Game That Tune

Kid Icarus

Flying High

The Kid Icarus theme reaches piercing heights of sound.

By Steve Heisler • January 10, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

When I spoke to Gerard Marino, composer for the God Of War game series, he talked at length about the art of writing music that can repeat itself in the game without grating on players. If we’re going to hear the same stanza over and over, it had better be a damn good stanza, one with enough intricacies that repeat listenings are welcome.

At first, the theme music that kicks off Nintendo’s Kid Icarus doesn’t appear to fall into this category. There’s a beginning and an end, with a pause before it starts back up again. The only time you’d hear it again is when you were to slow to push the button and start playing already. But you do hear the song whenever you fire up the cartridge, and after enough listens, the song can catch in your brain:

It leaps between highs and lows in a way that keeps you guessing, like trying to predict the movements of a coked-up ballerina. With the exception of the consistent, marching drum beat, no two sections of the song are the same. But the spiral of sound slowly rises. Just when you think the highest note has been played, an even higher note comes along, piercing through the song. This is a game about Icarus, after all, who flew too close to the sun and melted his wings. And similarly, just when the theme music is about to exceed its tonal limits, it ends, abruptly, and Icarus comes crashing down.

(Illustration by Derrick Sanskrit.)

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  • PaganPoet

    It’s funny how this game and Metroid were, gameplay-wise, very very similar to each other, and yet this franchise never took off. I’m willing to guess the credit has to be given to the atmosphere of Metroid.

    Cool little chiptune, though. I did play this game as a child, but I honestly can’t remember much about it.

    • GaryX

      I believe they were both produced by the same guy, actually. 

    • George_Liquor

      I remember it being controller-smashing hard; maybe that’s why it didn’t take off as a series. The 3DS game is pretty fun, despite the doofy control scheme.

  • PaganPoet

    BTW, Derrick, I have an idea for a future Game That Tune. Did you ever play the NES adaptation of Willow? It was a pretty decent Zelda-alike. I remember the last castle in the game, Nockmaar, had a really beautiful neo-Baroque chiptune that struck me as pretty haunting.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Oh man, I haven’t played the NES Willow in forever. I should look it up soon. Downloading the soundtrack for my iPod right now.

      I had the color-changing Willow cups from Pizza Hut for years when I was a kid and I somehow have much more fond memories of those cups than of the game.

      • PaganPoet

        I actually recently played it on an emulator, and was surprised by how well it still plays. One little detail I liked is how Willow swings his sword faster and faster the more you level him up. Some parts are pretty frustrating, like the maze-like cave dungeons since the layouts are recycled.

        Actually, the game could work for an Adapt And Die feature as well.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I really loved that game as a kid, it felt like a more complex Zelda. Unfortunately it was so complex that I never got around to beating it, and it still sits on my musty old NES backlog.

      • GaryX

        I had those same cups. They were awesome.

      • George_Liquor

        Just wanted to plug Thunder Force IV again. I’m telling you, that game has some of the best chiptunes ever spat out of the Genesis.

  • GaryX

    I still want to play that recent Kid Icarus game because it sounds crazy, but I have little desire to own a 3DS and the control scheme seems terrible. Alas.

    Love this song though.

    • Asinus

      I really do like the original NES version, but I am a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never beaten it without at least some cheating. 

  • HobbesMkii

    After 11 Derrick Sanskrit scribed Game That Tunes, seeing Heisler’s byline up there was jarring.

    • Drew Toal

      Second.

      • HobbesMkii

        I don’t want to immediately jump into the realm of alarmism, but perhaps the world has gone mad.

        • Chum Joely

          Without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it’s time for our readers to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
          (I don’t usually do this sort of thing but it was too hard to resist)

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      @dsanskrit:disqus did make that kickass illustration, though.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Matt Kodner has written one, too.

      • HobbesMkii

        That is an excellent point and it means that I have counted wrong. 10 Derrick Sanskrit scribed Game That Tunes.

        I do want to clarify that I don’t mean “jarring” in a negative sense, but sort of a “going against preconceived notions.” Like when I first learned that someone besides Tim Wakefield could throw an effective knuckleball.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          Oh, I didn’t take it as a negative thing at all. Just wanted to give Kodner his due.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      I think Steve gushed about this song like immediately after we first pitched the column in an editorial meeting, though, so it absolutely needed to happen. He’s so passionate about this tune, guys.

      • HobbesMkii

        Why are the Game This Tunes so significantly shorter than the regular features? Not I’m suggesting they become long rambling pieces, but I’ve encountered music criticism on single songs that run for thousands of words. I often read these and feel like there could’ve been more to be said.

        • PaganPoet

          I’m gonna echo HobbesMkii here, but with a different suggestion. I would actually like it if the features highlighted 3 or 4 memorable tracks from the game.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Agreed.   Also, it’s called Title Music, not Title Screen.  http://vgmdb.net/album/5404  THIS MATTERS.

          Also, SOUNDTRACKS OF THE YEAR: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?p=46079299#post46079299 (Apologies for any bad prose. It’s just supposed to get people to click the links.) For people who complain about modern video game music being bad, check the topic out. Nert’s around here somewhere, too.

        • Citric

          @GhaleonQ:disqus Heh, I just finished Yakuza: Dead Souls.

          Weirdly, I didn’t really notice the music, maybe I should have paid more attention.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          It’s certainly not a question of there being potential for more in-depth criticism of game music, because you’re quite right that more could be said. It’s just a question of where we put our resources. Longer criticism takes more time, work, and money, and this was intended to be a short feature we could reliably drop in once a week—along the lines of Out This Week or the daily Sawbuck Gamer columns. I like Game That Tune as a fun, light read with a beautiful illustration every Thursday.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          @GhaleonQ:disqus It’s been called “Title BGM” on other releases. I don’t think it has an official name.

      • SteveHeisler

        I AM Kid Icarus!

        PS thanks for the kickass illustration, Derrick. They’re always great.

        • Drew Toal

          I’ll direct you to the calendar for my GTT contribution. GET EXCITED, HEISLER.

        • SteveHeisler

          @andrewtoal:disqus My dogmas are tingling.

        • Drew Toal

          I may get a quote or two from you and Anthony. 

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          YES, you (Drew) and Anthony have both been extremely enthusiastic about that one. Looking forward to it!

  • Brainstrain

    Some tracks from the new Kid Icarus are excellent, too.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVc6pY7njCA

    One of my favorites. It has an odd, jazzy thing going on, but it’s awesome.

  • Asinus

    I have a midi of this, it might be XG, and when played through good hardware (probably software, too) it’s really amazing. So many of these NES tunes were fantastically written and work well when “scaled up” to real instruments or more advanced hardware. I’m glad that there are people with great musical talent who recognized this and produced higher quality versions. 

  • Cat4Sale

    whatevs, I jus play this for free on Super Kid Icarus…

    http://home.comcast.net/~superkidicarus/

  • yam6765

    why not try super kid Icarus?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgMPGb5w4_8