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Thumping synesthesia-fest Rez aimed to be a full-body sensory experience (literally ‘full-body’, check out the “personal massager” you could purchase for use with the game in Japan) by replacing every sound effect with a new musical element. Every shot, enemy, and explosion triggers a corresponding snare, hi-hat or synth blip, and the end result is surprisingly immersive, especially with a decent soundsystem. The morphing tracks from techno lifers like Ken Ishii, Coldcut, and Oval are top-shelf productions designed to morph intuitively as the player progresses through the level. Also, you play as an evolving consciousness inside a computer, trying to stop an AI from unshackling itself...and you can get off while doing it! The future is here!
“So, get this, you’re the prince of the universe, and the King of the Cosmos accidentally destroys the galaxy in a drunken binge, and you have to make new stars by rolling up progressively larger things on earth with a sticky ball-thing!” No it’s not your underachieving "actor/director" roommate’s latest pitch, it’s Katamari Damacy, or "Clump Soul" in English! Still one of the weirdest games ever conceived (and spiritual successor Noby Noby Boy gets even weirder), one major draw is the quirky-but-not-in-the-bad-Deschanel-way soundtrack. During its best moments, Katamari sounds like Of Montreal and The Go! Team collaborating with an entire elementary school classroom, and the results are purely, joyfully weird instead of annoyingly twee.
Sounding like Bjork’s Homogenic meets a speakeasy, composer Darren Korb’s soundtrack for 2014’s Transistor is a winner. Created entirely in Korb’s home studio, complete with a closet for the vocal booth, the soundtrack puts many big-budget games to shame. Coolest of all, Transistor features a dedicated hum button, something only it and 1994’s Crash Test Dummies: The Game can boast.
Though Brutal Legend is mostly legendary for being a flop due to its wrongheaded marketing, metal fans owe it to themselves to track down a copy. Created by veteran adventure game developer Tim Schafer, Brutal Legend stars Jack Black as a metal roadie who gets transported to a fantasy world inspired by heavy metal album covers. “Uh, I think it’s a little niche” – no one, surprisingly. The game was as metal as it comes, and it didn’t skimp on its licensing budget; the game features 107 songs from 75 bands, with a healthy mix of metal standbys and uber-obscurities. Though the game didn’t sell well due to fans expecting a Zelda-style adventure and getting a strange strategy/action hybrid, to anyone who swears fealty at the altar of Lemmy and leather, it’s a must-play.
Montreal’s own Béatrice Martin, aka Cœur de Pirate, came through big time with her piano-based score for Child of Light. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the downloadable title tells its princess’ story entirely in rhyme, which must’ve been a nightmare to localize in different languages. The lilting, evocative score puts you in the right mood to explore a magical kingdom, and Béatrice obviously knows one of the cardinal rules of RPGs: if you’re gonna have to listen to a battle theme 8,000 times in a game, you better make it damn good.
Swedish indie developer Dennaton had an instant hit on their hands with 2012’s Hotline Miami. While the hyperviolent Drive-inspired game was a rock-solid beat em up, what really made gamers into fans was the score. Composed of neon-soaked 80s pastiches from electronic producers like Scattle, MOON, and Pertubator, along with experimental psych-freakouts from weirdos like Sun Araw, the songs were the perfect accompaniment to bloodily beating the hell out of mobsters while existentially pondering the nature of violence and identity along with game’s scattered, dreamlike plot. 2015’s sequel added to the difficulty and upped the intensity of the score as well.
This is the soundtrack to beat when it comes to working with built-in sound chips. British composer David Wise didn’t let being limited by technology rein in his vision, and DKC 2 is the best example of that. Whether it’s a dark mine or underwater coral reef, Wise’s atmospheric and percussive compositions always lend a strange sense of melancholy and gravitas to making a giant gorilla jump on crocodiles. Nintendo obviously realized Wise was an undeniable factor in the rise of the country of the ape: Eleven years after composing for his last major game release, Wise returned to score 2014’s Donkey Long Country: Tropical Freeze.
Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu’s score for the 1995 RPG Chrono Trigger stands as some of the strongest melodies ever to come from a sound chip. Mitsuda’s stated goal with the soundtrack was to create music “that didn’t fit into any established genre…music of an imaginary world”. There’s not a nerd alive that “Robo’s Theme” or "Memories of Green” isn’t burned into the brain of, and that’s not due to any technology; that’s just because they’re great songs.
I think it was Tennyson who said “Beholde, the Video-Game/A greater use of Man’s time/there existeth not.” Well said, Tenny-chan! Still, in 2015, videogames get a lot of flack for encouraging violence/being puerile/not being a media form entrenched in the public consciousness pre-1960. But like it or not, GRANDAD, they’re here to stay, and they’re finally coming into their own as having legitimate cultural importance, GRANDAD. Music has been a huge part of games’ impact and appeal ever since that bassline on Mario 1-2, and in 2015, there are more examples than ever of games with killer sounds. Here are eight of them!