Music in games is a powerful factor in how much we enjoy the experience, when it comes to both gameplay and story. I’ve found this especially the case with platformers – a game with mediocre level design can be raised to something great by the right score while a game with excellent levels but poor music can feel drab and dull.
This was a difficult list to assemble so I’ve limited myself to one piece of music per franchise otherwise this would just be overloaded with Shenmue music (which is my favorite soundtrack by a long, long way).
1 – Shenmue 2 – The Shenmue Tree. As I said, the soundtrack from these games (esp. 2) is amazing and covers a whole bunch of different styles but my favorite piece is this really powerful, sweeping rendition of the main theme when you finally get to the Shenmue Tree (after about 50 hours of gameplay) and thus understand what the hell the title actually means. The cinematography on the scene is great as well if you want to watch it, just make sure you find a version with the Japanese dub (the English is awful).
2 – Little Big Adventure – Main Theme. Not only does this overload me with nostalgia but the music is just absolutely beautiful. Nothing much else to say…
3 – Sonic & Knuckles – Sky Sanctuary Zone. Honestly it was a tough choice between the beautiful and sweeping Sky Sanctuary theme and the awesome J-rock of ‘Live & Learn’ for my choice from the Sonic franchise – I love so much music from this series. Ultimately Sky Sanctuary just about takes the prize, especially with this amazing remix from Sonic Generations which is even better than the original.
4 – Mario Franchise – Gusty Garden/Egg Planet/Champion’s Road. There is so much great music in the Mario series but for me the standout is this amazing orchestral track which first showed up in Mario Galaxy and has returned in basically every game since (including Smash Bros and Mario Kart). I particularly associate it with the final ‘platform hell’ level from 3D World so it’s not really relaxing but totally epic.
5 – Rayman Origins – Land of the Livid Dead. Another piece of music from a ‘platform hell’ level, this is just so damn catchy and once it gets going inspires you to run, run, run RUN, RUN RUUUUUN! It really kicks off at 1:40 though the buildup is great too.
6 – Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze – Wing Ding. This choice kinda represents the entire soundtrack of this game which is freakin’ amazing (probably my second favourite ever after Shenmue). David Wise, the man behind so much Donkey Kong Country music is an amazing composer! If you have nothing better to do then other amazing pieces are ‘Mangrove Cove’, ‘Grassland Groove’ and ‘Bashmaster the Unbreakable’ but frankly the whole thing is worth a listen.
7 – Metroid Prime – The Crashed Frigate (Underwater). The Prime games have a lot of solid music but they tend to be sinister or atmospheric rather than bombastic or emotional so only a few standout. This is one of them though, a beautiful piece which goes on for ages (which is appropriate as it’s for a really long & difficult section of the game) but it never gets old.
8 – Turrican 2 [Amiga] – Opening. A totally epic piece of music that makes me glad my bro decided we needed an Amiga rather than a SNES or Megadrive back in the day (the fact poor copy-protection meant all games were free didn’t hurt either).
9 – Yoshi’s Island – Flower Garden. Just awesome, I honestly think that that the music in Yoshi’s Island is a big reason why the game feels so great to play – it’s still be fantastic anyway but everything’s more fun when you have flower garden playing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJrJptRyM5c (even better Smash Bros remix)
10 – ‘Suicide Mission’ from Mass Effect 2. The final mission from Mass Effect 2 is still one of my favourite videogame experiences ever. Not only was there great gameplay and several awesome character beats but it was soooo incredibly tense making each decision and waiting to see if they resulted in your squad-members dying – this music just worked so perfectly and of course it swells appropriately at the big bad arse moments. Epic!