Sonic Stadium Soundtrack Squad Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1 OST

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Epsiode 1 OST Review

by JezMM

With veteran Sonic composer Jun Senoue taking the musical helm for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, many interviews inquired into how the inspiration from Masato Nakamura’s works from the original games would be shaping Sonic 4’s soundtrack; fans of the classic era began looking forward to future, and the music that would inevitably accompany the title.

Generally speaking, almost every track uses a blend of old 16-bit style samples and synthesised instruments as appropriate, such as the jazzy horns of Casino Street or atmospheric pipes of Lost Labyrinth. This works well and is very appropriate, reflecting the way the game also uses a mix of old and new visually. In a rather different move for a 2D Sonic game, each act has its own melody, rather than traditionally remixing the zone’s theme. However each melody generally keeps in style which the rest of the zone with regards to instrumentation, with vague hints of melody shared between acts. Likewise, each act has its own unique and memorable gimmick, so unique and memorable melodies for each one is a great idea.

However, while there are a fair few ear worms (Splash Hill Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 1 are sure to stick with you) I found a few songs quickly forgettable, or just simply too repetitive, especially considering almost every act is between 3-6 minutes long. Repetitive music certainly reminds one of the old days, but I felt there are still certain standards to adhere to considering this is a modern game being released in a modern market.

Of particular offense was the downright dreadful Final Boss theme. In light of the episodic nature of Sonic 4, a ridiculously epic boss theme would have been inappropriate (well, not that it was a problem for Sonic 3), but frankly Episode One ’s grand finale is just boring sound-wise. The boss is long and difficult, requiring many, many re-attempts – a 20 second loop just simply does not cut it for these circumstances. This might have been forgiven had there been a more dramatic “pinch” version for when Eggman goes nuts half way through (as with the other bosses), but not even that happens. A crying shame as a great, memorable piece of music would have been just what this boss needed to smooth the frustration threshold after frequent failure.

The soundtrack feels like Jun tried too hard to capture the original soundtracks – including what little was wrong with them. Additionally, while several of his melodies have that classic almost melancholic Sonic 1 aura to them, several don’t quite pull it off for me. For example, Lost Labyrinth Act 1 and Act 3 really pull it off in a way that slightly reminds me of Marble from the original game. Meanwhile, I can clearly hear the Special Stage theme trying to emulate the Sonic 1 version’s melodic style, but it fails to grasp quite the same magical something the original had. I also feel that the classic Sonic 1/Sonic 2 tappity-tap percussion severely limited the potential “oomph” factor any track could have possibly had. Using some more modern beats – at least in a few songs – wouldn’t have gone amiss.

In my opinion, Jun’s style was hampered by his attempts at mimicry. When I think of other tracks of his, in particular Azure Blue World from Sonic Adventure, I think it’s very possible for him to come up with an enthralling melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a classic Sonic game, yet using modern instruments for that extra edge. I’m hoping the reliance on classic elements was purely in celebration of Sonic’s roots, just as the game’s graphics and level genres were, and that we’ll have a much more exciting soundtrack for the next episode. In summary, Sonic 4’s soundtrack does its job. It is a good soundtrack. But being appropriate is the bare minimum a soundtrack should do, and to me that is all Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s soundtrack is – good and appropriate – when it could have been so much more. [6]

Thumbs Up: Perfectly fitting to the content of the game and theme of each zone.
Thumbs Down: Plays it a bit too safe, making for a wholly unsurprising aural experience.
Favourite Track: Splash Hill Act 3

Extaticus
Though it originates from a wholly god-awful source, (the game from which the soundtrack comes is, quite frankly, an absolute travesty) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s fantastic BGM is a monstrously marvellous electro masterwork, with fiery synth, rockin’ retro beats and a shining and prominent influence from the styles and moods of the tunes of the classic titles – it truly is a glorious flashback to the halcyon days of chippy-trippy MegaDrive music, and is an absolute godsend to anyone who’s been hankering after a taste of a fresh, modern, Sonic-style take on the genre since the series changed its musical fashions so dramatically when guitars took over the audio side of things in Sonic Adventure.

With blindingly awesome tracks such as Splash Hill Zone Act 3 (which truly is the alpha of the pack, sporting supremely catchy chord sequences and a massively memorable melody) and Mad Gear Zone Act 1, (a far jumpier, more dance-orientated affair, which contains more saw-wave licks and syncopations than you can shake a glow-stick at) the Sonic 4 OST is most definitely an album to be remembered and revered as one of the true greats that the Sonic series has managed to produce, and despite a couple of minor niggles, (the instruments aren‘t exactly what I‘d call “authentic“ in terms of their ability to re-create a realistic retro sound, and, right from the off, it’s crystal clear that the track entitled “Boss 1“ was booted from the final cut of the Sonic 3D Soundtrack for a very, very good reason) is the epitome of excellence in modern electronic video game music – it’s by no means perfect, but extremely good and wonderfully well-formed nonetheless. [8]

T-Bird
The stand-out quality of the Sonic 4 soundtrack is that they do a bang-up job of being reminiscent of the older classic tunes. The majority of the compositions are instantly synonymous with Sonic, and while not exactly replicating the Megadrive soundcard, there is a definite fresh, regenerated feel and pace. I’m particularly glad to see Senoue has borrowed from the later Megadrive titles to revive the evolution of each stage’s sound from one to the next.

While I disagree with any consensus that the classic kick-drum and snare is used too much (they were used in the original as frequently), they don’t seem to have been used with much originality ; for example, the Casino Street percussion is extremely similar to that of Casino Night from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having said this, I would love to see the Sonic 3 drum set utilised in future titles…but that’s personal preference! Mad Gear’s vibe lands itself perfectly at a transition point between classic titles and the post-Sonic Adventure style, a format I think sound be maintained for Episode 2. [8]

Thumbs Up: A vibrant new sound to compliment the new title.
Thumbs Down: You’d be forgiven to think you’d heard some tracks before.
Favourite Tracks: Lost Labyrinth Act 2 & Mad Gear Act 1.

BlitzChris
When he isn’t busy being chased by flocks of beautiful woman, Jun Senoue composes music for SEGA. His latest soundtrack for Sonic 4 doesn’t disappoint, immersing you into sonic’s new 2.5D environment. I’ll start off by being completely honest. I LOVE the title theme to Sonic 4. It’s short, catchy and whenever I hit an invincibility box I hum along to it.

One of the things I love most about the soundtrack is that the music for each of the four zones is very different, but the acts all have a similar buzz to them. The Casino Street stages all have a little Casino Night charm in them but are distinctively different from the more Metropolis sounding Mad Gear acts. The album isn’t without its faults however, with the drum set being a constant annoyance. As much as I liked the throwback to the genesis/megadrive sound font, it quickly begins to stick out like a sore thumb and can really get on your nerves. The E.G.G. Station track is also disappointingly short and can begin to irritate your ears as it loops 5-6 times every time you play the level.
Getting the limited low points out of the way, it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track in Sonic 4 because the rest all have their own charm. I absolutely love the flute in Boss Fight and it helps give it an almost “Banjo Kazooie” feel. I am also a huge fan of Splash Hill Act 1. It’s such a catchy tune, and I think it is well worthy of being the next “First Stage” tune alongside the other classics like Emerald Hill and Angel Island. On a side note, be sure to check out the range of Sonic 4 Remixes sprouting up all over the place. Overall, the music is really appropriate for the game, and I hope Jun can hold back his huge female fan base long enough to produce some Episode 2 magic. [8]

Thumbs Up: Each acts music is noticeably specific to that zone and complement each other really well.
Thumbs Down: Drums can drain the brain, Egg Station really isn’t long enough
Favourite Tracks: Title Music & Boss Fight

A formidable collection of catchy beats that capture concepts of the older titles and blend them with the new.  Although there are many examples of memorable tunes, some fans will grow tired of the recycled drums and the shorter looped tracks.

Sonic Stadium Soundtrack Squad Review: Tales of Knighthood

Tales of Knighthood Review

by Extaticus

Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog; all games with stupendously superb soundtracks, all of which were directed by none other than Sega’s resident guitar god, Jun Senoue. The man is quite frankly an absolute genius; his incredible slashes of remarkably powerful rock and marvellous metal have been stalwart features of Sonic soundtracks since 1998, and his wowing influence continues to dominate the styles of the series’ masterful music even when he’s not actually directly involved in creating it. Since giving the first truly 3D outing a distinctly “rock” flavour, Jun’s become a world-renowned musician in the gaming industry, and has even contributed some material to popular Nintendo arena fighter, Super Smash Bros: Brawl. After leaving his post as Sound Director in the Sonic series for a few years (following the release of Shadow the Hedgehog), Mr Senoue has finally been invited back to work on the official soundtrack for the much-anticipated Wii title, Sonic and the Black Knight. So, has the long wait been worth it, and has the master of video game metal managed to make just as powerful and positive an impact as he did on Sonic Adventure, ten years previously?

Unfortunately and disappointingly, the answer to this question is, most definitely, a disconsolate and resounding “no”. Screeching guitar and overly simplistic melodies both serve to make Tales of Knighthood a thoroughly unenjoyable experience to listen to, and this is further worsened by the fact that the whole soundtrack exhibits very poor audio engineering throughout virtually the entirety of its duration; most of the various (and derivative) rock licks are ruined by their shockingly woeful tinniness, and the mismatched blend of classical and modern instruments creates nothing but tedious clashing and sharp discord.

The uninspiring and unoriginal orchestral pieces don’t help matters much, either; comparing them to their older equivalents in previous Sonic titles (such as the awe-inspiring Tricky Maze from Sonic Adventure) does far more than enough to show their true direness, and also reveals a worryingly high level of under-complexity in the newer tunes. Boring, lacklustre, and monotonous, these orchestral interludes give very little to the overall quality of the album, and serve only as worthless and pointless intermissions to break up the equally dull repetition of the rock.

It’s a real shame, too, as Tales of Knighthood not only marks Jun Senoue’s return to Sonic, but also the long-awaited comebacks of Richard Jacques (of Sonic R fame) and Howard Drossin, (who contributed to the fabulous Sonic & Knuckles soundtrack, and was also involved in creating the music for other classic MegaDrive titles such as the much-venerated Comix Zone and The Ooze) though neither of them have actually produced anything outstandingly spectacular for this particular album. A notable mention, however, is Drossin’s Dragon’s Lair, (not to be confused with Dragon Slayer, a dreary orchestral track with a stupidly similar name) which provides at least a moderately enjoyable listening experience, but – due to its uninspiring melody – falls a few marks short of being able to be classed as the incredible masterpiece that one would expect from such an acclaimed and experienced artist.

There is, however, a single, individual piece of music – composed by a newcomer to the world of Sonic sounds, Tommy Tallarico (famous for his work on the original MDK and Earthworm Jim) – which stands head and shoulders above all of the other tracks on the entire two-disc span of Tales of Knighthood; with a stupendously spiffy blend of spicy flamenco and riveting rock licks, Molten Mine is a wholly wonderful joy of a tune to listen to, and it serves as the one and only saving grace for the entire album as a whole. I was personally extremely shocked and disappointed, then, to discover that this magnificent musical magnum opus was actually a remix of one Mr Tallarico’s previous works; namely “Action”, from the distinctly unpopular Saturn and PlayStation helicopter simulator, Black Dawn. This in no way stops it from being an excellent tune, however; it’s just a major disappointment that the stellar sound team behind this decidedly un-stellar soundtrack couldn’t – at the very least – come up with some decent, inventive and new material for us all to devour and enjoy.


Tales of Knighthood
, then, is – in virtually every way – a potentially wonderful album, though it’s thoroughly and totally ruined by Senoue’s scrap-metal, Drossin’s dross, and Jacques’ junk. And although Tommy Tallarico’s tremulously tantalising cover of “Action” from Black Dawn provides at least some classy and exciting listening material, it does precisely and absolutely nothing whatsoever to alleviate the diabolically serious originality crisis which grips the soundtrack so tightly. As it stands, it’s just an incredibly unsatisfactory group of unnecessarily lacklustre tracks, most of which provide absolutely zero pleasure and exert next to no charm at all. Oh well; for Jun Senoue, there’s always Sonic 4 and Sonic Colours, right? [2]

Thumbs Up: Molten Mine even though it is disappointing to find it is a reworking of an existing song.
Thumbs Down: The rest of it!
Favourite Track: Molten Mine

JezMM
To me, Black Knight was a disappointing game to play, but it had a saving grace of being presented beautifully – the script, interface, and music being my favourite things about the game. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for orchestral being mixed with modern styles such as rock, but I found it to be one of Sonic’s best soundtracks to date. Particular stand-outs for me were Misty Lake – that saw Jun’s signature style taken from guitars to violins, Deep Woods with its enchanting layers of instruments and beautifully melancholic melody, and the epic and exciting trio of tracks that were Crystal Cave, Molten Mine and Shrouded Forest. The cut-scene songs are also notably good, with Calm After the Battle… Arondight and Merlina – The Queen of The Underworld being favourites of mine. To the Rescue… A Knight’s Law is also a highlight – it’s so catchy and uplifting I almost wish it could be some kind of recurring “Sonic’s theme” in future games! Even the menu themes are expertly composed – The Ash Grove, Name Entry, and Option are wasted on the small amount of time you hear them in-game!
My only non-personal-taste-driven criticism for the soundtrack would be the oddities that are Titanic Plains, Faraway Avalon and Knight’s Passage. These stage themes have a surprisingly short running time before repeating and somewhat outstayed their welcome after a minute or so. Camelot Castle also drags on a bit longer than it should on the CD. [9]

Thumbs Up: A huge variety of tracks and styles, despite the comforting “Ye Olde English” vibe overseeing every theme.
Thumbs Down: Variety however does come at the cost of there assuredly being a fair few dud tracks for each individual listener.
Favourite Track: Deep Woods

BlitzChris
While I wasn’t too phased by the lacking game play or dull predictable story to Sonic and the Black Knight, the music saved the game from being a complete shipwreck. When you play a stage in a Sonic title you want music that engages the ears; the stage themes to SatBK do just that. I do love a good guitar and it was great to see Senoue back to his finest, accompanying the almost orchestral sound the entire album takes. I was a little ticked at the over use of violins throughout the album. I understand that they are a great orchestral instrument and that they are quite fitting for a ‘knights-themed” game, but to have them in almost every song does begin to drain the individuality of each track. Most of the ‘event’ music sounds the same, but are excused as every other track is a stage theme, and they are bloody fantastic. If a track on this album is shorter than 1:58, I wouldn’t bother listening to it.
Being a lover of remixes and covers I was relieved that they included the It Doesn’t Matter guitar/violin cover used in the fan art area of the game. [7]

Thumbs Up: Stage Themes. Fitting for the stages and just plain fun to listen to.
Thumbs Down: The overuse of violins..
Favourite Tracks: Molten Mine and Shrouded Forest.

T-Bird
In the same vein as Sonic and the Secret Rings, the soundtrack cleverly plays on a rockier take on the archetypal music from the region; with Secret Rings there were a lot of middle-eastern scales used along with sitars and associated percussion. Unsurprisingly with Black Knight, grandiose orchestral pieces are the primary framework for the majority of the pieces composed for the game. In many places this works; for example Howard Drossin’s Dragon’s Lair is a hard hitting rock track with cleverly used synth vocals to emulate a horn section, while Senoue’s Camelot Castle retains his signature guitar sound while pounding ahead with a rather militaristic snare drum. However I am slightly disappointed by the frequency of the hard hitting tracks, with the large majority of the music featuring on this soundtrack falling into the trap of becoming generic incidental tunes. Hopefully with the up-and-coming titles such as Colors, we can expect to see a bit more variety. At least you can enjoy some reworkings of classic tracks like It Doesn’t Matter while you enjoy fan art, eh? [6]

Thumbs Up!: A fitting selection of grand tunes and hard-hitting rock anthems!
Thumbs Down:
Another album full of samey incidental tunes that could have featured on any soundtrack from the past four years.
Killer track:
Dragon’s Lair

A collection of songs with some entertaining rock tracks and orchestral scores. Some fans may find the soundtrack formulaic with the heavy reliance on incidental pieces,  and may be disappointed with the lack of originality in places.
Completely disagree? Let us know in the comments!