We’ve come a long way since ‘Space Invaders’ broke new ground in 1978 with its infamous four-note score. At the time, video game music was usually restricted to brief ditties before and after levels, or simply looped, regardless of what was happening onscreen. Nishikado’s score was the first to react to in-game elements, speeding up as the alien ships descended, instilling in an entire generation a Pavlovian panic response. ‘Frogger’ took things a step further in 1981, both in terms of music and obsessive fandom, with over 11 separate tracks influenced by player-actions, and we’ve never looked back.
Game music today receives the same level of care as a motion-picture score, with results that sometimes surpass even the grandest Oscar winner. It’s an integral feature of what we play, enhancing the depth, mood and scope of these fictional worlds, and by-gum do gamers love themselves a good soundtrack. Below are some that wowed audiences on release, were barnstorming successes, stood the test of time, or just refused to dislodge themselves from our brains for weeks (decades) afterward. Fellow gamers, we give you:
Silent Hill 3
The perfect accompaniment to a creepy, Lovecraftian tale of evil cults, alternate realities and demon ‘Gods’, Akira Yamaoka’s score brought something fresh to the series via Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s vocals. Including the now-famous track ‘You’re Not Here’, SH3 raised the series beyond its chiller origins to something almost operatic, via energetic pop-rock. On paper it sounds like something that could go horribly wrong, the fact that it didn’t speaks volumes for the production team.
Wipeout (PlayStation Version)
Combining a mid-90’s vision of the future with songs by Orbital, Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers, Wipeout did for in-game music what Easy Rider’s pop/rock score did for cinema. Channelling all the good points of driving a car with the speakers blaring, plus anti-gravity and missile launchers, this might still be our favourite racing game.
Shadow of the Colossus
Named ‘Soundtrack of the Year’ by Electronic Gaming Monthly, and ‘Best damn-game ever’ by just about everyone who played it, Shadow of the Colossus boasted a score by Kow Otani that was brave in every sense of the word. Showing restraint where others would have feared alienating players, the silences that accompany your journey across this postmodern wasteland only render the eventual appearance of music – as you battle the Colossi – all the more powerful. Genius.
Sonic the Hedgehog (1 & 2)
Masato Nakamura was just starting out in Jpop-group ‘Dreams Come True’ when he became the unlikely pick to score Sega’s new ‘Mario beater’. Luckily, he turned out to be an inspired choice. The first cinematic score for any platformer, Nakamura’s music managed to bring ancient ruins, lost cities and the legendary Green Hill Zone to bustling life. A milestone in gaming, nostalgia and catchiness, this little ditty may just be our all-time favourite.
If there’s one thing GTA is famous for beyond mindless-violence, fast cars, dodgy cut-scenes, bizarre guest-stars and spectacular helicopter crashes (hey, it’s a popular series, OK?), it’s the radio stations that pollute the airwaves of its fictional America. Varying wildly in genre, style, suitability and each sporting their own (largely insane) DJ, the games featured music by Bowie, Skynard, Ice Cube, Electric Light Orchestra and Lionel Richie (among others). The perfect vibe to an eccentric series.
Metal Gear Solid
Cinematic, synth-filled, tense and sophisticated, MGSs score went a long way toward establishing the series’ reputation for unrivalled quality. Like a hyper-brutal Bond film directed by David Lynch, the game remains one of the PlayStation’s best, with Kanomi’s in-house score ladling on the tension, creating a strange, violent atmosphere where anything seems possible.
Super Mario Bros
The catchiest, most-influential and recognisable theme in gaming history, Koji Kondo’s ‘Ground Theme’ is the granddaddy of them all and outranks most video gaming soundtracks out there, always keeping us entertained!
Author: Jenny B is a big fan of video gaming and music, with her latest DV247 Fender Products she keeps well entertained in her spare time!