Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re talking about Sinistar, the antagonist of which likely gave nightmares to a generation of kids with its howling banshee shrieks.
Sinistar (longplay), released to arcades by Williams Electronics in 1983, is a simple game. You play a lone starship pilot in search of crystals to craft Sinibombs, the only weapons that can temporarily defeat the eponymous, relentless monster that served as the game’s biggest threat. Opposing you are enemy pilots, whose material-gathering is geared toward building Sinistar. It’s a virtual arms race, one that always ends with the massive entity doing its best to terrify you with its horrifying, digitized screams.
As a youngster who missed out on the golden age of arcade gaming, I first heard these sinister sound effects used as samples in “Grand Ol’ Party Crash,” a politically charged 2005 track by New York rapper Cage. Since then, I’ve grown to appreciate Sinistar’s use of sound—though not music—to create an atmosphere of dread and paranoia. You never know when the giant, fanged face-creature’s going to attack, but it’s a constant presence even while off-screen due to its penchant for mocking you.
While Sinistar might not have any music of its own, the arcade game’s sound effects have been used in numerous fan works. It’s almost as if Sinistar has spawned its own genre of electronic music, a collection of artists and tracks that have found inspiration in the monster’s limited vocabulary even without having an original soundtrack from which to build. A PC sequel, 1999’s Sinistar: Unleashed (playlist / gameplay), would finally provide backing music for the fight against Sinistar:
THQ / BreezoX (YouTube)
I’ve never played Sinistar: Unleashed, but in watching a few gameplay videos, it’s surprising how little the music actually adds to the game. While the tracks aren’t terrible, they do detract a bit from the star of the show: Sinistar itself. The battle against this great cosmic evil should focus entirely on its chilling modulations rather than some generic sci-fi soundtrack.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Can you think of other games that manage to evoke a certain feeling or emotion with a limited or non-existant soundtrack? See you tomorrow!