October Game Soundtrack Roundup
Welcome back, friends, for another month of soundtrack goodness. I’ve been reviewing my notes, and this may be the meatiest roundup I’ve yet put together--the number of games released in October has been just unreal, and the soundtracks have been some of my favorites of the whole year so far!
Let’s start the rundown by wrapping up some loose ends from September: First, the ballet-styled Bound dropped its soundtrack on the 29th. Composed by Oleg Shpudeiko, the score blends electronica and minimalist piano to augment the game’s abstract visual style. This single, “The Ocean That I Found,” gives you a good idea of the mood the game wants to convey:
Spear-flingin’ action title Lichtspeer also dropped at the tail end of last month. It is a goofy game about throwing spears into waves of enemies inexorably marching toward you in a Germanic myth techno-future. The soundtrack, by Polish artist Marcin Sonnenberg, is a chill blend of electronica with an occasional Euro-dance bent (the album cover proclaims it to be “uber space music,” if that gives you a better idea).
A rhythm-action game called Klang released in the last days of September, and I’m hugely surprised that it flew beneath my radar because the soundtrack is done by bLiNd, one of the true veterans of the VGM remix scene and an expert EDM arranger. Give this a listen and try to stop your toes tapping:
It didn’t quite make it in time for the September roundup, but a couple weeks back, Sundae Month dropped their soundtrack for Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, one of Zam’s favorite games of last month, and it is glorious. Weird, peppy, and definitely alien, Diaries’ OST is some of the most refreshing music I’ve heard this year. If you liked the soundtrack to Media Molecule’s Tearaway, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen.
One last followup from September: Karl Flodin did, indeed, release his OST for Clustertruck on his Bandcamp, and it continues to be amazing. If you passed on it last month because it was only available via Steam DLC, please, please go listen to it now. Turn the volume all the way up.
Jiminy Christmas, we’re five games in already and we haven’t even gotten to October proper. Let’s start by having a listen to the score for Aragami, a ninja game by Spanish indie dev studio Lince Works. Reviews have thus far been a bit mixed, but it sounds as though if you have a deep and abiding love for Tenchu in your heart, Aragami might scratch that itch. The score, by Swedish duo Elvira Björkman and Nicklas Hjertberg (who, together, go by “Two Feathers”), strikes a balance between cinematic and atmospheric, with the kind of Japanese instrumentation you would expect from a ninja stealth game.
This is quite a year for Vancouver artist A Shell in the Pit: only two months ago, he put out the soundtrack to Okhlos, and now he’s back with some strings and crunchy beats for Viking Squad, a side-scrolling beat-’em-up that looks like it takes more than a little influence from Golden Axe. Okhlos has been one of my favorite indie soundtrack surprises so far this year, so absolutely go give this one a listen:
Sometimes I’ll skip over soundtracks that only release as Steam DLC, because they require you to own the original game in order to purchase them, but here’s one that I think deserves to be on your radar regardless: The Silver Case, one of the earliest games by SUDA 51, with a score done by Masafumi Takada (who you may recognize for his recent work on Danganronpa). The Silver Case is an old game--it was originally released in 1999--but it’s just gotten released in the West for the first time this month, and the new soundtrack has remixes by Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill fame). I’ll let you know if it becomes more widely available later on, but for the moment, have a listen to some YouTube rips to see if it’s your bag.
An awful lot of my Twitter feed this month has been preoccupied with Mafia III, Hangar 13’s stabbing-dudes-in-the-throat-amidst-midcentury-Southern-racism simulator. Zam’s own Steven Strom was mostly positive in his assessment of it, although critical reception generally has been a bit more mixed. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that as someone who prizes writing, setting, and music above most other elements of a game, I think Mafia III is stellar, as it hits those three targets with aplomb. These roundups focus almost exclusively on original scores rather than licensed music, but Mafia III has one of the best licensed soundtracks I can remember--go read this interview Paste Games did with its creative director and then listen to this Spotify playlist if you don’t believe me. The game’s score, by Jesse Harlin and Jim Bonney, is excellent as well, evoking perfectly the feel of 1968 New Orleans--er, excuse me, “New Bordeaux.”
Released the same day as Mafia III, Paper Mario: Color Splash differs somewhat in tone. The critical consensus seems to be that the game is another entry in the Paper Mario series, an assessment which seems pretty on-point to me. The one part of the game about which I’ve seen effusive praise is the localization, which is consistently called out as being witty, charming, and just generally a delight. The game’s score, by a trio of composers at Intelligent Systems, is not particularly memorable, but here’s a sample in any case:
If there’s one game this month that I haven’t seen anybody speak a bad word about, it’s Thumper, the “rhythm violence” game that was quickly crowned the best thing about PSVR and maybe even one of the best rhythm games of all time. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, which is embarrassing for me as a lover of music games, but I’m actually kind of… intimidated? Thumper sounds scary as heck. I’m a little afraid I’d get my face melted off like in the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The game’s soundtrack, by Brian Gibson, is getting the specialty vinyl treatment from iam8bit, so if you’re already in thrall to the rhythm violence, maybe consider picking that up.
Another major AAA game released this month was Gears of War 4, the first game in the series to be built for this newest generation of gaming hardware. I confess that my own interest in the Gears games waned about midway through the third entry, but I absolutely understand why they’ve continued to be popular--as far as cover shooters go, they’ve got a heft to them that I’m not sure another game has tried to match. Why not take a moment to read AJ Moser’s essay on why the games are smarter than you may at first suspect? Then you can come back and listen to a soundtrack sample by composer Ramin Djawadi, whose sound you may recognize from Game of Thrones and Pacific Rim.
GoNNER came out of nowhere this month, a sweet little morsel that looks like someone put Sound Shapes and Contra in a blender together and seasoned the mixture with just a dash of Super Meat Boy to taste. There are lots of colors and explosions and I feel like I would die many times playing it. The score, ambient electronica by Scandinavian artist Foreground Set, is alternately chill and oppressive, disarming and ominous. Maybe it’s the October talking, but I don’t know if I’d listen to this one in the dark. Turn on a light and have a listen:
I don’t know anything about Mantis Burn Racing except that it is a top-down racer, and as someone who lost most of the summer of 1992 to Micro Machines for the Sega Genesis, that makes it okay in my book. The soundtrack, a bit of electronica from Robert Paul Allen and Jon Bates, won’t change your life, but it’s worth a listen nevertheless. It’s intense enough to make for good productivity music, if that’s something you’re looking for.
Shadow Warrior 2 is a thing that happened this month--presumably, if you enjoyed the previous Shadow Warrior, this one will also be up your (very ‘90s) alley. I know that these new Shadow Warriors, like the original, like to utilize “wang” in their advertising copy, as that is the name of the games’ protagonist and also a slang word for male genitalia. That’s been enough to let me know they’re not for me, but it’s possible that’s something you’re very into! I’m not here to judge. Regardless of your wang preference, you may be excited about the possibility of new material from Stan Bush, the creative genius behind “The Touch,” from the original Transformers movie (and also Saints Row IV). Here it is:
The advent of PlayStation VR this month meant that a whole host of VR-specific games were released at once--many of which didn’t have traditional soundtracks, and plenty more simply haven’t put those soundtracks out into the wild yet. One VR game that triumphantly thrust its soundtrack into the world was Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight, and with good reason: it’s composed by Inon Zur, one of the best cinematic composers in the medium. Zur’s responsible for the soundtracks for all three modern Fallout games, as well as Dragon Age: Origins and a host of others. His score for Eagle Flight is, well, soaring. Duh. Thumper aside, maybe the best soundtrack from a virtual reality game yet.
I did not know what HoPiKo was or what it meant before I was making this roundup. I’m not sure I know what it is now. It looks like… a platformer with a lot of jumping? It looks hard. That’s not important. What’s important is this chiptune soundtrack by composer Rob Allison, which might be my favorite soundtrack of the year so far, I kid you not. Music composed on the original Game Boy’s sound chip scratches some deep, primal itch for me, and the crunchier the sound, the better. HoPiKo’s soundtrack is so crunchy, I think it cut the roof of my mouth. Go listen to the whole thing, toss Mr. Allison five quid, and get yourself a copy of one of the best chiptune albums in a long while.
Phew! Seventeen games in, and we’re still not quite finished. There are still a handful of games that have just released but whose soundtracks haven’t dropped yet. Take, for example, Battlefield 1, DICE’s WWI shooter that somehow manages not to trip up on what is potentially very dangerous historical ground. EA hasn’t released the game’s soundtrack yet, which is a shame because it is excellent, full of stirring strings and swelling orchestral flourishes. I can’t wait to get my headphones around the whole thing, but until it drops, we’ll have to content ourselves with a couple samples on SoundCloud:
Did you know that another Civilization game game out this month? Of course you did. I can tell just by looking at you that you’re very up on things. The main score to Civ VI, which you can listen to in this four-hour YouTube video, is by series regular Geoff Knorr, with help from Roland Rizzo and Phill Boucher. You, however, are probably more interested in the main theme by Christopher Tin, the gentleman behind Baba Yetu, one of the best pieces of game music of all time. Did he top himself? Well, I’ll let you decide. I’ll be over here with a hanky, getting all weepy about the nobility of human endeavor.
The tail end of the month saw both World of Final Fantasy and Titanfall 2 released, but neither has a soundtrack immediately forthcoming (I wouldn’t get too worried on either count, though). I’ll be sure to let you know when those materialize.
Two more vinyl releases of note: Rez Infinite is getting the dee-luxe vinyl treatment from iam8bit, and Limited Run records is putting out a vinyl printing of… Pony Island? Definitely go give that one a look!
My goodness, that’s a lot of soundtracks. That should be enough to keep our playlists full until the end of the year, and no mistake--but there’s more yet to come! November will offer us Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Dishonored 2, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Yoko Shimomura’s score to Final Fantasy XV. Until then, I hope I’ve turned you on to something new to get you through the month!