Don’t be a shyPod, share your favorite game music
Burned out on Christmas music? We’ve got you covered! Music and sound design are very important yet underappreciated aspects of game design. I mean, we can’t touch, taste, or smell games (yet), so the auditory feedback is half our of experience playing games. We’ll save the more intricate discussion of sound design for a rainy day. For now let’s just enjoy the music.
Music is used for a variety of purposes in games. In some cases like with racers, it doesn’t have much use beyond giving us something nice to listen to while we smash into walls, but when implemented effectively it serves to communicate the emotion we should feel. Joy, sadness, panic, anger, and feeling like a badass are all emotions we feel while playing games, and while we don’t need to entirely rely on music to tell us that it certainly helps.
Music also serves as a cue to how to play. The drowning music in Sonic gets you to hurry the hell up and sends you into a panic. The safe room music in Resident Evil lets you know you are no longer in danger. Game music is at its best not only when it sounds good and is used to these ends, but when it also is in harmony with the look and feel of the games aesthetics and (if applicable) animation. The music in Mario never outpaces the speed at which you run, and music in Banjo Kazooie seems as though it was made to go to the beat of Banjo’s running animation.
In picking our favorite tracks of 2016, we chose only original songs created for the game; no licensed songs. I decided to do individual songs rather than full soundtracks this year considering some games have one or a few great songs, but perhaps not all-around fantastic soundtracks. Here’s our picks, and please do share your favorites as well!
Cory Arnold: Overcooked – “Levels 1-1 – 2-4”
Overcooked came out of nowhere and won me over almost immediately, becoming my favorite game starting with “Over’ in 2016. When these smaller games pop out each year it feels like an obligation to play them, but Overcooked was a slap-in-the-face reminder that games are supposed to be fun, The music was a large reason why I had so much fun with this game, as it seemingly tells you “Hey you’re going to have a good time.” The first song that plays through the first several levels stuck with me as my favorite and was a great first impression.
I tried and failed to find an official name, but you remember a song not for its name but when it’s good and makes you feel something. Like I described with Banjo Kazooie music in the intro, it seems as though the song was constructed alongside the animations since the characters seems to bob to the beat of the track and even chop vegetables in tune. That harmony somehow makes every action feel that much more fun. The upbeat rhythm paired with the bright art style make me feel alive, yet to be on my feet in case the pizza is burning.
I have finished the game, but I am not done with the music. This song is in regular rotation on my phone and gets manually selected when I’m cooking. Despite making me play Overcooked better, it unfortunately has not made me a better chef in real life.
ShadeOfLight: Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE – “Give Me”
When someone asks me to name my “best of” on any topic, what I usually do is think back over the year and make note of the first thing that pops into my head. After all, if it’s still on the forefront of my mind, there’s bound to be a reason for that.
That exercise has never been easier than when Cory asked me to name the best music of 2016.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a game that’s all about music and performance. Aside from the normal battle music you’ll find in any video game, TMS was dedicated enough that it included fully original Jpop songs, and with music videos to boot. Each of these ‘Live’ songs is catchier than the last. From “Reincarnation,” which single-handedly sold me on the game in the first place, to the legitimately epic “Black Rain,” it’s all good. However, my favorite of the bunch is easily “Give Me.”
“Give Me” is an incredibly catchy song that just oozes fun. This song got stuck in my head the very first time heard it, and it never left. Part of that is the memorable music video with cute costumes (kitty tights!) and cool choreography, part of that is its usefulness when the characters learn it as a “Duo Art” attack, but for the most part it has to do with the song itself. I’m not even a fan of Jpop, but nevertheless I couldn’t help but fall in love with this song.
“Give Me” turns me into one of those obnoxious assholes who sings along to a song even though he clearly doesn’t know the lyrics. If that doesn’t make you the best song of the year, I don’t know what does.
Josh Tolentino: DubWars – The one with the twin lasers
I’m very much a philistine when it comes to music, unable to define my tastes or preferences beyond “I’ll know it when I hear it”. As a result, the music I do like is usually part of the soundtrack for something else. DubWars, which has been around in some form for the last couple of years but only entered full release this July, solves my problem by making the game inseparable from the music. Unlike, say, Rock Band or Project Diva, where you sort of stop noticing the music as you concentrate on your timing, DubWars makes its ripping dubstep soundtrack integral to everything you do in the game, with the beats and rhythm even determining your damage output and what shots you fire. Playing DubWars without the music makes the game random, your powers changing without warning or reason, but with the music, the soundtrack is the strategy, and you anticipate your next move by how close you are to the drop. Few games really live up to the promise of their slogans, but in in DubWars, music really is your weapon.
My favorite track from the game? The one with the twin lasers.
Pokémon music in general tends to be fondly remembered by both fans and critics. But this year, the surprise about Pokémon’s music was that the antagonistic team’s general theme and construction was based around some down right dirty hip-hop. In particular, listen to the opening to the Team Skull Leader Guzma theme and you’ll swear you were playing a different game for a few seconds. People say Pokémon doesn’t take any risks to try anything different but the music this year was really something different and still great.
Kevin McClusky: Furi – “Wisdom of Rage“
This year was rife with ’80s nostalgia, and it’s possible the best example of that was the soundtrack to Stranger Things. The synthesized tunes helped sell the idea that this was a lost drama from thirty years ago, and the bass-heavy music was oppressive without being discouraging. Furi takes that same ’80s synth sound and adds a backbeat that I am incapable of holding my feet still for. I haven’t played minute one of the game, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack repeatedly since hearing about it on a game music podcast I listen to regularly. If you’re looking for a techno/synth/dubstep mashup with a killer beat, look no further than Furi.
Jonathan Holmes: Pocket Card Jockey – “Funky Monkey Style”
In a year that graced us with both a new entry in the Rhythm Heaven series and a new generation of Pokemon, it would take nothing short of a miracle for me to chose another game’s music for a list such as this. Yet here we are, joining hearts and minds together to celebrate the miracle of…Funky Monkey Style.
Written by Game Freak Go Ishinose, “Funky Monkey Style” comes hard with blazing nonsense too wild for the Pokémon games. It is almost as dynamite as “I Wanna Take You For A Ride” from Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, which is pretty much the highest complement I can pay to anything in the “ironically amusing but genuinely infectious” genre of music.
I’ve been hopping around house, my +200 pound frame shaking the floor boards, singing along to the song’s “YOU! LOVING YOU WAH OHH WOAH!” lyrics with my baby son all morning, both of us grinning from ear to ear. If that isn’t the definition of good music, I don’t know what is.
Stephen Turner: Virginia – “Main Theme”
Virginia wasn’t a great game per se, but its presentation was beguiling to say the least. Its soundtrack was one of the most striking this year, evoking an era of 90s blockbuster thrillers; where the feds were suddenly cool, government paranoia ran rampant, and genius serial killers had trouble with rooftop chases.
Virginia‘s main theme is bombastic and cinematic, full of trepidation and secrets, with this galloping drive underneath it all. Not only does it loom over an idealistic American town, but also our protagonist, Agent Anne Tarver, as she starts her first day at the FBI; perfectly encapsulating the pressures felt as both worlds collide.
The more astute will probably hear little riffs on The Silence of the Lambs or The X-Files: Fight the Future in there, but then, that’s sort of the point since Virginia wants to put you exactly in that time and place. Despite what you may think of Virginia as a whole, its Main Theme sold you on something something that you had to see to the end because, gameplay aside, it was so on point in every other department.
CJ Andriessen: Paper Mario: Color Splash – “Dark Bloo Inn (Channel 1)”
Though it wasn’t my personal selection for best Wii U game, Paper Mario: Color Splash was an experience I loved and one that will stick with me for a long time. Years from now, what I will remember most from this beautiful little game is the amazing music found within. Composers Takeru Kanazaki, Shigemitsu Goto, and Fumihiro Isobe hit an absolute grand slam with their tunes, and I think no selection better represents the imagination, complexity and vibrancy of the game’s soundtrack than the music heard at the “Dark Bloo Inn. Channel 0” is eerie enough, but “Channel 1”, the music heard inside the Inn, made me stop playing, close my eyes and listen in awe to the creepy yet compelling composition. Equal parts 80s Danny Elfman and Clara Rockmore, this track will be the score to every Halloween from now on.
Nick Valdez: Street Fighter V – “Rashid’s Theme”
Street Fighter V may have had its fair share of problems (like releasing before it was finished), but I never once had a problem with its music. The Street Fighter series has always had good themes, but the fifth entry finally has a theme that also “goes with everything” much like Guile’s. A short, sweet hype builder, Rashid’s theme is definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard in 2016. It sort of reminds me of Kamen Rider OOO’s Tajador form, and that’s pretty boss. I know that’s a reference only five of us are going to get, but trust me when I say Rashid’s theme is in good company.
So…say it with me. RASHIIIDOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Chris Carter: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan – “Shredder’s Theme”
I think a big theme this year is “this game had a lot of problems, but it had a kick ass soundtrack.” The epitome of that concept is TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan, a cobbled together beat ’em up that needed the exact right circumstances to be considered fun. If you had that a full group, jacked up the difficulty (which fundamentally altered the boss fights), and went at it, TMNT was a pretty decent time.
But even if you’re playing solo, it had a great soundtrack, capped off by this Shredder theme that’s basically a metal song.
Peter Glagowski: Super Rad Raygun – “99 Green-Gray Balloons”
Honestly, I could have picked any track from this game and called it a day. The songs are filled with so much nostalgic flare while also sort of embracing the best pieces of dubstep/electronica. Still, I have a fascination with slower paced songs on almost every album I listen to and the theme to the Berlin level (seen in the embed from the XBIG release) fits the bill.
The heavy distortion and bass almost sound like a progressive metal track, but the slow pace evokes memories of old days sitting in front of my TV with an NES controller firmly in hand. The best aspects of chiptune songs is the ability to transport you back to an era where you didn’t care so much about musical composition or theory and simply jammed to repetitive beats that stuck in your head.
Then there is the slap bass portion that comes in around the 70 second mark and I just lose it. It sounds like the Seinfeld theme on crack and I can’t get enough. I just want to grab my own bass and have at it, which I may just do right now!
Zack Furniss: Doom – “BFG Divsion”
My dad has been gaming with me since I was a toddler. He’s always appreciated more narrative in his digital adventures, so Doom was never his first choice. While I was reviewing Doom (2016) on the PC, he walked by and watched over my shoulder. I turned off my headphones and said “just watch for a minute and listen to this.” The flesh-rending guitars and blood-curdling symphonic screams played counter-melody to my ripping and tearing, my shooting and dodging. I slaughtered a chamber full of demons and turned around to see my dad making the 😮 face. He went downstairs, bought it on Xbox, and started playing through. For that, “BFG Division” is my pick of the year.