Hero Quest Soundtrack (NES), Neil Baldwin, 1991
Even at the height of the NES’ popularity, there were no official album releases of Western NES game music. That makes a website like Neil Baldwin‘s Duty Cycle Generator a very important contribution towards closing this gap. On his site, game music veteran Baldwin, whose career began on the C64, released all of his NES soundtracks. Baldwin pointed out that part of the reason his website exists was the praise one of his works had generated within online chiptunes communities. That score was Hero Quest, the video game version of the popular fantasy-themed board game. The score’s popularity was all the more surprising considering that the game was cancelled. However, its developer Chris Shrigley released it years later into the NES community, and its reputation built over time. Baldwin’s surprised discovery of the Hero Quest soundtrack’s popularity also kickstarted his involvement with the online game music community.
On Duty Cycle Generator, Baldwin shares his view that the Hero Quest soundtrack “is probably some of the best NES music” he did. It’s safe to say he’s correct in that assessment. Prior works by Baldwin (and his later Ferrari Grand Prix Challenge) can feel like exercises in arpeggio-based NES compositions. Those arpeggios were a relatively easy way to generate a lush sound with the NES’ limited hardware. There’s no doubt that Baldwin handled the arpeggio sounds driving his compositions with virtuoso technical skills matched by few other composers. Still, particularly a fantasy-themed work like Magician feels deficient in other regards, for example engaging melodies and moods.