A videogame without a well composed soundtrack can be a hollow experience. Whether it’s used to build atmosphere or lacing a game with Hollywood style orchestral bombast, some games just would not be the same without them, so we here at You Died figured we’d share our favorite soundtracks with you.
As music is massively subjective, we’ve done a list each to get a wider scope. To kick us off, here’s Gav R’s list:
EARTHWORM JIM (1994)
The best videogame soundtracks are the ones that manage to intrinsically match the sounds that you’re hearing to the visuals on screen. Even with a limited set of tools, sound designers of the 8 and 16bit era managed to pull off impressive feats, from the bombastic energy of Street Fighter 2 to The Secret Of Mana’s epic scope. But it’s something a little less serious that deserves special mention. Tommy Tallarico’s soundtrack from Earthworm Jim is as balls-out ridiculous as the game itself. 1940’s showtunes, saloon ragtime, banjo acid trips and a Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky classical composition that gets hijacked after the intro and becomes a chilled-out bit of swaying surf pop punctuated with harrowing screams. This all combines to create a set of tunes that are as bewildering as the game itself. My 10 year old brain did not know what had hit it.
YOSHI’S ISLAND (1995)
Pick one of your favourite videogames and chances are that Koji Kondo composed the soundtrack. The legendary Japanese composer is responsible for providing the music for an overwhelmingly large amount of classic Nintendo games that to glance at his CV would be enough to make most up-and-comers throw in the towel. From Mario to Starfox to Zelda, Kondo is an essential part of the Nintendo DNA. It’s one of his more understated works that holds particular relevance to me though. I was a Sega kid growing up (thanks, MUM), so I experienced that Nintendo magic second hand when I visited friends. His work on Yoshi’s Island, a game that regularly saw me making my way home well after curfew, is a subtle piece of Kondo genius. Frothy, lighthearted, simplistic but deeply impactful compositions that will fill your heart with joy and make you remember the joy of youth.
Resident Evil (1996)
Like many people my age (slowly stepping into their 30’s with the tentative steps of a Dark Souls first-timer), their first experience of being scared witless by a videogame will be Capcom’s initial entry into the Resident Evil series. The harrowing, creeping sythns that accompany the spider attack; the queasy, warbling keyboards as the Tyrant breaks loose; the pulsing drone of Wesker’s Theme; the unsettling calm of the save room loop. It’s a collection of pieces (credited to Makoto Tomozawa, Koichi Hiroki, Masami Ueda and Takashi Niigaki) that will shred your nerves just as much as the action on-screen. They played a huge part in the games ability to shock, and taught a generation that they weren’t safe in front of their Playstations.
Just as Resident Evil had shown me how videogames could unsettle 7 years earlier, it was Manhunt that introduced a whole new world of digital discomfort. Never before had playing a videogame evoked such a visceral connection between me and it. Rockstar’s deeply disturbing world of snuff films, sadistic killers and pig-head-wearing psychopaths was so evocative that at times it was hard to catch your breath, as you were dragged deeper and deeper into a nightmare from which there could be no escape. Cribbed from 80’s horror (John Carpenter is a big influence), Craig Conner’s soundtrack, composed on beaten-up Korg equipment and ran through some unholy filters and distortion units, is a grim and punishing electronic descent into hell which will flip between throbbing synths and pure white noise.
Upbeat, happy and soothing music can be played to great effect when used to soundtrack disturbing images, a trick cinema has pulled in countless movie trailers, as death and destruction is waged to the sounds of Brian Eno. With Bioshock, Irrational’s underwater love-letter to Ann Raynd and ultraviolence, The jaunty sounds of the 1940’s pop hit ‘Beyond The Sea’ will be ringing in your ears as you smash Splicers’ skulls in long after you’ve clicked past the opening title. But its Garry Schyman’s original score for the game that stays with you. It’s a staggeringly dense work that veers between wide-eyed grandeur, heart-stopping tension, outright horror and heart-breaking melancholy, and its shifts in mood perfectly map your experience as you explore Rapture’s leaking corridors.
HOTLINE MIAMI (2012)
As the sequel to Dennaton Games’ ‘top down fuck-em-up’ Hotline Miami draws ever closer, I can’t decide which I’m looking forward to the most: the game or it’s soundtrack. Compiled from a vast selection of underground electronic artists, this collection of music has become so interwoven with the outrageous on-screen violence that accompanies it that I often wonder if it’s safe for me to walk down the street listening to it. Every glass-chime synth, every snare clap, every bass rumble, every cymbal crash, every whining keyboard note is the sound of baseball bats smashing against heads, of glass shattering as bullets scream through to tear into skin, of a dog being beaten to death with a pool cue, of a door being used to smear a guy’s face into a plasterboard wall. Hotline Miami IS it’s soundtrack. A relentless, constantly pushing force of nature that leaves you disorientated and motion-sick.