Defending the Genesis Sound Chip

Growing up in during the 16-bit wars was a very interesting time.  The lines were drawn, you had to pick your side and stand your ground. What made this so much fun was the playground arguments this would spawn between friends about their console of choice.  This was entertaining, but with the advent of the anonymity of internet of forums today’s console wars are just flat out silly but still do provide some entertainment from time to time.

This boy was a Genesis kid.  Not because of some undying love for Sega or anything. It was simple my brother got a SNES first and I had to have a Genesis and that’s where my side was chosen.  Being an adult now and looking back on the large catalog of SNES games I missed in their heyday makes me sad but I don’t feel I made the wrong decision.  I played a ton of great games but missed out on an equal if not greater amount.  But with all of that behind and having caught up on those titles I feel I have a nice perspective on the conflict between the 2 systems.

However one argument that I seems arise from time to time among gaming websites and forums that was never brought up on the playground is the Genesis’ inferior sound chip compared to the SNES.  Some would even go so far as to say it was just flat out bad.  While I will freely admit that even as a young child the few Super Nintendo soundtracks I heard I thought were amazing, that doesn’t mean that the Genesis was no slouch either.  I will now present to the few who might stumble upon this blog the evidence that the Genesis sound chip could produce it’s own groovy tunes.

Exhibit A:  Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Emerald Hill Zone Start things off with a classic most have probably heard but maybe not fully appreciated.  Listen to that groovy bass line and infectious melody that in my humble opinion couldn’t sound much better.

Exhibit B: Rocket Knight Adventures – Stage 5-1 Rocket Knight has a great soundtrack all the way up to stage 5 but that’s when shit gets real.  This track is epic and matches the on screen action perfectly with Sparkster storming the pig capital on his rocket back while being attacked by giant missiles.  It also has an odd quality that I can’t quite put my finger on that most of the tracks will have too.

Exhibit C: Dynamite Headdy – Southtown Theme This track is a mess and I love it.  The beginning sounds nothing short of a big band with a xylophone and quickly morphs into several different quick songs I can’t even describe.  This song perfectly conveys the odd beast that is Dynamite Headdy, but it’s also a truly awesome beast as well.

Exhibit the 4th: Sonic & Knuckles – Lava Reed Zone Act 1 This is the second Sonic song on this list and I know that Sonic music for the most part isn’t under appreciated and is one of the few series of games on the Genesis where the music is praised.  This is one song I feel is greatly under appreciated in the pantheon of Sonic music.

Exhibit the Eth: Streets of Rage II – Wave 131 To prove that this list isn’t nostalgia tainted the next on my list will be songs that I’ve only recently heard.  The 1st being this funky tune from Streets of Rage II.  This song definitely embodies the 90’s arcade feel of music for me.  Yuzo Koshiro had a another masterpiece on his hands with this one.

Exhibit F: Golden Axe III – Ancient Mound Another game I never played as a child mostly because it didn’t actually come out beyond the Sega Channel.  But I did have the chance to play it on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and while the game isn’t that great this song stuck out to me.  I love the synth sounds used to create the melodies and how this track seems to escape the tinny sound that seems to be in most Genesis songs

Exhibit G: Sparkster – Level 1-1 This seems like a pretty bare bones song compared to some of the wacky epic songs that were in the 1st Rocket Knight but it sets the stage perfectly.  It has a very determined sound to it.  Sparkster had a princess to rescue and by golly he was gonna do it no matter how many Lizards got it in his way and this is the perfect song to embody it.  And for those of you wondering, yes I have heard the SNES version and yes I do like this one better.

Exhibit H : Sonic 3D Blast – Diamond Dust Zone Act 1 “Another Sonic theme!” you say, well relax because if the last one is under appreciated then this on is downright overlooked.  Listening to it now I’m still amazed at how much sound the engineers were able to pull out of the sound chip.  It sounds like so much is going on this song, more than there actually is and that’s awesome

Exhibit the last: Ristar – Rink Rink The last song is a song I can’t articulate why I like, it’s just a beautiful song.  I always tend to like ice levels in these old schools games and this is one the essential themes when I think about them today.


That’s my list, I could put plenty more up there but I wanted to keep it fairly short.  Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that most of what makes these songs great can be attributed to great composition and doesn’t have anything to do with the Genesis.  That’s true these songs are great because of excellent composition, the point I’m trying to get across is that if the Genesis sound chip was as bad as it’s made out to be these songs would be nothing more than excellent compositions that sound like complete crap.

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