VGM Soundtracks You Might Have Missed – Batman: The Video GameApril 17th, 2012 at 5:47
Holy skipped entries, Batman! I decided to forego the usual “Video Game History” post because, once again, nothing of note happened around this time that I can find, so instead I decided to jump right into this week’s soundtrack, and man is it a good one:
Release Date: Feb. 1990
Composers: Naoki Kodaka, Nobuyuki Hara
In the late 80′s and early 90′s, small-time software developer darlings Sunsoft were at the peak of their power. They were cranking out game after game for the NES, and every single one was a gem. Even the ones that weren’t released over here initially have been recently uprooted and appreciated for the classics they are.
Among the classics that did originally come over here, however, is this video game interpretation of the Tim Burton 1989 film Batman, called, conveniently, Batman: The Video Game.
Of the handful of Sunsoft classics that came out during its golden era, Batman: The Video Game is probably second only to Blaster Master in terms of “everybody’s played it”. If you don’t remember whether you have played it or not, listen to this song and see if it comes back to you:
This song is the music to the first stage in the game, in which you, as the titular super-hero, run across a burning Gotham while punching or Bataranging bad guys and probably recoiling in disbelief at how awesome this game is. That, or you just died because this game is super hard. Welcome to a Sunsoft game!
If you can even get to the second stage, the soundtrack makes a switch to this partially-upbeat number, and I found myself realizing what was going on with this soundtrack. You can totally picture it being performed by a surf guitar rock group, like on the 60′s Batman TV show, but the tunes are all still dark and kind of twisted, like the Tim Burton film. It’s a fine combination of classic, heroic melodies and dark, mysterious overtones that really define this soundtrack. Of course, to really bring out this unique feel, you need a unique composer.
The main music man for Sunsoft at this this time was Naoki Kodaka, and he had a signature sound that is largely based on two characteristics that can be found in most of his work. For one, he really knew how to work that NES chip for tones, in fact he favored a method of DPCM sampling (more on that in another article) that let him get some ultra crunchy bass tones and really good sounding drums, and for the actual melody, he favored just doubling the first instrument to give it reverb instead of doing the Follins-esque method of throwing in as many crazy arpeggios with every instrument as possible (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you).
(The guy also had a real ear for bass-lines, which a low-end lover like myself appreciates more than words can apt describe)
For two, Kodaka’s soundtracks simply made you feel excited to be playing the game. This is a surprisingly rare quality in a game composer, I’ve noticed, but none the less an important one. Every time I fire up a Sunsoft game from this era, the thing I most look forward to is hearing another of those astounding melodies set against a super-rocking rhythm section.
I have never even been this far in the game, but man I know every note by heart. It’s probably the simple quality of the melodies that make them so memorable, and the backing parts are all so meticulously crafted to create this kind of manic energy that you can’t help but feel excited to be hearing the tune. It’s really hard for me to think of other examples of this in video game soundtracks other than in other games Naoki Kodaka has worked on.
Of course, he apparently didn’t work alone in this one, as another guy called Nobuyuki Hara is also credited, but unfortunately, I can’t tell what Hara would have contributed to this soundtrack because it’s seriously very close to anything else Kodaka would have worked on. Still, if your name is in the credits to a Sunsoft game, you have my admiration!
Also, like all great composers, when it came time to score something truly intense, like a boss fight, Kodaka answered with super-crazy metal/prog arrangements like this one. It’s a simple theme in 3 parts, but man try listening to it and not start trying to punch your cat.
One of Kodaka’s true strengths, however, is in epic, slow introductions. I think this is kind of overlooked in any critical analysis of his work, but man not only could the guy make a killer rock soundtrack, but he knew exactly how to build up to it, as well.
I have a long-standing love for all of the Sunsoft games of this period (the other periods, well, not so much), and this is actually the first one I ever heard. In fact, it’s one of the earliest in Kodaka’s career, which I honestly wish would have maybe been a little longer, since he disappeared from the industry along with Sunsoft back in the mid-90′s.
Be that as it may, Batman may have been a fine game on its own, but it’s one of those instances where the music of the game really make it stand out as a legend. In fact, I guess it was so good, Sunsoft put out several Batman games across various platforms, each with its own amazing Kodaka-penned soundtracks, but those will have to wait for another day.
One of my good friends and partners in rock Mike “Lobos” Villalobos did a really cool cover of the Stage 1 theme on his name-your-own-price digital solo album Internetz Vol. 1 as well as on his Youtube channel.
VGM cover legends Minibosses did a fantastic job of covering almost the entire soundtrack in one epic 8 minute medley on their latest release, Brass 2: Mouth. That song is one of the bigger highlights of the album, but the whole album is fantastic so I suggest purchasing it already.