Welcome to the SEGA Nerds version of my Soundtrack Flashback. For those who don’t know exactly what I do in this feature, it is pretty simple. I go back through years and years of video game soundtracks and spotlight a soundtrack from some of the most popular games of the past. On occasion, some of the games are lesser known titles but have soundtracks that deserve recognition. As a bonus, I will also spotlight a game with a terrible soundtrack. If you have any ideas for a game you feel deserves its time in the spotlight, let me know in the comments below. Without further ado…
This week’s title is perfect to start of the rebirth of SEGA Nerds. The game is, of course, Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. There are plenty of other platformers out there with soundtracks that are pretty good as well. At the same time, none of them had the draw that Sonic the Hedgehog. When you are playing a game where the core mechanic is speed, you need to have music that will accompany that. This is where the track for each level was almost a character in itself. Each level had its own distinct sound. So much so that when you heard it, you knew exactly which stage it game from and could blurt out the name in an instant. There was a certain genius about that and his name was Masato Nakamura.
Before lending his talents to video games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, he was a part of a J-Pop group called Dreams Come True. Starting in 1988, they took Japan by storm with some of the greatest songs to come out of the genre at the time. Their first album went on to sell millions. A couple years later, Sega came knocking asking him to compose the music for Sonic. They wanted to get someone who could help make the Sonic franchise top Nintendo’s Mario character. He was impressed by their drive and immediately signed on. The tough part about the Sonic project for him was the fact that he was also producing a new Dreams Come True album at the same time and doing some light touring as well. That must not have done too much to stop him from making a great soundtrack since, as fans, we all know how amazing it all turned out.
One of the best examples of his creative flow was the first track he had finished on the game. From stage 1, I give you Green Hill Zone.
One of the main things Masato wanted to do was not only make a soundtrack that captured the look and feel of Sonic, but also make it cinematic. He basically wanted to make it almost to where the song had words that you could sing or hum along to. Not too many games at the time were able to pull that off. There were almost no hard stops in the music. Green Hill Zone’s music was smooth from beginning to end. You never had a dead spot in the tune where it was quiet. This is unlike other games such as Mario that would have said hard stops involved. Green Hill Zone is a game track in which you could picture on orchestra playing over any other game’s song.
Another one of the coolest things about the soundtrack was that it was laid back. The tunes changes from poppy, bossa nova, jazz, and even a bit of a sci-fi sound. For an example of the bossa nova sound, let’s look at Marble Zone.
It has that relaxing sound that worked really well with the design of the level. The speed of this stage is way slower than most other stages. No need for anything that has a high octane sound when really Sonic isn’t speeding around. Masato watched the unfinished game rom and figured out once again, music that not only sounded laid back but didn’t sound out of place. When you listen to the other tracks in the game, there is no way any of them would have worked well on this stage. They promoted too much speed for something like this.
To give you a sample of the sci-fi genre of music I was talking about, listen to the Scrap Brain Zone.
It fit in well with the industrial factory type setting of the stage. You could tell you were in a dangerous situation and at the same time, the music stayed upbeat. The music was completely different from all the other tracks. It was also enough to find yourself humming it even after you were done with the zone. Now that is a sign of great composing.
After Sonic 1, Masato went on to do the soundtrack of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That soundtrack is just as well received as that of Sonic 1. For those who have a keen ear and like Dreams Come True, there are bits of Sonic songs included in their songs. A song called “Sweet Sweet Sweet” is the ending theme of Sonic 2. Don’t believe me? Listen to the ending music of Sonic 2 and then listen to the lyrics and you’ll see. Here you go.
Did that blow your mind? I know it did mine when I first realized it years ago. Masato still tours with Miwa Yoshida and Takahiro Nishikawa as Dreams Come True. They also released the single “Made of Gold” in February. They show no signs of slowing either.
I hope you enjoyed this first installment of the SEGA Nerds Soundtrack Flashback. Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you liked it, hated it, or just want to comment, please feel free in the space below. If you have an ideas for a game you’d like me to cover let me know. I’m always up for suggestion. Until then…