Fidelity Concerns: Atari’s Paperboy and Mindscape’s Paperboy 2

I have talked an awful lot about the ability of NES’s sound.  I think it is time to talk about the limitations.

First, let’s briefly compare the music of the original Atari full size arcade game, Paperboy, with its Nintendo Entertainment System version.  Here’s the arcade console version of the music:

(credit: CecilMcW00T)

And the NES version:

(credit:  GBelair)

Um.  Wow.  No comparison.  The NES version actually has mistakes in the pulse waves.  The noise channel isn’t even used.  They convert the music horribly across the two platforms.  I feel like I’m falling asleep.  The original arcade version was released in 1984 and the NES version was released in 1988.  Even by 1988 Nintendo music standards, this is a meager track (Contra and Castlevania II are both from 1988 as well).  I bet someone could’ve made an awesome VRC6 track that sounded more like the arcade version of the music… but still.  Ouch.

Later, in 1992, Paperboy 2 releases for the the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  Both have the same music.  But there are many key differences. Let’s listen to the Super Nintendo music first:

(credit:  fidy11)

And now the Nintendo version of this theme:

(credit:  GBelair)

Ouch.  It’s hard to listen to.  They at least add drums but a ton of instruments and sounds are missing.  It captures the idea of the music a little better than the attempt at Atari’s Paperboy but by comparison, is still quite inferior.  The issue presented is many of the sound modules, like MMC5, were still expensive even in 1992.  Many companies began to realize that the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis (both 16-bit systems) had vastly superior sound capabilities.   This marked the end of the 8-bit era, with a lot of the sound capabilities of the old hardware unchecked or unused.  That’s why we have many brilliant chip tune composers today keeping it alive.

There are many more examples of the short comings of NES sound that I will post in the future.  I plan on moving forward to the next generations of consoles this week.  Comments are welcome.

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

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