Saturday, September 03, 2016

Soundtrack September: Klax

Game: Klax (1990)
Platform: NES*
Composers: LX Rudis & Dave O'Riva

* Klax was released for multiple home formats as well as the arcade, but this entry is about the unique music from the Nintendo Entertainment System version in particular.

In early 1989 Atari Games read the writing on the wall. The writing said, in essence: You're about to lose your legal battle with Nintendo over your NES port of Tetris. Sure enough, in the summer of that year, Tengen (Atari's home console game brand) would be compelled to recall and destroy thousands of Tetris cartridges.

In anticipation of this inevitability, Atari set forth to carve out its own slice of the puzzle game market, this time in the arcade, with the tile-stacking game Klax, which was released in February of 1990. The game's attract demo boldly announced that "IT IS THE NINETIES AND THERE IS TIME FOR...[cut to gigantic title screen]." The unique slogan, along with hip visual and sound design (the game reacted to player achievements with samples of what sounds like a Valley girl cooing her approval) made an arcade spectacle out of what was, at its core, a Tetris wannabe without much to it.

The success of the arcade machine, however, was just the prologue to the story of the soundtrack I want to highlight. Atari followed up in quick order by releasing home console ports of the game through Tengen, placing Alex "Lx" Rudis and Dave O'Riva in charge of the music for the NES and Lynx ports. The two musicians fancied themselves a unit and called themselves BugSuk.

Seeking to emulate the speed metal that their co-workers on the programming team were listening to at work, Rudis and O'Riva pushed the boundaries of what 8-bit music was "supposed to sound like," creating a brand of industrial noise that would never be duplicated in any game. The Valley girl voice samples also found their way into the NES port, creating a too-cool-for-school sonic attitude that would be more memorable than the tile-stacking gameplay.

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