In the world of music vinyl is currently enjoying something of a resurgence, with the antiquated audio format coming back from the dead to take pride of place in any self-respecting hipster's living room. While it's unlikely that this trend has anything to do with the release of RIKI's 8Bit Music Power, parallels can nevertheless be drawn. This is a chiptune album on a Famicom cartridge, and certainly ranks as the most unique way of mass-producing and releasing an album we've seen in recent memory.
Encased in black plastic and shipped in an authentic Famicom-style cardboard box, 8Bit Music Power contains a selection of chiptune tracks composed by Japanese artists and video game veterans. Naturally, you'll need a Famicom or compatible system to run it, and true to its gaming roots this collection doesn't present you with a totally passive experience; during playback it's possible to mess around with a mixing desk and remove various channels to see how it impacts the overall sound. A couple of throwaway mini-games are also included, as is a performance analyzer which shows what kind of load this new-fangled music is placing on the Famicom's aging internal hardware.
Elsewhere, an art gallery and sprite tool - both of which show off former Namco staffer Hiroshi Ono's graphic design to great effect - allow you to savour 8Bit Music Power's visual charms away from the audio itself, but the main draw is naturally the quality of the songs. Chiptune music may have gained widespread acceptance with gamers but it's still a relatively niche genre when it comes to mainstream market - despite the fact that artists such as Tinie Tempah, Beck and deadmau5 have all been influenced by the sound - and as a result the potential audience for such an album is limited (and that's before you take into account the fact that you need a 30-year-old games console to actually listen to it). While we can't see any of the songs on 8Bit Music Power troubling the global Top 40, even to chiptune novices these tracks are likely to sound catchy and interesting. Those old enough to recall the glory days of the Famicom and NES will of course have the additional bonus of being absolutely gob-smacked at how far the hardware is being pushed with these compositions.
In terms of stand-out tracks, all of the songs on this collection are worth a listen, but our personal favourites here at Nintendo Life include the infectious Circus Game by Hiroaki Sano, Keishi Yonao's rather oppressive Mass Purple, the futuristic Tip-Track 303 by Tappy and Masahiro Kajihara's strident Oriental Mystique, which sounds like the theme tune to the Shinobi sequel we never got to play. Over time it's likely that all of these tracks will be ripped from the game and made available via other means, which you might assume removes the need to actually buy the cartridge and go through the rigmarole of dusting off your trusty Famicom. However, this approach removes the charm of actually interacting with the vintage technology that is somehow being coerced into producing these amazing pieces of audio.
Never intended to be anything less than a labour of love and collectable curiosity, 8Bit Music Power isn't going to be to everyone's tastes - and with a price tag of $50 (around £35 / 44 Euros), this is hardly impulse purchase territory. However, given the high level of interest it's fair to say that the venture has been a success, and surely that is all that will matter to the team behind this unique musical endeavour.