Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s new, daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re checking out one of the more acclaimed CD shmup soundtracks of the 16-bit(ish) era, which has a surprising connection to ‘80s superband Duran Duran.
Red Company’s 1992 PC Engine Super CD shooter Gate of Thunder (longplay / review) is best known to USians as one of the pack-ins for the all-in-one TurboDuo console, which was NEC’s final attempt at selling the PC Engine in North America. Wonderful system, terrible marketing, good shooter, albeit heavily, heavily inspired by 1990's Thunder Force III. While I always thought Gate was just a well-done ripoff, it’s actually by ex-Technosoft devs who left the company by 1991. Huh!
(Also good to know, your pilot character is a “space cop” called Hawk, which technically makes Gate of Thunder sci-fi copaganda. Those bastards sneak in everywhere.)
The game’s a good shooter, and its soundtrack might edge into “great” territory if hard-rock shredding, complex percussion, heavy production, and a tiny hint of electronic influence is up your alley. Gate of Thunder’s music drew a lot of critical notice upon its release, winning the game more attention than was enjoyed by other shooters for NEC’s unlucky U.S. consoles.
I’ll suggest Gate of Thunder’s soundtrack is best enjoyed with the game; in its intended set and setting, it suits the action perfectly. (Alas, the loud sound effects sometimes drown out the music more than is ideal, particularly on the Wii Virtual Console release.) Outside of the game I’m not that into the repetitive “Intro” and straightforward “Stage 1,” feeling drawn toward the more melodic and/or driving compositions like “Stage 2,” “Stage 3,” the slow-burn“Stage 5,” and my favorite, “Stage 6” (a great sequence begins at 1:08). All enjoyable; ought to replay this sometime. (I used to have all the 1UP locations memorized.)
So, about Duran Duran. Gate of Thunder’s credits give the “Sound Design” credit to Nick Wood (VGMdb) of Syn Sound Design. His company also gets a “Presented by” credit alongside Red and Hudson Soft. Though there are other audio staff credits, it’s usually said that Wood composed this soundtrack. Is there definitive proof? It’s hard to say for sure since the game’s credits are so vague, and most information floating around the internet doesn’t come with detailed sourcing.
Syn Sound Design, it turns out, was created by the trio of Nick Wood (a producer and arranger), Simon Le Bon of that ‘80s superband, and his wife Yasmin Le Bon. (See those first initials? SYN.) The linked wiki entry also mentions a Naoko Hyuga as a co-founder and makes an unfathomable distinction between “creators” and “founders,” it’s all very confusing. The important part is that Syn Sound Design was credited in Gate of Thunder, and Syn is the company of longtime Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon.
How much was Le Bon involved, if at all? I don’t know, but it’s probably telling that he wasn’t in the game’s credits, while Wood was. However, one Reddit poster went all in and suggested Le Bon was the game’s composer:
For those who don’t know, Simon Le Bon of the band Duran Duran composed and performed the soundtrack for Gate of Thunder under his company Syn Sound Design (formed with Yasmin Le Bon and close friend Nick Wood). They live in Japan, and in the early ‘90s, Hudson Soft asked them to provide music for an upcoming game for their PC Engine CD add-on.
I haven’t found anything else to support that, but why not throw more suppositions onto the pile? Keeps it nice and mysterious. But seriously, I see no evidence it was Le Bon. Whoever ultimately composed Gate of Thunder—most likely Nick Wood, friend of but not member of Duran Duran, possibly with help from support staff—good job!
That was a lot to get through! Let’s wind down a little:
Ahh, much better. How about one more? Yes. Now we’re good. Enjoy your day.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! If you have any additional information about the composer(s) of Gate of Thunder please contact the relevant authorities via the comments form below. See you tomorrow!