Joystiq at the Ninja Gaiden Band concert

Ross Miller
R. Miller|06.25.07

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Joystiq at the Ninja Gaiden Band concert
The concept is simple: a four-piece band recreates the soundtrack to the original Ninja Gaiden for NES while one skilled player runs through the game with little effort. You may have heard about this before when they previously performed as Contraband (Contra, natch), Megaband (Mega Man II) and Zeldaband (the first two dungeons of Legend of Zelda).

On Friday, Joystiq attended the Ninja Gaiden Band concert, playing at the Caledonia Lounge as part of Athens, Georgia's annual music festival Athfest (the night prior, Contraband won Cover Band of the Year at the awards show). The band, comprised of the members of Cinemechanica and deft gamer Noah McCarthy, is now a two-year project of splicing classic gaming with musical performance.

Work on the Ninja Gaiden Band began about a month ago, said guitarist Bryant Williamson, speaking to us before the concert. During practice, McCarthy had never had to use a continue, though Williamson said they were prepared in case he had to start over.

McCarthy played on stage using via television while the signal was simultaneously projected onto a screen for the audience to watch. At 1:07 a.m. to a packed crowd, the console was turned on, the title screen came up, and the band counted in.

%Gallery-4227%The full performances lasted approximately 40 minutes, which may seem like a long time to those who've watched the 14-minute speed run, but unlike the speed run every cutscene, from the prologue through credits, was shown in its entirety.

McCarthy played the entire game without losing any lives. For the first three acts, our acrobatic protagonist continuously moved forward without any loss of momentum, only occasionally pausing in the final three acts to avoid enemy encounters.

Like in the speed runs, a trick with the Jump and Slash Art powerup was used to quickly (i.e. within one or two seconds) kill most bosses, with the exception of the Basquer (Act III), Jaquio and The Demon (both Act VI).

The music was the highlight of the night, and the band's performance was better than our already lofty expectations. A few times towards the end McCarthy turned to the band to cut them off, though it seemed more precautionary as the quartet kept up with the screen and switched songs accordingly. Williamson said Ninja Gaiden is so far the most difficult of their gaming projects due to the fast shifts from stages.

The translation from midi track to rock group is not flawless, but other than the absence of sound effects, we very much prefer Cinemechanica's interpretation. The explosion sound following every boss battle was still played through the sound system, as was the whir of helicopter blades in a later cutscene.

Once the final foe was vanquished, the band played on through the ending and credits while McCarthy rose to a screaming audience, who treated the gamer like a rock star and carried him over half the crowd and back on the stage for the entire band to take a bow.


McCarthy being carried away by the crowd. Note the Triforce tattoo -- major nerd cred.

For their next game, Williamson said he really wanted to tackle Castlevania, though he said McCarthy was weary given the slower pace of the game. Williamson also said that there have been efforts made to try and land a spot at the Penny Arcade Expo, so far to no avail. Various internet footage does not do the band justice. They're very talented musicians and hardcore gamers with a great idea, and we hope they get a chance to reach that mass gamer demographic at the expo either this year or the next.

A DVD of their Megaband concert is available online and a recording of their Contraband concert from earlier this year should be finished in the next few weeks, said Williamson. A camera crew was attending the Ninja Gaiden band concert for a possible release later. Ninja Gaiden band is also being planned for an encore performance later this year.
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