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Five Soundtracks that are almost too good for their Games

by ShadeOfLight   //   6:49 PM on 08.12.2011

(This is a blog to combine two things: my love for indie games and my love for video game soundtracks. Expect to find more than a few examples of both below. Also, I would like to state in advance that I'm in no way an expert on music, as you can probably tell from my selections. I don't know all that much about music, I simply know what I like. Every entry will contain examples from each OST, and I will finish each by listing my personal favorite song, so that you can tell me that I have horrible taste :P)

It is no secret that I love me some video game soundtracks, and I think I'm not alone. Luckily, it's never difficult to find some nice earcandy, since the majority of big-budget AAA-games nowadays feature some really good music. No one will be surprised if I say that Super Mario Galaxy had good music. Or Final Fantasy XIII. Or Mass Effect 2. Or...well, you can go on forever.
That's why I have decided to give some credit to a couple of OSTs you wouldn't normally expect to see in a Top 5 list. With all of the games below, I found myself saying something along the lines of: "Wait....I didn't know the music in this game was this good". In a sense, these soundtracks are just too good for the games that feature them. Now, I don't mean that these games are bad in any way, far from it. What I mean is that most of the OSTs would fit very well in a major full-price release, yet are featured in a much smaller and less mainstream game. They are simply much better than you would expect when you first boot up the game. They make you wonder where the developers found the money to hire these composers. But off course, we're all glad that they did. I hope you will agree with me when you are done with the list.


5) Breath of Death VII / Cthulhu Saves the World - Gordon McNeil (and others for BoD)

We start with a recent (well, sortof) addition. Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World come in a pack, with BoD being a 'bonus' game to the main attraction that is CStW. This also shows in the music. While Breath of Death has some pretty decent music overall (the Battle theme is pretty cool), the music in Cthulhu is just much more polished, varied and, well...better. You will likely never hear the Menu Theme in full, but it's worth a listen. Besides that, there are some great dungeon themes as well. The music for the Factory Dungeon manages to be new and interesting while also paying tribute to that other factory-themed dungeon. One of the towns you visit later in the game sports a really cool jazzy track, and who can forget "Hey there, Cthulhu" from the trailer?
It's really a shame that you'll rarely hear any of the themes in full while playing the game. When you get into a battle, the normal music stops in favor of the battle theme, and when the fight is over the dungeon theme will start over from the beginning. Overall though, a good OST that captures that 16-bit RPG feel quite well. And since Cthulhu Saves the World is a parody RPG of "only" around 10 hours, that's saying something. Considering that both of these games were made by just about two people, you have to wonder why they didn't go for something simpler to save time and money. Instead, we got a soundtrack that an RPG can be proud of.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
Conquer the Fire - Fire Dungeon theme



4) Shatter - Jeramiah Ross AKA Module

This is not the first time I've mentioned the soundtrack of Shatter, nor will it be the last. This OST is about as far removed from the above entry as possible, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Shatter features an electronic rock, almost Chiptune-esque, soundtrack of almost 1,5 hours. The tracks are pretty long, over 6 minutes of original music for every one, unlooped, and there is one for every level. But first and foremost, these songs are just incredibly catchy. Play the game for half an hour, have the songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Luckily, they are all enjoyable in their own right. The trailer featured Neon Mines, which in itself influenced me to buy this game. Other than that, basically every song is good in its own special way. Amethyst Caverns, for example is just...weird, but still oddly enjoyable. Kinetic Harvest will have your head bobbing like never before, and the credits are easy to sit through when Homelands is playing.
But the main reason I would describe this OST as too good for its game? Shatter is a Break-out game. Sure, it's one of the most pimped out versions you will ever see, but at the core it's still Break-out. And in this relatively simple game, you are treated to the electronic goodness that is the Shatter OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Krypton Garden



3) Magicka - Johan Lindgren

If you're a cynic, you could describe Magicka's OST as "generically epic". Many tracks are heavy on the chanting, and all the songs simply sound "big". If you're not a cynic, you will find this soundtrack very enjoyable, especially for such a decidedly silly game. In fact, when I was playing co-op with a friend, we had to interrupt our goblin-slaughtering throughout multiple levels to send each other a quick message; "kick-ass theme!". Magicka starts off calm enough, with the cleverly titled menu theme Idle Browsing. It clearly picks up towards the end, possibly as a prelude to the epicness that is yet to come. A couple of levels in, you will come to understand exactly where this game is headed: while riding an airship (and fireballing everything that moves) you are treated to Airship Ride. But after that, they really turn up the epic. Songs like Battle of the Wizards and The King in Yellow tell you in no uncertain terms that what you're doing is huge. And again, this for a parody game made by a small studio.
Finally, while most of the tracks are going the "epic" route, the developers are not above some humor in their songs. Even though it isn't in the game itself, the official song The Gamer and Magicka is a funny selfaware stab at some of the responses to the game. The developers released it at the same time as the spell "Crash to Desktop", which was free DLC to make up for the bugs and crashes in the early builds.
Overall, it may be too standard for some, but I enjoyed this OST a lot.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
At World's End



2) Super Meat Boy - Danny Baranowsky

You know this one. Off course you do. It's been almost impossible to miss Super Meat Boy during the past year, and it's one of the best platformers in a while. Notoriously difficult but rarely unfair, this simple game of run, jump and don't die is something the two developers can be proud of. But you knew all that. Did you also know its soundtrack is actually really good as well?
The main attraction here is that every world as its own distinct theme. Actually though, it goes beyond that. Every world does not just have a unique song, each world has three. One version of the song will play during the "Light" stages, a darker song will play during "Dark" stages and an 8-bit version will play during special retro-themed Warp levels.
For example, compare Forest Funk (light) with Ballad of the Burning Squirrel (dark) with Forest Funk RETRO (warp).
Apart from the level themes, from which I would still like to mention Rocket Rider (world 3, dark), all of the boss themes are well worth a listen. Like Magicka, this OST knows where to find its epic. Carmeaty Burana, the final boss theme, has it in spades. (If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm a sucker for that)
Finally, in a really clever move, all of the level themes are combined in the Credits Theme. I found this to be a great way to create a credits theme, as it subtly reminds you of everything you've been through to get there.
For a game consisting of what I'd almost call "microlevels", about a blob of meat running and jumping to save his girlfriend, this soundtrack goes way beyond the call of duty to deliver us players something memorable. Conclusion? It succeeded.

Shade's favorite track:
The Battle of Lil' Slugger



1) Anything by Ari Pulkkinen - Ari Pulkkinen, obviously

Will you believe me if I say that Ari Pulkkinen is actually one of the single most listened to composers in video games? He is, really. Do you know what he made? He made the OST of Angry Birds.
But that is not what I wanted to talk about, because he has done much more and better work. (although honestly the Angry Birds Halloween Theme is not half bad)
No, Pulkkinen has worked on several other games as well, almost all of them smaller downloadable titles. His most notable work was with Frozenbyte Studios, where he made the soundtracks to Shadowgrounds and Trine.

Shadowgrounds as a game is just about as simple as it gets. Aliens are trying to kill you, but you have a gun. It's an overhead shooter with a few hooks here and there, and certainly fun, but otherwise straightforward. One thing that does stand out, off course, is it's music. The Main Theme, first of all, would not be out of place in a major science fiction movie. For a small part, the OST consists of some atmospheric tunes. But it is only when you enter a major battle that the music really starts to flare up. The volume cranks up, guitars kick in and the whole thing just makes you want to kick some alien butt. Mech the Destroyer is a great example. As is the appropriately titles I Need a Minigun. Even though the quieter stuff is pretty good, tracks like these were the highlight for me.
Fun fact: the guitar parts of these songs were actually performed by Amen, the guitarist of the Finnish heavy metal monster band Lordi. Lordi happens to be one of my favorite bands, so perhaps it's not surprising that I liked the Shadowgrounds soundtrack as much as I did. How such a small dev team, especially back when this game released, managed to score both such a good composer and a famous (well, at least in Finland) guitarist boggles the mind, but it clearly paid off.

However, Trine is the game that you are likely to be more familiar with and is the polar opposite of Shadowgrounds. In stark contrast to that game, the music in Trine is actually quite subtle. It's almost hard to believe that they were made by the same person, and Pulkkinen deserves more than a little credit for that.
While I titled this blog "soundtracks too good for their games", I am hesitant to apply this to Trine, because the music just fits the game so incredibly well. However, I never expected that this entire OST would end up in my list of favorites along the likes of Mario Galaxy and Brawl, so I believe it's justified.
This game was made to give the player that special feeling of wonder, that "wow"-factor of staring at something gorgeous, and you can tell that the music was made to enhance this. The tracks are all quite soothing and blend with the game's environments beautifully. That alone is a great achievement.
But personally, I think these tracks are also very nice to listen to on their own. Special mention goes to Academy Hallways, which is actually one of the first levels you visit. Interestingly, one of the most minimalistic songs from the soundtrack is also one of the most beautiful: Crystal Caverns. Finally, Tower of Sarek stands out from the rest, because it's the only one that is a little faster. In that level you are being chased, and the music reflects that while somehow still keeping that sense of awe.
Overall, the music in Trine can be subtle, even hard to notice while playing the game, but it is definitely worthwhile to take the time to just sit there and listen.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to play the other games Ari Pulkkinen has worked on, such as Super Stardust HD and Outland. However, if tracks such as this and this one are anything to go by, he has not lost his touch, nor his variety. Things are certainly looking good for the upcoming Trine 2 with this man in charge of the OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Final Round (Shadowgrounds)
Main Theme (Trine)
(but honestly? The entirety of the Trine OST)



And I hereby swear that none of the blogs I will ever write from here on out will contain this many links. I just love to share the things I like, is all. :D
I hope you clicked some of them and found something you could enjoy. If I have inspired anyone to look up these soundtracks, bonus points to me. I'm here to pay tribute to those guys who may be overshadowed by big-budget titles. I was pleasantly surprised by all of their work, and I wish to hear more from them in the future.

It's going to be worth it.Photo Photo Photo view gallery
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