Game That Tune

Kick Out The Jams

The music from International Karate is equal parts beautiful and exploitative, just the way we liked our ’80s karate!

By Derrick Sanskrit • May 23, 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).

Travel back with me to a simpler time. The time of Top Gun and Peter Cetera. The time of Happy Pants and Ray-Bans. The year is 1986, and Western civilization still sees the martial arts as something mysterious and romantic. Kung fu entered our lexicon thanks to the eponymous ’70s TV drama starring David Carradine, but karate was still a new concept to most Americans—many of whom got their first glimpse of it in the 1984 blockbuster The Karate Kid. Suddenly, martial arts were a thing that anybody could try, especially weak little boys sick of being bullied after school. Of course there had to be a video game about the rising karate trend, and—at the very least—the music was interesting.

This tune is epic, a singular story passing through movements like a tai chi master transitioning from white crane pose to cloud hands. A slow methodical romance makes way for high-intensity action and a quick temper-check to cool our hot heads. The Commodore 64‘s legendary SID sound chip goes through the motions of our ’80s understanding of “The Orient,” with echoing synth stabs emulating the plucked strings of a qinqin and warbled triangle waves standing in for a bowed erhu. Lest we think we’ve actually drifted away to a Shinto temple, though, a deep square bass keeps us planted in the here and now, with “here” being the West and “now” being the thick of the 1980s and its impending Jean-Claude van Damme love affair. Straddling that line between mystery and bombast is the percussion, which uses a flurry of coarse clicks and pops to build a chorus of aggression and restrained violence.

Thanks to reader Greg Cushing for the suggestion, and for calling us “sexy”!

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27 Responses to “Kick Out The Jams”

  1. Girard says:

    That is some SWAAAANK extruded pixel art, Derrick.

  2. Rob Hubbard!

    “Thing on a Spring” is probably my favourite.

  3. Chalkdust says:

    I love how each sound chip from this era has its own distinct personality.  Though most chiptune bands have glommed onto the NES and Game Boy hardware, there’s a metal band from Sweden called “Machinae Supremacy” that uses the SID chip alongside live instrumentation.

    Their vocalist’s style is a bit of an acquired taste, but if you’re curious, maybe start with Fury, Force Feedback or Player One, which has some awesome Zelda II: Adventure of Link-esque riffing about a minute in (it should be pretty apparent that these guys embrace digital culture).

  4. Sleverin says:

    This isn’t exactly chiptunes, but I swear to God this is the Mario underwater theme from…3 maybe?  And Zelda’s Fairy Fountain theme combined into one:

    I also love this artist, the two albums I have of his are pretty good.  Though I don’t know how many people here like Shibuya-kei music, I can make a solid recommendation on his first two albums.

    • Chalkdust says:

      Hooray for knowledge of Fantastic Plastic Machine and proper identification of Shibuya-kei!

      • Sleverin says:

         I need more Shibuya-kei music to be honest.  I’ve been looking for something other than Pizzicato Five, FPM, and Buffalo Daughter.  Not slamming them or anything, but I would love some more of that genre.  That and some more music like The World Ends With You soundtrack.  I can’t get enough of that!

      • Sleverin says:

         It’s nice to see that one of the related channel links has art from Yoshitomo Nara, a new favorite artist of mine.  Thanks for the link!

  5. Eco1970 says:

    Rob Hubbard is awesome. My best mate and I would buy games kust because he did the misic for them.

    Gameological should do other C64 game tunes too – Zoids had an awesome tune, and the ZX Spectrum version of Shadowhunter (which we played the hell out of back in the day, I wonder if it’d still stand up) is also great.