Following their previous Gradius ReBirth release, Konami revived both the Contra and Castlevania series for WiiWare throughout 2009, with certain success. This time, though, it took a while before they decided to release a soundtrack album for the games, but eventually they compiled both on the album present here. Once again, Manabu Namiki was put in charge of bringing more retro-styled music to these new releases. How does this new release stand up? Let's find out.
First of all, an important fact one should know about this album is that, just like in Gradius ReBirth, it is comprised mostly of arrangements of several classic themes from both series (and unlike the Gradius ReBirth Original Soundtrack, the original source tracks have been omitted, most probably due to space limitations). This could be a major hold back to some people, but don't just leave yet.
As for the arrangements, I think Namiki did an impressive job arranging the tracks. With stunning synth work, he manages to achieve that same Konami arcade sound from the early 90s, making for a quite fun and enjoyable listen. The main problem with them is that quite a few of the tracks are just more of a translation/upgrade to the new sound module; there's not much variation of the original music in regards to new sections and different passages. It would have been good to hear Namiki's personal take on the music and give the soundtracks an even more distinctive feel.
That said, quite a few of the original tracks actually benefit a lot from the upgrade. This is especially in the case of tracks from older games, such as "A Lullaby Sent to the Devil", "Contra Area 2 BGM", "Jungle Base" and others, so the album still remains quite fresh for veterans of the series. It's also worth noting there are some exceptions to the straightforward approach like "Last Springsteen" (which has a different order), "New Messiah" (which is a bit shorter), and "A Lullaby Sent to the Devils" (which is actually longer).
Amnother positive trait is that Namiki decided to have a quite varied selection of tracks, instead of referring to all of the classic themes from both series that have been arranged to death (with two mandatory exceptions, "Vampire Killer" and "Jungle Battle"). For example, in Castlevania The Adventure ReBirth, we have music from Haunted Castle, both Game Boy games, and even Akumajo Dracula XX, while on Contra ReBirth, we have music mostly from Contra: Hard Corps, as well as some music from Contra, Super Contra, Operation C, and even the more obscure Contra Force.
Despite being a compilation of sorts, Namiki did compose some new music for the games: "Gauntlet", a miniboss theme for Castlevania The Adventure ReBirth, and "Return in Triumph", the ending theme for Contra ReBirth. In the first track, Namiki manages to produce an upbeat action theme which would fit perfectly with any of the more classic Castlevania titles for the NES. On the second, Namiki goes for a very Gradius-like first section, and then on to reprise the "Jungle Battle" theme in a slower and march-like pace; short but sweet and with an epic tone, it does the job perfectly.
Lastly, there are the bonus medleys, which I personally think are among the album's highlights. Here, Namiki picks up other tracks not used in the ReBirth games, and arranges them in the same style. The Dracula medley, for instance, is comprised of "Battle of the Holly" from Castlevania: The Adventure and "Lost Painting" from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. "Lost Paint" is actually a downgrade, and it holds up quite well, retaining the same haunting sadness, while "Battle of the Holy" has a quite bombastic and rocking arrangement, having a similar feeling to other main themes in the series. Both unexpected but very welcome selections. My only complaint would be that, compared to the Gradius ReBirth album, there's nowhere near as much bonus content here and just one bonus medley for each game; a bit disappointing considering there was plenty of space left on the disc for some more.
It is true that this album may not offer much new to fans of the series, both in terms of new music and novel arrangements. However, it still sounds quite fresh and is a really well done take on the music, which any FM enthusiast should enjoy. The enjoyment is enhanced by the track selection — featuring quite a few obscure themes, along with some unusual ones and two bonus medleys, all for a rather reasonable price. In conclusion, while this album may not surprise everybody, I honestly think that both old-school Arcade music fans and fans of the series would enjoy the album. Plus, it has new Game Boy Castlevania arrangements, and that's something the world was in dire need of.