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).
It’s almost unfair. Actually, a lot of people have called it exactly that—“unfair.” Silver Surfer is remembered for being one of the most unforgiving games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The waves of relentless interplanetary baddies would be no big deal if it weren’t for the Surfer’s one-hit deaths. Yes, once anything touched you, game over. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense considering the shimmering starwanderer was endowed with the Power Cosmic from Galactus himself. In the Marvel comic books, the Silver Surfer can rearrange matter on an atomic level, has God-like strength, is invulnerable, and is cosmically aware. He can see people who are a light year away, and he can peer between sub-atomic particles right in front of his face. Nobody and nothing can sneak up on the guy, let alone hit him. But that would be much more of a challenge for game programmers, so sure, let’s just have him die in one hit. As a result of this difficulty, pretty much nobody has played through the whole game and had the opportunity to experience Tom and Geoff Follin’s wonderful score in its entirety. Thankfully, you only need to hit the power button to hear the best part, right there on the title screen.
Like the rest of the game, the music has next to nothing to do with the source material. Silver Surfer is a solemn and lonely wanderer, forced away from his home and his love forever. This soundtrack is all about bumping and grinding while bowling under the blacklight—which is awesome. There are the ping-pong bounces of laser beams with their echoing pew-pew-pews, the warbled arpeggios of teleporters and starship engines, and the swirling synths of a thousand galaxies lit up like an overzealous Christmas light show. Underneath it all is a persistent drum and bass intent on militaristically hunting you down and destroying you like so many star systems before the devourer of planets.
Even now, more than two decades after the game’s release, as “chiptune” has become an international music movement, this song of electronic badassery stands out. More than a piece of video game music, it’s a fascinating moment in electronic music altogether. Synthpop had already been introduced just a few years prior by the likes of Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, but this was still years before Daft Punk would make it acceptable for electronic music to be seen as anything more than inoffensive dancehall pop. Here, in a largely forgettable licensed NES game, the brothers Follin threw away any conceived notions of what was “acceptable” and created something stunning in its place. And they put their best foot forward, because they rightly knew people might never get past that first step.