Power Rangers and 8-Bit Music: A Deeper Look at a SNES Classic

Whenever I was writing music for a game that was originally based on something else (like a book, movie, or other game), I would study the music from that original work. But I wouldn’t usually copy their work: instead, I’d try to come up with a similar, but different melody in the same spirit.

-2005 interview, Hiroyuki Iwatsuki (shmuplations)

Everyone knows the theme song to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers whether you watched the show or learned about it through osmosis. Maybe you stopped watching a few seasons after the original era or popped back in from time to time when new seasons or movies were released. Maybe you’re the hardcore fan that continued through to its soon to be released 30th season: Power Rangers Cosmic Fury. 

If you have kids, you may also recognize it from being reused in Power Rangers Samurai – Power Rangers Super Megaforce with some word changes here or there. Or you caught a snippet of it if you went to the theaters to watch the 2017 Power Rangers film where, to 90s kids’ delight, they re-used the orchestral version from 1995’s summer release, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie. 

Either way, you are bound to recognize the iconic seven note tune that swept the world in the early 1990s. The mophinomenal piece of music is a Power Rangers mainstay, however I do tend to remember another piece of music just as well: the music of Angel Grove’s shopping center. 

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This piece of 8-bit music has been ingrained into my brain all these years since its 1995 release – mostly due to how often I had to repeat this level (the first one) while attempting to play through the game – and I still love it! While a part of a 1990s property, it does take cue and components from 80s music in that it’s created with the use of a synthesizer and has a purely electronic sound to it reminiscent of Van Halen’s “Jump” or “Dreams” and even Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown” – though the latter was defined as part of the fading disco era. There’s just something about this 8-bit music that gets you pumped and ready to fight Lord Zedd’s Z-Putties in the streets of Angel Grove. 

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, the video game, was a side-scrolling beat-em-up game that came as a successor to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the video game. Released on Super NES (SNES) console in July of 1995, the game has seven stages in which you can play as a single player or co-op in 2 player mode. In each stage, you fight Putties to collect lightning bolts to fill up your “morph meter.” When your “morph meter” is filled you get stronger attacks or enough energy to morph from civilian mode into Ranger mode before taking on the stage’s boss.  

To note: The SNES version of the game does bear the title Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, but it doesn’t follow the events of the film, however you do fight Ivan Ooze at the end. The SEGA Genesis version of the game not only has stages that covers aspects of the movie, but it also depicts a few story lines from the second season of the series. 

Compared to the first Power Rangers game, where you could play as the original five band team of Jason (Red Ranger), Zack (Black Ranger), Trini (Yellow Ranger), Kimberly (Pink Ranger), and Billy (Blue Ranger), you can play as Kimberly (Pink Ranger), Billy (Blue Ranger), Tommy (White Ranger, showcasing his past as the Green Ranger in his civilian outfit of a white tank top with green joggers), and the newcomers to the franchise (at the time) Rocky (Red Ranger), Adam (Black Ranger), and Aisha (Yellow Ranger). Each character you choose also has a unique different fighting style with Kimberly’s slaps, Adam’s “kamehameha” like energy attack, and Billy – who looks incredibly nerdy despite the character’s growth in the show and the movie at this point – taking on an eyes-closed “I hope my punch lands” approach. 

Why am I speaking about the movie game and not the first Power Rangers SNES game? Because I barely ever played the first game and don’t remember any bit of music outside of the theme song from it. Arguably, the “Movie Version” is more well-known than the game that came before it. (Side note: I have owned this particular game for years and I still have not beaten it. Despite all my time playing the similar game, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time”, somehow, I can’t repeat my success with this one.) And while the music of the first game was created in the same vein as this one was, the music just wasn’t as memorable to me.  

Thanks to composers Hiroyuki Iwatsuki and Haruo Ohashi, the music that plays once you start in on the first stage will have you pumped and ready to see what the game has in store for you. And it keeps getting better with each level. 

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers – 1994
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie – 1995

Iwatsuki worked on the first Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers game creating the sound effects and continued with the IP as the composer of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, Mighty Morpin’ Power Rangers: Fighting Edition, and Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers games, all published through Bandai. He also worked as the composer, with Ohashi, on the video game “Gekisō Sentai Carranger: Zenkai! Racer Senshi” as well as two other games based on the Super Sentai franchise that helped bring the Power Rangers television series to America. 

Iwatsuki and Ohashi both worked for the Japanese video game company, Natsume. Natsume is best known for the games “Harvest Moon” – thoguh it did release the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue and Power Rangers Time Force Game Boy Color games, and the Power Rangers Wild Force, Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Power Rangers Dino Thunder, and Power Rangers SPD GameBoy Advance games published by video game company THQ. While at the company, Iwatsuki utilized two sound drivers created for the NES by fellow composer Iku Mizutani; who composed for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers the video game. 

What is 8-bit Music?

“8-bit music is named so after the 8-bit sound processors that early games consoles like the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 employed. Rather than being created by traditional instruments being recorded and imported as loops into the game, they were synthesized using the computer chips themselves.”

Gerald Lynch, TechRadar, 2017

8-bit music, also known as the genre chiptune music, is a form of electronic music created with the use of programmable sound generators, or sound chips. 8-bit music is often found, and recognized, in arcade games, video games, and computers. 

What sets 8-bit music apart from other forms of music is how repetitive it is with minimal changes to its energy levels or volume. But that’s the point! Just like your favorite piece of popular music that follows the same formula (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse; maybe with a pre-chorus or bridge thrown in there for effect), 8-bit music is made to repeat its basic idea over and over. This is done as a means of saving space on the chip that the music data is stored on to give space for graphics, sound effects, and the overall processing of the game.  

There aren’t a lot of variations to a select piece of 8-bit music, outside key changes, and maybe a tempo change here or there in a piece of 8-bit music. This does have its advantages, though, as I still panic whenever I hear the music speed up in Super Mario World or the sharp staccato of strings when Sonic the Hedgehog starts to run out of air. The music does overall stay the same throughout so you can focus more on what’s going on in front of you on the screen.  

It’s also due to how small the sound chip is in these games that makes the fact that Iwatsuki and Ohashi, and other Japanese video game composers, managed to create such compelling music even more impressive. The chips in these consoles have a small number of channels used to make the specific sounds that will be used to create the recognizable melodies. These are all created using a sequencer on a computer.  

The SNES uses the SPC700 8-bit CPU which has eight audio channels connected to its digital signal processor (DSP). The DSP is what outputs the audio. Per the SNES Development Manual, it is capable of stereo sound, “composed from 8 voices generated using 8-bit audio samples and various effects such as echo.” Because the chips are only able to create a certain number of sounds, the composers had to be creative to find a way to use each of those specific sounds together to form a song.

Each of the eight channels has separate left and right stereo volume, can be played at different pitches, and can have an Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release (ADSR) envelope applied to it. A white noise source can be set to replace the sampled data on any of the eight channels. Additionally, the DSP can apply an echo to the audio.

-Super NES Programming, Wikibook

How Is 8-bit Music Made?

To create 8-bit music, a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) program or MIDI instrument needs to be used. 

A DAW is a device, application, or software used to record, edit, or produce audio files. For example: Audacity or Garageband or Cubase.  

A MIDI controller is used to connect a wide variety of electronic instruments with a USB cable to a music program or software to play, edit, and record music. For example: Digital Piano/Electronic Keyboard or Guitar or Drum machine. 

MIDI controllers must be connected to a computer or tablet for the DAW program (on said computer or tablet) to read the “event” (data that indicates a note’s pitch, timing, and loudness) it sends over to the program. The data is then converted electronically into the DAW system with each interaction of the key, button, or knob on the MIDI controller. For example: Your electronic keyboard (your MIDI controller) is connected to a computer with a USB cord, so that when you strike the key for Middle C, Audacity or Garageband (your DAW) will recognize the electronic data being sent over and show the soundwave of which notated key was pressed, for how long (seconds), and at what volume. You can then edit and adjust this piece of data with Audacity or Garageband to set how you would like the piece of audio to sound either alone or with other bits of data in your composition.  

DAWs can be used with a computer keyboard or a computer mouse to create the sound you want (in addition to different programs like an on-screen keyboard in which different keystrokes match different keys on the piano). DAWs do not need a MIDI controller to create sound, but it does allow you to re-arrange and order multiple individual tracks together. On the flip side, a MIDI controller needs a DAW to control and manipulate the music, but it doesn’t need a DAW if you just want to use it to play music. 

To learn more about the relationship between MIDI and DAWs, head on over to Erin Barra’s 2019 article on the topic: MIDI Data: What It Is and How to Use It (izotope.com)

As composers, Iwatsuki and Ohashi, create the music and give the songs to the programmers for the game who then “place this song, along with some graphics, data, and code into a game. Part of that code consists of a program written for the SPC700 that can play this song.” (Snesmusic.org

And if this still hasn’t convinced you that this piece of music is that awesome, you can not only own the soundtracks to both SNES games on vinyl, but you can also check out how it sounds when it was played live by RageQuit in 2018: 

There is not a lot of information online about Ohashi, but you can follow Iwatsuki on Twitter here: twitter.com/iwadon 

In 2023, the Power Rangers franchise celebrates 30 years since its premiere episode “Day of the Dumpster” aired August 28, 1993.  “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Once and Always” the 30th anniversary special reuniting cast members, including David Yost (Billy, Blue Ranger) and Walter Emanuel Jones (Zack, Black Ranger), from across all three seasons of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is set to stream on Netflix April 19, 2023. Stay tuned to see how Hasbro celebrates the 30th anniversary all year long.

Stay with The Power Scoop for all your behind the scenes, and production news for Power Rangers, Dino Fury, Cosmic Fury and more – follow The Power Scoop on Twitter and Instagram.