Two Rockman Arrange albums, reviewed

We all know that I love video games. I’ve made no attempt to cover that up at any point in my life. I’ve downplayed it a lot, but never outright hidden the fact that my number one hobby is spending hours with a controller in my hands. It’s not a glamorous hobby, and most certainly not one that wins me any points with the fairer sex, but it’s what I do, and there’s no point in trying to deny who I am. Given, I spend a lot less time with video games than even a year ago, but it’s still a fairly prominent part of my life, and where a huge portion of my personal funds are directed.

So how could this inherently geeky hobby get any geekier? Well, it doesn’t help that I listen to lots and lots of video game music, and have shelled out many hard-earned dollars importing huge game soundtrack collections. You’ve heard me go on many times about how I’m absolutely fanatical about Yoko Shimomura and Motoi Sakuraba’s works, and how I nearly messed my pants in excitement when my copy of the Okami soundtrack arrived, but I never really talk about any of the music that relates to my most deep-rooted video game obsession: MegaMan.

It’s sad but true, I never really blog about how deeply I love the music from the many hundreds of MegaMan games out there. I may have mentioned it in passing many years ago when I wrote that article about why I’m such a Mega-fanboy, but other than that, I’ve never really touched on it for more than maybe a short paragraph once every God-knows-how-long. Today, I shall begin to remedy this situation though, as I have not one, but two discs worth of shimmery remixed Mega-goodness. Enter the 20th Anniversary Rockman 1-6 Arrange albums.

Left: Wily. Right: “Mr. X” (Spoiler: It’s Wily in disguise!)

I recently purchased these two arrange albums from Play-Asia, and have been listening to them maybe not quite as often as my fanboyism might lead you to believe, but more than enough. I’m sure that there are still people out there who would be shocked to learn that people produce and pay for soundtracks to video games, and possibly even more shocked to learn that I fall into the latter category. It’s no surprise to long-time readers, but the last time I mentioned that I collected video game soundtracks, there was an obvious air of confusion afterward. My parents even, who I’ve explained it to many times, are still dumbfounded whenever I receive a new one in the mail. I can understand that it’s a very niche genre, yes, but how is it so hard to understand? But I digress.

As the whole “Rockman 1-6” part up there might have clued you in on, these two CDs specialize specifically in music from the original run of MegaMan/Rockman (I’ll be using Rockman from now on. First-timers, they’re the same thing) games on the NES. Depending on your knowledge of all things Rockman, you may not be surprised by this fact, but overall the CDs weight very heavily in the favour of material from Rockman 2, whilst the first, fourth, and fifth games are all represented very sparingly, with only one dedicated track per disc. Yes, I know and agree that Rockman 2 was completely epic in every respect, especially as far as music goes, but you’ve gotta give the underdogs a little more credit. On the upside, my personal favourite tracks are the medleys, and every game gets its respects (due or not) in those tracks.

The ROCK CD, which was the first one I got, is obviously more oriented towards rock-style remixes. In that respect, it does not disappoint. The albums opens with the most killer “Boss Mix Medley”, which alone is reason enough to look into this disc. It is an impeccable track that combines a handful of what are essentially throwaway pieces (boss music is usually a 30-second loop at best) into a hard-rocking six-and-a-half-minute tour-de-force that will melt your face right off. It is simply awesome. Its follow-up track, “Cutman Mix”, does it perfect justice, as it takes the already stellar Cutman theme, changes the pacing a little, and makes the whole thing a wonderful sequence of guitars hammering out the verses and screaming solos like they’re going out of style.

At this point the CD goes up and down. I can’t fully appreciate their new spin on the MetalMan theme, but the infamous Dr. Wily theme from Rockman 2 comes out in full force with a wailing guitar duet that just won’t quit. Shadowman’s theme is nice, but is somewhat lost on me, and I honestly cannot believe that they managed to pull a whole 3:30 of non-repetitive material out of a “get weapon” theme for the “Get A Weapon (Rockman 3)” track. The Dr. Cossack theme was never my favourite track from Rockman 4 (though they mixed it quite nicely), and I can’t say the second Wily theme on the disc is overly impressive. “Yamatoman Mix” features an instrument that I’m not smart enough to identify (I may be a moron and it may very well just be an acoustic guitar) which plays a tune in the background of the entire song, and hits the foreground at the beginning, the end, and whenever the electric guitars take a breather between verses. It’s definitely makes the song stand out, and gives it a nice Asian vibe. “Tomahawkman Mix” has what might be the fastest solo on the album, though it could have been so much more epic if it had lasted even ten seconds longer. Like “Boss Mix Medley” before it, “Title Mix Medley” takes all the title screen themes and blends them together into a track that can only be described as awesome. It won’t blow you away quite as handily as the former, but if you’ve got a thing for fancy guitar work, you’ll love it to death.

After getting and playing the snot out the ROCK disc, I decided to go ahead and reunite it with its peppy twin brother, TECHNO. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge techno fan, but I’ve got at least a dozen various other Rockman remix albums on my PC that are mostly techno-centric (which I do quite enjoy), so it was a risk I was more than willing to take. TECHNO opens with a fairly competent “Stage Select Mix Medley”, which like the boss medley, takes a bunch of throwaway tracks and makes them into something worth far more than the sum of its parts. The ROCK disc was all about the screaming guitars and blistering solos, and the TECHNO disc comes right out the gate with pulsing synthesizers and heavy percussion that let you know that it’s going to be living up to its name. Elecman’s theme is next on the chopping block, and it’s slowed down considerably, though unlike another particular mix, does not invoke the feeling that you might be listening to a rip-off of Journey’s “Faithfully”. The constant thump of the bass drums and the peppy synth contrasts the slower tempo and floaty choruses to make sure that you’re grooving and not mellowing out. After that, we see the return of Rockman 2’s first Wily theme, and to tell the truth, I don’t think anyone has ever done a bad remix of this track. Regardless of genre, speed, or instruments used, this is just an overall wonderful piece, and Capcom’s skilled sound crew certainly put it through its paces here. The rock version does it justice with fiery guitar leads, and the techno version will storm you and make you want get up and move move move with its high-speed thump thump thump.

Sadly, those three tracks set far too great a precedent for the following pieces, as they’re simply mediocre in comparison. On it’s own though, “Quickman Mix” has a wonderful metallic vibe going for it, and as much as I want to praise the great, punctuated chorus-type bit, the song relies far too much on the main tune to really be a kickass techno track. “Airman Mix” has an airy (no pun intended) lead-in that lasts far too long, but once it gets going you’ll be able to feel that beat coursing through you. Oddly enough, I feel that this one makes too little use of the base tune, only bringing it in for short bits at a time. “Heatman Mix” doesn’t really do anything for me personally, but I can’t get over how much I love the “Snakeman Mix”. The high tempo and the bridges (which I can only think of as “carnival-esque”) really work for me, and the original tune is peppy enough to inspire at least a little bopping along. The revised Magnetman theme is another one that I consider entirely missable, and the second Wily track on this disc doesn’t exactly inspire me to create a Facebook group dedicated to it. Honestly, the less said about “Starman Mix”, the better. It has a nice spacey sound, but otherwise alls flat on the grounds of impressing me. “Flameman Mix” fares a little better, but only because I really like the original song. Unfortunately, the techno disc does not end on another wonderful medley, which officially makes me a very sad panda, but I won’t dwell on it because it’s a techno CD and I didn’t exactly expect to be blown away by it to begin with.

Besides the fact that they both feature mixes of the “Dr. Wily 1” track from Rockman 2, the two CDs have but one thing in common. That would be that they both contain short versions of all the original tunes used in the mixes. You may look at the track listing and see a robust 20/21 tracks on each, but then you’ll notice that half of them are just the original 8-bit chiptunes directly from the NES games. And that’s not an entirely bad thing, say if you’re trying to educate someone who liked the mixes on the background of the music, but a much better way to do that would be to have them actually play the original Rockman games. Or to play the games and have them watch, because seriously, someone who has never played one of the old Rockman games by this point likely won’t be playing any video games other than Wii Sports anytime soon.

Overall, I’d say that these are two very solid albums, and make a very good case of representing Rockman’s 20-plus-year legacy, regardless of how niche it’s become over the ages. I’d recommend both albums to diehard Rockman fans, but only the ROCK disc to the general populace, as the mixes are a little more interesting on that one. If you’re interested in owning them legitimately (and God knows you aren’t), I most definitely recommend procuring them through, as I snagged them both for a debatably reasonable price of about $30 each, whereas Amazon is charging $42.99 for the ROCK disc and a whopping $72.99 for the TECHNO CD. It’s not cheap either way (retail game soundtracks never are), but at least your wallet won’t get completely raped if you order from Play-Asia. Of course, if you’re up to searching for a better price, I won’t stop you.

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