Happy Friday, everyone!
In preparation for a big, productive weekend of doing nothing but playing videogames, I decided a couple days ago to download Borderlands 2, the latest blockbuster shooter from the fine folks at Gearbox Software. The game has a fantastic opening credit sequence, done like a movie opener, set to the tune of “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy, a soul-rock band from Bath, England. It’s a great song on a great album, and it’s awesome that Borderlands 2 is going to bring more fans to the band.
Anyway, that got me thinking about game music in general. At its best, music does for games the same thing it does for movies: highlighting and underscoring action and emotion, providing atmosphere as well as contextual cues and prompts to stir our response to what we’re watching. We all know what our favorite movie music is. (Mine would include the soundtracks from Vertigo, The Godfather, and, um, This is Spinal Tap.) But do we all have favorite game music too?
I decided to make a list of my five favorite game soundtracks. Despite my example of The Heavy above, for my list of faves I’ve limited my choices only to original music, created specifically for a game, rather than a licensed song. Also, you should know my other biases: I’m more of a PC than console gamer, so all those Japanese RPG soundtracks that everyone loves so much are just not really on my radar. Also, I work for PopCap. So when you see a PopCap game on the list below, be aware that that may not be entirely a coincidence, even though it really, truly is one of my favorite game soundtracks.
Okay, so here they are, in no particular order:
Super Mario Bros
The quintessential game music. This list could really begin and end with this. Whether you hear it in its original 8-bit glory or a full orchestral version, the Super Mario Bros music conjures up an entire world and cannot help but make you happy unless you truly have no soul. Imagine the Mario games without this music. That’s right – you can’t. The game and the music are intrinsically tied together, and we’re all better off for it.
This is where both my PC bias and my age come into play. This classic car combat game from 1997 featured a freaking fantastic funk-rock soundtrack, the likes of which we’ve never really heard before or since in gaming. Maybe we just don’t associated gaming with funk. And maybe that’s for the best, given how un-funky most of the industry is. But in this one game, in this one moment in time, they nailed it.
This is the music I will hear in the insane asylum, when they finally cart me away. Like many people, Tetris was one of my first full-on gaming addictions, one of those “just one more game” games that would go on far beyond the point of all reason every single night. Also like many people, I would dream about Tetris pieces falling from the sky, and I would begin to see the shapes of the pieces everywhere, including between the letters of words I was reading. All of it accompanied to this ridiculously bouncy, happy tune that burrowed itself in my brain in 1984 and has never left since.
The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind
Really, I could have put any of Bethesda’s great Elder Scrolls soundtracks in here, because they’re all kind of variations on the same theme. This is the kind of “epic” fantasy music we associate with stuff like the Lord of the Rings movies, and I am comfortable enough in my own dorkiness to admit that it gets to me, every time. Yes, as I boot up the game, sitting at my desk in my boxers, trusty bag of Cheetos by my side, I feel just like the hero this music is made for, ready to conquer all, for lord and lady, or at least for a Steam achievement. Fear not, fair maiden! With this mighty mouse-click I shall vanquish that foul polygonal dragon stuttering across my machine at 3 frames-per-second thanks to my lousy graphics card! But first, a sip of Diet Coke! Truly I am a hero of our time.
Plants vs. Zombies
Like I said up top, I work here. So sue me. Nevertheless, like all the other games on this list, Plants vs. Zombies is simply not the same game without the wonderful music behind it. In fact, Laura Shigihara’s brilliant theme song was for many of us our very first encounter with the game, as this is how PopCap announced it to the world before showing any of the actual gameplay. I still remember (and this is before I worked here) seeing the video for the first time, not sure if PopCap was kidding or not that this was a real game, but knowing, regardless, that I was in love.
So…that’s my list. Though if I wrote it on a different day I might admittedly think of 5 others. But this is my list for today. Now, the bigger question is: What are your favorites? List ‘em below! And have a great weekend!