Saturday, December 26, 2009

Game list: the best overlooked soundtracks

Lords of Thunder: TurboGrafx (1993) and Sega CD (1993)

Think Dragonforce meets R-Type, but with more dragons, wizards, and swords. Way back before the Sega CD was released in 1992, console developers had to worry about the memory limitation on cartridges. After the console's arrival, game developers were no longer limited in terms of memory or forced to compress their games. Games like Lords of Thunder reflect this jump in sound quality from midi based synths to CD quality music.

The Lords of Thunder soundtrack is an amazing collection of power metal. Its intense soundtrack reflects the epic struggle of your characters as they blaze through levels defeating enemies and slaying bosses. Listening to this soundtrack on the bus just makes you want to rock out with a guitar in one hand and a battleaxe in the other.

Rez: PS2 (2001) and Dreamcast (2001)

Even today, Rez remains a technical and artistic marvel. It’s a trippy game and has an aesthetic style similar to Tron and is vaguely reminiscent of Starfox for the NES. Rez is an experimental shooter, but what makes the soundtrack special is that the player helps to generate it. Each time you shoot down a target, the game adds a beat or a slice which complements the in game music. Along with the trance vibrator, the game is able to create a synasthetic experience not seen in many other games.

Snatcher: PC-88 (1988) and Sega CD (1992)

Thoroughly cyber punk and hardboiled in every way, Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher is Blade Runner for gamers. The game’s soundtrack highlighted the technical capabilities of the PC-88 and the Sega CD through their use of CD quality audio. The gruesome settings you enter are set to a backdrop of cyber punk and moody tracks. And it’s also a damn fine game. Voiceovers and atmospheric themes help to develop the hardboiled detective narrative of synthetics and snatchers.

Summer Carnival ’92 Recca: NES (1992)and MSX (1988)

Some of the most frantic and pulse pounding videogame music comes out of schmups. Summer Carnival ’92 Recca is a frantic, fast paced and a bloody hard shoot ‘em up. Released in 1992, Recca pushed the NES’s sound board to the limit. Up until that point, few games had pushed the NES to that frenzied limit.

This is a fast game. Videos of Recca online are not sped up or time-lapsed, they show the actual in game speed. The music complements this by ramping you up so hard that by the time you’ve lost all your ships you’ll have gritted down your teeth to a fine powder.

Mystic Ninja: SNES (1992)

This game is odd. I can say that I only half-understand what’s going on most of the time. But I have fond childhood memories of this game and the music which complements the zany atmosphere. The mixture of shamisen and kabuki theatre music which at times is fun and light and at other haunting and intense, has stayed with me. From the rural Edo villages to the trap-laden castles, each environment has a specific and memorable sound to them.

Interstate ’76: PC (1997)

Just listen to the soundtrack, and you’ll get why I put this up here. The mix of badass funk recorded using vintage instruments and recording technology creates a genuine 1970’s atmosphere so ultimately chill that you will sit for hours listening to the loading screen. The excellent voiceover by Greg Eagles and his spoken word poetry that he whisper’s over the in game radio complements the smooth soundtrack.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl: PC (2007)

With a mix of neo-folk done by Firelake and atmospheric sounds by MoozE, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl creates a lonely and isolated post-apocalyptic atmosphere. What really stands out about this game’s soundtrack is its delivery. When you play the game, Firelake’s Dirge for the Planet and Against the Ionized Odds can only be heard over loud speakers and radios located throughout the world. The soundtrack gets overlooked and you might not even notice the tracks by MoozE as they are so well integrated into the environments. There are no musical tracks following you around the ruins of Chernobyl. As well, the ambient sounds of acoustic guitars played by fellow stalkers add to the post-apocalyptic feel the game aims to create.

Psychosomnium: PC (2008)

The soundtrack in Psychosomnium, an indie game created by Cactus, has a nostalgic and a depressive quality to it. You could spend hours sitting and listening to the games chiptune theme loop over and over. Cactus was able to integrate this simple and haunting song into Jimmy’s dream world.

Comix Zone: Genesis (1995)

The jukebox, do you remember the jukebox? I first played Comix Zone in 1997, and I always paused at the menu to listen to the hard rock theme. This game really shows off the technical abilities of the Sega Genesis. The music was composed by Howard Drossin and his grungy riffs complement the comic book style of the game. With each new environment came a setting appropriate track. The sewers had a dank and gross sound, the temple had a pseudo-Asian theme, and the results screen picked up your spirits after having your ass handed to you by the insane difficulty.

As well, having the jukebox allowed the player to enjoy the soundtrack without having to play through this brutally difficult game.

And a free CD came with the cartridge, what’s there not to like?

Killer 7: Gamecube (2005)

The trip-hop, techno, country, and sentai theme song inspired soundtrack of Suda 51’s Killer 7 reflects the disjointed and schismatic nature of Emir Parkreiner’s mind. Masafumi Takada really went all out on this game. The game’s diverse range of music from the trippy Rave On to the beaty Russian Roulette theme, Takada created an insane soundtrack for an insane game. He went on to create the soundtrack for Suda 51's No More Heroes a few years later. This soundtracks remains one of my all time favourites because of its diversity and insanity.

Grim Fandango: PC (1998)

It’s all in the title. The mix of mariachi music and festive tunes complements the atmosphere of Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango. This game has one of the most memorable sound tracks because of how Schafer attributed music to characters. From the jaunty Casino Calavera to the sinister Swanky Maximino, Grim Fandango does a good job of creating catchy and memorable themes. I’ll always remember the Blue Casket Bop because of all the time I spent forcing Manny to recite spoken word poetry to the angry hisses of the hipster crowd.

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