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I think I say this every year, but it’s true. This is my favorite awards category hands down.
Is there anything better when a game and its music sync up perfectly? Music really is so important to the overall experience, but it’s something that is easily overlooked when talking about things like gameplay or graphics.
Think about it, a game with bad or forgettable music can be just as detrimental to an experience just as a broken feature or mechanic can. 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?
For me, the following games have managed to stand out as having some of the best soundtracks over the past 12 months.
And the nominees are…
From the outside, Celeste appears to be a simple platforming game with a cute art style. After playing it, it’s a game with a message and a compelling story, tight controls, and an outrageously good soundtrack.
Lena Raine has put together a soundtrack that not only enhances the gameplay, but it also sticks with you long after the game is off. Using a mix of piano and electronic sounds, the music has a tendency to add new elements and evolve based on what’s happening on screen or who’s on screen. There are a ton of good tracks on here, but some standouts for me include Resurrections, which is a long and complex track that builds new layers, and Scattered and Lost, which features a faster tempo piano beat that goes into some unexpected places.
God of War
I’m still in awe of God of War and what Sony Santa Monica was able to do with a franchise that was seemingly becoming fairly predictable in it’s over the top violence. Not only did they transform the series for the better, but the score that accompanied it helped the game soar to new heights.
Like the game itself, the music by Bear McCreary is absolutely epic in every way. It’s sweeping and fits well with the new Norse style the game has taken on. Track one, also known as God of War shows this off well with pounding drums, a sweeping orchestral sound, and a mesmerizing choir that sound like its coming from a group of Viking shamen.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate
To be honest, I don’t know if this is a cop-out or not considering that of the 800+ songs, many of them are taken from previous games. I think that’s amazing, but for those of you not convinced this game should be included, there are some original tracks and tracks that have been redone with an orchestra among other things. Still, you’re basically getting songs from a legendary cast of composers across the entire Nintendo library and some third party franchise like Metal Gear, Sonic, and others. There’s literally no way you can’t find something on here to bounce to.
Plus, Nintendo made it so the Switch acts as a sort of quasi-MP3 players letting you use handheld mode to listen to the vast music collection. How fantastic is that?
Pokemon Let’s Go
Okay, another game that draws on the past since it’s technically a reimagining of Pokemon Yellow. But still, I find myself humming along with the familiar tracks of places like Cerulean City, Lavender Town, the Battle theme, the Route theme, etc. They’re iconic, they’re catchy, and they remind me of my younger days when Pokemon was green and black and only accessible on that brick called a Gameboy. The tracks have been redone for the modern era and sound so good that my head would have exploded as a child after hearing them the way they are now.
Showcasing what it’s like for a shopkeeper who dreams of being a hero, or at the very least, a businessman who ventures into dangerous dungeons in order to get loot to sell at his shop, the Moonlighter soundtrack is absolutely stellar.
David Fenn has managed to capture the spirit of exploration within the music using acoustic guitars, piano, and light percussion. Part of the appeal is how the music dynamically shifts in places like the dungeons as the theme you hear on floor one evolves and adds more and more elements the deeper you go. Even the main hub Rynoka Village has multiple tracks, each sounding slightly different depending on where the player is in the game.
Far Cry 5
For a game that takes place in the forests of Montana and a Doomsday Cult causing hell for everyone, the last thing you’d probably think about is the score. Don’t sleep on this one! Dan Romer nailed the tone, balancing between the chaos of the gameplay and the serenity of the country woods.
Our Country Made A Promise is a great example of this, featuring plenty of string instruments like the violin, playing over the hard edge of electric guitars. When Morning Light Shines In is another standout track, which slows the pace down a bit thanks to a booming piano, duelling violins, and a wonderful beat.
If you had told me that Insomniac ripped the soundtrack from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would have believed you. The music put together by John Paesano is booming, epic, and fit for a hero like Spider-Man.
The theme along sounds like it was pulled from the latest Spider-Man movie brought together by a massive orchestra filled with violins, string instruments, plenty of horns working together in unison and booming drums. Listening to a track like The Golden Age, for instance, really manages to drive home the feeling that you are Spider-Man, swinging through the streets of New York City.
Destiny 2: Forsaken
While most will probably remember Forsaken as the expansion that finally righted the Destiny ship, this expansion also continued its strong tradition of great music. Say what you want about the franchise, one thing that has remained consistently great is the soundtrack.
Once again put together by Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, Rotem Moav, and Pieter Schlosser, Forsaken manages to carry a lot of the same sounds that made the original Destiny 2 release great. The tracks this time have a sound to them that better align with more of the themes of the expansion: revenge, desperation, and darkness. Guns Blazin’ and Once Upon a Time in the Reef are two great examples of that mentality with their heavy guitar riffs balanced by the traditional orchestral elements once would naturally attribute to a classic Bungie game.
and the winner is…
Honestly, it was a really hard decision this year because each of the games above had special qualities about them. Something about Celeste just stands out to me. When I think about the game itself, the soundtrack is right there as well. The two pieces of this experience go hand in hand and have a great harmony to them. It’s almost like you can’t have one without the other. That’s the edge this game has over the others.