Note Block Beat Box: Listening to Ice Cap Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Note Block Beat Box: Listening to Ice Cap Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3

There's a professional artist behind this iconic Sonic song, but it's not Michael Jackson.

Video game music is icing. A title doesn't necessarily need good music (or any music) to be worth playing, but when the tunes are good, the experience is immeasurably heightened.

Game music inspires players, binds communities, and gives birth to legends and speculation. That's why Note Block Beat Box will scrutinize game music at least once a week. New stuff old stuff, instrumental stuff, lyrical stuff -- it's all fair game, so to speak.

Speaking of legends and speculation, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, first released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis, is a good place for us to start.

Retro game enthusiasts have long speculated that the fingerprints of the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, are all over the third Sonic game. The similarities are certainly there: Jackson's Stranger in Moscow from his 1996 album HIStory sounds a good deal like Sonic the Hedgehog 3's ending credits song. Fans have even helpfully overlaid the two.

There's been a good deal of back-and-forth over whether or not Jackson officially contributed to Sonic 3's soundtrack. A solid answer has been hard to get, primarily because Jackson's name was left out of the credits. A recent and thoroughly detailed article by Todd van Luling on The Huffington Post confirms the fandom's long-held suspicions, however: Jackson helped with the soundtrack, but left his name off his work because he wasn't happy with how severely his compositions decreased in quality when run through the Genesis' soundchip.

But the strange history behind Sonic the Hedgehog 3's music doesn't begin and end with Michael Jackson. Consider the tune that accompanies Sonic while he shreds down-mountain in Ice Cap Zone. It's by one of the game's credited artists, Brad Buxer.

It takes a talent to get a hold on the Genesis' soundchip, and Buxer and his colleagues manage themselves very nicely with Sonic 3's playlist. Ice Cap Zone is especially memorable for the bouncing energy that's with you to the end of your fierce and snowy descent. It's tops amongst the best pieces of Sonic music ever composed, and that's quite a lengthy list.

Granted, Buxer's musical background doesn't begin or end with video game music. He was part of an early '80s new wave band called The Jetzons, and unlike Jackson, he wasn't shy about flipping his analogue music into a digital format.

To get more specific: Ice Cap Zone's music is sampled from a Jetzons song called Hard Times. Though Hard Times went unreleased and unheard by the wider public for decades, it finally showed up on 2009's The Complete Jetzons.

Sharp-eared Sonic the Hedgehog fans quickly picked up on the similarities (how large is the area of overlap in a "Sonic Fans / New Wave Fans" Venn diagram, anyway?), and overlays followed.

Though Hard Times and Ice Cap Zone run at approximately the same tempo, it's interesting to note that Hard Times feels serious and weighty thanks to its lyrics about drinking alone in the dark, whereas Ice Cap Zone is brimming with danger, adventure, and -- dare we say it -- attitude.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3's soundtrack is truly a showcase example of how the work that goes into composing game music is miles beyond making a computer go "plink" and "ploonk." It just took us years to realize how much big-name talent is behind some of those iconic chiptunes.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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