Commando & Bionic Commando Original Sound Collection
Commando & Bionic Commando Original Sound Collection (Wolf of the Battlefield & Top Secret Original Sound Collection)
December 12, 2015
Buy at Official Site
1985’s Commando proved to be one of Capcom’s first big hits and ended up being released on arcades, consoles, and computers worldwide. In addition to receiving a direct sequel, the title inspired a sister series of platformers that enjoyed similar worldwide success: Bionic Commando. Following the strong reception towards their Final Fight box set, City Connection decided it was time to finally give these franchises the musical recognition they deserved. The Commando & Bionic Commando Original Sound Collection (called the Wolf of the Battlefield & Top Secret Original Sound Collection in Japan) compiles the music from the two series into one definitive five-disc box set. One of the most fascinating features of this box is that it commemorates the achievements of both Eastern- and Western-developed titles in the series. Of the 14 soundtracks featured, six of them were created by European and American composers for ports and spinoffs of the series.
The first disc of the album features the score for the original Commando (aka Wolf of the Battlefield) in both its 1985 arcade version and its home system ports. In an age when most game scores hadn’t moved beyond jingles, Tamayo Kawamoto’s soundtrack for the arcade version was certainly progressive. The main background music “Start Demo ~ BGM 1” and “Restart ~ BGM 2” push the limits of the Zilog Z80 processor and YM2203 sound chip with their relatively meaty textures and development. Serving as the game’s main theme, “Start Demo” captures the concept of the game particularly well: the brisk rhythm parts emulate militaristic snare rolls and the melody parts were written as upbeat fanfares. She saves the catchiest entry of the score to last, however, with the jubilant “Name Entry” theme. The soundtrack is completed by the repetitive crisis theme “Fortress”, several fitting jingles, and an impressive sound effects collection. The first disc also features the ports of Commando for NES (1986), Amiga (1989), and C64 (1985). Due to the limited sound capacity of the console, tunes reused in the NES version such as “Start Demo” and “Restart” lack the weight of the original. Yoshihiro Sakaguchi also created some exclusive tunes for this version, namely an upbeat title anthem and two sadly repetitive underground themes. The Amiga version is more technologically commanded, with Mark Cooksey really bringing out the snares of the “Start Demo” theme, but it’s also highly condensed with just five tracks on offer. The Commodore 64 version is a genuine delight to listen to thanks to a single track: a densely-styled, richly-implemented eight-minute funk interpretation of the main theme by the legendary Rob Hubbard. While the arcade version sounded good for its time, this version still impresses even today.
The second disc of the soundtrack is dedicated to the arcade and console versions for the sequel Mercs, released in Japan as Wolf of the Battlefield II. The original 1990 version of the score boasts one of Manami Matsumae’s most accomplished Capcom soundtracks. Following the cinematic opening theme, listeners are thrown into the game’s first stage with the unforgettable “Mission 1” ; a successor to “Start Demo”, the track blends motivating rock-influenced melodies with a throbbing militaristic bass line. Equally impressive are “Enemy Tank Zone”, “Main Enemy Battleship”, and “Urban Area”. Hybridising funk and rock features, these musically elaborate and technologically commanded compositions achieve the perfect balance between capturing the fun and emphasising the intensity of the game. Far less impressive are the four boss themes, which are each little more than a few suspended chords on loop. This soundtrack rivals the NES’ Bionic Commando as the best addition to the box set. For the Genesis version of the game’s soundtrack, SEGA’s Yoshiaki Kashima created two different sound versions: one a port of the arcade version, the other completely original. The new themes bring some much-needed variation in a box set featuring plenty of rehashed tracks. However, I felt they weren’t quite as memorable overall, with the stage themes lacking stylistic definition and the boss tracks proving repetitive. Nonetheless, the alternative themes for first, fourth and six stages still feature plenty of funk goodness and are enjoyable examples of the Genesis’ FM sound. Also on the second disc, there are six 8-bit tracks created for the Master System version of the game, though only the opening theme extends beyond the minute mark. These tracks make the box set more complete, but are otherwise throwaways.
The third disc of the soundtrack features the scores for two very different games called Bionic Commando, one a 1987 arcade game scored by Harumi Fujita, the other a 1988 NES game scored by Junko Tamiya. The soundtracks for these titles are completely different to one another, but they achieve have their charms. The arcade soundtrack stands out for its unconventional musical approaches following the fairly traditional Commando and Mercs. Most tracks are briskly paced, thickly textured walls of sound filled with jagged phrases, dissonant harmonisations, and heavy beats. The stage themes deviate from most action conventions, whether “The Front Line” with its disorientating interweaving phrases or “Top Secret” with its frenetic funk influences. The only track with a strong melodic focus is “Large Fortress”, which provided the foundations for the series’ main theme, but even this track veers into uncharted territory during its vast four-minute playtime. Not all the compositions are particularly polished, but they are surprisingly complex for their day and are filled with interesting ideas. By contrast, Tamiya’s better-known soundtrack for the NES title is more conventional and accessible. The first stage theme for the title reframes the melody of the arcade version’s “Large Fortress” into a military anthem. Due to the severe limitations of the consoles, the melodies don’t come across as emotional as desired and the snare accompaniment almost sound like electronic noise. However, the phenomenal melody and powerful chord progressions ensure the final result is still nostalgic and endearing. The other stage themes are entirely original efforts that span a spectrum of emotions: “Heat Wave” features an expressive jazz-tinged melody, “Power Plant” features an especially lyrical development, and the final stage music “Rise of the Albatross” sounds suitably intimidating. The battle themes capture the rhythmic thrust of Junko Tamiya’s music, while the opening and ending themes are suitably cinematic.
The soundtrack also feature several other scores from the Bionic Commando franchise. The end of the third disc of the soundtrack features the Kouji Murata’s soundtrack for the Game Boy’s Bionic Commando. The musicgenerally lives up to the quality of other entries in the series, with the first and fourth stage themes featured particularly impressing with their strong melodies and synth rock stylings. The score also proves technologically accomplished, overcome the notorious limitations of the handheld to offer flowing melodies and well-punctuated bass lines. The soundtrack also features a superb arrangement of the series’ main theme used in the overseas version. Much of the fourth disc is dedicated to the soundtrack to the Game Boy Color spinoff, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces, written by Nintendo Software Technology’s Lawrence Schwedler. The composer is able to recapture much of the spirit of the series, whether with the youthful and exuberant “Opening Demo”, the catchy rock anthems “Area 1” and “Areas 12-1”, or the funky improvisations “Area 2-1”, “Area 9-1”, and “Area 13-1”. However, there are plenty of missteps along the way, among them the trio of repetitive, blaring boss themes (the first more than two minutes of random noises) or the feeble ending theme.. The fourth disc is rounded off the soundtracks for the C64 and Amiga versions of Bionic Commando written by the Folllin brothers (how many Commodore legends can one box have?). The music is based on the arcade originals, but proves much more interpretative than a simple port. Tim Follin somehow managed to deconvolute Fujita’s compositions and present them into more balanced compositions while integrating his trademark warped funk stylings along the way. He also incorporates a couple of well-conceived originals to bookend the scores.
The final disc is dedicated to Simon Viklund’s soundtrack to the downloadable title Bionic Commando Rearmed, released in Japan as Bionic Commando: Master D Fukkatsu Keikaku. Perhaps reflecting the extensive changes made for the Japanese version for the game, this version of the soundtrack differs significantly from Sumthing Else’s domestic soundtrack release, with titles both added and omitted usually to detrimental effect. Overall, Viklund’s score does a good job of modernising the series’ music while still paying tribute to the classics. The title and menu themes, for instance, are fantastic remixes of the main theme for Bionic Commando’s NES version, blending futuristic synth work with retro influences. There are also enjoyable arrangements of stage themes from the original version, ranging from a hard-edged jazzy version of “Heat Wave” to a Daft Punk-esque rendition of “Power Plant” to the lower tempo “Leap of Faith”. Perhaps DJ Viklund’s single greatest achievement on the score, however, is “Rise of the Albatross”. It begins as a another slow reflective mix that makes the very most of the distinctive motifs of the original, but soon speeds up and becomes a compelling hardcore mix preparing listeners for the upcoming encounter with the final boss. The soundtrack takes a more orchestral version with the blockbuster-style opening theme and a cinematic orchestral arrangement from guest contributor Marika Suzuki. Unfortunately, most of the exclusive tracks such as “Sneak into the Albatross”, “Into a Decisive Battle”, and “Super Joe’s Rescue” are ambient groove-based ones that only work well in context. Quite a few highlights from the original version, including “Meet the Enemy and Descend”, “Intruder Alert”, and “Go Go Bionic”, are also absent. Other recent instalments to the series, including the Bionic Commando reboot, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, and Commando 3, are absent from this box.
City Connection have done it again. The Commando & Bionic Commando Original Sound Collection compiles together multiple historic soundtracks together into a well-presented, reasonably-priced definitive box set. The standouts of the set are the soundtracks to Mercs (ARC), Bionic Commando (NES), and Bionic Commando (AMI), which are among the most important soundtracks of the late 80s. The remaining content varies in its length and quality, with many pieces impressing more for their technical mastery than their musical ingenuity. Given the uneven content and repeated content, this box set won’t be for all. However, those looking for Commando or Bionic Commando music can’t go wrong with this one.
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Posted on December 31, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on December 30, 2015.