Skyblazer (SNES, 1994) Video Game Music Review

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. We haven’t been covering many chiptunes lately, so today let’s start remedying that by checking out a somewhat unknown SNES gem with a sound all its own.

It feels surprisingly rare to find a game that’s just like, plain but good, straightforward in intention and skillful in execution…games like Ukiyotei’s 1994 SNES platformer Skyblazer. (Ukiyotei is better known for 1992’s Hook, or less happily, mascot misfire Punky Skunk.)

Skyblazer (playlist / longplay) is unpretentious. It’s an action-platformer and…that’s it! It tasks you with traversing a linear series of mostly linear levels, and…there’s no catch! The controls are tight, the visuals pleasing, and the enemy and level designs varied. Nothing fancy, just a good time all around, a pleasant reminder of how we used to have the capacity to enjoy games that weren’t stuffed to the brim with unlockables, elaborate progression systems, and at least one hour of gameplay per dollar spent.

(Speaking of magical paper, the game now fetches high-ish bucks on eBay, ugh. Thank goodness for emulation.)

As the Japanese cover suggests, the game draws aesthetic inspiration from Hindu mysticism, and the soundtrack, by ex-Capcom freelancer Harumi Fujita (interview / interview / Twitter), makes this influence known with composition and instrument choices that give Skyblazer a distinctive Indian sound. The first-level track, “Beginning of the Journey,” gives a taste of what’s in store:

Ukiyotei / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

Are you vibin’? I’m vibin’. Tracks like “Faltine’s Woods,” “Tower of the Tarolisk,” and “The Falls of Torment” perfectly set the stage for the levels they’re named for. Some of the more mellow pieces have a chillness that reminds me of the quieter moments in the early SNES standout Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. For example, “Petrolith Castle”:

Ukiyotei / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

One unexpected pleasure throughout is her skill at composing alluring intros that lead naturally into a song’s main section. Check out the start to “Cliffs of Peril,” which almost has a bit of a “James Bond” feel before launching into the main melody:

Ukiyotei / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

Level after level, Fujita crafts perfect 30- to 40-second loops that are both highly atmospheric and enjoyably melodic. Her focus on short loops harks back to the style of classic 8-bit compositions, from an era when game tracks truly sank or swam on their ability to deliver brief, infectious melodies. It’s a treat to hear this approach combined with the 16-bit SNES’ improved sampling abilities and put in service to the unique aesthetic qualities of Skyblazer’s mystical world.

Even for how relatively under the radar Skyblazer remains, I’m still surprised it’s received next to no notable fan remixes. I found one good one, though, and it’s a real chill take on “Petrolith Castle.” Play us out, DJ Mokram:

All of this Morning’s Music has been spent, hopefully wisely. If you haven’t played Skyblazer, may I suggest it? Welcome to another week! What’s up on your end, comment friends? See y’all Wednesday.


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