Thursday, September 20, 2012

Andy's Top Three Videogame Soundtracks EVARz!!!!!1!

Oh! Hello, internet reader! I see you here are reading these words, with your eyes. That's neat, eh? That's a neat little trick, I suppose. Words I type, people read across the other side of the world. That is very fun. And makes for a good time with us two, eh, internet reader? We have a connection now! For the few minutes you spend reading these words, we two are truly peas in a pod! Isn't that something else, eh?

But oh! Oh, internet reader. I am disheartened! Because I'm what we in "the industry" call a... "musician". And while writing out stuff is pretty fun... pretty cool, eh? Eh? It's pretty enjoyable. My real insight comes not from words about videogames, but in music. Music! That stuff that you ingest, not with your eyes - no, no, no, no dear reader, not with your eyes, like a common doodle - but with your ears! Those flappy, invariably erogenous flaps of flesh that funnel in sound stimuli and let you listen to things. Things, for example, like music! And thu-

...point is, here's my Top 3 Videogame Soundtracks of all the times.

3. Halo: Reach

This will surprise a lot of you. Hell, it even surprises me. But as a composer, a strongly believe in the idea that, more often a not, a soundtrack can outright save a project from mediocrity. The Halo: Reach soundtrack is one such. Let's be honest here: if it weren't for even the original Halo's score - a now-iconic tribal-choral occasionally-metal anthem to Master Chief's alien world - it wouldn't nearly be as well received as it has been. Martin O'Donnell's masterstroke main theme has been the glue that has held the Halo trilogy together, even through its occasional dips in quality (cough, Halo 3, erm, cough). I often call out Halo for being a repetitive series - the formula has remained essentially unchanged since Combat Evolved. And that's not inherently a bad thing, but by ODST, the formula needed a good shake-up. It didn't receive it in Halo: Reach - I reviewed it and decided it deserved a 6/10 (that's three stars, since I use stars now cos stars are cool). It was a good game, and very well-polished, but it wasn't exceptional. Its story attempted to pull at heart strings it couldn't quite reach. But I truly believe the soundtrack picked up the slack.

From the Overture, which features what I won't hesitate to call some of the best brass lines in videogame history, to the guitar anthem We Remember, composers C. Paul Johnson, Ivan Ives, Michael Salvatori and Martin O'Donnell have crafted a score that is uniquely Halo, and yet unique for Halo. The influence of the original games' melodies is certainly there, but much like the whole of the game, the music was written with the idea that it wanted to forge its own name, its own atmosphere - one of inspiration, loss, and the birth of true heroes. The difference is, the soundtrack succeeds where, in my opinion, the game failed. I will always remember the brass section in the Overture as one of the most deeply touching passages in the whole of videogame music - one of raw power, raw emotion, and raw humbleness. It's a soundtrack that sums up exactly what Reach wanted to be, rather than what it ultimate was - and is Reach's most positive asset. I really doubt that Halo 4 will be able to continue the musical legacy started by the original trilogy, ODST and Reach - but if it does, I will be listening to it for a long time to come, even if the game doesn't in the slightest enthrall me. I promise you that.

2. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Let me sum of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in once sentence: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK WHAT FUCK FUCK WHAT FUCK WHAT FUCK FUCK FUCK WHAT FUCK WHAT. I loathe that game. I loathe it! Because I love Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie so, so much! One of the only positives - arguably the only positive - of Rare's unflinching disasterpiece is that it gave Grank Kirkhope the opportunity - and the budget - to write a modern day Banjo-Kazooie score, and it is every bit as amazing as you would imagine. As someone who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie's genius earworms stuck in my head for the majority of my waking hours, I absolutely thank Nuts & Bolts for giving Grank Kirkhope the orchestra to record these songs in a way in which they are truly inspiring - and ask that it take its Lego vehicles and empty levels and fuck off while I give it a listen.

It's mostly Banjo Land's mixes, if I'll be honest. Hearing the inspired tones of the original two game's scored, rendered in a fresh way, makes my nostalgia gland postulate and tremble with giddy glee. But the score just has a richness to it - it has all the tropes that made Grant Kirkhope so enjoyable to listen to in his days scoring Donkey Kong 64 and Perfect Dark. The music for Banjo-Kazooie has always been like that of a fairytale, but it's with the full range of sounds that the velvety textures and simple tunes mixed with inventive use of chord progression really comes out of its shell. Much like Halo: Reach, for all the game's shortcomings, Nuts & Bolts deserves to exist for its score - even the very jokey theme for the Hero Klungo Sssavesss Teh World! minigame is classically evocative of Banjo-Kazooie's assortment of magical, catchy-to-a-fault level tunes. Blind nostalgia launches it to the middle of the list, no doubt about that, but the masterful way Grank Kirkhope spins a unique tune is what keeps it there. 

Nuts & Bolts still sucks, though.

1. Rayman Origins

If I'll be frank, there isn't enough good I can say about Rayman Origins. The game is a phenomenal platformer, a charming game, a witty game; impeccably well-designed and enjoyable from start to finish and back again. What has really captivated me is its score - written by the enigmatic Christophe Héral, the eclectic unique platformer has found itself an eclectic, unique soundtrack. It truly does have something for everyone, whether you like banjo-orchestral chase music, or mosquito-orchestral chase music!

...what I think I love most of all about it, though, is its conviction. Platformers like New Super Mario Bros. usually are coupled with scores that don't have any real urgency. The main theme for Super Mario Bros. is a laid-back, semi-jazzy arrangement that, while certainly creates a mood, doesn't create too much of a mood of run left really fast. Origins has a soundtrack which, for better or worse, really does propel the player to move forwards. Despite that, it is incredibly silly almost all the time - from muted trumpets pretending to be mosquitos, to the high-pitched lums singing happy songs of happiness, to aforementioned banjo chase music... but underneath, is an orchestra full of energy and spirit, one the best male choirs I've ever heard, and a real sense of excitement and adventure in a crazy, crazy world. The compositions are, as I said before, ecliptic, but they're courageous and booming and brimming with true energy, and dignity - despite being sung by high-pitched, screaming insects.

It's the uniqueness, though, that makes the soundtrack such a joy to go back to listen to. The variety of themes and ideas present is nothing short of astounding, from spaghetti western operas to Spanish dragon chefs singing through their lungs, to Mosquitos buzzing incessantly through trumpets, to underwater lullabies... it's a soundtrack with a deftness and a confidence; a strong, well-defined feeling that not only hooks straight back into the atmosphere the game wants to create, but also just has fun. Just fun. It is music that is joyously fun to listen to. It's just my favourite right now. For many reasons. Look, listen to it yourself, you lazy sod! You'll find out why! It's just a phenomenal piece of work. I loves it. And if you don't love it, I have to seriously question your taste in music. It's just a fun, crazy, well-written symphony of insanity, and your ears will dig it. Best of all, though - the sequel seems to be following suit.

The following soundtracks I adore, but just didn't make the cut in the end. It really is like choosing between children. ...your own children, I mean. Not other people's children. That, I imagine, would actually be pretty easy. Some kids are ugly fucks.

-Super Mario Galaxy 2
-Deus Ex
-Team Fortress 2
-Kirby's Air Ride
-Super Smash Bros. Brawl (cheating, I know, but shuddup)