I listen to a lot of soundtracks. They’re the perfect thing to keep you awake while you work (all good programmers listen to music while they work, it’s a thing). Perennial favorites include the soundtracks from the 8-bit Mega Man games, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies, Guild Wars 2, Tron: Legacy, and anything relating Sonic the Hedgehog. But lately, thanks especially to sites like Humble Bundle and GOG, I’ve been listening to a lot of the soundtracks from some of my favorite indie games. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order).
Dustforce – Lifeformed (Amazon MP3, iTunes, Bundled With Game)
Dustforce is one of the weirdest, off-the-wall game I’ve ever played. The best way to describe it is that you play as ninja janitors who have to clean up all of the debris in a series of parkour levels, using cleaning supplies to beat up bad guys made of leaves and trash as they go. Once you get past the insanity of the concept, it’s actually a remarkably smooth, almost hypnotic game. The sounctrack is chill, ambient, and as unique as the game’s concept. Quirky track titles like “Frozen Hot Sauce,” “It’s Not Supposed To Be Snowing,” and my favorite track, “Swimming While It Rains,” make listening to the soundtrack so much the better.
Megabyte Punch – Runesound (Bundled With Game (GOG), Bundled With Game (Dev’s Site/Humble Store))
An interesting mashup of Super Smash Bros., Mega Man, and Custom Robo, Megabyte Punch is a sadly neglected indie title (seriously, go buy it now). Almost better than its gameplay is its upbeat, danceable techno soundtrack. The tracks all fit very will with the varied levels, and the energy level is perfect for this high-action fighting game.
Fez – Disasterpeace (Amazon MP3, iTunes)
(Seriously, what is it with game composers finding two random cool-sounding words and running them together for a name?) Say what you will about Fez’s lead designer Phil Fish, the game is solid and its soundtrack is great. It’s ambient and dreamlike, and somehow manages to maintain a retro feel without actually being chiptune. It’s the perfect fit for a game that also somehow feels retro without actually playing much like any oldschool game. I almost didn’t include this one on my list, since it’s almost too backgroundy (that’s a word, I promise) to listen to on its own, but then I played it again and was reminded of how perfectly it meshes with the game. Sometimes that’s the best part of listening to a soundtrack; it can be so closely tied to the experience of the game that you get some of the enjoyment of the game without actually having to play it.
Cave Story – Pixel (Free Download)
This freeware game is a legend, and if you haven’t played it, you should stop everything you’re doing and download it. I’ve played it through more times than most AAA titles, certainly more than any other freeware game. I love it so much I’ve bought two paid versions of it (WiiWare, Cave Story+, and considering buying Cave Story 3D), even though none of them really add much of anything to the original free version. The music is some of the finest examples of post-NES chiptune. What’s even more amazing is that the game (which is by no means short), graphics, and music were all done by one man over the course of five years.
Freedom Planet – Woofle/Various (Bandcamp)
If you grew up playing games in the ’80s or ’90s, or enjoy any of the 2D platformer greats–Sonic, Mario, Mega Man, just to name a few–I can’t recommend this game enough. It has the speed and feel of Sonic, but throws in the best elements from a variety of games, like Sparkster, Pulseman, Ristar, and Super Mario Bros. 2 (US), along with, of course, a lot of its own style. I may actually like it better than Sonic, which is saying a lot because I’ve been a Sonic fan as long as I can remember. Raving about the game aside, I really love Freedom Planet’s soundtrack, which isn’t exactly chiptune, but manages to capture the essence of ’90s Genesis/SNES-era soundtracks with more modern sounding synths.
Journey – Austin Wintory (iTunes, Bundled With Game)
The PS3-exclusive Journey from Thatgamecompany (no really, that’s their name) is known for its breathtaking visuals and unique storytelling. But rivaling its graphical beauty is its epic, cinematic soundtrack. It’s filled with so much emotion; the music really tells the story more than the visuals. The Piano Version deserves a listen as well.
Know of any soundtracks I should add to my collection? Leave a comment below!