Soundtrack Central The best of VGM and other great soundtracks

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Jon Turner May 14, 2018 (edited May 16, 2018)

Around 1997, I wrote my first review for Soundtrack Central which was published (very graciously) by the owner.  Unfortunately, when I look back at it, I realize that I was quite naive and inexperienced when I first wrote the review and a little TOO biased for Nintendo in general.  So what I have decided to do was to take another look at the album in question, the rather disposable "Nintendo 64 Greatest Hits" CD, and give it a proper re-evaluation.  Here is my revised review, which I hope goes up on the website soon.


"Collection of N64 tunes hampered by poor presentation and packaging issues."

Nintendo's second catalog compilation CD, issued in the latter half of 1996 to tie-in with the release of Nintendo 64 is one of those albums which may have had some significance at one time, but today feels very outdated, primarily in the presentation and packaging departments.  Unlike their previous release, the similarly problematic Play It Loud, this one at least features track titles for each song on the back cover, but unfortunately there are caveats to it.  There are only 31 tracks on the CD, while the package erroneously lists a 32nd one which for some reason is not included.

As for the music, the only game to get a huge amount of attention in the package is, unsurprisingly, Super Mario 64, which makes up all but the last third.  Although held back by a now dated sound system (although not to the same extent that some other N64 soundtracks from this era suffered from), Koji Kondo's compositions are still quite catchy and iconic.  Like predecessor Super Mario World, Kondo constructs a lively main theme which is ably adapted into different variations at various points in the work, particularly the fast-paced, Western-themed "Slider."  But the relaxing, synth-toned "Dire, Dire Docks" remains a treasure, as does the pleasant, pizzicato-string hued Castle theme.  "Bowser's Theme" is probably the weakest element of the score, being a bit too abrasive and not menacing, although it does get a grand workout in the organ-powered "Ultimate Bowser."  Still, warts and all, Super Mario 64's score remains a forgotten classic, albeit largely overshadowed today by more popular entries such as Super Mario Galaxy.

As for the rest of the music on this CD, the only merit of interest to listeners will be that a good majority of it hasn't seen a legitimate release during the lifespan of the N64, with the possible exception of Robin Beanland's heavy-metal driven Killer Instinct Gold (incidentally issued on another Nintendo CD).  Even then, listeners will notice that the sound mix for the select tunes have a more lacking, reduced quality on account of being the N64 versions as opposed to their more crisp, fuller arcade counterparts on the Killer Gold Cuts CD.  Unfortunately, this section of the album is also guilty of mislabeling.  Although "Fulgore", "Maya", and "Sabrewulf" are presened as adverised on their respective tracks, both Tracks 4 and 5 are badly mislabeled.  "Glacius" is really the  game's character selection music, while "Jago" is a sound effects collection more than anything else.

"Wave Race" is an oddity; a mostly quiet, mindnumbingly repetitive track that drones on for nearly eight minutes, is nowhere to be found on the game's actual soundtrack, and obviously doesn't have Kazumi Totaka's style.  Why this dull prototype was included on the disc is a head-scratcher.  Star Fox 64's only two tracks, likewise, are not identical to the final counterparts on the soundtrack (given the game was still in production at the time).  Rather, they are the energetic, powered-up rearrangements of Hajime Hirasawa's now classic Star Wars meets Techno score.  (Both are found on TECD-25275.)  They're still great to listen to, but there's also another obvious problem:  at the 1:53 mark there is a small silent gap which interrupts the flow of the music.  (A similar problem with their Star Fox presentation on their earlier Play It Loud compilation.)  Given that the original master from Teichiku Records didn't suffer from any such errors, it's beyond baffling that these two tracks suffered from such problems.

That leaves Graeme Norgate's Blast Corps, which, like Star Fox 64, was still in development at the time, as there are a few differences in some of the tracks from their final counterparts.  The "Title Tune", for instance, is noticeably different in its intro and orchestration.  Mostly, if you're familiar with gritty, hard-edge, electric-guitar flavored fare, then most of this music here will be pleasing, but it can't really be called one of the better soundtracks Rare has done.  Even so, it is unfortunate that aside from Super Mario 64, this is the only other game to be presented without such jarring issues.

Nintendo of America never really took game soundtrack releases so seriously for the most part, and this was no exception.  With problems involving the packaging and presentation as well as mastering (on Star Fox)'s part, it's no wonder this album fell badly out of print after its issue.  Even more unfortunate was that some of these games never had a proper presentation.  Collectors would have more satisfactory results with Pony Canyon's pressing of the soundtracks for Mario, Wave Race, and Star Fox.  It's a shame that Blast Corps and K.I. Gold were misrepresented.  While none of the music in general is bad per say, the cheapness of the whole album does put a huge damp on its value.  Even for videogame music collectors looking to add Nintendo soundtracks to their collection, Nintendo 64 Greatest Hits could very well be among the last ones to consider purchasing.

Rating:  ** out of *****

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