Super Stardust HD Original Soundtrack
Super Stardust HD Original Soundtrack
June 15, 2007
Super Stardust was originally a game released in 1994 for the Amiga and Amiga CD32 platforms. Thirteen years later, it was reimagined for the PlayStation 3 as Super Stardust HD. Taking one part Asteroids and one part Geometry Wars, the game creates a frenetic, destroy everything on the screen, shoot-em-up. As the player controls the ship, destroying the enemies and asteroids as they collide with the planet, the music that serves in the background is extremely fitting to the overall setting. Ari Pulkkinen, the composer behind the PC game Shadowgrounds, utilizes two types of styles on this soundtrack. The first, used in single player, opts for an organic / electronica fusion, while the second, used in team mode, opts for a very Hollywood-esque orchestral sound. Are both halves equal or does one outshine the other?
There seems to be a general unwritten rule when it comes to shmup games, whether it is the manic bullet shooters produced by Cave, or more user friendly shooters such as this. The rule is quite simple: Produce a first stage theme that is extremely catchy and, often times, one of the best things on the soundtrack. I don’t know if Ari Pulkkinen intended to follow this rule, but at least to me, the first piece is one of the best things on the soundtrack and my personal favorite. “Starfighting Across the Universe” utilizes a techno-driven bass line, incorporates some bouncy, futuristic synth, and some brass accents to create a catchy, and ultimately engaging, stage theme. The melody is one of the strongest on the albums and never bores throughout its duration. In the solo expansion, there is a remixed version of this piece too. In addition to keeping the core melody and overall sound, the remix, entitled “Starfighting Across the Universe (Epic Japanpop Remix)” also incorporates some nice electric guitar work in the form of riffs and melody. While both versions are excellent, I find the remix to be slightly better, if only because it’s much longer and incorporates a bit of edge into the music with the electric guitar.
Fortunately, each theme has a distinct sound that separates it from the others. “Jolly Good Jungle Adventure” is a nice take on tribal electronica. Incorporating a heavy techno bass line with a melody line that has a nice exotic flair, it gives the sense of impending danger, but at the same time, helps to craft one of the more interesting pieces on the soundtrack. While it doesn’t have as much focus on organic instrumentation as some of the other themes, when present, they do accentuate the overall mood of the piece. “Thou Shall Be Fire and Brimstome” is another great piece. Fusing together an industrial sound with the more futuristic soundscape heard throughout the album, this piece is perhaps the “grungiest” of them all. As such, this piece also focuses more on the bass line rather than on the melodic content. It gives a great sense of impending doom and creates a tense atmosphere throughout.
“Hyperspeed Mr. Spåck!” is most similar in style to “Starfighting Across the Universe.” Featuring the heavy brass accents combined with the futuristic synth, it’s a much more epic theme. The electronic sections are more intense while there is a stronger focus on the use of brass and strings. Fortunately, it doesn’t lose any appeal for using more organic instruments, but rather, helps create its own unique identity. Out of all the stage themes, if I had to choose a least favorite, “Super Ice Ice Baby” would be it. That’s not saying it’s bad, far from it, but it’s the one that I don’t find as entertaining as the others. While heavily electronically focused, there are some nice ethnic influences heard throughout, mainly of the Asian variety. It adds another unique feel to the soundtrack. Bubbly and highly energetic, the final stage theme is very entertaining.
The last highlight on the soundtrack is definitely the boss theme, “Wrath of the Pingu.” Starting with an ominous beat and string/choral accents, the mood for this piece is set. As the piece progresses, the orchestral focus and electronic focus tend to switch places at times, creating a very chaotic, frenetic piece of music. It works wonders in creating a sense of danger. The highlight of this piece is easily the bass line, as it sets the pace for the entire piece. It’s a fantastic way to end every planet!
My review of the team expansion will be much briefer. The highlights of this soundtrack are easily the single player pieces, because they bring so much depth and energy to the soundtrack. Unfortunately, the orchestral arrangements, while very nicely arranged, are the weakest thing on the soundtrack. Translating electronically based music into orchestral form is a feat in itself, and I think that Ari Pulkinnen does a fantastic job at doing so. All of the grabbing features in the melodies of the originals are retained, the replacement instrumentation fitting. Every theme, from “Heroes of Lave” to “Heroes of Segomo,” still manages to be catchy, even without the bubbly, futuristic synth or the industrial soundscapes. As for the instrumentation behind this, expect to hear lots of percussion and brass. Both are used to craft a very epic feel for these pieces. There are also some string and choral accents to add a bit of depth to the pieces. In the end, the orchestral arrangements are pleasing, but the true stars of the soundtrack lie in the electronic variety.
While video game music by Western artists is a territory into which I seldom cross, on occasion, I find myself venturing over. Most of the time, I stand unimpressed; however, on rare occasions, I do find that diamond in the rough. The soundtrack to Super Stardust HD is one such diamond. In fact, I think it very well may be my favorite score by a Western artist. I think that Ari Pulkkinen did a fantastic job in melding together futuristic, spacy soundscapes with more down-to-earth instrumentation and while the orchestral arrangements aren’t as energetic and catchy as their original counterparts, they still retain key features from the originals to satisfy the listener. Even though I haven’t ventured into the game mode that features these pieces, I assume it helps craft a very immersive experience. Unfortunately, there is no commercial soundtrack release for this game at the moment, merely an unofficial soundtrack endorsed by the artist, but I do hope one does come eventually. When it does, it is definitely worth the purchase. There is something on here if you are a fan of orchestration, a fan of electronica, or a fan of both.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.