Sonic & Knuckles / Sonic Spinball -Virtual Sonic-
Sonic & Knuckles / Sonic Spinball -Virtual Sonic-
August 20, 1996
Buy Used Copy
Part of the Sega Tunes series of albums released in 1996, Virtual Sonic is dedicated to the Sonic universe by featuring various arrangements from Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball. The original composer, Howard Drossin, is the arranger and performer of these pieces. The 30-minute, 12-track album contains music of various genres including rock, orchestral, funk, hip hop, grunge, world, and new age.
The first track is one of the best on the album. “Chaos Jam” offers a solid rock jam that features brief, yet to the point guitar, organ, and synthesizer solos. The sound is dirty, reminiscent of the ’70s. The atmosphere changes completely in the next track, “Knucklemania”. It has a tropical and African vibe to it, with lots of wood percussion, flutes, and tribal chanting. Highly joyful and energizing, it however ends too soon (1:12) and one could wish for a longer development. The longest piece actually follows the shortest, which is the orchestral “Battle of the Badnicks”. Somewhat similar to old Looney Tunes cartoon soundtracks with various comical passages and some dramatic march-like rhythms, it is a very interesting composition that is unfortunately slightly let down by its synthetic instrumentation. The presence of a piano is a plus, and those who like the music from Banjo-Kazooie should appreciate this theme.
Coming back to the dirty rock sound of the album’s opener, “Boss Opera” is less catchy yet it adds a piano and synthetic opera vocals to the mix. There is also an overdriven guitar that noodles in a good part of the duration. Nothing too memorable though, but it works well enough as light boss music, albeit a little strange when the opera comes in. The funky “Return to the Toxic Caves”, as well as “Spinball Theme”, were both already featured on the Sonic the Hedgehog Boom album released three years earlier. While the arrangements are practically identical, the versions found here are slightly different with several instruments samples having been replaced by more realistic sounding ones. It results in a punchier sound, especially concerning the drums, yet at the same time, the cleanliness of the original mixes took a hit. They are still fantastic and classic Sega tunes. A composition that is similar to “Spinball Theme” is the theme from Sonic & Knuckles. Their arrangements differ however, the latter being more diverse in styles. Starting with the familiar theme played softly by a flute and piano, it then gets moving with a ’60s brass section and a rock guitar. Calming down with country-styled slide guitar and piano up to the half of the piece, the second half then reintroduces the upbeat brass and rock elements, including a guitar solo. The melody and eccentric arrangement make it one of the better tracks on the album.
There are actually some less interesting tracks to be found on Virtual Sonic. One of the worst is “Robotnik’s Revenge”, a repetitive hip hop piece that seems to go nowhere. It is well produced though, creating a plausible urban soundscape, but this cannot overcome the boring composition. And just when it is about to (finally) fade out and end, the listener gets a bonus 20 seconds for extended torture. Better, yet not among the best tracks either, is the grunge song entitled “Metal Sonic”. This type of rock had its peek of popularity during the early ’90s and it is normal that some VGM was influenced by it. The Cobain-esque vocals and downer music is well done, props to Drossin for that, yet I have never been a fan of the genre so it does not go down so well with me. It is however only one track on the album, as opposed to a full album of grunge songs for Sega Tunes – Comix Zone. Quite a change in mood, “Sandopolis” is a Middle Eastern, desert inspiring piece featuring sitars, percussion, Arabic chanting, and other typical instruments of the genre. It sounds very good, but its big flaw is that it is underdeveloped. More of a filler track than an essential one.
The last two tracks still have something new to offer. “City in the Clouds” is sensual new age music reminiscent of Kenny G or Enigma. Ethereal synth, smooth groove bass, subtle bluesy guitar, and occasional saxophone phrases all capture the floating sensation of the city. Again going in a totally different direction, the next and last track closes the album with grandeur. “Sonic Triumphant” celebrates Sonic in a medieval manner and the virtual orchestra plays a fine, yet unspectacular fanfare that could have been taken from a film scene where the knights come back to the castle victorious.
Howard Drossin demonstrated his versatility on Virtual Sonic. While it is not the most “Sonic” sounding album in existence and the eclectic arrangements might unsettle some listeners, it still contains notable music and should be sought after by Sega fans. The rock pieces are the best offerings, both for their compositions and arrangements, followed closely by the orchestral ones. The other tracks are hit or miss, some being agreeable for a few listens while the rest are simply boring. Certain instruments, notably the orchestral ones, are obviously synthetic yet most are still good enough for the listen to be enjoyable. Out of print like many other old albums, it could be difficult to acquire today.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by François Bezeau. Last modified on August 1, 2012.