Category: Getting Nerdy about Video Game Music

Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 3: The Sludge of Hi-Tech Expressions.

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.”

The bane of many a licensed game from the 80s to the mid 90s…

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)

If only the game was as cool and flashy as this title screen was.

The NES version (composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger):

COMPARED TO:

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.

This game wreaked havoc on my thumb for the brief amount of time I played it.

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.

8-bit J.D. Roth is… weirdly smiling at you.

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)

Couldn’t choose a better color for your brick wall, there? The “TV” in the MTV logo’s cut off.

The NES version (composed by Nick Scarim):

COMPARED TO:

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.

At least they got the question style down pat.

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.

Don’t patronize me, not-Ken Ober.

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.

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Carmen Sandiego Out of This World: A bizarre album based on the game show.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is one of those rather ubiquitous edutainment titles of the late 80s and early 90s. A geography-driven game, the goal is to find clues around the world to stop Carmen’s henchmen from stealing some of the most notable artifacts from around the world, eventually leading to stopping Carmen herself.

A fair share of computers around the world had Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? installed, probably alongside Odell Lake or Number Munchers. But as time goes on, the video games have become only one part of what people remember about Carmen Sandiego as a franchise. If you’re in that generation of ’90s kids like me, you probably remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? not from a best-selling video game series, but through a rather popular game show.

(Rockapella intensifies)

Also called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, it was a kids game show that was about the wonders of geography. This show was co-produced by PBS stations WGBH and WQED, and aired on PBS stations all around the country. Hosted by actor Greg Lee and featuring actress Lynne Thigpen as “The Chief,” it featured kids playing gumshoes at ACME Crimenet, answering geography questions to stop the theft of an artifact of the world from one of Carmen’s henchmen, with the final round having the winning gumshoe try to find Carmen herself to win a fabulous trip.

This show holds about as much nostalgia for kids of the 80s and 90s as most of Nickelodeon’s well known game shows did. It definitely rivals some of the greats on that network, what with it’s cool style, entertaining form of education, and fun quiz elements, giving a silly but fun vibe to the whole show. It lasted about 4 years on PBS before pivoting from geography to history, with a follow-up series called Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego? lasting two more years before ending production.

Naturally for a show that’s modestly popular like Where in the World… is, there would be loads of merchandising. The common T-shirts, video game adaptations, the works. Since the show featured a capella band Rockapella singing throughout the show’s 250+ episode run, naturally a soundtrack CD was also released. But there’s more than one soundtrack made for Where in the World…, and that one’s been mostly forgotten. Let’s talk about Carmen Sandiego: Out of this World.

Look at how happy Greg Lee is.

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Admittedly, I’m writing about this primarily because of an article I read about the game show that has been making the internet rounds lately. Christian Carrion of Buzzerblog, a noted blog about game show news, did some investigative journalism about a rumored long-lost episode of the show called “Auld Lang Gone,” where a contestant was visibly injured in the bonus round, causing it to be unaired. You can read about that tale over at Buzzerblog here, and it made me think about this album as a response.

This album features 10 songs about various things, from pop-driven songs about geography, to twangy country about families, to songs about bugs and Carmen Sandiego herself. A lot of these songs have fairly simple, cutesy lyrics, which tells me this album is clearly aiming for a younger demographic. Which is not a bad thing, children’s music can be fun and exciting like its adult counterparts without being fluff Yanni-esque fare.

So, you’d think an album based on the game show where a bunch of guys sing a capella would have Rockapella show up everywhere, right? Well, technically yes. Prominent member Sean Altman produces and co-writes most of the album with longtime collaborator David Yazbek, and does a handful of backing vocals on a lot of the album.

If you want to listen along with me, I’ve put up the entire album here. Legalities aside, the album’s been out of print for over 25 years, and with the exception of two songs here, the album isn’t available on YouTube or streaming services like Spotify. If that ever changes, or a record label objects to me having this music for some kids album freely available to download, I will take the link down.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Music Kits Series 5: Of Masterminds and Missing Links.

I never thought I would ever come back to this. After a steady stream of music packs released throughout 2014-2016, I assumed Valve was done with the whole “CS:GO music kit” concept. After the Radicals Box hit in 2016, there had been nary a peep when it comes to that kind of content.

Then something changed. Throughout 2019 to 2020, Valve started slowly doling out individual kits, which was a better strategy to me as I could basically write about them when I had enough music kits to review. Then in late April of this year, they just dropped a pack of 7 new kits, which means I had to throw those plans immediately in the garbage.

It’s weird. The last major music kit release was in 2016, so to see them go from absolute silence to adding new ones every few months is a surprise. Especially with the spread of musicians we have on offer this time.

While I don’t play much Counter-Strike: Global Offensive these days – Call of Duty: Warzone has been my current vice, as my previous article could tell you – I still find some charm in the game. Global Offensive does things that seem absolutely baffling by modern shooter standards, yet works perfectly well without feeling too old school and too modern. That Valve has mostly stuck with it while adding elements of its competition like character skins makes it interesting to look at as a game, even if I’m not as invested as I once was. But we’re here to talk about the music, and talk we shall.

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To start, I’ll cover the four music kits released in the interim between the Radicals Box and the Masterminds Box. Like before, I’ll cover information about the musician in question, whether the music itself is good, and whether it fits in the context of Global Offensive’s gameplay. I’ll finish it off with a verdict. So let’s get started.

Like before, I’ll link to a YouTube video or to CS:GO Stash if you want to listen along.

The Verkkars, EZ4ENCE

DESCRIPTION: The Verkkars rise through the Finnish charts with a heart-pounding tribute to ENCE. Can it really be so EZ?

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user ThEMaSkeD), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

The first of the interim kits, this was released as a promotional kit after the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament in 2019. The Verkkars are an electronic dance band based in Finland, the same country that Major qualifiers ENCE are from.

ENCE is an eSports team that consists of noted Finnish CS:GO players, including allu, one of the replacements for Fifflaren in the classic CS:GO Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, and was a fairly reliable player during his tenure with that team. Combined with some other good players from the Finnish CS:GO scene, they came to be the underdogs of the tournament, getting as far as the finals in Katowice.

The downside was that their opponents in that final were Astralis. Or as I like to call them, The New England Patriots of Counter-Strike: A team that you can’t deny their high-tier skill and abilities while playing, but they are absolutely boring to watch them dominate everyone. (Surprising no one, Astralis beat ENCE 2-0 in the final, winning their second consecutive Valve-sponsored major.)

This was clearly made as a promotion for the team ENCE, and the title is a reference to a line that people were spamming in Twitch chat about the team when they were at their peak. The song itself is… okay. It’s bog-standard EDM. It really didn’t grab me.

Then the chorus got stuck in my head. The whole song is in Finnish (except for some sampled English dialogue from a tournament that plays during the breakdown), but the tone of the chorus just… hits the right notes to just get stuck in my head in the most obnoxious way.

I put “EZ4ENCE” in a category I’ve called “terrible god damn earworms,” where a specific portion of a song – usually the chorus – gets stuck in your head in all the worse ways and never ever leaves you. The Verkkars’ ENCE anthem is in the same league as Paul Oakenfold’s “Starry Eyed Surprise,” or Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” which is quite an impressive feat.

If you’re a fan of the team, it’s a good pack. If you’re not, Mord Fustang’s Diamonds does the same kind of EDM stuff but without the earworm chorus. Even listening to it again for this review has that damn chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

EZ4ENCE, ENCE, ENCE

Dens putted upperbelt

Putted upperbelt…

VERDICT: Only recommended if you’re a fan of the team. Otherwise I lightly recommend it, get it on the Steam marketplace.

Scarlxrd, King, Scar

DESCRIPTION: Scarlxrd blends heavy trap beats with a flow and delivery that creates his own unique subgenre. With this exciting blend his live shows capture the attention of everyone in the crowd.

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user George), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

Okay, I don’t want to be That Person, you know, the one who doesn’t “get” present-day music. But I do not understand the trap genre of music, and I certainly don’t understand Scarlxrd. (That’s pronounced “scar-lord,” if you’re wondering.) He’s a young musician that makes mostly trap music, a sort of electronic rap genre that admittedly I don’t know all that well. Scarlxrd’s style is mixing trap music with some Japanese style and unusual character replacements for flavor.

It’s a shame that it’s not good music. The song itself, also called “King, Scar,” is obnoxious, prodding noise. It’s really hard to listen to, where Scarlxrd basically yells his lyrics in a harsh, robotic tone, while sticking with the very swing-like rhythm of him screaming hey and amplified bass that makes it sound like my speakers are being blown out.

Since I don’t enjoy the song itself, which plays in the main menu, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the kit. Any track that’s just the introduction with the prominent toy box sounds are the best part because it doesn’t go full force, in-your-face about it. But then the vocals kick in and it becomes outright unbearable. This doesn’t even have the “lightly bang your head along” factor that some hip-hop has to me, it’s just too brash to really enjoy as a song, even as a music kit.

Keep in mind, there’s probably good music in this genre, hell probably even by Scarlxrd himself, but this is a bad, bad music kit. If anything, this song now rivals Hundredth’s Free in the “great if you want an obnoxious MVP anthem” category, which I didn’t know there was competition.

VERDICT: Not recommended. Straight up. This will probably be the only one in this list that I can say I actively dislike.
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Game composers recycling their own music.

Let’s say you’re a fairly notable game composer. You’ve worked on some bangers and lesser-known hits. You got a good pedigree of work, and you’re suggested to work on someone’s new game. Life feels good.

Though, sometimes your creativity fails you. You struggle to make a new composition and the game’s about to go gold. So you dig into your back catalog of previous works, adjust the tempo and change a few instruments, and bam, you got a new song.

What do these two games have in common? You’re about to find out.

I call this “Game music recycling.” It’s a phenomenon that has existed for a long time, even outside the video game realm, but I’m particularly interested in the gaming side specifically.

Now I’m gonna lay down some ground rules for this. They’re not particularly complex, but they’re to avoid things that wouldn’t really count. So here they are:

  • The tracks in question have to be in a commercially released game. Bobby Prince released a handful of demos of licensed music for Doom that later got reused in later games, but since those weren’t made to be commercially released, they don’t count.
  • The recycling has to come from the same composer. Tim Follin basically redid the theme to Starsky & Hutch for the NES game Treasure Master, but that’s more of an homage than anything.
  • It has to be a full song. A composer throwing in a jingle from another game they made as a tribute doesn’t really give me much to work with.
  • It must come from different games in different franchises. There will be an exception with this first entry, but this is to avoid the obvious of someone blaming a composer for using the same theme in every game.

For this entry, the recycled music are all from composers based in Europe. American and Japanese composers have done similar recycling, which I’m gonna save for future entries. Let’s get started.


David Wise:

This first one was one I didn’t really know about until someone on Twitter pointed it out fairly recently.

I have never played a Sid Meier game. Basically simulations that require me to complex strategy to succeed really bores me and at times feels like it has too high of a skill ceiling to really enjoy anything out of it. It’s why I’ve never played Civilization. But the original Pirates! seemed to have a modest following, and got ported to a bunch of different systems, including the NES in late 1991.

While it was released on several platforms, there wasn’t a distinct soundtrack for each, thus each version has their own unique set of music. This was ported over by Rare, who pretty much one of several go-to contract developers for NES games throughout the late 80s-early 90s. David Wise, at the time Rare’s sole composer, made a simple little ditty for the game’s main menu as you planned out your pirates story.

Cut to a few years later. Rare works on what is one of the biggest games of the year, Donkey Kong Country. The final boss, King K. Rool, takes place on a giant pirate ship. Naturally, this was the most fitting place to rearrange a small tune made for a port of a Commodore 64 game. While it does borrow part of the melody from the Pirates! tune, it does go off into its own tune after that.

The tune would get a second arrangement in the game’s sequel, Diddy’s Kong Quest. Called Snakey Chantey, the tune is a much more deliberate homage to that specific menu track, this time with a bit more of a jazzy sound to it.

Until I was made aware of this, I only had two entries for this article. I’m a strong supporter of the “rule of threes,” and two just felt too little. Then this started making the rounds, and gave me a third entry, anda  good starting piece. Thanks to TheBalishChannel on Twitter for finding this one.

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Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 2: GameTek’s leftovers.

Several years ago, I did a post where I compared game show themes to their NES counterparts. It was one of the more unique posts I’ve done, and I teased about making another part sometime. Well, that time is now.

Like part one, we’re sticking with GameTek’s output. This was originally gonna cover the rest of the NES games, but it would’ve been a bit unwieldy compared to the last one, so I trimmed it down considerably.

The earliest game show games published by GameTek were developed by Rare, as it was likely cheaper to get a contract developer to make your adaptation compared to doing it in-house. By 1990, Rare had moved on to other projects with other publishers, most notably Milton Bradley and Tradewest. But GameTek was the leader of making game show video games, and naturally they needed to keep publishing games based on hit game shows, thus they soldiered on with a bunch of different game studios tackling the other game show licenses.

This time around, we’ll cover the last few game show games published by GameTek. Two of them are shows we’ve seen on here before, but the remaining three are all new, and have their own unique little tales to each. Let’s get started.

Wheel of Fortune featuring Vanna White (1992)

That’s one colorful wheel.

The NES version (composed by Barry Leitch):

COMPARED TO:

“Changing Keys,” Wheel of Fortune’s theme from 1989-1992 (composed by Merv Griffin):

Our first game is naturally the biggest. Wheel of Fortune really needs no introduction, though this is the fourth Wheel game on the NES. Though I can understand why they did this, which I’ll explain in our next entry.

This is a downgrade compared to before, even with those ugly avatars.

This one is honestly the best of the bunch. Multiple rounds, actually increasing dollar values, even gets the bonus round right with giving RSTLNE for free. A shame the game looks like… this.

This is a bit complicated. For one, the game is credited on most places (including MobyGames) to be developed by Imagitec Design, a small development studio who did occasional contract work. However, the game shares the graphical style with Talking Super Jeopardy!, which was done by people at Imagineering. If I had to guess, Imagineering is the actual developer, with music contracted out by Imagitec. Or in this case, Imagitec’s sole employee: founder Barry Leitch.

This looks a lot less crowded, which is a bit of an improvement.

Leitch composed the music for this game, and it’s somewhat unusual for an NES game. While the theme is pretty close to the show’s theme – albeit a bit too fast – it eventually segues into this breakdown with a distinct arpeggio sound that reminds me very much of MOD tracker music, or something I’d hear on a Commodore 64.

Even the other incidental cues, one of which is a rendition of the four chimes to introduce a new puzzle, has that distinct arpeggio sound. It sounds a bit unusual for a game based on an American game show.

Though, in reality, this isn’t that weird. This is fairly common for European composers who did music for the NES. Listen to anything from Neil Baldwin, Jeroen Tel or even Tim Follin, and this music would fall right in line. Since Barry Leitch was based in Scotland, it all makes sense.

Leitch would also do the music for the SNES and Genesis adaptations of Wheel of Fortune released in the same year, so imagine this guy having to adapt Merv Griffin’s iconic theme song to three different sound chips. Quite impressive, really.

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Ghosts I-IV for Quake: A different kind of soundtrack.

If there’s one thing I need to improve on in my life, it’s to write something in the moment. I’ve bought plenty of games, played a bevy of mods, grabbed other assorted things for potential blog fodder…

Then I do nothing with it. This has happened more often than not, but only because I get the problem of being an ideas person and rarely act upon them. I’ve been slowly improving on this front, at least more than I was years ago.

Which brings me to this post about a game mod. I played this on a whim back in 2018, and thought it was pretty neat. While I’m currently wrapped in a few other things right now, I thought I’d write something quick for this month.

A few years back, I wrote an article praising the wonders of Red Book CD audio. CD audio tracks that would play in certain games, from PC classics like Half-Life, to even Sega CD games like Sonic CD. Unfortunately, modern technology is not too kind to the concept, as it often struggles to work properly on modern devices. In some cases, digital re-releases of games like Starsiege: Tribes didn’t even come with the CD music, removing part of the ambience.

There have been solutions thanks to source ports and game updates. For instance, playing Half-Life on Steam has all its music files as MP3s, so if the game (or a related mod) calls for that CD track, it’ll play it without needing the CD.

Looks just as good as it did in ’96.

Which brings me to a classic in Red Book audio: Quake. One of the earliest PC games to use it, popping in the CD would fill your ears with weird ambient music by Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Modern source ports such as Quakespasm actually support playable CD tracks in MP3/OGG formats, which means one can rip the soundtrack from their copy of Quake – or just find it on the internet, I doubt id and Zenimax care these days – and play it easily, proper looping and all.

There’s a handful of Quake map packs that come with custom soundtracks tailor-made for the level pack, such as Travail. Others outright replace the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack with different ambient tracks, like EpiQuake or Quake Epsilon. But what if I told you someone replaced Nine Inch Nails music with Nine Inch Nails music?

Ha! Now I won’t be burned by hot slag. Take that!
(Oh wait, now I can’t get out…)

“Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is an interesting mod. Replacing the original 1996 soundtrack with the entirety of Ghosts I-IV, an album by Nine Inch Nails with nothing but ambient instrumentals seems like a good fit. In a sense, Ghosts I-IV is a spiritual successor to the original Quake soundtrack, even if there’s little similarities in style.

The album itself is interesting: Frustrated by their record label, Trent Reznor severs his contract with Interscope Records and decides to go independent – for a while anyway – and released this under a Creative Commons license. This license is how the mod exists without lawyers getting involved, as it’s a free mod for a commercial video game.

Shooting switches with the power of magic pellets!

There is one other feature of this mod: There’s no monsters or weapons. Now there’s mostly empty levels with switches, lifts and other assorted things, but nothing to shoot. With god mode turned on. In a sense, this changes the perspective of the game entirely. No longer a straight explosive romp, it’s strictly an exploration-based affair.

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Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland Soundtrack: Where rock meets punk.

I write about a lot of random junk here. Such as writing about about having a strange collection of video game related albums in the past. Sometimes just simple soundtracks of games, other times stuff like the soundtrack of the the first Tomb Raider film, or even a set of songs featuring the cast of the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? game show. Struggling with what to write about to wrap up the year, I thought I’d grab one of those unexpected soundtracks and give a review to wrap up 2017.

So let’s look at the soundtrack album to the the once-yearly skateboarding franchise: Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Or as the CD spine calls it, “TONY HAWK’S AMERICAN WASTLAND.”

R-2943952-1459377840-2481.jpeg

This looks so low-quality compared to the cover it’s based on, The Clash’s London Calling.

This is the second released soundtrack album for a Tony Hawk game. The first being a “music from and inspired by” album for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which had a bunch of songs from people who didn’t appear in the game like Outkast, Papa Roach, and Drowning Pool; while omitting good stuff like Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.”

The soundtrack for American Wasteland only covers a small portion of the 64 (!) tracks that are in the entire game, and the 14 songs featured here are all covers of punk songs of the ’70s and ’80s like Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits, The Stooges, and even Black Flag. Considering Tony Hawk games tend to hit the gamut of multiple genres, it’s a bummer they focused on this and not the rock or hip-hop sides of the game’s soundtrack.

While I ended up finding the album at a thrift store for a pittance, you don’t have to do the same. The whole album is available on digital streaming services, including Spotify, so you can listen along with me here:

Some of these songs are by bands I’m familiar with thanks to their appearances in Rock Band or Guitar Hero — My Chemical Romance, Dropkick Murphys, Fall Out Boy, Rise Against — but the rest of the bands featured are pop-rock, post-punk or emo-rock bands that came and went. A fair share of these bands were modestly popular for the era, but unfortunately my music knowledge post-1998 is kinda like swiss cheese: it’s full of gaping holes everywhere.

Punk is also a genre I don’t know all that well besides the more mainstream representations of the genre, so in this case I ended up having to go back and listen to the originals to see if the cover is better than the original, and most importantly if it’s worth listening to Taking Back Sunday cover The Descendents.

The album starter is Senses Fail’s cover of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” which was originally a deluxe edition bonus track on their debut album Let It Enfold You. Senses Fail appeared on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock‘s soundtrack, with a song I barely remember because Guitar Hero III wasn’t that good of a game. As for the song, Senses Fail give the song a much harsher pop-punk kind of sound, complete with slightly changing the lyrics since the original songs reference the lead singer. It’s alright, but kinda lacks the raw, do-it-yourself feeling of the Suicidal Tendencies’ original. At least they didn’t cover “Cyco Vision.”

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The random Big Rock Endings of Rock Band – 10th Anniversary Edition.

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the best damn music game franchise in video game history. I’m talking about the most awesome fake plastic rock game around: Rock Band. Screw your DDRs, your Beatmanias, and all that. Rock Band is where it’s at.

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And thus, a franchise was born.

Sadly I didn’t get into the instrument rhythm genre until 2009, the year Activision totally thought releasing six Guitar Hero games at $60 a pop was a sound business decision. GameStop was already giving away excess Guitar Hero II 360 guitars when bought with Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which was on sale for $10. Needless to say, this gave me an easy way to get into the genre proper, after my previous experience of sucking on Even Flow on Easy in Guitar Hero III. I later snagged the then-recent Rock Band 2 a few months later. Alongside getting The Beatles: Rock Band set for Christmas that year, that was when my Rock Band journey truly started.

The first Rock Band is 10 years old, and I’m gonna celebrate it by pointing out how proud Harmonix was of its new features.

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Oh Harmonix, you cheeky little goobers. (This is probably using a fake song as this doesn’t match any song in the game.)

Rock Band was the first western game to implement not just guitar and bass, but drums and vocals as well. Using their experiences from making tons of Karaoke Revolution games, as well as making drums simple and complex, they made a game that became one of the best damn party games around. Provided you had the room and space to hold all the plastic instruments.

But there was another feature that they were particularly proud of: The Big Rock Ending.

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Ram on those buttons! Slam those drums! Annoy your neighbors!

 

In older Guitar Hero games, a fair share of songs ended up with a ridiculous flurry of notes, which was an annoying shift after playing something like “Smoke on the Water”. To counter this, Harmonix introduced the Big Rock Ending. In this, you just strum any note, and bang on any drum to amass points, then hit a specific set of notes at the end. Hit them all, you successfully bank the bonus. A single miss, and it goes up in smoke. Literally.

This solved the problem Harmonix had with the Guitar Hero games at this point. Give them the chance to be a rock star while not making a song harder than it needed to be. They were very, very proud of this new feature. Naturally they had to pad part of the 58-song setlist with them.

In some places, this works out. Stuff like “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, “Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld” or the cover of “Green Grass and High Tides” fits it perfectly considering how the song is. In others, well… Not so much.

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Activision and its weird SNES localizations.

Activision. I probably don’t need to say any more, but I’m going to. They’re a company that fully endorses the practice of “make something until it stops making money, then burn it alive and dump the ashes.” Franchises like Tony Hawk’s Pro SkaterGuitar Hero, and James Bond came out practically yearly until the quality suffered. Many iconic studios like Neversoft, Bizarre Creations, and Radical Entertainment were among the casualties when their games didn’t sell well enough. Others, like Raven Software, were enslaved to make Call of Duty after two back-to-back commercial failures  in Wolfenstein and Singularity. Even then, who knows when the COD bubble will finally burst?

But before Activision was the monstrous juggernaut they are now, they were still a company that was recovering from the ’80s. A bunch of bad business deals forced the company to be bought by a holding firm in the early ’90s, ran by Robert “Bobby” Kotick, who still runs the company to this day.

While Activision was trying to rebuild during the ’90s, they decided to do something unusual in terms of localization of two Super Famicom games to the west. Localizing games originally from Japan is fairly common, which usually meant changing stuff like minimizing Hitler and Nazi references in Bionic Commando on the NES, to straight up overhauls of existing games, such as Masked Ninja Hanamaru becoming a game involving Domino’s short-lived mascot Yo! Noid for the NES.

In Activision’s case, their localization approach was somewhere in the middle: they decided to scrap the original Super Famicom soundtrack, get a contract deal with some fairly popular electronic bands, and have their songs be part of the new American soundtrack, complete with advertising this fact on the box and in the game itself.

So, all I can say now, is “Are you ready for this?”

(Before I go any further: Shout out to online buddy LanceBoyle for giving me the inspiration to write about these. Not the guy from MegaRace, though I’ll give him a shout out too, because why not?)

The first game they attempted this with was BioMetal, a fairly innocuous shoot-em-up with powerups that was a decent little R-Type clone. Alas I am very bad at these kind of games, so I couldn’t get past the first stage. Though from what I’ve seen, it seems to be just one of many shoot-em-ups on a system that was already filled with them. It’s why stuff like Phalanx had that weird hillbilly on the cover, to make it stand out.

 

 

Activision’s attempt to make it stand out didn’t involve a cover change, but rather something a bit more unusual: Composer Yoshio Nagashima’s soundtrack was replaced by songs from the band 2 Unlimited. 2 Unlimited was the band that made that fairly popular electronic song “Get Ready for This,” a song that plays practically at every sporting event you could imagine. It plays during the title screen and appears on Stage 2.

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Five random video game CDs I own.

In my many years of running this blog, I’ve ended up collecting a fair share of video game-related junk. Demo discs. Hot wheels cars. Even collecting bottles of Mountain Dew Game Fuel. But one thing I’ve gotten the most often these days is random video game-related music.

It’s no secret that I’m fascinated by music, from the styles and genres, to their appearances even in video games. Naturally, over the years I’ve gotten a bunch of music CDs, each with their own little story that I’ve either found on a past I Bought Stuff!, or something I had for years.

I have the traditional soundtrack fare of music straight from the game, but there isn’t a whole lot I could write about those. For example, I own The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that Nintendo Power was giving away to people who re-subscribed to the magazine, but there isn’t much to say about that. However, I do have a fair share of stuff that’s tangentially related to video games that I think are interesting instead, so I’m gonna go with that option here.

So here are five random video game-related CDs I own, in no particular order.

Music from the Motion Picture: Tomb Raider

This was around the time where the franchise was probably at the absolute biggest it could be, despite a slight slump thanks to Eidos following Activision’s philosophy of pumping out a new game in the franchise every year, something that would inevitably lead to the abysmal Angel of Darkness in 2002.

I never saw the Tomb Raider films, but I heard they’re fun, goofy action flicks. Angelina Jolie being the box office draw probably helped too. This film also features Daniel Craig way before he was James Bond, so it already has piqued my interest.

I honestly didn’t think the film would be filled to the brim with licensed music, but there’s a lot here, and it’s a mix of industrial (Nine Inch Nails, Fluke, Oxide & Neutrino) and electronic artists (Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim). A lot of it is a good example of that late ‘90s-early 2000s style of pop/industrial and hip-hop/rock sound. A lot of these are artists I’ve heard of, but the only song on here I was familiar with prior to listening was Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At.” Which is so early 2000s it hurts. That song felt like it was everywhere around this time!

The only thing I’m saddened by is no portions of the film’s score by Graeme Revell. That was released on a separate CD – It was common to release a soundtrack of the licensed music and a separate CD for the film’s score – but even having one or two tracks on here would’ve been a nice surprise to me. Film scores are something I find appealing, if anyone who’s seen me talk about the music kits for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

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