. Let’s get to it.
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Fun House (1990)
The NES version (composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger):
The Fun House theme from 1988-1990 (Composed by an unknown composer at Score Productions):
Fun House on the NES is a rather… bizarre beast. Rather than taking the Double Dare approach of trying to translate the action-filled gameplay of the kids game show to the NES, they opted to make a completely different game entirely. In Fun House for the NES, your character rollerskates around arenas while grabbing tokens and avoiding obstacles under a stringent time limit. It takes some of the elements of the TV show and slaps it into something that is only tangentially related to the source material. It’s the most oddball out of all the game show games I’ve ever played, that’s for certain.
Lennard Feddersen of Ironwind Software came up with the original concept, and this game really feels like a reskin of an existing idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hi-Tech just took his proof of concept, slapped in 8-bit J.D. Roth and called it a day. (Feddersen would later make a spiritual successor to this game on the Game Boy a few years later called Out of Gas.)
It’s a funny coincidence that I get to cover another game composed by George Sanger, aka “The Fat Man.” I liked his music in the recent entry I made about Lexi-Cross, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. It’s clear Sanger wasn’t given the theme to adapt to the NES sound chip, so he opts for original tunes instead. It doesn’t resemble the rockin’ theme song from the show, but it’s a good tune in its own right.
The rest of the soundtrack has a fair share of catchy tunes, but they do sound a bit loud and shrill in spots. Most of the time, the music is overshadowed by the obnoxious sound effects. For a game released in 1990, it’s rather disappointing. The music’s probably the only good thing about it. Then again, I can’t think of a game where The Fat Man’s music was actually really bad.
Surprisingly, Fun House’s composer credit is currently unknown, as of 2020. A majority of the other Score Productions themes over the years now have proper credits, of which I’ve been using for the past “Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts” entries. I have an inkling that the composer might be Michel Camilo, Paul Epstein or even Edd Kalehoff, but until someone has proof, this will go uncredited for the time being.
MTV’s Remote Control (1990)
The NES version (composed by Nick Scarim):
The intro to Remote Control from 1987-1990 (composed by Steve Treccase):
Thankfully, Fun House’s concept of making an original game that has only a tangential relation to the game show was merely a fluke, as Remote Control is a more straightforward adaptation of the show. It’s a rather ugly game and it’s missing some of the show’s more quirkier elements, including the game’s bonus round. I ragged on this game way back in 2014 when writing about TRL Trivia, but in reality, this version of Remote Control’s alright. It’s nothing to write home about, you could honestly do much worse.
Riedel Software Productions, or RSP for short, developed this game. RSP would basically be one of the go-to developers for Hi-Tech’s licensed games, making games well into the SNES era with wonderful works based on properties like Tom & Jerry and Beethoven’s 2nd. At one point, they were working on a Steven Seagal brawler called The Final Option that looks… pretty bad. We should be grateful that one never got released.
RSP would stick around until Hi-Tech Expressions shut down in the mid-90s, having only one known (according to Mobygames) game under their belt after that, an activity center game based on the TV series Wishbone.
Riedel, alongside Vince Desiderio, would later form a little-known studio known as Running With Scissors. Yep, a few of the people who made this game would later go to make the rather infamous Postal franchise. I mean, after basically slumming in games development for years doing nothing but licensed schlock, I can’t blame them for the career pivot.
Nick Scarim, who goes uncredited in this game, takes Steve Treccase’s fairly catchy theme song and makes it a pretty alright rendition on the NES. Though, be forewarned: It’s the only tune in the game. It goes on for a good few minutes, but it’s entirely possible it’ll get on your nerves after a while. Worst off, it might actually get stuck in your head, like it did for me.
There aren’t any other incidental tunes in the game outside of some rather obnoxious sound effects and chirps. The game doesn’t even have the silly keyboard flourishes Treccase did on the actual show, which would’ve made it sound a lot less monotonous. It’s there, basically. Much like this whole game.
Win, Lose or Draw (1990)
The NES version (composed by Nick Scarim):
The theme song from 1987-1990 (composed by Thomas Morrison):
Another RSP developed game, this one is probably one of the more ambitious games on the NES. Since this is based on a game show strictly about drawing – basically Pictionary but with less board and more Burt Reynolds – RSP would have to try to recreate that drawing experience on the 8-bit console.
Much like the show, the game gives players the opportunity to draw out phrases and things while their teammates get to guess. Drawing with the NES controller is a bit of a pain, and often times they come off more as digital chicken scratches that vaguely resemble the items depicted. Thankfully, drawing is not a requirement, you can make the game do all the drawing for you while you just guess. But at that point, you might as well watch the show, or play Anticipation instead. (I will defend Anticipation to the hilt, that game gets too much of a bad rap.)
Once again, Scarim goes uncredited for this, but does an alright rendition of Thomas Morrison’s theme. Or at least one measure of it that plays on loop throughout the title screen. Compared to Remote Control, there’s actually a whole bunch of incidental tunes that play throughout the game, including during the the drawing segments. They’re nothing to write home about, but they work better than just the theme on loop.
To me, this game’s existence is the epitome of Hi-Tech Expressions’ MO throughout their career as a games publisher: Just releasing games based on various licenses without really putting any care into them. This is arguably one of the more forgettable games.
Interestingly, this is not the only Win, Lose or Draw game. Besides Hi-Tech releasing the game on PC, there was also a plug and play TV game made in the late 2000s during that brief boom. I wanna find that someday and give that a whirl, because Win, Lose or Draw wasn’t really a hot commodity, even by the 2000s. I guess Disney, who owns the show through their Buena Vista division, was hoping to test the waters to see if the show still had any brand recognition, which it clearly does not. Even after a short-lived revival in 2014, Win, Lose or Draw does not have any nostalgia value outside of game show nerds fascinated by forgotten game shows.
BONUS: Pictionary (1990)
Somebody in the comments for Volume Two pointed out that Pictionary, a video game based on the board game, came out on the NES around 1990. This one wasn’t published by Hi-Tech Expressions, but rather published by LJN and developed by Software Creations, a British studio that made a lot of schlocky mediocre games during the NES era. Around the same time, there was a short-lived kids game show based on Pictionary that aired on television around 1989. While there isn’t much footage of the game show available online, the person in the comments suggested that I look into this and see if there were any similarities.
Well, I looked into it rather briefly and found out pretty quickly that their assumption is totally wrong. Tim Follin, one of the Gods of Video Game Music, composed the music for the NES Pictionary, and surprise, it sounds nothing like the TV show theme. Hell, I bet he didn’t know a Pictionary game show existed.
I’ll give the person in the comments some brownie points for trying to help me out, but the only relation that Pictionary on the NES and Pictionary the game show have here is that they’re both based on the quick draw board game. So instead, I’ll just leave you with this absolute bop of a title theme. A shame the game itself is not that great.
That’s all of the game show adaptations on the NES. Sorry that it took me a while to get around to getting to them all, but it was an interesting little series, really. In an age where demakes of iconic TV shows and movies are fairly commonplace, it’s really interesting to see what composers did to converting these game show themes to the NES sound chip. Or in the case of Fun House and Classic Concentration, what tunes they had to make instead due to licensing.
I don’t know if I’ll continue this series into the 16-bit SNES and Genesis eras. There weren’t nearly as many oddball game show games on those platforms – just the usual Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud, alongside some outliers such as Nickelodeon GUTS – and I don’t know if there’s much to say about those arrangements because the SNES’s S-SMP and Genesis’ YM2612 sound chips are more powerful than the NES’s 2A03, thus not as interesting to me. But I’ll think about it. Anything to get me being nerdy about video game music.
Shoutout to MrNorbert1994’s website (warning: flashing images) for having the NSF files for each of these games, alongside the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation and the Game Developer Research Institute for having proper credit for these games. Without their help, this article probably wouldn’t be nearly as informative.