NAMCO SOUND MUSEUM: MÄRCHEN MAZE & BLAST OFF & FINAL BLASTER
NAMCO SOUND MUSEUM: MÄRCHEN MAZE & BLAST OFF & FINAL BLASTER
November 30, 2018
Buy at Sweep Record
The second collection of retro Namco game soundtracks released by Supersweep, NAMCO SOUND MUSEUM: MÄRCHEN MAZE & BLAST OFF & FINAL BLASTER, chronicles the soundtracks for three games developed by NH Systems and published by Namco. Composed by Norihiko Togashi and Tomoka Kawase, these games were the only games made by NH Systems, as following the release of these three games, NH Systems went bankrupt. In addition to the original soundtracks, there are also some bonus arrangements by Kei Takanishi, Takahiro Eguchi, and Shinji Hosoe as well as a musical/drama CD style rendition of the MÄRCHEN MAZE soundtrack. How does this release, which is the first time this music is released in a physical format, compare to other Namco titles of the era?
The first disc comprises of the music from MÄRCHEN MAZE, an isometric platformer/shoot-em-up hybrid that is based off of Alice in Wonderland released in 1988 for arcade and 1990 for PC-Engine. In addition to the original arcade soundtrack, it also includes the music from the PC Engine version, which has some different tunes on it. Much of the music consists of various stage themes. “Land of Sweets” is appropriately bubbly and playful with a memorable melody, as is “Land of Blocks, while “Land of Toys” adds some quirky/spacey synths and crystalline sounds to create a great atmosphere. More industrial in sound is “Land of Machines.” It isn’t as enjoyable to listen to, but the style fits the world very well. The funk presence added in the B section is also a welcome addition. “Land of Sky” is bright and airy in its melody, but it lacks development due to its short run time while “Land of Bugs” is more atmospheric and lacks a strong melody, resulting in an underwhelming tune. “Land of Surprise,” on the other hand, has a jovial and jig-like presence to its melody. The end result is a very dance-able sound that works as one of the stronger tunes on the soundtrack. The final two worlds, “Land of the Soldiers” and “Land of the Queen” are also rather strong. The former has a militaristic presence but the classical nature of the melody and atmosphere results in a fun tune overall. The latter has a regal sound, almost angelic in quality, with a mallet percussion focus. It’s rather fitting for the type of stage it is. In addition, the two battle themes, “Boss,” and “Queen’s Theme” are both tense orchestral tunes with the former having a more motivating B section while the latter is more sinister and droning, with hints of a magical sound. The B section with organ is absolutely fantastic, but short lived.
For the PC Engine soundtrack, the older tunes see more of an update in soundfont rather than elaboration. This pertains to tracks like “Land of Sweets,” “Boss,” “Land of Machines,” “Land of Sky,” “Land of Queens,” and “Queen’s Theme.” As for the newer tunes, “Land of Verdure” is an upbeat march with a vibrant melody while “Land of Ice” is a lackluster tune with a focus on percussion and a quirky melody. “Land of Time” has an airy and fluid melody with a space-like atmosphere and a memorable melody while “Land of Water” features clapping percussion and a funky melody that also sports a bubbly tone. Lastly, “Land of Mirrors” is darker and more atmospheric in tone with a lackluster sound and a lot of repetition. The synthesized versions of the soundtrack are also presented in a musical/drama CD sort of style in order to tell the story of the game. This will be lost on those who don’t understand Japanese, but the background music is quite nice. There is also a bonus arrangement of “Land of Sweets” by Kei Takanishi that transforms the original chiptune sound into a piano and woodwind focused rendition with playful mallet percussion that has a magical sound and an airy feel.
The second disc is comprised of the music from Blast Off and Final Blaster, the former released for arcade in 1989 and the latter released on PC-Engine in 1990. With any shmup, much of the music revolves around various stage themes and boss music. “Round 1” opens with an energetic bassline alongside an airy and catchy melody, leaving a solid impression like many stage one themes do. “Round 2” is more subdued in nature, but still features a catchy melody with starry synths and a bright feel overall. “Round 3” brings the funk with bass guitar, keyboards, and synths, helping to support a bubbly and fun melody, especially in the B section. “Round 4” sports another bright and air melody with woodwind synths and peppy xylophone while “Round 5” has a very Mega Man sound, reminiscent, to me, of “Cloud Man,” stylistically. It’s a bubbly melody mixed with soft xylophone and a darker, at times, synthesizer in the melody. It’s a standout piece for sure. Last of the rounds is “Round 6” featuring a more dramatic and jazzier sound in the A section and a brighter and airier sound in the B section. The end result is enjoyable, but not one of the strongest of the album. The remaining tunes, like “Boss,” with its bass guitar and intense melody suffer a bit from repetition, and “Mission Complete,” with its catchy and energetic melody all fit within the scope of the soundscape of the game. Lastly, “Ending” is an orchestral fanfare that, compared to the rest of the soundtrack, is warm and inviting and boasts a beautiful melody.
Much like Blast Off, Final Blaster also revolves around various stage and boss themes. “Round 1,” much like the tune in Blast Off, is airy and bright with a catchy melody while “Round 2” is more intense in melody and tempo with a determined sound. The end result is energetic and fun. “Round 3” features an industrial opening followed by a bright and peppy adventurous melody while “Round 4’s” industrial percussion and peppy melody make for an interesting combination, at times serious and at others a bit more funky. The end result is a bit lackluster overall, however. “Round 5” sports a sinister, industrial sound and is more atmospheric than melodic. It creates a nice soundscape, but isn’t as strong as the more melodic tunes. “Round 6” is darker still with a mysterious synth melody and industrial sound. The end result is more successful and has a haunting quality to it as well. Twinkly synths are the name of the game for “Round 7” with its mysterious and dark atmosphere and tense synth hits. It’s an ominous tune as well.
Unlike Blast Off, there are multiple boss themes on the album and are used in various stages. “Round 1, 2 Boss” is tense and frenetic, opening with a siren warning. It’s repetitive, but does feature a nice soundscape. “Round 3, 4 Boss” opens with the same sirens before moving into an intense and dramatic sound with some suspenseful tones, but is a bit underwhelming. “Round 5, 6 Boss” features chaotic synths and industrial percussion with a great atmosphere, but suffers from repetition, while “Round 6 Boss 2” is chaotic and more frenetic but super repetitive. “Round 7 Boss 1” is another frenetic and chaotic, albeit repetitive tune, but the melody is quite enjoyable while “Round 7 Boss 2” utilizes the same backbone as the stage theme itself but adds a more ominous accompaniment and a more dramatic, heroic, and determined sound. It’s an excellent tune and one of the standouts on the soundtrack. “Ending Credits” is a celebratory tune that moves into a warmer melody and “Epilogue” features spacey synths and a mysterious melody to end the soundtrack on a decent note.
There are also three bonus arrangements on the album. The first, “Round 1 Arrange,” by Norihiko Togashi, from Blast Off, features modernized synths, but still sports a retro flavor, while adding some piano and electric guitar. It, in some ways, reminds me of Mario Kart 8 in sound approach. There is also an electric guitar solo in the second half that helps bring a lot of extra energy. Also from Blast Off is Takahiro Eguchi’s “Round 3 Arrange,” a synth rock tune with a groovy rock accompaniment and a sharp synth melody. As with the other Blast Off arrangement, the retro flavor is still present in the melody line. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable tune and the rock solo featured is reminiscent of Eguchi’s work on Fighting EX Layer. Lastly, from Final Blaster, is Shinji Hosoe’s “Battle congestion,” a medley of various battle tunes on the album that help improve them quite a bit. Soft synths open the tune before moving into sections that are more mysterious and add a jazz element in the piano, in addition to jazzy e. guitar solos. The end result flows very well from start to finish and ends with a rendition of “Ending Credits.”
Supersweep’s second release under the NAMCO SOUND MUSEUM moniker, NAMCO SOUND MUSEUM: MÄRCHEN MAZE & BLAST OFF & FINAL BLASTER, brings three soundtracks to some less well known games from Namco’s repetoire. Developed by NH Systems, the music is fairly successful, especially for the limitations of the time. While the music in MÄRCHEN MAZE is a bit less successful, the music in Blast Off and Final Blaster is generally much stronger overall. While the composers for these games may be relatively unknown, fans of that era’s shmup scene will most likely find something to enjoy and it’s a great collector’s item as well for those who care about chronicling game music history.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on January 29, 2019 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on January 29, 2019.