Each session of the game starts off with agent Joanna Dark typing some random stuff on a Carrington Institute computer, followed by an augmented reality main menu. Select the Combat Simulator from there, and you enter their rendition of multiplayer in the most awesome of ways.
“Combat Simulator Menu”
With a flash and the sound of an explosion, Agent Dark’s computer room surroundings get replaced by a colorfully psychedelic virtual reality wormhole. Underpinning the otherworldly visuals is one stomper of a menu theme song, out to make one thing clear to all witnesses: Perfect Dark’s multiplayer is hardcore, and you had best come prepared to throw down. This shit got me HYPE every time I’d enter the combat simulator, ready to knock some simulants on their asses.
By the end of the Nintendo 64's life cycle, the composers at Rare seemingly perfected the art of composing for the system. Perfect Dark was one of their best soundtracks, bar none, and among the most major of factors that gave the game an identity distinct from just a GoldenEye sequel in name only. My favorite song from the game, logic-breaking though it may seem, is the shortest song.
As has been covered before, however, that is no easy feat. There is an art to making a microsong that can not only stand up to endless repetition, but thrive when subjected to such extreme conditions. The nineteen seconds of the combat simulator’s menu music is a punchy, synthy affair that fit the bill back in the halcyon days of 2000, and despite the sound bank restrictions inherent to the N64, it actually still holds up just as well today.
Part of it is that it’s got the skeleton and heavy-hitting beat of a hard rock instrumental, yet there are low synth stabs where power chords would be. That, along with the synth bassline and a choir’s worth of eerie angels’ voices, piles on the science fiction atmosphere that fits so well with the visual abstract insanity of the multiplayer menu.
Its secret weapon, however, may be the rhythmic irregularity. The combat simulator theme skips a beat somewhere in the middle of each measure, such that each measure consists of fifteen beats. Each moment when it happens is disorienting—hang on, what happened to the rhythm? I gotta find it again!—but effortless aplomb underlies the unpredictability, such that each swerve is playful rather than awkwardly forced.
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.