Inspired by this post about the music throughout the Mass Effect series, I started thinking about all of the excellent soundtracks that I’ve enjoyed while playing games. This is by no means an exhaustive list; please comment and share some of your favorite video game soundtracks too! I’d love to listen to more.
Mass Effect 3 – It was highlighted in the article I linked to above, but it does make my personal list of favorite soundtracks. The compilation overall takes you through a range of emotions, but there are some individual tracks that can take you from elation to heartbreak to resolve within a four minute space of time. Definitely worth a listen through, if you’re looking for a well-rounded, very orchestral driven experience. Not to mention, it makes you feel like whatever you’re doing within your cubicle is contributing to saving the galaxy!
Red Dead Redemption – The soundtrack of RDR made a huge chunk of the atmosphere of this game. When the genre “western” enters most people’s heads, they think of hackneyed banjo music with a clanky washboard accompaniment. How refreshing then that the music used to great the bring depth to the western theme in RDR wasn’t twangy or cliche at all. Some of these tracks are unnerving, most are energizing, and a few (particularly the song through the credits “Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command) can bring you to tears. Although the songs with lyrics are closer to the end of the game, the three of them are my favorites on the album. Do yourself a favor, get lost in the old west by listening to this soundtrack.
Splice – You can read in the game title link that I’ve already highlighted this incredible soundtrack. Ethereal and stirring, it brings you along a ride you didn’t think possible with a protagonist-less puzzler. The movement that takes the audience on a journey is the incredible strength in every song on this soundtrack. You’ll be doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t check out this soundtrack (free to preview in its entirety on bandcamp).
Bastion – This . . . this soundtrack is perfection. I saved the best for last. I’ve heard this soundtrack be compared to the Firefly soundtrack, which I thought was fitting. It gives off a non-western (hemisphere) vibe, mixed with a few, very subtle western (cowboy) themes. A diverse range of instruments orchestrate every track, and the songs with vocalists are . . . haunting, but in the best most moving way possible. I realize all of these descriptions sound very hyperbolic, but seriously, this one . . . the money soundtrack, undoubtedly.
Like I said, there are lots of other game soundtracks I love (Catch-22, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong, etc.) but these are really some of the cream of the crop. I’ll also take this chance to give a shoutout to a YouTube artist who does incredible acapella covers of video game songs. He hits some of the most popular jams (e.g. Guile’s Theme from Super Street Fighter 2) as well as a few more obscure hits that are just great songs (e.g. DuckTales’ Moon Theme). His username is Smooth McGroove and if you love raw talent recreating your favorite video game tracks, you have to go and subscribe!
When I read the synopsis of Splice in the back of the PAX program, with the rest of the PAX10 games (ten indie games at PAX, highlighted by industry experts for how awesome they are), I was pretty sure it was going to be over my head. But I had made a goal to try and play all ten PAX10 games before the doors of the convention center closed two days later. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play all ten games (I couldn’t find six of them whatsoever, so that’s on you, PAX), but I did get a chance to try out Splice and pick up a coupon code so I could buy it on the cheap after PAX, which I did.
Splice was made by Cipher Prime Studios and is currently available in the iTunes app store as well as on Steam for Mac and PC. The marketing copy boasts over seventy levels, and the company also offers a deluxe edition that comes with the soundtrack. That was my first tip off about the music. Just like Catch-22, in the exhibition hall at PAX I couldn’t hear the soundtrack but when a game starts offering their soundtrack along with the game, not as an afterthought months later, you know it’s going to be a good soundtrack.
I didn’t get to talk much to the Cipher Prime guys at the booth because some “big wig” who “voted for their game to be in the PAX10” or something lame like that walked up right when I did. Sheesh. The nerve, huh? /sarcasm. Anyway, I pieced together a little bit of the game play, got stuck on the seventh strand of the first sequence, congratulated them on the game, and left. I finally got around to buying, installing, and playing the game last night.
As for the actual game play, all the player has to do is move around microbial units (sure, that’s what we’re gonna call them) to fit in the frame that the level provides. But when you move one microbe, it effects where the others are and they move as well. You have a limited number of splices, or moves, to get all the microbes to match the shape of the frame. In later levels, microbes get special actions, such as splitting in two to make more microbes, and other actions that are harder to explain. I heard one YouTube reviewer compare the sequences to worlds in a platformer, and the individual strands of Splice to levels in a platformer. So when I say sequences and strands in the rest of this, think of it like that. Strands are levels essentially, and they’re grouped into sequences, which are pretty much only there for organizational purposes. The funniest phrase of this paragraph is “all the player has to do,” because for its simple objective, I found Splice stupidly hard.
My previous admission about how terrible I am at puzzlers still stands. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I got stuck on the same strand of the same sequence two weeks after I played it at PAX. I eventually got it on my own, but it took me so long, it wasn’t even gratifying. I was still shaking my head, like “Man, how could I have figured that out faster?” I got stuck again on sequence two, strand three but not wanting to waste more time (which is how I always view beating my head against puzzles, i.e. as a waste of time), I googled a solution. Thankfully (for my pride, anyway) the reviewer explained some more mechanics of the game so I didn’t have to watch the full solution; I realized the solution now that I understood what the new microbes actually did.
I stopped my brief run through at sequence three, strand five. Like all puzzle games I play, it might be awhile before I actually finish this one because I am impatient and apparently an idiot. I recognize the deliberate choice to go minimalist on the game play by not explaining how to play the game, but at the same time, players get nothing to go on . . . For as much as I love progressive gaming, the lazy, puzzler-handicap in me shakes its head at setting up gamers to fail. And it’s more than others. Limbo, for instance, explains nothing. But it’s such a familiar backdrop (i.e. platformer) we instinctively figured out what to do. Splice is breaking boundaries all over the place, so our frame of reference is limited, if not gone entirely for those of us who don’t play puzzle games often enough. I think at the end of the day however, I’d rather developers assume I’m too smart than assume I’m too stupid. This rant is just because I’m mad that I’m really bad at this game.
Far and away though, this has got to be one of the most beautiful indie games I’ve ever played. There isn’t a ton to go on visually throughout the game, it’s true, but again the minimalist art style and controls, as well as a superb soundtrack (officially called Flight of Angels) that I’m going to buy off of Bandcamp in just a few minutes, creates an ephemeral place in which to ragequit. Ahh, how pleasant.
If you like puzzle games, you will love Splice and you should definitely spring the $10 to buy it. It’s only $4 for the iPad, and I don’t see anything telling me that it has any fewer levels, so if you have an iPad, save some dough and buy it in the app store. If you don’t like puzzle games, I think this is still a beautiful enough game that if you like being challenged in non-puzzle games, you’ll appreciate the experience in Splice. Just wait until it goes on sale.