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What’s Your Favorite Video Game Soundtrack?

| Monday, October 6, 2014

web_video gamesSara Shoemake & Mary McGraw
A game’s soundtrack is never the deciding factor in what makes it good, or even memorable. Still there’s a pervasiveness to some video game soundtracks that elevates the gameplay — or at least seems to from the standpoint of nostalgia — enough so to warrant compiling and celebrating a handful of my favorites.  I invite you all to join in on the discussion online and share some that I’ve missed or deserve recognition.

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS

Banjo-Kazooie

The expansive platforming featured in Banjo-Kazooie required time and brought about frustration. The bouncy, mood-setting score significantly helped soothe these frustrations. Based on the each levels’ theme, the accompanying piece would perfectly capture the tone in a childlike blend of wonder and exploration.

Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Heart’s unique universe combines the worlds of Disney, Final Fantasy and original characters created specifically for the game. In a similar fashion, the game’s soundtrack mixes Disney staples — often adapting them — with original music that organically mesh in a completely cohesive soundtrack.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

You can take your pick among the Legend of Zelda series and find a superb soundtrack in any of them. Still, the masterpiece of the franchise lies within Ocarina of Time, understandably so considering the central function of music in the game.  The popularity of “Saria’s Theme” and “Song of Storms” alone are testaments to the soundtrack’s achievement.

Mass Effect

Maybe it’s because it plays like a one-off Boards of Canada album, or maybe it’s because of the sheer amount of time you have to spend playing the game, but Mass Effect’s futurist, ambient soundtrack has always stuck out.  Soft electronic scores aid in setting the sprawling, spacy backdrop — accompanying you when it feels like nothing else is.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon

Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police, composed the first three Spyro game’s soundtracks. Over the course of this work, he absolutely honed the craft by the third game.  Copeland’s fun, dynamic themes match and transcend the atmospheres of the many portals strewn across Spyro’s universe, incorporating well-placed sound effects with traditional instrumentation.

Super Mario 64

The slightly haunting undercurrents of the theme for Super Mario 64’s main hub “Inside the Castle Walls” perfectly encapsulate the complexities of the game’s entire soundtrack. Listening to the track years later — which I find myself doing time to time — machinates those tiny echoing footsteps from our beloved hero rushing, jumping through the castle’s corridors.

 

CURATED SOUNDTRACKS

MVP Baseball series

From 2003 – 2005, EA Sports had the proper licensing to make MLB video games.  In this time, they also procured a large mass of indie sleeper hits and modern alternative rock hits.  The three iterations of MVP Baseball crushed the sports game soundtrack business.  At the time, NBA Live and Madden focused too much on radio hip-hop, FIFA wasn’t what it is now, NCAA games required too many (read: any at all) fight songs and fight song remixes, NHL was close, but was also frequently not a sport, and tertiary sports like Tiger Woods PGA Tour and NASCAR were games about golf and car racing. MVP Baseball hit the sweet spot of matching the sport’s feel with standalone great songs.

Skate & Skate 2

Any game that can feature Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” on a soundtrack with Public Enemy, deep0-cut Black Sabbath, and ELO deserves high praise.  In the franchise’s first two endeavors, the soundtracks genre-hopped from punk to classic rock to reggae seamlessly: never jarring, always flowing. In fact, Skate may very well be the only game I return to based solely on the aspect of listening to the soundtrack.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 – Tony Hawk’s Underground 2

From Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 to Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, the series hit a groove not only in the series’ gameplay, but also in its soundtracks.  Release after release, the Tony Hawk games’ soundtracks expanded and diversified, while never abandoning the culture of skating. By the time Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 rolled out, Frank Sinatra was bookended by the mixing of Handsome Boy Modeling School and Joy Divison’s early punk phase.  Yet, I maintain and will vehemently contend that the slimmer Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 remains both the best game of the series and the series’ finest soundtrack.

 Rock Band series

Sure, this is a cop-out.  The games are built specifically around featuring songs to which people would want to play along.  However, the team at Harmonix behind cultivating such a strong assortment demands that this be a serious inclusion. The developers clearly love music, and used their games to honor artists from all respects. Even the lesser-known songs — some from bands the employees were involved in — stood out, rounding out three games with impeccable taste.

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About Matt McMahon

Notre Dame Class of 2016 student studying Finance and English. From Mercer County, New Jersey. Interests include music, television, film, and writing. Also food.My Mom didn't like what else I had to say here so I took it down.

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  • Yup

    Nailed it with MVP Baseball.

    Would throw in the GTA series too, if not only because of the unique fake radio station style and the fact that I’m still not sure how many of those songs were original/curated.