Many of the tunes we’ve covered in retro games are very much in the chirpy-cheepy-beepy vein, due to the technical limitations of the sound processors of the time. The likes of California Games may continue beautiful themes, but they are still technology-limited and it was only when we got to the likes of Quake that things really moved on.
Over time, game music grew up as both fidelity improved, the maturity of games allowed for adult themes and as CD audio came along. Our first example is the epic Silent Hill intro music by Akira Yamaoka on PlayStation, with its spooky mandolin intro and a hint of Bond theme before descending into the unsettling dischord that tracks across much of this mystery horror title.
The 1999 game uses a best-of-horror medley to drag gamers into its world. There’s fog, lost children, cults and demons of increasing size and devilry to defeat. If you think a Mandolin would improve your music creativity, check out these models or if you’re considering getting started with a mandolin, this piece has lots of useful advice.
Gaming music was always creative, and a great source of good tunes. So much so that it is widely recognized and Spotify even has its own gaming channel. In there you can discover the delights of indie titles like Limbo by Martin Stig Andersen with its haunting melodies.
The monochromatic game uses dread in a very different way to Silent Hill. It could come from any post 8-bit era, but its soundtrack helps the perilous adventure of the small child along. Not surprisingly, Martin has won a stack of awards including an Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design, an IndieCade Sound Award plus three BAFTA nominations.
If you want really disturbing then one of the consistently rated most-unsettling soundtracks of all time goes to Earthbound and its Giygas Battle theme. There’s all sorts going on with voices, robotic beeps, children’s toy melodies all from an RPG that starts out all cute and cuddly but soon descends into madness. The article “What The F**k Kind Of Game Is Earthbound?” neatly sums up the madness within.
Super Mario 64’s Haunted House
Just because a game is cute, doesn’t mean the developers can’t add a spot of fear, especially in the soundtrack that shouldn’t put off younger players. Super Mario 64’s Haunted House track could easily be dropped into any other game and ramp up the scares. With plenty of low-fi haunting noises rampaging across the soundscape and that insistent drum beat, this wouldn’t feel out of place in a 70’s horror flick, so its inclusion a game aimed at the world’s children is pretty impressive, and Mario has a history of scary levels among all the primary color jolly-plumber cuteness.
System Shock 2
Finally, if you want a full-bore example of a great horror soundtrack, dive into System Shock 2 by Josh Randall. It starts off all bright and breezy, as you explore the clean metal of the Von Braun, but soon dives into the most primal of fear-laden games as you beat off space zombies with nothing more than a rusty pipe. Its mostly electronic and ambient style doesn’t naturally lean to good horror music, but the composers have done an excellent job of layering in a sense of ultimate dread.
Do share your most dread-laden soundtracks or gaming memories and let us know what instruments get your spine tingling the most.