A few days ago I wrote a brief blog post about a new venture by Hewson Consultants. The old 8 and 16 bit publisher has been revived recently by its original founder and one of its early offerings is a new music album containing remakes of 11 classic tracks from 10 games the Hewson back catalogue.
Having had the chance to listen to a preview copy of the album, I’m happy to be able to report that it is every bit as good in reality as it sounds in theory. In short, if you are a fan of the music of old games, then you should be placing an order for this as we speak.
Hints and Tips for Videogame Pioneers: The Album – features tracks from classic Hewson games such as Firelord, Exolon, Avalon and Cybernoid 2 written and performed by names that will instantly be familiar to retro gamers – Ben Daglish, Jeroen Tel and Matt Gray. Those names alone should tell you that you can expect something of quality.
The album has a good mix of styles which makes it a surprisingly varied listen. When I first pressed play on the CD player, I expected all the tunes to be the kind of strident, adrenalin-pumping tunes you most often associate with 8 bit games. And to be fair, there are a fair amount of these (and very good they are too).
At the same time, there are a number of slower, more reflective tracks, which provide a bit of variety and break up the sometimes frantic pacing of the rest of the album. In fact, arguably my favourite piece on the album – Steve Turner’s music for Avalon – falls into this latter category and brings a little bit of peace and restraint to proceedings. At the other end of the scale the more exuberant theme to Battle Valley evokes strong nostalgia of my first visit to London when I bought the game in the Virgin Megastore.
Indeed, that is one of the album’s real bonuses. It’s strong enough musically to stand on its own, but will prompt strong memories in gamers of a certain age.
Of course, there are some tracks that you will enjoy more than others, but that’s true of any album. There are tracks that make me hit the Repeat button as soon as they have finished and a couple that I might be tempted to skip if I don’t have time to listen to the entire album. That’s not a quality issue, though; more one of personal taste. I suspect if I listed my favourite/least favourite tracks, there would be plenty of people who thought exactly the opposite!
Rather than lazily just recording the original soundtracks from a computer, the music has been remade (including some live, acoustic tracks) so that (in most cases) they sound even better. Using “proper” instruments, some of the tracks sound quite different to their computer originals, whilst others retain that feel with instruments imitating the style and sound of 80s computers. I have to confess that, as a bit of a purist, I rather like the ones that still sound like chip tunes and was a little less keen on the reinterpretations – somehow I felt that a little bit of the magic was lost and the tunes started to sound a little more generic. But that could just be me getting old and viewing things through rose-tinted glasses!
What’s not in dispute is the talent of the musicians or the quality of their compositions. How did this bunch of people manage to come up with such great tunes on such limited technology? Answer: because they were very talented and knew how to squeeze every last note out of the machines they were writing for. The fact that their compositions still bear up today shows just how good they were.
The only things I’m not convinced by are the album title and artwork. The cover I thought was a little bland (although in fairness, I’ve only seen an electronic image of it, so it might look better when in physical format), whilst the title – Hints and Tips for Videogame Pioneers – doesn’t really say what the album is and may actually put some off from ordering it. I realise this has been done to tie in with Hewson’s forthcoming book of the same name, but I’m not convinced it’s going to be effective in terms of brand recognition.
Overall, though, this is a great CD, recommended to anyone who retains a love of music from the Golden Age of computing.
The album will be released on 8 May and can be pre-ordered for £7 from the Hewson Bandcamp page.
[Note: Hewson Consultants provided a free copy of this album for review. In line with RetroReactiv8’s Review Policy, this has no way influenced the outcome of this review, which represents the author’s genuine and unbiased opinion.]