Fall ’09 has been absolutely fantastic for game music. We’ve seen fantastic concerts like Symphonic Fantasies and the announcement of upcoming shows like Castlevania: The Concert. We’ve seen great releases like the 5 disc Bayonetta release, which oozes style in production and presentation, and we have gotten some amazing arrangement albums. Let’s stay on the subject of arrangement albums and think back just a few months. Metroid Metal, Retro Remix Revue Vol. 2, Piacom, Contra 4: Rocked n’ Loaded, all these have been released or are scheduled within the last few months of 2009. However, one album took everyone by surprise, both in name and in approach: Chiptuned Rockman.
I learned about Chiptuned Rockman early on in its production. I was filled with excitement at the thought of the project. After being told to expect more news in September, I buckled down and waited. Lo and behold, Chiptuned Rockman was released exclusively to TGS attendees that same month, and was then released to the public on the 15th of October. This is a special CD for me, as a number of my friends and favorite artists appear on this album; but I’ll try to leave my bias behind. Let’s pop this sucker in for a spin and see how it sounds.
The premise is simple: Mega Man songs re-arranged on the NES sound chip, the same chip used for the majority of the games in the original series. Find out if my chips were rocked after the jump!
First off, the presentation is fabulous, with the iconic blue color being used throughout the booklet and artwork. The booklet features comments on the songs and arrange artists in Japanese, and mixes in sprites and table patterns from the classic games. The CD itself looks real nice too, with blue circuit board art and the Mega Man title running across. However, the coolest part of all on the actual presentation is the inside tray, which has the portraits of all the bosses from the different Mega Man titles. Another really neat detail with this CD is the tracklist itself. If you look at the titles closely, you’ll see that it actually starts at the newest entry in the series, and goes back to the beginning, taking you back in time in reverse chronological order. It seems like they thought out everything on this CD.
Now on to the music. As mentioned earlier, all songs were arranged with the NES hardware as the primary tool, with some help from the Famicom expansion chips (including the VRC7, which was actually the creation of Capcom’s competitor, Konami). The CD opens up with Chibi-Tech’s arrangement of “Kaze yo Tsutaete,” originally from Rockman Battle & Chase on the PSX and Saturn, but most people probably remember this song as Roll’s theme from the Vs. Capcom series. The original is done with vocals, but this arrangement is done wonderfully, mimicking the vocal lines and using most of the recognizable Mega Man sound effects to enhance the melody, most notably the drums from the “Weapon Get” song. I’m a big fan of the original song, but I think I now prefer this over the original, which is pretty much the best compliment an arrangement can get. It breaks down eventually and takes a note out of virt’s book by making dialogue out of the sounds, which virt did with Supabonk on Kwakfest.
Speaking of the devil, Jake “virt” Kaufman is responsible for the next track! “Tornado Man,” the fan favorite from Mega Man 9. It starts out with the original melody before suddenly exploding and going into a slower pace and darker tone. This song is pretty crazy, going all over the place with sounds and effects, and even fades in older Mega Man songs. At first listen, this song wasn’t what i expected, and I felt a bit underwhelmed knowing virt and his style so well; however, after multiple listens, it blows me away more and more. There are so many subtle things in here that makes it fantastic, and the craziness never stops. It’s a song that demands multiple plays just so you can discover all these little hints and tributes throughout. Goto80, my Swedish neighbor, did “Special Stage,” also from MM9. I met this fine gentleman at Blipfest Europe, and what a charming individual. He uses the Commodore 64 in his own music however, so this song excited me a lot on first listen. It definitively has his quirky style to it, and uses a lot of sounds not normally associated with the NES. He did this song on Protracker on the actual Amiga, and has a mix of influences, like C64 and Amiga obviously. The bass reminds me of the old Color Dreams games, they used that in most of their games, sometimes exclusively, but rest assure, this sounds 200 times better than anything Color Dreams even attempted.
Ippo Yamada, head of Inti and composer of the recent Mega Man soundtracks gives us his take on “Oilman and Timeman,” from the PSP exclusive remake Mega Man: Powered Up. Again, quality stuff, starts out real nice and mellow with the first half of the song before taking things up a notch with the last half. Some nice use of sound effects in this song too, like the 1-up/E-Tank sound, and the bridge has the death sound as well. Akari Kaida is up next with “Opening Stage” from Rockman & Forte, titled LSI-Babe Mix. Kaida was actually one of the composers on this game, so we have the original composer coming back here. It’s really wonderful, and delightfully melodic, and also serves as a bit of a contrast compared to the other songs so far, in that it doesn’t really go much crazy or use that many effects or breakdowns, it just remains faithfully melodic throughout. Hiroki Isogai also did a song from this game, a song composed by Kaida herself, “Groundman Stage.” Starts out jazzy, and also follows a more melodic approach; maybe it’s the source material that makes the R&F music more suited for these melodic takes. Some wonderful harmonies in this song, I really enjoy it, you can’t help but at least tap your foot to the beat.
RushJet! I couldn’t believe it when I saw his name on this. One of my oldest favorites in the chiptune scene. His original stuff is heavily influenced by Mega Man, so I can see why he was taken into the warmth in this project. His song is an arrangement of “Tenguman” from Mega Man 8. Smooth futuristic sound, upbeat and extremely faithful to the classic NES action game music style. I absolutely love this song. I encourage everyone to also listen to his Out There from 8bitPeoples, fantastic stuff. K->, a chiptune artist from Japan, isn’t as well known as the rest of the pack. He has some doujin background with touhou and singular tracks released on different sites, and here he is the man behind “Slashman Stage” from Mega Man 7. It sounds like this song was done with LSDJ on the Game Boy, and it rocks. Perfect dance beat and high energy all the way. Manabu Namiki, member of Basiscape, brings us “Megawater_S Stage, WILY TOWER 4 (Area-2A03 Navy mix)” from the rather obscure Rockman World on Mega Drive, a collection game with an extra mode called Wily’s Tower, which this song is taken from. As the subtitle suggest, this song has a real nice aquatic feel to it during the first half, before going into a more adventure driven mood in the “Wily’s Tower” section.
Saitone, one of Hally’s buddies, brings us “Mercury Stage (Light Shuffle mix)” from Rockman World 5, another obscure game from the Mega Man library. This song returns more to the approach of sounds and effects to create the melody. It’s very slow and technical, and might not grab your attention as much as the other songs. It’s a good arrangement, but does end up a bit forgotten in the mix. Hally is up next, and boy do I love this man, I can’t stop talking about him it seems. I believe it’s called love at first sight, and on this CD, he chose “Blizzardman Stage” from Mega Man 6 (I guess that’s love at first “hearing” in this case). What you’ll likely notice first is the drums in this song. It’s a heavy hitting drum loop sample, setting it apart from the other songs, and the arrangement continues on with a fast paced drum & bass style dance track. It’s trademark Hally, and might be best enjoyed live dancing to it, but its awesomeness can’t be denied, there’s so much energy in this song.
The next arrangement comes from Zinger, another of my Scandinavian neighbors (and also a friend of Hally). Zinger already made himself known with a wonderful arrangement on PSYVARIAR The Mix, and returns in true Zinger fashion here with “Gravityman Stage (Aftermath Sleaze Edit)” from Mega Man 5. Laid back, groovy and vibrant, his style can somewhat be compared to Konami’s MSX outings, like SD Snatcher, with a mix of Jazz and Pop. Another Blipfest favorite, Saskrotch is also on here with “Brightman Stage (Portable mix)” from Mega Man 4. I always liked Saskrotch, as he is quite a talented chiptune artist and hilarious in person. His song is a dance track arrangement which is the most common style of western chiptune artists, and again like with Saitone’s track, it does drown a bit compared to the other songs on this. It starts out slowly with a more slow technical approach, concentrating on the different sounds, before kicking into the dance portion.
“Wily Stage 2 (Extended ChiProg mix)” by Ryo Kawakami is a remix from Mega Man 4‘s “Wily Stage.” I love the original song, and this arrangement doesn’t disappoint, with a progressive rock approach as hinted in the track name. The drums and lead are very much styled accordingly, and it makes for a great arrangement with remains identifiable with the source, but refreshing in the end. Nobuyuki Shioda arranges “Shadowman” from Mega Man 3, and we go right back into quirky land with this. Most of the arrangement is based around sound effect, most notably the arm cannon shot effect. It’s really cool at first listen, but I have found myself skipping it on later plays, as it isn’t really music you kick back and listen to for enjoyment.
Next up is the fan favorite from Mega Man 3, “Snakeman stage” by KPLECRAFT, the Japanese chiptune unit behind the Famison 8Bit series. It starts out with the opening track with some added harmonies, before kicking into the up-tempo Snakeman song. Great layers on this song, and the best part is how they integrate the opening theme into the mix and go back to end it with Snakeman again. One of the best tracks on the CD.
Dong, another buddy of Hally and also featured on PSYVARIAR The Mix, gives us “Bubbleman” from Mega Man 2, and it’s really enjoyable, with pleasant tones and a more relaxed take than the original. USK, who performed at Blipfest 2008 in NYC, went with hardcore dance techno medley of Mega Man 2 pieces called “Woodman Stage, Wily Stage 1 (Respect2dabeat Mix)”. The flow is great, and electronica fans will live this, as it really does a good job making a full fledged dance track out of it. It also beautifully bridges over to “Wily’s Stage” without a hitch.
Next up is another of my all time favorites, naruto! naruto is not as well known as some of the other artists either, but his talent is undeniable. He blew me off my feet with “Artificial Intelligence Bomb” many years ago, and he’s as awesome as ever here. His track, “Fireman Stage (FC DPCM-additional mix)” is also from Mega Man 2 and is kinda reminiscent of virt’s original chiptunes, It keeps itself pretty much faithful to the NES sounds, and is another highlight on this album. Last, but not least, we got “Cutman Stage (Misty mix)” from Mega Man 1, by the original composer, Manami Matsumae! It’s awesome they got the originator of it all here, back to tackle her own stuff one more time, and it delivers. Quirky, melodic and interesting throughout, the melody is so catchy and charming, and the use of effects are cleverly used.
So there you go, 20 tracks of Mega Man arrangements. Some have speculated if the chiptune approach would end up a bit redundant, but let me assure you, such a critique is unwarranted. All the tracks have really interesting takes and approaches, the use of trademark Mega Man sounds will make you smile and you can tell the artists had a lot of fun working on this project. It’s nice for a fan like me to see many of the names I love and follow to finally be able to pay respect officially to the series which inspired them so greatly, and I can honestly say they should all be real proud of their efforts as this is one CD every Mega Man fan should get. It’s a perfect tribute, and a great way to discover the many artists in the chiptune community, and it’s huge for me as a fan and friend to see these guys succeed, not only with being presented worldwide on an official project, but honoring something as legendary as Mega Man, and on top of that doing such an amazing job at it. I highly recommend it. It’s currently available at Play-Asia.Tags: Arrangements, Chiptunes, hally, Mega Man, Remixes, Reviews, virt