Ever since that time in 1993 when my sister mistakenly bought me an Amiga Power game magazine instead of something PC-related (she wasn’t familiar with my hobby, so cut her some slack), I was fascinated as to what was on the other side of the computer-gaming spectrum.
Somewhere along the line while browsing through Team 17 game reviews and something about an ant ninja strolling through a Chupa Chups-laden background, I read a small preview and a level walkthrough guide about a 2D shooter called Jim Powers which boasted awesome parallax-scrolling graphics, great gameplay, and great music. I only manage to play the game when I was in college since finding an Amiga computer and the games you wanted to play during the 90s in Malaysia was as hard as a vicar in a brothel.
Man, did the game blow chunks. The parallax played tricks with your eyes and distracts you from the action, and all low-tier enemies took two to three hits to kill. Oh, and it’s one of those one-hit-and-you’re-dead kind of deals; at least you respawned instantly where you died if you bite it. Perhaps the only thing that stood the test of time was the music composed by Chris Huelsbeck (or Hülsbeck).
But before I let you newbies listen to the good stuff, let’s start with a brief retread of the composer’s discography, starting with this 1987 soundtrack:
He worked with the Commodore 64’s synthesizer and came up with that cheerful melody for a game called the Great Gianna Sisters back in 1987. The game was a shameless Mario rip-off and is only brought into the limelight solely for its music and the ginormous amounts of cash each discontinued copy of the game brought in. Still, it’s a goddamn beautiful bunch of tunes, right?
And then there was the Turrican series. Yet another Amiga series I only played when the third game was released on the Sega Megadrive, this 2D run-and-gun shooter was Factor 5’s long-standing franchise long before they botched up their credibility with Lair on the PS3. The game is rich with action and exploration; this was a rare case in this article that the game stood side-by-side with the music in terms of quality. The game’s music has a “Terminator” vibe to it that’s coupled with a few chords of saccharine and sugar. Just compare the intro music with the first stage music for comparison’s sake.
Don’t worry: the soundtrack gets serious and gritty when it needs to be:
The bottom track is called“The Pond”, composed for the game Apidya. It’s also a well-composed tune that fits the bright insect world aesthetics of the 2D shooter and showcases Chris Huelsbeck’s jazzy and hyper side when it comes to music-making.
Personally, his best piece of music came from a subpar game, of all things. Check out the rocking licks of Jim Power’s first stage….
…then hear the catchy bass licks and keyboard synth of the third stage. If anyone still believes that the Amiga isn’t capable of sombre melodies, play this song to these doubting Thomases.
I purposely put in both the track itself and a video of some guy speed-running through the third stage of the game so you can get a clearer vision of how the song works in the stage. Somehow or other, the aesthetics of the stage fits well with the alien and strange-yet-serene background music. You can make fun of the game’s box art cover. Hell, make fun of the game itself since it’s Contra re-imagined by some five-year old’s fantasy. Bear in mind, however, that you are NOT allowed to make fun of the game’s rocking Amiga-powered soundtrack.
I will confess that I definitely missed out on playing Amiga games during their heyday; even if classics like Lemmings get ported onto the PC, it really isn’t the same as playing it on its native console and hearing the music that ushered in a new wave of chiptunes that can stand toe-to-toe with even Nintendo’s 8-bit finest.
P.S: If you can’t get enough of Chris Huelsbeck’s stuff, he has a long line of CDs with his instrumentals. His most recent contribution is Symphonic Shade, which is an album that remixes his past chiptunes into orchestral masterpieces. Do check out the Great Giana Sisters’ theme below if you’re curious.