Originally published on Pixelitis.net on July 11, 2012.
(Editor’s note: From Super Mario Bros. to Metal Gear Solid, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. With hours spent exploring Hyrule or shooting fools in Moscow, it’s no surprise there’s a massive fanbase of the music in games. Enter Liner Notes: a new Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame soundtracks.)
When Capcom unveiled the reveal trailer for the GRIN-developed Bionic Commando: Rearmed back in 2008, I went nuts. One of my favorite NES action platformers, retaining its 2D gameplay but with the added benefit of high-definition visuals!? Yes, please!
As I ogled at a revamped Nathan Spencer swinging about just like he had in 8-bit form, my ears picked up on the trance-esque version of the classic, triumphant Bionic Commando theme pumping out from my speakers. It was a very interesting new take on the original chiptune, one that I had not seen coming.
Original composer Junko Tamiya (credited as “Gondamin” in the game) had made a very melodic and militaristic-sounding soundtrack for the NES version. With Rearmed, composer Simon Viklund eschewed that militaristic, orchestral feel (leaving that for the 3D Bionic Commando), instead remixing it in an electronic style that’s reminiscent of modern breakbeat and house music.
Viklund essentially worked the game’s classic music into something both unique and familiar, and in the end, it wins out. Incredibly.
I admittedly had some initial misgivings with this new take on the music. Deep down, I wished Capcom would have commissioned videogame cover band The NESkimos to do the remake’s soundtrack — I was so infatuated with their rocking renditions of the NES title’s music.
Nevertheless, all of my doubts were immediately washed away the moment I started playing the game.
You can tell that Viklund was devoted to this project – he didn’t just remix the music, he also served as creative director. In a behind the scenes segment, he stated that as a child he would record his favorite NES tunes from his TV to a cassette player to listen to the music even when he wasn’t playing a game.
The game features nearly all of the NES game’s music in some way, shape or form. The various levels’ melodies still remain strong, but they’re given a nice injection of modern electronic sensibilities.
And by modern electronic sensibilities, I mean a crap ton of synth and an upgrade in the bass and drum department. The influence from artists like deadmau5 and Wolfgang Gartner is readily apparent. But when you listen to several tracks, you’ll notice remnants of the original versions mixed in for great, nostalgic effect. Viklund essentially took the NES tracks written by Junko Tamiya and rearranged them in a freeware virtual studio program called Buzz.
You’d think this would be too radical a change, but it’s not. The harmonies and melodies of the original are still there. If anything, it greatly enhances the original melodies, and it seems oddly fitting given the game’s futuristic tongue-in-cheek, 80s action movie vibe.
There’s a nice bit of variety atmosphere-wise too. You’ll have many bopping, melodic tracks like “Power Plant,” but also some atmospheric new tracks like “BCR Menu Theme,” which uses the Bionic Commando theme song amidst an ambient stream of “far-out” synths and complex beats with odd-time signatures.
One notable thing I can’t get enough of when it comes to this soundtrack is the “dirtiness” of its synths. You’d have to listen to tracks like “Power Plant” to really understand.
“Power Plant” takes the original and essentially makes a dance song out of it. In fact, I’m certain most people would mistake it for a track you’d play at a club. In fact, one time I put this track on during a dance party in my college dorm’s basement and everybody was getting down to it. Personally, I take great pride in duping my classmates into dancing to a videogame song.
It was glorious.
Though I lament the lack of the original boss music (Correction: Simon Viklund corrected me, stating that the original boss music is there, albeit in a changed time signature and thus less recognizable), Rearmed’s version (entitled “Intruder Alert”) still features a fantastic remix of the intro ditty that played in the original prior to the start of a boss battle. It’s amazing how creative someone can be with such a short, looping NES track.
The original’s map music was maybe a little too dramatic for its own good. In Rearmed, “OK, We”ll Move” gives the music a bit more of a slower, laid-back feel, which I dug. I can’t say the same for the slower feel of “Leap of Faith.” While the track is still nice, I much prefer the quicker tempo of the NES original.
Meanwhile, “Heat Wave” still captures the overwhelming suspense of the original, adding a fantastic, drum-heavy beat and a throbbing chiptune-y synth. Climbing that ridiculously tall tower never felt more intense with this blasting in the background.
Viklund’s greatest reworked track has to be “Rise of the Albatross,” which serves as the music for the final level. It begins slowly, having a little fun with the little nuances of the original track, before suddenly picking up with a heavy slam of bass and snare. I personally adore the synths that kick in at 3:41 and end with weird high notes. Swinging and platforming through that difficult portion of the game was made all-the-better with this stupendous track.
So overall, Simon Viklund was able to do something that not every game composer is capable of doing well – and that is taking the original, strikingly catchy melodies of a classic game soundtrack and melding it into a genre that nobody realized would actually work – electronica.
Top Five Tracks:
- “Rise of the Albatross”
- “Power Plant”
- “Bionic Commando Main Theme Rearmed”
- “Heat Wave”
- “Intruder Alert”