Bit Brigade in concert

January 16th, 2018

A few friends and I saw an awesome show last week: Bit Brigade. Their gimmick is that they have a video game player onstage speedrunning an NES game with the music muted, while the band plays a live rock version of the soundtrack.

We saw them do Batman, Castlevania, and DuckTales last year, and it was a fun show. This time, they did The Legend of Zelda, which was an interesting choice for a couple of reasons. First, because the game is much longer than the others. The game typically takes days or weeks to play through, and while of course I would expect a speedrun to cut that time down significantly, I was curious to see by how much. A lot of open-ended adventure games can be completed quickly by expert players by skipping certain levels or items, but I remembered that Zelda wouldn’t even allow the player to enter the final stage without having beaten all the previous ones. I assume there are a bunch of Zelda speedruns out there, but I intentionally avoided watching any so I could be surprised during the show.

Link and Ganon

The second reason is that the game doesn’t actually have that much different music in it. Besides the title screen and ending credits, the only major pieces of music are the main overworld theme, the dungeon theme (which is used for the first eight of the game’s nine dungeon levels), and the final dungeon theme (which is different than the one used for the preceding levels). That music is great, especially the main theme, but wouldn’t it get repetitive after a while?

The answer to the first question is that the game can be completed in about 45 minutes. That’s about how long the speedrunner took to complete the game. He obviously knew the game inside and out, and didn’t exactly take his time, but he did indeed play through every level in the game, albeit sometimes out of the intended order. It was impressive.

The most interesting thing about the show was the band’s approach to solving the second problem: In a departure from the original game, they played a different song for each dungeon, and for each venture into the overworld. The beginning of the game was accompanied by the traditional Zelda overworld main theme, and the first dungeon by its usual music, but subsequent selections were culled from the next three Zelda games (for the NES, Super NES, and Game Boy), and were thematically appropriate. I especially enjoyed their performance of “Tal Tal Heights” from Link’s Awakening during one overworld sequence, and A Link to the Past’s “Dark Golden Land” and “Hyrule Castle” during the overworld and a dungeon level, respectively. You can view (and listen to!) the entire playlist on Bit Brigade’s Bandcamp page.

It was a really fun show with impressive gaming, outstanding music, and a generally fun atmosphere. There was also an opening performance by a silly local band named Shark Attack!!, which was also enjoyable.

I recommend seeing Bit Brigade live if you get the chance.

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