22 December 2008

The Red Baron's Top 7 Videogame Soundtracks Of All Time.

Recently I have been discussing the importance of music in videogames, and I noticed I had quite a lot to say on the subject. This is because my enjoyment of a videogame is almost inseparable from my enjoyment of its soundtrack. It's something of a chicken-and-egg question trying to determine just what the relationship is between a great videogame and a great videogame soundtrack [is it possible for a great videogame to not have a great soundtrack, or does that disqualify it from greatness? Can a great soundtrack make a 'good' game great?] but it's enough to know that it is important, and it does enrich the gaming experience. Indeed, if you peruse the list below you'll see only three games that cannot also be found on my Top Eighteen Videogames of All Time - one of which was released this year, the other two are sequels to other placeholders. To give the list a bit of context, these are my criteria:

  1. I must have played the game. If you can't find your favourite videogame music on this list, it's entirely possible that I've never listened to it. Feel free to chime in with your own picks below if this is the case.

  2. The soundtrack must be consistently great. I must be able to listen to it during the entire experience without getting tired of it. With the length of videogames being what they are, this is no mean feat. A soundtrack is only as strong as its weakest link, and I won't be picking games on the strength of a handful of songs. For instance, I LOVE the Metroid Prime title music more than you will ever know, as well as the Magmoor Caverns AND Phendrana Drifts themes, but you won't find the game on this list. No, those songs will have to wait for another list, another day.

  3. One entry per franchise. I can almost guarantee you I will make an exception to this rule.

  4. This is a list of videogame music, written and recorded/engineered specifically for the videogames they feature in. This means games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Jet Set Radio Future do not qualify. I had to draw the line somewhere, otherwise we'd be seeing Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands all over the place.

  5. The music must stay with me long after the experience is over. This is perhaps my most heavily weighted criterion.

Remembering of course, that as in all matters of Aesthetics, everything about this is purely subjective. But we all love a good list, don't we, so occasionally someone has to have to balls to step up and make a few bold claims. If you disagree with me, or you think I've robbed a game of its due, feel free to acknowledge your favourite videogame music below.

Without any further adieu, here are my Top Seven Videogame Soundtracks Of All Time:

7. Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet was innovative in a number of ways, but what interested me most was its music, which changed on the fly according to your circumstances. A foreboding calm across the sea is only moments away from the angular sturm und drang of a wyvern's fiery attack. Undeniably Arabian in flavour, I could not shake the feeling that I was a wizard on my magic carpet.

6. Street Fighter II

It's no mistake that these tunes have been appropriated and remixed by every subsequent entry in the Street Fighter series. Each song is inextricably linked its character, flavoured of course by their respective nationalities, from Blanka's jungle theme to Vega's matadorian dance. They play well at all speeds, too, which is handy when you want to imbue that sense of urgency.

5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Before the cheesy 80s guitar riffs and bad lyrics, Sonic was a musical force to be reckoned with, and no game better embodies this than Sonic 2. Its melodies are as varied and vibrant as the levels that host them, from the country guitar twang of Hilltop Zone to the snake-charming Oil Ocean and back to the industrial chug of Metropolis Zone.

4. de Blob

The mind boggles at the sheer wealth of musical material present in de Blob. I can only conclude that the band must have hit 'record' from the moment the game began development. In many ways, de Blob represents the ultimate integration of music into the gameplay experience. You'll want to paint the town all over again when you're done, just to hear more of that funky, funky music. It runs the gamut of jazz, funk, blues, reggae, and hip-hop, and the game lets you paint solos all over it.

3. Super Mario World

Mario World bravely broke away from the famous Mario theme to weave its own thematic tapestry, and for that, I salute it. Think Mario in a milk bar. A really, really cute one with strange hobo sitting in the corner. I don't know what that means.

2. Dune II: The Battle for Arakkis

Westwood's tradition of great RTSs and great videogame music began with Dune II. Its soundtrack is best described as a lithe mechanical beast chugging through quicksand. How fitting.

1. Toejam & Earl/Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkatron

Remember when I talked about breaking Rule #3? I was serious. I had to call a two-way tie between these two games, because they both deserve recognition as the greatest examples of videogame music ever created. In fact, no discussion about videogame music should be entered into without first recognising Toejam & Earl as its pinnacle. Here's what I wrote about it in my review:
"It's in the music department that Toejam & Earl really comes into its own. The soundtrack is memorable and downright funky, and features some of the most inventive uses of MIDI I've heard. You'll find yourself humming the Big Earl Bump or the Toejam Slowjam as you go about your day-to-day...When a game compels you to record all its songs onto CD for general listening, you know you're onto something special."

What's in your Top Seven?

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