Much like with movies, music can make or break how well received a video game is. With that in mind, Here is Crave’s list for the ten best video game soundtracks, transforming games from merely "good" to "great" experiences. The list is comprised of a few safe bets, a few contemporary titles that have quickly become favorites, and a few shockers. Read on to see how your opinion stacks up.
System: PlayStation 2
"Very Japanese." That’s the most apt description for the music of Katamari. And in most instances I would absolutely hate this type of music, but with Katamari Damacy, I love it to pieces. Between the gameplay, art style and music, Katamari Damacy is one of the catchiest, most addictive games ever made. It’s like crack for the senses. With the game’s music being that once-in-a-lifetime crack rock. The crème de la crème, if you will.
System: Xbox 360, PS3
No gaming soundtrack list would be complete without BioShock being represented. A beautiful mix of original orchestral sounds composed by Gary Schyman and licensed music from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, BioShock’s eclectic mix of music might be the very best soundtrack gaming has to offer. While Rapture was surely a case of "destroyed beauty" that made exploring the crumbled utopia a joyous occasion, it was the game’s use of music that fully immersed you, hooks dug deep. Also, gotta give props to the game for making me afraid of the track "Beyond the Sea." Now I can’t stand to see Carnival cruise commercials. Thanks BioShock!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
System: PlayStation 2
The Grand Theft Auto titles have always had a quality soundtrack. But there is none better than GTA: Vice City, a love letter to the 1980s. The Vice City soundtrack also marks one of the only gaming soundtracks I ever bought, picking up the massive seven disc collection which I still listen to to this day.
System: Xbox 360
Alan Wake just released and has already skyrocketed to the top of my favorite gaming soundtracks ever. Not only does the game feature incredible orchestral music, but the use of licensed music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, is amazing. I won’t spoil it here as the game just came out, but the licensed track used in the final credits is a stroke of genuis and a pitch-perfect exclamation point on the whole experience. I will never listen to that song without thinking of Alan Wake from this point on.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
System: Nintendo 64
All first party Nintendo titles are known for their catchy soundtracks, but The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time might be the company’s strongest offering. Most of the themes established in this title have passed to future Zelda titles in some fashion or the other. There might be some fine tuning or more orchestration included, but the tracks in Ocarina of Time have transcended time. Fitting, considering the game it represents.
Mega Man II
System: Nintendo Entertainment System
The soundtrack to Mega Man 2 is one of those things where, if asked, I could recite the entire thing without a single note cue. It’s all up in my brain, forever. That could be because I was forced to play each level a hundred times over in order to beat it, but I like to think it’s because Mega Man 2 features some of the catchiest midi tunes ever put in a video game. From the opening title screen through to Dr. Wiley’s lair, Mega Man 2’s level themes are constantly memorable and great background noise to all the robots blowing up.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
System: PlayStation 3
Many of the gaming lists that I’ve written for Crave feature Metal Gear Solid 4 is some capacity. This list will be no different. But come on, this one is obvious. Metal Gear has always been a series known for it’s fantastic orchestral sounds and original licensed music, as was the case with the "Snake Eater" theme in MGS3. But I chose MGS4 specifcally because it’s a culminations of all the music from the entire series, capping off with an incredible medley during the game’s final boss fight. A moment that nearly brought me to tears.
System: Nintendo 64
I’m going to be honest, at first I didn’t include this game on the list. When I told fellow Crave gaming writer Joey Davidson what this list comprised of he instantly said I forgot Banjo-Kazooie. I respected his opinion, acknowledged that Banjo’s soundtrack was solid, but told him there wasn’t room to include it. What followed was a tidal wave of spamming instant messages from Joey that included Youtube clips of the various tracks from the game (mainly snow levels). He also kept shouting "Award Winning!" in regards to the quality of the music. And finally, I just gave in. Whether it’s because I knew the game deserved it, or through peer-pressure, Banjo-Kazooie was making this list.
Canabalt marks the only iPhone game included on this list. It’s also the only game (that I know of) for the iPhone that warns the player to wear headphones while playing for "maximum awesome." And the game is totally right, Canabalt’s music is fantastic for a game this simple. Even with only two tracks making up the game’s soundtrack, Canabalt’s music never gets old and perfectly fits the always-moving-forward tone of the title.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
System: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
Thinking back, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is like the exact opposite of Mega Man II in regards to the soundtrack. For the life of me I can’t remeber a damn thing about what the soundtrack sounds like, outside of knowing it’s awesome. It wasn’t individual tracks that made this game’s music so great, but instead the collective whole that made playing for five hours straight enjoyable, never obnoxious. The tracks cycle and repeat but never reach the annoyance level that most 16-bit era games find themselves in. And when you finally do stop playing, you’re left carrying on the tune, humming the music of ZAMN while out doing real world things. So in that case, the soundtrack of Zombies Ate My Neighbors accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: be good accompaniment.