Category Archives: Music of Video Games (Retro Edition)

Pitfall II (David Crane?)

Indiana Jones, Helmet Nesingwary, Harry Pitfall – different incarnations of the same man: adventurer and risk-taker, neverending treasure-seeker getting himself in all sorts of trouble on the way. And that’s what this game is about.

In the game, you’re mr Pitfall. Apparently you are helplessly lost in the jungle and you’re going deeper and deeper to… I don’t remember actually. Find a treasure? Get back to home? Rescue princess? All of the above? But I remember, it took a great deal of preservance and skill to help him out in this. Pitfall collects gold treasures and is pushing forward through the caves. He sometimes swims, trying to avoid electrical eels, sometimes flies on the baloon (watch out for deadly bats) but most of the time just runs, climbs and jumps over wild animals trying to kill him. That would be frogs, ants, scorpions, butterflies… you know, all sort of these dangerous ones, not lions or tigers, bah, who’s scared of them anyway? What I remember most from the game, was the sense of adventure, “epicness” of it, given the machine it was played on (Atari) and also the sense of swimming – it was the first game I know allowing the main character to swim and it felt very “real”, Pitfall was pushed up, slowed down, he moved his arms to crawl further, he could dive in to the bottom, to look for treasures… it was nice.

There were few music patterns, i.e. from 1:15 you will hear a minor-keyed part that was played when player touched a creature. Nothing terribly bad happened then, but the player was moved back to the last checkpoint, marked by a cross on the floor. This allowed for as much attempts as you want, so if you were stubborn enough, you would always eventually finish the game. But when you saw yourself moved back through all these chambers you so carefully passed, it was really frustrating. However, when you finished the game, it was really rewarding. Maybe because back then, most 8bit games were not exactly designed with “end” in mind, they still had “saloon game machine” design, where new levels just increased the speed or complexity, making the player to fail eventually. Pitfall 2 was different – it had the beginning and end exactly planned.

Later, I’ve learned that the original cartridge for Atari 2600 with Pitfall had custom hardware built in, to boost that poor console and aid in displaying Pitfall’s smooth graphics. Imagine graphic accelerators being added to today’s games – bizarre concept.

There was another tune, when Harry reached the baloon chamber. It’s a waltz called Sobre las Olas (“Over the Waves”) by Mexican composer, Juventino Rosas. Here’s someone playing it on accordion –

More about Pitfall –


Bubble Bobble (team Zuntata)

Probably the best of “dual-player” games on 8bit computers. I remember countless hours spent playing Bubble Bobble with my friends, cousins, girlfriend even. It’s so innocent, so colorful, so fun to play.

The game is series (100?) of one screen levels. You control a small dragon, that can jump and spit out bubbles. Each level will feature some enemies, several types of them, behaving differently. You fight them by trying to “bubble them up” and then manually bursting the bubble. Later in the game, other methods were available, like napalm, flame breath or some kind of snake/rope/rollercoaster thingy I tend to call “phlegm” (can’t remember why). When killed, enemies turned into all sorts of consumable “things”, starting from delicious bananas or apples, through candybars, big cakes, ending on diamons and other precious stones. That was the thing with Bubble Bobble – you could expect these things all over the place, coming from different directions, falling on you even. Fruits, candies, stones – nom nom nom. There were also some items triggering level skip, insta-kill of enemies, bonus consumables or providing you with a letter from the word EXTEND. Once you made it all, you got some sweet sweet bonus, lot of points, and … whole thing goes again. When enemies stayed alive on the level for too long, they first get “angry”, changing color and moving faster, later, few “jaws” spawned in corners of the screen, chasing you. These could not be killed, so it was best to avoid them and finish the level quickly.

The game can get you bored when played alone, but it really shines in two player mode. The other player controls another dragon and you can execute all kinds of strategies to help each other pass the level quickly. Dragons can even support each other by sptting bubbles the other dragon can jump on to get to unreachable places. Two good players could survive for a long, long time.

I never actually finished the game. I saw different ports since then, amiga, pc, consoles, but I still like the C64 version the most. Little did I know back then, that the main goal of the game is to actually save two girlfriends of our dragons – namely: Patty and Betty. Who knew?

In some levels, a blink skull-like thingy appeared sometimes (visible in 2:30 in the video above, but the dragon did not take it), and when taken, froze all the enemies and increased the speed of dragons. The game went into some kind of “crazy chaos” mode, changing the music into this one. I loved it and always hunted for that titem, just to hear it –

More about Bubble Bobble –

Montezuma’s Revenge (Robert Jaeger?)

An instant classic. This game is widely recognized among 8bit fans. Who haven’t played the “skulls and keys” game and doesn’t remember the characteristic “La Cucaracha” sound when picking an item?

You dig down into a mysterious piramid, as “Pedro” (or Panama Joe in certain versions). Pedro has a characteristic hat, and generally is an bigtime adventurer. He climbs ropes and ladders, jumps over deadly skulls and spiders, collects keys to doors and swords to fight back the evil stuff. That’s it, but it was all wrapped in quite entertaining package. There were many screens and while they’ve eventually repeated themselves somehow, they still presented a nice challenge. Montezuma’s level of difficulty was really a sweet spot – it was not easy, but not that hard, once you’ve mastered your way. This was a commonn problem of 8bit games and Robert Jaeger nailed it very well – if you were good, you actually wanted to play more. Montezuma was a prime example of labirynth arcade games – genre that’s long gone now.

The Atari version of the game was leaked to public before it was finished. Therefore the game could never be completed, even if you’ve reached the final screen with big Montezuma, who could stomp you to death – there was simply nothing to do. Back then, however, noone knew that, and many legends were born about how to complete Montezuma’s Revenge, including even such bizarre stories as touching the joystick’s port with wet finger. Additionally, there was another version of the game, called Preliminary Monty (“A-not-yet-finished-Montezuma”), which was smaller and fitted only 16k back then (full Montezuma was 48k), because that was the size of a game cartridge.

Thus, the game entered the canon as true aztec mystery. Probably very few know the fact that “Montezuma’s Revenge” is a funny word play, because it’s also a common name for stomach virus that tourists catch in Mexico, when they drink too much of local water.

More about Montezuma’s Revenge –’s_Revenge_(video_game)

Alley Cat (Bill Williams?)

This game I remember very well. Alley Cat from Synapse Software, again a one-man army production. The game is as old as I am, which is kinda unbelievable. The game is about – you guessed it – a cat. An alley cat, to be precise, but no, no Top Cat. The game was incredibly complex given the time it was born. It started with the view of an alley, where you should jump onto barrels and then higher onto laundry ropes to get into opening window. If you’d stayed at the ground for too long, an angry dog would go after you, when too long on barrels, other cats would knock you down, only being on the ropes was a relative peace, because you still had to avoid things flying out of the window. Once you’re in, you would find yourself in one of several rooms. There was always some kind of a task to get done, catch mice in big cheese, jump into fish bowl and eat all fishes, drink all the dogs’ milk, break the bird’s cage and catch etc. These were very fun. Most of the time, there was this broom wandering through the room. Whenever you walk on the floor, you would make it dirty, so you could just play with it and make carpets really dirty so that the broom was occupied cleaning it. Once it was done, broom was just chasing you and interfering with your vicious plan of getting that bird. You could even face that angry dog again. After finishing few tasks, you would find a lovely cat-girl in the window. If you were quick enough to jump in, you would face a standard cliche “get a present and get to your love despite all the bad things” level, even with cupids being not on your side. But if you managed to get to your cat love, there was a lovely kiss, even more touching wedding and … whole thing started again. Cat has nine lives, eh? The overall pace of the game and the nature of everything happening on screen was always producing this big “wtf”. Whenever you had bad luck, there were this big flashy messages like “ouch”, “alas” or “!$#@”… i mean, it was all pretty crazy.

The game music was very interesting, something like 8bit jam session blues. When things went crazy, the music changed into more hasty and disturbing. Within game, it was more lively and keeping you vigilant. The intro theme presented here, was however very calm and soothing.

These weird notes during the music (0:14, 0:23, 0:37) are Atari synthesizer attempts at producing cat’s meow :)

More about Alley Cat –

The Goonies (Scott Spanburg?)

Ahh, Goonies. It was one of my favourite movies during my childhood. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a Spielberg’s piece released in 1985 and it was basically Indiana Jones for kids. Here, a gang of friends unite in a bizarre adventure that starts on the attic of their own home, in order to help their parents save their homes and prevent moving out to another place. It strikes all the right chords – the sense of friendship, the sense of adventure, treasure, danger, thrill, traps, love and devotion. Not only they have to fight all the traps in order to regain the treasure, but they also have a italian mafia family chasing them, Fratelli’s. It’s very “family” movie, quite funny because of characters of Mouth, Chunk and Data but entertaining at the same time.

The game was released soon after to mirror movie events. It’s a unique puzzle platformer, where you control two characters from Goonies, every level set has a different pair. You can switch between them and you have to leverage their abilities and positioning to overcome obstacles on each level. So you will visit Fratelli’s mansion, then you will enter underground cave and tunnel, then pipe system below the city, skull chamber, piano chamber, octopus, the ship… you will easily recognize all the places from the movie. The funny thing is that the game has octopus in it, yet the octopus scene was removed from the original movie (though not entirely, Data is still mentioning it after he’s rescued). The game was quite hard if you don’t exactly knew what to do in order to get further, but it had nice graphics and was quite fun. All in all, a decent addition to the Goonies brand.

Fun fact, main actor playing Mike Walsh later played Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings movie – Sean Astin.

The main theme was composed after the original Goonies Song by Cyndi Lauper – The Goonies R Good Enoug. Here it is :

More about Goonies – this time I’m liking to the movie page, but there’s section about video games there as well. For some reason, there’s little in the internet about 8-bit version of Goonies game on Atari or C64 –

Draconus (Adam Gilmore)

Back to the retro gaming, shall we? This time we have 1988’s Draconus.

Draconus has a very detailed and polished graphic art, sound effects and gameplay, it was a game really standing out in its time. Among silly platformers, this one was presenting itself as something serious, the player knew that from the very beginning – there was this mature graphical art style and weird sound effects (like things whistling, bubbling, generally there was always something in the background that was leaving you in constant unrest). It was quite hard, actually, and most of the time you didn’t really know what to do, as there were some puzzles to solve. Anyho, the story is just standard, a hero (a human-frog mix) stands up to a tyrant beast and attempts to save the land from him. You can jump, run, punch stuffs and emit a flame breath. There were also few items you have to collect in order to proceed further and gain special abilities that will aid you either in getting to the boss or in the actual final battle. Back then (I think I was 8), I didn’t know english, so when I couldn’t understand anything from the items’ description. Because of that, I couldn’t pass certain area – I didn’t know what to do. Until finally by a crazy accident, I’ve pulled joystick down on a special platform and transformed into a draconewt (the ability was granted by a token I’ve gained earlier) – you could imagine my surprise and amazement! From then, it became simpler and finally I reached the boss (looked like a Giger nightmare, btw) and shredded him to pieces. Such a good feeling to conquer evil again.

This particular music piece is quite famous and when asked about best 8bit sounds, you might as well get this one as an answer. For that time, it was really a masterpiece and a really capturing song, done only using 4 channels (talk about limited polyphony!). It feels very pompatic, cinematic even…

More about Draconus –

Jet Set Willy (Rob Hubbard)

Created in 1984, by a kid, game dev legend of that times – Matthew Smith. Considered to be a sequel of famous Manic Miner. Initially released on ZX Spectrum, I’m linking to an Atari version I know, mostly because of the extraordinary soundtrack that’s different in Atari port (though the rest of the game is often considered inferion to the original).

The game is a typical platformer, but with somewhat insane level of hardcore. It takes a lot to master the game, only to discover that… it actually has some bugs preventing a player from finishing it. In the game you walk as Willy, poor fella who has to clean up his big mansion after supposedly an epic party. Only then, his wife will allow him to his bedroom (such is life!). Each screen (and there’s about 60) has one item to pick up and plethora of things that can kill you if you move wrong or time that jump badly. I never liked the game itself, but the music is outstanding.

More about Jet Set Willy –