Pineapple Smash Crew Original Soundtrack :: Review by Simon
Spare a thought for the common hand grenade and its role in video games. Much more often then not, this weapon only plays second fiddle to all sorts of automatic guns, sniper rifles and crowbars. Pineapple Smash Crew finally addresses this glaring injustice and puts all of its focus on the little exploding balls of metal. Fortunately, the game stretches the common definition of what qualifies as a 'grenade' for variety's sake, including rockets and flame throwing devices. Armed with such formidable weaponry, Pineapple Smash Crew's formation of four mercenaries fights its way through many, many spaceships, merrily blowing up stuff in good old-fashioned top-down view. Despite its clever take on the venerable genre of top-down shooters, the title didn't find many friends among reviewers, who complained about the game's lack of depth that ultimately turned it from fun novelty into a tedious grind.
Pineapple Smash Crew's music was met with friendlier words from the critics. It was written by British artist Brendan Ratliff (aka Syphus), a veteran of the Amiga demoscene. As a composer, software designer and live performer of chiptune material on both sides of the Atlantic, the artist was an inspired choice to match the game's retro appeal with a fitting soundtrack. While Ratliff had been freely sharing his work released under his Syphus moniker for years, Pineapple Smash Crew became his first commercially released game score when it was published in February 2012 on Bandcamp.
With a game that looks like a not-so-distant cousin of Alien Breed in which things get blown up left, right and centre, you'd hope for an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack full of catchy chiptune goodness and Ratliff delivers. His tracks on Pineapple Smash Crew are focused blasts of energy, constantly pushing forward with their upbeat rhythms. The opener "Fragmentation Syphony" comes in a shape that most retro fans would expect from an action game driving 8-bit beats power a fun, soaring melody on top of head-bopping rhythms. But while each ingredient is familiar, it all comes together perfectly to create an addictive call to weapons.
"Fragmentation Symphony" also shows that Ratliff sets his aims higher than just writing Amiga-inspired little ditties, as he throws crunchy guitar riffs into the mix to give the composition some extra power and grittiness. The cue's structure is another plus. After a minute, "Fragmentation Symphony" breaks down into a slower, spacey section that's still full of tension due to the slow-burning metal guitar work in the background. That tension is finally released during the track's climax when Ratliff adds a fuller synth backing and the empowering guitar and chiptune melodies intertwine to end "Fragmentation Symphony" in a powerful blaze of contemporary and retro elements.
While subsequent action tracks usually don't develop as much, they're just as boisterous and punchy. "Fire In Your Hole" fires on all cylinders and delivers another determined, snappy chiptune melody, but also manages to seamlessly incorporate a brief section with clubbier beats. "Willy Pete" and "Stay Frosty" would shine on any NES-era Rockman soundtrack, with their upbeat rhythms aided by snare drums, optimistic melodies and wild, bubbling arpeggios that never allow the music to stand still. Given the game's retro style and sci-fi setting, the similarities to early Mega Man scores are more than fitting. On "Stay Frosty", Ratliff also has some fun deconstructing the lead melody and reducing it to single notes that pop up here and there, but still manage to provide melodic direction.
There's more to Pineapple Crew Smash than a constant adrenaline rush though. "Menu Dub" and "Game Over" are clearly written as atmospheric background music, but still manage to hold the listener's interest. Closing track "Game Over", the album's most subdued composition, just accomplishes that task through some interesting, filtered sound effects that back a wandering synth pulse which travels across the stereo field and back. "Menu Dub" has more going for it, with its syncopated, twitchy synth beats set against various sound effects, arpeggios, plinking noises and some sparse guitar notes that occasionally make it through the electronic layers. The catchy synth beats and cleverly put together sound effects create a laid-back sci-fi feel that still retains a sense of anticipation, of waiting to jump into the next level.
"Flash Bang" takes these atmospheric tendencies and amplifies them to create a little spaced-out chiptune symphony. The track catapults listeners into outer space where they'll be floating among polyrhythmic beats, surrounded by another otherworldly collage of sound effects as they're witnessing how the track slowly swells with the addition of a countermelody and even some of the earlier tracks' action rhythms. An impressively creative effort, "Flash Bang" is Pineapple Smash Crew's best track and brings the album to a great finish before it all calmly fades out with "Game Over". Only on "Boss Fight" does Pineapple Smash Crew falter somewhat, as the track tries to mould the album's exuberant action tracks into a more industrial shape, with a robotic, harsh melody lead. The idea is to ramp of the tension for the big boss encounter and this works to a degree, but the cue is a bit too repetitive to fully succeed.
Pineapple Smash Crew is a short, sweet blast of fun and energy that's perfect for a retro shooter. Ratliff's soundtrack has all the required ingredients to make fans of Mega Man-style soundtracks happy: a bevy of catchy chiptune rhythms and arpeggios that push you through the levels, topped with bright, dauntless melodies that you can hum after a couple of seconds. The album's sound is appropriately gritty and big, but Pineapple Smash Crew also knows when to tone down its onslaught of 8-bit fire power to add some spaced-out, atmospheric moments that remind you of the game's setting. Ratliff brings both tendencies together convincingly on "Flash Bang" and marks this as an album that not only recaptures that gung-ho chiptune sound of 80's action games, but can also claim a stylistic identity of its own. In a sea of retro-inspired indie scores, this one manages to stand out.
Overall Score: 8/10