If you’ve been following that social media they have now as closely as I have, then you’ll know that July 8th is National Video Game Day, one of about three or four National Video Game days that are celebrated in the U.S. over the period of coagulated hours and weeks formerly referred to as a Calendar Year.
Of course, here at Ship to Shore PhonoCo., every day is National Video Game Day. Along with George Romero Weekend, Kung Fu Films Summer Solstice and Bad Movie & Lots Of Drugs Variety Night (All Night, Every Night), it means that we’re always busy celebrating the things that mean a lot to us. “Where DO you find the time to release such fine records and write such amusing yet ultimately hollow blogs?” I somehow hear you say. The answer is simple: impish minions summoned from the very bowels of hell via an arcane tome of unlimited dark power. But anyway, enough of that. I’m here to talk about some of my favourite video game and computer game soundtracks and the ridiculously long digital mixtape I’ve compiled for your listening pleasure!
Running at 210 minutes - about the same length as watching an episode of Riverdale feels - it’s positively stuffed with selected tracks from my own personal history of gaming, from the chiptune 80’s to the midi 90s to the movie-like orchestral scores of today. This was a real labour of love, not to mention a difficult task: trying to whittle down this list to a palatable 3.5 hour playlist was no easy feat (the mix was originally a lot longer!). Some choices had to be made, some tracks had to be left by the wayside. But I think you’ll like what there is to listen to. If you’re a fan of VGM then there’ll be something here for you, and - hopefully - some tracks you’ll not only recognise but also love.
You’re about to see two lists. The first is a list of the games which made my “Favourite Game Soundtracks Of All Time (So Far)” archive. Filled with games and their soundtracks which have left an impression on me over the (many) years I’ve been playing with my joystick. Each game has a track (or two and in a couple of cases three) featured in the free-to-listen-to digital mixtape, which is where the second list comes in: it’s the tracklist for the Mixcloud mix.
So, time to buckle-up buckaroos. It’s my list of my all-time favourite video game and computer game soundtracks, in alphabetical order! There are many like it but this one is mine. I’ve included the year of release and also the platform on which I was familiar with the game (and is most likely where the soundtrack is sourced from in the digital mixtape). And don’t be offended if your favourite video game music is not listed here: there’s a lot of stuff I left out and your selection might be one of them. Or you’ve just got shit taste. And awaaaaaaay we go!
Actually utilising some of James Horner’s score to the film, this tense and actually pretty difficult game was blessed with two different versions of Ripley’s Theme. The first is the main title screen music, and it’s a pretty damn cool funky chiptune number that completely mis-sells the game as a rollicking shoot-em-up (it isn’t). The second version is the actual gameplay music, and it’s this intense, atmospheric piece that keeps you on edge, just like the game itself. As a fan of both the film and the game, the music has been burnt into my brain for over 30 years - just listen to it and you’ll find out why.
Such a wonderful yet mostly overlooked (at the time) game. The soundtrack is marvellous, invoking the world of dragons, sorcery and adventure without even needing to insert the cartridge.
BARBARIAN: THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
I first encountered this game on a friend’s Commodore 64 and fell in love with it immediately. As soon as the chance came I bought a copy for my Amstrad. Many hours were wasted rolling into enemies and then cutting their head off with a well-timed pull-joystick-back-and-press-fire manoeuvre and then watching an imp-like fellow come in to the arena, kick the head off the screen and drag the headless corpse away. Pure class. Based on Robert E Howard’s series of Conan stories, it was inevitable that the music for the game would bear some resemblance to Basil Poledouris’ score to the 1982 feature film adaptation Conan The Barbarian, and that’s exactly what happened.
A sleeper hit upon release, The Binding Of Isaac has an enjoyably memorable soundtrack to match the excellent (and frenetic) gameplay.
A wonderful blend of action and atmosphere, it sounds just how you imagine a Mad Max-esque future frontier world would sound.
CAULDRON II: THE PUMPKIN STRIKES BACK
It’s not very often you get to play a game as a bouncing pumpkin hell-bent on getting revenge on a witch (as per the events of the first Cauldron, in which you played as the witch fighting against a pumpkin) but in this game that’s exactly what’s going on. The title music is exactly what you’d expect it to be and thank god for that.
COMMAND & CONQUER: RED ALERT
Two words: Hell March.
Can you say “epic?” I can and I do, particularly when talking about the score to this bloody difficult yet rewarding-to-play dungeon crawler. Atmospheric, oppressive, rousing - it’s all of these and more besides. Guaranteed PTSD for anyone familiar with the game.
You will die… of nostalgia while listening to this fantastic soundtrack!
DEAD SPACE / DEAD SPACE 2 / DEAD SPACE 3
Great soundtracks, mostly action / horror stingers but occasionally offering up some atmospheric dread and emotional gut-punches throughout. The main theme sets up the mood perfectly, almost like it’s the opening title sequence to an alternative reality’s version of Alien. And for all the issues that Dead Space 3 has, it’s the soundtrack that elevates it to a point where I still enjoy playing it.
Before Dark Souls there was… Demon’s Souls. And like its successor, it’s impossible not to listen to the soundtrack without immediately being transported back to this difficult - yet totally addictive - game. Filled with a heavy sense of melancholy, the score feels like it is a natural part of the world that you’re exploring (and dying in. Many times). “Let strength be granted so the world might be mended. So the world might be mended…”
DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION
This could almost be an alternative soundtrack to Blade Runnerand I don’t think that’s a mistake. Absolutely fantastic score by Michael McCann which adds some much needed emotional impact into the game’s story. The main title theme alone is some of the best soundtrack music I’ve heard for any media type and I’m obviously not the only one who’s thought so as it’s been used in several ads, perhaps most notably for a Breaking Bad TV promo. From it’s urgent action-y moments to the city ambient themes, and of course all the music in-between, this is not one to be missed for the soundtrack aficionado.
I mean, it’s Diablo. And it features a new, updated version of the Tristram theme. Love or hate the game (and there are decent and understandable reasons for either or both of those feelings), you cannot deny the soundtrack is a stroke of wonderful genius and an example of over-production being the RIGHT choice.
DIE HARD TRILOGY
Stupidly enjoyable action trilogy with a stupidly enjoyable soundtrack. What's not to love?
DUKE NUKEM: TIME TO KILL
There’s some great atmosphere tracks here mixed in with the rollicking action music you’d expect in a Duke Nukem game, and it’s one of the best things about it. That and shooting the pig-faced alien invaders in the face with a shotgun, of course. The opening title sequence uses a track from Stabbing Westward too, which is a nice touch, and the end credits music is hilarious.
Really overlooked this one. Most people who played it remember the main title sequence & music the most (and for good reason - it’s excellent) but the rest of the soundtrack is so heavy in atmosphere - stunningly evoking the feeling of being deep underground in dank conditions - that I can imagine serial killers listening to this to help them sleep. Fantastic game too.
ECCO THE DOLPHIN
Critically championed in pretty much all aspects upon its release, it’s impossible to ignore the soundtrack to this charming - and bloody difficult - game. It invokes the loneliness of Ecco, and the desperation the dolphin feels while figuring out what happened to its pod. The soundtrack is a true classic of the video game world and is never forgotten by those familiar with the game.
FAR CRY 3: BLOOD DRAGON
Synthwave was a big thing back in 2013 and boy didn’t we know it. The sound perfectly accompanies this Far Cry spin-off and remains an entertaining piece of work in its own right.
Excellent scrolling shoot-em-up arcade port to the 16-bit console, featuring a wonderfully bizarre soundtrack full of impossible-to-predict basslines and melodies.
GHOULS ’N GHOSTS
A soundtrack that sticks with you, reminding you of one of the most notoriously difficult games of that generation. Immensely playable and frustrating, thank god the soundtrack is just so enjoyable!
This stunning classic from The Bitmap Brothers was certainly one of the best action puzzle platformers of not just that year but of possibly that entire gaming gen. Utilising a rather cheeky form of AI, the enemies would actually adapt their attack patterns to your position on the screen and how well you were playing, making this a tough little son-of-a-bitch to complete. John Foxx, the original singer of the band Ultravox, was hired to compose the game soundtrack and by the Gods it’s an absolute blast!
One of my first, if not the first, experiences of 16-bit console gaming! Filled with memorable little earworms such as the game over music, the game completed music (which sounds oddly melancholic) and, of course, that title music. Oh and the tune that plays when those little magic-carrying bastards come to your campfire to steal your food and you have to kick the crap out of them and when you do pots of magic come flying out of their sack. Games are weird.
GRAND THEFT AUTO
Absolutely brilliant music in this game, sparking off a highly successful series (with many imitators), each with their own well-received soundtrack. As if you didn’t know already, each radio station has its own style of music, with around 3 tracks per station, the songs being played through whatever car radio you happen to be driving (and the radio station being dependant on the type of car being driven). I would always play the soundtrack as a cohesive whole throughout the game as I loved it so much. Despite all the different songs and band names listed, the music was actually all composed & recorded by the same people. GOURANGA!
GUACAMELEE! / GUACAMELEE! 2
So, here’s a strange one. I was actually made aware of the soundtrack before playing the actual games. I loved the music so much I just had to check the games out! The scores are a perfect accompaniment to the zaniness that occurs on the screen. I particularly like the “World Of The Dead” versions which take the upbeat tracks and turns them into sinister threats. There’s more of a Mariachi theme to the Guacamelee! 2 score - probably because of the involvement of Mariachi Entertainment System who shares score duties with the original’s composers Rom Di Prisco and Peter Chapman - and it adds a nice freshness to the proceedings. Fantastic music.
A game featuring such excellent critically-acclaimed frenetic shoot-em-up gameplay deserves a soundtrack to match, and that’s exactly what you get with this classic piece of programming. Imagine someone mashing a kaleidoscope packed with Skittles in your face as you fire a machine gun at a giant robot whilst running through an industrial complex filled with exploding crates. Now imagine that as a soundtrack.
This is that soundtrack.
Fuck this game. Fuck it. Seriously, fuck this fucking game. If you’ve played The Immortal then you know what I’m talking about. People who bitched about Dark Souls being so hard obviously never played this utter bastard. The soundtrack is appropriately depressing and unforgettable, just like all the times you died because you didn’t know what the bloody fuck you were doing. And that Dragon can fuck right the fuck off too, the fiery twat.
This massively enjoyable sequel to Desert Strike amps up the already amped-up theme tune music to a whole new level of amps never heard before in the history of ampage. The rest of the music is just as good but the theme tune is pretty legendary at this point. Great game (apart from that stupid stupid bloody stupid stealth fighter mission which was stupid). I imagine the music to Jungle Strike is what Chuck Norris listens to before having sex. And also during sex. And also when he's sitting on the toilet.
What I love about this game - and its soundtrack - is its complete faithfulness to replicate the look, feel and sound of MS Windows 1995. The soundtrack is a part of this world and it’s a wonderful world indeed!
LANDSTALKER (THE TREASURES OF KING NOLE)
This quirky and entertaining action-adventure game has an appropriately quirky and entertaining soundtrack to match. Great fun!
MELODIES FROM MARS
According to legend (well, one of them anyway), Richard D. James akaAphex Twin was commissioned to compose the soundtrack to an in-development computer game in the mid-90s. The game unfortunately was cancelled but the soundtrack remained, and was dished out on a few promo cassettes for close family, friends and members of the Rephlex record label. That’s one story. Another is that Richard was interested in composing music for computer games and created the album as a promo to show off his skills. Another legend says that the album is just that - an album that was never formally released (although a couple of tracks were re-worked and released on his “Richard D. James” album) and the computer game angle was just Richard having a laugh. Whatever the story is, and whatever the truth actually is, I like to think that there was a game out there that had this score, even if for only a few days or weeks (if at all). Added as a curio just for the hell of it.
P.S. While some Aphex Twin music has been used in some video games, I would love to see him actually create an original score for one. Please someone get on that!
NORTH & SOUTH
A bonkers game needs a bonkers soundtrack and that’s exactly what you get with this slice of total mental. It sets the tone perfectly: who knew that the American Civil War was so much fun?!
PLANTS VS ZOMBIES
A charming soundtrack for a witty, challenging game that many of us got addicted to. The music is sublime and should be preserved in a museum.
You’d think this would have used a chiptune cover of Adagio For Strings as its music but no, we get this surprisingly quirky mid-tempo piece instead, and the game is all the better for it.
A true original, and my god I love it. Mixing platforming, puzzle-solving and a whole lot more into a meta experience with a wonderful soundtrack, hands down this is one of the best games of recent years. The music is all part of the meta fun and it’s an engaging piece of work.
With its mix of creepy tunes, blistering fast-paced action stings, and everyone’s favourite “Save Room” themes, the Resident Evil series has remained a popular staple for the lovers of game soundtracks of this era.“That guy’s a maniac! Why’d he bite me?!”
ROAD RASH II
Slap people round the face with a chain! Kick their bike into oncoming traffic! Perform gravity-defying jumps over trees! Listen to the strangely addictive soundtrack!
SABOTEUR II: AVENGING ANGEL
Saboteur was already a pretty unique and highly enjoyable game, and Saboteur II does all the right things as a sequel: everything is improved considerably, it broke new ground in the world of gaming (this was one of the first games where the protagonist is female) and as the original game did not even have a soundtrack, they not only corrected this error in the sequel but created perhaps one of the best main title themes ever programmed in the 80s.
THE SEXY BRUTALE
Oh boy. Not content with creating a unique and bloody enjoyable game, they just had to go and infuse it with this fantastic soundtrack as well. Hats off to them!
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG / SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
Impossible not to include the soundtracks to these two classics. Each zone has a unique tune that’s stupidly likeable (yes, even the Labyrinth Zone). And while - even to this day - I can’t hear the Sonic 2 Bonus Stage music without sweating bullets, it’s still a great listen.
Sticky controls, crap gameplay and frustratingly difficult… but it was filled with gore, violence and Easter Eggs for the horror fans, and all smothered with a great soundtrack to match. Good soundtracks don't necessarily have to come from great games.
STREETS OF RAGE / STREETS OF RAGE II
Two fine examples of what you can achieve with limited resources. Streets Of Rage has been acknowledged as having one of the most influential game soundtracks of all time and the sequel just expands on that considerably. Absolute bangers, as the kids say.
SUPER MARIO KART
You’re humming it now, aren’t you? You know which one I’m talking about.
SUPER MARIO LAND
I pretty much spent a solid couple of weeks playing this bastard to death and the music is now a part of my soul, as I imagine it is for anyone who experienced this little gem.
Some excellent work in futuristic city ambience that just sets the mood perfectly for this addictive sequel to Syndicate. Will you choose to be an agent for EuroCorp. or a follower of the Church Of The New Epoch? Will you blow up the bank so you can steal the money? Did you bring your indoctrination device? Fantastic game with a soundtrack that sounds like it may have been inspired by some of The Future Sound Of London’s work.
TENCHU: STEALTH ASSASSINS
Do you like Japanese City Pop? Do you like Jazz-Folk Fusion? Do you like Dire Straits? Have you ever wondered what it would be like if all these things somehow got mashed together in a freak transportation pod accident? Well, wonder no more!
I don’t care what anyone says. It’s a great bit of music. You know, deep down, that this is true.
TRIALS OF THE BLOOD DRAGON
The follow-up to the Far Cry spinoff Blood Dragon, music duo Power Glove gives us some excellent basslines reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and a whole lot more besides. It’s very 80s inspired, but in a totally good way. Great stuff.
This laidback IDM score to puzzle game Wilmot’s Warehouse works just as well as a standalone piece as it does as the soundtrack to one of 2019’s strangest-if-you-really-think-about-it sleeper hits. Soothing, ambient, perfection.
So, that’s my list. There’s a lot more I’ve left out, so if you’re thinking “Shit. Where’s Doom? Where’s Silent Hill? Where’s Hotline Miami? Where’s…” etc etc, well, I couldn’t fit EVERYTHING in. Christ, I do have a life y’know. Now, back to completing Borderlands 2 for the nineteenth time.
Oh, wait. The digital mixtape tracklist. Right.
So, to create this, I took one (sometimes two or in a couple of cases 3) tracks from each title listed here and formed this 210 minute digital mixtape in a stream-of-consciousness kind of style. As always, I urge you to listen to the mix before looking at the tracklist, just for that extra level of surprise.
You can listen to the digital mixtape for free on Mixcloud here!
Or by using the handy widgets located below this text!
I really hope you enjoy it!
- Mark Anthony Finch
A COMPILATION OF (SOME OF) THE BEST VIDEO GAME SOUNDTRACKS
by WSTS Picaroon Platters Radio
Nankyoku, Decky & Imocky - Conclusion (from Golden Axe)
Frank Klepacki - Hell March [game version] (from Command & Conquer: Red Alert)
Nation 12 (John Foxx) - Main Title (from Gods)
Motoaki Takenouchi - Bustling Side Street (from Landstalker: The Treasures Of King Nole)
Richard Joseph - Main Title (from Cauldron II)
Richard Joseph - Main Theme (from Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior)
Jonathon Dunn - Main Theme (from Platoon)
Rob Hubbard - Main Theme (from Saboteur II: Avenging Angel)
Yuzo Koshiro - Expander (from Streets Of Rage II)
Mike Berry / Mikro-Gen - Title Music (from Everyone’s A Wally)
Sideways Hank O’Malley And The Alabama Bottle Boys - The Fergus Buckner Show FM (108.8): The Ballad Of Chapped Lips Caluhoun (from Grand Theft Auto)
Rom Di Prisco - Forest del Chivo (from Guacamelee!)
Rom Di Prisco - Forest del Chivo [World Of The Dead] (from Guacamelee!)
Stuart Chatwood - The Darkest Dungeon (from Darkest Dungeon)
Michael McCann - Lower Hengsha Ambient Part 1 (from Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
Stuart Chartwood - The Cove Battle (from Darkest Dungeon)
Retrograde, Government Listening Post & Trancefer - Brooklyn Underground FM (50.50): Benzoate / E104 / Figiwhiz (from Grand Theft Auto)
Shunsuke Kida - Maiden In Black (from Demon’s Souls)
Aphex Twin - Untitled Track 02 [Fingerbib Original Version] (from Melodies From Mars)
Tamayo Kawamoto - Stage 1 [aka The Haunted Graveyard / The Hill Of Torture] (from Ghouls ’N Ghosts)
Charles Callet - Title Theme (from North & South)
Unknown (based on a composition by James Horner) - Main Title (from Aliens)
Unknown (based on a composition by James Horner) - Gameplay (from Aliens)
NON - Story Demo [Intro] (from Gunstar Heroes)
Fumihito Kasatani, Nobuyuki Aoshima, Mamoru Ishimoda,Yoko Sonoda, Mariko Sato - Stage 1-2 (from Alisia Dragoon)
Masato Nakamura - Bonus Stage (from Sonic The Hedgehog 2)
NON - Stage 2 Boss (from Gunstar Heroes)
Stephen Root - Reception (from Die Hard Trilogy)
Hirokazu Tanaka - Overworld Theme (from Super Mario Land)
Michael McCann - Main Menu (from Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
Eli Rainsberry - Taking A Deep Breath (from Wilmot’s Warehouse)
Adrian Moore, Russel Shaw - Track 1 (from Syndicate Wars)
Spencer Nilsen, Brian Coburn, András Magyari - Bay Of Medusa (from Ecco The Dolphin)
Stuart Chatwood - A Brief Respite (from Darkest Dungeon)
Brian Schmidt - Main Theme (from Jungle Strike)
Rob Hubbard, Don Veca - Hawaii (from Road Rash II)
Tamayo Kawamoto - Mid Boss (from Forgotten Worlds)
Aphex Twin - Untitled Track 04 (from Melodies From Mars)
Masato Nakamura - Starlight Zone (from Sonic The Hedgehog)
Yuzo Koshiro - Fighting In The Street (from Streets Of Rage)
Landon Podbielski - runout (from Kingsway)
Hirokazu Tanaka - Main Theme (from Tetris)
Jonah Senzel - Louey’s Playhouse [Puzzle Remix] (from Pony Island)
Eiko Kaneda - Title Theme (from Splatterhouse 2)
Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Syun Nishigaki - The Front Hall (from Resident Evil 2)
Jason Graves - Dead Space Theme (from Dead Space)
Russel Shaw - Down Deep (from Dungeon Keeper)
Makoto Tomozawa, Koichi Hiroki, Masami Ueda - The Guardhouse Basement (from Resident Evil)
Jason Graves - Escape From The Planet Of The Red (from Dead Space)
Makoto Tomozawa, Koichi Hiroki, Masami Ueda - Save Room (from Resident Evil)
Danny Baranowsky - Peace Be With You (from The Binding Of Isaac)
Power Glove - Trials Of The Blood Dragon (from Trials Of The Blood Dragon)
Jeff Mac - Present (from Duke Nukem: Time To Kill)
Nation 12 (John Foxx) - High Score (from Gods)
Laura Shigihara - Graze The Roof [IN-GAME] (from Plants Vs Zombies)
Douglas Fulton, Rob Hubbard, Michael Bartlow - The Dragon (from The Immortal)
Motoaki Takenouchi - It’s Your Turn (from Landstalker: The Treasures Of King Nole)
Noriyuki Asakura - Training Mission (from Tenchu: Stealth Assassins)
Russel Brower - New Tristram 2 (from Diablo III)
Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco, Jesper Kyd - Welcome To Fyrestone (from Borderlands)
Mariachi Entertainment System - La Tragedia De Salvador (from Guacamelee! 2)
Power Glove - Solan’s Assault (from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon)
Danny Baranowsky - Divine Combat (from The Binding Of Isaac)
Masami Ueda, Saori Maeda - Save Room (from Resident Evil 3)
Motoi Sakuraba - Firelink Shrine (from Dark Souls)
Jonah Senzei - Hop, Skip And A Neigh (from Pony Island)
Matt Bonham, Tim Cotterell (Cavalier Game Studios) - A Clockwork Killing [Sixpence’s Theme] (from The Sexy Brutale)
Jason Graves - Convergence Delayed (from Dead Space 2)
Soyo Oka - Invincibility (from Super Mario Kart
Can’t get enough of that video game music? Why not check out our selection of video & computer game soundtracks on vinyl, cassette and CD in the Ship to Shore PhonoCo. webstore?