Game Music Saturdays: Cave Story Remix Project

As I said earlier this week, the music in Cave Story evokes the video game times of old, but it is pretty medicore music overall. Now, that’s not to be mean to Pixel; it’s not as if he’s a professional musician or anything of that sort, so why should you expect this music to reach levels of greatness right out of the gate? This is, as well, his first well-known game, and he may continue to improve with bigger budgets and more resources. I realize that Cave Story +, the version I played, has the remixed version by Danny Baranowsky, of Super Meat Boy fame, and I do enjoy that one a bit more. But it sounds like…Super Meat Boy, so it just kinda blends into all the head noise and thoughts I already have rattling around in the good ol’ brain.

That, then, is exactly what the various Cave Story remixers have tried to do: augment and enhance the source material. My God, it’s brilliant. Pixel provides a simplistic song, but that’s just enough room for improvisation and allows for a variety of instrument choice. Each track, accurate to the original, also gives a different perspective of the remixer’s opinion on the song. Unlike, say, early OCRemix albums, they aren’t trying to inundate you with an incessant number of vaguely hazy electronica, but a variety of genres.

Take “Escape Route” by Corran, for example. While the original didn’t give much indication as to what exactly Pixel wanted here, Corran uses flutes and woodwinds along with a subtle synthesizes backbeat to convey a sense of lighthearted whimsy and joy. Which, point of fact, is probably exactly the original intention of the music. That’s what the best remixes do – take the original, enhance its original themes, and make them better, not just different. Tackle’s “Grass Stains” takes an upbeat rock and roll tempo to its source and matches the energy of the original as well – I really like this one. On “Dokutsu Dance”, I love the piano intro and outro that turns into some kind of bizarre electronic/dance music hybrid that sounds just like the original song, just with better synthesizer technology and a weird fake-vocal vocoder thing that really adds to the lighthearted feel.

I don’t know what it is with syntheisized vocals, but I’m enjoying them more than I should, as in “Shoddy Lock” by Prophecy. They tend to bring out different components of a song you’ve heard before because a particular sound has been…replaced by something weird and alien, almost like a Daft Punk robot invaded your house with his vocoder equipment and turned every sound in your house into a musical instrument. And with that weird analogy that makes no sense, I think I’ve hit the nail on the head. “Scrap Metal” by Corran does exactly the same thing, except it adopts the technique of stealing Benedictine chants from Enigma rather than processing it through a vocoder – As I listen to Enigma more than I should, I’m sure, it captures my weird, new-age-music loving heart (thanks, Mom and Dad), and overall ups the creepy factor on the original song as well. Heck, it’s Cave Story, and caves are creepy places, so why not?

RushJet1’s chiptune (NES, definitely) remix in “Almost There” adds to the tension of the original song, notably because NES songs tend to fulfill that tension in action sequences. The bass parts tend to be obvious and loud, and that’s what lends them a dynamism that makes chiptunes so interesting. It sounds like a progressive rock version of a Mega Man tune, quite honestly, and that makes me very happy. The same goes for tumult’s “Cave Story”, which is as much a retread of the main theme as it is a part of the game itself. As Cave Story was a homage to a variety of games, Metroid and Mega Man included, it makes perfect sense that these songs would sound great underneath the NES sound chip toolbox, and these are no exception.

Keying off from that, if “Combination Lock” didn’t intend to sound like Lower Norfair in Super Metroid, it is certainly an uncanny resemblance, to say the least. “Orange Sunset” gives me vibes of low-key acoustic rock, with some pretty interesting guitar parts. “Ball of Ballos” is a fourteen and a half minute extension of “Running Hell”, which was long enough as it is; like “Sentient Machines” from  Final Fantasy: Random Encounter, it’s an excellent journey for anyone familiar with the source material in any fashion, and it goes all over the place. It certainly deserves that kind of remix – although the original song isn’t that complicated, this remix by Tackle capture the spirit even if it adds tons of technical flourish and vocals to the proceedings.Those are just some standouts from my personal perspective; your mileage may vary.

There’s a reason why people make these video game remix albums, I think: a successful remix album allows you to see things in a different light, notice something you didn’t before, make something more apparent. Yes, they’re easy to make because lots of early video game music is synthesized, and the culture has developed a taste for the artificial over time – hence, the costs are low. Still, I’ve always been amazed about the remix culture surrounding video games, as there’s a real connection between the audience and the music. They continue to make these precisely to pay tribute to the artist who made a mark on them, whether it be Daisuke Amaya’s one man show or OCRemix paying tribute to Final Fantasy VI’s enduring musical legacy.

Like the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, it takes the same old ideas (Augustine) and introduces them into a new world and new cultural context – in this case, different genres, but it equally applies in a variety of different fields of human creation. Now, whether or not you’re going to like it or declare sacrilege (unintentional joke) depends on your dedication to the source material, I suppose. Some are traditionalists, and some want something new, but everybody obviously agrees on the importance of the thing in itself. That’s pretty cool! Many of the albums I cover here are free, there’s really no reason not to check these out. As Paul says about those in Christ in 2 Corinthians 2:

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

That concept of “new creation”, endemic to Christianity, has allowed it to survive for so long and to thrive. “Remixing”, then, is an essential part of the Christian tradition, even if it refers to a return to some idea of the past returning from its long slumber at the forefront. And we like doing it precisely because of the new perspective, or the homage.

Hence, I like these remixes and so should you. Get it here!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.