Creaky Monkey Ball Ancestor Tama Sounds Whimsical AF

Creaky Monkey Ball Ancestor Tama Sounds Whimsical AF
Image: TWI / PlayStation DataCenter / MobyGames / Kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. I’m dialling up the obscure-o-metre a bit today with a weird 32-bit launch title from 1994. It’s Tama!

Japanese players who ponied up ¥44,800 ($599) to own a Sega Saturn on its November 22, 1994 launch met with a sobering reality. While Sega’s dual-Hitachi wonder came with Virtua Fighter — why most people bought it — the other four launch titles consisted of a mahjong sim, an FMV detective game, a Myst port (have mercy!), and a zeroth-gen TWI jobber called Tama: Adventurous Ball in Giddy Labyrinth. Oh dear. (It was also a launch title for the PlayStation, a few weeks later.)

Time Warner Interactive’s Tama (playlist / gameplay) is a vague sort of ancestor to Super Monkey Ball, an electronic version of those traditional wooden “labyrinth” toys that tasked you with tilting a surface to guide a marble through a hole-filled maze. Through a giddy labyrinth, you might say. (You wouldn’t.) The graphics are primitive. Its framerate is sluggish, its physics unconvincing. But you know what? I sure do like that soundtrack!

Which, you know, kinda makes me like the game. For all its glaring faults and launch-title shortcomings Tama is charming, in its way. Let’s listen:

Soothing, isn’t it? The opening song is led by burbling synths, maybe giving the feeling of water flowing downstream. It builds slowly, meandering about as it builds a melody, the same four farty little synth notes repeating underneath, ad infinitum. Chimes and xylophones take turns to pop in to provide backing and solos, always considerate of the other. It ends as it began, those same four notes playing us out.

The first world’s track continues apace, the bucolic, muffled synths percolating about over another simplistic backing. So light and airy! This is music to open sunny windows to, to relax and do laundry with, to set out and go exploring by, without a care in the world (as if that’s easy these days). World 2’s theme is somehow even more chill, focusing on a whistling, theremin-like sound that calls to mind those astronomy minutes I used to hear on local public radio. Into it.

The third world’s theme feels more tense, portending danger; perhaps our adventurous ball is finally getting in over its metaphorical head. (Is…is its entire body a head?) But have no fear, because world four is back to light (...giddy?) adventure, absolutely music you could explore an RPG grassland to, or perhaps feature in a Klonoa game. And so it goes — stage six is another good one — the most relaxing, whimsical, laid back score to ever feature in a video game launch title about marbles.

Tama wasn’t a thrilling game in 1994, and it’s only mildly interesting now that it’s a 26-year-old artefact of a past era, a timeworn marker demonstrating what third-string devs with a few months and a dev kit were able to cobble together by the launch dates of the world’s first mass-market, polygon-pushing home consoles. (See also King’s Field and uh, Cosmic Race.)

But the music’s more than alright. Between this and last month’s (amazing) Detonator I’m enjoying shining light on out-of-the-way, underappreciated game scores. I hope you find stuff to appreciate here too, and will enjoy whatever future oddball excavations we’ll undoubtedly delve into.

That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music. Fuck, to be an adventurous ball in a giddy labyrinth…isn’t that every girl’s dream? Ahh. Anyway, please avail yourselves of the open thread below, and we will see you tomorrow, bearing more music, in the morning. Be well!

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