A lot of thought and planning goes into video game soundtracks. Now taken as seriously as it is in film, the composing of a fitting and affecting musical score is one of the key tasks in ensuring a complete and coherent experience. Or at least it usually is.
You see sometimes, video game music seems wildly inappropriate. Sometimes it feels thrown together at random, with no thought to how well it fits in with the in-game action. But sometimes, it works really, really well regardless. Like in the cases of the following 8 games. Theres no way in Hell they should work, but I wouldnt want them sounding any other way. Click on, read my explanations, and hit the video links over the next few pages to experience the ear-joy for yourself.
Die Hard Trilogy - Multi
Probably should have sounded like: Exactly the kind of bombastic, urgent, orchestral fare youd expect from a Hollywood action blockbuster.
Actually sounds like: A moody, neon-drenched 80s Miami nightclub thats somehow been transported to the near-future and gone a bit noir in the process. So it basically sounds like a Michael Mann film. All soaring synths, majestic, downbeat chords, and the odd bit of jazz-tinged, borderline acid-house.
Totally works because: Its brilliant. While it doesnt specifically evoke the particular 80s and 90s films the game is based on, it does evoke the overall cinematic period beautifully, giving the game a serious sense of time and place along with a really powerful and emotionally affecting drive.
The Adventures of Batman and Robin - Mega Drive/Genesis
Probably should have sounded like: A 16-bit recreation of Danny Elfmans soaring, gothic Batman score.
Actually sounds like: A really heavy night in a German warehouse rave circa 1991. Glowsticks, eyeliner, metal clothing and aggressive mastication all the way. Composer Jesper Kyd (later of Hitman and Assassins Creed fame) pushed the Mega Drives comparatively crappy sound-chip to its absolute limits, squeezing sounds out of it that just should not have been possible, and using them to create compositions that sound way beyond the capabilities and ambitions of the era. Jesper Kyd is basically a badass.
Totally works because: Although it doesnt sound like the cartoon or movie Batman of the late 80s and early 90s, it does evoke visions of darker, more brutal, more desperate Gotham, its driving beats and industrial noise making you want to punch crime in the face, really hard. Through concrete. Until crime bleeds to death.
Silver Surfer - NES
Probably should have sounded like: A standard-issue, upbeat, dramatic superhero cartoon soundtrack.
Actually sounds like: An insane, bubblegum mash-up of 80s stadium rock, hard techno, prog rock, and a whole bunch of other stuff that fairly defies description. And maybe a bit of jazz flute here and there. Its the most complex, layered, screamingly jubilant waterfall of noises youre ever likely to hear coming out of a NES. The aural equivalent of high-fiving an awesome robot in front of a sunset while surfing a rollercoaster.
Totally works because: The game itself is a frantic, nonsensically hard shmup that punishes mistakes like the Elizabethan justice system. As such, the pace of the soundtrack is perfectly fitting, and its mood is just enough to distract from the pain of playing the damn thing.
Robocop - Multi
Probably should have sounded like: A crunchy, 8-bit version of the Robocop theme.
Actually sounds like: The sad dreams of a wistful robot.
Totally works because: While totally at odds with the vibe of the films score, the games main theme is a masterpiece of affecting minimalism. Its the soundtrack to Murphy gazing across the road at his lost family, as rain starts to mist up his visor and everything blurs into soft focus while he remembers the better times. Then he steels himself to his sad but stoic future and drives away into a rainbow. The tune is so good that following the games release, Indesit used it to soundtrack the iconic ad for its Ariston series of domestic appliances. True fact.
Total Recall - Multi
Probably should have sounded like: Something strident, booming and mysterious, like the actual films soundtrack.
Actually sounds like: More sad robot dreams, this time of bittersweet memories forged during those special times on Mars.
Totally works because: While again, it seems a rather abstract spin on the source material, its entirely fitting as a sort of alternate interpretation, a la Die Hard Trilogy. Cut out all of the excessive 80s violence (not that youd want to, but still), and Total Recall is a story about identity confusion, dreams and the fragile nature of reality. The mood of the games tune actually works really well for all of that, whether it was actually intended to or not. And its basically just really nice, so Im giving it a pass. Any complaints? No, didnt think so. Onward!
Bayonetta - PS3/360
Probably should have sounded like: A load of dramatic, driving, epic, orchestral confrontation music, and a fair amount of clanging video game metal, a la Devil May Cry.
Actually sounds like: Some of the above, and a whole lot of dizzy sugary, jazzy lounge-pop. The sound of a 50s Vegas casino fired into space. Its the most pink-sounding set of tunes ever to grace a video game. Listen to the whole thing, and youll be shaking glitter out of your ears for weeks.
Totally works because: The games soundtrack, like its protagonist, is utterly confident in its strident, camp excesses. It cares not a jot for any accusations of inappropriateness; throwing preconceived opinions to the wind and prioritising fun above all else. As such, its a perfect analogue for Bayonetta herself.
Ghouls 'n' Ghosts - Amiga
Probably should have sounded like: The iconic original soundtrack.
Actually sounds like: Strains of folk, noise, ambient electronica and flat-out seething horror thrown into a washing machine and given a fast spin on the extra-hot Nightmare setting. Its genuinely one of the weirdest, most eclectic, but most coherent soundtracks youll ever hear in a game.
Totally works because: Because it elevates Ghouls n Ghosts above the sum of its parts. And that is, after all, the purpose of any soundtrack. What was once a gleeful, cheery, cartoon horror-show becomes a dark, twisting nightmare of a thing; surreal, Hellish, and inviting all at the same time.
Super Formation Soccer '94 - SNES
Probably should have sounded like: A bunch of 16-bit national anthems.
Actually sounds like: The most off-kilter interpretations of national identity youve ever heard. Romanias theme sounds like an 80s action movie soundtrack. Brazils sounds South American in precisely no way whatsoever. Argentina gets something akin to a jazzy remix of Blankas theme. England gets a psychotic, pounding industrial track straight out of Mortal Kombat.
Totally works because: The presentation of football games is usually as slick, safe and anodyne as it comes. Lunatic it may be, but Super Formation Soccer 94 imbues itself--and its teams--with a sense of personality you wont find anywhere else. Also, I just really, really like imagining the England team turning up to a quarter-final wearing blood-soaked, bladed armour and carrying a bunch of spears.
Any more loony tunes?
So that's my run-down of my favourite game soundtracks that had no right to work. But how about you? Any incongruous wonders you feel the need to shout at about? Well don't shout. Type, in the comments, instead. I'll actually be able to see what you're saying that way.