He may not sit in the limelight like some of the company’s other legendary names like Miyamoto, Yokoi or Iwata, but make no mistake: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka is one of the most important men to have ever worked at Nintendo.
Especially if you like music. Or Pokémon!
Born in December 1957, Tanaka is a lifelong musician, having performed in a number of bands during the 1970's and 1980's, playing on everything from guitar to keyboards and in styles as diverse as folk and reggae.
He began work at Nintendo in 1980. From then until well into the 1990's, Tanaka did a little work on the hardware side of things, helping with the sound design on handhelds like the Game & Watch and original Game Boy, as well as that of the Famicom/NES and its Zapper light gun accessory.
His more prominent contributions, however, came with his work on the soundtracks of some of Nintendo’s best (if not biggest) games. His first credited gig with the company was providing the sound effects to arcade title Space Firebird, which was followed by the original Donkey Kong, while his first soundtrack work would come two years later, on 1984 NES title Urban Champion.
Following that he would give us the music to, among others, games like (deep breath) Kid Icarus, Metroid, Balloon Fight, Famicom Wars, Super Mario Land, Duck Hunt, Dr. Mario and the Nintendo version of Tetris.
He’s perhaps best loved, though, for his contributions (along with fellow composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hiroshi Kanazu) to the soundtracks to cult favourite the Mother series, a franchise renowned for its catchy and, at times, surprisingly emotional score. Those with an ear for the classics will recognise the many tips of the hat that can be found in the Mother games, like tributes to The Who, Chuck Berry and even The Beatles (there’s a great Beatles v Mother comparison video here).
While he continued to do music work into the 1990's, Tanaka scaled back his composition duties during the decade, working on some other aspects of design that would, bizarrely, culminate in his leadership of the team that created the Game Boy camera peripheral in 1998.
In 2000, Tanaka “left” Nintendo to take up the role of president of Creatures Inc., one of the two companies involved (along with The Pokémon Company itself) in the creation of Pokémon properties for Nintendo. While Creatures assist on the development of Pokémon video games, its main role is to oversee the Pokémon card game.
While he’s still serving as president of Creatures to this day, Tanaka did find time in 2008 to return to game soundtracks, contributing two tracks (a Donkey Kong and Kirby mix) for Wii fighting game Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
When not up to his armpits in Pokémon all day, Tanaka still performs as often as he can, though these days he’s traded the guitar and keyboard for the chiptunes scene, where he often plays snappy remixes of his earlier Nintendo work.
(Top image courtesy of Inside)
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