80s nostalgia seems to have now lasted longer than the actual 1980s did. Neon lights. Schwarzenegger films. Aerobics. VHS. Saturday morning cartoons. Cocaine. Synthesiser music. It was the best of times wasn’t it?
Blood Dragon was more a concept than an actual game, an authentic take on the 80s that balanced sheer B-movie awesomeness with moments of utter cheese. Corny dialogue and goofy excess lend themselves well to 80s pastiche, but the game’s real success was in understanding what made those films work.
So much of Blood Dragon is in the style and the music. The moody lighting and pulsing electronica are as much a part of it as the gameplay itself. Australian duo Power Glove managed what many struggle to achieve. Their soundtrack stands up on its own, and is one of the crowning recordings of the retrowave movement.
The central ‘Blood Dragon Theme’ which opens the soundtrack and echoes throughout it sets the tone perfectly. The sheer pomposity of the Bonnie Tyler drum rolls and synthetic bassline is one thing, but the central hook is next-level, so staid and vainglorious it beggars belief. It so perfectly captures the spirit of those old Canon films, by which I mean it is bravely, thrillingly, utterly preposterous. How can you not love it?
What Power Glove do really well is take the style and framework of 80s cinema scores and apply that to a hi-fi, bass heavy production style. Prime example ‘Power Core’ has a stomping, robotic swagger. The drums are their tool of destruction. The programmed kick-triggers sound huge and feel impossibly tight. Daft Punk’s excellent Tron soundtrack is an obvious comparison, but Power Glove mostly eschew strings and the accoutrements of a more traditional ‘soundtrack’ sound, in favour of an entirely electronic production. It’s ideal for capturing the low-res charm of scratchy VHS tapes.
The references and call backs are pretty obvious. The soundtrack to The Terminator (i.e a metal door slamming) on ‘Warzone’. John Carpenter is pervasive throughout, but more surprising is a direct homage to Blade Runner. ‘Love Theme’ has a direct throwback to Vangelis’ composition of the same name, with an attempt at his synthetic saxophone wails.
This underlines the fact there’s an impressive range of styles on offer here, despite the apparent constraints of instrumental electronica. That ‘Love Theme’ is surprisingly sweet and authentic considering it’s written for a cyborg commando. ‘Sleeping Dragon’ too is a break from the tongue-in-cheek. With a sixty minute runtime the album is a little overlong and puffed up with some filler. The ‘Combat’ interludes are contextually triggered in-game and don’t really work outside of it. But they are tiny bumps on what is a really enjoyable ride.
Blood Dragon is coming out on Games for Gold, and will be free to play on PC soon, so now is the time to re-discover this odd little game. That goes twofold for this LP, which ought to be nationalised as the soundtrack of late night commutes and work-out sessions throughout the land. Power Glove are at their best here, riding that fine grid-line between awesome and ridiculous.