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Featured, Game Music

Soundtrack of the Month 05/2011: Batman The Video Game

Soundtrack of the Month 05/2011: Batman The Video Game

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Another month, another soundtrack. But this time, I decided to change the rules a little bit, due to it being a special month, and a special day. Nay, I be not pregnant with an octopus baby, nor am I drained by the arts of colonoscopy. It is Cinco De Mayo, and 26 years ago, God graced this Earth with my presence. I thought it might therefore be appropriate to talk about the soundtrack which first captured my attention as a child and made me a fan of game music for all years to come. Even though the soundtrack never saw an official release…Well today I make the rules.

Read about Batman: The Video Game after the jump!

When I was young, there were 3 men who were on my mind at all times which led my mother to become very worried about my priorities in life. Hulk Hogan, Super Mario and Batman constantly filled my head with adventures and uncharacteristic juvenile lust which led me to purchase any piece of merchandise which contained any mention or resemblance to any of them. Action figures, model cars, posters, t-shirts, socks, me and my room was donned from head to toe, wall to wall in memorabilia based on any of my heroes.

At one point in 1988, I even stepped in as a replacement for the Dark Knight while he was on vacation, and kept my kindergarten safe of the villains and dangers that lurked the sandbox. Usually in the form of dog droppings that had been dried out in the hot sand.

But on the video game front, things weren’t so merry for Batman. Super Mario needs little mention, he had games left and right which were all enjoyable and some even legendary. Hogan, well he was in the wrestling games, either officially or through some look-a-like that satisfied my need for the golden mustache. But Batman, he only had a slew of Commodore 64 games, which weren’t the most enjoyable of romps. As I played with my Batman action figure set, I would often day dream about a game that was worthy of the action he saw in my finger tips (in more ways than one, let me assure you) but it seemed it just wasn’t meant to be. This all changed Christmas of 1990; when me and my big brother opened our gift and found Batman: The Video Game under the wrapper.

The NES action game was incredible. Dark, atmospheric, hard hitting and difficult. It took inspiration in both the comics and the 1989 movie, much to the delight of my comic book obsessed elder sibling. It had everything an obsessed child could ever want, and the attention to detail was just outstanding, with every action making you feel as cool as Batman himself. The soundtrack, for me, became the absolute most memorable part of the game and one which steered me right into the direction of video game music. So good was it in fact, that I would record each song on paused mode onto a cassette and record a few moments of silence in between each song just so that it would sound like a real soundtrack release. Sadly for my mother I used her The Police tape to record over, but don’t tell her that.

Batman’s music is probably some of the very best ever produced on the NES, even when including sound chip expanded greats like Akumajou Densetsu and Lagrante Point. Every level (sans level 5) has its own distinctive tune, reflecting the gritty and blue tinted noir Gotham City which Batman travels through. Continuing a tradition in Sunsoft games at the time, it features incredible percussion, creating some of the most driving, captivating and motivating melodies ever heard in a NES game. The songs are always filled with a sense of urgency and danger, with striking leads, though with strong heroic overtones, helped by the deeper and more collected bass lines keeping the leads balanced and always keeping the player at a place of focus, while still melodically signaling the dangers up ahead. The compositions also contain a sort of duality, very similar to Batman’s psycie. The cutscenes are backed by a more mellow track as they are seen from the perspective of Batman, sounding more mysterious and investigating compared to the action beats found during the levels themselves.

The soundtrack was composed by Nobuyuki Hara and Naoki Kodaka under the pseudonyms Nobuyuki Kun and Kodaka San. Hara had his debut in this game, while Kodaka had already been a long time veteran game composer, having previously worked on Dead Zone, Freedom Force and Blaster Master prior to Batman. Since the release of Batman, they both went on to score most of Sunsoft’s great library of game soundtracks, often collaborating with each other. 2 years after the original release of Batman, both Hara and Kodaka returned to the franchise with Batman: Return of The Joker which follows closely in the footsteps of its prequel and is in its own right an almost equally good soundtrack. Also the PC-Engine game, which is unrelated though produced by Sunsoft, features arrangements of the first stage theme with its updated sound tech, which results in a softer sound.

The impact that the Batman soundtrack had on me personally isn’t an exclusive revelation. The game and its sounds have gone to be one of the most well respected among NES lovers, and countless bands have in recent years done arrangements and remixes to honor its legacy and inspirational value. When The Minibosses announced they were working on new material in 2006, the first new title they revealed was namely Batman, and has since been a fan favorite during their live shows. It is scheduled to appear on their new album Brass 2. A more humerous, yet famous take on the soundtrack is from the Arizona based indy act I Hate You When You Are Pregnant, which features original lyrics sung by a man in a small pink thong. The lyrics have proved to be so popular that at every live event with game music arrangement bands which include Batman into their set list, the whole crowd will sing along to those lyrics.

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