PPPPPP - The VVVVVV Soundtrack :: Review by Joe Hammond
Terry Cavanagh is great at coming up with innovative ideas, addictive gameplay, and retro graphics, as exemplified by his first big commercial success VVVVVV. Similar to the game itself, the soundtrack created by Magnus Pålsson, aka SoulEye is a chiptune throwback to the 80s. Pålsson aimed with this soundtrack to create a collection of uptempo and extremely catchy tunes that would make the player want to keep going back to the game for more. The sound quality is better than what you"d find on the C64 or NES, but is still firmly routed in the chiptune genre. The resultant soundtrack release, PPPPPP, is lovingly crafted as is evident right from the start with its incredibly clever album artwork (a parody of a certain famous album) and title (look at the titles of all the tracks, plus what does P look like if you turn it 180 degrees?).
The soundtrack consists of nine tunes, five jingles and two other interesting tracks. This is all presented in a coherent order that makes sense for standalone listening both in context and out of context. As a result, the jingles don't feel unnecessary and actually break up the rest of the album nicely. "Powerup" opens the soundtrack well, while "Pause" offers a filtered, treble heavy and grainy jingle that effectively leads into "Pushing Onwards". Meanwhile "Path Complete" prepares the listener for the bass heavy "Passion for Exploring" and "Phear" offers an 8-bit ghostly wind (it's even a mystery as to whether this track is actually in the game). "Plenary (game complete jingle)" is weirdly triumphant in a very spacey way. If you're listening to the album right the way through from start to finish, these tracks complement the longer tunes really well.
Now onto the main body of music, it's important to note that when listening to these tunes they are designed to loop and so therefore most of them don't really end they just stop. Perhaps this could have been handled better with a fade out. for example. This being said, Souleye included some tracks of complete silence to create a gap between tunes. "Presenting VVVVVV" is the first big tune in the soundtrack, and while this may be a misleading first impression of the rest of the soundtrack, it's actually a really simple, well crafted tune that sets the appropriate mood of desolate space, and wouldn't be out of place in a Metroid game. It opens with the accompaniment that gradually develops with more notes and extra weight in the bass and treble ends, then the tune enters about a minute into the track. This is a very progressive and mellow track a complete contrast to the rest of the soundtrack but a welcome one.
This more laid back approach is also found in "Pipe Dream", though with more going on. This track is a slow, plodding track that gives a sense of drifting through space, and has some great ad lib style solos. Despite being a slower tune, "Passion for Exploring" has the first truly catchy melody, because the melody line is always at the top of the texture and is also the loudest line heard. I particularly like the modulations into the relative major/minor keys here. "Pressure Cooker" is one of my favorite tunes on the soundtrack with its dance inspirations some cool musical effects. One of which is very interesting, it's some processed sound files of Terry saying "V" in various different ways, which is really effective.
As you'd expect with a modern chiptune soundtrack, there are plenty of Megaman inspired tunes. "Pushing Onwards" is the first of these; it's got a driving bass line and percussion line, a cool yet simple melody, and some really cool interlocking accompaniment riffs and chords that all fit really well together. These ideas are also found in "Positive Force", which has a very similar melody, bass line and chord sequence but develops it further to create some even more entertaining riffs. This track also features some unexpected twists and turns here and there with the dynamics, always making it interesting. "Potential for Anything" is all about the interlocking accompaniment riffs and cool effects such as sweeping and reversing the wave forms. The melody here is very simple long notes and in the middle of the texture, giving way to the more interesting moving accompaniment. "Predestined Fate" also uses this idea but in a much more laid back fashion.
The best track on the album in my opinion is "Popular Potpourri". This is an uptempo tune that really will get stuck in you're head as soon as you've heard it once, but not in an annoying way, it's awesomely cheesy. It introduces the accompaniment and chords in the intro and then introduces various melodies and counter melodies here and there as the tune progresses. During the drum breaks, snippets of the tunes from previous tracks make brief appearances, keeping the track interesting and never annoying throughout it's 6 minute length.
The last two tracks are weird additions. First, we have a completely reversed version of "Positive Force". This is a fun novelty but it's way too weird for my tastes, though to it's credit it works musically &$151; only just however. The final addition to the soundtrack is a short comedy song inspired by Stephen Lynch, "Waiting for VVVVVV", featuring just Magnus singing and playing the guitalete. It's very funny and well written with some great lyrics, especially if you know the back story and the joke of how the song came to be (a joke between and involving Terry, Magnus and youtube user "Deceasedcrab"). The song is a great way to finish off the album.
PPPPPP - The VVVVVV Soundtrack is a brilliant chiptune soundtrack with a good sense of humor. There are plenty of great tunes that will really get stuck in your head, whether you want them too or not. Not all of the tunes presented are uptempo, but the ones that are more downtempo still feel as though they fit in. What's more, not all the tracks on this album are actually in the game some were added just for fun but they all fit together really well. Souleye has succeeded in creating a fantastic modern chiptune soundtrack; now if only I could get "Popular Potpourri" out of my head so I can actually get some work done.
Overall Score: 9/10