|By Mike Callahan||Sunday, 13 Sep 2009|
Here’s the second entry in our series about unheard of, maybe not that amazing, but ultimately enjoyable NES soundtracks. Good-Evil has long had one of the best resources of Nintendo music on the web thanks to Akumu’s NSF Archive, and this is an occasional feature to spotlight some unknowns in that massive archive. This update is going to focus on a strange, frightening category – games with four (or less) tracks in their NSF’s. I’ve scoured the NSF archives and found five gems that meet the criteria: Drop Zone, Kick Off, Metal Mech – Man & Machine, Monster Truck Rally and T&C Surf Designs.
- Direct link to NSF’s: Dropzone | Kick Off | Metal Mech – Man & Machine
Monster Truck Rally | T&C Surf Designs
- To play NSFs, see here
- For more information about what an NSF is, see here..
Drop Zone is a 1992 port of an Atari 800 game bearing the same name, and was developed by “Arena Graphics,” aka Archer MacLean. This guy is supposably famous for single-handedly creating, developing, producing, etc., his own games – all two of them. I can’t really figure out why this is so amazing, especially considering he basically just ripped off Defender when making Dropzone. Here’s a link to an interview with Archer MacLean, where you can draw your own observations on his fame or lack thereof.
Drop Zone has two tracks, but don’t be fooled – track two of nsf is just the first track, but slower. Think of it as the dub version of the title screen theme (which the tracks are). The title screen music is all you get here, but it is actually pretty good. It is spacey sounding in the way “space” music had evolved into by the late 80s. That means a main melody with tons of reverb, lots of multi-octave arpeggios and a steady, catchy, droning bass in the background. It sounds a little like a stripped down Silver Surfer track on over-the-counter sedatives. Track two is the same thing, but it sounds like a stripped down Silver Surfer track on horse tranquilizers. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the leap and listen to the second track. I actually like the theme slowed down a bit, as it has a more expansive, slow-groove type of feel to it. It is a shame there’s no other music, because I like what I hear. You’ll just have to enjoy the rather good game play with only the sound effects to motivate you.
Our next game is Kick Off, originally released by Anco for the Amiga in 1989, but ported to the NES in 1991. This game really is a ton of fun and I highly recommend you give it a shot for whatever system you can find it on. It was one of the first (if not the first…?) soccer/football game to actually separately model/physicize (not a real word, sorry) the player from the ball. Your player actually dribbles the ball in front of him, which is great. You also have penalty cards, injuries and referees who either love you, hate you or are just there to get paid and don’t even bother with watching or reffing the game.
Once again we’ve got two tracks, but this time you get two unique ones! Movin’ on up!! The first track is another title screen gem. You get some funky pulses, some standard snare and bass drum work to back it up and a meandering little background melody. After a couple of repetitions of this little diddy the smashing vibratoed pulses come flying back in. The whole thing is a little catchy, but not that amazing. However, it is upbeat, sounds fun and gets you pumped to get out on the pitch to try and get as many yellow cards as possible without getting your whole team kicked off the field, which would bring your fans much shame. The second track sounds like the password screen from Mega Man 2, which is ok I guess. All in all, solid stuff. Even if it is a little lacking in creativity and length, the game play more than makes up for it.
Metal Mech – Man & Machine, came out in 1990, courtesy of Jaleco/Sculptured Software. I absolutely hate this game. The game play is an aberration, a totally ugly mutant, like one of those clones where the scientists are half-assing it and it comes out with mutant strength but only has one eyeball, is covered in warty growths and walks with a limp. This game rips off of Blaster Master badly. I beg all of you to play Blaster Master and not this game.
This gentlemen agrees with me that Blaster Master has the definitive representation of NES game play involving a-small-man-who-can-jump-in-and-out-of-vehicle-and-kill-things: http://www.flyingomelette.com/oddities/mmvsbm.html
On to the music!
Four tracks of fury here, unfortunately tracks two and three are the same, and the fourth is a downtempo, industrial remix of those two. Shame on you Metal Mech! That means we’re down to about 2 1/3 tracks. Track one is the title screen, of course, and definitely the best of the bunch. A little sinister sounding, and it certainly has some tinges of future fear and the action packed life that comes with men running around in bi-pedal mechs destroying a city and killing thousands of innocents. Not a bad introduction for the game, then. It is a little short, but it may get you hyped to play the game, as well as ready for a challenge. The drums are crisp and insistent and the main waves are very foreboding, but certainly interesting in their own way.
Tracks two and three (identical, remember), are your game play music. More tight and military sounding drums here, with some cool periods of silence where you only get bursts of a snare and some constant riding of the hi-hat. Percussion is the star here, with the melodies sounding like someone cut and pasted random parts of Maniac Mansion themes. This description is sounding a little disparaging, but the tracks really aren’t that bad. It’s just a shame this is the main brunt of this track; it would be more appropriate for a brief indoor stage, or a smaller, more confined and scary game play area.
Finally, track four – oh boy. Er…hmm…this is one of the more…”interesting” tracks I’ve heard on an nsf in a while. It carries on with the creepy trend, but we’ve got an unfortunate sounding mix of percussion and pitch shifting here. The drums are scatterbrained and the melody wavers wildly with gigantic melodic leaps at points. I guess it is supposed to represent the zaniness and unpredictability that goes along with being a metal mech pilot, but it all just ends up making me a little nauseous. It actually sounds like someone got hold of a pitchwheel and a mid 90s CD of drum samples for industrial music and went hogwild. Oh, Metal Mech. Once again you bring great nostalgic and correlational shame to my good friend Blaster Master and I.
Here we have Monster Truck Rally, which was shat out by INTV in 1991. This game is almost unbelievably abysmal. The controls are terrible and the graphics are atrocious (it looks like it takes place in the abandoned garbage pit/chemical weapons dump that Swamp Thing might keep in the backyard of his swamp house). When you first fire it up, you may say, “Wow! This doesn’t look too bad – it actually resembles RC Pro Am, which a good game in all respects! Perhaps I will have a modicum of fun playing this game, despite its thievery of layouts and style from the aforementioned game.” No. You are wrong.
This game has a fearsome foursome of musical tracks. I have bad news, though: the first track is a seven second intro, and the fourth track is a four second jingle of some sort. You may be wondering why I chose this soundtrack. Don’t worry, I’m wondering too. I think it’s because tracks one and two are shredderific and they remind me of Maniac Mansion, whose soundtrack I love to death. In the first track you’ll notice a hint of this immediately, with that little descending lick heard in a few tracks of Maniac Mansion. Fire up that game’s nsf and browse to tracks five, six and fourteen, notably fourteen, and keep a sharp ear out for listening. For me at least, the resemblance is uncanny.
Monster Truck Rally’s second track is good if not great. Huge energy and a great sense of swagger to it, which I love, especially the bombastic and spastic riffage at ten seconds in. The drums are solid, the bass just flies along and the melodies are tart but memorable. Friends, this is the music to Monster Truck Rally’s menu screen. We’re not even to the game yet, but don’t get your hopes up.
Track three plods on. The sounds are still rich and carry some weight, but gone is that sense of drive and manic action. Nevertheless, this isn’t a bad track. It certainly doesn’t stand out on this nsf, nor in the world of NES music in general, but it isn’t a total waste. The last track, as I noted early, is a little four second jingle. That’s it! Here’s your big surprise – there’s no music during actual racing in the game, just the sound of your “monster truck”‘s (the sprites look like mid 70′s Ford F-series trucks) ROARING V8 ENGINE! Let’s quit while we’re ahead and move on to the last game of the feature.
Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage (commonly and more intelligently known simply as T&C Surf Designs) was developed and published by LJN and released in 1988. This game isn’t great. It reminds me of California Games’ bike and surf stages and for good reason. They are pretty similar, as you can see in the game play video below. Also, this game is pretty tough/annoying/cheap, depending on your opinion. Once again, look below to the video to see the guy fall in about five-hundred pits in thirty seconds on the skate stage. However, this game does get points for being infinitely better than its sequel, which is one of my most hated NES games of all time. I’ll spare you an expletive laden rant about that.
T&C has four tracks, but only the first is actual music. Tracks two, three and four are the death/fall jingle, win jingle and the you are really terrible and have failed in all aspects jingle, respectively. I guess I’m forced to elaborate on track one, then.
Luckily, track one is pretty good. It is your only stage music, so I hope you like it before you start playing through this game. It is actually laid out in a standard nsf mini-song format, with an introduction, main theme, solo break, main theme and short conclusion/loop. The main theme provides a consistent, energetic pace-setter to the game, which is always a treat for a fast moving sports game. The solo is pretty ripping – no Tim Follin-like instrumentation or writing, but not bad sounding for some warp speed scalar runs and a pitch dive bomb.
And so we conclude another chapter in Unknown NES Music, where once again we see that in general, maybe it is better of being unknown. Maybe this whole article can be summed up simply by watching this video of a drunken British man trying to play through Drop Zone: