Game Music, Reviews

Songs of Steel: MEGA DRIVE LAST ACTION HEROES (Review)

August 26, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Songs of Steel: MEGA DRIVE LAST ACTION HEROES (Review)on Twitter

SEGA is known for being very kind to its fans when it comes to their music. The music created for classic SEGA games is some of the best of all time, and it seems as though SEGA not only recognizes this, but cares enough about it to give fans just what they want. They’ve done this time after time with releases covering Fantasy Zone, Alex Kidd, Shinobi, and other more obscure releases like their System 16, 32X, and motorcycle history albums.

This time we’re getting music from some of their action titles on the SEGA Genesis, which is one f the most beloved systems, especially by fans of game music. Featured is music from Pulseman, Virtua Racing, Ristar The Shooting Star , and Comix Zone.  Yeah,

Excited? Hit the jump for our review.

The album opens with Pulseman. Now, I’ve been told that this game and soundtrack are much loved, but I honestly feel it’s the weakest of what’s presented here. The score features an appropriately futuristic and intense sound with rapid synth lines and electronic percussion, but unfortunately the tracks tend to be rather repetitive and are oftentimes grating and downright “loud noise.” The fact that all the music loops twice paired with the fact that many of the tracks are repetitive only makes it worse. Several tracks contain loud, static-like ripping sounds that will make you wince, while others contain strange sound effects like screaming in “Shutdown” and wolves howling in “Shutdown 2.”

While it was difficult to listen the majority of this score outside of the context of the game (this one will likely appeal mainly to those who loved the game), there were a few tracks that caught my attention. The pumping electronic track, “STEREO PROTECT,” while also repetitive, has a cool desolate atmosphere, while “REAL OVERFLOW” has the whole industrial Nine-Inch Nails thing going for it. “VOLTAGE ALGORISM” slowly builds upon itself, growing into a decisive march that plods forward with the steady beat of a bass drum. The mesmerizing belltones in “BRAIN WASH” and the funky bass and percussion in “FILE SYSTEMS” were also pretty cool.

The next disc opens with Virtua Racing, which I’m not sure belongs on a compilation dedicated to action heroes, but perhaps they’re referring to the awesome Takenobu Mitsuyoshi who scored this game. There’s the crazy cool synth rock track “DEMONSTRATION” with blazing arpeggios, then the iconic theme found in “MODE SELECT” which is so simple yet so effective. Both “COURSE SELECT” and “REPLAY” are badass, working in a loungy rock sound in the former and a more upbeat funky sound in the latter. Unfortunately from there the tracks tend to fall into the less than 30 seconds range, but “NAME ENTRY” is certainly smooth and sexy while “ENDING” is triumphant and rockin’.

It’s then on to Ristar the Shooting Star, which features Tomoko Sasaki, Naofumi Hataya, Masafumi Ogata, and even an arranged track. I’m sure you can imagine what this sounds like even if you didn’t play the games. Incredibly catchy and upbeat, the duo that would later become known as the NiGHTS dream team were creating some beautiful music all the way back on the Genesis (although to give her credit, Sasaki composed nearly all the music here with Hataya contributing three short pieces and Ogata contributing a single piece). Sasaki creates some highly catchy pop melodies that work in dancey elements. “DANCING LEAVES” stands out with its back-and-forth swaying jazz style that sounds exactly like leaves dancing on the wind. The incredibly funky bass in “SPLASH DOWN!!” is also a lot of fun with its bubbly melodic elements. There’s even a reference to “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” showing just how upbeat in nature this game and soundtrack are. There are also these vocal elements that are used throughout the score that are always doubled up with a bell-like instrument, creating a celestial voice of sorts to match Ristar’s appearance.

It’s hard not to give a shout out to more tracks from this soundtrack because it’s really that good, but I should mention the arranged track, “DO DE DO,” arranged by Hataya and Kenichi Tokoi. I’m not sure if this arrangement is all-new (I couldn’t find it anywhere else on VGMdb), but the track takes on a playful reggae approach with additional children singing. It didn’t blow my mind, but it’s a nice bonus.

The last disc of the collection is dedicated to Howard Drossin’s score for Comix Zone. Not only is the score presented in its entirety, however, but the six arranged tracks that were released on CD back in 1996 are also featured. This one draws heavily on that gritty 90s alternative rock sound which was really a trip to hear on the Genesis back in the day. I don’t know if any of the tracks in particular stand out on their own, but there’s a certain mood about the score that makes it enjoyable to listen to. I like how Drossin worked in ascending melodies in many of the pieces to give them this badass hero vibe.

The arranged tracks sound exactly like what you’d imagine in terms of instrumentation, but they also feature some tasteful vocals. I was reminded of Nirvana and other early 90s grunge rock bands, which is a pretty impressive feat.

Overall, SEGA has another amazing collection of music on its hands here. These are soundtracks that fans have been waiting to get their hands on for a long time, and as is the case with their past releases of this nature, I think it’s important to support Wave Master in doing this kind of thing by picking the albums up if you can find them! Unfortunately SEGA music is difficult to obtain without a contact directly in Japan, but I’d say this one’s worth the time and effort.

The packaging is pretty snazzy, decked out with SEGA Genesis imagery, and the booklet contains proper composer credits as well as commentary from all of the composers, including a nice message in English from Howard Drossin about the arranged tracks from Comix Zone.

What do you think of this release and the inclusion of Virtua Racing? Are there other soundtracks from SEGA’s early days that you’d like to see them release?

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