I’ve always found myself drawn to Metroid. True, it seems pretty obvious now given how heavily it’s milieu of a lone, strong female warrior set against a parasitic, bio-mechanical extraterrestrial threat is borrowed from that of my favorite film series, Alien, but just like the best cinematically inclined game franchises, be it the George Romero influenced Resident Evil or the Big Trouble in Little China infused Mortal Kombat, Metroid immediately transcended its inspiration simply by virtue of being an almost unbearably immersive player controlled experience.
And the biggest aspect of that total immersion, that existential dread of exploring a vast, hostile alien world (even on a 13″ TV in the comfort of your own childhood bedroom) was emboldened by the game’s innovative musical score. Nintendo music legend Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka penned indelible scores for the house of Mario’s greatest from Donkey Kong to Dr. Mario to Earthbound, but never before, or since, really, had a first party Nintendo soundtrack been this skin crawlingly off putting or nightmarishly atmospheric, sonically ushering in what would eventually come to be known as Survival Horror and putting this work comfortably alongside fellow early Famicom Disc System games Castlevania and The Legend of Zelda, being largely held responsible for taking video games out of the Atari 2600 born, single screen, arcade inspired ghetto and into lush, near infinite alternate realities to get lost inside of for hours on end.
Now, composer Luminist has achieved something remarkable, performing Tanaka’s nihilistic, foreboding arrangements with authentic analog synth instrumentation indicative of the 70’s and 80’s films that were the series’ initial hard sci-fi inspiration. The effect of “Metroid: Resynthesized” even more haunting and unsettling than one would expect.
For those with no idea what “analog synths” are (not that I’m any kind of expert), experimental keyboardist Wendy Carlos’ work with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining are a great reference point. Luminist nails down the Clockwork vibe early with “Brinstar”, a soaring, exploratory take on the original, possibly the “safest” of Tanaka’s compositions, though we’re in full Shining territory on “Ridley’s Lair”, a heavy bass drone under tension filled keys that only begin to suggest the inherent horror of legendary Metroid protagonist Samus’ predicament.
“Norfair” and it’s melodically massive soundscapes call to mind John Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while the dreamlike quality of the title theme seems affected by Vangelis’ immortal work on Blade Runner, floating between hope and hopelessness in equal, confounding measure. Luminist’s “Mother Brain” encounter is a terrifying static collage, leading into the driving uncertainty, almost hinting at triumph, of “Escape”.
Under Luminist’s rueful thumb the game’s credits roll takes on the eerie quality of frequent Dario Argento collaborators Goblin, so much so that one wonders if that was possibly Tanaka’s intention, though Luminist makes the inspiration clear as day. I’ve saved my favorite for last though, as Tanaka’s “Item Room” is one of the game’s most spare, disturbing yet iconic pieces. Luminist’s take is near perfectly realized without going too over the top into the creep factor, proving that less is sometimes so much more.
Samus Aran and the Metroid franchise has been almost as neglected and mistreated by Nintendo in recent years as her brother in arm cannons Mega Man over at Capcom, but projects like “Metroid: Resynthesized” prove that whenever the big N decides to revive their alien bounty huntress, a fanbase that fully understands and respects what makes the series so strange and special will be right there waiting. Luminist’s work is the best kind of artful fan appreciation, a soundtrack to a game that never was and yet always will be.
Luminist’s “Metroid: Resynthesized” is available now.