Great Soundtracks in Gaming – Indie Edition

Music. It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it? It can affect our moods, our emotions, and even tell us a story when associated with background imagery. It can paint colours and stir nostalgia, and invoke certain involuntary twitching in the gluteus regions (not necessarily a bad thing, if you go to the right clubs). So where would you expect to hear music powerful enough to do these things? The opera? A live performance with André Rieu? Super Mario Bros?

Wait, what?

Your average person wouldn’t believe it, but video games are actually responsible for a huge range of unique and interesting music. Some of which is so deeply ingrained in modern society that you only need hum a few bars for people to know instantly where it comes from. Take the afore mentioned Mario game; you can’t escape that damn theme tune!

Do do, do, do do, do! Dun.

In the video game industry, a great soundtrack can play a major role in the success of a title. Such a powerful tool is it, that even a mediocre game can be made memorable if the music is done right. How many not-so-great games have you played, simply because you like to listen to the songs in certain levels? How many of those games have you repeatedly gone back to over the years for just that reason? Conversely, a terrible soundtrack can make the best game irritating as hell to plow through… or at least force us to play the whole thing on mute. Nothing like a bit of death metal or screeching techno to put a damper on your destructive shenanigans, ay?

Many old school relied on their soundtracks, since storage medias at the time weren’t large enough to allow for full blown voice acting. Music had to do so much back then: it had to be ever present, but without being annoying. It had to convey the moods and ‘feelings’ of the characters and the story they were telling, as well as support any text that might have been on screen at the time. If it was an action game, it had to get you pumped and lend an air of ‘fun’ to the experience. So much needed to be communicated to the player, that a single poor choice in music meant a lower quality experience, and a often a negative response in the reviews. Getting it right was matter of the games life or death for early developers, and the ones that did have entrenched themselves in gaming history forever (Zelda: Ocarina of Time anyone?).

Nowadays the importance of the soundtrack appears to have died off a little, preferring to focus more on voice overs and dazzling graphics. Oh, the music is still there, but it’s more just noise. Not much more then “filler”. Now we only notice it for two reasons: it’s really really good, or it’s shockingly, horrendously bad. With this series of articles, I hope to explore some of the best (and maybe worst) soundtracks in gaming. It’s also an opportunity for me to promote some of the ‘lesser known’ games; those strange or obscure ones where the soundtrack plays a major part in the little fame the game might have. What better place to start then with the Indies?

Soundtracks in Indie Games – Who’d Have Thunk It?

When people think of Indie games, the word that crosses most minds would be “budget”. Indie games are made by small developers without a lot of capital to spare on things like amazing graphics or over-used voice actors (for the love of god, just retire Nolan North! You’ve done enough!). I doubt many gamers would expect Indie’s to have decent music, if any at all.

Well, they’d be wrong. Indie games are the closest thing we have to the ‘Ye Old-School Games of Yore’, and so once again the soundtrack rule plays a huge part in their success.

While most get by with cheap-but-catchy synthesised numbers, many developers have really stepped up in recent years. In fact, five titles in particular have become firmly slotted in my mental ‘Favourite Soundtracks of All Time’ list. Five! Indie titles! That’s not too bad for a genre that few people take seriously.

It’s those five I’d like to share today. So swab those eardrums, pick the dandruff out of your headphones, and prepare for some musical wizardry that defies genres!

(*Warning*: It may take some time to get through this article if you insist on listening to every track in its entirety. To help, I’ve provided time frames for where the “cool” parts of the music are in each video. Listen for as long as it takes to get the general idea; no need to sit there all day. Also, be sure to choose a high resolution when watching the vids to ensure the best sound quality!)

Super Meat Boy! – Music To Die Repeatedly For

The meanest, toughest, and, without a doubt, best ‘hardcore’ Indie game to come out in years, Super Meat Boy has been amazing and punishing players around the world. All to critical acclaim! Its clever homages to the various gaming eras and hilariously animated cutscenes provide the charm, while the brutal gameplay ensures you’ll be coming back again (and again and again) to try and conquer some of the hardest platforming ever created.

But would a game that can see you spending thirty minutes on a single level be as highly touted without an incredible soundtrack to back it up? Probably not. Lucky Meat Boy’s music is almost as epic as the game!

SMB features a soundtrack that is purposely reminiscent of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, filled with fast paced electro, guitar and epic melodies. A massive amount of music had to be made for this game; seven light worlds, seven dark worlds, bosses, numerous warp zones, credits and cutscenes, all sporting their own unique tunes. Their up-tempo beats and fitting themes (Dark Worlds definitely have a sinister air about them, while Warp Zones are the epitome of retro) will see you happily flying through levels, not minding at all when you’re ground to a pulp for the hundredth time on a whirring razor blade of death. Who would have thought dying could sound this good?

Meat Boy has a LOT of great tracks, so I’ll try to narrow it down to just the best. If you want hear more, simply search for them on youtube!

Chapter 1: Dark World – Ballad of the Burning Squirrel

Cool Part: 0:00 – 1:04

More then likely the first song you’ll come across that makes you go “Wow, this game as cool music!”, Ballad of the Burning Squirrel sets the mood for the horrific Dark Worlds right from the get go. You’re not in the cute and cuddly Light Worlds anymore, Dorothy. Prepare to be assaulted by raging buzzsaws, deadly spike pits and crumbling precipices at every turn!

Chapter 1: Boss – The Battle of Lil’ Slugger

Cool Part: 0:00 – 1:00

Don’t let the name fool you. Lil’ Slugger is anything but; he’s actually a gigantic walking chainsaw, hellbent on turning you into Super Purée Boy! Your first Boss encounter will hit you like a spiked mace to the guts, and as you flee Slugger through a veritable minefield of traps and spinning blades, one grim thought will cross your mind: “This is only World 1!?”

Chapter 5: Light World – It Ends

Cool Part: 0:00 – 1:33

So you’ve almost beaten Meat Boy. You’ve jumped your way through hospitals, salt factories and even Hell itself, fighting everything from giant blood monsters to a doppelganger made of poo along the way. Dr. Fetus is not happy with your progress, and so, blows up the entire world in an effort to destroy you once and for all. But to no avail. This is it. This is The Rapture. The end of all life as we know it.

As we leap across the whitewashed wasteland, traversing shattered buildings, mutated creatures and swarms of maggots that have become engorged on the carcass of humanity, we couldn’t ask for music more dramatic then “It Ends” to accompany us. You know the ultimate battle between Meat and Fetus is mere levels away…

If you’ve enjoyed these songs, be sure to check out the rest. Some of the more noteworthy:

Or alternately you could just buy the game from Steam or XBOX Live and ensure that the team behind such brilliance can continue to create awesome things in the future!

Machinarium – Robotics With Emotion

Aaahh Machinarium. One of the best – if not THE best – Indie game I’ve ever played. This single-handedly reinvigorated my love for the old point-and-click puzzle adventure games, and made me sit up and pay attention to Indies in general.

Machinarium is a beautifully crafted tale of a small robot in a big city, overcoming disaster and saving those he loves. The art is impeccable, the puzzles are intelligent, and the overall story heartfelt. But being completely silent in terms of dialogue, music then became the game’s biggest crutch. Thankfully, the soundtrack they chose supports it beautifully.

For what could be described as “a four hour flash game”, a lot of funding went into making the music perfectly fit every scene and create a sense of atmosphere you’ll grow to love in the city. While most of it is best listened to within the game (it’s all about the mood setting), one tune in particular stands out from the others, and proves to be amazing no matter where you listen to it:

Machinarium – The Bottom

Cool Part: The Whole Damn Thing

(Though if you must have a time limit 0:00 – 1:36 are probably the best)

Officially, The Bottom is described as being “light metallic knocks, mixed with melodical gongs, abstract keyboard sounds and ornate electro patterns with an ethnic flavour”. I just say it’s relaxing as hell. I sneakily put this on when my partner was resting on the couch one day, and she was asleep before it ended.

The rest of Machinarium’s soundtrack can be heard on Youtube as well, though really I recommend picking it up on Steam in the next sale ($20 is, rather unfortunately, a little too high for most people). If there’s a developer out there that deserves our support, it’s these guys, and I can’t wait to see what they come out with next. I have little doubt it will, at least, sound awesome.

Super Stardust HD – Rocking Out In Space!

Veterans of the original Stardusts from the early 90’s would have fond memories of the boppy tunes that played while they blasted through endless waves of meteorites. When Super Stardust HD arrived on the Playstation Network for a whole new generation to enjoy, the soundtrack had only gotten better.

Super Stardust HD is a single player/co-op game, where you and perhaps a friend can take control of a ship on a 3D rotatable planet and defend the galaxy against the evils of Space Rock!! Progressive levels will see you facing off against thousands of rogue asteroids, made of various materials like stone, ice or gold, and you’ll need to use the right weapons if you want to survive. The good news is you’ll be listening to one of the rockingist, awesomerist, Atari-esque OST’s around!

Stardust’s music mixes modern day electro into a distinctly retro sound. The orchestral melodies give the game a true space odyssey feel, while the high speed beats will keep you on your toes for those split second reactions. When the screen fills with explosions and your blaster runs hot, this soundtrack will never fail to make you feel like a Cosmic Space Hero. In short: these are tunes to pew pew by!

Super Stardust HD: Planet 1 – Lave

Cool Part: 1:20 – 2:56

The first planet you do battle on, Lave’s robust sound will see you blasting your way to leaderboard glory in no time. Damn, if the new Star Wars movies had music half this cool maybe they wouldn’t have sucked so bad (jokes: nothing could have saved those movies).

Super Stardust HD: Planet 2 – Coventina

Cool Part: 1:20 – 3:44

Coventina starts poorly, and someone browsing through the playlists on Youtube may skip it, assuming it doesn’t improve. Those playing the game, however, get to experience this tune properly, as it evolves into one of the most epic songs in the game. Sporting a slightly sadder, slightly darker tone about it, Coventina paints a picture of tough trials to come, and the fate of a galaxy that’s relying solely on you to save it. (Wow, it sure got all Mass Effect up in here.)

Super Stardust HD: Planet 5 – Segomo

Cool Part: 0:45 – 2:00

The final planet in the quadrant, and your last stand. Segomo is a fascinating piece of music, since it undergoes so many transitions in such a short time. If possible, listen to the whole thing, since it’s interesting to hear a song go from mildly frantic, to calm, to borderline cheerful, and finally truly sinister. Huh. Still, given that it’s the last planet and you’ll be facing swarms of killer rocks, aliens, and an epic final boss, it gets the mood right.

Super Stardust HD: Boss

Cool Part: 0:00 – 1:56

When the planet goes silent and this song begins, you know your in trouble. It’ll only be mere seconds before an evil alien boss-ship zooms in to swat you like the space bug you are. At least, that happens in the first four worlds. By Segomo, you feel like your ready for anything, so Stardust throws you a curve ball: the entire planet explodes, revealing the earth-sized boss within! Not many enemies have their own gravitational pull… pretty impressive I must say.

Super Stardust HD is available on the PSNetwork for just over $10; well worth the money for the amount of fun and entertainment it provides. The complete pack even contains two extra soundtracks, giving you the option to play each planet with retro or orchestral versions of their songs, depending on how old school or dramatic you want your game to feel. Nice.

Shatter – Smashing Guitar Tunes

Why the heck is Shatter here? Gameplay wise, it’s a generic Breakout/Arkanoid spin-off that requires you to bounce a little ball around the screen and smash blocks. The only thing that separates Shatter from the others is that the blocks free float around the screen, and you have the ability blow or suck objects at whim (easy there, Tiger). Sure it might be some simple, relaxing fun, but it’s nothing special. Then why do people love it so?

Well, ask any person why they play Shatter, and they’ll nearly always say the same thing: “The music is AWESOME!”. And it is. Shatter is one of those previously mentioned cases where the gameplay is merely an excuse to listen to the music. If there was no soundtrack, there’d be no reason to come back to this generic, arcadey dinosaur, but we do. Again and again, because it simply sounds so good. I strongly believe the developer made the game as a clever way to promote his new album… an idea that’s not as crazy as it sounds, since how many games do you know that have an Official Music Video for one of its songs? (See “Amethyst Caverns” below).

Shatters music is strange, and difficult to define. At best you could describe it as “a mish-mash of chill out, electro and awesome guitar riffs”. The way it can change its feel two or three times in one song is fascinating, and suggests a very skilled mind behind its creation. A few tracks could easily pass as chill out/dance tracks on a regular CD. It’s definitely something to do with that electric guitar; what is it about electric guitars that just make everything sound so amazing? I can feel my long dormant love for Sonic CD’s OST stirring already…

Shatter – Freon World

Cool Part/s: 0:00 – 2:18 for Chill Out fans 3:19 – 4:44 for Guitar fans

Arguably the best track in the album, Freon World brilliantly demonstrates the ‘mish-mash’ claim, changing from a relaxed yet upbeat tone, to rock heaven with the guitar, and then back to relaxed again. Why something this awesome is in a Breakout spin-off is beyond me…

Shatter – Amethyst Caverns

Cool Part: Worth Watching the Whole Video

Remember that official music video I mentioned? This is it. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. That said, it’s a pretty damn good video, and the song has the same mesmerising mix of chilled out electro and guitar as the other tracks. Unlike the others, however, this is the only one with vocals: a mildly eerie, slightly robotic voice sings Japanese(?) lyrics for the duration of the tune. Wow. Did I mention this is a Breakout spin-off?

Shatter – Hyperspace (Extended)

Cool Part: 0:40 – 1:45

Hyperspace is one of the few songs that deviates from the genre mish-mash, and focuses solely on a good old fashioned space feel. Listening to it, you can just imagine travelling down worm holes and exploring the galactic nether regions. In the game, this music appears in the multi-ball bonus level; a zone that once hosted a Steam Treasure Hunt achievement, requiring you to get an astronomical amount of points to succeed. It unfortunately left people hearing this song more in their nightmares then in their dreams… Shatter is available on PSNetwork and Steam for the low price of $10. That’s not bad for a great album with a fun mini-game attached. Pick it up today and have a blast!

Flower – Floating On a Harmonic Breeze

Do flowers dream of cotton sheep? It seems Thatgamecompany set out to answer that very question. A game designed for pure relaxation, Flower sprouted out of nowhere on the PSNetwork one day and took the gaming world by storm.

You don’t blindly mow down terrorists. You don’t battle monsters with a mighty sword. In Flower, all you do is float. That’s it. You start as a single petal, riding the breeze in a flower’s dream. As you make your way across beautiful landscapes and through starlit nights, more petals will join your journey, until eventually you’ll become one enormous colourful entity. The goals are simple; collect more petals so you can progress through the levels, occasionally colour or destroy objects in your way, and most importantly, relax. A task made much easier, thanks to the game’s outright blissful soundtrack.

Fitting the theme, all of Flower’s music is composed of wind and string instruments, supported by a well played piano and the occasional acoustic guitar. Full of ebbs and flows, excitement and lethargy, each song creates an atmosphere unique to the level at hand. Couple it with stunning visuals and stress free gameplay, and you have a game that can only be described as ‘pure euphoria’.

Once again, Flowers entire soundtrack is great, so I’ll just choose the best.

Flower – Sailing on the Wind

Cool Part: Pretty much all of it

Sailing on the Wind embodies the concept of Flower best out of all the tunes. Featured in a level full of canyons, slipstreams and windmills, it paints a perfect picture of flying on the breeze for miles on end. The slow part at the 5:12 mark occurs when you finally arrive at a place of rest; an orange sunset over grassy vista. Aw. So pretty.

Flower – Life as a Flower

Cool Part: Whole song, or whenever you fall asleep

Flower’s first level is what everyone would expect; an enormous, green, windswept field full of hillocks and stones to explore. As such, this aptly named song sets the mood perfectly. While no particular part stands out from the rest, the entire song is an aural sleeping pill. Crikey, any more relaxing and we’ll all be in a coma!

Flower – Lazy Daydream

Cool Part: 0:00 – 1:17

Unbelievably, this isn’t part of the in-game soundtrack. Lazy Daydream is in fact the best PS3 XMBar music you’ll ever hear. It’s not unusual for players to turn on their Playstation and just leave it sitting on the Flower icon so they can listen to these sublime chords. Just read the youtube comments!

If you like these songs, or even the sound of the game itself, you can get both for less then $15 on the PSNetwork. Absolute bargain for one of the most stunning and artful games in years, no?


So ends the Indie Edition of Great Soundtracks in Gaming. I wonder if any of these games would have garnered the critical acclaim they did without the music to back them up? It also makes you wonder; if a small budget Indie developer can create such amazing songs, why can’t the big gaming companies do it? I can barely remember the last massive mainstream release with a soundtrack that was noticeable. It’s sad more then anything. Missed potential, and something that developers really should considering paying more attention to in the future.

As these are just my personal favourites, and I’m sure there are many more out there with equally great music, feel free to tell us you own favourite Indie soundtracks! Any opportunity to educate the masses on this oft overlooked genre is a good one, and will help ensure we see more interesting titles like them in the future.

“Unique” is, sadly, becoming an all to rare trait in the gaming world these days… banner

1 Comment

  1. Arakis The Hutt /

    Spacechem has surprisingly good songs too, for a puzzle game.

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