By Aaron Nicewonger
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The soundtrack to Metroid is great in some places and severely lacking in others. The problem with a lot of the soundtrack is in its design. Tracks like “Kraid's Lair”, “Ridley's Hideout”, or “Norfair” are built on 15-30 second loops that are too short and repetitive to be memorable for anything other than eventually getting annoying. They're great little melodies that serve as the basis for great rearrangements in later games in the franchise. So it's clear the potential is there. But these initial entries are sadly nothing to write home about.
And, finally, the short track for the “Mother Brain Boss Battle” is a 20 second loop that is simply painfully obnoxious. It actually motivates you to beat the final boss even faster just so the looping music will stop.
1) “Brinstar” is classic Metroid music and a personal favorite of many fans. Its heroic and energetic melody inspires the player to brave the unknown. It reminds me of the heroic melodies from Naoki Kodaka's score to Blaster Master, a Metroid-esque action/adventure game that would arrive on the NES two years later. Seriously, after listening to the Brinstar theme, go listen to Blaster Master tracks for Areas 1 & 5
2) The “Title Theme” takes a moment to move past the slow ambient creepy intro (29 seconds precisely) to build into a robust fanfare only to immediately fall back into the unnerving desolate intro tune. While Zero Mission’s Title Theme is more robust and fully realized (as it’s 18 years more advanced), it begins with the soundtrack in full-swing and I prefer the somber lengthy intro.
“Quick Escape” is every bit as action oriented and heroic as “Samus'
Theme” and “Brinstar Theme” but with a sense of urgency that matches the
Metroid 2 (Ryohji Yoshitomi)
One of the best things about Metroid 2 is also one of the worst: the music, or lack there of, is extremely experimental. Frequently, there will be no music at all, but rather an odd soundscape of blips and beeps. When there is music, it is usually discordant, jarring and unnerving.
3) “Surface of SR388” is the only track in the entire game that fills the player with a sense of confidence and heroism, which sets it apart as a standout piece of music. You start the game confident that your mission is just and righteous, and slowly all music is stripped away as Samus, and the player, both have their confidence stripped away.
4) “Metroid Hatchling” is a round, wherein the tune is layered in staggered intervals to progress from a simple motif to a more complex piece of music by the end. It’s upbeat and energetic and a little chaotic, mirroring the frenetic actions of the flying baby creature you just rescued.
5) “Staff Credits” harkens back to the first track of in-game music, only after the game has ended. It’s a triumphant fanfare celebrating your survival and successful mission.
Super Metroid (Kenji Yamamoto & Minako Hamano)
Here we see the introduction of series mainstay Kenji Yamamoto and collaborator Minako Hamano. Together, the duo would essentially bring the series its patently odd mixture of melodic themes and otherworldly ambience, which the series is now famous for.
6) Maridia/“Swampy Caverns” is an oddly soothing tune with a long, winding flute underlying everything. The primary theme is played by what sounds almost like chimes accompanied by low bells or chimes (maybe even a xylophone) filling the player with an uneasy feeling.
7) “Maridia/Sandy Desert” has all of the ominous creepiness of "Wrecked Ship/Lost Vessel", with its tinny notes building to a repetitive, marching bass-line that sounds pulsing and almost motivational, before dropping back into that eerie beginning.
8) “Upper Norfair/The Fire of Zebes”/”Lower Norfair/Ridley’s Lair” (as a suite) fit the fiery setting rather well, as this piece of music sounds like it should be accompanying a march straight into hell. With the foreboding chorus almost chanting its vocalizations and a strong back beat pushing ever forward. You can almost feel the trepidation at odds with the determination in this.
9) “Brinstar/Jungle Floor” (Green Area/Overgrown With Vegetation) is a funky beat with synth tones and electronic bass line and cool drums. It fills the listener with a sense of awe and wonder and the heroic need to explore.
10) “Brinstar/Underground Depths” is a beautifully gloomy piece, using electronic chanting vocals and what could be the equivalent of a duet with a Koto (Japanese harp/zither) and a Sakuhachi (Japanese wind instrument).
“Crateria/Zebes Planetfall (Interior)”, “Spore Spawn/Botwoon Boss” & “Chozo Statue Awakens” are quite simply three of the most eerie, and foreboding pieces of music in the game, which is saying a lot.
Metroid Prime (Kenji Yamamoto)
Eight years after Super Metroid, the series returned along with Yamamoto. In my opinion, his return brought us the best score in the franchise. It's everything ethereal and melodious that we loved about Super Metroid, but perfected.
11) “Phendrana Drifts” is my absolute favorite track from the Prime Trilogy. It features a calming and entrancing tune, focusing on a primary piano refrain that expands ever so slightly after about a minute, paired with an ever evolving electronic rhythm full of harmonizing tones and a pulsing drum heartbeat.
12) “Phendrana Drifts Chozo Temple” is an ethereal piece of ambient music that informs the player to the feeling of the setting even more than the setting itself. I find this track to be very reminiscent of music used in Ecco The Dolphin.
13) “Tallon Overworld Main Theme/Theme 2” is best as a suite. The Main Theme has the best rendition of “Brinstar” (from the actual Metroid games; my favorite rendition of “Brinstar” is from Super Smash Bros.). The track also reminds me of the “Hyrule Overworld” theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Theme 2 features more of that unearthly trance style of music with almost a Daft Punk-esque driving percussion.
14) “Sunken Frigate Ambience”/”Sunken Frigate Main Theme” are my second favorite tracks from Metroid Prime, both filled with a sense of the mysterious. The Ambience theme carries with it a feeling of curiosity and apprehension. The Main Theme has an incredibly soothing, cascading style that lulls the player into a sense of security before reaching the Phazon Mines.
15) “Chozo Temple Finale” starts with a delicate harp and haunting vocalizations that quickly transition into a more menacing electronic beat and sharp, unnerving strings.
16) “Phazon Mines Ambient”/”Phazon Mines Main Theme” are a combination of Earthly and Industrial, creating something both moody and unnerving. The ambient track is the earthly one, full of what sound like a ganza and wind chimes. The main theme is harsh and industrial full of rough discordant sounds and echoing clanging percussion that blends together wonderfully.
“Parasite Queen Battle” for its intensity and “Chozo Ruins” as it fills the player full of hope and wonder. And finally “Magmoor Caverns” is a powerful remake of “Norfair (Ridley’s Lair)”.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Kenji Yamamoto)
Shifting from the more orchestral feel of the previous game, this entry presents a more electronic and industrial sound.
17) “Torvus Bog's" Main Theme and Subterranean (Hydrodynamo Station) should be listened to as a suite, as they are some of the best of Echoes compositions in my opinion. And that’s impressive because even though Echoes music leaves a lot to be desired, but when it gets it right, it absolutely nails it. Switching from darkly ominous to utterly alien before combining the two in the “Subterranean” theme (take note that the “Subterranean Theme” is a rearrangement of Super Metroid's “Lower Brinstar”) Torvus Bog is some of the very best Echoes has to offer.
18) “GFMC Command Chamber” is almost downright spooky as it overwhelms the player with a tense and threatening tone
19) ”Temple Grounds Main Theme(Luminoth)” has an almost creepy, moody melody that picks up with a marching beat that motivates you to press forward.
“Dark Samus Battle” is a great mix of weird electronic tunes, a percussive rock, almost dance beat reminiscent of something you’d hear in an underground club, with a little choral/orchestral flare.
“Silence” should at least be recognized for being a somber homage to a short little string of notes that plays near the beginning of the Metroid 2 title theme.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Kenji Yamamoto, Minako Hamano, & Masaru Tajima)
This game features the reunion of Yamamoto and Hamano. Taking advantage of the increase in the power that the Wii brought with it, Corruption features higher quality audio samples and better overall audio quality than its predecessors. Yamamoto borrowed Tanaka's design template for the original Metroid, keeping the themes dark and sinister until brighter, more heroic music is played during the credits.
20) “Rundas Battle” is easily my favorite track from this game. It’s an outstandingly triumphant badass mixture of electric guitar, pulsing techno and two sets of choral backing vocals (chanting and harmonizing).
21) “Skytown/Elysia” & “Skytown Metroid Xenoresearch Area”. “Elysia” might almost seem out of place in a Metroid game at first, as it starts with its almost cathedral-like tone full of bells, harps and a choir. It’s almost like something from a Legend of Zelda game. But it fits the scope and wonder of the environment perfectly. BUT then it transitions into “Skytown Metroid Xenoresearch Area” where the sense of wonder gives way to dark tense fear brought about by creeping strings and electronic crackling.
“Briefing Room/Ambience Theme”, “GF Battle Theme”, “Norion”, “Tension (Power Cut), “Hypermode Phazon Overload” are all amazingly creepy and tense tracks that sound like they’d be perfect in a survival horror game.
“Space Pirate Homeworld” is a well done rearrangement of the “Space Pirate Assault” from Zero Mission, which itself is a remake of “Crateria (Space Pirates Emerge) from Super Metroid.
“Gandrayda Battle Theme” has an awesome dark industrial percussion combined with a stunning chaotic and yet also oddly melodic entrancing, and pulse pounding and a perfect piece of music for this showdown.
Metroid Prime Hunters (Lawrence Schwedler, James Phillipsen)
This game presents many remixes of previous musical cues as well as some very nice new tracks. Although it was not composed by franchise mainstays, its sound certainly feels as though it belongs with the series as a whole.
22) "Menu Theme" is excellent for being ethereal with its weird screeching electronic tones while still hyping you up with a driving rock drum beat.
23) "Samus vs Sylux" has frantic strings akin to those heard in Hitchcock's 'Psycho', accompanied by driving percussion and a buzzing backing bass that reminds me of SNES-era instrument recreations. Awesome.
I also love how all the Hunters Boss themes have the same primary music with little flourishes like how Noxus' track has synthesized vocals, and more impressively how Noxus and Trace's tracks fit together for their joint boss battle. But the frenetic strings on Sylux's track give his the distinct edge.
All the primary boss battles (aka the other Bounty Hunters)
“Celestial Archives” is a nice mixture of peaceful electronic melodies and ghostly strings, while “Celestial Archives Theme 2” shifts to a jazzier main beat with a bass being plucked.
There are some interesting rearrangements previous themes. “Slench Boss” is a new version of “Ridley’s Boss Theme”. “Alinos” is a new track using elements of “Chozo Ruins” & ”Magmoor Caverns”.
“Hunter Warning/Chasing Kanden” is good for its ambience and tension.
Some upbeat action heavy tracks of merit are the “Minor Boss” theme & “Cretaphid”.
Metroid Fusion (Minako Hamano & Akira Fujiwara)
Here we see the triumphant return of composer Hamano. It's also here that we see where the strengths of the two composers differ. I found that while this game was released alongside Metroid Prime, it was a wholly different beast musically. Prime's score was more focused on the environment and exploration, while Fusion's score felt more focused on the feeling of isolation and desolation, giving the space station that this game's adventure takes place in the feeling of a haunted house.
24) “Underwater Depths” has a main melody comprised of harps and spooky strings that really match the setting and gives the player the sense of exploring an unsafe unknown environment.
25) "Ishtar/Serris aka Gedo/Yakuza" is a fast paced action packed battle theme that gets your adrenaline pumping. Oddly enough it sounds like it could fit in a Metroid boss battle, a side-scrolling beat-em-up, or a SNES/Genesis era racing game. Definitely my favorite track from Fusion.
Metroid: Zero Mission (Kenji Yamamoto & Minako Hamano)
Obviously LOTS of remakes of the tracks from Metroid. But often takes tracks from the first game that were barely tolerable like: "Kraid's Lair" and the unbearable "Ridley Theme," making them fantastically awesome and creepy.
26) “Staff Roll” starts out as an ominous march, almost suggesting you got a "bad ending" somehow. But then, almost as if it were a fake-out, becomes this celebratory fanfare.
Metroid: Other M (Kuniaki Haishima)
Aside from the times it simply recreates a previous theme from the series, Other M is a wholly unique entry. It often forgoes the traditional style of melodic music established in previous entries, instead opting for a more cinematic film score experience. It also emphasizes the horror and exploration aspects of the setting by lifting musical tropes heavily associated with stealth and survival genres. And that's something this listener actually greatly appreciated.
27) “The Biological Experiment Floor” starts with a very Jerry Goldsmith 80s synth reverb. Then two layers of electronic and actual strings. Then the main three note theme is done again with new instrumentation, before growing into a longer melody.
28) “Approaching Sector Zero” has a slowly building heartbeat of strings that becomes layered with deeper chords and a few separate electronic tunes and eventually the occasional percussion, that all combine to create a sense of anticipation.
29) “Ridley's Theme” is by far the best version of this theme out of the dozen or so renditions I’ve listened to throughout this series. It’s chaotic and melodic at the same time, odd as that may seem. It’s both fills you with a sense of fear and drives you forward.
30) “Staff Credits” is an outstandingly beautiful piece of music intertwining various melodies of themes and leitmotifs from throughout the franchise. The first few notes are a very recognizable piano rendition of a section of Super Metroid’s “Title Theme” It incorporates a lovely sampling of the classic “Brinstar,” for example, which is a perfect way to conclude this list of my favorites.