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Mr Gilder avatar 4:05 PM on 03.14.2009  (server time)
5 Great Game Soundtracks to Fuel your Workout

I have absolutely no misgivings about my status as a total tubby-boy. A “generous build” runs in my family, and it is something that I will never be able to totally escape. Curse you genetics! That being said, I try to do something for myself as far as staying healthy. I make an appoint to get my heart rate up, and get in some exercise for at least a half hour to an hour a day. It makes me feel good, and honestly, it makes plunking my butt on the couch to game until bedtime all that much more satisfying.

Make no mistake though, the sound of an exercise machine’s grinding hinges, accompanied by one’s own groans of agony and the wicked twang of your muscles and tendons snapping like cut guitar strings is an ill suited motivator. I doubt that anyone, from the simple hobbyist like myself, to this guy . . .

. . . would deny the power that some good music has when it comes to gettin’ your sweat on.

This article is all about music that is great for working out to. Since I’m writing this piece for Dtoid, however, I’m not going to bore you by raving about how much I enjoy doing sit-ups to Daft Punk, Chromeo, or Justice. Instead, I am going to list some video game soundtracks that I think you would be sincerely sorry to head out to the gym, iPod in hand, without. Have a look at these five favorites, and feel free to let me know in the comments section if there are any games that are particularly good motivators for you.

Battle Garegga
Platform: Arcade, Saturn

Battle Garegga (BG) is a classic example of the late 90’s school of sprite-based vertical shmups. It was developed by Eighting/Raizing, a company now known mostly for their contributions to the Naruto and Bleach anime fighting game franchises, as well as the stellar Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, and the lackluster Castlevania Judgment.

Vertical shooters often have a reputation for hectic electronic music. It makes sense that this brutal, hair-tearing genre, often also called “Panic Shooters” would have music to match its gameplay; however, BG separates itself ever so slightly from the pack. Have a look at the video.

It is really hard to recommend one vertical shooter’s soundtrack over another when it comes to workout music. They all really fit the bill. BG distinguishes itself in a special way though. Beneath all of the fast paced electronica, it is also bit funky. Most of BG’s tracks have two separate layers. The typical nonstop blast of sound is met by a second, more methodical and rhythmic portion.

Take note of the first level in the video. The background track, entitled “Fly to the Leaden Sky” is a fantastic example. The piano portion starts in jazzy and fast, and keeps you excited and entertained by the track, then the main electronic portion of the tune works its way in with more drawn out notes. Setting the pacing of your movement to the more rhythmic portions ensures that your workout will go nice and smooth, while the faster layer creates that speedy “chase” mentality that always provides great motivation.

Ninja Gaiden
Platform: NES, SNES (on Ninja Gaiden Trilogy)

Very few people realize that the NES Ninja Gaiden (NG) that we have all come to love is actually Ryu Hyabusa’s second adventure. The original game was an arcade beat-em’-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Streets of Rage. It bore little resemblance to the franchise that everyone adores today, aside from punishing difficulty. Tecmo wisely decided to take a different approach for later iterations. The slow, clunky play of the arcade title would be completely turned upside down.

NG is a champion of excellence in its genre. It is a finely crafted title that blends fantastic graphics, with challenging gameplay that was uncharacteristically fast for side-scrollers of the day. This trait is clear when you compare NG to other NES classics, such as the much slower Castlevania, which many believe NG’s weapon powerup system to have been inspired by. Take a look at some of the video below, and make sure to listen to the music.

The video I chose to show is from a “no death run” of the first portion of the game. It is important to note how the game is played. It is a strategy of the practiced NG player to rarely stop moving. The title is structured to encourage this type of play. Like the dueling ninjas in the title’s iconic opening, Ryu is designed to run toward his foes, fell them, leap to the next, and keep going. This is a strategy that is equally mirrored in the new 3D version of the franchise, wherein idol defense is often met with death.

The music is NG is obviously composed to compliment the unique nature of its gameplay. The tunes are fast, catchy, and encouraging. Stage 2-1, the mine, is a stellar example, and my favorite track from the title. Like all of the game’s music, it attempts to set a subconscious drive within you to keep Ryu moving. If you can stand 8-bit blips and screeches, this motivation translates very well into reality when you set your workout to the Ninja Gaiden soundtrack. A long distance jog goes great with these tunes pushing you onward. Just be sure to dodge swooping eagles and motorcycle helmet wearing thugs with billy-clubs and you’ll be in better shape in no time.

*Note: There is also a port of Ninja Gaiden for the PC Engine/Turbo Grafix 16; however, the soundtrack is different. It is still very good, but it is not the one I am recommending.

Platform: Dreamcast, PS2, XB360

It would be insane for me to write an article about music and gaming without including at least one title by genius developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Mizuguchi is one of the key artists in the industry to spearhead the effort in tying music to gameplay. Originally released for the Dreamcast in Japan in 2001, Rez is an on-rails shooter in the spirit of Starfox or Panzer Dragoon, and is arguably his magnum opus.

In Rez, each level is based around a piece of club/electronica music composed by an actual careered artist from outside of the game industry. As you make your way through the ten sections of each level, the music gradually builds in layers and overall intensity. Your shots, and the notes played by enemies you kill constantly contribute by adding new beats and sounds, and ensure that you will never hear the track the same way twice. This opens up new avenues for play, as you can make the decision to merely blast everything as you would in Starfox, or hold back and time your shots, and work toward building the sounds in your own way. Have a look at the below video from the Rez’s 5th and final level. It features my favorite piece, Fear, by Adam Freeland.

(The music gets mind-numbingly epic at the 3:30 mark. At least stick it out until then. It's all about the build-up, and it will not be as satisfying if you skip to it.)

Since these are real tracks by out-of-industry artists, one could argue that including Rez in this article is a bit of a cop-out. I would disagree. Mizuguchi selected these tracks based on their rhythm, and their ability to inspire interesting images for he and his team to craft stages around. The mixes within are also unique to the game, and quite different from the actual tracks, were you to acquire the artists’ CDs.

The contribution that Rez’s soundtrack can make to your workout should be relatively obvious. Good club music has always been among the best genres to fuel oneself with. This title’s tracks were specifically selected for factors that include their pacing, rhythm and motivational prowess. The complete soundtrack runs a whole slew of interesting sounds from the smooth hip-hop stylings of Freeland’s track above, to eclectic jungle rhythms, and all out stereotypical techno. The album is definitely a must have for the general, and game music enthusiast, regardless of whether or not a workout is in the plans.

Platform: PC

Simply put, Synasthete is a true indie masterpiece. It is simple, fun, intuitive, and most importantly, can be gotten for free from the game’s Website:
(Sorry, I cannot get this to work as a link for the life of me. There is a working link in the article mentioned below, however)

There is no need for me to go into too much depth about the title, as Dtoid’s Anthony Burch already did in March of 2008 in Indie Nation #10.

Synaesthete took the Best Student Game award at 2008’s Independent Gaming Festival with just cause. The title combines simple, stylish graphics, with quirky mechanics, and an absolutely fantastic, integral soundtrack to create on of the best afternoon playthrough that one can imagine.

Like Rez, Synaesthete ties music to the gameplay with inseparable bonds. The tunes, composed by the game’s Technical director, William Towns, bridge a number of electronic dance genres from House, to Trance, to Hardcore. Each level is themed around one of these styles, and contains several stages with unique tracks. As the gameplay in Synaesthete requires you to always be alert and stay on the move to avoid your enemies, the music is extremely conducive to this. All of the game’s tracks are rhythmically solid, fast paced, and largely upbeat. The complete album, which can also be gotten freely from the website, is perfect for keeping up the pace on a long cruise on an elliptical or stationary bike.

Bionic Commando Rearmed
Platform: PS3, XB360, PC

Bionic Commando Rearmed (BCR) is a remake of Capcom’s 8-bit classic by Swedish developer Grin. I went into detail about its many merits in my Top 10 of 2008 article at the end of last December. The title succeeds as both a new generation game, and a loving tribute to the original. In no facet of the game is this synergy any clearer than in its soundtrack.

Composer Simon Viklund, is also doing the soundtrack for the current generation full 3D remake of Bionic Commando. For it, he is putting together the type of epic, sweeping, orchestral score that everyone has come to expect for a title of such scale. For the oldschool download, however, Viklund chose evolve the 8-bit bleeps into pure modern day electronic genius. Take a look at the video below, which is the new version of the Bionic Commando theme, and also the track played during the first level of BCR.

The music in BCR has a unique, fresh, sound. Like in the Battle Garegga soundtrack that I discussed above, many of the tracks have a particular dual nature. There are decidedly smooth, laid back components that mesh up seamlessly with chirpy and jarring electronic sweeps. In interviews, Viklund has admitted to being largely inspired by one of my favorite artists, French house duo Justice. Any fan of the afore mentioned band will pick up these likenesses with ease. Viklund has infused his tracks with just the right amount of victorious overtone and all out funky stuff.

BCR’s tunes feature a lot of build up. When you combine that with their slower, more methodical style, they hint at something big on the rise. I find that Viklund’s album works extremely well with likewise paced activity. Weight lifting, or aerobic exercise with heavy resistance all get a great boosts from BCR’s undeniable style. The full album can be downloaded from iTunes, so there’s no excuse not to include it in your mix.


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