Soundtrack Saturdays: Pokemon Stadium Theme (SSBM Version)

Hey, did you know Pokemon turned 20 this week? Yeah, I was surprised, too. I remember when the series first came to America. I was in that perfect target demographic sweet spot; I had a Game Boy, watched weekday afternoon cartoons (Pokemon was technically my first anime, as Toonami hadn’t premiered yet), and still had the time to dedicate hours to catching ’em all. I can still recite the original PokeRap. I don’t think I need to elaborate on Nintendo’s brilliant marketing campaign; the fact that the series has survived this long – with two brand new games coming out this Christmas – speaks for itself. Nintendo definitely knew they were onto something by 2001, when they included this song in Super Smash Bros. Melee. A fully-orchestrated remix of the anime’s title theme, complete with an utterly epic choir? Yeah, that’ll blow any fan’s mind the first time they hear it. While I don’t play Pokemon anymore (an exercise in futility if there ever was one), I still remember the original games fondly.

If you want more SSBM, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

RIP, Satoru Iwata

Yesterday, Satoru Iwata passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the president and CEO of Nintendo. But he was so much more than that; unlike countless other businessmen and executives, he earned his success the old fashioned way: starting from the bottom and working his way up. He studied programming in the 1970s, when video games were still in their infancy. He began as an unpaid intern for Commodore, then became a freelancer for HAL Laboratory while in college. After graduating, he worked full time and rose up its ranks in the early 90s. He had a hand in founding Creatures Inc., the folks responsible for bringing Pokemon to the world. He didn’t wasn’t just some guy in suit, either. He took over programming for Earthbound and saved it from developmental oblivion. He programmed the original Pokemon Red/Blue battle mechanics into Pokemon Stadium without any reference documents, using just the Game Boy’s source code instead…in one week. He famously compressed the all of the original game into the Gold/Silver cartridge, just to surprise and reward players for beating the regular quest. When Super Smash Bros. Melee was facing a delayed release date due to programming issues, he – already Nintendo’s General Manager of Corporate Planning – went downstairs and personally debugged the game hands-on, all in less than a month.

Yeah, he was that good.

He was in a unique position of growing alongside his industry; unlike many of his peers, his insight into game design came from the effort of making games the old fashioned way, with a focus on the fun experience while dealing with the hardware limitations. He understood that focusing so much on flashier graphics and processing power wasn’t necessarily the answer, and that appealing to people beyond hardcore gamers was incredibly important. Nintendo is often derided for appealing to kids instead of adults, but he was proud of it; he argued that children have an instinctual understanding of whether a game was good or not. He refused to let the company stagnate, constantly pushing them to try new things. He was initially mocked for bringing forth the DS and Wii – both consoles had unorthodox designs and admittedly terrible launch lineups – but was eventually vindicated via record-breaking sales numbers and some of the finest games in the last decade.

What was more inspiring is what Iwata did when the company wasn’t succeeding. Nintendo fell into a slump when it released the Wii U, mainly due to its high prices, strange design, and lacking lineup. The company was losing money, and he was being roasted by both gamers and corporate shareholders alike. Instead of stepping down, he voluntarily cut his salary in half to make up for it! That was the second time he did it, too; when the 3DS’s sales went poorly, he took the same action. When corporate demanded why he hadn’t fired employees for the sake of profit, he absolutely refused to do so, saying that it wouldn’t work well long-term, and that it’d wreck the company’s morale. If you look around online, you’ll find countless stories of people meeting Iwata and saying what a passionate, candid, and kind guy he was in person. When Ocarina of Time was released, he even went out and bought a copy on the way home from work. His hilarious “Direct To You” presentations and sense of humor have become the stuff of Internet memetic legend. The hundreds of thousands of tributes pouring in – even from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s business rivals – shows just how loved and respected Iwata was.

I wish I had a personal story about meeting him. I wish I could say that we crossed paths at a convention, or that we shared an elevator, or that I pitched an idea and worked for him. But I can’t, and now I never will. Instead, all I have are the games he made, and the memories of how he helped shape my childhood. Yes, I caught all 151 of the original Pokemon, played almost every Kirby game, and spent countless hours fighting in Smash Bros. My gaming library is full of titles made with him as the Executive Producer; I wouldn’t be the same person without Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo franchises influencing me. While I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, gaming is still very much a part of me. It reminds me of something Iwata once said:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata. We understand.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact – Nile (Gill’s Theme)

Much like its predecessors, Street Fighter III went through multiple iterations over the years. New characters were added and rebalanced, and gameplay mechanics were tweaked to be more complex and technically challenging. It’s understandable why it the game ended up with three versions; at the time, the folks at Capcom believed this was going to be the final Street Fighter game. If you’re going to send off one of the greatest and most influential gaming franchises in existence, you want to go out on a high note. They pulled it off, too; 15 years later, Third Strike is still regarded as arguably the best 2D fighting game ever crafted.

However, many gamers tend to forget the previous versions – New Generation and 2nd Impact – even existed. The latter not only introduced more strategic options to the series, but had an excellent jazz, techno, rap, and drum and base soundtrack. The “Nile” theme encompasses what makes the final showdown with Gill so awesome: a calculating, tense feeling hiding beneath a serene and beautiful surface.

If you want more 2nd Impact, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Jet Force Gemini – Eschebone

Jet Force Gemini is one of the great unsung gems of the Nintendo 64 library. Oh sure, everyone talks about Goldeneye, Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64. But anyone who’s played this game knows better. It’s an epic space saga involving twin space soldiers, their trusty robot dog, and an evil empire of mutant ants. There are tons of flashy weapons, relatively intelligent AI, and special effects that push the N64’s graphics to their limits. The levels are huge, varied, and creatively designed. The sheer scope of it all is rather stunning for such an old game. It’s hurt by its late endgame developments, though; like any other title made by Rare, it requires a ridiculous amount of item collecting in order to beat. In this case, it involves rescuing every member of a race of sentient teddy bears hidden throughout the galaxy.

Yeah, it’s about as fun as it sounds.

However, the any potential tedium is drowned out by the game’s incredible soundtrack. Just listen to that track. Can you believe that came out a Nintendo cartridge? It’s so atmospheric. The composer took cues from major film scores; this particular track is based on the works of Danny Elfman. It’s one of many, many amazing songs in an equally amazing game.

If you want more Jet Force Gemini, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Mega Man X – Electric Spark Remix

When you ask gamers about the best titles on the SNES, you’ll probably hear things like Super Mario World, A Link To The Past, Chrono Trigger, or Super Metroid. Occasionally, someone will mention Mega Man X, the continuation of the classic Capcom franchise. It set a high standard for every action/platformer that came after it. It took everything from the old NES games and improved on them in every way. There were characters with actual personalities, more upgrades, flashier graphics, tighter controls, versatile weapons, several secrets, fast pacing, gorgeous levels, and epic bosses.

It was so good.

Its success (it eventually spawned eight sequels!) was also due to its incredible sound design. When something exploded, you heard it. The game was one of the first to demonstrate what the SNES could really do, especially with regards to the soundtrack. The guitar riffs in Storm Eagle’s stage, the jazzy, complex beat of Armored Armadillo’s mine…and of course, Spark Mandrill’s classic rock theme. That last one was revamped by Sixto Sounds for OC Remix’s For Everlasting Peace: 25 Years Of Mega Man, and it’s arguably the best track on the album. It’s an amazing song paying homage to an even more amazing game.

If you want more Mega Man X, you can find the full OST here. If you want more Sixto Sounds, you can find his page here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Tetris: Type A

Video

Quick show of hands: Who’s played Tetris? I know at least some of you have; it even has a cognitive phenomenon named after it. It’s been around since the mid-80’s, though people in my generation probably associate it most with the original Gameboy (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary this week!) and NES. I don’t think I need to expound on the virtues of the greatest puzzle video game ever made. The fact that it’s lasted this long is testament enough. When Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, they were sure to pay homage to one of the many games that put their consoles on the map. Case in point: A fully orchestrated version of the classic Type A theme, which itself is an arranged version of Korobeiniki, a 19th century Russian folk song.

As far as Brawl goes, however, Type A is just one entry in its over 250-song soundtrack. It’s such a massive ensemble that it would take almost eight hours to complete! You can find a song listing here, and a partial playlist here.

Good gaming, good music.

Haha, Ian Malcolm!

Remember Jurassic Park? Remember how awkward but strangely fascinating Jeff Goldblum was? Soundcloud user FLIPSH0T has captured the bizarre spectacle and turned into something wonderful.