There are few times when I can actually make myself listen to new music. I have a hard time listening to full albums and I usually skip songs on playlists that don’t grab me thirty seconds in.
While I at least try to listen to new music, I can’t remember the last time I listened to the music of a video game that I had not played yet.
To be honest, I’m not sure how common of a practice this is. Like many, I listen to tunes from my favorite games, but I never really considered listening to a game’s soundtrack without having the context of the game it’s supposed to score.
But recently, while doing my usual reading and studying, I decided to take the plunge.
I put my headphones on, and I went searching for music. These are some of my favorite discoveries.
Composer: Lena Raine
Favorite Track: “ｈａｃｋｍｕｄ – 0000 port_epoch”
There’s only one track from hackmud’s soundtrack available publicly without having to purchase the game, and that track evokes a sense of curiosity and belonging that it might just get you to jump in.
Having not actually played hackmud, I can tell you that it’s a game that recreates the hacking culture that occurred on home computers in the 1990s. It’s a subject that I have very little knowledge about and sounds like an intimidating game to jump into if you don’t know much about coding, but I found myself becoming attached to this specific track. It became a regular song on my playlist for when I commute home from class late at night.
The track starts off subdued with a low electronic hum that fades in and out; it’s comforting yet cool. Small, high pitched notes that feel enthusiastic are peppered on top of that low hum. They begin to build up to something. Not to a “drop”, but to a revelation. A blast of synth hits, like massive gates opening up in front of you to reveal a never before seen landscape. What almost sounds like a digital chorus then takes over, evoking a sense of wonder for the rest of the track.
This feeling of discovery is why I keep listening to it when I’m driving at night. It’s a feeling that says, “You don’t know what lies ahead, but go discover the unknown.” Even though I myself have the same commute every night, it feels good to pretend that I’m some sort of night rider.
I imagine that this track plays early on in the game because of that. It feels welcoming and given that the game focuses on a hidden subculture, it makes sense why it has that build up and release.
It communicates, “Congratulations, you found us.”
Ori and the Blind Forest
Composer: Gareth Coker
Favorite Track: “Naru, Embracing the Light (feat. Rachel Mellis).”
Ori and the Blind Forest is a sidescrolling platformer that that is of the metroidvania ilk. Listening to just the soundtrack, you would think that it’s the score to a Disney animated epic. One that is filled with as much excitement and wonder as it is filled with melancholy.
The track “First Steps Into Sunken Glades” has this feeling of loss. The slow and spaced out keys of what I assume to be a piano really drive this sentiment. What sounds like a violin creates long somber notes. Towards the end of the song it begins to pick up. It becomes a bit lighter. It then transitions into a new track with a lot more energy. This track sounds a lot more like what I had in mind when I was told that this was the soundtrack to a platformer. The type of song that would play underneath a game while you jump around its world
Contrasting from those somber moments are tracks like “Naru, Embracing the Light (feat. Rachel Mellis).” It’s a boisterous track that feels lively. Its upbeat tempo and use of specific instruments place your mind in a tropical habitat and makes the track feel like it’s powered by some sort of natural life force. It’s one of my favorite tracks from this soundtrack and it’s a great track to put on when I want to jump right into any work in front of me.
Upon reflection, I realized that Ori and the Blind Forest’s soundtrack is so grand and Hollywood-like, that I might have not appreciated it had I listened to it with context of the game it scores. I play a lot of big video games. I watch a lot of big movies. Both of these are usually accompanied by orchestral soundtracks similar to Ori and the Blind Forest that I feel like I never really appreciate and I honestly don’t know why. Perhaps this is a subject that warrants its own, separate discussion. Regardless, Ori and the Blind Forest’s soundtrack is one memorable composition.
Composer: Adrian Talens
Favorite Track: “Are We There Yet?”
Poly Bridge is a game where you build bridges and have cars drive on them.
From the outside looking in, Poly Bridge just seems like silly fun. This may or may not be true, but I can tell you that I found the sounds of Poly Bridge’s acoustic guitar soundtrack to be nostalgic, sincere, and romantic.
I originally listened to the sounds of Poly Bridge while I was studying for an exam. I was sitting at a light brown wooden desk, at a crowded public library. Across from me and facing in my direction, was this young woman with red hair.
The music starts off lighthearted. It’s opening track has an optimistic feeling to it and a catchy beat. But then the mood slows, the track “On the Road” begins playing, and I involuntary begin remembering the Fall of 2011.
It’s a rainy and grey weekend. I’m driving down the street and my hands have a tight, damp hold on the steering wheel. I arrive at my destination, a Chili’s, the place where my current girlfriend, who I’ve spent five years with, had our first date.
As it plays and new tracks begin, I remember different moments of the night.
Like how after dinner, the rain stopped and we decided to go out for a walk around a local strip mall. As the track “Are We There Yet” plays and the guitar riffs, I remember the modern look the strip had. How the lights of the store’s neon signs reflected on the pools of water on the ground. I remember how I made the idiotic suggestion of stopping by a Target retail store, probably because I could feel the night coming to an end and I didn’t want it to.
It’s an evocative soundtrack that had me grinning like an idiot, staring off into space, remembering the past. As I regained my focus, I realized that the red haired woman across from me was giving me a judgemental stare.
I’m certainly more interested in Poly Bridge now than I was before I listened to the game’s music, but I wonder if I will experience some sort emotional whiplash if I ever played it and listened to its music while playing with its colorful cars and bridges.
If there is one thing that I have gathered from this musical escapade, it’s that we should try listening to the music of games that we’ve never played. It can be an interesting thing to see what you can get out of the experience. I for one am ready to say that Poly Bridge is the best video game soundtrack of 2016, and I haven’t even played the game.