Editor's Choice: Genesis Jams (Part I)
I can tell you folks about title after title, three times a month, or I can try to entertain you and shake it up a bit. This will be the first of an “Editor’s Choice” series of articles, where I focus on a category or aspect of classic gaming and give it the spotlight. I often use social media to discuss the subjects with others before sitting down to write; if you want to throw me suggestions,, look for me on the retro gaming related pages on Facebook. I’d like especially to give a shout out to Hidden Sound Test, for giving me so much feedback the other day. I got a lot of good suggestions, but I plan to do more than one article on Genesis music, so don’t worry!
The Sega Genesis. Outside of North America, it was known as the Mega Drive. Released in 1988 in Japan, the system didn’t make it here to the West until a year or two later (depending where you lived). It overlapped and competed heavily with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and there are still devoted partisans for each system who maintain their console is the superior.
One thing the Genesis had the SNES beat on, hands down, was music. The Sega Genesis had not one but two chips devoted to music and sound; the Yamaha YM2612 FM Synthesizer did most of the heavy lifting, while the Texas Instruments SN76489 Programmable Sound chip rounded out instrument and sound effect selection. The result was a rich, sophisticated sound system that was still undeniably FM synthesis – crunchy and groovy.
I have chosen, in no particular order or rank, five tracks that I consider to be examples of the versatility of the Genesis sound suite.
#1: Gaiares Stage 1 Music
I have always loved spaceship shooters, and Gaiares is a solid one. Challenging and fast, it keeps you glued to the action. This theme is a great way to start the game, with a daring and upbeat feel to it. You fly into the void knowing you have what it takes to win the day. The entire game is full of vibrant tunes, but this one has always stood out for me. It’s intrepid, and even a little hopeful. I especially like the marimba-type instrument on the breakdowns.
#2: Warsong Title Screen/Player Phase 4 Music
Warsong (also known as Langrisser) is a strategy based game that I’ll admit to knowing only a bit about; I’ve only seen gameplay, and my local rental place never had it when I was growing up. However, a collector friend fired it up while we were hanging out one afternoon and I was enchanted by this track. It’s suitably mighty and medieval, but the crying horn synths and big drum arrangement lend it an aura of emotional turmoil. This is a very charged piece of music, which is fitting for a dramatic wargame like this.
#3: Sonic 2: Chemical Plant Zone Music
I’ve got a lot of love for the first 3 Sonic games. I’m not terribly good at them, but my good buddy Dan is. You can sit Dan down in front of a Sonic game and he’ll put it in its place. Dan loves this track, and so do I. It’s electric. It’s got that growling, dirty FM crunch with a laser-like high end and a stainless steel beat. It’s so 90s it can’t even contain itself. I have supplied the extended version because you’ll want to listen to it for a while.
Castlevania: Bloodlines: Sinking Old Sanctuary (Stage 2) Music
Any fool knows that the Castlevania series has some of the most divine music of any video game franchise in history. When coupled with the depth of the Genesis’s instrumentation, this resulted in a set of masterwork tracks by composer Michiru Yamane (who would go on to write more fantastic music for Symphony of the Night). This track is somber but dynamic, well-suited to the ponderous yet lethal aquatic theme of the level. There is a soft beauty to the melody line, and there is a mellow ghostliness on the lead synths while they keep pace with warm low-end arpeggios.
Toe Jam & Earl: The Big Earl Bump
Except for Sonic, no one was as cool on the Genesis as Toe Jam & Earl. The lost alien rappers also had great taste in tunes… and my favorite from the game is this twangy bop-fest. It’s really groovy, but it’s undeniably cartoonish. This is song for walking , which Toe Jam & Earl do a lot of. When I learned to play bass guitar, the first style I learned was jazz. I love the plucked sound and the snappy lines. The bass really shines through on this one.
In the near future, I will revisit the glorious music of the Sega Genesis with five more picks. Stay tuned, and thanks for all the feedback!