Retronauts Episode 94: Classics new and old on Retronauts Radio

Another week, another episode about Castlevania. I guess I lied last week when I said I’d be limiting Retronauts to a single Castlevania episode per year!

Of course, this isn’t really a Castlevania episode. It’s Retronauts Radio number four, and it just so happens that this month’s musical highlight comes in the form of a Castlevania III double-LP album. I cannot tell you how much I adore this new release — it’s a far cry in terms of quality from Mondo’s disappointing first Castlevania vinyl release. Each disc contains a different version of the music (one NES, one Famicom), and the source files are not the existing CD issue of the Japanese soundtrack… which is to say, no sound effects and weird foley elements. I highly recommend it.

The other selections for this month include:

Everything we covered with this month’s Radio installment is stellar, so I hope you’ll forgive the indulgent length of this episode. In addition to highlighting great recent music releases by way of tune samples, the fourth Retronauts Radio involves a lot of back-and-forth conversation about the games and soundtracks between myself and this episode’s guest: Jack Menhorn of Boss Key Productions. Jack works with video game audio for a living, so he brings a genuine expert perspective to the discussion.

Everything this month is also a vinyl release, something I prefer to avoid with Retronauts Radio. I know that only a minority of listeners collect game vinyl, and I don’t want anyone to feel like this show has a high buy-in cost. It just so happened that this month involved a huge amount of great classic game music arriving on vinyl. Don’t worry, though: Next month will include only one LP-exclusive selection, along with a couple of new CD releases, a new (!) Famicom cartridge release, and BraveWave’s upcoming Ninja Gaiden remaster (which will arrive in multiple formats)

Episode description: Boss Key Studios audio expert Jack Menhorn joins Jeremy for an in-depth discussion of the latest new releases of retro- and retro-style game soundtracks: Mondo’s Contra III and Castlevania III, Brave Wave’s Shovel Knight, and DataDiscs’ Galaxy Force II!

MP3, 52.0 MB | 1:53:17
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

This week’s music selections are… well, I kind of feel like this one kind of speaks for itself. If you’re interested in picking up any of the soundtracks from this month, the links are all above. And if you’re curious to play the games from which the music comes, you can pick up: Castlevania III and Contra III on Virtual Console, Shovel Knight on any current platform you can name, and both Galaxy Force II and Thunder Blade as excellent 3D Classics remakes on Nintendo 3DS.

Finally, thanks again to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

19 Comments

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19 Responses to Retronauts Episode 94: Classics new and old on Retronauts Radio

  1. Norihiko Nishimura

    I personally really enjoy the vinyl stuff. I’ve def purchased video game vinyl in the past few months because of your excellent vinyl coverage. Any chance you will cover the snatcher LP?

  2. Moroboshi

    Nice episode guys but you were a bit off with your technical discussion on Shovel Knight. There’s no way Shovel Knight could ever run on NES level hardware. It uses multiple background playfields for real parallax fully overlapping scrolling, and has huge sprites far beyond anything the NES could do. (any large boss sprite on an NES would invariably be the background instead of a sprite). There are a few NES games with some simple parallax (mostly line scrolling with some sprite overlays), but the hardware only had a single playfield. Plus as you mentioned Shovel Knight also uses more on screen colours than an NES could handle. It’s also in 16:9.

    The music uses the VRC6 chip, so again, a real NES couldn’t play it.

    I think Yacht Club made the right call. They captured the feel of an NES whilst also making it far superior than it ever could have been.

    I hope their next project is a take on 16-bit era visuals and music. Jake Kaufman is pretty awesome with FM music too.

    • Maybe our conversation was unclear. I’m aware Shovel Knight can’t technically run on NES hardware (unless you know of NES hardware that can output widescreen visuals at 1920x1080p), but the designers made aesthetic changes to the visuals (like dropping some of the sprite frames they had created) to make it feel more authentic. The soundtrack is all that runs on vintage hardware, and that’s the only claim we intended to make.

  3. Nathan Daniels

    I’ll save my pedantic rambling ’till after I’ve listened to the full episode, but I just wanted to say that I pre-ordered the Galaxy Force II/ Thunder Blade on vinyl immediately upon finding finding it was talked about on the show. Thank you for that.

  4. Nathan Daniels

    There were a few stretches of silence in this episode for some reason, especially during the Shovel Knight section(including a 5-minute blank spot at 1:05:00)….at least from the iTunes download. But regardless, I really enjoyed the whole episode, and I enjoyed the guest. Hopefully you have Jack on in the future.

    I wouldn’t characterize Kaufman’s work on Shovel Knight as European sounding. True, the compositions are generally longer than a typical Japanese-composed NES track, but his sound palette is pretty solidly Japanese. He doesn’t do as many tempo changes as the typical Japanese composer does, and that might be part of the difference we’re picking up on: I think you guys got it right when you said it was too busy and too strident. I think of the Shovel Knight OST as a Japanese composition with major ADHD.

    Galaxy Force II and Thunder Blade both used the YM2151 and a SegaPCM sampling board. The primary differences in sound between the two games were the style of composition and quantity of samples. The main differences between these systems and the Genesis were the sample quality and number of channels. The Genesis had 6 channels of FM and a PSG that added a few more. If a composer wanted to do samples, they’d have to tie up FM or PSG resources. The result is a less robust sound.

    By comparison, the arcade versions of Thunder Blade and Galaxy Force II had 8 channels of dedicated FM synthesis AND 8 channels of PCM. They could combine FM channels to do complicated synth patches, and still have a full array of samples to use. I believe Galaxy Force II used sampled keyboard sounds as well. Compare the arcade versions of Galaxy Force II, Thunder Blade, and Outrun to their Genesis ports and the difference ends up being much greater than the difference between the NES and FC versions of Castlevania III.

    • I’m trying to get a fixed version up, but am still waiting to hear from our contact at PC1 to explain how to update shows in their system. It’s not intuitive.

  5. Jake

    Jeremy,

    There were some weird, jarring cuts in some of the music in the episode (abrupt stop rather than a fade-out) that was very unlike your previous episodes, as well as a huge silent gap in the middle of the podcast. I don’t think my player was screwing up, but maybe it was just my download?

    I just wanted to let you know. Otherwise, great episode. I always love talk about the VRC6 and Castlevania 3.

  6. Thub

    Great vinyl episode! I’m always surprised how much I enjoy listening to you folks talk about this stuff.

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not just my download as I just double-checked against the web player hosted here, but there’s some pretty rough edits and gaps toward the end of the Shovel Knight discussion, specifically the ends of the music clips and a multi-minute gap right up to the ad break. Just thought I’d point it out in case you were inclined to fix it up for posterity or whatnot.

    • Yeah, the errors were there and are fixed (and I had already fixed them after posting to Patreon, so I’m not sure how they happened here), but until PC1 gets back to me there’s nothing I can do about them for the feed. Hopefully it’ll be fixed by the end of the day.

  7. econmara

    Wonderful episode! I really enjoyed it. Thank you

  8. dc12

    I wonder if there’s a recording of a string quartet (or octet for that matter) that played the Castlevania soundtrack. I wonder how much more terrifying it could be.

    • muteKi

      There have been Castlevania orchestral performances (note: still haven’t listened to this episode even a week later so I don’t know if it’s mentioned there), and while I think the music skews toward the more recent entries, they definitely have done performances of the older games in there too. Quite nice to listen to if you get a chance.

  9. Justin

    Thanks for this fantastic episode!

    Kaufman’s Shovel Knight score is really remarkable. I recommend anyone checking out his video to see FamiTracker work in motion. Like a dancing spreadsheet. Worth pausing on that first screen, too, since he breaks down what you’re looking at:

    https://youtu.be/32OLFp9-t7I

    FamiTracker is fun to play around with and really help to understanding of how the NES and Famicom produced sound.

    Heck, it inspired me to experiment with FamiTracker myself… I tried arranging a favorite track from Marathon just for kicks:

    https://youtu.be/7uNBS7OWh7g

    Thanks, again, for the awesome episode!

  10. I really like that Shovel Knight soundtrack, although I agree it does sound a but speedy throughout. However, I don’t think it really sounds like a UK OST. Maybe from the technical flair, which UK composers usually fill their works with. But not in composition, because I feel it was just as colorful and complex as say a Mega Man or any Alfa Lyla work for that matter. Definitely more Capcom than Rare or Ocean.

    I can’t express how dope Galaxy Force IIs soundtrack is, though. Beyond the Galaxy itself is enough for the purchase. Although, as a huge SST Band/fusion music fan, I love Thunder Blade as well. But I can appreciate you guys comments on how short the selections are because…well, they are! But that doesn’t take away the fact that Burning Point is awesome:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxLnUe0NtrM

    Lastly, the Castlevania III soundtrack is magnificent. Is there any one of them that is better than this? I’ve heard most, but this…is just king. Great ep.

  11. Jake

    You kind of ribbed Jack Menhorn in the episode about buying a poor turntable for this vinyl. What turntable/pre-amp did you happen to use in order to record the audio for this episode?

  12. Kevin

    I enjoyed the discussion about European and Japanese music compositions. Even as a kid I was able to distinguish that “okay, some games have this weird trilling thing with their music and some seem more straightforward.” I’m sure for European devs, coming up composing for extremely limited microcomputers meant there was a certain impact on how they approached the NES’s sound chip when composing there (which probably ties into the demoscene ya’ll mentioned). I’m not sure Japanese developers, working more heavily on powerful arcade hardware before the Famicom, were coming up with the same arcane tricks and oneupsmanship that you were seeing in Europe.

  13. Mega_Matt

    Great episode. I’m loving the Retronauts Radio’s. I own all of those records and they’re all pretty sweet. I feel very similar about Contra III though. It’s my favorite Contra game but the music is better suited for when you’re actually playing the game.

    Famitracker is awesome. I compose on it occasionally,
    ( https://soundcloud.com/megamattyb/space-jump ) if anyone wanted to give a listen…

    Famitracker can export to NSF files. So if you could somehow get the Famitracker files for the Shovel Knight music, then I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be able to export them to NSF and play them on your Analogue NT Mini. In fact I would love to do that myself if I could get my hands on the files.

  14. Steve

    Great Episode. A lot of the albums you mention are available on Spotify. Have you ever considered making a Spotify playlist?