Category Archives: Retrogaming News

Retronauts Episode 83: A trial run for “Retronauts Radio”

A bit of an experimental episode today as part of our incipient full-episodes-every-week initiative. I’m calling it “Retronauts Radio,” and that should give a pretty good indication of what you’re in for here. It’s all music, all the time.

Rather than take the same shape as previous music-centered episodes of Retronauts, however, this isn’t a themed “mix tape” or study of a single composer or company’s output. Instead, I’ve taken a more timely approach: A look at notable classic game music releases over the past month or so. This time around, that works out to be a mix of some recent game music LPs, some online-only remixes, and some classic game re-releases or remakes with tunes worth highlighting. I’d like to make this a monthly feature, drawing attention to notable recent soundtracks once a month or so. For logistical reasons, Retronauts hasn’t dealt much with timeliness since we moved to Kickstarter, but the shift to a weekly schedule and my full-time commitment to the project makes that kind of mindset a lot more feasible now, and this seems like a nice way to approach it. Time-sensitive, yet still timeless. Because when is great music not worth a listen?

If this goes over well, it’ll become a regular feature, a part of our standard monthly mix of episodes. (If not, well, back to the drawing board.) I can see where there’s room for some fine-tuning now that this episode is assembled. We’ve received plenty of positive feedback from early-access Patrons already; it sounds like most people would prefer longer samples of music, and it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to bring a second voice into the mix. I will definitely take those suggestions into consideration, along with any others you’d care to leave in the comments section below.

While we usually post Retronauts episodes in mono to keep file sizes down, I went ahead and made this one stereo. Hope that’s cool. I went to the trouble of ripping several hours’ worth of music from vinyl to include this episode and thought you might appreciate as much fidelity as an MP3 can offer.

It’s an all-music episode of Retronauts as Jeremy looks at recent classic game soundtrack releases of note. Includes looks at Panzer Dragoon, symphonic Final Fantasy, Castlevania: Dracula X, and more!

Libsyn (1:08:16, 99.6 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

This is where I typically give a quick mention to the music in the current episode, but since this episode is all music, let me break it down for you a little more thoroughly. I’ve also included links to online store fronts where you can procure these albums for yourself, should you so desire. We’re not getting a kickback here or anything — we just love sharing great game tunes. Enjoy!

  • 0:00 | Intro [just me talkin’]
  • 2:45 | Zuntata: Taito Sound Team | Taito Classics Vol. 1Night Striker [Ship to Shore Media]
  • 3:32 | Panzer Dragoon [Data Discs]
  • 23:55 | Final Symphony [Laced Records]
  • 42:05 | Scarlet Moon Christmas Album [Scarlet Moon Productions]
  • 48:35 | Metroid Resynthesized [Luminist]
  • 52:57 | Wild Guns Reloaded [PlayStation Network]
  • 55:13 | Castlevania Dracula X [Virtual Console]
  • 1:01:16 | Retro pick of the month: Double Dragon for NES [Virtual Console]
  • 1:07:38 | Zuntata: Taito Sound Team | Taito Classics Vol. 1Elevator Action Returns [Ship to Shore Media]

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Further into the labyrinth of music

My favorite time-waster these days — in between prepping for upcoming recording sessions, reviewing upcoming games (yes, I still do that), and writing cool Castlevania think pieces for USgamer (new entry today! go read it!) — continues to be picking away at Etrian Odyssey Untold, the 3DS remake of the (gasp) 10-year-old first-person dungeon-crawler RPG for Nintendo DS. I played through the remake back when it first came out, but between my save file’s deletion and the fact that we will be recording an Etrian Odyssey Retronauts episode at some point this year, I feel totally justified in retreading familiar territory for the third time.

Of course, the thing I keep finding myself gushing about the most as I replay Etrian Odyssey is, naturally, the music. Currently, I’m in the second stratum, which means I’ve been listening to a lot of this tune:

It’s lovely, right? I admit I’m growing a little weary of it, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with the composition, mind you, but Etrian Odyssey starts to sprawl in the second stratum. You unlock several — admittedly optional — rather grueling side quests in this portion of the game, including one that requires you to spend five in-game days on a single floor of the dungeon. Even though Untold takes considerable pains to make this less burdensome than it was in the original, it’s still a heck of a chore. I’m starting to feel a little bit of shellshock whenever I hear this stratum’s theme.

I guess it’s a sign of how much I love this game, and how great Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for it was, that I want to share a tune even when I’ve heard it so much lately that it kind of makes me want to barf at the moment.

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Panzer Dragoon soundtrack review

I have four more weeks left in my run with USgamer before I go solo and try in earnest to turn this podcast and site into something capable of providing me with a living (or else admitting failure and going into, I dunno, real estate or something). Think of the next 20 work days as a sort of, I dunno, farewell tour. And I’ve kicked it off the only way I know how: By writing about something extremely esoteric and extremely retro in nature. Namely, Data Discs’s recent release of the Panzer Dragoon soundtrack as a double 45rpm vinyl LP set. Because why not go all in when I’m on the way out?

It’s a fantastic release, even by the admittedly high standards of Data Discs. I played through Panzer Dragoon a very, very long time ago, but for whatever reason its music never stuck with me. Going back now and listening to it in this context, I love what I hear. It’s very… well, I can’t think of any other way to describe it except “very ’90s.” But in a good way! Not a bad, cheesy way. There are passages here that remind me of Mega Man Legends —  this one synthesizer hit with a multilayered sound I can’t really describe that both games use — as well as tracks that feel like they served as the basis for huge chunks of the Skies of Arcadia soundtrack, too. But it works most of all as a great collection of music in its own right.

Altogether, the Panzer Dragoon soundtrack feels nostalgic in a way completely different from chiptunes and Super NES or Genesis music. It’s good stuff and I strongly recommend it to anyone who’s into great game music and ever listens to vinyl. But hey, don’t take my word for it; take my word for it.

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Virtual Console: The lesser greats

Yesterday Nintendo pushed two pretty major games for Virtual Console — entries in both the Mario Kart and Castlevania series. Franchises popular enough that you kind of have to take a step back and exclaim, “Wait, how were these not already on VC?” Perhaps the answer lies in a curious coincidence: Both of these games have the questionable distinction of hovering down in the lowest rankings of their respective series.

What a fitting way to end 2016. “Wow, new Mario Kart and Castlevania on VC! Awesome …oh, wait.

Now, I wouldn’t put either Mario Kart 64 or Castlevania: Dracula X at the absolute bottom of their franchises. Not when Mario Kart Wii exists. And truth be told, there may actually be no real bottom against which to calibrate the worst of the Castlevania franchise. The series has given us some truly legendary classics, but it turns out that making a good, authentic-feeling Castlevania game is a very difficult task which only a few designers have properly grasped through the years; Dracula X sits more in the middle in terms of actual quality than wallowing in the stygian depths of the series’ worst entries.

Au contraire. There’s actually quite a bit of fun to be had with either of these games, if you can overlook their faults and put yourself in the proper mindset. That being said, it’s not too hard to understand why these two tend to be regarded as lesser entries of their beloved series.

Mario Kart 64 (N64 for Wii U)

I won’t lie, I played a lot of Mario Kart 64 back when it first came out. I was in college, working as editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, and during one particularly grueling period where I struggled to actually leave the newspaper office long enough to go to classes or sleep, Mario Kart 64 kept me and my staff sane. I was pretty impressed by the game’s technical leaps over the original Super Mario Kart, which always felt sort of slow and flat to me. After a fairly mundane starter track, MK64 began throwing in bumpy and sloped surfaces. By the time I reached Wario’s personal course, which appeared to be a muddy, turbulent BMX track that the kart krew had dickishly taken over to ruin with their weighty racers, I was sold. I mastered every track at every speed, and then I raced for the gold on the reverse tracks.

(And once that was done, I sold Mario Kart and my N64 in exchange for a PlayStation, though that wasn’t an issue with the game but rather with the fact that it was the last N64 release I could see ahead for the rest of 1997 that looked particularly interesting to me.)

As much time as I spent with Mario Kart 64, I have a hard time getting back into it these days. The tracks, which seemed so exciting and lively 20 years ago, now stretch on too long and overstay their welcome. Rainbow Road is the worst offender by far, but frankly more courses drag on than not. And of course, there’s the infamous rubberband A.I., a long-running Mario Kart issue that’s never gone away but was very nearly at its absolute worst here. (The absolute worst was, of course, in Mario Kart Wii.) Between its relatively meager selection of racers, lack of kart kustomization, bloated tracks, and cheap CPU tactics, Mario Kart 64 feels like… well, it feels like a lot of games from this era: An awkward first step into 3D that would be overshadowed by subsequent works created by more practiced and confident hands once the training wheels were off.

Castlevania: Dracula X (Super NES for New 3DS)

Dracula X for Super NES has taken flak from the very beginning because of what it’s not: Namely, it’s not Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for PC Engine CD-ROM. I remember magazine articles at the time of its debut (I think EGM, maybe, and almost definitely Game Fan) ripping Dracula X a new one because it wasn’t the “same” as the original. I wouldn’t discover import gaming for another couple of years — I had my PlayStation modded to play the Japanese release of this game’s sequel, as it would happen — so I had no idea what they were talking about.

But I still found myself disappointed by what Dracula X wasn’t: Namely, a proper follow-up to Super Castlevania IV. History has proven Castlevania‘s first 16-bit outing to be little more than an aberration, a creative hiccup in the timestream, but the game had a huge impact on me and I sincerely expected it to be the model for future entries in the Castlevania franchise. So after waiting four years for a follow-up, only to get a game that felt like a throwback to NES-era design, I was bummed.

Neither of these criticisms are, to my mind, entirely fair. It would take more than a decade for Rondo of Blood to come to the U.S., so I can certainly understand the irritation that this mutant variant caused among avid importers, but realistically I don’t think a Super NES cart had the space to handle all the crazy stuff that makes Rondo so amazing. No, the best reason to find Dracula X frustrating is that it is in fact a deeply frustrating game, as I discovered live on the air earlier this year when I made my first serious attempt at playing through it (rather than sort of farting around with it as I’d done over the past god-knows-how-many years).

There’s some real jerk-league stuff in here, with tons of enemies whose placement, patterns, or speed exceed what the player’s controls are equipped to handle without absolute memorization. This, in my opinion, violates a fundamental principle of classic-style Castlevania, which demands that the game world and its hazards be crafted around the protagonist’s limitations — pushing the limits, but never breaking them. When Classicvania violates this rule, as with the falling-block climb in the Alucard route of Dracula’s Curse, it does so at its own peril. Dracula X does this constantly as a matter of routine. And that is why it’s not a particularly great Castlevania entry. Wonderful music, though.

So here I am, rounding out the year by using Retronauts to complain about Virtual Console. No matter how dark 2016 seemed, I hope you can take comfort in the fact that some things will never change.

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Double Dragon IV: Pretty uninspiring, but hardly surprising

Arc System Works has announced its next attempt to make back its investment in the Technos catalog. This time, they’re creating a game that isn’t based on the Kunio-kun series: It’s Double Dragon IV, coming to Steam and PlayStation 4, uh… next month?

It looks OK, I suppose. Honestly, it’s not doing much for me, and that probably has everything to do with the style they’ve adopted for the game:

It seems as though they’ve essentially taken the sprites from Double Dragon II: The Revenge and souped up the whole thing to look like a bastardized Flash-based fake NES game. Some elements look like they could work out, especially the elaborate combat combos (provided the collision detection turns out to be more robust in practice than it appears to be in this trailer). The rest, though — yikes. I’m not much of a fan of the flimsy background visuals, which try to look like NES tech without bothering to behave like NES tech. In fairness, few developers outside of Yacht Club and Inti Creates make any real effort in that respect, but the existence of Mega Man 9 and Shovel Knight have raised the bar and make it a lot harder to get away with things like this. I’m also disappointed that the only new sprite they’ve added to the mix appears to a kunoichi. Who, naturally, runs around with a bare midriff. It’s 2016, baby. Pandering is back in.

The overall creative choice Arc System Works has taken here strikes me as a pretty strange one, if not precisely inexplicable. Double Dragon was more an arcade phenomenon than a console one, but while the NES games were definitely outliers, they probably sold better than any other version of the games. Technos overhauled the games pretty substantially for NES, especially the first one, and the 8-bit console sprites lack the peculiar visual style that helped make the arcade versions so striking. Again, though, this direction shouldn’t come as a complete surprise; Arc System Works acquired the Technos catalog from Million sometime in 2015, and they’ve been mining the Kunio-kun brand with this sort of half-authentic NES style since then. It makes sense from a logistics standpoint that they’d do the same with Double Dragon, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like the ideal representation to take for the franchise. Kunio-kun going faux-NES makes sense in the same way that Mega Man 9 turning back the tides of history to Mega Man 2 did: Crash ’N the Boys and River City Ransom were peak Kunio. But I don’t think many people (at least those with extensive knowledge of the series) would try to advance the idea that Double Dragon hit its pinnacle on NES. All respect to Technos for retooling the games to work within the limits of the NES (and Game Boy), but those adaptations were not the true meaning of Bimmy Lee.

For my money, I’d rather have seen them build on Million’s GBA conversion of the original arcade game. Double Dragon Advance was top-grade material! I’d link to my old 1UP.com review if 1UP.com hadn’t vanished off the face of the internet, taking with it 10 years of my writing. Suffice it to say that Double Dragon Advance managed to capture the style, mechanics, and quirks of the arcade original while adding in plenty of new material and refinements. A new game in that style would be pretty remarkable. I’ve already seen my share of NES ROM hacks called “Double Dragon IV“; just because this one is licensed doesn’t mean it necessarily anything worthwhile to offer.

There are only two saving graces, so far as I can see. First, Arc System Works’ recently released River City Rumble for 3DS is said to be excellent. And secondly, despite it being a popular name for Double Dragon ROM hacks, I respect that they’ve decided to spackle in the gaps here by calling this Double Dragon IV. It’s always been incredibly weird that the franchise skipped from Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone to Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls with no real explanation of what happened to the entry in between. Those who deeply care about series canon (all five of them) have been forced to treat, I dunno, Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team as the series’ fourth entry. Now we can go back to pretending that game never happened. However misbegotten Double Dragon IV may or may not turn out to be, it can’t possibly be as much of a mess as the Battletoads crossover.

Or the live-action movie, for that matter. Come to think of it, Double Dragon III was pretty terrible, too, and Double Dragon V was a below-average Neo•Geo fighting game masquerading as a sequel. I suppose I can see why Arc System Works would return to the well of the second NES game: It was just about the last time Double Dragon was actually any good.

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