Posts Tagged ‘Retro’

 

Fancy a listen? Click for the Tomb Raider soundtrack or composer Nathan McCree’s Soundcloud

tomb-raider-live-banner

I’ve waited two decades to hear the original Tomb Raider score played by an orchestra. Imagine my disappointment when it didn’t feature on the Anniversary remake (a game I still loved but nobody bought) or when the soundtrack to the 2001 movie adaptation consisted of Bono shouting about a mole living in a hole. Did Tomb Raider: Live in concert deliver on twenty years’ worth of high hopes? Yes – it was everything I’d dreamed, and more.

 

nathan-mccree

Nathan McCree

The soundtrack to 1996’s Tomb Raider is nothing short of a masterpiece. Composed by Nathan McCree, the score is evocative of forgotten worlds and the journey of an intrepid explorer as she gazes upon the lost landscapes. Hearing it immediately whisks us away to the Peruvian mountains, Greek temples and Egyptian tombs. The elegance and beauty of the main theme perfectly embodies our heroine Lara Croft as she uncovers the mysteries of the ancients. The score also comes loaded with moments of heart-pounding terror as Lara narrowly escapes the jaws of death. Remember looking down from St Francis’ Folly, leaping over spike traps and running from the T-Rex? Of course you do!

 

Let’s not forget the second and third instalments in the Tomb Raider series, which were also composed by McCree. These games took Lara across the globe to exotic new locations, so naturally her adventures needed the soundtracks to match. Some stand-out musical moments included the skidoo chase across the Tibetan foothills, the sitar-infused trek through the jungles of India and the Vivaldi-esque Venice theme – perfect for crashing through gondolas while riding a speedboat. Presented together as the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, McCree’s work is ambitious in scope with many clever variations of its own classic themes.

tomb-raider-suite

shelley-blond

Shelley Blond

At the Eventim Appollo Hammersmith, I finally got to hear my favourite game music played live by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and conducted by Robert Zeigler while images and footage were displayed on a giant screen. But the event had more than a few surprises in store. Our host was none other than Shelley Blond, the original voice actress of Lara Croft. As well as hearing the official world premiere of the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, we were also treated to a brand new Nathan McCree composition inspired by the original Tomb Raider trilogy titled ‘In The Blood’. The concert also featured Nathan himself discussing his work onstage, a compilation of clips from Geeketiquette’s thoroughly entertaining Tomb Raider playthrough and a familiar old butler who tottered on at the end of the first half. Presumably someone had to lock him back in the freezer before the show could continue.

tomb-raider-butler-in-fridge

It’s okay – we all did this at some point!

 

Tomb Raider raised the bar not just in game mechanics but aesthetics, which the music was a huge part of. Those unforgettable first four notes have been forever etched into the hearts of gamers worldwide. To hear it done justice after years of listening to the synth versions (as anyone who ever popped the game disc into a CD player would have done) was truly phenomenal. It was the perfect way to celebrate 20 years of Lara Croft.

Advertisements

Few things will get me through a dull day quite like a good game soundtrack. It’s the perfect antidote to the crippling banality of office small talk.

OfficeSpaceMondays

Office Space is class by the way

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite soundtracks here, starting with my current weapon of choice – an FMV horror/puzzle fest known as The 7th Guest.

(Click here for 7th Guest soundtrack via YouTube link. Or just look it up yourself – it’s all good)

 

CDi

Philips CDi: Terrible Zelda games not included

This game came into my life via ‘The Sleepover’ – a different kind of game that you might have played yourself. It was set in a friend’s house and the sole object was to stay up all night (technically it was a local multiplayer strategy played in real time.) You’d need three things: 1 – Jammies (obviously) 2 – An obscenely large quantity of junk food and 3 – Entertainment, preferably videos or any available games console. My friend Kirsty had a Philips CDi – a curious gadget that played games and movies on compact discs. In those days, this was considered ‘witchcraft’.

 

 

7thGuestBox

Bottom right: BBFC ’15’ age classification. Yes, we truly stuck it to “The Man”.

When we weren’t sliding down stairs in sleeping bags or attempting to get through a few seconds worth of Dragon’s Lair 2 (borderline impossible, especially with the CDi’s weird remote control device), we’d be pulling an all-nighter on The 7th Guest. And oh, how that game intrigued us! It gave us a pre-rendered 3D haunted house to explore, real humans acting out dramatic scenes (albeit terribly) and – best of all – a ‘15’ certificate on the box, which meant there HAD to be something rude in there if we looked hard enough.

 

 

 

The game turned out to be a bit of a let down in the smut department (I’m sure anyone who played Night Trap experienced similar disappointment) but it still had plenty on offer for a trio of excitable youngsters high on sugary snacks. We got a cool story about a creepy toymaker called Mr Stauf (geddit? It’s an anagram of Faust), the thrill of unlocking and exploring new rooms and numerous bits that were simultaneously unsettling and hilarious. Red Balloon man, we salute you!

RedBalloonMan

I’ve often wondered what this guy has been up to since. Sod all, according to IMDB

 

Here’s where I finally get around to discussing the soundtrack, which was supposed to be the point of this post anyway. This was the very first game score I heard on CD, which allowed for ‘proper’ songs with lyrics and singers and shit. The fact that the soundtrack came on its own separate disc meant something else too – people wanted to listen to the music, even when they weren’t playing the game. As a kid who’d already put several game soundtracks on tape using a portable cassette recorder, I felt validated. Apparently there were people out there who were as weird as me.

 

 

7thGuestCake

Fun fact: I once baked a replica of this cake puzzle. Because that’s how I roll.

The CD starts with a classic gothic horror overture complete with pipe organs, bells and the foreboding tones of a Latin choir (at least I think it’s Latin. I don’t speak Latin so I’m not sure.) The rest is bookended by two full songs, both enjoyable in their own ways. The first is “The Game”, which has a wonderful brooding/grungy feel to it. Would you believe this was made in 1993? The lyrics retell the in-game story while conveying the mood, almost like a precursor to the channel Miracle of Sound (highly recommended). “The Game” uses a melody that’s heard in various forms throughout The 7th Guest, most memorably in a Simon-style mini-game (a.k.a. “That Bloody Piano”). There was no margin for error during this 18 sequence-long puzzle – screw up once and it was straight back to the start with you. Curse you, Mr Stauf!

 

ThatBloodyPiano2

That Bloody Piano

 

The closing number is “Skeletons In My Closet”, which played over the end credits (or so we believed – try as we might, we never actually got that far). It’s a camp, jazzy little ditty that fits nicely with the 1930s/40s setting in which the action takes place. Actually, that should be “took place” – the actors appear as ghosts reliving moments from the night they died while the players controls a disembodied spirit trying to make sense of the events. Cool, huh? Dig those backing vocals too – they don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

 

7thGuestActors

90s FMV acting at its finest. Imagine Tommy Wiseau directed video games.

 

The in-game music does a fantastic job creating an air of suspense, mystery and spooky goings-on. I think it’s a real testament to the game’s score that it managed to keep us going through the puzzle sequences because, trust me, some of those took an age to solve. The CD soundtrack provides a nice sample of each track peppered with a few dramatic music stings and (oh joy!) voice clips. Fans of bad FMV acting are in for a treat. You can practically taste the ham.

 

Maybe it’s the nostalgia bug or maybe it’s my undying love of cheesy horror but The 7th Guest soundtrack is one I’m glad I revisited. It was composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger, whose other credits include Wing Commander, Zombies Ate My Neighbours and… what’s this? A sequel to The 7th Guest called The 11th Hour? I might just have to check that out…

… and a fan-made third game in the works called The 13th Doll? My cup runneth over!

To celebrate their 60th anniversary on the air in the UK, ITV gave us The Sound of ITV: The Nation’s Favourite Theme Tune. As I only spotted one children’s programme on the list (Thunderbirds) I decided to celebrate my own wasted youth with a top ten list.

Though many, MANY classics were shown on this channel when I were a nipper (including X Men, TMNT and those awesome Disney Club cartoons) I’ve decided to stick with the programmes made for or by ITV. Also I’m not really considering the shows themselves – just the opening themes, as those were often the best bits. I mean, does anyone remember anything about Spatz apart from the piano tune and the little man tap dancing on the burger? Nope, didn’t think so.

Anyway, here it is – the Top Ten CITV Theme Tunes.

  1. Button Moon

Ah, here’s one that lulled many of us to sleep as babies as we drifted through space on our adventures with Mr Spoon. This sweet, surreal theme was composed by Doctor Who’s Peter Davison and his then wife Sandra Dickinson.

  1. Woof!

This show had a fun premise – a ginger kid that turns into a dog whenever his nose itched or the plot demanded it. This jolly harmonica tune was always the perfect soundtrack for walkies.

Speaking of dogs, there was another show that I desperately wanted to add to this list but, thanks to my own stupid rules, I’ll have to skip. *Sighs* if only there was some tenuous link I could exploit just for the sake of…

dogtaniancountsasone

IT COUNTS! I’M COUNTING IT!

  1. Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds

Catchiest. Theme. EVER. Trust me, it will NEVER leave! Merciless earworm aside, this is also notable as one of the only kid’s TV themes I can think of with a booze reference (“They drink their beer and swear they’re faithful to the king.” Yup, I learned from the best!) And no, that trick where you throw an apple and slice it mid-air will NOT work with a plastic toy sword, as the younger me discovered to her bitter disappointment.

  1. The Raggy Dolls

“It’s not much of a life when you’re just a pretty face/Just to be whoever you are is no disgrace.” What a lovely sentiment! And one we don’t hear nearly enough. This theme was written and sung by Neil Innes of Bonzo Dog Band fame, who many will also remember as the leader of Brave Sir Robin’s Minstrels from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  1. Count Duckula

You know what? I could have made a top ten themes from the old Cosgrove Hall productions alone. Step forward the Del Boy-voiced Count Duckula, everyone’s favourite vegetarian vampire. And yes, he could absolutely kick Edward Cullen’s sparkly ass!

  1. Bangers and Mash

Knees up! Rockney duo Chas and Dave were the brains behind this opening tune, which set the tone for the antics of the troublemaking chimps. PLEASE someone tell me that’s mud they’re flinging!

  1. Trap Door

“Berk! Feed Me!” Combining traditional animation, Claymation and that unforgettable Vincent Price-esque opening, Trap Door was always destined to be a cult classic. Why? Say it with me now… ‘cause there’s somethin’ down there!

  1. Supergran

“Is there anyhin’ she cannae do?” This showed kids something that, seeing as I had two of them myself, I knew to be true – Scottish grannies are some of the toughest buggers you’ll ever meet. And if this wasn’t Scottish enough already, they got the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly, to sing the theme. Oan yirsel son! *weeps small tear of national pride*

  1. Danger Mouse

The high notes! The fanfare! The explosions that would make Michael Bay shit himself with glee! Danger Mouse had an exhilarating theme that held strong for a whopping ten series. For an 80s British kid’s show, that’s pretty impressive. Fun fact – this programme also inadvertently gave us an earlier entry on this list – yes, Duckula was originally created as a villain for Danger Mouse. A reboot of this series is due to start airing this year and I’m very curious to see how ol’ DM holds up. That’s “Donnie Murdo” if you ever caught the Gaelic dub!

  1. Knightmare

HELL YEAH! One of the greatest themes, nay, greatest THINGS I remember from childhood. Knightmare was an adventure/game show set in a sprawl of blue screen dungeons where the vast majority of children playing would die horribly (see the infamous Hall of Flying Buzzsaws.) I’ll admit that I loved it so much I practised following directions while wearing a bucket on my head and wrote in asking to be a dungeoneer. I was too young, as it turned out, but I did get a letter back from the Dungeon Master himself, Tregard.

This is the original version of the theme. Doesn’t it just get you fired up for adventure with those pounding hooves, awesome 80s animation and epic hero charging theme? Well, it didn’t last. Eventually the classic opening was swapped for a version that sounded more like Knightmare: The Daytime Soap Opera. Fools.

One more thing!

Time for an honourable mention: The Dreamstone.

I didn’t count this one as the opening credits were mostly narrated exposition BUT the end credits featured the goddamn London Philharmonic Orchestra! I couldn’t get a clip of them on their own, but the sequence used for them kicks off here just before the two minute mark. Enjoy!

Want more? Did I miss something? Check out CITV’s Old Skool channel on YouTube. And yes, they have Knightmare!

Chun Li
First appearance – Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, 1991, Capcom

Chun Li profile

While the first Street Fighter game came and went without much notice Street Fighter II: The World Warrior rewrote the book on beat ‘em ups and revived the fading arcade scene. However it wasn’t just the stunning graphics, fluid controls and introduction of combos that were revolutionary. The game introduced a new challenger to its then impressive eight player roster, Chun Li, who became an instant idol in gaming. Capcom’s bold move challenged many preconceptions – boys would not play as a female character, girls would have no interest in fighting games or that it would be too uncomfortable for players to see a lady getting punched in the face. Their risky venture was a complete success and Chun Li would go on to appear in almost every subsequent instalment and media spin off. Several dozen street fighting girls have appeared since and virtually every tournament fighter that followed SFII included at least one woman, though few could hope to rival Ms Li’s popularity. She not only made her mark on the Street Fighter franchise, she kicked open the doors for countless other game heroines.

Chun Li kikoken

Chun Li (‘Spring Beauty’ in Mandarin) went through several drafts following Capcom’s decision to include a female fighter. She began as a small, cute girl in traditional Chinese dress as a sharp contrast to the beefy street brawlers she’d be up against. Later the designers experimented with a wholly different direction, showing a distinctly ‘harder’ character in militia garb. (Did Capcom recall this concept when they created Jill Valentine of Resident Evil? Just a thought.) Eventually the original design was revisited with the all-important addition of combat boots, wrist spikes and modifications to the dress to allow for her trademark kick moves. The result was one of the most iconic characters in the fighting genre.

Chun Li ending 1

Chun Li’s tale was one of loss, vengeance and justice. Her father (an Interpol agent, like herself) was murdered by M. Bison, leader of the crime syndicate Shadaloo. Distraught but determined, she tracks Bison down to the tournament and enters undercover in a bid to face her father’s killer, avenge his death and finish the job of taking down Shadaloo. It’s a far richer back story than most of her tournament rivals, out “to show the world that [insert fighting style here] is the greatest”. Beat the game and you’ll see her take an emotional moment at her father’s graveside, acknowledging that her mission was a success and laying his memory to rest. The glory of winning the tournament doesn’t affect or corrupt her at all – instead she makes a well earned return to the carefree life of a young, single woman. It’s a satisfying and uplifting ending to her story.

Chun Li ending 2

Getting there is no easy ride. To truly harness Ms Li’s power, namely her speed and agility, requires nerves of steel and the reflexes of a cat. Considerably outweighed by her opponents (well, we think so – her profile stats usually list ‘Weight’ as ‘She won’t tell’), one heavy punch to the gut can do critical damage to her energy bar. Winning a round as Chun Li takes time and patience as you’ll spend as much time dodging attacks as landing your own. In the end it’s about outwitting the foe and there are few things in this life more enjoyable than a David vs. Goliath style victory as you knock another lumbering juggernaught to the ground. She’ll celebrate the win with a dignified bow or by jumping up and down and laughing ecstatically. Copying the latter in the arcade was fun but not so good for your street cred.

character_header_chunli

Sadly, the big screen has not been kind to Chun Li. There was the laughably bad live action movie released in 1993, which changed her from an Interpol agent to a television news reporter and at one point got her dressed up in a pretty Chinese dress for no good reason whatsoever. It made about as much sense as the decision to cast Jean Claude Van Damme as the all-American Guile. While this film avoids harsh criticism on the grounds of sheer silliness, there’s absolutely no excusing the shambolic effort that is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Why they would attempt to reboot a movie franchise that bombed fifteen years previously is baffling enough, how they could screw it up so badly is beyond human comprehension. It took itself seriously as one of those dark, gritty origin stories that everyone tried to do afterBatman Begins. Although it kept in the dead Dad stuff (sort of), Chun Li became a Chinese-American concert pianist (was the Interpol work really too dull?) up against an Irish M. Bison and his dastardly property development scheme. It’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Chuck in some appalling special effects (particularly the Spinning Bird Kick) add a cringeworthy sub plot with Chris Klein (who DOES get to be an Interpol agent) and throw in fleeting references to Ryu and the forthcoming tournament after she kills all the bosses – seriously, she actually snaps Bison’s neck – and that’s the supposed “Legend” of one of the greatest women in gaming history. Utter nonsense.

Chun-Li_animated_movie

Chun Li is unimpressed with these live action Street Fighter movies

Thankfully Chun Li has been better represented through anime. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie stayed faithful to her original back story and teamed her up with Guile, which made sense as he shared her vendetta against Bison following the murder of his war buddy Charlie. Despite the cheap effort at fan service in a gratuitously long shower scene, the movie does a far better portrayal of her character and is one of the better adaptations of the game. She also appears in the Alpha series, set prior to the events of World Warrior, and her sixteen year old self features as one of the main protagonists in the Street Fighter II V series, along with her teenage buddies Ken and Ryu. While not strictly canon – this time she’s a tour guide as well as a martial arts student – it’s still an entertaining series and she’s fun to watch, particularly when she’s being chastised during training for booting her opponent in the nads.

Chun Li kick

What was great about Chun Li was that she was all things to all players – she had a serious mission, was tough as any other fighter but was still ultimately likable. She managed to be feminine without being overly girly and took her lumps in battle as one of the guys. Nobody has since managed to take her crown, not Ryu’s fangirl Sakura or Cammy, the brainwashed blonde with her swimsuit permanently wedged up her backside. Twenty years later and there’s no question, she’s still the strongest woman in the world.