VGM Entry 32: Arcade and C64 in ’88
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
Beyond the NES, a lot of great things were going on in 1988 that I am largely still unaware of. Late 80s arcade and computer gaming gets a lot less publicity today than the Nintendo counterpart, and even some of the best require a bit of digging to uncover, but here are a few I found worthy of mention.
Jeroen Tel is a Dutch composer born in 1972. I am not sure when he first got into the business, but his works really start to stand out for the first time in 1988. Cybernoid and Cybernoid II, both developed by Raffaele Cecco and published by Hewson Consultants, were also both released in 1988. The latter’s main theme is particularly catchy. The game was a sort of weird combination space shooter and action side scroller, hedging more towards the latter. It appeared on a number of platforms, but its C64 version is by far the most memorable, specifically because of Tel’s musical contributions. He would go on to be remembered alongside Rob Hubbard as one of the greatest Commodore 64 composers. His Cybernoid II music has even been performed by live orchestras, though the success of converting such an essentially chippy tune is dubious. Suffice to say this track is catchy in its original form, and clocking in at 6 minutes, it provides a pleasant motivation for extended gameplay.
The arcade had long established itself as the primary venue for optimal sound quality. The general lack of great arcade soundtracks in my experience makes me wonder if I’m not missing an enormous and important range of video game music. The works of Tamayo Kawamoto in Ghouls’n Ghosts (Capcom, 1988) certainly upholds the higher standard. The majority of the soundtrack is rather dark and ambient, and quite successful as such, but it’s the unique “Stage Two” theme which really stands out. For a relatively unknown video game composer, Tamayo Kawamoto has quite a history. She began her career on Capcom’s Alph Lyla house band, composing arcade music as early as 1984 to include the classic Commando. A few years after Ghouls’n Ghosts she would move on to join Zuntata, the Taito house band responsible for Darius and quite a number of other arcade classics.
The Ghouls’n Ghosts soundtrack, and “Stage Two” in particular, would ultimately be remembered in the form of Tim Follin’s Commodore 64 arrangement, not Tamayo Kawamoto’s original, and for good reason, but let’s give credit where credit’s due.
Even so, the world of the arcade was fading fast, and Zuntata were one of the few acts still putting their all into it. Some bad research on the part of youtube posters lead me to believe for a time that the music of the 1993 Sega-CD/Mega-CD port of The Ninja Warriors (Taito, 1988) was in fact the original, and it’s this latter version for which the game is probably most famous. But unlike with Ghouls’n Ghosts, the music to The Ninja Warriors didn’t conceptually change over time. It just improved in the light of better technology.
The soundtrack of The Ninja Warriors was headed by Hisayoshi Ogura, who also lead the composition of Darius. The track featured here, “Daddy Mulk”, is the most famous in the game. (I have no idea what the origin of this peculiar name is, and I wonder if it’s not an afterthought in consideration of the apparent sound of the electronic voice in the music.) Now that I am aware of the difference between the 1988 arcade soundtrack and its 1993 Sega-CD counterpart I’m a bit surprised that the arcade quality is quite this low. I mean, it’s outstanding compared to anything on competing platforms, but it doesn’t sound like any technological upgrades had been made since Darius two years prior. Another sign of the arcade’s fading significance? Perhaps. Zuntata certainly weren’t cutting corners, as their live renditions and later adaptations of the soundtrack would show. They were still kings of the arcade in 1988, even if this was a dying kingdom, and their legacy is well earned.