Often overlooked in favour of graphics, music can elevate gaming from the memorable to the unforgettable.
Since 2006 the Wii has provided players with some truly incredible music, from humble chip tunes to fully orchestrated epics. Here’s a selection of the most gratifying experiences to delight your ears, all thanks to the humble Wii.
Forget Dolby Pro Logic’s full range playback channels, sweeping orchestrations and the obligatory J-pop vocals over the credits – one of the most sublime aural experiences on the Wii comes via the pulsating chiptunes of BIT.TRIP COMPLETE. This retro mini-game compilation inherently employs melody and rhythm as part of its gameplay, much in the style of legendary cult game Rez, to mesmerizing results. The games range from simple ‘musical Pong’ affairs (BEAT) to full obstacle racing journeys (RUNNER) and are brought together by the consistent space-opera synths and robo-beats of its soundtrack, courtesy of music studio Petrified Productions and its shameless love for the 8 bits. The team's skill at squeezing pure emotions out of humble beeps brings game music full circle for a 30-year celebration of an industry confident enough to pay homage to its roots while sitting on the cutting edge of modern glory.
Top Track: Catharsis, featured in BIT.TRIP FLUX's most memorable stage, revisits and remixes Space Odyssey, 2001 and Elite in seven glorious minutes.
In hindsight, the soundtrack to Mario’s space adventure is something of an obvious choice, showered with awards and heaps of praise as it has been. However, anyone able to remember a time before minds were forever blown away by the Good Egg Galaxy theme would agree that a Mario game would have been an unlikely choice for a distinction in the sound department. Not that Koji Kondo’s relentlessly upbeat compositions and stone cold classics were disposable ditties, but never before had the music in the series fitted so perfectly with the epic challenge of a title in the way Super Mario Galaxy’s lush string arrangements lifted an already divine game into stratospheric orbits. Nintendo resisted the transition to symphonic orchestration for far too long, but they sure made Mario jump with his two feet when the time finally came.
Top Track: If Bowser’s Battle Theme, with its stirring brass section and Ave Satani yearnings, does not make your hair stand on end, you are dead inside.
The soundtrack to Masahiro Sakurai’s magnum opus is not only an essential listen because of its top drawer selection of Nintendo’s finest tunes but also for the oodles of talent of the musicians involved in the project. Over 36 renowned game composers were enlisted with the task of infusing new life into Nintendo’s three decades of aural legacy: from Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame or Motoi Sakuraba (Shining Force, Golden Sun) to J-RPG music maestros like Grandia composer Noriyuki Iwadare, Brawl’s credits read like a Who’s Who of the Japanese musical elite on the mixing decks. Admittedly, not all tracks fit the manic dynamics of Brawl (fighting over the Animal Crossing theme feels just wrong), but the encyclopaedic attention to detail in this collection of classics is overwhelming. If you have ever hummed along to a Nintendo song, it’s probably in here wearing its most alluring outfit.
Top Track: Trust Sonic to nearly steal the show at Nintendo’s family picnic with a balls-to-the-wall rock remix of Angel Island from Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
Role-playing games, with their penchant for wondrous exploration and high melodrama, rely heavily on their soundtracks to rouse strong feelings and keep emotions high during their often marathon journeys. A quick walkthrough of Xenoblade Chronicles will easily notch over 60 hours, so it is crucial that its compositions remain of the strongest calibre to avoid ear fatigue after the battle theme kicks in for the umpteenth time. Fortunately, Monolith Soft employed a plethora of star composers (Yoko Shimomura, Manami Kiyota, music studio ACE+ and even Yasunori Mitsuda contributing to the credits song) to create a brilliant hotchpotch of genres and instrumentation that effortlessly blends the symphonic drama of Final Fantasy, the classicism of Dragon Quest and the folksy overtones of granddaddy Xenogears. Add a touch of electronica and a dollop of Falcom-inspired J-rock for some of the more intense boss battles et voilà, the ultimate J-RPG soundtrack of the generation is born.
Top Track: Stepping onto the wild pastures of the Bionis’ leg for the first time while the grandiose Gaur Plain theme unfolds is one of the most memorable moments in the history of RPGs.
If other soundtracks in this list get brownie points for their eclecticism, then Treasure’s resident composer Norio Hanzawa deserves a mention for his one-track-mind approach to music writing. The throbbing beats permanently underscoring swarms of laser sound effects and dirty guitar licks in Sin & Punishment 2 fit the relentless onscreen action to a tee. The game’s bold declaration of intent is laid out right from the title screen track, with marching thumps stomping all over the out-of-this-world synths, pre-empting the intergalactic mental trip Treasure is about to take the player on for the next few hours. Star Successor only lets go of the accelerator in the ending credits, with a beautiful if slightly predictable ballad, but everything in between is full-fat, unaltered pump up music.
Top Track: In a game brimming with intense compositions, the over-the-top techno crescendo of the boss battle against shaman Ariana Shami is a textbook study in sound excesses.
The sweeter-than-cotton-candy soundtrack to Kirby’s plushiest adventure is a work in two halves: Good-Feel’s main composer, Tomoya Tomita, was assigned the job of creating the perfect soundscape for a gentle, child-friendly game (think sweet marimbas and pianola riffs) before Nintendo stepped in with a few of the pink ball classic tunes of its own. It’s a credit to both Tomita and the HAL Laboratory musicians that Kirby’s Epic Yarn strikes a balance between paying homage to the series' peppy, verging-on-schizophrenic sound and the soft, cosy jazz codas of the yarn world. Most of the understated sound design in Epic Yarn pulls at your heartstrings in a subtle, almost imperceptible way – little touches like the cowbells in the snow world or the summery ukuleles in the beach levels sit perfectly with the dreamcatcher nature of the game. There’s no room for cynicism in Kirby’s universe and Epic Yarn’s organic arrangements (every instrument is played live rather than digitised) bear this charmingly honest stamp with pride.
Top Track: Nothing spells out ‘death by fizzy drink at piano bar’ better than the bubbly Dusk Dunes theme - 100% pink power.
There was a time when the subject of video game music in a non-gaming environment would elicit quizzical looks and condescending mentions of “bleeps” and “noises”. Although the attitude has shifted through the years thanks to the proliferation of live concerts and talent crossover from the film industry, the lingering perception of games soundtracks as uncool still endures. Enter MadWorld, courtesy of Japanese studio Platinum Games, a team of gonzo programmers with their fingers so tightly on the pulse of Western pop culture they manage to effortlessly level up game music to rival the edgiest of urban records. Naoto Tanaka, Platinum Games’ resident composer, created the stripped backtracks of the songs and sent them off to urban indie radio station Joint One for a selection of underground artists to add their 'flava'. Against all odds, the result is a successful hybrid that remains genuine to both the gaming medium and the hip hop genre: loud, bratty and slightly offensive, MadWorld’s soundtrack leaves behind nerd stigmas, wheezes past the current pop landscape and defiantly squares up to the music subcultures of the underground.
Top track: Sick YG’s furiously swaggering all over Ain’t That Funny’s sitar samplers is not something you hear often on a Nintendo console.
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