Harking right back to my coin-op days through to hanging around our local Sega Park growing up, part of my affinity for video game music was born from loving anthemic arcade themes. Big synths, huge overprocessed drum machines, dramatic arps and triumphant keys. The shoot-em-up genre was great for this, especially in the early to mid-1990s and this is the inspiration for +TEK. The Polish composer has created a catchy and celebratory masterpiece with “Ex-Zodiac Original Soundtrack Vol.1”.
The first half of this Space Harrier / Star Fox retro throwback game was released into early access last month. Matching its fast-paced visuals and visceral speed is its soundtrack. Put simply, everything is brimming. From the menu track “Signs of the Zodiac” we get a chipbrass synth that declares the main theme and anthem, which gets a slightly chilled rework for the stage select. That is the only time there is anything remotely mid-tempo though – the rest plays out like a 1990’s Japanese arcade machine. The tom drum rock of “Solace Tomorrow” sets a dramatic pace and reminds me of Zuntata themes and a little bit of Sonic too. “Data Harrier” is an aggressive salute as it playful eludes to Space Harrier’s main theme before changing some chords and notes and then doing its own thing. +TEK seems very aware of their shmup heritage and plays that into several themes respectfully.
The soundtrack alternatives between stage theme and boss theme but each one is catchy, energetic and melodic. Often the boss theme touches lightly on part of the stage theme’s melody but they feel like distant cousins rather than songs sisters. The soundtrack also feels cohesive as a whole even though the chipsets change up throughout. “Great Ancient Sands” has such a catchy hook that I’ve genuinely had the track on repeat several times without wanting it to stop. Its comedic Duckula-esque b-movie organs and Arabian melody are what game music was designed for. “Atlantic Blue” has a fantastically bombastic bass line slap that is vintage Mega Drive era. Elsewhere tracks like “Gemini Crusher”, “Engine Overdrive” and “Remnants of Celestial” evoke mascot platformer themes with a shoot-em-up synth rock edge.
If you have any nostalgia over 90’s arcades, Mascot platformers or quintessential video game music, +TEK’s “Ex Zodiac” is one of my favourite game music soundtracks to have been released for some time. It is 50 minutes of high-octane thrills that doesn’t pause for breath or compromise its melodic integrity. A mid-year contender for the best VGM soundtrack of 2022.
Recommended track: Great Ancient Sands
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