January Game Soundtrack Round-Up

Greetings, readers! Nate Ewert-Krocker here, to round up the best game soundtracks from the past thirty days. January’s typically a quiet month for game releases, a lull after the flood of holiday titles, but it seems as though there may no longer be a slow season for games. There have been plenty of games released this month with great jams–here’s a sampling!

At the beginning of the month, the enigmatic Pony Island appeared on our collective radar without any forewarning. Our Raphael Bennett seemed to think it was an artifact worth considering, and the soundtrack, by Jonah Senzel, is worth a listen as well. It’s got a lo-fi chiptune sound that fits the game’s glitchy aesthetic; for my money, it seems like Senzel’s taking some cues from Danny Baranowsky’s soundtrack to Super Meat Boy. Here’s one of the game’s early tracks, “The Machine.”

The whole album is up on Senzel’s Bandcamp, and it’s generously pay-what-you-want!

Weirdly, the new Amplitude doesn’t yet have a publicly available OST, despite it being one of the (relatively pricey) rewards for its Kickstarter! According to this Reddit AMA that the devs at Harmonix held, it’s… just not a thing that’s happening yet? Maybe it will be in the future? This seems like something of a missed opportunity, as the central conceit of this new Amplitude is a “campaign” that plays like a concept album. Having played through that campaign and enjoyed it, I’m rather disappointed that I can’t buy the album in order to better learn the songs! Watch this space, I guess. 

Probably the most exciting soundtrack released this month is scntfc’s ominous score for Oxenfree, which I reviewed a couple weeks back. Oxenfree’s soundtrack is low-key, ambient electronica with malevolent undercurrents. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the game’s ghost story. This track, “Beacon Beach,” is a good example of scntfc’s chill sound.

If you’re looking for something a little more sinister, head on over to scntfc’s Bandcamp page and listen to the rest of the album. (I’m a big fan of “Against the Waves” and “Argonaut Atalanta.”) The album’s up on Spotify as well! 

I hadn’t heard anything about Punch Club until someone on Twitter pointed me to its bizarre PR strategy: the devs only launched the game on Steam once a collective of Twitch viewers had beaten it (in the manner of “Twitch plays Pokemon”). I guess their unorthodox word-of-mouth promotion worked, given how I heard about it! The game’s soundtrack is only a few tracks long, but it’s worth a listen nonetheless: it channels the NES sound pretty effectively, which works well with the game’s pixelated aesthetic.

Here’s the menu theme:

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak came out on the 20th, and its score, by Homeworld series composer Paul Ruskay, is available on Steam! Unfortunately, it’s only available as DLC for the game, so… hooray for Homeworld fans! A little quick Googling will find you rips of the whole soundtrack on YouTube to see if it’s your jam, but again, you won’t be able to purchase it above-board unless you already own the game, in which case you’ve probably sampled it plenty. It’s good! A nice, cinematic score that appropriately conjures the game’s desert environs.  

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear the soundtrack to Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, because it’s composed by none other than Yoko Shimomura, one of the true greats (she’s responsible for the scores to Kingdom Hearts, Legend of Mana, and bloody Street Fighter II, just to name a handful). Shimomura’s music can be pulse-pounding and epic (see her scores for Parasite Eve or the aforementioned Legend of Mana), but she has a special talent for bouncy, festive tunes that are unapologetically joyful, and she’s always brought that skill to the table when composing for the Mushroom Kingdom. Here, take a listen to “Papercraft Battle” from the new Mario & Luigi and you’ll see what I mean:

This sort of sound has always fit Mario to a T, especially with the springy, kinetic battle systems of the Mario & Luigi games. Frustratingly, there’s no official release for this soundtrack, and the other games in the series haven’t had official releases either (there was a compilation CD offered a couple years ago as a Club Nintendo prize… in Japan, of course). Here’s a YouTube playlist, at least, so you can sample the other excellent battle tunes and grow your appreciation of Shimomura’s work in anticipation of Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV, which she’s composing.

Speaking of Square Enix, Final Fantasy Explorers hit just a few days ago, and I wrote up my early impressions here–though I didn’t mention anything about the music, which is pretty neat! It’s arranged (and mostly composed) by Tsuyoshi Sekito, who’s best known to me as the composer for the most excellent Brave Fencer Musashi. The best thing about the FFEX soundtrack is the preponderance of boss themes–this one, “Magical Beast of the Wind,” might be my favorite of the bunch:

Unfortunately, there’s no Western release for the OST yet. You can import it, if you’re dedicated, but it might be worth it to wait a while–Square Enix is better than most at releasing their soundtracks Stateside, and the FFEX OST is out on the Japanese iTunes store. While you’re waiting, you could hit up this YouTube playlist to sample some tracks!

Lastly, and probably leastly, I see that 3D Realms’ Bombshell is slated for release at the end of this month. Everything about the game screams “Duke Nukem: But With Girl,” and so I’m inclined not to pay it any further attention, but 3D Realms put this “Official Soundtrack Theme” on YouTube, and every time I watch it, it gets better:

Yes, that’s a note popping up over the video exhorting you to give it a “Thumbs-Up for Epic Guitar Solo!” If this video and those shredding guitars are any indication, then Bombshell is certainly–100%–going to be a videogame. “Thumbs-Up” indeed.

And that’s it for this month! There have been a handful of other games released in January whose soundtracks either haven’t manifested yet or aren’t going to (That Dragon, Cancer; Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India; The Deadly Tower of Monsters), so I’ll keep an eye out for those in the months to come and keep you updated. There’s plenty to look forward to in February (Firewatch! Street Fighter V! Fire Emblem Fates!), so gear up–it’s going to be a great year for game music. Happy listening!