The days of dull bleeping noises as a pixellated ping-pong is batted back and forth across a black screen are long behind the world of video games – from recent next gen blockbuster Destiny, complete with musical contributions from Paul McCartney, to upcoming 65daysofstatic-scored sandbox space adventure No Man’s Sky, games continue to push boundaries in technology, art, entertainment and beyond. Also growing in sophistication are its soundtracks – here’s 23 of our favourites from across gaming history so far…
Rez: The 2002 shooter had a trick up its pixelated sleeve – rather than the traditional ‘bang bang’ sound effects of a FPS, Rez combined bullets with music as every destroyed target produced a different electronic sound or melody, allowing you to create your own composition while laying waste to adversaries. Smart.
Street Fighter 2: Yoko Shimomura composed the legendary score for the classic beat-’em-up, which gave each character a specific theme that referenced their roots, from Japanese sumo wrestler E. Honda to Brazilian mutant Blanka. Today, it’s so highly regarded that a deluxe vinyl re-release has been slated for release in the near future…
Tetris: The grandaddy of them all. Originally an old Russian folk song called ‘Korobeiniki’ which details the love affair of a poor peasant girl and a young peddler, the tune that accompanied all those tumbling bricks on this Nintendo classic was re-arranged into an infectious, electronic classic by composer Hirokazu Tanaka in 1989.
Red Dead Redemption: One of the most cinematic game soundtracks ever made, the score for Rockstar’s Western-themed shooter makes you feel like you’re an outlaw in an old cowboy classic, ranging from mood-setting instrumentals to songs by Woody Jackson and Jose Gonzalez. An evocative and epic sonic journey.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2: A soundtrack that doubled as an introduction to punk and alternative music for hordes of teenagers, as gamers tried to pull of stunts and tricks while listening to the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Bad Religion, Fu Manchu and Anthrax. Massive.
Final Fantasy VII: Composer Nobuo Uemats has written the music for 14 instalments of the Final Fantasy series, but his soundtrack for the seventh game remains his finest achievement – an intelligent, moving score that’s a perfect sonic mirror to the twists and turns of the narrative, including his melancholic masterpiece ‘Aerith’s Theme’.
PaRappa The Rapper: A bizarre PS1 rhythm game which features a rapping pooch called PaRappa, his best mate PJ Berri the teddy bear, his love interest Sunny Funny (who’s also a flower) and a karate master called Chop Chop Master Onion: of course its soundtrack and wacky rhymes were going to be top-notch.
Super Mario: From Koji Kondo’s original classic theme, recorded back in 1985, to more modern interpretations and reworking, everyone’s favourite dumpy Italian plumber has always come to life backed by some of the most iconic music in video game history.
Streets Of Rage 2: Released in 1992, scrolling beat-’em-up Streets Of Rage 2 sounded far more menacing and mature than the cuddly likes of big video game mascots Mario or Sonic: a pulsing soundtrack of techno and electro that provided the music for the ugly, violent beatings being carried out on screen.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: Every Grand Theft Auto soundtrack is a belter, but the radio stations you can tune into on the 1980s period classic Vice City still sound awesome – nothing beats speeding down roads in your convertible and blasting Blondie, Gary Numan, Run-DMC, Talk Talk, Kate Bush, Roxy Music and loads more.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Like its predecessor Vice City, San Andreas‘ soundtrack is as immersive as it is varied, ranging from David Bowie and The Who to 2Pac, Dr Dre and Public Enemy.
Max Payne 3: Noise rockers HEALTH composed the nasty soundtrack for the third instalment in the Max Payne series, with their harsh score providing the backdrop for a tale of violence, betrayal and revenge.
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time: For Link’s N64 debut, Koji Kondo shunned the original Zelda theme to make something completely new and utterly absorbing. It’s a game with music at its core, thanks to the tunes you play on the titular ocarina, but the soundtrack – a wistful collection of songs that follow you from castles to forests and beyond – is the real winner.
Resident Evil: From the 1996 original to this year’s Revelation 2, the Resident Evil series has always made the best use of its nail-biting soundtrack – a constant flow of spooky and tense atmospherics that get your blood pumping.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Some folk half-arse their work, and then there’s composer Jeremy Soule: for the soundtrack to The Elder Scrolls’ V: Skyrim, he wrote song lyrics in the language of Draconic (it’s the mother tongue of dragons, obviously) and got a 30-odd strong male choir to sing, too. It works: a sprawling score that’s perfectly in-step with its fantasy universe.
F-Zero: Want to feel like you’re hurtling along dizzying roads in a faster-than-light hover car? Nintendo’s futuristic racer F-Zero put you behind the wheel of a death-defying vehicle and blasted the a blistering, giddy soundtrack in your ears, too, as you sped through madcap cityscapes in desperate pursuit of victory.
Quake: For the much-loved 1996 FPS, Nine Inch Nails man Trent Reznor showed the same attention to detail and inventive composing as he later would for his film soundtrack work, bringing a collage of dangerous sounding synths and creepy soundscapes to bring class to all the splattering blood.
Wipeout 2097: Like F Zero, this was a futuristic racer. Unlike its Nintendo counterpart, though, Wipeout 2097 recruited some of dance music’s biggest names to add heft to its soundtrack, calling upon The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and The Prodigy to provide the tunes.
Castlevania: For the first Castlevania game in 1986, Kinuyo Yamashita and Satoe Terashima were on soundtrack duties. Since then, the music’s changed from instalment to instalment, but there’s always a common, scary thread to tie them all together – with tracks like ‘Vampire Killer’ and ‘Bloody Tears’ making continued appearances through the years. Ah, gruesome sonic history…
Minecraft: German electronic musician named Daniel Rosenfeld struck gold with his gorgeous soundtrack for Minecraft – a hypnotic ambient and non-lyrical score that bores into your brain while you’re busy building new worlds.
Speedball 2: CRASH BANG WALLOP! That’s Speedball 2 in a nutshell – a violent sports game where competitors don metal outfits and slam into each other in a metal arena. And the brutal soundtrack, composed by Simon Rogers and Richard Joseph, added some brilliant extra crunch.
Portal: Kelly Bailey and Mike Morasky’s instrumental score for 2007 puzzler Portal helps make it a survival-horror classic – a creepy, eerie and mostly ambient score that has the pulse quickening and keeps you on tenterhooks until you’re finally safe. So good, it convinced The National to contribute a song to the game’s sequel in 2011.
Quake II: Following in Trent Reznor’s footsteps was always going to be a tricky task, but Quake II gave it a good go, roping in producer Sonic Mayhem for the bulk of the score and turning to US musician and film director Rob Zombie for its main theme.