Racing Hero Soundtrack, Hikoshi Hashimoto, 1989
Starting with Hang-On in 1985, Sega commenced a run of classic arcade titles that made full use of the company’s revolutionary Super Scaler technology, providing a spectacular illusion of 3D gaming unrivalled by anything on home consoles. However, not all Super Scaler games are equally well-remembered. Take Racing Hero, an obvious update of the Hang-On formula of lighting-fast motorcycle-racing. With its colourful, impressively fluid graphics, varied courses and solid gameplay, Racing Hero was hardly a disappointment upon release – but it also didn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from previous Sega arcade racers (which by now had turned into a genre of their own). And since Racing Hero wasn’t included in any arcade compilations on consoles, the game has mostly slipped from view when fans consider Sega’s arcade glory days.
Still, there’s much to like about Racing Hero – including its soundtrack. It was the debut work of Hikoshi Hashimoto, who would kick off a decades-long game music career with this title. Of course, previous Sega arcade racers like OutRun had set the bar high with their pioneering scores. Thankfully, Hashimoto proudly and successfully walks in the footsteps of his predecessors, crafting a score that feels like a summary of everything that made these 80s arcade soundtracks such a blast. It’s certainly an auspicious debut by a composer out to prove himself – and as it turns out, Racing Hero ranks as the best score of Hashimoto’s career.
Disregarding a few shorter cues, there are four substantial compositions that make up the Racing Hero soundtrack. As on other Sega arcade scores of the era, these are surprisingly lengthy tracks – each clocking in between five and six minutes. Hashimoto is clearly up to the task of sustaining such extended cues, thanks to his lush arrangements and melodic gifts. “BGM 1” kicks things off on a comparatively laid-back note, using its jazz influences to create a relaxed groove perfect for a carefree cruise along the beach. Using the electric bass almost as a second lead instrument, Hashimoto builds a supple foundation for his expansive keyboard soli. On “BGM 1”, these soli are the obvious providers of melodic content, stringing along a series of shorter 80s pop-inspired hooks and melodies. Occasionally, these border on repetitive, but Hashimoto does a fine job at judging their staying power correctly, moving on to new musical ideas just in the nick of time.
The entire Racing Hero soundtrack maintains this uncomplicated, fun attitude – but that doesn’t mean the music is simple or lacks intricacies. On the contrary, Hashimoto makes full use of the sound hardware at his disposal to create full-bodied compositions that would have been impossible to recreate on home consoles of the time (unless they sported a CD drive). “BGM 3” takes the rhythmic complexities of “BGM 1” a few steps further, building from a syncopated, bumpy bass line with pronounced stop-start dynamics.
Melodies provide a contrast to the roiling bass underneath and are as soaring as they are elsewhere on the score – but note how this time each phrase fades out on a sustained note rather than leading straight into the next tune. Other details cement “BGM 3”’s standing as the soundtrack’s most playfully experimental track – take the high-pitched synth rhythms on the left and right stereo speakers, pulsing in different metres to each other and the underlying bass. It’s a surprisingly heady mix, anchored as always by Hashimoto’s strong pop hooks.
The Racing Hero soundtrack’s other two cues are more straightforward in their approach, but just as great. “BGM 2” and “BGM 4” are cut from the same cloth, underscoring the adrenaline rush of speeding down a highway at 300 km/h. Pumping rock drums and a riding bass line open “BGM 2” before one of 80s game music’s most anthemic, grandstanding melodies (and that’s saying something) kicks in. If any proof is needed that Hashimoto knows how to pen a stadium rock-sized tune, “BGM 2” delivers in spades, while its relentless bass races the music along. That surplus of pent-up energy catapults the track’s B section into majestic synth pop/rock heaven. Hashimoto crafts yet another magnificent power anthem that skyrockets even higher when powered by the soundtrack’s most densely layered countermelodies and rhythms – so far.
Because if there’s one way to describe “BGM 4”, it ‘BGM 2 on steroids’. Even more energetic than that earlier track – taste that single-minded bass that fires up the cue – “BGM 4” is a glorious finale to this ode to motorcycle racing. Hashimoto combines even more musical layers on top of each other than before – finally the drums also get to play a major part in shaping the music’s rhythms. They underpin the flurry of great melodies that somehow burn even brighter than on “BGM 2”. It’s fitting that “BGM 4” is the Racing Hero soundtrack’s most melodically rich composition – Hashimoto’s keyboard soli are longer and more complex than before, but they don’t entirely abandon catchy pop hooks either. There’s no better finale for a score like Racing Hero than this joyous wall of sound – a victory lap that celebrates the pure, unadulterated joys of racing games.
- 01 - BGM 1 Hashimoto, Hikoshi 5:37
- 02 - BGM 2 Hashimoto, Hikoshi 6:17
- 03 - BGM 3 Hashimoto, Hikoshi 6:17
- 04 - BGM 4 Hashimoto, Hikoshi 5:50