Keisuke Tsukahara – Shadow Dancer: The Secret Of Shinobi (Data Discs vinyl edition)

4 out of 5

Label: Data Discs

Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)

I will absolutely cop to some nostalgia on this one. I don’t know that I would classify myself as being “good” at video games – the ones at which I excel, platformers, can be difficult, but don’t belong in the same range as Dark Souls and certain fighting games – but there have been the odd ones out, from then until now, that will catch my fancy and be a requisite time sink. Beyond gameplay, I surely think all of the different elements of games – graphics, music, design – go into that, and Shadow Dancer was one of those “not Sonic or Earthworm Jim” type games that I just really, really played. You’ll note I mentioned music amongst those ‘other’ elements, and that’s how it ties in here: I do remember when my brother first booted up Shadow Dancer, and just feeling like it was darker than what we’d been playing, on Genesis, or at friends’ homes on NES. Siccing your dog on people; the opening level being a blazing town; fighting cop-looking types and ninjas, whose multi-colored outfits didn’t feel like palette swaps so much as some kind of mystery, adding to the somewhat creepy vibe of the whole thing. And now, listening to the soundtrack as a separate entity, I see how it played a huge part in that – it is also pretty heavy fare, despite its funky low-end.

From the Data Discs Sega material, Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage work can definitely be aggressive, but there’s something downright murky and grimey about Keisuke Tsukahara’s compositions here, sitting alongside the violence-tinged gameplay and level settings of caverns and warehouses. The only level that has a comparatively cheery disposition – you’re outside, on a bridge, bright water in the background – is appropriately upbeat, but even then, the odd pairings of booming “bass” and the restless synth lines make it rather nervy. Onto the vinyl’s B-side of tracks, and you have the upbeat bonus stage, where yet again there’s something of an ominous overtone to it – the vocalizations that form part of the beat are anxious, not peppy.

The label’s production of this material is, as ever, fantastic, and Tsukahara makes great use of the Sega’s abilities to milk the most out of pairing low-end and high-sounds, crisply represented here. I do think it’s odd / disappointing that we don’t get all of the levels. Given that there are already some re-used themes with what’s here, perhaps the material was too similar to merit the runtime, but perhaps as a result of that, some of the tracks are looped a bit extraneously, even at a 45 RPM speed. Since the tunes are so good, that’s not a huge knock, but there are two or so songs where you’re like, okay, song’s over… and then it goes for another round. Regardless, accepting my nostalgia for this game, it doubles down on how a soundtrack can be a cause for engendering that nostalgia, and not just an effect of it – I might not’ve gotten so obsessed with Shadow Dancer without this music.