Game Music Saturdays: Shnabubula – Game Genie

There’s a certain light-hearted and whimsical tone that old video games provide, and the new hip “indie” games so desperately tries to capture. It’s the sound of of my childhood, and the sound of various other key events in my life, wherever they might be. However, whether or not that music comes from a bygone era where times were peaceful and relatively optimistic, or whether video games were always a fun diversion, there’s always been a trend for Japanese video games to have music that is catchy, memorable, and altogether listenable. Perhaps this was limited to localized releases only, but it seems to be a common trend amongst most video games I have played both then and now.

Somehow, through the use of music sound chips, composers from Nobuo Uematsu to Kenji Ito are able to convey dramatic scenes while still adding that element of adventure and excitement into their work that, simply, cannot be found in many other mediums. It’s part of that element of interactivity that can’t just be replicated. There’s a certain ineffable element to it, so that when one hears it, it is most certainly “video game music”. and not a part of that infinite set of different musical styles out there.

Thus, for me to to say that Shnabubula captures that same sort of feeling is quite a statement indeed. It takes a great deal of effort to understand what makes this music work, rather than creating a copy of the Japanese stereotype, but I think Shnabubula captures that feeling perfectly, albeit with elements of funk like James Brown (the obvious godfather of funk), and the soul of that funk as well.

And how do you create a sound like that? I can’t imagine it being taught or just picked up along the way. Usually, attempts to emulate such a sound instantly hit a giant brick wall; they just sound like copies, fakes, phonies. Well, certainly “Sho Nuff” should tell you all you need to know of Shnabubula’s musical range and ability to convey that same feeling in a new genre, albeit with an entirely different set of instruments. In many cases, I can tell that he layers various game system music chips in place, especially the Genesis, NES, SNES, and others that I am in no way familiar. Though it takes an accessible musical tone it really plays more like a progressive rock electronica (and that’s not the half of it), able to seemless blend between instrumentations to create, in my mind, a classic sound that evokes that childhood delight I know and love.

Moonlight Passage integrates a familiar appregioed (is that even a word?).piano syntheized tone, that of Secret of Mana to be exact, and integrates this into a piece of music that continually revisits and returns to the more waggish comfort zone of the NES, which accelerates and controls the main musical line. I even hear hints of Mega Man X within it; honestly, for anyone who grew up playing these classic games, this kind of music is an absolute treat, and Shnabubula shows his background influences conspicuously. The layering of all these instruments, along with some kind of keyboard work from Shnabubula himself, is truly superb, able to alter movements and change its tune within a moment’s notice. A number of DJs certainly do layering work like Shnabubula, but I think this kind of work is more subtle and nuanced. I’m not trying to compare that kind of music to this, but it’s honestly the best comparison for the elements at play. It works for the casual listener, and for those making a more serious effort to notice the complex melodies at play.

When Eucalyptus comes on, you know you’re in for something special. It feels, from my view, to take note from a number of different sources, parts of my childhood I honestly can’t name but can still remember through feeling, that just comes through in the music. A time of carefree innocence and eccentric music where one can just simply sit back and take in  the various chiptune resources flung at the listener. Honestly, if I had a musical background with notes and the like, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be freaking out at all the musical stops and tricks Shnabubula pulls out here.

On Aqua Fever, Shnabubula pulls out all sorts of different tricks. I think this best represents his combination of influences in funk, soul, and video game music. He wades through a variety of themes seemingly effortlessly, entertaining the listener even through a 5+ minutes time span with all sorts of musical flourishes – difficult to describe, easy to listen.

Spring Showers brings to mind…Spring. Thanks for stating the obvious, Zach. But it also keeps in mind an electronic sci-fi epic, with its odd sound effects and triumphant musical effects. I feel as if I view the light rain that Spring always bring, arriving with the hope of a new year.

Eye Trickle Scuba Wagon returns to the signature funky chiptune sound demonstrated in the first few tracks of this EP. What Shnabubula does, he does EXTREMELY well. I am trying to think of artists that really compare in terms of capturing that feeling of childhood delight at the exploration of fictional worlds, but it’s difficult to even find one I can identify outright that really capture the mood.

Beyond this point, I think I’d just rather let the music speak for itself. Anybody able to weave the classic and instantly indenfitiable tone of video game music with electronica, funk, and progressive rock honestly deserves some kind of award.

Forgive me, here, for my theological indulgence, but I think that sometimes we need a little comfort in our lives. When in Matthew 18, Jesus says:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “ Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

It’s difficult to say that we’re not allowed to act as the innocent children we should be. Faith is a venture of trust and affirmation that God exists and that He works towards the good of all; a little soul food, or soul music in this case, is good for one’s psyche, to be honest. There’s the notion that everyone does have a home somewhere, and this is my psychological home, for better or worse. A music filled with joy, optimism, and delight – exactly as it should be.

And best of all, the albums’s completely free! Zilch, zip, nada. The whole venture, then, solely exists for the joy of music, and the joy of the listener. Seriously, give this artist some feedback – he deserves your time for this catchy, infectious, groovy, and altogether masterful chiptune music. There’s not a better introduction to this weird and nerdy genre of music; if you like electronica and funky R&B of any sort, I implore you to check out Game Genie!

Get the album 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.
  • 8BitBrian

    What an article! I’m so glad that Ubiktune posted a link to this, it was a pleasure to read I must say. I’m just getting into blogging myself and I’ve been searching high and low for good blogs to follow and I’m definitely going to check out the rest of your material!

  • Thanks for the feedback! I’m happy to know somebody out there is reading this.
    Do you have a link to your blog as well?

  • 8BitBrian it’s a collaborative with a co-worker of mine and his best friend about anything we can nerd out about honestly. But it has a pretty heavy video game focus.

  • Bookmarked! I’m always looking for new gaming, non-mainstream sites; yours fits the bill, I think.

  • 8BitBrian

    Awesome, I bookmarked your blog as well! It’s a modest start for us for sure, but I mean that’s how penny arcade started I believe. Just mike and gabe fooling around and drawing stuff and out of no where they realized they had a following!

  • Jason Walton

    I looked up Shnabubula just now and am in the middle of listening to the NESJams album on YouTube. I didn’t expect to like it nearly this much; the Zelda II Temple theme was incredible.

    • Zachery Oliver

      Yeah, it’s good stuff! Honestly, I’m surprised at the kind of quality music you can find on the Internet.