Best Game Soundtracks October 2017
This year has been a cavalcade of excellent soundtracks, and things haven’t slowed down as autumn has arrived. Why should they? Fall is traditionally a time of blockbuster releases in games, and we customarily reap the bounty of albums that accompany them. This month I have assembled for you a festive cornucopia of fresh game soundtracks, tastefully arranged with just a hint of pumpkin spice.
I believe I mentioned last month that I’d throw back to the Cuphead score in this month’s roundup: it’s out now, digitally on Bandcamp and in decadent vinyl over on iam8bit, and it remains a hell of a thing. Hours of original swing jazz perfectly evoke the vibe of the Fleischer cartoons that inspired the game -- and sound completely unlike any game score released in this (or any) year. Kristofer Maddigan, the composer, is a Canadian composer and percussionist who is evidently new to game composition, and for the love of God I hope he sticks around. Slide this jazz into your digital checkout cart without a second thought, by gum.
Another game that came out last month was Steamworld Dig 2 -- and while its soundtrack isn’t as unique and ambitious as Cuphead’s, it’s still absolutely worth your time. Twenty tracks of atmospheric electropop from El Huervo (of Hotline Miami fame) with some assists by Pelle Cahndlerby (the sound guy at developer Image & Form Games) create a moody, dark ambiance a little bit at odds with the colorful visual aesthetics of the Steamworld games. I didn’t expect to be creeped out by this score, but I suppose ‘tis the season to get spooky?
Here’s a game that’s not from last month, but from last year -- but the soundtrack for which only saw wide release (at least digitally) this month: Rez Infinite. Normally I’d breeze past something like this in my roundup; after all, you come to game news sites like Zam Dot Com to read about the latest, the hottest, the newest titles in gaming. I make exception, of course, because this is Rez, which boasts one of the best techno soundtracks I’ve ever heard in this or any medium. If you’ve never heard this album, you owe it to yourself to make time for it. It’s even on Spotify! Slide on some nice headphones, crank the volume way up, and transcend.
I was surprised, in compiling my list for this month’s game soundtrack releases, to find a racing game -- not because racing games don’t often have good music, but because so often their soundtracks are entirely licensed affairs, and highlighting excellent curation of licensed tracks isn’t really what these roundups are about. It turns out, however, that Project Cars 2 has an original orchestral score by a composer named Stephen Baysted, who has a couple other racing game scores under his belt (in addition to the score to the TV series “Secrets of the Dead: Graveyard of the Giant Beasts,” which I must now absolutely track down). I’m surprised and impressed at how listenable this album is, especially if you’re someone who jives with Hollywood-style cinematic scores.
I’m not too sure what to say about Dujanah, a “clay-punk adventure” by indie developer Jack King-Spooner, except that what little I’ve heard about it myself has been uniformly positive. It’s extremely difficult to pick a representative track from the score (also by King-Spooner) to offer as a sample, because the soundtrack is all over the place, trying on styles and genres before immediately discarding them for something else. It’s an eclectic collection of music whose like I haven’t seen since -- well, at least since Frog Fractions 2 earlier this year. You should go click around to see what I mean.
As I’ve done these soundtrack roundups over the last two years, I’ve grown more and more inclined to skip over games that only include their soundtracks as part of a special edition bundle (looking at you, Shadow of War), but sometimes a soundtrack will come along that seems to beg me to make an exception. Such it is with the OST for Culdcept Revolt, the newest entry in the hybrid card/board game RPG which I’ve never personally touched. Why include the soundtrack, then? Well, because it’s primarily done by Kenji Ito, whose work on the Mana and SaGa series I’ve adored since I was young. My love for this guy bids me insist you at least go click around this YouTube playlist and sample some of his fine tunes.
After a successful Kickstarter and a longer-than-advertised development process, developer Gears for Breakfast released A Hat in Time this month, a 3D platformer that takes aim at the legacy of games like Banjo-Kazooie and Psychonauts. Folks had reason to be skeptical after Yooka-Laylee fell so short of the mark earlier this year, but it looks as though the adorable Hat Girl may have made a solid showing for herself, even if she doesn’t quite stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greats. The game’s score, by Pascal Michael Stiefel, is a real charmer, with cartoony aplomb that put me in mind of not just Banjo-Kazooie but also Kingdom Hearts. The main theme, in particular, put an earnest smile on my face. No fooling!
Despite the fact that it’s the spooky season, there aren’t a whole lot of horror soundtracks on offer this month! The best you can probably do is Masatoshi Yanagi’s score for The Evil Within 2, a legitimately frightening album which is best listened to on headphones, alone, in a dark room. You don’t even need the game to freak you out: there’s enough going on here sonically to make you jump at every shadow that snakes across your wall. A cool and fun thing to do is to write a soundtrack roundup while listening to this and shouting so loud when someone touches you on the shoulder that you wake up your kid.
Actually, scratch that -- if you don’t mind your horror soundtracks coming in chiptune flavor, there’s another album worth checking out this month: The Mummy Demastered, which I think none of us expected to be a thing, is in fact a thing, and with a dark, compelling chiptune soundtrack by Gavin Allen, who goes by “Monomer.” This new Mummy game is part of a long tradition in which developer WayForward makes us take a second look at licensed games -- who knows what belly-flop of a Hollywood blockbuster they’ll make us care about next?
Alright, alright, two games that don’t have official soundtrack releases this month. I can’t help myself! Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth has a score by Yuzo Koshiro -- you know, the guy who did Streets of Rage? Koshiro’s been the composer for the Etrian games since the series got started a decade ago, and he’s provided each entry with a bevy of rousing battle tunes, which are always my favorites. (There is also sometimes some easy-listening jazz muzak.) If you’re inclined toward old-school dungeon crawling, you really can’t do better than the Etrian Odyssey series. Charting out your own map of the labyrinth is a meditative experience.
And now we come to the final weekend of the month, in which a bevy of major titles dropped which, much to our collective dismay, all turned out to be really pretty good. The only one to see a soundtrack release day-and-date with the game, however, is Assassin’s Creed Origins. I might pass on the game itself, as I have already played enough Assassin’s Creed to last a man ten lifetimes, but I always look forward to the soundtracks to these games, especially now that Ubisoft has taken to giving composing duties to a rotation of storied game composers (did you listen to Austin Wintory’s soundtrack to AC: Syndicate? You should!). This time around, the score is thanks to Sarah Schachner, given the lead for Origins after her work on the composing teams for both Black Flag and Unity. Give it a listen!
Unfortunately, the soundtracks for Wolfenstein II and Super Mario Odyssey haven’t hit digital store shelves yet, though I’m confident that we can expect them sooner or later: Wolfenstein has another bangin’ guitar soundtrack by Mick Gordon (of nu-DOOM) and Nintendo does deign to give official soundtrack releases to most of its mainline Mario games. (In the meantime, please listen to this song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since the game launched.)
And that’s it for this month! November promises to bring us a new Call of Duty and a new Sonic, among other things -- stay tuned for new tunes, and in the meantime, happy listening!