It was music, but not as we know it

I’m relatively certain that I’ve raved somewhere on my blog about the ‘good old days of the Commodore 64’. Truth is, for what it was, it was a great machine. Teaching us to use what very little we had to squeeze out some truly great games (and yes, endless screeds of dross and movie-to-game conversions).

The Commodore 64 not only had only 64kbs of memory, but also only three voices to produce its music. What that meant was that composers could only play three sounds at any given time.

This post is not so much about what they managed to force out of the poor machine (although this is an example of how well they did manage to do towards the end, even though I think this was done with some cunning trickery) but the fact that the music of that classic golden age of gaming is still very much alive.

It’s huge in Europe.

Here’s a bunch of rather cool tracks that aren’t originals. Instead, they’re modern remakes in a lot more than just three voices. In some cases, they even have vocals, but for the most part they’re taken to the other end of the scale; orchestrated.

Armageddon Man was a great idea for a game, putting you as overlord of the world, controlling nuclear stockpiles and playing not so impartial mediator in between-country disputes. It was more fun to just give nukes to one country, get the world pissy at them, and watch the whole place go to heck.

The theme sounded decent on the Amiga version, and downright awful on the C64. But this vocal remix is great, great stuff and perhaps one of the best game music remakes I’ve ever heard. Also check out this one, cool in terms of its haunting overtones.

Barbarian was about as straight forward as what you might expect of a game with that title, with its one on one sword fighting, and head cleaving action. The game caused outrage with its ‘graphic nudity’, but at the amount of pixels it used, you’d be hard pressed to truly take offense. The music seems to have taken all its musical cues from the Conan the Destroyer soundtrack.

Rastan Saga was a hideous conversion of an arcade classic that was Barbarian but with more horizontal scrolling. Who cares that the game was a total mess and barely recognizable when compared with the great graphics of the arcade version. The music still rocked. Now it rocks even more.

Commando had nothing to do with the Arnie movie that came out around the same time, but if the game had a movie version then this would be the big budget remake of the main theme. The game was nothing more than shooting stuff, and avoiding getting shot, while listening to perhaps one of the most iconic themes of the C64 era.

Ace 2 was (unsurprisingly enough) the sequel to Ace, although in this version you could fly against your friend in blinding, head to head, split screen action. This was a big thing back in the 80s. I read somewhere that the composer’s brief for this game was to make something that sounded like the theme to Top Gun. This is probably about as close as he could have got without a law suit. It’s not to far from the original, that ‘remix’.

Comic Bakery is a game I don’t remember playing at all. I think it was a platformer where you ran around picking up ingredients. It had more impact on others, resulting in the love and affectionate that went into this boy-band theme mashup. Just yet another example of how the music of the games tended to be far more memorable than the actual game themselves. Aside, this track also got a music video as well. Scary.

Nemesis the Warlock was another example of an unremarkable game that was saved by its music. The game was an uneventful platformer based on the 2000AD comic book character. The theme music rolled in at about 9 minutes in length, building up into a rapturous conclusion. There are countless remakes of this, but I’d consider this the best. And more recently I came across this swing-big-band version.

And finally, no mention of C64 music would be complete without a mention of International Karate. The original one on one karate fighter, the sequel was IK+, which introduced an impossible four players at once (two on keyboard, two on joystick)! You were elite if you could last through the game long enough for the music to loop back on itself, the runtime topping about 10 minutes.

The music took its cue from the theme to Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (which I overheard that though ‘that sounds familiar …’). The remakes are countless on this theme, from the sublime, to the euro arthouse cafe, the 80s flavored, the dance remix, and of course, the symphonic.

EDIT; Of course, this is what happens when you miss out another of the C64s iconic music entries, namely The Last Ninja. Check out this classical guitar remake I stumbled across. MP3 download also linked.


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