Famicom Graffiti's Metroid Remix Kills, But Oh Dear, That One Zelda Track...

Image: Nintendo / VGMdb / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today’s vintage selection from Nintendo has a real unpredictable streak and features one of the best Metroid covers you’ll hear. And, well, other things.


Video game soundtrack albums were kind of a wild west in the late ‘80s, so you never knew what you’d get. (One good bet: a whole lotta synths.) The earliest crop of official Nintendo albums was no different, so I didn’t know what to expect from 1990’s Famicom Graffiti: Nintendo Disk Card Edition (playlist / VGMdb), which offers arrangements from nine early Famicom Disk System games and, for good measure, the Famicom Disk System boot-up music.

Here’s what I got: a whole lotta synths, put in the service of a couple damn fine arrangements and at least one epic misfire. Starting with that misfire:

Nintendo / MasterYoshiRider (YouTube)

I suppose the signs are there from the start: weird zap sounds from the left, mechanical crunching noises from the right. But shit gets real 16 seconds in, when the arranger mistakes a synthesized dog yap for an instrument and proceeds to let it rip for 100 mildly agonizing seconds, greatly distracting from what’s otherwise a really solid rendition of Zelda’s overworld theme. (What’s with the shattering glass, too?) The cacophony finally abates at 1:57; peace at last? No, just the calm before the electric guitar jam, accompanied by a reenergized yap sample (“yample,” let’s call it).

You can somewhat save this track by muting the entire right audio channel. Try it. Drastic, but it’s the only way to be sure. Let’s cleanse our palates:

Nintendo / MasterYoshiRider (YouTube)

I thought this cover of the Metroid title screen (best song in the game!) might be off to a similarly fishy start what with the ticking clock sounds, not to mention the ultra-staticy opening notes suggesting the possibility of a faulty recording. But no! This is the full, gorgeous synthesizer treatment this song’s always deserved, albeit with a ticking clock and occasional wayward laser sounds. 2:07’s transition into the beautiful, guitar-lead second half is a tremendous payoff for the tension that precedes it, cementing this as one of the best Metroid covers I’ve heard.

You know what other classic NES game had some great music? Zelda II, particularly its title screen. What did it lack? Certainly not a weird little elfen voice grunting and yelping. Here’s proof:

Nintendo / MasterYoshiRider (YouTube)

You’re not helping, ya little freak. But even ignoring the odd vocalizations, this fairly competent arrangement doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original song. Maybe it realizes this at the end, when it bizarrely slows down and deflates until sputtering out. There there, you tried.

Nintendo / MasterYoshiRider (YouTube)

Wanna end this column on a high note, so here’s yet another title screen theme arrangement, this time from Kid Icarus. It starts well and good—I always enjoyed the original track—but then the lead synth basically starts singing at 0:53 and I am smitten. This repeats later in the track and basically elevates the entire affair into “pretty damn good” territory, just a bit below the Metroid cover. Way to take us to Angel Land.

Most of the rest of the album features tracks less known over here, from The Mysterious Murasame Castle, Shin Onigashima, and the two Famicom Detective Club episodes. They’re all nicely done treatments, albeit less nostalgic for many of us Western players.

There’s more where this came from, too. Famicom Graffiti: Cartridge Edition (playlist / VGMdb) was released simultaneously, and Game Boy Graffiti (playlist / VGMdb) followed shortly after. At the end of 1990 the double album Game Music Graffiti (playlist / VGMdb) collected all tracks from the three prior discs. So, what exactly is “game music graffiti”? Perhaps thoroughly listening to these three albums, a charming product of their times, will bring us closer to the truth.


Uh, OSHA’s sniffing around so I’m calling it: That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music. I have to go, they won’t stop knocking and I think they can hear me typing. Crap crap crap. Um, have a good week! Later.

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Staff Editor, Kotaku.

DISCUSSION

These weird albums full of tacky renditions must’ve been big business in 80s and 90s Japan, because there’s a fuckton of them, from all over the industry. Konami had Kukeiha Club, Sega had S.S.T. Band, and even conservative, buttoned-up Nintendo had oddities like this one. Generally they’re not really my thing - always overproduced in that cloying, syrupy Japanese hifi way. They’re unmistakeably artefacts of their time, though, and kind of fascinating at that.

They were often really nice physically, too. Heavy, extensive liner notes, a lot of attention to detail; the usual Japanese thing. A couple of years ago I finally ditched all my cassette tapes during a move but I had to keep the Japanese game soundtracks, they’re lovely.

Mostly this stuff was Japan only, but Nintendo also produced a handful of strange 90s pop releases, which are worth checking out if you get a kick out of this stuff. The singles Super Mario Land by Ambassadors of Funk, and Tetris by Doctor Spin both come to mind. You’ve been warned.