Mini Ludo Musing: The Sound of Speed – Is There a Sonic ‘Tempo’?

You’ve stumbled upon the first ‘Mini Ludo Musing’, a series of mini-posts where I take a bite-sized look at some random facet of video game music. Today, we’ll take a fittingly fast look at tempo in relation to the 4 classic Sonic games on the Sega Mega Drive (Sonic 1S&K).

Is There a Sonic Tempo?

The short answer is sort of…Basically the music that makes up the main body of in-game zones all fall within a range of 100-150 BPM, with the majority of tracks more specifically fitting between 120-150 BPM. If we refer to classical tempo terminology this range is generally described as ‘allegro’ which translates to ‘quick and lively’. So we can be bold enough to say that most classic Sonic music is quick and lively. Looking a little deeper lets us draw a few more conclusions:

  1. Platforming zones tend to have a slower BPM (Wing Fortress, Hill Top, and Spring Yard Zone range between 100-115 BPM).
  2. Roller coaster zones like Chemical Plant, Flying Battery and Ice Cap Zone are more up-tempo, clocking in at 135-150 BPM.

This is not exactly revelatory, just good design choice on the part of the developers at Sonic Team. It makes sense to have slower music when the player is concentrating on navigating platforms, and then to crank it up in zones you’re blasting through.


However, there are exceptions to this. Marble Zone from Sonic 1 is 135 BPM; pacy for a zone you mostly spend waiting for the right moment to jump platform to platform. For perspective, Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 is the same tempo, a level where you rack up speeds the game struggles to keep up with.

Why is Marble Zone so up-tempo? One reason could be to make the level more challenging. The perception of a fast pace in the music could leave you more prone to impatience and therefore more likely to jump the gun and make mistakes. I have yet to find empirical evidence for this claim but lord knows I feel like I’ve fallen foul of it countless times, and there are many areas in Marble Zone that will happily punish you for rashness…

sonic_1_marble_zone
Gah

Conclusion

While there is no one definitive BPM that represents classic Sonic games, there is a clearly defined range that tells us most classic Sonic tunes are lively in tempo. Not so surprising for the “fastest thing alive”.

 

 

Hope you enjoyed the first Mini Ludo Musing! I will attempt to make these a fortnightly thing. If you have any suggestions for topics comment below or email: mooglemusicblog@gmail.com

 

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