In a time when most video games featured composed music, the guys at Neversoft decided to do something a bit different. Instead of paying for studio musicians to come in and make synthy “video game” music for the game, developers decided to shell out some extra cash and get the rights to some real rock n roll.
Critics say that the THPS1 soundtrack is one of the best in video game history and it’s hard to argue. The game was instrumental in introducing kids to punk, ska and hip hop artists they would have otherwise never heard. (How else is a nine year old supposed to hear Suicidal Tendencies and Rage Against the Machine?) Several bands have even credited the series with jumpstarting or revitalizing their careers, since it brought their music to a huge new audience. I can still remember trying to collect all the S-K-A-T-E letters in The Mall while “Police Truck” by the Dead Kennedys was blaring through the 16” in my bedroom.
Whether you were a casual skater or made it all the way to Roswell, the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 made your days spent as a pro skateboarder that much better.
Collectibles in video games today can be a really pointless pain in the ass for compulsive completionists. Open worlds are filled with towers to climb, posters to rip down, or mind-numbing fetch quests to complete that add no real atmosphere or story to the game. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag bucks that trend with its “sea shanties.” Sea shanties are floating pieces of paper that the player must chase down. Once the player gets it, which can be damn near impossible sometimes, then a song unlocks for the player to listen to while sailing the high seas in their pirate ship. There is no better feeling than pillaging whole islands with your crew as they make merry and sing about the pirate’s life on the seven seas. Whether they’re singing of the pain of leaving a fair maiden behind on a different island, or about rum (it’s usually about rum), the sea shanties in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag set up a sense of atmosphere that I haven’t seen in a game since. Perhaps more importantly, it made collecting items fun for once.
Surely a game that is all about roller skating graffiti artists would have a fantastic soundtrack. Hearing any one of these dance tracks brings me right back to tagging towns as a character that looked like they skated straight out of the coolest 90s rave of all time. Though the games in the Jet Set series are jam-packed with funky beats and dance songs a few of the highlights for me will always be “Concept of Love”, “Rock It On”, “Oldies But Happies” and “Sweet Soul Brother”. Though I still unironically rock out to the Jet Set soundtracks, I also can’t help but give a shout out to my other favorite musical game Parappa the Rapper. I still bust out those daily lesson rhymes on a regular basis.
Koji Kondo is blessed with an almost inhuman ability to produce music that perfectly encapsulates a game’s theme, aesthetic and general heart and soul. His decades of work have come to define the full scope of what video game music could convey, from Super Mario Bros. to Star Fox. But it is his work on A Link to the Past that is perhaps the best example of his prowess. The game was only the third SNES project Kondo worked on, and he took full advantage of the console’s new S-DSP sound chip to produce a 16-bit soundtrack that allowed for more musical depth and impact than any game he had worked on before. The game’s themes of exploration, adventure and heroism can be felt entirely through the iconic score, making Link’s quest feel appropriately legendary.
Hyper Light Drifter is a game with no written dialogue. Only flashes of images and strange visions experienced by the protagonist give hints as to the true nature of the world they occupy. It executes its abstract story well through these images, accompanied by one of the most beautiful, ominous and cohesive soundtracks I’ve had the pleasure to listen to while working my way through a game.
Disasterpeace (aka Richard Vreeland) uses synths steeped in jagged and fuzzy reverb to create his works, which also include soundtracking for the video game Fez and horror movie It Follows. For Hyper Light Drifter, Disasterpeace helps set the scene of a near-desolate world with a score that complements the decaying titans seen climbing mountains in the background and the moments where your character’s illness causes a coughing fit and your vision begins to fuzz out into dreams of a terrifying monster bearing down on you.
Animal Crossing is a quirky little game where you play as a newcomer to a village wherein all of your neighbors are friendly (occasionally grumpy) animals. It’s a series that has always been important to me as I’ve played the games since I was a little girl. The game uses real time and each hour has its own song with the late evening and early morning hours having music specifically made to relax the player. The daytime tunes are gentle and calming, making Animal Crossing the perfect “wind-down” game after a long day of work or class. This is not even mentioning the guitar-playing, song-slinging dog K.K. Slider named after the game’s composer Kazumi Totaka. Even just scrolling through the comments, one can see the different reactions and emotions that this soundtrack evokes, solidifying it as one of my favorite soundtracks. I even have a Google Chrome extension that plays each tune at each hour in real time.
A game as striking and captivating as Dennaton Games’ biggest hit, Hotline Miami, would require a soundtrack intense enough to match the game’s feel, and the team who worked on the series delivered the accompaniment perfectly. A top-down shooter taking place in 1989, Hotline Miami lures players in with vivid images and bright, pulsating colors from across the visual spectrum before dazzling them with a flash of light after every attack. All of this shock-and-awe isn’t what keeps the player enthralled in the game, however; most players come for the visuals, but stay for the sounds they hear. With songs from indie EDM artists like Sun Araw, M|O|O|N, and Perturbator, a blend of retro electronic dance music and synthwave is prominent in nearly every level, growing more intense as the game progresses. The game leaves the player with ambient noise upon level completion. When the player returns to the main character’s apartment for a break between levels, they are met with an eerie-yet-rhythmic series of synth sounds and percussive noises that capture the beautifully twisted nature of the game’s ambiguous story.
With an impressive slew of video games since 1991, the Sonic Team of Sega Games Inc. developed their fourth racing video game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, called Sonic Riders in 2006.
The music accompanying each level represents the locations in the most creative way. For example, the music for Sand Ruins, fuses heart-pumping techno music with traditional Arabian/Egyptian themes to match the desert location. It’s one of the songs that stands out the most and has become easily recognizable over the years.
As someone whose video game experience includes Crash Team Racing or SSX Tricky for the PS2, I can only be considered what some may call uneducated and unskilled on this topic, but Batman: Arkham City, which came out in October 2011, slightly changed that. Although many in the comments section of YouTube deem the music themes from the actual game one of “the best Batman theme since the Dark Knight Score. And I love that score,” it was actually the album that accompanied the game that made me pay attention. With bands like Panic! at the Disco and Coheed and Cambria, it’s an interesting mix of curated alternative tracks that will put you right in the headspace of a midnight vigilante.