Onslaught! Original Soundtrack
Onslaught! Original Soundtrack
February 27, 2012
Download at Ubitune
It’s indeed an onslaught that players encounter in this game, as wave after wave of monsters come their way. Billed as a ‘fast-paced medieval fantasy shoot ’em up’ in the vein of Smash TV or Gauntlet, Onslaught! plays like an extension of Onslaught! Arena and enhances that title’s arena-based combat with new enemies and environments. The charm of the game’s 8-bit graphics is underscored by music from Joshua Morse, a seasoned veteran of the fan arrange game music scene who comes off a particularly busy 2011 with his work on Heroes vs. Villains, Mega Man: The Robot Museum, Songs for the Cure ’11, and Metroid Arrange 25th Anniversary Album. For Onslaught!, Morse wrote an SNES-inspired soundtrack of about half an hour that was later released on Bandcamp through chiptune label Ubiktune.
Remember that bit about Onslaught! being a ‘shoot ’em up’? That genre specification actually comes to describe Morse’s soundtrack quite well. Powered by the SNES’ nostalgic FM synth, Morse write a number of tracks that would feel perfectly at home in Konami’s early 90s shooters — Taro Kudo’s Axelay particularly comes to mind. In their expansive, adrenaline-driven development, these compositions feel a lot more dynamic and simply ‘bigger’ than what one might expect from Onslaught!‘s relatively static arena-combat set up, more suited for a clash of galactic armies in 16-bit graphics.
The foundation of Morse’s tracks is a comfortably grooving, energy-packed bed of layered funk and jazz rhythms from the drums and that unmistakably steely-sounding SNES bass. What Morse achieves here with his rhythmic concoctions is impressive, almost each track fired up by interlocking rhythms that are driving enough to ready the gamer for battle against the neverending hordes of monsters. At the same time, these rhythms are also sufficiently complex to let the pieces stand on their own outside of the game, dense and richly layered to justify the cues’ extended running times of usually more than four minutes. The album’s sound recording also has enough punch to capture the music’s verve. Particularly exciting highlights are the rollicking drum rolls on “The Legendary Green Dragon” and the electric bass on “The Beholder of Death”, now becoming the lead solo instrument. As the final arena track, “The Beholder of Death” is fittingly the soundtrack’s most stripped-down and determined track, and the excellently written bass material and its prominent role give the cue a hard-edged vibrancy that’s truly galvanising.
On top of these rhythms, Onslaught! layers its melodic funk-rock material that either consists of short synth and electric guitar phrases, or longer melodies given to the guitar. Concise and to the point, these melody leads complement their underlying rhythms perfectly and make the music rock and groove even harder. “The Cube of Gelatinous Proportions” is especially noteworthy for its expansive guitar solo that shifts between empowering melodic phrases and hammering staccato motifs with ease. The only place where the guitar work lets the music down is on “The Naga of the Sunken City”, the only arena track that feels unnecessarily drawn out. Running for four minutes, the cue effectively loops after one minute (and only adds minor details before the ‘real’ loop starts). So while the opening funky guitar riff will capture your attention, it will do so again and again, until you realise that “The Naga of the Sunken City” relies too much on this one motif that’s perfectly fine in itself, but can’t carry the whole composition.
Still, almost all would be well if Onslaught! didn’t take a downwards turn toward the end. While there’s not a huge degree of musical variety during the album’s first twenty minutes, the individual pieces themselves flow well enough and entertain throughout their whole running time (apart from “The Naga of the Sunken City”). But while penultimate track “Boss Battle” only runs for two minutes, it feels longer than that with its flavourless rhythms that are not nearly as complex as on previous tracks, while the only melodic element of note is a simple two-note guitar motif that keeps repeating without much purpose. In the end, “Boss Battle” doesn’t nearly have the fire and fighting spirit of the arena tracks, which is quite a let down. And then there’s closing cue “Shop It”, a little throwaway track in the spirit of those jingles you would hear in the stores of any self-respecting SNES RPG or action game. But those games never tried to stretch these ditties beyond the three-minute mark as “Shop It” does, with less than convincing results.
Onslaught! is a pleasant throwback to the Konami shooters of the early ’90s, a tasty mix of rock, funk and jazz, wrapped up in a lovely package of SNES era chiptunes sound. Morse concocts a multitude of superbly grooving, interlocking rhythms that are easily the album’s biggest asset and will capture listeners’ attention immediately. Despite their quite extended running times, the tracks flow smoothly and carry you from one rocking guitar lick and staccato synth figure to the next, with the occasional funk-rock guitar solo on top. All of the arena tracks are bundles of energy and only occasionally suffer from repetition. The only real sore point of the album are the two closing tracks, which fall way short of the standards set by the rest of the album. Still, game music aficionados with a craving for this particular kind of sound — and there will be many — will want to check out this album, which for most of its running time can hold its own against the classics of the genre.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.