I’ve got that bug back. The video game bug. In addition to the Super Nintendo Classic Edition I threw some Christmas money at, a recent Kickstarter campaign is bringing back the old cartridge format that I grew up loving, with a new Genesis/Megadrive game titled Xeno Crisis. Does this have any relevance to a music blog? You’re damn right, it does! Savaged Regime is handling the score to this shootem-up, and the guy knows his way around a sound chip, let me tell you.
Music soundtracks are one of the key factors in setting the atmosphere of a game. Without any background music in a game, it seems incomplete, at least with games in the past thirty-odd years anyway. The musical accompaniment to games can come in the form of original scores (such as Nobuo Uematsu’s majestic Final Fantasy themes), a collection of existing songs, and several games in the X-Box era of consoles introduced the idea of customizable soundtracks that allowed gamers to put their favourite songs into select games. No matter how you slice it, music and games are intertwined, and in my opinion, they should always be. So it should be no surprise that some musicians would eventually go on to become the stars of video games themselves.
Many musicians spend time developing either a sound or a look that give them an almost other-worldly vibe that could naturally lend itself to the world of gaming. I could see shock-rockers such as Alice Cooper or King Diamond thrusted into the digitized gothic worlds portrayed in the Castlevania series, or even (to go less mainstream) Chakan: The Forever Man. How about the lads in Devo whipping their way through a River City Ransom style beat’em up? A B-52s-themed flight simulator? My computer programming skills are far too primitive to create such games for my own enjoyment, so I have to make due with what is already in existence. I’ve had exposure to a number of games that feature musicians prominently in them, so I’d like to talk about some of these games, and give my personal insights and experiences surrounding them. Let’s start with Revolution X.
I originally heard of this game through a friend in high school. It was one of the first times I had ever heard of a musician or band starring in their own video game, though I had probably been aware of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style around that same time. This was in the early 2000s, when video game emulation of console games was becoming highly popular on computers, so this made for a rapid discovery of games we overlooked or couldn’t afford as kids. My friend told me not so much about how the game plays, but more on how the band worked their way into the plot. In particular, he mentioned one cut scene in which singer Steven Tyler tosses you the keys to Aerosmith’s car (which I guess the band all shared for penny-pinching reasons).
I wasn’t a big Aerosmith fan around that time because I mostly knew of them from their pop ballad phase in the 90s, learning to slow dance to the likes of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ as an awkward eighth grader. It was until around my senior year in high school that I got a beat-up vinyl copy of Toys In The Attic, and discovered these Boston boys could legitimately rock hard. Still, the idea of this game piqued my interest. I’m not quite sure why, but I wouldn’t put secretly pining for an Alicia Silverstone / Liv Tyler appearance past me at the time.
I never got in the habit of using emulators regularly, so I waited a bit on grabbing this game, and eventually acquired the PC port in a bundle of games my dad picked up at either an auction or flea market. I thought it was a novel concept, but I doubt I played it any more than five times. However, I did grab the Sega Genesis port within the last year.
I could tell right away that this version was, in a way, inferior to the PC disc I possessed a decade earlier. In both versions, you get Aerosmith’s music playing along with you. This is where the most obvious differences can be found, along with the darker colour palette. On the PC, I can distinctly remember the song ‘Eat The Rich’ playing through the opening level when you are in the nightclub. The Genesis version makes deciphering their songs into more of a guessing game. You get the songs to the best of the programmer’s ability to translate it. While my ears can identify ‘Rag Doll’, the ability to mimic the electric guitar still comes across sounding like a warm fart.
The plot is both simple and convoluted all at once. You basically have an organization, the New Order Nation (N.O.N.), that wants to pick on the youth by getting rid of all the fun things that they hold near and dear. The first thing on their evil deeds checklist is abducting Aerosmith, a band that (ironically) the typical arcade goer’s parents would have held in higher esteem than the gamers themselves. Anyhow, you travel across the world to thwart this organization and their leader, Head Mistress Helga (portrayed by the same woman that modelled as Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat 3, Kerri Hoskins), and help put an end to the various prison camps and mind-control tactics that N.O.N. have introduced on a world-wide scale.
Not much is mentioned about how N.O.N. arose to their intimidating and oppressive stature, other than it being an alliance between government and big business, the two of which of course are never bedfellows in the real world. But really, the plot of this game isn’t too important because it’s not as if it is needed to critically think your way through the levels. Basically, you are shooting at building exteriors and vehicles for most of the game. Oh, and at bikini-clad hostages, who are also played by Kerri Hoskins.
One of the most enduring references to this game comes in the form of the slogan “Music Is The Weapon!”. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a band, is it? If you want baddies to cower in fear over a barrage of tunes, there would be more effective ways of doing so. Aerosmith’s grooves are infectious!! I’d think something along the lines of ‘Buried Secrets’ by Painkiller is more likely to clear out a room than ‘Love In An Elevator’, but that’s just the average music connoisseur talking.
Keeping that slogan in mind, yes, music is the weapon! Amongst your arsenal are compact discs that you can launch towards enemies. If we’re to assume that these CDs are Aerosmith albums, encouraging their use as projectile objects is an innovative way to help boost their album sales. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen beat-up copies of Get A Grip that look like they’ve been used as drink coasters or scratching posts, but now I know that they could potentially be relics of the epic Revolutionary X War of 19XX.
I remember the Middle East stage of the game always game me difficulty. I’m not sure I ever advanced past it because I don’t remember playing the final stage of the game, which takes place in Wembley Stadium. The object of this level is to stop a bus from taking people to a re-orientation camp. Thankfully, you can select between the Amazon Jungle, Middle East, and Pacific Rim levels in any order you choose, allowing you to save this hair-pulling passage to the end. It didn’t help me much because if I was their last hope, those kids would be licking Helga’s street-walking boots as we speak.
Speaking of Helga, I never did had the pleasure of fighting her in the game since she is the final boss. As much as some misogynists out there would have delighted in bloodying up this strong, powerful female (granted, I’m pretty sure she’d deserve it), they wouldn’t quite get the chance to do so. As much as I don’t like referencing movies I haven’t seen, a The Crying Game-like twist would lead to an unexpected showdown.
An interesting rumour regarding Revolution X was that Public Enemy were either the original planned stars of the game or considered for a sequel (internet articles on the subject are lacking in detail), which relieves me to hear that it was yet another band with a steady career under their belts that was considered. It’s not like they’d give Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch a video game, right?
Speaking specifically for the Sega Genesis port, this would have been an ideal game to play with the Menacer accessory. There were only two games released in North America that made use of this light gun (T2: The Arcade Game and the 6-in-1 game cartridge that was bundled with it), so the public were surely hungry for another one. The arcade version had the guns, but did any of the home editions think of including it? Not from what I’ve seen. Without it, Revolution X feels somewhat broken.
While arguably not even in the league of the 8-bit console first-person shooters like Duck Hunt or Hogan’s Alley, any Aerosmith fan could find a small place in their heart for Revolution X. It can join your collection for the cost of a few cups of coffee, so not a bad price for a good laugh. You could do worse for a video game, but you can do much better.