A Collection of Orchestrations: Video Games Vol. 1

Artist(s): Blake Robinson

Released by: Joypad Records

Release date: 12/18/2012

In the aftermath of Winter Storm Drago (apparently, we’re naming these things now), I was resting in the living room of my parents’ northern Michigan home. Having spent the better part of a day clearing 12” of snow, I was looking forward to some R&R.Video Game Orchestrations

I love my mother, but if I couldn’t find something to drown out the Christmas music she was playing, things were going to go “The Shining”.  Lo and behold, a nice chap by the name of Blake Robinson emails me about his brand new album. Talk about an early Christmas present!

I’m ashamed to say that Robinson’s work had escaped my notice before. You can read all about his work at his Web site. And “Video Games Vol. 1” is certainly not his first rodeo.

Video game music is right up our alley here at Control Freaks, and I was stoked to have a new album to review. Covers, remixes, and compilations of VGM are by no means uncommon these days, but can be tricky to get right (if The Greatest Video Game Music was any indication).

A key area that Robinson addresses is suspension of disbelief. After all, the album touts orchestrations, not just any old remixes. Not that I mean to denigrate or call other remixes “fake”, but if you’re going toe-to-toe with real orchestras like Video Games Live, the London Philharmonic, etc., serious firepower must be brought.

Even a layperson such as myself can tell that Robinson’s instrumentation is digital. The point is, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The production quality is good, and the instruments believable enough that I wasn’t distracted. That a one-man band can craft such a sound is amazing, at least to me.

Again, I’m no audiophile, so this could simply be a matter of mastering. But to me, what Robinson accomplishes with video game music blows the London Philharmonic’s albums out of the water.

“The Greatest Video Game Music” albums, while good, lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. They were trying too hard to turn every piece into something out of a film score. However I try to define my taste in video game music, I can at least point to Robinson’s Synthetic Orchestra and say, “There. That guy. That’s how you do it.” Christ, could you imagine if every game turned into a multi-million dollar, iterated series with a score by Hans Zimmer?

Fortunately, Robinson keeps things diverse and fresh. Before I break down a couple of tracks that stood out, I want to get my complaints out of the way. First, the album was too darn short. Not that it’s lacking in content or length, it’s just… slippery somehow. Like you start the first track and before you know it, you’ve played through all 13. Ultimately, this is a compliment, so I do hope Robinson keeps ‘em coming.

Second, there were two tracks that seemed to have been switched at birth: “Dues Ex – Theme Orchestra” and “Duke Nukem 3D (Stalker)”. They both had a style that would have suited the other better. Not that either of them aren’t great in their own right, I just have this nagging feeling of what could have been whenever I listen.

Super Metroid (Crateria Zebes Planetfall)

Downright chilling. It’s heavy, foreboding… exactly what you were meant to feel when exploring the rainy desolation of Crateria in “Super Metroid”. I consider myself a connoisseur of “Metroid” music, and Robinson does not disappoint here. Kudos for going with something a bit more atmospheric and underexposed; lord knows the main themes and Brinstar have been done to death.

Duke Nukem 3D (Stalker)

Robinson’s take on “Stalker” is more of the techno thriller angle I was expecting for “Deus Ex”. Not that it’s a poor fit for Duke’s first bout with alien bastards in “Duke Nukem 3D”. In fact, it would be right at home in “Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project”. Functional, competent, but doesn’t have the wow factor elsewhere on the album. Still, I’m glad to see such an iconic track from a childhood favorite get more exposure. Sorry guys, I didn’t grow up 8-bit. My generation kicked ass with mouse and keyboard, shotgun and Mighty Foot.

Metal Gear Medley

Metal… Gear? Yes, the original “Metal Gear”, an excellent choice that we don’t hear enough of. The “Solid” series is fairly well covered, but I’m not overly familiar with the originals. Which is fine, because “Medley” stands completely on its own, and would be right at home in a major motion picture. In a good way, never mind my Zimmer hate from earlier.

The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind (Nerevar Rising)

You needn’t have played “Morrowind” to connect with this one… “Skyrim” players will recognize it instantly. I was glad Bethesda spiced things up after the blah that was the “Oblivion” soundtrack.

BioShock II (Back to the Bottom of the Sea)

I can’t say I remember too much from the “BioShock II” soundtrack. Honestly, I found the whole game eclipsed by the first one (which I adore), but this track definitely says “underwater dystopia” to me.

Gears of War (Hope Runs Deep)

Nothing much to say, other than it kicks ass, and the brass at 1:35 tricks my brain into thinking John William’s “The Empire Strikes Back” score is coming on.

So here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. You’ve made a new fan, and I heartily recommend that you people purchase the album forthwith and check out more of his work.