Hey! Listen is a twice-monthly column unearthing obscure video game music and trivia. Today’s column explores the huge world of video game music covers, and recommends some of the best.
Back in 2011, Christopher Tin’s song, Baba Yetu, which he composed for the turn-based strategy game, Civilization IV, ended up being the first piece of video game music (VGM) to bag a Grammy. Considering the Grammy Awards doesn’t recognise video games in separate categories (unlike the Baftas), this was a pretty impressive feat. Any video game nominations are up against fierce competition from hundreds of other tracks pre-shortlist.
Fast-forward to 2022, and Las Vegas is alive with the sound of video game music once again. The 8-Bit Big Band, a 30–65 member orchestra that performs video game music jazz arrangements, won a Grammy for their ridiculously good rendition of Meta Knight’s Revenge from the 1996 SNES classic, Kirby Super Star.
Jazz fusion bands such as Casiopea and T-Square helped shape the sound of video games in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s ace to see everything come full circle with a new generation of musicians and producers making these killer jazz arrangements of their favourite game soundtracks. Better still is seeing this music celebrated on an international stage as large as The Grammys.
Obviously, you should check out more of The 8-Bit Big Band’s stuff, but there are plenty more covers and VGM remixes out there to discover. As I spend most of my time on YouTube or OC Remix listening to covers, arrangements and remixes of video game music, now seems like the perfect time to share some of my favourites.
Whether you’re into metal, jazz, electronica, vaporwave or orchestral music, I hope you find something you love below. Enjoy!
‘In The Bar’, Streets Of Rage 2 (The Consouls)
Not only is Streets Of Rage 2 one of the best games on the Mega Drive, but it’s also got one of the best 16-bit soundtracks ever created. Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima’s pummelling combination of house and techno tunes perfectly captured the essence of ‘90s club culture at the time, but what if you gave that music the smooth jazz treatment? It works remarkably well, as The Consouls band prove.
Video Game Music DJ Sets (Dedeco the Video Game DJ)
Brazilian DJ and music producer Dedeco is on a mission to prove that video game music can find a home on the dance floor. His DJ sets, ranging from deep house, jungle and trance to one-off videos that focus on a specific series, are a great way of discovering floor fillers from obscure games that you might have missed. If you check out any of Dedeco’s sets, it’s gotta be the techno one – the transition from Ghost In The Shell’s PS1 music into Expander from Streets of Rage 2 is flawless.
‘Aquatic Ruin Zone’, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Insaneintherainmusic)
Anything that Carlos Eiene touches turns to gold, and although the Berklee graduate has taken a step back from content creation to focus on original compositions, his YouTube channel is a goldmine of video game music jazz arrangements. His Latin/samba take on Aquatic Ruin from Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is one of the best, but as a self-confessed Diamond and Pearl super-fan, Pokemon fans should definitely check out his fourth-gen covers.
The Last Of Us Main Theme (Squidphysics)
Multi-instrumentalist Ben Morfitt’s channel blew up after he covered the music from Grand Theft Auto, and he’s been working on video game and film music covers ever since. While he’s taken a step back from the channel to focus on writing and performing his own material, you’ll likely find your favourite game soundtracks – Halo, Sonic The Hedgehog, or The Legend Of Zelda – all featured here.
Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX (TPR)
I discovered TPR’s music over ten years ago while I was at university, where his melancholy piano arrangements of game soundtracks accompanied many late-night writing sessions. His music captures the same haunting beauty you’d expect from pianists such as Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter, and covers a range of game series from Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts to Shovel Knight and Chrono Cross. Perfect music to work to.
Sonic Guitar Tribute Part 2 (Andy Gillion)
Gillion uploaded his metal take on Sonic The Hedgehog’s music over ten years ago and it’s still one of the best metal covers of video game music on YouTube today. Gillion was the guitarist for a power metal band called Shadowlaw, and you can hear him giving the metal treatment to other games such as Perfect Dark and Mario Kart on his channel.
What if Bloodborne sounded like Mario Kart? (Alex Moukala)
There’s no escaping Alex Moukala. You’ve probably seen his videos on your Twitter feed at some point, where he gives popular video game melodies the funk treatment, but my favourite videos of his are where he rearranges game music into new styles and genres. As well as being entertaining, Moukala’s videos also provide some great insight into music theory and some of the common tricks used by video game composers. Make sure you check him out if you haven’t already!
‘Abandoned by God’, Demon’s Souls (Alex Roe)
I mean, the music in the Souls series does the job, right? But it’s not the kind of music you’d sit back and relax to, is it? Of course, there are a few exceptions. Alex Roe’s Abandoned By God is one of them. It’s a stunning orchestral arrangement of the music that plays during your epic clash with Maiden Astraea in Demon’s Souls, and is a must-listen for anyone that’s made it that far into the game.
‘We Will Rise Again’, Far Cry 5 (Hammock)
Most post-rock music in video games, please. 65daysofstatic’s soundtrack for No Man’s Sky proved that video games are the perfect fit for atmospheric and droney post-rock music, so maybe it was only a matter of time until a band like Hammock ended up joining the fun. Ubisoft commissioned the group to create an ambient version of Far Cry 5’s soundtrack, and if you’re a fan of bands such as This Will Destroy You, God is An Astronaut, Sigur Ross, Mogwai or Mono, you need to check this out immediately.
‘Time’s End’, Majora’s Mask Remixed (Theophany)
Just when you thought The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask couldn’t get any bleaker, Theophany comes along with an eerie two-part take on the game’s score that blows Kondo’s original score out of the water. If you’re a fan of dark orchestral music, or simply want a new way to reconnect with the music in Majora’s Mask, give this a listen.
Final Fantasy VII ‘Main Theme’ (The Reign of Kindo)
Square Enix is no stranger to arranged soundtracks, having released everything from lo-fi takes on Final Fantasy music to jazz arrangements of the Chrono series. But their Cafe SQ albums, where they invite a variety of bands and artists to cover their favourite Square Enix titles, are some of the best. The Final Fantasy VII theme cover by The Reign of Kindo is one of the highlights.
Dr. Wily Stage 1 | Mega Man 2 (Mariachi Entertainment System)
Makes sense to end this with a bang, so here’s one of the most iconic pieces of music from the Mega Man series performed by an actual Mariachi band. I don’t think I need to say much else, to be honest. This is top-tier, 10/10 content and gulping down every single video on the band’s channel would be a worthy investment of your time.
If you liked this article, check out our previous ‘Hey! Listen’ column pieces here.