๐ŸŽผ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ“€ Sparkster Vinyl Review ๐ŸŽผ๐Ÿ’ฟ๐Ÿ“€ @blackscreenrec #Vinyl #VGMVinyl

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I’m a big fan of the Mega Drive sound chip. There’s a snappiness and rawness that really pops out on vinyl and appeals to me on an almost genetic level and, combined with the Konami Sound Team’s (Konami Kukeiha Club) understanding of the chip...wizardry can ensue, as is the case with some tracks on Sparkster.

Released in 1994 and known as Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 in other regions but as simply Sparkster in NA and EU territories, the game is a 2D side-scrolling action-platformer that follows directly on from the original game, meaning that hero Sparkster once again has to brandish his sword in the face of ropey Rocket Knight Axel Gear.

Very well-received at the time of release, the timeless 2D aesthetic and gameplay mean that it’s still a tasty game to play now, ageing as it has – gracefully. The way in which this soundtrack is compiled feels very much like it’s designed to appeal specifically to fans of the game, as there are several shorter passages such as the first tracks (Opening Title, Keys to the Seals, Splash Screen and Stage Start) which are only a few seconds in length. As the tracklisting is sequential with the events of the game, it definitely conjures nostalgia as you can almost roll through the Mega Drive start-up sequences in your mind as the needle drops.

Presented on a crystal-clear vinyl with the front and rear album cover replicated on the inner centre artwork, the cover artwork itself will probably be divisive as it’s a hand-drawn representation of the game cover but with added detail in a more realistic style, created by Rob Charleton. I was more drawn to the back cover as it’s more psychedelic and reminded me of a ‘90s graphic novel vibe – included with the record is a MASSIVE pull-out poster of the artwork.

As mentioned above, the first few tracks are mood setters and cover the boot-up sequence and initial introduction. Marching drums over midi- fanfare is the order of the day before the album kicks into (Axel) gear with the first full-length track, Kidnapped Princess Cherry. Those military snare rolls are back but this time supplying the rhythm to an almost Castlevania-Esque ominous piece; with twinkling, descending notes galore. Following this is Ancient Ruins which really gave me a sense of a hero embarking on an epic journey, running through fields, chopping down enemies with a sword in hand, an early favourite of mine! Forest continues this theme, keeping the same basic tune and melody but altering the instrumentation to give a more low-end driven result. Desert Pyramids was also an early stand out as I liked the constantly shifting tempo and midi-bass action, there’s an Eastern vibe in this one – as the title would suggest – but it still riffs on that cartoonish positivity that permeated the early tracks, gotta love the midi tom rolls here, glorious things. Air Battle changes things right up with a panicking drum beat over metallic, classic Mega Drive riffage. It’s not all ‘boss theme’ though, the middle section opens up really nicely to give some space. Again, the snappiness of those drums, it’s all Mega Drive gold, baby, the bass line also plays some sneaky seventh notes and keeps the groove.

Next up is High-Speed Robot Battle. It’s full-on boss theme time. A psychedelic organ theme takes centre stage over double kick drums and a frenetic theme that can only conjure to mind a teeth-gritting boss fight. It’s so cool to hear a rolling keyboard solo in midi form.

The Battle of Gedol again returns to the themes touched upon in Ancient Ruins and Forest. It’s very, very similar and again calls to mind our hero again taking off over plains in a continuation of his journey after defeating a boss, it doesn’t add to the sonic variation but it does fit the nostalgic narrative sensibility that the album is going for. As we reach the end of the first side, I’d like to say how glad I am that the songs fade out. I’ve heard a few examples on other records where tracks cut off in the loop and it’s pretty jarring. The fades here are tasty, well-timed and the album is beautifully pressed.

Side B kicks off with Middle Boss, a pretty unusual track with bassy, swirling effects over an energetic melody that alternates between that ominousness, more psychedelia and Eastern trills, it’s a punchy track that feels always on the move! Boss is the next track and this one brings back the marching drums before settling into some nice keyboard work and a sound that called to mind Splatterhouse 2 – another game with great music – and you could be forgiven for thinking that this one was taken from a 16-bit horror game. https://blackscreenrecords.com/products/sparkster-rocket-knight-adventures-2-original-soundtrack and Stage Clear are a couple more interval tracks before Battle with Axel Gear rips in with driving drums, blasts of descending fanfare and some held, shimmering notes. Again, it’s got a surprising darkness with a touch of unusualness that makes it stand out. Battle with King Gedol very much continues this, adding a more epic touch and a ‘90s pulsing electronic beat that drops in and out over a drumbeat that alternates between a slow groove and a dance beat. Defeated King Gedol is another intermission track before a celebratory fanfare introduces Return of Princess Cherry - a piece of music that puts a smile on your face. Ending Credits is a chiming, upbeat number that reminded me of Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship...which is something I’ve never said before about music in the VGM genre.

Return of the Sword circles back to the military snare work and a reaching fanfare with some twinkling over the top that very much signals the album end is close and is followed by Continue, Password (a longer, dreamier track than I was expecting for a password screen!) and Game Over to round off the album.

Sparkster is definitely a memorable album as it feels different from others I’ve come across. Not a selection of curated tracks nor a more mood-driven, hypnotic album like A Short Hike; Sparkster crams all the music from the game onto a record and feels designed very specifically towards hardcore fans of the original, hence the fanart style of the cover.

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