The Beauty of Video Game Music

Apr 1, 2021 · Brittani S Avery

gamer

Recently, my sister asked if I wanted to join her Spotify subscription. Google had just decommissioned my previous streaming service (RIP Google Play Music) and so I was in the market for a new one. I figured " Why not?" To my surprise, Spotify contains dozens upon dozens of video game soundtracks from personal favorites as well as unheard gems.

Hollow Knight, Stardew Valley, NieR:Automata, and Celeste were some of the foundation blocks of my video game soundtrack collection on Spotify. However, the more I explored and discovered, the more I realized how much of an impact video game music has had on my life, from childhood to now.

There is probably a tie between the Tetris theme song or the Super Mario Bros theme song on which was the first video game track that made an impression on me. I hummed the theme songs as I played Tetris on my GameBoy or Super Mario World on our Super Nintendo. I wasn't very good at Mario, but Tetris was my jam. Even to this day, I enjoy a quick game of Tetris and use my skills to place food in our tiny freezer.

From the opening cut scene of Donkey Kong Country where Donkey Kong kicks Cranky out of the trees with his boom box, blasting the heavy beat from the game's theme song. Cranky shakes his cane in disgust since his calm, country music was interrupted.
The switch between old-timey country and modern hip-hop as well as the antics between Donkey and Cranky Kong are part of the classic start to Donkey Kong Country.

Donkey Kong Country was the first soundtrack where I actively noticed the various songs as we entered each zone or level. Starting up the game and hearing the fanfare transition into the country-start and heavy-beat-finish always got me excited to play. The music on level selection, "Simian Segue" (aptly named), is happy and bouncy. "Cave Dweller Concert", obviously music for some cave levels, gives off an ambience of dampness, mystery, and a bit of spookiness. The bonus game music was fast but lively and encouraged you to collect all the random golden animal tokens. "Aquatic Ambiance" made water levels much more tolerable, even enjoyable, than compared to other games. *cough* Sonic the Hedgehog Drowning Music *cough* "Mine Cart Madness" created the frantic atmosphere perfect for quick reflexes and absolute timing. The start of the final boss' music has a very appropriate pirate theme that sets the mood for a fight on an old ship. A YouTuber that I regularly watch and his friend decided to play through Donkey Kong Country on the Switch and just hearing the music brought back so many good memories of my siblings and me playing together.

The next influential soundtrack was from NBA Street Vol. 2, possibly one of the best game soundtracks ever, or at the very least, one of the best fits to the style of its game. It perfectly captured the sound of the street with "Chief Rocka" by Lords of the Underground and "The Choice Is Yours" by Black Sheep. That soundtrack was one that I heard on near repeat while playing the game during one of the vacations we took to Florida. The rental house we stayed in had its own screened-in, private pool. We went to Disney World and Universal Studios. Yet, my fondest memories of that vacation were staying up late and building my custom player to become a league of the street.

An animation showing two of the main characters, Gum and Corn, dancing at the base of the GGs, the hub for the game.
Music and dancing are a huge part of the Jet Set Radio series.

Probably around that same time, my siblings and I were attempting—albeit quite badly—to beat Jet Set Radio Future. We skated around a futuristic Tokyo while rocking out to some of the best music I've heard in a video game, having a mixture of techno, hip-hop, electronic, and pop. I grinded on rails, buildings, billboards, and cars while rocking out to "I Love Love You" and "Funky Dealer". Trying to beat Rapid 99 in a game of Capture the Flag on 99th Street, a crowded shopping center filled to the brim with neon lights, was a challenge. The upbeat and bobbin' music like "Sneakman" or "Let Mom Sleep" kept the frustrations low...or at least lower. I still listen to the soundtrack today, it almost always uplifting my mood.

It wasn't until I got into more indie PC gaming that I started to once again take notice of the incredible scores of video games. Hollow Knight was probably the first to resurge my love of video game music. Seeing how Hollow Knight is called 2D Dark Souls, I stayed away from actually playing it. I do not wish to be punished like that. Also, I believe my hands and wrists would kill me. Instead, I watched a playthrough of the game and just fell in love with the simple story yet extensive world-building. You play as a little bug trying to save an old kingdom by exploring it and attempting to undercover its dark past and fall from glory. You travel through lush greens, a fungal wasteland, a terrifying underground packed with jump-scares, and the capital of the kingdom, Hallownest. Each location brings about its own sounds, most including unique music that only adds to the intrigue.

The player character of Hollow Knight, the Knight, stands before the Mantis Lords and challenges them to a duel. When the Knight challenges the Mantis Lords, the music begins with a dramatic flourish as they stand to face their latest opponent.

Yet, I would say that the most distinguished tracks in Hollow Knight are the songs for boss battles. Hornet, (usually) the first boss with unique music you'll meet, has a very fast pace and string-heavy track that matches her quick moves and use of a needle and silk as weapons. The song for the Mantis Lords has a very strong beginning with quick and somewhat repetitive chords ( I'm not a music person) that mimic the beginning of the battle, which tends to catch the player off guard and forces them to stay on beat with the Lords. Dung Defender's song has a heroic and jaunty tune which easily combines with his shouts of "AAAAAA THUNDAAA" and "DOMA DOMA DOMA DOMA" as well as his playful laughter.

From there, I searched for games that I have personally played and found the music enjoyable. Stardew Valley was one, though the music doesn't play consistently through the game. Whenever a song popped in, especially during Summer, I was pleasantly surprised. Having the soundtrack on Spotify is a great convenience for those silent times during the game.

Through various YouTubers or streamers, I have found other soundtracks that I thoroughly enjoy. Some of my new favorites are from the Outer Wilds, Far: Lone Sails, Ghost of Tsushima, and Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!. Go listen to "It's Dangerous to Go Alone" from Jonathan Geer, the composer for Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! It is one of the most upbeat, feel good songs I have listened to in a while and has a simple chorus that begs to be sung.

I've been going through a bit of a change in that I am often not wishing to watch YouTube. Video game and pop culture news can be depressing (like Star Wars being run into the ground ), there aren't too many games I'm interested in watching, and I usually don't have time to play too many games myself. I'm running SIBA with my dad, which is really taking off. I have Book II to finish. And most importantly, I must keep up with my spiritual routine. Listening to videos or music allows me to focus and get important things done. So lately, it's been music, particularly video game music.

It's easy to find the right type of music for the occasion. Super chill instrumentals are perfect for coding or studying. Whether I'm writing a fight scene or an emotional scene, I can choose music that captures the spirit of it.

Do you have any favorite video game songs or soundtracks? Any recommendations for me, games that I desperately need to check out for their music? Let me know!

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