Game Music Revue: 8-Bit Music Power

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So this is a weird thing.

8 Bit Music Power is a brand new Famicom cartridge, released late last month. But it’s not a game, it’s an album collecting 12 tracks of original chiptune music by a variety of artists. I don’t know if this qualifies as “video game music.” I mean, on one hand it certainly is in the most literal sense, as it’s music on a video game. But on the other, it’s not “authentic,” it’s trying to cop the style of classic games and cash in nostalgia. It exists in its own space, I can’t think of anything quite like it.

The closest I can come to is those old CD+G discs that came with the Sega CD, which combined music with some very basic graphics, but on an even simpler scale. Some coverage I’ve read of this says that the music is accompanied by a visualizer, and that’s technically true I suppose, but it’s really giving the graphical component too much credit. It’s a visualizer in only the barest definition of the term. There are several screens that cycle into view as the music plays, but the nearest one of them gets to actually visualizing the music comes in the form of a row of keyboards that light up in rough accordance to what notes are being played. Aside from that, the other images that flash across the screen, as entertaining as some of them may be, have little or nothing to do with the music being played at the time.

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But the music is good, and it’s certainly authentic chiptune music (it would have to be, as it’s limited by the hardware constraints of the Famicom). As a fan of game music, I sometimes get annoyed at the promise of “retro” style video game inspired music only to discover music that is far too complex or advanced to pass for anything 16-bit, let alone 8-bit. This is, as the title suggest, 100% pure 8-bit music. Much of it is reminiscent of classic Nintendo tunes, but varied enough not to be categorized as straight up rip-offs. While I couldn’t see any of the tracks in this game showing up in a Mario or Zelda game, I could certainly imagine them making appearances in Konami or Capcom games of the era.  The quality is that good. I put on “8 Bit Jungle” by Yuriko Keino and, with its quiet, playful melody and menacing bassline, I certainly imagine myself playing a retro shooter set in a dangerous jungle. And the fantastic “Naru Yoni Naru” starts out like the intro to a Mega Man game, with its dramatic tones, before launching into some fun and catchy-as-hell beats that would fit the opening menu of a cartoony 2D platformer. I love a lot of the tracks on this cartridge.

Which is kind of a problem, to be honest. I like the songs a lot, but if I want to listen to them, I’m tied to my home. Not only that, I’m tied to my TV. No download code here. The only way I’m getting the tracks off of the cart and onto my iPod is if I copy the ROM itself, something which I do not have the hardware to do. I get the gimmick, and I suppose not including any other way to listen to the music was a carefully thought out decision done to preserve the intent of the release, I just don’t agree with it.

Furthermore, getting this thing to play in a satisfactory way was kind of a pain. I live in Japan and have a Famicom Twin, but that only has mono RCA output, so it would look and sound like garbage. At first I wanted to play it on my RetroFreak, a new multi-console that uses HDMI. However, the cartridge wouldn’t work with it for some reason. I ended up digging out my Retron 5, an inferior multi-console that came out last year, and that finally got it working. I suppose that they couldn’t beta test this thing on every famiclone that’s out there, but it’s still a bit frustrating.

This is a collection of video game inspired music that can only be played on a video game console. It’s the definition of a niche product, but if you fit in that niche, then it’s probably something you’ll dig. If you’re the rare sort of video game nerd who’s in the habit of throwing parties, I bet this, alongside is limited yet cute visulaizer, would make quiet the party “record” until you decide to turn it off and play Smash Bros.

Because you’re nerds.

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