I would say that asking me to pick my favorite video game soundtracks is as impossible as asking a father to select his favorite child from amongst his offspring, except that:
A) At present, I have no kids and
B) The latter decision is actually pretty easy. Simply hand each of your children a poster-sized photo of Paris Hilton. The first kid to realize that the poster has no intrinsic value and to fold it into a jaunty hat is upgraded to Child Alpha. Any child who attempts to hang the poster up is demoted to Goldfish.
That being said, there is so much fantastic music in gaming that I could spend forever listing my favorites. Therefore, seeing as how we’ve just entered a new year, howsabout I just limit it to my Top Five Game Soundtracks of 2010?
What’s that? I’m a madman for doing a 2010 retrospective in February, when everyone’s stopped thinking about the previous year’s events and accomplishments because, I mean, God, what am I a historian now? Well, if the Calendar Enforcement Agency: Blog Division doesn’t like the fact that I’m a maverick who plays by his own rules, they can just deal with it. Also I just made them up, so there’s that to consider.
Note: There are easily dozens of titles that could have made the list below, but I’ve limited the contestants to games I’ve actually had time to complete, or from which I’ve at least managed to track down most of the soundtrack.
Okey dokey. Here we go.
5. Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley
Developed by: Twisted Pixel
Composers: Chainsaw, Joshua R. Mosley, John Deborde, Christopher Sabat, and Brina Palencia
A game about a superhero who, with his own comic book being cancelled, is forced to do guest spots in other other titles until he can gather the funds to reboot his own. The plot sees the titular character traveling through a number of comic book genres, including a typical modern-day superhero tale, a fantasy comic in the vein of Conan the Barbarian, a campy Silver Age story, and a Japanese manga. One of the main reasons why this game made the list is the fact that all the tracks are perfectly molded to the genre they are meant to represent. The music in the Silver Age levels sounds like the soundtrack to every 1960s Batman episode you’ve ever seen, complete with the cheesy brass stings every time you punch an enemy’s lights out. The tracks for the fantasy stages are tribal and epic, which is played for comedic effect when you contrast them against Captain Smiley himself–a sheepish, bumbling character who is completely out of place against such a harsh backdrop. The music in the modern-era levels immediately evokes recent superhero movie soundtracks like Danny Elfman’s work on the Spider-man trilogy. As for the manga levels? Well, let’s just say that if actual manga had a soundtrack, I’m pretty sure the insanity they came up with would be it.
But even more than how well suited the music is to the setting, I love the soundtrack to this game for the fact that it made me laugh on more than a few occasions. Quick, how many games can you think of where you can find actual humor in the soundtrack? Not many, right? Of those, how many were actually successful in being funny? Put in that context, it’s easy to see why Comic Jumper’s soundtrack was one of my favorites this year. Take, for example, Brad’s Theme, the song that accompanies the boss of the same name; your typical gym-frequenting, sunglass-wearing, fake tan-sporting broski:
Even more fantastic is the ukulele-laden song that plays as you view the stats screen, watching as a list slowly scrolls by chronicling, among other things, many punches you’ve thrown, enemies you’ve killed and the number of cutscenes you’ve skipped:
Here, the composers of Comic Jumper have done the impossible: made a stat screen interesting enough to want to look at for longer than four seconds. And (in the words of Daniel Tosh) for that, we thank you.
4. Super Meat Boy
Developed by: Team Meat
Composer: Daniel Baranowsky
If you read the previous post, you already know that I’m a pretty big fan of Daniel Baranowsky’s work, and this game is a perfect example of why. His driving beats and often industrial influences on this score are perfect for a fast paced (and often gory) platformer like Super Meat Boy. When you spend the entire game frantically dodging around traps and trying to execute jumps and landings with pinpoint accuracy, having music that provides a sense of motion and energy is a perfect fit. Take a listen to my favorite track, the music from World 5, titled “It Ends”:
Also, I need to make sure I clearly articulate that this game, while incredibly fun, is hard. Not doing your taxes hard. Not water temple hard. I’m talking cut up your social security card, burn your house down and move to Mexico hard. If you travel a few miles east of Tijuana, you will find a commune that is comprised solely of people for whom Super Meat Boy destroyed all joy, and have decided it would be better to simply start a new life as transients south of the border. My point is that, at least for me, I found that the soundtrack was one of the reasons I kept coming back for more even after my 246th consecutive death. Something about good music makes it easier to bear even the most torturous of activities. It’s like listening to any Nickelback album on a loop while sipping twelve year-old scotch as a gondola peacefully carries you through the sparking canals of Venice.
Wait. I think I got that example backwards.
Developers: Team Little Angels of Platinum Games
Composers: Masami Ueda, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Rei Kondo, Akari Kaida, Erina Niwa, Norihiko Hibino, Yoshitaka Suzuki, Takahiro Izutani, and Takayasu Sodeoka
To say that Bayonetta is simply over the top would be like saying that eating three pounds of cheese ravioli and then running a 10K immediately afterwards is “a bit tricky.” I guess you wouldn’t be wrong, but you obviously have some sort of problem measuring scale. Bayonetta is insane. We’re talking about a game where a several hundred year old amnesiac witch wearing librarian glasses, a suit made from her own hair, and with guns strapped to her hands and feet has a prolonged battle against another witch on the surface of a missile as it rockets through a glittering city on a mystical island in the middle of the ocean. Go back and read that sentence again. This is a thing that happened.
So it would be a safe bet to assume that, say, the battle music, which accompanies most of the action in this game, is some giant orchestral monster, right? Filled with a blaring brass section booming percussion?
Yeah, not quite:
Instead we get this crazy pop/jazz fusion version of “Fly Me to the Moon” which, normally, has no place within a hundred miles of an action game like this. Yet here, it simply pushes the absurdity meter even further into the red. And this is just one example of why Bayonetta made this list: many of the tracks would be inappropriate in any other game in the genre, but here, they are completely at home. Knowing every facet of a game–from the story to the game mechanics to the overall atmosphere it is trying to evoke–is one of the most important things a composer can do before he or she begins work on a soundtrack. The army of composers listed above obviously understood the material they were working with.
2. Halo: Reach
Composers: Martin O’Donnell Michael Salvatori
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Halo series. It’s not Bungie’s fault; they have a massive following for a reason, and the multiplayer suite they’ve crafted for the series’ later entries is addictive. It’s just that, getting shot in the head over and over while a twelve year old from six states away makes a lot of questionable assertions about my anatomy and parental lineage over a grainy headset is not my idea of a good time. It’s like avoiding a restaurant because of the other clientele; the food itself might be amazing, but there are always a lot of screaming kids and people trying to show you their appendectomy scars.
So, when a game’s soundtrack is good enough to warrant my purchase based on the music alone, that’s saying something. The work that Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have done here is amazing; it maintains the tribal, triplet-heavy material we’ve heard in the series up to this point, but lends it a more somber tone, which is appropriate if you know anything about the tragic story the developers tell in this prequel. Many of the pieces contain modal influences (meaning they utilize less commonly-familiar scales stemming from ancient Greek music), which effectively infuses the soundtrack with a foreign quality that is perfectly suited to a game about alien invasion.
There is not a bad track on the disc, but you don’t need to go any further than the title screen to hear something great:
1. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Composers: Mahito Yokota, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Koji Kondo
I struggled a bit with the order when compiling this list, but there was one game that I new for sure would take the number one slot. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the kind of game where a new and inventive idea is presented in practically every stage (of which which there many). Yet, it seems that for every fun new level mechanic or colorful setting, there’s a an equally amazing track to accompany it. Many games have one or two pieces that stand out from the rest, but in Super Mario Galaxy 2, it’s difficult to fine one that doesn’t.
Check out main theme:
Or this awesome remix of the theme from Whomp’s Fortress in Super Mario 64, found in the Throwback Galaxy:
Or my personal favorite, the music from Bowser Jr.’s Fiery Flotilla, which starts out goofy and lighthearted and transitions effortlessly to a powerful thematic line and back again:
I would love to have the soundtrack to this game simply follow me around as I go about my day, except that I would probably accidentally offend a lot of Italian-Americans when I announce “It’s-a me!” upon entering the grocery store and eventually get arrested for destroying someone’s sunroof after failing to execute a triple jump in the parking lot at Home Depot.
So there’s the list. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you have other ideas? What would be on your top soundtrack list for last year? Or maybe you’re a twelve-year old from six states away who has some questionable assertions about my anatomy and parental lineage? Let me hear it in the comments, and see you next week!