Game That Tune

The Swing In His Step

Not even Sonic The Hedgehog could outrun the prominence of new jack swing in the 1990s.

By Derrick Sanskrit • May 2, 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).

Remember the 1990s? Pump sneakers and Flintstones Push-Up sherbet? Zubaz pants and fade haircuts? Remember new jack swing, that sweet soulful mix of hip-hop and R&B with smooth vocal harmonies, insistent-but-non-threatening percussion, and a fondness for samples? It was the modern production trickery behind such hits as Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly,” Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” and, of course, Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” New jack swing was the sound of the ’90s. It penetrated pop culture, influencing the fashion and films of its era thanks to tastemakers like Will Smith and John Singleton. So, of course, the most ’90s video game mascot of all had to have a new jack swing phase too.

“Mystic Cave Zone” from Sonic The Hedgehog 2 combines the soulful off-beat swagger of new jack swing with wet reverb-heavy synths to create a vibe that is simultaneously spooky and funky, artificial with a touch of organic. It matches the juxtaposition of the level’s dank jungle-adventure aesthetic with Robotnik’s army of cute forest creatures trapped inside soulless killing machines. The song saunters along without a care in the world. The rubber-band bass shuffles in place, knowing that it’s got the good stuff and everyone who wants it can come and get it. The crystal synths punctuate with the briefest of staccato stabs, leaving plenty of room for flourish. They’re like the In Living Color fly girls, kicking a leg out every now and then to keep your eye from wandering. The centerpiece that makes “Mystic Cave Zone” work, though, are those steadfast drums, keeping the whole production legit ‘90s with their unrelenting positivity. It’s so funky fresh, you’ve just got to break out your parachute pants and bust some moves. Just stay away from The Running Man. That move never looked cool, and it’s insulting to real runners—runners like a certain spiny blue mammal.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

9 Responses to “The Swing In His Step”

  1. Uncle Roundy says:

    Besides the music, Sonic 2 also had remnants of that awkward early-90s visual aesthetic, most notably Oil Ocean Zone with its garish purples and greens and oranges. It’s easy to forget that the 90s looked more or less like the 80s until about 1993.