We picked the brains of some of the most ardent game music connoisseurs out there to find out their favourite ‘deep cut’ tracks — lesser known video game pieces that nonetheless deserve to be highlighted as classics.
Edited by Thomas Quillfeldt
I got pretty inspired by the recent Hyberdub compilation Diggin' In The Carts, A Collection Of Pioneering Japanese Video Game Music and the sheer depth of its deep cuts — that by polishing these recordings a little and recontextualising them, the compilers could foster within me a deeper appreciation for the musicality of older game music.
Which got me thinking: how could I source some slightly more modern video game music ‘deep cuts’ without having to go to the trouble of listening to every bloody soundtrack album in existence? The answer, of course, was crowdsourcing: just ask people whose musical taste you trust — leading game music composers/arrangers, podcasters/writers and collectors — and who have each spent thousands of hours poring over game music, sticking their heads down the deepest musical rabbit holes.
Putting together this piece brought me incredible joy. None of us have time to experience every game, let alone sift every soundtrack for gold, but I’ve found at least two new OSTs that immediately enraptured me (Tsugunai: Atonement and Attack of the Friday Monsters!, in case you wondered); and reading others’ perspectives has made me think just that little bit more deeply about my own gaming and music listening habits. It was so much fun, I’m tempted to make it a regular, recurring article...
You may not have heard the piece, nor of the composer or even the game, but these deep cuts will hopefully inspire you too. So open your ears and open your brains — and lets go diggin’ in those carts…
David Housden – Composer, Thomas Was Alone & Volume
“Plingpling Fairy Dust” by Chris Christodoulou from The Sea Will Claim Everything (2012)
My ‘deep cut’ is from a wonderful text-based adventure game called The Sea Will Claim Everything, made by Jonas and Verena Kyratzes. They created a gorgeously realised, beautifully unique fantasy world; and this was matched by an equally beautiful score by composer extraordinaire Chris Christodoulou. Although the game has now received a Steam release and you can find the soundtrack on all good digital retailers (Bandcamp; Spotify), I don't feel that either have received half as much attention as they deserve.
Most people know Chris for his brilliant prog-synth score for Risk of Rain (Spotify), but his work on The Sea Will Claim Everything is not only my favourite score of his to date, but also one of my all time favourite game scores. It's difficult for me to pick any one piece as a highlight, as each individual track tells part of a larger story and it's really a soundtrack that deserves to be listened to in its entirety so that you can experience the whole journey. However, since there’s a gun to my head: I pick Plingpling Fairy Dust.
The light, wistful melody of the piano transports you directly into the fantasy world of Underhome; and as the instrumentation builds and the orchestration opens up, it tells of the journey you've undertaken thus far, and also of that which is yet to come. It's a perfect example of a 'sunset' track done right and as such is the worthy recipient of the title 'My Favourite Deep Cut'.
David Housden is an award-winning, BAFTA nominated composer best known for his collaborations with Mike Bithell on the BAFTA-winning Thomas Was Alone and Volume – www.housdenmusic.com | Twitter: @davidjhousden
And, since David mentioned ‘sunset’ tracks, check out our “Many moods of video game music” piece, chronicling the different mood groupings that game music tracks tend to adhere to.
Kate Remington – Podcaster, Music Respawn
& Music Director/on air host at WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, CT
“Walkin' (or Crashing With Style)” by ??? from Star Wars: Pit Droids (1999)
No doubt about it: the brilliant minds at Lucas Arts and Lucas Learning created some incredible games that showed us a wider view of the Star Wars universe. Pit Droids (OST on YouTube), created by Lucas Learning, is still one of my all-time favourite puzzle games. The simple idea was to impose some order on a bunch of unruly pit droids, but the way the game was designed was incredibly clever: the pit droids were divided into groups with distinct characteristics that had to be sorted into goals. The early tutorial levels were pretty simple — after all, the game was designed for ages 8 and up — but things get really hard, really fast!
Here’s the trailer:
The soundtrack wasn't like anything I'd ever heard before in a game of that era: a cool fusion of jazz, blues and funk, layered on top of each other as it took longer and longer (and longer...) to solve the puzzles. The cues were random, so you never knew which one would play as you began a fresh puzzle, but I always knew I'd be in for a good time when Walkin' (or Crashin') In Style was spinning.
The instrumentation (with piano, sax and percussion) really swings, and the tempo perfectly matches the strides of the pit droids as they jauntily march along to their assigned goals.
I have to admit, sometimes I'd just let them crash so I could listen to this cue on a loop. It still gives me a really happy feeling to hear it.
She’s also the Music Director/on air host at WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Frederik Lauridsen – Writer, Blip Blop Wax
“TURRICAN” by Chris Hülsbeck arr. MASTER BOOT RECORD from Turrican II (1991)
I didn’t think I’d be able to pick just one favourite weird game track, but I kept coming back to this as it’s a track I’ve really fallen for. It’s a synthesizer-metal arrangement of the theme music for Turrican II on the Commodore Amiga game and it’s an absolute monster!”
The game isn’t exactly obscure (although you don’t hear too much talk about it these days); also, artist MASTER BOOT RECORD has amassed a decent following. What makes it a ‘deep cut’ is the fact that he only sends out his video game covers to people who purchase his music — they never officially get released through other channels (beyond YouTube of course) so they’ve been flying under the radar for some time.
The song takes the best parts of an already great theme song and just makes them better.
You read that right. Better.
It’s got build-ups and quieter moments, but they are all just leading up to parts that invite dancing, jumping and moshing. I don’t have a strong personal attachment to it yet, as it’s a fairly recent arrangement, but it’s one that instantly stuck with me (alongside the entire album it’s taken from). It’s a refreshingly uncompromising way to construct a cover and MASTER BOOT RECORD truly makes it his own.
Jeremy Lamont – Podcaster, Video Game Grooves & gameBYTES
“The Wonderful Star's Walk is Wonderful” by Yuri Misumi from Katamari Damacy (2004)
There's a lot of memorable and fun music in Katamari Damacy (OST on YouTube); quirky, unique tunes that are a joy to sing along with. But when I started thinking of my favourite ‘deep cuts’, one song immediate rolled to mind [ed: 😑]. No, it's not THAT track... and not THAT one either.
It's called The Wonderful Star's Walk is Wonderful by Yuri Misumi, a composer credited throughout the Bandai Namco series. I'd lay odds that most people might not be able to hum it without hearing it once through. But it's not even the gently plucked guitar arpeggios that makes the track so special. It's all the noise it's wrapped up in.
In this track, Misumi has essentially created an audio katamari. It contains a kernel of music that, throughout the progression of the song, is wrapped up in more and more… well... ‘stuff’. As with a katamari, the newest additions are slowly folded in to the center of the ever-expanding ball of audio and eventually lost, with new sounds being overlaid and overlapping, until the big oom-pah moon-sized finish just before the track loops.
Though it's never been one of the hero tracks of Katamari fame (and it never again made an appearance in the later remixes of the series) it remains one of my favourite tracks to listen to because it embodies the Clump Spirit of the game's title — perhaps more than any of the other tracks, great as they are.
Jayson Napolitano – Owner, Scarlet Moon Productions
“Sheep Shamble” by Justin Scharvona from King Arthur's World (1993)
King Arthur's World (OST on YouTube) was an oddity on the Super Nintendo. Part platformer, part strategy game, the goal was to use your varying types of units — which included knights, engineers, and archers — to get King Arthur to the treasure trove at the end of each level to finance his campaign. On your quest, you visit a medieval fantasy world, as well as funky goblin underground and spooky cloud realms, each populated with unique enemies and perils. At the end of each world was an impressive boss battle that usually required your engineers to build war machines (soundtracked by the SNES sound chip version of Ride of the Valkyries).
But it isn't Ride of the Valkyries that I want to talk about. The pieces that accompanied the medieval world (from whimsical to brooding), the funky dungeon jams of the goblin underworld, and the unsettling ambiance of the cloud world have all remained with me. Not many people have played the game, and fewer still know anything about the music, but somebody was a big enough fan to convince musical act The OneUps to perform one of the goblin underworld tracks, and I did get in touch with one of the composers over the years who unfortunately didn't recall much of what he'd written for the game. But that's okay. I remember.
Sheep Shamble appears in the later levels of the medieval fantasy world, when the whimsy and simplicity of the first few stages are behind you and the real challenge sets in:
It's melancholic, driving and desperate — and it’s just one of a number of really great tracks from the game.
As a bonus, you should also give Funky Goblin as performed by The OneUps a listen. Together, these tracks should help you appreciate the variety and awesomeness of the King Arthur's World soundtrack!
Jayson Napolitano doesn’t just love video game music: he commissions, produces and promotes it via Scarlet Moon – www.scarletmoonproductions.com | Twitter: @scarletmoon_ & @jayson_n | Facebook.com/scarletmoonproductions | SoundCloud | Youtube
Steve Vancouver – Podcaster, VGM Moments
“Snow Problem” by Alec Holowka from Offspring Fling (2012)
Alec Holowka is probably best known for being the co-creator of indie hits Aquaria and, more recently, Night in the Woods (also serving as the games’ composer). But he has also provided soundtracks to other indie titles, including a number of collaborations with developer Kyle Pulver. One of these was Offspring Fling (OST on YouTube), a puzzle-platformer all about a fluffy rabbit-like creature trying to save her children from peril. The game is fun to play but it also features a charming, catchy soundtrack that is deserving of more attention.
I could have picked almost any track from this generally joyful score, but I’ve gone for Snow Problem — the music to the game’s colder levels:
I’m a sucker for a good wintry piece of music, and Holowka’s work here brings to mind a feeling akin to what a Yoko Shimomura or Hiroki Kikuta might have composed for a similar in-game setting during the SNES era of JRPGs. There’s a hint of wistfulness to start with, but the piece develops into something which feels more hopeful — as if you’re using all of your strength to stay positive in an unfavourable situation. It has become a permanent addition to my seasonal playlist for this time of year.
Speaking of wintry music, we previously picked out “10 chilled game music tracks to help you play it cool this winter”.
Andy Corrigan – Podcaster, Switch Focus; freelance writer, IGN
“Expedition With An Active Imagination” by Hideki Sakamoto from Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale (2013)
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale (OST on YouTube) is a short but delightful experimental game from developer Aquria and RPG powerhouse Level-5. Developed as part of 'Guild02', the second in a collaborative compilation series spearheaded by Level-5, I think of it as obscure as it's buried away in the 3DS eShop, easily missed and often lumped in with some of the chaff that exists there.
Those that overlook it are missing a charming and emotional Ghibli-style tale about a young boy called Sohta, whose launderette-owning family have recently moved to a quaint little town where Kaiju style monsters appear every Friday. We follow Sohta as he attempts to navigate through his new life via a series of small missions and a quaint card-collecting mini-game. He manages his chores, makes friends and tries, ultimately, to solve the mystery behind the monsters.
The entire soundtrack by Hideki Sakamoto is utterly fantastic, but I've opted for Expedition with an Active Imagination here — a track which plays whenever Sohta resolves to achieve something:
Its combo of a cheerful, playful melody and a serious marching beat not only serves to get across the prospect of a child on a mission, but also manages to capture the adorable personality and seriousness with which Sohta always sets out with. Brilliant.
David Peacock – Musician and arranger
“Battle with the Devil” by Yasunori Mitsuda from Tsugunai: Atonement (2001)
NB: The soundtrack to Tsugunai: Atonement was released under the name an cinniùint (OST on YouTube).
Tsugunai was a smaller project that came out between two big name franchise entries Mitsuda had worked on: Chrono Cross and Xenosaga Episode I. You can hear the similarities in instrumentation and musical styles to those two games here. I had only heard of the game because I was following the projects that Mitsuda had released during that time period. This was one of the cases where I owned the official soundtrack well before the game and had only been familiar with the compositions on their own; so much so that I had built up a mental image around the context of these pieces (which would abruptly change when I did play the game itself!)
I did eventually find a copy of the PS2 game at a used games store and though I don’t remember much of it, I did complete the game out of interest in order to hear all the music in context.
This piece plays during the final boss (spoilers, I guess?):
I appreciate the mixture of classic ‘Irish-inspired Mitsuda’, with ‘jazzy piano Mitsuda’ (think Ancient Dragon Fort from Chrono Cross), and a bit of ‘dramatic vocal synth Mitsuda’. When it comes to final boss music, Yasunori Mitsuda never seems afraid of shifting the expectations of what the music has to be, by trying something completely new or unconventional.
David Peacock is a talented musician and arranger, fresh off a collaboration with Disasterpeace (FEZ, Hyper Light Drifter) — Disasters for Piano is a Peacock-arranged album of Disasterpeace compositions, played by pianist Augustine Mayuga Gonzales. Available from Bandcamp; Spotify; iTunes/Apple Music.
Thomas Quillfeldt – Community Manager, Laced Records
“Black Cat's Theme” by Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis from Spider-Man 2 (2004)
I really, really, really wanted to turn people to the light side...
...of Jim Guthrie’s track Dark Flute from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. I find b-side Light Flute (Bonus Track) (essentially Dark Flute stripped of everything except the bed of flutes) mesmerically beautiful. Sadly, it’s not on YouTube to embed here.
So, I guess I’ll need an alt...
I remember Black Cat’s theme from the brilliant (for the time) Spider-Man 2 catching my ear immediately as soon as I heard it in the game (during rooftop races between her and Spidey).
It’s perfect for the scenario, and always stuck out to me as a great game music memory.
Be sure to get in touch with your favourite #VGMdeepcuts — we’d love to hear them!