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For me, music is such an important feature in games these days. A great soundtrack and really elevate an experience and in the same token a game with bad or forgettable music can be just as detrimental as a broken game mechanic can. I mean, if you’re going to spend a significant amount of your time with a game, isn’t it only right that your ears have a great time as well?
There were so many great soundtracks this year that trying to whittle down the master list was pretty difficult. I covered a bunch of them in my “Soundtrack Central” features this year so in case you missed them, I’m going to post my original thoughts on each one as well.
These games got top marks from my ears this past year.
And the winners are…
Killer Instinct Season 2
Sure, this season may not be wrapped up until next April, but what has been revealed so far has again been stellar. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise though considering Mick Gordon is again firing on all cylinders for the game’s soundtrack. This season has been absolutely stellar so far featuring great tracks for characters like the Kan-Ra, TJ Combo, and Maya. With the rest of the roster hitting each month until April, consider this one just a tad incomplete for now.
Drawing inspiration from the past games in the franchise, Mick was not only able to create diverse, interesting, and memorable music, he did so in a way that fully embraces the past while still managing to tread new ground. Killer Instinct’s soundtrack is fully dynamic, as the action defines how complex or simple the song is, Ultra combos are timed with the background music, and samples from the previous games are woven into each theme. In the end, I find the entire soundtrack to be a feast for the ears and like the previous games, hugely memorable.
Ever since Shovel Knight was announced over Kickstarter, it captured my attention almost immediately. I grew up on old school games like Mega Man, and here was this knight using a shovel to battle other types of knights designed around specific theme. It was basically a Medieval Mega Man. Couple that with the fact that it had an amazing chiptune style soundtrack put together by the talented Jake Kaufman and I was hooked.
Composed by Jake “virt” Kaufman with assistance by Mega Man 1 composer, Manami Matsumae, the Shovel Knight soundtrack taps into the very best chiptune music giving the game a very classic and retro feel. The songs are catchy and will be stuck in your head long after playing. There’s no better example of this than Strike The Earth! which is chiptune music at it’s finest. In fact, I’m still humming this out loud almost on a daily basis. The same can be said for pretty much the entire soundtrack to be honest. If you enjoyed the music from the NES/Genesis/SNES era, you’ll find a lot to love with this one.
For a game all about rock and roll and style, Insomniac has simply nailed the game’s soundtrack. Featuring a ton of tracks from punk bands with the help of Pyramind production, Sunset’s biggest trick is it’s momentum-based music tied directly to the intensity the player is seeing on the screen. More stuff, more music! Better yet? Many of the tracks you hear in game were made specifically for Sunset Overdrive by the specific bands. It’s pretty cool when your vision and the game’s sound work so well together.
A game heavily inspired by punk rock gets a soundtrack that’s heavily inspired by punk rock. Featuring the likes of bands such as Cheap Time, Meat Market, and Bass Drum of Death, Sunset will make you want to headbang and jump around just as much as actually playing the game. The good news here is that even if you don’t like this style of music, Insomniac has done a great job integrating it with the gameplay so that elements of the song add in the more style your character generates until the full song comes in during the highest peaks of action. There’s no denying that the soundtrack and game work in beautiful harmony together.
inFAMOUS Second Son
I’m a big fan of the inFAMOUS series developed by Sucker Punch and each game in the series manages to craft a great supporting soundtrack to go with the action on the screen. Typically a heavier, grittier, percussion based sound, Second Son continues that great tradition mixing traditional rock instruments like drums and guitars mixed with subtle sampling. What Brain, Nathan Johnson, and Marc Canham have created here is something wonderful.
Sony’s inFAMOUS franchise has always featured excellent music typically set to more urban and city style sounds. Second Son continues the strong soundtrack tradition and even makes a case as being the best in the franchise. Put together by a combination of Brain, Nathan Johnson, and Marc Canham, Second Son mashes together driving percussion elements, loud guitar solos, and a bit of sampling to tie everything up. For a game set in Seattle, it’s absolutely perfect.
I gave high marks to Bastion (in fact, it won that year) when that game hit a few years ago and once again Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett knock this soundtrack out of the park as well. Since the world of Transistor is so heavily influenced by the future and technology, it only makes sense that the music features more electronic elements like synthesizers but thankfully, it also retains the powerful guitar work Supergiant Games is becoming known for. The music here works in beautiful harmony with what the players are seeing on screen, adding an air of mystery to the title as well. This one may be even better than the high marks that Bastion set.
Brought to life once again by Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett, Transistor takes on a whole different sound than it’s predecessor in Bastion. Gone are the western inspired trip hope sound, replaced by a beautiful rock and roll sound complete with driving beats, orchestral moments, a touch of electronic synth and powerful guitars. The music of Transistor plays a major role in the game almost walking the line hand in hand with the gameplay on the screen. There’s not really much else I can say about it beside go listen to the whole thing right now, it’s fantastic.
Child of Light
The first game outside of Rayman to utilize the impressive UbiArt Framework engine, Child of Light looks like a watercolor painting come to life. It makes sense then that the music which accompanies the gameplay inspires a sense of magic and kid like wonder. Relying heavily on the beautiful piano work of Coeur de Pirate aka Béatrice Martin, the soundtrack does a great job in capturing your imagination and representing the main themes of the game at the same time.
The music of Child of Light will hit you almost immediately as the beautiful piano work loops in during gameplay. I found the soundtrack to be quite touching, heartfelt, and also a touch emotional. It works perfectly with the theme and story of the main game and who knows, perhaps it’ll invoke a sense of child like wonder in you as well.