Keisuke Tsukahara ‎– Alien Storm (Data Discs remaster)

5 out of 5

Label: Data Discs

Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)

Alien Storm was the game that desperately made me want a Genesis.  Not Sonic – though I couldn’t wait to get ahold of that either – but rather the playable demo of Alien Storm that was on a machine at either Babbage’s or Toys ‘R’ Us at the mall; I can’t recall exactly which storefront anymore.  I now recognize the creature designs as being very Thing inspired, but I just hadn’t seen a game like this before, which meshed what I equated to Double Dragon-like gameplay to the sci-fi shtick and, for my young eyes, incredible looking bad guys and crazy graphics and it was a brawler, but that lead dude also had a gun…  I would just stare and stare at that, and wish and wish for the system, which we did eventually get.

But with that system, we got Sonic, and we got Phantasy Star II, and my time went deep into those games, and I admittedly forgot about Alien Storm.  Data Discs has put out some soundtracks that definitely called back to my youth – games for which the scores were deeply tied to memories – and then they’ve also put out some soundtracks for games I know are classics for some, and I enjoyed the music despite not having any particular attachment to the source media.

Listening to Alien Storm’s music, by Keisuke Tsukahara, I had a new, fantastic experience: one in which the music desparately made me want to play whatever this game must be, as told by its weirdly syncopated, brilliantly bizarre – and yet 16-bit era funky – score, and then getting that warm wash of nostalgia when I recognized that it was the game described above.  I’ve watched some videos of it again to get more excited to actually play it (ah, I see, more a sci-fi Golden Axe than a Double Dragon, perhas); I’ve made my Steam purchase.  But I’m holding off on that to spew out some poorly structured praise for the music while it still spins for the 4th time now in the background.

Tsukahara’s music has notes from some other preceding games – the afore-linked Out Run is called to mind in the stop / start beats, and also has a more motivated take on the aforementioned Golden Axe march – but it’s not a case of “sounds like,” so much as it is as mentioned: musical notes, which Tsukahara expands on in a unique fashion.  There are weird ass tweaks all over this score that befit its alien invasion setting – its B-side has some truly weird twists and turns where adventure tunes veer into a chiptune version of outsider art (still stuck to a gameplayable beat!) – mixed in with tracks that never fall in to the tellable variants of “desert level,” or “beach level” or somesuch.  We’re never energized into boss rush paces or anything of that nature, and yet, each track has a definite sense of forward momentum and evolves on its tunes – or gives the impression of doing so, thanks to Data Discs’ / Tsukahara’s supreme sense of how long to loop things before moving on to the next song – giving the whole score a feeling of a journey; I kept getting hit with an exciting mix of “I’ve got to play this now!” and “I’ve got to keep listening to this!” and now it’s time to start the record again.

It seems like Keisuke’s output was rather spotty, which I guess is good for my wallet, but makes that side of me that wants to follow this up with something equally brilliant rather sad.  Still, it’s not only a blast to have been reminded of such a distinct childhood memory, but also to discover some amazing music that likely would’ve passed me by otherwise – the gameplay videos for Alien Storm make me think that rather intense fighting overtakes the tunes – and get the urge to play some classic 16-bit brawlers that might’ve just say, unplayed, in a long queue of games.