The Tetris theme is surely the single most recognisable piece of video game music and also the most remixed, referenced and repackaged. From the weirdly humble beginnings of a Russian folk song it now has enormous cultural capital and is now one of the most important parts of the game experience. What sets it apart from other great video game music is that it is a single theme that is only 16 bars long, and this is really part of its charm. Every rerelease of what is in essence a very simple puzzle game includes an update of the theme; a version of the game that didn’t do this would be indistinguishable from a cheap knockoff.
As part of this, Tetris’ position in the video game canon is heavily influenced by that one melodic line; references to it in popular culture almost always include a use of the theme and on YouTube there are endless metal covers, dubstep remixes and 10 hour versions. This is all a testament to its eternally beloved status in the world of video game music.
Jake Downs: The Sims
I don’t think there is any music that makes me more nostalgic than that of The Sims. Saturday afternoons spent creating a new dream family – usually comprised of my current OTP – and building their new home.
It could be a lonely old business, playing The Sims. Moving into a new home was traumatic for all involved: the family, and also me as their supreme tyrannical ruler. I would stare in fear at the vast, virtual, quasi-suburban garden that I had bought. I would sorrowfully begin to imagine choosing the correct wallpaper for my bedroom. And what if I could not afford the Vibromatic Heart Bed?
Hark! Here comes the music. The ‘Buy Mode’ music takes you from jolly pizzicato strings to jazzy woodwind trills. All the while, over in ‘Build Mode’, the mood changes: nostalgia, presented in a spacious texture. The left-hand of the piano bounces in syncopated fifths, while the right-hand performs bluesy flourishes in the high registers. It feels like flying as you gently place 100 pink flamingoes in your front garden. Bliss. Sheer bliss.
Nasim Asl: Pokemon
Underrepresented in the video game soundtrack canon, Pokemon’s Hoenn region boasts some of the best music of any of the countless Pokemon games. With the series’ first foray onto the Gameboy Advance, the expectations were high: the graphics certainly lived up to it, the third generation contained some iconic pokemon, and the soundtrack did not disappoint.
Moving away from the two tone ’90s digi-fest, the intro music marks a more mature and slightly darker edge to the beloved games.
Inside the game itself, Littleroot Town hosts one of the most tranquil tunes any Pokemon Master will ever experience.
Even under the surface of the water, the diving song captures the world of mystery, ornamented with the niche use of bubbles, capturing the lighthearted fun of the ocean floor.
Despite the beautiful region of Hoenn, any trainer’s heart surely skips when the first bars of the battle theme disrupt their shortcut through the grass. The spirally change of tone, the quick rhythm, and the slight suggestion of victory trumpets are sometimes enough to remove the feelings of irritation that encountering your twenty-third Zigzagoon of the day can provoke. Sometimes.
Sachin Croker: The World Ends With You
This release may have been one that passed many people by, but it had a secret power. The bizarre combination of RPG, rhythm action and misanthropic emo characters should have fallen apart completely, but an absolutely incredible soundtrack managed to unite all of these elements.
The songs were high-tech sounding J-rock, pop, electronic and hip-hop inspired tunes, and their quantity was astounding. There were always new songs to be heard and, despite doubling as background music, many gamers found that the side-quest to collect all the songs was one of the most rewarding in the game.
Nowhere else would there be a game that sounds like Madonna and Public Enemy wrote the soundtrack. Instead it was composer Takeharu Ishimoto, working with a number of Japanese pop singers and musicians. As a game that took place in a realistic recreation of modern day Shibuya (even down to the shopping centres) the songs map to different subcultures and parts of the city.
It’s an incredible piece of music, but it’s the way that it blends with the world that makes it such a perfect fusion of music and video game.
Jessy Parker Humphreys: Video Games
Lana Del Rey doesn’t like playing video games. She much prefers pouting or being sultry. However, she did write a song about them. This may be the only occasion in my lifetime that I can compare myself to Lana, but I also find video games extremely dull. I’m mainly bitter that my parents never bought me Nintendogs.
Lana’s song ‘Video Games’, as n the harp tinkles over the introductory bells, and the strings come in, Lana brings film music to the trailer parks of America. She brings bored sophistication to a night in with her boyfriend, drinking beer and playing Call of Duty.
Lyrically, a tale is told of loving her man so much that she can even find pleasure from playing video games with him. I can’t imagine ever loving anyone that much.
My message to anyone reading this: if you are thinking of playing a video game, go and listen to Lana Del Rey instead.