Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some Top Songs from Games I’ve Never Played

What I’m actually doing with my free time and what I post about on the blog, even when I’m playing plenty of games, is not necessarily always related. A lot of games I play aren’t worth posting about on the blog, not because they’re bad but just because I don’t have much to say about them. Alternatively, I might have things to say about something but I was busy at the time while it still held my interest, or I have so much I could say that the task seems daunting, or perhaps I simply don’t have a ton of free time and/or manage it poorly. The point is, this blog tends to run on a VG Cats rate of updating of whenever the hell I feel like it, and a similar content system of whatever the hell I feel like writing about.

This is how, despite having tons of games I could be talking about, I ended up formulating another list article on oddly specific game music. I was downloading a video game track from a game I’d never actually played the other day, and whilst listening considered that this was actually something I did fairly often. I view a lot of stuff on the internet about video games, and thus find out a lot about games that I’ve never personally played. Sometimes games have particular note made of their soundtracks, of these a smaller portion I will actually one day look up on YouTube, and of these an even smaller portion I will choose to download for re-listening later, despite never having played the game in question.

Spoiler Alert: Sometimes there’s a good reason for that.

These are those proud (comparatively) few. These are the games that had such good music, whether a single song or a troupe of tracks, that I enjoyed them enough to keep for later despite no attachment whatsoever to the source material. As per usual, I make a point to note that these are only some top entries in this category that I in particular have noted. If you know of other good songs from games you haven’t played, generally obscure games or hell good game songs in general feel free to mention in the comments. It never hurts to know about more awesome video game songs.

14. TMNT 4 Turtles in Time – Sewer Surfin’

Perhaps because I was a bit young to be involved in the series at its hype height, but I was never really that interested in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had a similar relation to the Super Nintendo, for though it was born the year before me by the time I was into games the Nintendo 64 was already underway. Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that I never played Turtles in Time, a generally acclaimed beat-em-up game for the aforementioned console. I was vaguely aware of its existence of course, as with many games, but I wasn’t really aware of this particular tune until it got a ‘with lyrics’ treatment from YouTuber Brentalfloss. (Note: It’s not really worth calling mature content, but that video contains, among other things, uh…many descriptions of feces. So that’s a thing.) This prompted me to look up the song in question, which is below.

The first thing I thought of to describe this song was ‘90s as hell’, but then I second guessed myself. The sound fonts may be, but the overall feel of the song might be more 80s and I have no idea how to tell the difference because I’m a gamer, not a feel-of-decades-as-viewed-through-the-general-lens-of-popular-culture-er. Whatever particular decade you feel most brings to mind the imagery of someone in a backwards baseball cap and bright neon clothes shredding a guitar as they surf through a virtual reality internet, as they camera careens in and out as they scream either “WHOOOOOA” or “DUUUUUUDE”. This song evokes the general type of temperament that could be described as “rad” or even, dare I say it, “bodacious”. It’s a bit silly but it’s also fun and high energy and I rather like it.

13. Mario Paint – Gnat Attack 2

And then from what is in many ways the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a song from Mario Paint. Mario Paint, in addition to also being on one of those Super Nintendo consoles I lacked ownership of, didn’t seem like a particularly stimulating game. It seemed basically to be MS Paint for the SNES, with a decent music composer and a mini-game about swatting bugs thrown in. The aforesaid mini-game did appear to have some decent music though. I can’t remember when or where I initially heard it, but it’s shown below.

The song isn’t particularly complicated or special in any way. However, it has a nice beat to it, with a somewhat different sound than I’m used to. It’s also a lot more mellow than most video game songs, which makes for a nice change of pace.

12. Saints Row 4 – Meet the President (Dubstep Gun Song)

One of the few more recent songs on this list, the game in question has yet to even come out. Not only that, but I haven’t even played any of its predecessors, though I’ve been meaning to and I’ve seen others do so. Despite not playing any Saints Row games personally however, I’ve generally enjoyed hearing of the crazy things the series tends to allow. Recently I heard that the new game would feature a Dubstep Gun, which fires multicolored lights to a dubstep beat that forces people to dance among other shenanigans. Looking it up I found I kind of liked the music that went with it, even though I’m normally not a huge fan of dubstep. So I looked up the song on its own, and the full version turned out even better.

The dramatic, orchestral sounding strings and choir go surprisingly well with the dubstep, and I quite like the end result. The dubstep loop alone was good enough for me to like it, but when combined with the chanting and strings it creates an excellent sound that, overused though the term is, I suppose I would describe with some synonym of ‘Epic’.

11. Sonic 2006 – Crisis City

I have a feeling I won’t need to explain to a lot of people why I haven’t played this one. Sonic The Hedgehog was a game released in 2006 for Xbox 360 and PS3 that due to its similar name to the original is usually colloquially called Sonic 2006. The game was released prematurely and is generally regarded as the absolute nadir of the entire series; emblematic of the deteriorating quality that occurred following the blue blurs somewhat ungraceful transition into the third dimension. I was actually going to buy the game myself to play it for a laugh and see just how bad it really was. However, the popular YouTube channel Game Grumps saved me the trouble by vowing to beat it and showing me over 100 episodes of a game that is every bit as bad as I expected. (Though sadly, it may be a while before said series is finally finished as one of the previous co-hosts was recently replaced as he left to pursue his own videos). The point is it’s a bad game. But if there’s one thing this entry proves, it’s that even bad Sonic games tend to have some good songs.

Crisis City was actually a level that was picked for Sonic Generations, the recent Sonic title that featured remade levels from many of his previous games. This being the case, I actually heard the two Generations versions of this song first. But when I went back to give the original a listen, I found it was actually still pretty good. The particular video I linked is a compilation of all the different segments of the song throughout the city. I think the segment starting at about 1:45 is particularly good, along with the climax at about 4:35, but none of it is bad. Though the melodramatic tone of games like Sonic 2006 may have ultimately been a mistake, I definitely think the combination of orchestral strings, guitar and electronic sounds that many of the more recent titles have been using sounds great. But this is an article about games I haven’t played, so let’s quickly move on before I have an excuse to link Rooftop Run again.

…damn it.

10. Solstice – Title Theme

Enough with games from this decade, let’s get back to obscure games released before I was born on consoles I never owned. Guess that pretty much encapsulates why I haven’t played this one, huh? Though I’m no expert, Solstice seems obscure even for those who grew up in its era. Years back when I heard this song on an article about video game music the author said as much himself. For all I know, the game was some generic fantasy affair, as this seems to be what the title screen portends. And the title song seems to fit this stereotype as well, but there’s a surprise waiting several seconds in…

…and that surprise is some kickass music. Apparently the music for Solstice was done by Tim Follin, a prolific old-school game composer who is better known for some other soundtracks. That thing I just did there? That’s called foreshadowing, or at least it would be had I not just spoiled it. Back to the song, it’s just generally awesome. I love the initial fake-out where it sounds like some standard, low-key fantasy fare, and then sucker punches you with loud, wildly oscillating chiptune goodness. I know nothing at all about the game and have no desire to, but props to this excellent piece of music.

9. Ninja Warriors – Daddy Mulk

Ninja Warriors is a game that has may have one or more processes which, at some point over the course of their execution, may involve Ninjas. I can also deduce that these Ninjas may or may not be in the midst of performing some manner of Warrior-ing or Warrior-like activities. This is more or less the extent of what I know about the game. But it has a song in it for which it is fairly well known, and when someone on the internet mentioned it I was reminded of its existence and that was the initial inspiration for this article.

If you're wondering why this one isn't embedded, it's because I can't get the YouTube integration to find any of the non-cover versions of the song, despite them clearly existing. It's probably some stupid copyright issue. Sigh.

The strangely titled Daddy Mulk is particularly impressive when you realize it was from 1987. The song spans about 4 minutes of unique music, featuring two solos along the way (you can tell they’re solos because they end with applause/cheering sounds).  Apart from being somewhat ahead of its time, it’s also just plain good music. Pretty much all of the various grooves it works through are well-crafted and memorable, and the whole thing offers a kind of sound that’s fairly unique and stands out from other tunes of the era. Speaking of, how about that solo starting around 3:15? You have never before, nor will you ever again, hear a synth sitar solo so seriously, sickeningly sweet.

8. Sonic Generations 3DS – Big Arm

Golly gee, can you tell I like Sonic soundtracks yet? I would have had more on this list, but I’ve actually played most of the games. In this case I may have played Sonic Generations, but the 3DS version, which I have not touched, has different stages and songs. Just like Sonic Generations it has plenty of excellent music, but one entry in particular stands out. The final boss of Sonic 3 had some great music, and the remix of it in Generations 3DS, as far as I’m concerned, goes from great to amazing.

It’s high-energy, high-octane and a delightful assortment of other high-related descriptors. As much as I like the original I find this one pretty much superior in every way. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a remix of music from a game I have played (not to mention it’s on an alternate version of another game I’ve played), then it probably would have gotten higher on the list. As it stands, as great as it is it’ll have to settle for being merely absolutely awesome.

7. Lords of Thunder – Bosque Stage

Now I know I called the some previous entries kickass, and I stand by that claim. However, I can understand how not everyone may find the same amount of kickassery (alternatively known as kickassitude levels) in chiptunes or old NES tunes. On a side note, you’re probably on completely the wrong blog if that’s the case, but whatever. What I’m getting at is I think we all can agree that this next entry holds an extremely high quotient of kickassination. So what medium could bring such righteous rock down to us? Is it a musical Guitar Hero style game? No. Is it high-fidelity, grim war title showing the gritty battlefield drenched in every shade of grey and brown? No. Then what could possibly bring such exceedingly, soul-shreddingly sick ass-kicking? Well I’ll tell you, because that’s the point of this entry:

It’s a side scrolling shooter for the TurboDuo.

I have no idea what compelled Lords of Thunder to rock as hard as it did. I didn’t even know the TurboDuo was capable of this quality of sound before I heard the game. Yet not only is the sound quality quite good, but it’s also excessively metal. When Mario puts on the metal cap, he’s really just putting on a hat with Lords of Thunder playing from internal headphones. After you listen to this song, you should stay away from magnets for a while. It contains enough of your daily value of Iron to morph your fists into god damn sword blades*. The game seems to be a fairly standard shoot-em-up, but the soundtrack is another story (and yes, it all rocks this hard).

Say that one day you die in battle against vicious Vikings, as I’m sure is a common fate of those who spend their free time reading a random individual’s video game blog. Say a Valkyrie descends from the heavens and deems you worthy of following her to Valhalla. Say you’ll rise in a flaming chariot adorned with skulls and pulled by both a dragon and a Pegasus. If the chariot happens to have a sound system, and the Valkyrie asks you what you want to listen to on the way up, you’ll know what to do. You’ll tell her to pop in a copy of the Lords of Thunder soundtrack, and she will nod at you in silent approval, your hidden test passed with flying colors.

*The author of this piece wishes to convey that he may or may not be a licensed Mineralologist.

6. Sanxion – Loader Tune

If you’re wondering what the hell a Sanxion is at the moment, you are not alone in these musings. Granted, I know that Sanxion is the name of a 1986 game for the Commodore 64, but I have no idea what the hell the name is supposed to mean. Probably nothing, given the way game names commonly worked back then. It was a shoot-em-up that, as far as I can tell, was “pretty okay”. What seems to have had more staying power than the game itself is its music. Now the quality is befitting of a game from 1986, and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Having prefaced that…

I freaking love this song. I find it seriously impressive that this came out in 1986, the same year as The Legend of Zelda and just one year after Super Mario Bros. And unlike the above Ninja Warriors, it wasn’t on an arcade cabinet. It took the not-that-bad –but-admittedly-a-bit-ass-sounding sound chip of a Commodore 64 and made it do wonderful things. It’s a real shame the song was limited to a loading screen on an average, archaic shoot-em-up (yeah, the C64 had to spend several minutes loading a game before starting, which was when this played).

And beyond being good for its era, I personally just like it period. I find the melodies it busts out intensely memorable. I love the sound it has to it, especially the heavily distorted variety that it first shows off at around 1:15. Perhaps to some of you may find that this sounds like screechy low-tech noise as opposed to something far more awesome. However, some of you aren’t writing this article, I am. So unless you can show me, say, an epic tune of wonder you composed for the ZX Spectrum, then you can go screw yourselves.

5. Xenogears – Balto

Once upon a time, a teenage boy was listening to a podcast about video games. At the end of that podcast he heard a song that he actually found fairly beautiful. But then he forgot about it, and it would be years before he actually heard that song again. The second time though, he remembered to keep it. That boy, in case it wasn’t obvious at this point, would eventually be…Abraham Lincoln.

…no wait, I tell a lie, it’s me.

Xenogears is apparently a fairly popular RPG, and it remains on my list of games to play, in part purely because of this music. I’ve never learned more about the game, and actually haven’t heard much else of its soundtrack either, something I should remedy even sooner. All I know is it’s a PS1 era RPG with music by Yasunori Mitsuda, a composer who has done a number of great video game tracks but is probably best known for his work on Chrono Trigger. That, and there’s a song in it called Balto (presumably named after a character) that I quite like.

It stands in contrast to a lot of the other stuff on this list. The song as a whole has a very Celtic sort of feel to it. The first half of the song is a slow piece with wind instruments and acoustic guitar, which then picks up in the second half and changes into more of a lively jig.. There is very little electronic in the song, apart from some cool effects in the background that bring to mind a particularly pleasant sounding version of the effect you usually hear to accompany time reversing. Beyond it being a nice change of pace from what I usually listen to, I like the first part because it’s relaxing, the second part because it’s energetic, and the whole piece because it’s just generally beautiful and lovely.

4. Ducktales (NES) – The Moon

Before I get onto this entry, let me say that I’ve had a tough time choosing which entries appear higher on the list at this point. That this entry only makes fourth is a real testament to the amount of material I really like on display. Anyway, it’s no secret to people who know about old game music that Ducktales for the NES, in addition to being a surprisingly good game, had an excellent soundtrack. The whole soundtrack (which is admittedly less than 10 songs) is pretty good, but I agree with the opinion of many that the best song the game has to offer is The Moon.

Like most great old-school game music, the song is relatively simple. But that simplicity belies a wonderfully solid melody that’s both catchy, triumphant, and I might even say a bit beautiful. That a short song for a single stage in a game about Scrooge McDuck could be so eloquent is startling. I would’ve played the game by now, but obviously it was a bit before my time (though they recently announced a remake of the game is coming). Of course, as I said earlier you should really just check out the entire soundtrack, as it’s full of catchy tunes and will honestly only take like 10 minutes of your time. But if I had to pick one that was a shining example of NES music, The Moon is the clear winner as far as I’m concerned.

3. Katamari Damacy – Katamari on the Rocks

If you’ve never heard of a Katamari game before, you’re in for an…interesting experience (also, what rock have you been living under all this time and why hasn’t it been rolled into a giant ball yet?) The Katamari series of games premise is thus: The King of All Cosmos accidentally destroyed a planet (I believe he was drunk, though it may change from game to game). You, the prince, need to make a new one by rolling a bunch of shit into a big-ass ball. And that’s it. You start out rolling together things like paperclips and next thing you know you’re rolling whales and cities into the thing. The games seem delightfully weird, but also possibly a bit insubstantial and for whatever reason though I’ve always had some interest the opportunity has never arose for me to play one of the games. As for the music, it all starts with this song…

I defy anyone of you to not find that song at least a little bit catchy. Beyond catching the sumptuously strange atmosphere of the series, it’s just plain catchy. If you can’t remember enough to sing the main part to yourself later, you may need to check with your doctor to make sure your ears haven’t been replaced with lead bricks. There appear to be many variations of this base tune in this and other Katamari games. In particular, I quite like predictably funky Katamari on the Funk and this ecstatically cheery and upbeat synth Namco mix of Katamari on the Swing. (To clarify that second one, Katamari on the Swing was a remix of the main Katamari theme, and this was a remix of that remix). But from what I can tell, Katamari on the Rocks is the most popular (and possibly original…?) iteration of the memorable theme.

…na naaaa, na na na naa na na naa, na nana nana nanaa naaaa…

2. Silver Surfer – Title…and others

Remember when I made that incredibly subtle bit of foreshadowing earlier in this article saying that another game composed by Tim Follin would be showing up? Well I’m now bringing up that this is that entry with an equal level of subtlety. The game in question this time is Silver Surfer for the NES. Apart from being a game that was around like a decade before I was interested in games, there’s another reason I don’t think I’ll ever feel a desire to go back and play this one. That reason can be eloquently summed up by just linking you the Angry Video Game Nerd review of the game. (WARNING: This is definitely NSFW, with this particular review being noted as the AVGN with the most uses of the F-word of all of them. No seriously, he counted.) But despite the game being…that, the music…well, take a listen.

If you thought that earlier entry on Solstice was crazy, well, now you know where it came from. This title screen theme is filled with all sorts of crazy arpeggios, slides from note to note, and generally sounds several times more involved than anything you’d expect from an NES sound chip. But it’s not alone in that regard. The entire soundtrack is frantic and funky in the best ways possible. In fact, I’m not even going to just tell you to view the rest like in other entries. There are only 4 real (30 seconds and up) songs in the game anyway.

Background Music 1 is probably the fastest paced of the lot. It’s got a lot of ascending and descending sounds, even more than the already plentiful amount in the other tracks. Good stuff.

I was going to say that Background Music 2 was my favorite, but then I realized that this is like choosing which baby puppy I would most prefer to murder. Or to use a better metaphor for this blog, which Legend of Zelda game I like the most. On a slightly more on-topic note, despite all the crazy sounds going on my favorite part may be that tinkling glass type sound that grooves into place at about 0:55.

And finally we have the High Score music. It may be the shortest of the lot, but I’d say it’s also by far the funkiest. It’s crazy that something this high quality was reserved for a mere high score screen.

1. Ollie King – Just All of it, Okay?

Some of my favorite soundtracks in gaming come from the games Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future. The groovy tracks that accompany the stylized game about roller skating/graffiti/blowing up helicopters are by a wide and varied group of artists, but a large portion of the songs (most of my favorites at that) were handled by a composer named Hideki Naganuma. Naganuma has a limited discography beyond that, however. He composed the soundtrack to Sonic Rush, a soundtrack I absolutely adored. But beyond that, the Jet Set Radio games, and some scattered songs here and there, there’s only one other game he composed music for.

That game is called Ollie King. So the obvious question is, why haven’t I played it?

Do the words “Japanese-Only Arcade Machine” mean anything to you?

So yeah, there isn’t much chance of me ever playing this game. And to be honest, though the game seems fine I’m not too concerned about it. There’s only one thing I need out of this game, and that’s its utterly fantastic soundtrack. Seriously you guys, I’m running out of adjectives to describe how awesome given samples of music are but this stuff is the real deal. It’s right up there with Jet Set Radio in terms of quality as far as I’m concerned. It’s only due to the comparatively low quantity on display (the soundtrack is only 8 songs) that I would hesitate to call it equal or above those games. Music is always going to be subjective, and it’s possible that you might not like this stuff as much as I do, or even at all. But me? Some of these tracks would rate on a list of my favorite songs of all time.

…you know what, screw it. We’re going through this entire 8-song soundtrack. This has now become All Songs from a Game I’ve Never Played, because all songs from this game are top songs. Let’s start with one of my favorites to give you an idea of what I’m talking about…

Something Jazzy for Your Mind is jazzy, funky, groovy, and similar assorted descriptors. The song gives off an almost tropical feel to me, but less relaxing on the beach and more grinding rails past palm trees at 50 miles per hour. The guitar that comes in at about 1:10 is great, and I love the pause for acoustic at 2:15, which seems oddly almost identical to Windmill Isle from Sonic Unleashed.

Brother Goes Away is a funky tune that uses fairly distorted voice samples and has a pretty bitchin’ bevy of bass beats. Such things are to be expected in Naganuma songs, but they’re especially true here. Great stuff.

Funk To The Top even has funk in the tile, so you know what you’re getting into. The guitar is particularly heavy in this one. I’d also like to say that if I could find a higher quality version I would’ve linked it, but this appears to be the only one on YouTube. “We gonna do a song that you’ve never heard before” indeed.

Boarder 70 seems to be some weird pseudo-remix of Something Jazzy for Your Mind with much heavier guitar and feel in general. Personally I like Something Jazzy better, and this would actually be a candidate for my least favorite song in the soundtrack, but that’s not saying much. On a side note, there’s only one video of this song on YouTube, and it misspelled the title as “Boader”. Sheesh.

Let It Go would probably be the other candidate for my least favorite song in the soundtrack, though I still really like it. The rap bits are the ones that occasionally fall a tad short for me, but I love the sound the chorus parts are going for. I may be suffering from a critical funk overload at this point.

The Concept of Love (Concept of Passion Mix) is, as its name implies, a remix of Concept of Love, which was the title song to Jet Set Radio Future. It seems to be going for a more industrial sound, which I admit was an observation I stole from a YouTube comment, but it’s true. I actually might like this version better than the original, though the original is great too. The parts seem to be more separated in this version, which can work in its favor as it gives them more exposure. Among its new additions are added strings (both acoustic guitar and what are probably violins) and piano, both of which I feel work pretty well. Before I embarrass myself by getting too analytical without knowing what I’m talking about, let’s just leave it at the fact that I like this music.

Too Fast is song that feels true to its name. An unrelenting barrage of guitar riffs that is comparatively light on the usual voice samples. Definitely not going for funky in this one, it’s an adrenaline rush, pure and simple. A little repetitive I suppose, but other than that great.

Finally we have Teknopathic (Pop ‘n Disco 80s Mix), which is self-explanatory in multiple ways. As much as I like the original Teknopathic from Jet Set Radio Future, I think I like this version better. It’s less techno obviously, which it exchanges for funk levels previously unfound by scientists. Deep below the earth Naganuma unearthed funk deposits previously thought to be the stuff of legends and old wives’ tales. At almost 6 minutes it’s the longest track here, and even still I have trouble singling out a single portion of it. It just all works, and beautifully at that. The slow strings, the fast strings, the groovy bass, the piano bits, the voice samples, the guitar, the whole damn thing.

So there you have it. You may think I’m uncultured swine musically speaking. I certainly realized midway through this article that I have trouble describing the auditory phenomenon I enjoy in an interesting way that doesn’t reveal how little I actually know about music. But hopefully I’ve introduced some of you to some obscure songs you’ve come to enjoy. Again, feel free to list others you like in the comments. I’m always looking for more and hell, I think I’ve probably forgotten some that would’ve worked for this article myself. You’re all entitled to your opinions of course, and may hate all of these. I don’t take the slightest offense to people with incorrect opinions like yours existing, so don’t worry, you inferior being you.

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