Homebrew Review: 8Bit Music Power (Nintendo Famicom)

8BITMUSICPOWER

Releasing music in a bizarre or antiquated format is nothing new - just look at the tiny hand-cranked music box Mogwai released their 2004 single Tracy on; or Jack White’s decision to release a collection of his songs on a vinyl record that could only be played properly at 3rpm. There are undoubtedly even more weird and wonderfully original uses of obsolete music media out there, but this latest collection of chip tunes on a Famicom cartridge from Japanese homebrew developer RIKI is either incredibly short-sighted…or sheer genius.

In the retro gaming community, the prevalence of hardware that can play 8Bit Music Power is undoubtedly quite high, but outside of this niche hobby, I would hazard a guess that not many people will even know what a Famicom is, let alone own one. That minor (moot) point aside, I have nothing but praise for this inventive and extremely well put together compilation of mini games and musical compositions from some of Japan’s most highly regarded chip tune musicians. As detailed in a previous RetroCollect article, 8Bit Music Power is an album that is designed to run on a Nintendo Famicom (or emulation devices capable of playing cartridges) and outputs the various tracks through the TV’s speakers. While any of the 11 trippy tunes are playing on screen, you are able to access a mixer of sorts that will allow you to switch any of the track’s instrumentals on and off, and this can be quite amusing for those of us less musically-gifted gamers out there.

88BIT

Certainly, for the more knowledgeable when it comes to mixing software this will appear about as simple as it is possible to get, but for those with only a passing interest in musical production it can be fun to turn the different beeps and bloops on and off to see how the sounds change. As well as this onscreen mixing desk (which actually takes the appearance of a massive steam-punk keyboard, complete with light-up keys and sparking Tesla coils), 8Bit Music Power throws in a whole host of psychedelic imagery to go along with the aural aspect of the experience. Rudimentary FMV clips and an impressive number of sprite manipulation effects (rotating coins, spinning stars etc) fill the screen in time with the music. These effects are also interspersed with some quite brilliant anime-style artwork, meaning that while the music blares out the images on screen constantly change and it does become quite mesmerising. One other nice feature - accessed by pressing the Select button - shows you how hard the Famicom is working to throw all these sprites and sounds around via a sort of on-screen overlay equating to a CPU usage display. For my sins, I tested 8Bit Music Power on a Hyperkin RetroN 5 so I don’t know how accurate this meter is, but it is an interesting addition nonetheless.

To be totally honest, it is quite difficult to describe the quality of the chip tunes bundled on this cart with words alone but rest assured they are (for the most part) very high quality and very catchy. My personal favourites so far are tracks 7 (Oriental Mystique by Masahiro Kajihara) and 9 (Tip-Track 303 by Tappy), but that will mean very little to those who either have no interest in chip tunes, or simply do not own this cartridge…which I guess will be the vast majority of people reading this review. There are some interesting extras on the cart too - for starters there are simple two mini-games with varying difficulty levels. The first, titled Dodge tasks the player with moving a glowing ball around the screen trying to avoid being hit by the increasing numbers of stars swirling around; while Collect asks you to attempt to grab the required number of falling coins before the time runs out. Both are, as you’d expect, fairly rudimentary but they do add a little extra to the overall package. Elsewhere you’ll find a gallery of art assists used during main music playback, and a demo mode where you can play around with all of the different sprite effects used - many of which are quite impressive and certainly unlike anything I’ve seen from the Famicom platform previously.

Conclusion

Overall, 8Bit Music Power will be no doubt be seen by many as an interesting curiosity and tech demo for the Famicom, but little else. It will have limited appeal to those who have no access to a Famicom or compatible system and the cost could be considered slightly high ($29.99 plus shipping) for what is essentially an album that you can only play through a TV. And while they’d be right in one sense, the very notion that RIKI has chosen to release a music album on a Famicom cartridge in 2016 makes it achingly cool. And at the risk of sounding like a complete hipster, for that reason alone I can’t recommend it highly enough.

8Bit Music Power Video

 

Link: 8Bit Music Power at Play-Asia.com

Link: RIKI Official Website (Japanese)


Last Updated ( 02 February 2016 )  

Tom Charnock

A true connoisseur of failed and obscure console hardware, if Tom isn't extolling the virtues of the Jaguar CD's texture smoothing abilities or the Dreamcast's vast array of useless peripherals he's usually on Twitter asking where all the Super A'Can games are.

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