Famicom Music

Famicom Music Album Title:
Famicom Music
Record Label:
Alfa (1st Edition); Scitron Digital Contents (2nd Edition)
Catalog No.:
28XA-69; SCDC-00145
Release Date:
May 25, 1986; January 9, 2002
Purchase:
Buy Used Copy

Overview

In the early 1980s, only one video game system dominated the markets in both Japan and the United States, and that, of course, was Nintendo’s prized Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, in the US). Video games had little reputation at that time and the same applied to the sounds accompanying each of the games. Just like the NES games had graphics that were impressive for its time, their soundtracks broke new ground: for the first time, all video games had musical scores accompanying the player. The music to the games, for the most part, were nothing more than simple compositions, with lots of reputation and sounding nothing more like mechanical beeps. The sound effects were hardly any better (probably equal to those of the video games of the past, such as Pong and Nintendo’s own Donkey Kong), yet the low-quality soundtracks somehow were the defining characteristic of the video game market of the 1980’s, and to this day, gamers hold a fondness for these old fashioned game soundtracks.

This CD takes us back down that nostalgic path when catchy little melodies bounced through the PCM speakers while gamers sat pounding at the controls, playing rather simplistic video games. As you can expect, the content of the music on the album is simply as the title suggests — the music from the old generation Famicom/NES games.

Does this CD bring back happy memories of playing the games? Yes. Is it an excellent listening experience? That really depends upon how much of a Nintendo junkie you are and how *badly* you want to re-experience playing Super Mario Bros., ExciteBike, Donkey Kong, and several of the other games that are featured on the album. Although the music is nostalgic which legendary tunes galore (the unforgettable Super Mario Bros. main theme and The Legend of Zelda overworld music for example), the album suffers from a fatally serious flaw that threatens to dampen the experience. Much of the tracks sound almost as if someone hooked their A/V cables into the stereo system and started recording *while* they were playing the games.

Body

The first track, “Super Mario Bros.” sneaks in sound effects over the musical beats which are completely distracting to those who want to hear the music pure and untainted. (One more reason to buy the Super Mario World album — the music is clean and faultless on that album, plus it is in stereo too.) This problem continues throughout the entire album, even the less-than-sophisticated games such as Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, and ExciteBike, all of which contain cacophonies of music clashing against high-pitched sound effects which will be grating to many, yet pleasant for those who played the games with fondness.

Only on The Legend of Zelda do we get to hear the music without the sound effects, with the exception of a running waterfall during the Title music, and a very harsh sound effect announcing Ganon’s appearance on the transition from the “Death Mountain” music to the “Ganon Fanfare”. But even then, The Legend of Zelda Sound and Drama offered a much better opportunity to hear the music. Of particular note on the Zelda track is a brief little fanfare that was not in the US version, as well as two different instruments in the Title theme. The reason? The Legend of Zelda was the first game to sell the add-on accessory, Famicom Disk System, which allowed programmers to read and write in data, although it did create a problem for the soundtracks — the sound chip of the accessory was not as advanced as the Famicom’s was.

As if this wasn’t discouraging enough, how about this for a drawback: all of the tracks are compilation tracks. In other words, they feature different pieces of music happening one after another with little pauses for breaks. This is a shortcoming that I find *incredibly* annoying on any album release, unless it is done effectively (such examples that come to mind are Castlevania Best and Gradius III, which combine the tracks onto one track successfully with pauses inbetween). The presentation, along with its woefully short running time of 36 and a half minutes, is disappointing, but gamers probably won’t mind.

The two arranged tracks are not any more complex than the rest of the music is, but it will be a break for those who can’t stand NES synthesis. One of them is from “Balloon Trip”, which is performed on clear sounding synthesizers yet features distracting NES sound effects. The second is a rather interesting remix of the Super Mario Bros. music, which at least doesn’t sneak in sound effects. I’ve heard far better arrangements of the Mario music than this, but this is at least a good remedy to an obnoxious listening experience.

Summary

Given that there are far better sounding and composed soundtracks out there in the video game soundtracks market, I can imagine a lot of people spoiled by today’s video game music skipping this one. However, the most loyal and tolerating of Nintendo junkies will find this album to be a respectable treasure. The inclusion of sheet music to the soundtracks is very nice, too, making it another reason to buy it. But its best to keep in mind, too, that this is not just music only.

Famicom Music Jon Turner

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!

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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Jon Turner. Last modified on August 1, 2012.


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