Sonic Colors Original Soundtrack -Vivid Sounds x Hybrid Colors-
Sonic Colors Original Soundtrack -Vivid Sounds x Hybrid Colors-
December 22, 2010
Buy at CDJapan
Let me start by throwing away the puns. “Color me excited”. “What a colorful soundtrack”, “How vivid this sound is”, “Such Hybri-“, OK, I’m stopping here. Sonic Colors has come and gone, and while I do my best not to interefere my music reviews with a (semi) review of the game itself, I strongly feel the need to point out that Sonic Colors is pretty damn good game in comparison to a lot of previous Sonic titles of this decade. So for any Sonic fans out there reading this page and still feel skeptical about picking up Colors, do so. It’s worth at least a single playthrough, if you’re that kind of guy. OK, since that’s out of the way, let’s get to what I know best.
Once again, Tomoya Ohtani is at the director’s seat for the music division of the Sonic franchise. That shouldn’t come to as a surprise for me, seeing as how his previous works, 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Unleashed, did not fail to give us, or at least me, something memorable. From the inevitable earworms to instant classics, taking on the musical piece for Sonic Colors was the perfect choice. And as always, alongside Tomoya Ohtani, Sonic Colors brings us other familiar Sonic related composers, with Kenichi Tokoi, Mariko Nanba, and Fumie Kumatani, just to name a few. The new faces, however, deserve mentioning. Specifically, all of the wonderful orchestra performances found on this soundtrack is brought to us by a group called the Amsterdam Session Orchestra. And for the vocals, we get Jean Paul and Alex Makhlouf, of the band Cash Cash.
Let’s start off with the vocals, of which there are only two. Right off the bat, these are the weakest of the whole soundtrack. They are by no means terrible, but with the mesh of autotuned vocals, an incredibly repetitive synth hook, and fast paced, equally repetitive drums, these songs get supremely boring after like the first minute. “Reach for the Stars” is the main example of this. All it really has going for it is the introduction. A sort of bubbly techno jingle, which itself is supremely short and looped to the Nth degree all the way through the entire song, save for a few quiet moments to make some strong emphasis on the vocals. Oh, and speaking of the vocals, as I said, we get some autotuning here. Hooray for computer programs to help the artists disguise their “talent”. OK, so the vocals aren’t that bad, but when it comes to autotune, unless you are strongly paying attention, the distortion of the voices that helps keep it all in key stays so fixed in its digitized position, you almost wouldn’t be capable of telling if the song has reached a new chorus, or even the bridge. You could play the first and last 30 seconds of this song, and you wouldn’t know the difference. That itself is a bad thing, made all the more worse since the song just doesn’t feel at all inspiring. It’s an earworm that will dig into your skull and you probably will have a hard time forgetting the song, if you dislike it more than I do.
The other vocal track is “Speak with your Heart”. This one I can tolerate and, admittedly, it sounds incredibly adorable to me. In comparison to the first vocal track, this song, for the exception of the vocals, avoids the use of techno-related instruments, laying out a very basic blend of soft and classic rock. The vocal performance itself cranks even more of the autotuning that’s much more recognizable with some of the mainstream music we hear on today’s radio. What with the voices going on with “Don’t fall apaaaaart! speak with your heaaaaart!”, which makes me smile more than anger me because of its sheer childish innocence. It doesn’t help when you hear the hand-clap backing up the percussion of this song, along with the faint tamborine. If Alex and Jean’s goal were to make a song family friendly that only the kids will love, then they surpassed that goal with this song. Strangely enough, while this song makes a stronger use of the autotune, the vocals are much more distinguishable and easier to hear then “Reach for the Stars”. I found myself singing along to this song during my work hours without knowing beforehand any of the lyrics, to the point that I got the coldest guilt behind my back when I realized what kind of song I was really listening to. This song is a true embodiment of a guilty pleasure, though it doesn’t make it all the more better me. If I feel like listening to this song, it’s going to be in a lockdown privacy.
Thankfully, these are the only weak songs for me. From here on out, it gets better. Let’s start it off with the orchestra performance. All of the majestic pieces, of which all was provided by the Amsterdam Session Orchestra, builds off from a single piece, “Theme of Sonic Colors”. While this tracj is in no way a replica or a retooling of “Reach for the Stars”, on several occasions it borrows a few similar melodies. Most notably, the melody where the chorus sings along the “I’m going to reach for the stars!” and “I’m gonna find my own way!”. It builds on this and sways into one of the most beautiful and magnificent orchestra performance I’ve heard in a long time. Unlike Sonic Unleashed’s orchestra, which tried to sound like an epic adventure, this one felt like it tapped into the ambiance of Fantasia. “Theme of Sonic Colors” is also presented in separated snippets scattered around the album that were used as both jingles and option screens, my favorite being “Save Screen”. With a violin lead backed up with the calming nature of the harp, it’s a song so beautiful that it almost brings a tear to my eye. Actually, it’s a song I would have no trouble including as a musical presentation for my very own wedding. That sounds a bit much, even for me, but that is the only way I can tell you just how inspiring this track, and all of the Amsterdam Session Orchestra’s tracks for that matter, really is.
The real core for any Sonic soundtrack is of course the stage tracks, and there are plenty here to be found. Actually, what I like most about this soundtrack is that the stage music takes up the majority of the album, which is a good thing for me. It’s actually more thanks to the game itself, which keeps it simple and short with the cutscenes. Not only that, but for the first time since Sonic & Knuckles, each theme is now broken up into each variations through acts, of which there are three. While this practice has been done here and there through some of the recent titles, it’s really the first time an entire soundtrack gives a higher focus to this. What we get is each planet that has its own style of music, its own certain instrument, and its own melody which is played out in varying degrees. The genres explored around the stages mostly emphasizes a bit of jazz, techno, rock, and a bit of big band.
Aquarium Park and Planet Wisp deserve first mentions, as all the themes from these two planets are just pure elegance. They’re even more beautiful than the orchestra performance, if that was in anyway possible. Planet Wisp brings in a very beautiful piano performance that stays within it same style for all three acts, and changes around in the back up instruments. The first act accompanies a fast paced funky guitar and bass performance, perfect to help blend the beautiful forest-like world with the fast paced elements of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. Act 2, which is my favorite of the bunch, slows the tempo down just a bit, and switches the back up portion of the guitar to a more slower and simpler electric guitar, with a wavy motion that echoes from left to right in perfect stereo presentation. For those of you who love listening to the headphones, it’s an experience that will truly make you smile. The third act brings up the tempo much more than the first act, and changes up the melody of the piano just a bit in order to give its own funky taste. It’s very delicate, and yet so powerful with the sliding chords that the piano offers.
Meanwhile, Aquarium Park delivers its own kind of underwater-related ambiance using the same stylistic piano, but with a more techno induced flavor, along with a more noticable fast pace percussion. Actually, Takahito Eguchi’s piano performance for Aquarium Park is more along the lines of single keys with an echo added for effect in contrast to Planet Wisp’s stronger multiple chords on Act 1. For Act 2, the same piano melody is brought right from the beginning, but the tempo for the drums have been signficantly slowed down, while the piano itself is sped up. Act 3 shares a closer interpretation to Act 1, with a more wavier effect layed over throughout, with the piano getting an overhaul focus.
For Sweet Mountain and each of its acts, the same funky jazz performance is brought in thanks to the electric guitar, but its style can be described more as big band. Actually, not so much big band as it is a multiple trumpet fanfare. When combined with the psychedelic lead guitar in the first act and I’m in love. Act 2 clears up a bit on the percussion while keeping the same trumpet fanfare. The same jazz guitar is brought up insanely on the tempo, and rather than being twangy, the guitar is given an additional stroke to help mix the style up a bit and avoid repetition. Then comes the third act, my favorite version of Sweet Mountain. The lead guitar line is given an entirely new performance right from the start, with a deeper, almost bluesy solo. The bass is changed to give an even more blues-inspired flavor, while he trumpet fanfare remains the same yet isn’t played as much. It’s fast and frantic, and purely Sonic style. This same guitar and bass performance can be noticed in Tropical Resort, though it is much tamer in comparison. Actually, Tropical Resort and all its act centers more around techno, and the composition was designed to feel like a heartwarm welcome to a new carnival; this makes sense, since Tropical Resort serves as the game’s first stage and tutorial.
If techno is your thing, there is always Starlight Carnival. These tracks serves a more happy go lucky presentation, almost like “Twinkle Park” from Sonic Adventure, but with some weird trumpet-like synth in the lead. The drums play out like a standard rock song, and manage to fit well with the entire emotion a deep dark amusement space. In some way, Starlight Carnival actually doesn’t differ that much from Aquarium Park, in terms of its style. Starlight Carnival Act 2, for example, starts off eerily similar to Aquarium Park Act 2. The main difference is the lack of a piano in favor of the usual techno. The rhythm, the lead, and sometimes even the bass is made through techno synth. It’s even got some slight inaudible vocal effects that sounds quite a lot like a sampling done by Daft Punk. This kind of sound is notable in Starlight Carnival Act 2. Starlight Carnival Act 3 is the only track where I honestly can’t tell much difference from the first act. Aside from some minor tweaking, I sometimes can’t tell the difference, and it’s the only portion of the stage music that I truly dislike, especially given how the variations of the other stages and their acts go through.
Of course, the usual hard rock we’ve come to know from Sonic makes a nice return, courtesy of Asteroid Coaster and Terminal Velocity. I truly love Terminal Velocity the most. Act 1 feels like it’s taking a cue from a certain track from Sonic Unleashed, notably “Skyscraper Scamper (Daytime)”. This theme is just pure energy. The percussion goes into maximum overdrive, a guitar lead plays out an incredible yet simple solo, and this is blended together with a big band performance in the background. The trumpets plays in unison, with, I believe, some very small hints of saxophone and an even smaller hint of a piano. Considering how this is meant to be an epic last stage as Sonic runs towards Earth, it’s definitely got that sense of urgency of speed to finish it all off, and it does so bringing all the best of the previous music. Oddly enough, Terminal Velocity only has two act variations, and the second one only lasts 30 seconds. It makes sense given the context of the game, but I would have loved to have seen an extended version of the second act.
Asteroid Coaster doesn’t quite pack as much punch as Terminal Velocity, as it is more slower on the tempo and with less of the more interesting instruments in favor of the basic setup for hard rock. That’s not entirely bad, as the guitar for Asteroid Coaster found in Act 1 is simply a creation that I find myself replaying constantly. Its second act features a funkier bass and has a more organized texture, while the third simply removes the percussion and bass from the introduction, giving it an eerie and scary presentation it reprises the first act, minus the guitar solo.
Included on the soundtrack are all of the Sonic Simulator tracks, in the form of the seven Game Lands and the result screen jingles to go with them. Each of the Game Land tracks are nothing more than all of the first act themes found on the soundtrack redone with 8-bit chiptunes. Given the premise of the Sonic Simulator mini games, it makes all the more sense for the music to harken to the old school gaming. While the chiptunes themselves aren’t quite as amazing as the stuff found on the actual NES games. Indeed, hearing all of your favorite stage songs from Sonic Colors in 8-bit form is pretty interesting and worth a listen. It almost has the same sensation as finding a special remix of your favorite song on YouTube. A personal favorite has to be the title screen, only because it’s hilarious that they actually recreated Eggman’s Theme song completely in 8-bit form and used that for the “Press Start screen”. It’s all so cheesy, almost as if Sega borrowed some humor out of Newgrounds.
As for all the cutscene takes, I honestly am not giving much attention to these songs as they get pretty boring halfway through. It’s more enjoyable to hear these when watching the actual cutscenes themselves. The cutscene cues were arranged to give it that “Saturday Morning” feel, which is what the game tried its best to portray. Because of its cartoonish nature, it’s not really worth listening to on its own. There are a few nice ones here and there, trying to show emotion where it fits throughout the game, so at the very least, it doesn’t leave the players bored when watching these quirky animations. As stand-alone music, the tracks are not the best Sonic has offered.
As for the boss battle music, I’m surprised to say these songs didn’t actually captivate me as much as I would have wanted it to. Actually, the boss battles in the game were very limited, with only seven to fight against, three of which were doubled up and the one left alone being a unique fight against Eggman. “Vs. Rotatatron & Refreshinator” is a very weird dance-type music with an incredibly annoying warbling synth playing over and over. That little portion already hurts the song, while the other synths don’t help by playing out a nice melody soothing across in a desperate attempt to make things more fun. “Vs. Orcan & Skullian” is more welcoming, but still suffers from extreme repetitiveness. The guitar riff that starts the music stays on the same short hook the entire length of the track. All the synths that go crazy with the echoes here and there, and the drums lay out a nice basic hard rock style performance. Actually, it reminds of some of the songs from Sonic Heroes. “Vs. Captain Jelly & Admiral Jelly” is the best one out the three general boss battles. It sort of reminds me of the boss battle song against Mephiles back in 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, except not as demonic. The techno bass certainly takes the cake here for me, but the guitar riffs are also nice with their not-too-crazy approach. It’s certainly not as cacophonous as the first two versus tracks.
The final boss battle music? You get “Vs. Nega-Wisp Armor”, separated into two phases. The first phase is a slow paced dramatic orchestra arrangement, complete with the choir chanting in short bursts of “haa!”. It’s pretty good, I’ll give it that. It is a great orchestration, which oddly enough, was not done by the orchestra from Amsterdam, but rather, just sampled by Hideaki Kobayashi himself. That said, while I feel like I should love this one, I feel like it’s missing something, like, an extra bang; even with its epic presentation, it still manages to be slightly boring because of its repetitiveness. The second phase cranks up the first one into one big crescendo, and begins playing out an orchestral version of “Reach for the Stars”. For those who hate that song, this one won’t really be much of a godsend, but it is better than the actual vocal version, that’s for sure. It is getting pretty tiring, however, to see these games start a trend of making the theme song go through a makeover for a reprise as the boss battle song. The final boss had its own leitmotif that was just as good, if not better than the start up music, which satisfies any gamer’s completion. The second phase is awesome under its own rights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I would have been interested in hearing something more unique.
Vivid Sound x Hybrid Colors is proof that sound director Tomoya Ohtani has still got it. With only three Sonic related soundtracks under his lead, it’s amazing to see his work has become instantly popular with the entire Sonic community. And Sonic Colors music, in my view, is much better than Sonic Unleashed and 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog combined. The only downside to the soundtrack are the cutscene cues, the boss battles, and the vocal tracks, but thankfully, all of the planet-based tracks and each of their acts play a major role graced across all three discs. There is a lot to love here.
With only a few minor gripes across certain tracks, I can honestly say that the entire album has become one of my top ten most favorite soundtracks, and not just for Sonic, but for ANY game out there. There still could have been more room for improvements and bonuses, but as it stands, I’m proud to have my physical copy of this soundtrack on display in my room. Everyday, I get my music fix in the morning by choosing a random track from the album, and you know what? It leaves me with a smile every time. And I have a feeling that even Wavemaster and Sega are aware of this, because for the first time in Sonic’s history, you can now officially download this entire soundtrack off of iTunes; if you’re not up to getting a physical set, you can go and get a legit download. Either way, I highly recommend this soundtrack. It is every bit of wonderful and is classic Sonic.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Rafael Orantes. Last modified on August 1, 2012.