It has been a long time coming but The OneUps have finally released their second album, The OneUps Volume 2. The OneUps specialize in rearranging video game music. At first glance the thought of video game music, let alone playing it live, seems horrifying; however, the secret to The OneUps’ success is that they are able to take these songs (many of which are very basic) and turn them into something that can rival any popular kind of music. Gamers and music lovers alike will find The OneUps to be a ton of fun to listen to and may also discover a whole new appreciation for music. It is rare to find an album that has such a great respect for convention while at the same time flipping it on its head. The OneUps have been able to do the impossible by turning video game music into something that anyone can enjoy.
Instead of going at the album as a whole, we are going to look at each track individually. The OneUps Volume 2 is broken up into two disks and each contains 13 tracks. There are 26 tracks in total on the album. Basically, the formatting of this review will follow the same guide as the review of The OneUps Volume 1. Now, let’s get down to business!
I. Title Screen – Mario Paint – 10/10
The first song on the album, you’ve got to nail it or the rest of it will fall flat. With a simple name like “Title Screen” you get the sense that it could go either way. Things start of very simply with some cartoony guitar strumming and it does everything right. If you don’t smile during this song you must have a heart of ice. Eventually the actual melody kicks in, keeping with the song’s very simplistic architecture. There is a good bit of explanation when it comes to the source of this tune. Mario Paint had a very unique title screen filled with all sorts of oddities and secrets. The song reflects this in its presentation, sounding as if something is just slightly off-kilter; as well, there is a feeling of over saturation within the notes which really helps bring things together. Simply put, this song is fantastic and was a perfect choice as an album opener.
II. Punch-Out!! – Punch-Out!! – 9/10
Perhaps one of the most popular games on the Nintendo, Punch-Out!! was a rite of passage for an entire generation. Even today the game stands strong as both a work of art and a test of skill. The arrangement captures the epic feel of the game flawlessly and will make you feel as if you could take on Mike Tyson yourself (Do not attempt to take on Mike Tyson yourself). One place where this arrangement is especially successful is how well it fits with similar songs. For example, play this song and the theme from Rocky back to back; they both channel the same emotion and that is a feat. The attention to detail in this song is really something to behold and can’t be ignored.
III. Green Hill Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog – 8/10
Who can forget the iconic music from the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog? He was Mario’s chief rival and the fastest furry rodent around (with a little help from Blast Processing of course). The OneUps stick fairly close to the original score throughout and have a couple great solos mid-way through. They did a very good job at breaking up the monotony that is inherent in most video game music and also add a nice personal touch. Unlike the previous two songs, Green Hill Zone is the first Jazzy song on the Album and demonstrates The OneUps’ mastery over the genre.
IV. Music A (Korobeniki) – Tetris – 10/10
Let’s start this one off with a very blunt assessment of the world we live in. I defy you to show me someone who has NOT played Tetris in some way, shape, or form. It’s a fact of life, fish have to swim, birds have to fly, and humans have to play Tetris. Some consider it the only true perfect game and I’ve yet to find anyone to refute that point. But I’m just rambling a bit now so let’s talk about the song. It, like the game it comes from, is as flawless as it can be. This song has been redone hundreds, maybe even thousands of times and The OneUps have managed to blow all of the rest out of the water. It is a mash up between a high energy wedding dance (You know, the ones where they carry people around on chairs) and a bunch of people having a hell of a time doing what they love. Simply put, Korobeniki is one of the best offerings on the album.
V. Into the Thick of It – Secret of Mana – 8/10
Secret of Mana is one of those games that has the dubious title of “best game nobody played”. The people who have played it though usually love it. For this track, The OneUps chose one of the game’s most prominent melodies. It is a very upbeat song and feels as if it’s always moving forward. The instruments blend together seamlessly and all in all provide a very immersive experience. You will be drawn in by the sound of this song, it’s something wholly unique.
VI. Air Man – Mega Man 2 – 8/10
At long last the Blue Bomber makes his appearance on The OneUps’ roster. Well… Air Man does, at least. The OneUps have brought the song down to a slower speed than the original and it seems to have worked well. Air Man is a versatile song that covers a lot of ground with several different instruments. The various instrument combinations are also something that should not be overlooked. As a whole, Air Man is a very tight arrangement that does everything right. Still, it does suffer slightly from the aforementioned repetitive nature of video game music; though, it is doubtful that anything more could have been done without breaking the integrity of the song.
VII. Mii Channel – Nintendo Wii – 9/10
Your eyes are not deceiving you, the next track is the Mii Channel song! The star of this arrangement is the violin and it does wonders to the original composition. Mii Channel is very simple when compared with the other songs on the album but it is also extraordinarily elegant. It’s got a smart kind of sound and chances are most people would never assume it was from a video game. Whether or not it could actually replace the original is another question altogether. While they are both very simplistic, Mii Channel is slightly too advanced and busy for the actual channel on the Nintendo Wii; however, as listening music it is very near perfect.
VIII. Boomer Kuwanger – Mega Man X – 10/10
My word, more Blue Bomber! Yeah, they really went wild this time around and gave us as much Mega Man as we could handle. Boomer Kuwanger sounds as if it fell right out of the smooth jazz station on the radio. It’s sleek and sexy and you can’t help but be drawn to it. Cool is the word of the hour here, this is one of those songs that relaxes your mind and energizes your soul. There is some really deep stuff at work in this piece, the only way I can describe is that it is like squares and rectangles. If you’re looking for the best song on the album, this is it.
IX. Brinstar – Super Metroid – 7/10
Brinstar is an interesting song. It’s all over the place and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. There are definitely some really cool repeating elements and the solos are pretty great but something about it just seems to fall flat. It’s nothing that I can really put my finger on, but compared to the rest of the album this song appears as a weak link. Still, it’s a good piece of work and worthy of inclusion in Volume 2.
X. Funky Goblin – King Arthur’s World – 8/10
Now we’re getting back into the swing of things! Funky Goblin is just what you’d expect. It’s an ultra-cool sounding song with a lot of character. You’ll have to resist the urge to get up and dance when the Goblin comes calling. The OneUps are in the zone during this song. Everything that could go right goes right and the end result is like a dance mix and a jazz track crashing into one another and fusing together.
XI. Time of the Falling Rain – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – 8/10
Jazz jazz jazz! I guess it isn’t strange that many of the songs have a jazzy feel, The OneUps specialize in it after all. Time of the Falling Rain is a rebirth of the original score which appears to have been torn limb from limb and reassembled into a rather upbeat tune. It suffers a bit from being repetitive but it’s such a catchy tune that it can be ignored for the most part. The coolest part of the song comes at the end when The OneUps go back to the gloomy and mysterious tones that dominated the original. One of the more versatile songs on the album, Time of the Falling Rain shines through as a compelling and unique addition.
XII. Vega – Street Fighter – 6/10
Time for a brisk change in pace. Vega takes us away from the slew of jazzy songs and throws us into the middle of a Spanish-sounding melody complete with castanets (You know, those clicky-clicky things)! The song takes on a somber tone but moves at a fairly steady clip. Sad one minute and upbeat the next, Vega doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s a great song in its own right; however, it feels slightly out of place. For those of you familiar with The OneUps’ previous album, Vega is Volume 2′s Koopa’s Theme. Still, it is a very good song and it can’t be overlooked. The violin work is impeccable and the guitar is fantastic. Kudos to whoever had the quick fingers to use the castanets as well!
XIII. Prelude – Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – 8/10
It seems like we’re closing out disk one on a downer! Prelude is a slow song but a deep song. From the very beginning there is a mysterious air about it. You really feel as if you were standing within the yawning vestibule of Dracula’s castle. At some points everything seems hopeful, yet there is an ever-present and ominous sense of foreboding throughout. The song serves well as the final track of the first disk. It brings you down and allows you some time to catch your breath. While really very different than the rest of the tracks on the album, Prelude fits in quite well and sets up disk two perfectly.
Alright, that does it for the first half of the album! After the phenomenal display put on in disk one, we’re ready to move on to disk two. Will it be able to maintain the momentum created in disk one? Let’s find out!
I. Title BGM – Metroid – 8/10
Again we find ourselves at the first track and again we find ourselves listening to a title screen track. Title BGM is a blast and a half. It is the eerie sound of Metroid coupled with a smart and sassy jazz motif. The simplistic sounds of the original are also recreated and pull the listener into the song. One thing that The OneUps are especially good at is making something from nothing. The original version of Title BGM is so basic and so simple. It is baffling how The OneUps were able to recreate it so faithfully and still manage to flesh it out to such an extent. Title BGM fills its time slot as well, running right on into the next track.
II. Terra – Final Fantasy VI – 8/10
Terra is a super-hip recreation of a gaming standard. It stays very faithful to the original and is easy on the ears. There’s some great solo work toward the middle of the song and it moves smoothly from one solo to the next. That is one of the things that this arrangement really has going for it, everything flows as it should. Even the end, which takes a slightly different direction, fits in well with everything that came before it. Terra never overstays its welcome and seems to have found the perfect balance between run-time and repetition.
III. Alien Break Down – ToeJam & Earl – 10/10
Continuing a recurring theme in disk two, there is no breathing room between Terra and Alien Break Down. The two songs run into one another and help keep things moving at a brisk and exciting pace. Alien Break Down sounds a lot like one of those old funk songs from the 60s and 70s and that is not a bad thing. It keeps with the funky style prevalent throughout much of ToeJam & Earl and gets the juices flowing. There’s just something about this song that is irresistible. It can’t be played just once and don’t be surprised if you find yourself listening to it over and over again.
VI. Professor Oyama’s Laboratory – Luigi’s Mansion – 9/10
We break from the previous songs and go into the offbeat and spooky world of Luigi’s Mansion with Professor Oyama’s Laboratory. The bassline is the kind that just keeps marching on, paying no heed to anything around it. This song’s centerpiece is the saxophone which is stellar throughout and somewhat addicting. Adding to the spook factor is The OneUps’ signature violin sound. The whole thing is a strange mix between the bizarre and the mundane. Professor Oyama’s Laboratory is going to send shivers down your spine and get your fingers tapping.
V. Fortuna – StarFox – 9/10
Picking up where the last song left off, Fortuna takes what was established there and builds upon it. A small bit of mystique remains but much of it is done away with in exchange for a more modern sound. There is some amazing skill on display in this song. Every note works with what came before it and complements everything that comes after. Another important role of this song is to kick off a big block of sound. It’s the first track in a series of four and it sets the listener up for an experience they won’t soon forget.
VI. The Silence of the Daylight – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – 8/10
Coming off of the last song, which was a bit more low key, it comes as no surprise that The Silence of the Daylight is similar! It clocks in as the second song in a block of four and it is probably the weakest of the bunch. Chalk it up to being the middle child, if you will. You’re definitely going to be treated to a wide range of sound during this song. Unfortunately The Silence of the Daylight is lost in a bit of a haze; as well, it also tries to do too many things. It’s a jack of all trades, but a master of none; however, to quote Adam Savage, still better than a master of one.
VII. Dungeon Medley – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – 9/10
Style is the best word to describe the final track in the mighty block of four. Right off the bat it hits you with a strong bassline that gets you in the proper mood. Since it is a medley, there are a couple songs being played. Each song uses a different assortment of instruments. The first relies on the strong bassline and some amazing acoustic work; whereas, the second is dominated by another strong bassline, the drums, and the saxophone. As with some of the other songs on the album, Dungeon Medley knows itself very well. It does not go on longer than it should and wraps up at precisely the right time. Dungeon Medley is a strong ending to the series and one of the best tracks on the album.
VIII. Underground BGM – Super Mario Bros. 2 – 8/10
So how do you follow such a great block of music and still come off looking good? Simple, make another block of great music! Underground BGM kicks off a mini-block of two songs and doesn’t hold anything back. The song’s funky beat and cool sound just ooze character. Not only that, but you can’t miss the sexy sax sound that pervades the song’s incredible peaks and valleys. Listeners of this song beware, the catchy tune is bound to be stuck in your head for weeks!
IX. Chrono Trigger – Chrono Trigger – 9/10
Chrono Trigger is a game renown for both its story and its soundtrack. It’s score is a favorite of gamers, remixers, and audiophiles alike. The smooth sounds of Chrono Trigger (the song) are both relaxing and engaging. As it plays all of the world’s problems seem to melt away. The gentle sound that The OneUps have put together is deceiving though. Beneath the surface is a song that is dire and forceful and waiting for the opportunity to strike. Chrono Trigger is a masterful arrangement and a song that everyone will like.
X. Mystic Cave Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – 8/10
Sonic’s the name, speed’s my game! It’s time to revisit the Sonic universe, this time with the zany sounds of Mystic Cave Zone. This arrangement is the result of a fine blending between the old school video game sound and the high caliber production values of The OneUps. In all honesty, the sound of Mystic Cave Zone is a bit eerie and uneasy. You kind of want to get away, like if you don’t move fast enough something may come and get you. Coincidentally enough, speed is what the actual game was all about so it seems like the song and the arrangement accomplish their mission. There’s also a Ghostbusters vibe in the later portions of the song that is pretty cool.
XI. Sagat – Street Fighter 2 – 6/10
Continuing immediately where the last track leaves off, Sagat gets off to a running start. Its fast-paced beat and whimsical nature is invigorating. Still, the track as a whole leaves something to be desired. It’s slightly repetitious and doesn’t go anywhere after all is said and done. It seems like the Street Fighter songs don’t work too well with The OneUps’ style. Sagat is a good song but it is not up to par with the rest of the album.
XII. Shadow Man – Mega Man 3 – 8/10
Shadow Man more than makes up for whatever the previous track lacked. That is not surprising though, The OneUps seem to have a thing for Mega Man music as they’ve consistently hit it out of the park. It’s cool and in your face and just a ton of fun to listen to. The beat is brisk and nice and it gets those feet tapping almost immediately. There’s some very cool elements to this song. It is as if every weapon in The OneUps’ arsenal was used in its production and it shows! From beginning to end, Shadow Man is chock full of energy and leaves a good taste in your mouth long after it has stopped playing.
XIII. African Mines – DuckTails – 9/10
Here we are at the end of the line, so what better way to commemorate it than by taking a trip down into the mines? Hopefully you weren’t expecting to stay in one place for long because African Mines is a fast-paced jog, in one end and out the other. This song is very good and a fantastic way to close out the album. It’s got a great hook and does the listener good by maintaining itself throughout. If you’re looking at the track in a media player you may notice that it is nearly ELEVEN MINUTES LONG! It’s all a trick though, hidden at the end of the track (after a nice pause) is a phenomenal secret track. Make sure you stay tuned all the way through (use the break to come down off the the high that the album will invariably produce). A fantastic closer for a fantastic album.
TOTAL ALBUM SCORE: 9/10
The OneUps Volume 2 is a triumph of monumental proportions. They have somehow managed to transform cult favorites into something that any music lover can listen to and embrace. Disk one starts off strong with a blitz of arrangements that put everyone else in the business to shame. Things slow down a bit during disk two but it all comes back together at the end and makes for an incredibly satisfying package. The OneUps have done the impossible by making a sequel that is better than the first. Hats off to everyone on The OneUps team for a job well done. There is something here for everyone, nobody will leave disappointed.
If you are interested in purchasing The OneUps Volume 2 or any of their other work please follow this link to their store. Volume 2 is currently only being sold in compact disk format; however, a digital download should be available at some point in the future. For samples and information on live shows, visit The OneUps’ MySpace page by clicking here. Thanks for taking the time to read my review, this one ended up being a lot longer than I expected. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you’ll take a look at The OneUps, they’ve got something special going on there and the more people that know about it the better.
Good news! The digital download for Volume 2 is up and running. If you’d like to purchase the album without the hassle of waiting for the CD to arrive by mail you’re in luck! Simply click here and scroll down a tad. You’ll see a big black box with ordering info. You can buy the whole album or individual tracks and download them right to your computer. Quick, easy, and painless and a purchase you won’t soon regret!