If I think about gaming in my childhood, I have too many memories to share. It's easier to define the more weird aspects of my life's ever-embracing nature of letting things that few should experience happen to me in hilarious and scary ways. But if I must think back and tells of a few moments from young days that influenced me, two names would come to mind — Amiga and Chris Hülsbeck. As I sat in my neighbors basement playing her brother's Amiga and was promised a kiss if I completed the games she would choose, the five year old me had no choice but to finish 10-12 games every day. I still finish plenty of games, though my only reward is a seldom lick on the forehead from my cat. To bring me back to those exciting days of pre-school romance, I often listen to the music that kept me trying over and over again, the music of Chris Hülsbeck.
One of Hülsbeck's most famous works outside of the Turrican and Giana Sisters titles would most likely be R-Type. While many associate R-Type's music with Irem and Masato Ishizaki, Europeans such as myself will always give the credit of that game's fame to Hülsbeck thanks to the his title track. It was a common thing back then for new music to be composed for the home ports, as seen with Bionic Commando and Ghosts 'n Goblins getting all new music by Tim Follin on the Commodore 64. This release collects all the different versions of the theme that was made — for Commodore 64, Amiga, and, most recently, the iPhone — and also a great selection of arrangements. A great nerd credit to note is that the C64 version was recorded from the same hardware it was composed on in 1989.
You might think that it's overly redundant to feature the same track seven times on an EP but, fear not, they all offer something distinctively different from each other. The C64 version offers that classic SID retro sound that can't be matched and the chip is legendary today for all who got to experience it in its prime. The energetic melody is vintage Hülsbeck and the recording sounds great. The Amiga version has a much softer take with the melody being more of a narrative for storytelling, where the track slowly builds to a break down and goes into darker territories before eventually reprising the melody. The new iPhone game featured all new music composed by Hülsbeck to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the game's first release back in '89. While the sound version featured here is only 47 seconds long and seems to indicate there's not as much melodic content — relying rather on an orchestral epic ambience — it is featured in an extended version later on this release to showcase the entire melody.
The four arranges featured are as good as the originals, with all of them offering something different from one another, and each original version getting an arrange to mirror it. The Relation Sound Team did an excellent job on their techno arrange of the C64, an upbeat dance track which is impossible to not move along to. That's another great side to the SID — it goes so well along with electronic arrangements like this one; NES music and other similar sounds often sound a bit out of place when put next to different technology, but SID flows along and fully belongs in the picture. The Amiga arrange is the same which appeared on Hülsbeck's first studio offering, Shades, back in 1991. It can be described as an extension to the Amiga soundscape, with higher quality samples and more synth layers giving it a richer feel than the original. The mix has been remastered it seems as the version featured here is noticeably better than the one heard on Shades.
Returning to the iPhone score, the track that was 47 seconds has now become a four minute marvel. The sound of this extended track is somewhat similar to Hülsbeck's recent work, ZombieSmash, with a much darker tone than his generally more uplifting electro pop style. It's quite excellent with great production and tons of mood and aura to it. It also features some cool guitar sections performed by Manus Buchart to give it an extra driving edge on top of the encompassing dark mood of the track. The last track is a real gem and milestone in terms of quality. It's a live recording from Symphonic Shades, which was a concert held in Cologne in 2008 to honor the works of Hülsbeck. A cinematic orchestral take of the highest quality and arranged by Jonne Valtonen — the man responsible for most of the amazing arrangements featured at Symphonic Fantasies — it was performed by the incredible WDR Rundfunk Orchestra and the FILMharmonic Choir Prague.
For the low price of 6 USD, you get value way above the asking price in this release. After all, your receive the original versions of one of the greatest title themes composed on the famous home computers of the 80's, three arrangements which solidly enhances the melodies, and, last but certainly not least, a performance by one of the greatest orchestras today. It's an EP that should belong on the iPods of all game music enthusiasts.