I was always a movie guy. Over the past two years I've come to realise that video games are an incredibly powerful medium to tell stories with. Much more than I initially thought. It turns out that video games are the best, you guys. It’s just taken me a while to figure that out. I really like writing about things, so I figured I may as well give this a shot. This is my first time writing something like this, so feel free to rip my arsehole asunder with your almighty fists of criticism.
Alright. Let’s get this shit show started. And what better way to start my video game writing career than with a beloved (read: maligned) video game chestnut. Yep, you guessed it! It’s the totally arbitrary and objective list! So, grab ahold of your tits, and prepare yourself for my:
Top 5 Video Game Songs that Immediately Conjure Images of the Levels they’re from!
Let me explain…
There’s a great interview with Quentin Tarantino on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack in which he talks about the process of choosing music for his movies. Of particular interest is his discussion of how he attempts to immortalise a song in a viewer’s mind. Put simply, his ultimate goal is to match a song with a scene so perfectly that if a person hears that song in any other context they will immediately remember the exact scene from the movie.
A great example would be the Stealer’s Wheel song, Stuck in the Middle with You. Most people – upon hearing it – immediately think of THAT scene in reservoir dogs. You know the one. And if you haven’t seen the movie, go and watch it. It’s t-EAR-iffic….. dear god, what has New Leaf done to me?
Now, apart from being incredibly fascinating, the interview got me to thinking. Does this phenomenon exist in video games? And I realised that it totally does! Those first six notes of the Mario theme are, as Paul Simon puts it, “woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.” (He was actually talking about optimism and the deep human longing for betterment, but whatever....fuck it) We can’t hear them without being immediately transported to Stage 1-1 (or whichever Mario game we happened to first hear them in). So, with that in mind, I did what any self-respecting video game fan would do in that situation:
I wrote a list.
5. Thirty Flights of Loving - End Titles
The world of Citizen Abel is one of consummate style. Every inch of every level has been designed with an attention to detail that is astounding. The music only enhances this. Jumping between big band themes that recall Bond Films and a simple foreboding piano melody, Thirty Flights of Loving’s soundtrack is pretty fucking amazing. But its end title theme always takes me straight back to that final scene in the museum. I’ve got no idea what just happened, but I’m pretty sure our protagonist is utterly rogered.
4. Animal Crossing – 5PM
I played – as did many- an unnatural amount of the original Animal Crossing when I was young. Now, it could just be that, because of school, I happened to play it at 5 PM a whole bunch. It could just be that. But I still honestly believe that the 5PM theme embodies the simple and unique fun that only the Animal Crossing series can provide. Walking around, helping villagers, planning a violent uprising against that cretinous financial tyrant Tom Nook….
3. Balloon Diaspora – You Can Call me X
Cardboard Computer (the talented gentleman behind Kentucky Route Zero) are, without a doubt, my favourite indie developer. Their games have this mystical enigmatic quality that draws me in like nothing else. I really can’t quite pin it down. One thing’s for sure though; Cardboard Computer games have tremendous soundtracks that work in beautiful harmony with their art. If you haven’t played Balloon Diaspora, go now. Seriously. Go. It’s free and it’ll take you like 20 minutes (but if you like it, you should totally pay the $5 for it, because it’s awesome, and those guys should have more money, so they can make more games, with the money that they have, that you gave them). This song plays during the first encounter in the game, and perfectly encapsulates it’s bizarre and wonderful atmosphere.
2. Bioshock Infinite – Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Ludo narrative dissonance be damned! I loved Bioshock Infinite and I loved its soundtrack even more. Ken Levine is a master of that tarantino-esque ability we were discussing earlier. No longer – upon hearing God Only Knows – will I think about the final scene in Love Actually. Instead, I will be instantly transported back to the gorgeous and terrifying city of Columbia. But that’s not the song I picked. The one song in Bioshock Infinite that most powerfully returns me to a specific moment in the game is the terrific calliope cover of Cindy Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun. The Boardwalk level is one of the game’s best, and this song brilliantly captures it's whimsical mood and innocent fun. It is particularly powerful given what comes next in the game.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – Astral Observatory
You clamber through the dark and dank sewers under Clock town. You find yourself in a seemingly disused room with boxes, a scarecrow and a rainbow staircase leading upwards. You walk up the stairs. An old man, an astronomer, watches you. He knows the truth. He’s aware of Clock town’s fate. But he also accepts that he is powerless to stop it. And so he stands in his observatory on the hill and waits for the end.
Nintendo’s darkest game is, in my opinion, also its best. The second I hear the Astral Observatory theme I am instantly transported back to that level. What’s more, I am instantly transported to the mood that pervades every second of that game. You only need to visit the astral observatory a few times to complete the game, but whenever I play Majora's Mask I find myself returning there with alarming regularity. It’s rare to find a level that so flawlessly melds music and art design to create a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its - already terrific - parts.
Right. So. There’s a thing. Feel free to reply with songs that have a similar effect on you. Is that how blogging works? I have no fucking idea what I’m doing…