We asked our staff to vote on the 40 best games released for the system. While Nintendo 64 will never be remembered for sheer selection of software (only 296 titles released) it will be remembered for the quality of most of it’s games. We had over 100 titles nominated, with the number one game snatching the top spot by only a single vote. Note: We decided not to include any titles (such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3) that were also released on the Gamecube since by that time, most of us had already moved on to playing these on Nintendo’s sixth generation console.
Editor’s Note: This list was originally published on July 10, 2018.
Special Mention: Sin and Punishment
Anyone who plays many of the games found on the Virtual Console should be familiar with Treasure, a tiny Japanese developer with a huge cult following and a back catalogue packed with classic titles including one major hit, Hideyuki Suganami’s Sin and Punishment. Originally passed over for localization, Nintendo only released the arcade-style action shooter stateside via the Wii Virtual Console in 2007. It’s the N64 game that many North American gamers imported purely on the positive buzz from respected gaming magazines such as EGM. For the unfamiliar, the game is essentially a 3D Cabal-styled shooter with a grandiose anime-inspired storyline; massively detailed levels; epic set-pieces (the ocean fleet chapter is most memorable), intricate character and enemy models and action that was so rapid, it was almost impossible to keep up. Treasure’s unique approach to game design coupled with Nintendo’s trademark polish makes this worthy of being remembered as one of the 64-bit greats and easily one of the best rail shooters ever made. Fans of arcade style games should love the fast-paced action, brilliant controls, and fantastic over the top storyline. (Ricky D)
#40. Ridge Racer
When people think of the N64, Mario Kart 64 is usually the first racing game that comes to mind, but there were so many great racing games released for the system that the N64 might just have the best lineup of that genre. Among them is San Francisco Rush, Road Rash, Beetle Adventure Racing, Micro Machines, Wipeout, Wave Race, Diddy Kong Racing, Excitebike and our first entry in this list – Ridge Racer 64, one of the best racing games ever to hit Nintendo’s system. Namco’s classic franchise hit the N64 four years after debuting on Sony’s Playstation, complete with new tracks, new cars, a four-player mode, rock solid frame rates, faster speed and an all-new gameplay mechanic to boot. This wasn’t just a port of the original game and, in fact, Ridge Racer wasn’t even developed by Namco, but instead it was the very first game developed by Nintendo Software Technology. They obviously poured their heats into making the game since everything about it is excellent! – (Ricky D)
#39. Body Harvest
If there’s one game on this list that was way ahead of its time, it’s Body Harvest. Essentially an open-world action game in which the player fights off hordes of invading aliens, the simple concept doesn’t signal even an inch of the games incredible depth and innovation.
For example, as you roam the ridiculously huge world map accomplishing your various missions, you can literally take control of any vehicle you want to help you reach your destination. Sound like a certain million dollar franchise that you’re familiar with? It also allowed you to free-roam the map, doing whatever you wanted at almost any time, rather than doing what you were supposed to be doing. Are you getting it now? It’s a franchise that rhymes with HAND DEFT GELATTO, but only kind of.
Now, here’s the thing, Body Harvest came out in 1998, and unfortunately, on a console that was way underpowered in helping it to achieve its incredibly lofty goals. Still, an ambitious failure comes out way ahead of a successful doppelganger any day, and I can guarantee you’ve literally never played a single game on the Nintendo 64 like Body Harvest. (Mike Worby)
#38. Excitebike 64
It’ll set the daredevil inside you free! Excitebike 64 is nothing like the original Excitebike. It comes with 20 stadium tracks, amazing outdoor courses, six different riders, each with a unique style, and of course, stunning 3D graphics. Following on the success of Wave Race 64 and 1080 Snowboarding, Excitebike 64 upped the ante by resurrecting a beloved NES racer with tight controls, a ridiculous number of modes and a ground-breaking track editor. Excitebike 64 was one of the deepest racers to hit any videogame system – PC or console – and what’s really surprising is how the game stands the test of time. More importantly, the game is not only fun but full of replay value. Nintendo may not have had much third party support when it came to AAA automotive sims but they had no problem in self-producing a handful of top-notch arcade-style racers. (Ricky D)
#37. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was the start of a very successful run for publisher Acclaim, which would grace the N64 with some of its most technically accomplished titles. The game went on to sell 1.5 million copies keeping Acclaim (who were one flop away from bankruptcy) in business. Looking back in hindsight, it’s easy to see why Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was such a success. By combining first-person shooter elements with multi-layered platforming and open-world exploration, Turok was somewhat ahead of its time. On home consoles, the first-person shooter genre had not yet blossomed into the money-making behemoth that it is today, but any kid who played the game back in the day was instantly hooked. Goldeneye 007 may be remembered as the game that popularized the FPS genre on home consoles, but Turok predated it and gave us a large, open-world environment that pushed the N64 to its technical limit. It was also one of the first M-rated games for the console and back in 1997, this was a huge deal for Nintendo fans. Turok may be horribly dated as a result of the genre innovations that followed, but there was very little else like it on home consoles at the time, and for all these reasons and more, it deserves a spot on this very list. Acclaim would build on Turok’s success with several sequels/spinoffs but the original stands out as a genuine classic. (Ricky D)
#36. Bomberman 64
While many franchises struggled to make the transition to a 3D format, Bomberman 64 handled the series’ evolution with a level of finesse and nuance that, frankly, I wasn’t expecting when I first played it through. Released in 1997, this game marked the Hudson’s leading mascot’s first single-player foray, turning a primarily multiplayer based arcade style action game into an action-adventure that spanned multiple worlds. As a band of space pirates begin to use a device called the Omni Cube to drain planets of their energy, they set their sights on planet Bomber, prompting our hero to travel to the world under siege and defeat the leader of the Black Fortress. Adding platforming and light puzzle sections, Bomberman 64 radically changed its own traditional formula to deliver a more entertaining experience than a few seconds of multiplayer action ever could. Across four vibrant worlds, Bomberman has to use his newfound abilities to toss and kick bombs at his enemies and the environment to progress through stages, collect hidden gold cards, and defeat inventive bosses. Familiar power-ups that increased bomb strength and explosion size were strewn throughout the game, making the gameplay feel very connected to preceding titles, while also moving the games forward.
Rather than simply giving the players a jump button, Bomberman 64 maintained its own unique style by forcing players to bounce atop bombs to reach higher ledges and cross wide gaps. To compensate for the new dimension, players could both move in eight directions and manually rotate the camera to more easily navigate the world. Zones like White Glacier and Red Mountain each had distinct puzzles and enemies that required the player to approach every situation differently and had amazing soundtracks to go along with them. If there is one shortcoming of Bomberman 64, it’s that the multiplayer mode that made the series so popular in the first place is somewhat underwhelming and unbalanced. Despite having several maps and cosmetic choices for their avatar, the 4-player battle mode wasn’t nearly as polished as it was in other games, and failed to match the ingenuity of the single-player campaign. (Matt Bruzanno)
#35. NFL Blitz
Those that game with close friends or siblings will know that sometimes when you game with loved ones, tension and emotions tend to run high. Consequently, there’s nothing that quite matches the emotional cocktail that follows watching your friend intercept a ball and tauntingly run in the winning touchdown in a football game, replete with sour notes of sorrow, frustration, a hint of disbelief, and shame. And nothing quite alleviates those antagonizing sensations better than tackling your friend’s celebrating avatar after the play is already done. Therein lies the beauty of the Midway’s N64 classic NFL Blitz, a hilariously exaggerated version of an American football game. Taking inspiration from Midway’s own NBA Jam, an over-the-top basketball game, NFL Blitz ignores the aims of its compatriots, Madden and the like, to deliver the most realistic football simulator possible and delivers a laugh-inducing, fun experience so overblown it can be enjoyed by people who don’t like sports games or even the sport itself. Blitz allows players to make unbelievable plays, impossibly far passes or unfathomable blocks, go Beast Mode and stiff arm any defenders in the path to the end zone, and tackle in brutal, outrageous ways. Those tackles can even take the form of late hits delivered after a play is dead in some of the games funniest moments. Without the ridiculous likes of NFL Blitz, it’s unlikely we’d have any of the zany, off-the-wall sports games, like Rocket League, we have today. While many a game may have carried on its bonkers tone, no sports game may ever truly surpass NFL Blitz. (Tim Maison)
#34. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Although it remains one of the most underrated titles in the series, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, is my personal favorite entry in the titular mascot’s career. Following his N64 debut in Nintendo’s hit fighting game Super Smash Bros, HAL Laboratory’s mascot made the jump to a 2.5D platforming adventure that took him on a journey across the galaxy. At face value, Kirby 64 is a well designed, albeit brief, experience featuring the amazing music, bosses, and moves that the series is known for. However, what the game lacks in difficulty and length, it makes up for with replayability and entertainment value. Naturally building on Kirby’s iconic ability to copy the powers of his enemies, Kirby 64 allows players to combine two abilities to form a completely new one. This simple change radically altered the gameplay, bumping up the slim 7 original powers to a whopping 35 total forms for Kirby, introducing a level of customization that the series never had. New combinations such as the flaming sword, volcano and, my personal favorite, the refrigerator, were miles ahead of the comparatively bland base abilities of earlier games and simultaneously introduced the factor of having to actually create the combination, by swallowing an enemy and hurling their energy towards another monster to fuse them. Every level had a plethora of different powers to be toyed with, and although they were often designed to emphasize the viability of certain abilities over others, there was no one correct style to play through each world. Ingeniously encouraging multiple runs, 72 crystals were hidden throughout the game, requiring some light puzzle solving and exploration. Upon collecting them all, players were treated to one of the finest bosses in Nintendo history, the uncharacteristically disturbing 02 (accompanied by a killer battle theme). In addition to the main story, three mini-games with four difficulties could be played with up to four players, and although they were fairly simplistic, they acted as a nice bonus to top off a phenomenal Kirby game. (Matt Bruzanno)
Not a usual contender for many Top N64 Games lists, but it would be a tragedy if this gem was overlooked for its bigger, badder Sony brother.
Spider-Man sees the web-slinger brought to the third dimension for the first time, quips and all. The story follows Spidey as he takes on a “reformed” Doctor Octopus, who plans to release a symbiote virus on New York City. Along the way, Spidey fights some his classic foes, from Venom, Mysterio, Carnage, and the Rhino, as he tries to foil Doc Ock’s sinister plan. He even gets some help from friends, like Black Cat, the Punisher, and the Human Torch. The game is just chock-full of Spider-Man lore and references to keep any fan entertained, but if that wasn’t enough, the game itself is fantastic. Being able to swing through the skyscrapers of Manhattan and tie bad guys up in Spidey’s signature web leaves the player feeling more than satisfied, like they’re the Web-Slinger himself.
On the N64, the game had concessions made for the cartridge space, removing many of the voice tracks (though thankfully Stan Lee’s narration is still there) and bumping down the resolution of the graphics, but that can be forgiven as the game still plays just as great as on the PS1. One addition that they made, mostly out of necessity, was the introduction of comic-book style cutscenes in lieu of the fully-animated ones on the original. While on a technical level it may seem inferior, from a player’s perspective the comic book cutscenes evoke more of the genuine Spider-Man tone than the Sony version, and really enforce the idea that this is Spidey, coming out of the comics and onto the screen.
Whatever the case, Spider-Man (64) stands as a testament to the ingenuity developers have to make limitations work to their advantage. There’s plenty of fun to be had with this one, so definitely check it out. (Arturo Bory)
#32. Mario Party 3
Heatedly contested with Mario Party 2 as the best game in Nintendo’s mini-game infused board game franchise, Mario Party 3 just barely edges out as our favorite, due to its story mode, inventive mini-games, and amazing levels. As is the general consensus, the third game in the iconic party game series reached the perfect balance of luck and skill to keep things equally entertaining and fair. This was done by both increasing the player’s storable items from one to three, and making them more tactical and creative in general. Items like the Lucky Lamp were introduced to counter pre-existing items, retroactively nerfing aspects of the game that were considered too random. Mini-games were also greatly improved from Mario Party 2. Rather than simply re-skinning ideas from the original, many of the 71 mini-games in Mario Party 3 were completely original, and often more fleshed out experiences. Eye Sore, Frigid Bridge, and Locked Out were noticeably longer and more intricate than many games in the sequel, setting the bar high for the entries that followed it. The game boards themselves received a similar upgrading, containing more branching paths and events than prior levels, with Waluigi’s Island perfecting the developers’ style. Almost doubling the amount of levels, new “Duel Boards” allowed two players to go toe-to-toe against one another in a more competitive setting. The largest addition, however, was the inclusion of a single-player campaign, which pitted gamers against AI opponents on shortened versions of each map, before facing off with an actual final boss (a rarity for the series) The Millennium Star. Aside from being one of the best mini-games in the series, the fight somehow gave a sense of grandeur to the campaign of what is essentially a glorified game of Monopoly. (Matt Bruzzano)
#31. International Superstar Soccer 98
It goes without saying that football is a big deal; the prestigious World Cup is a big deal, but the introduction of an all-new 3-D perspective for football-specific titles was not yet a big deal. The stiff and confusing controls of the annual FIFA games failed to capture the freestyle nature of the beautiful game – EA’s dominance of the sports genre would be halted for a number of years as another videogame heavyweight entered the ring: Konami.
International Superstar Soccer 98 was Konami’s chance to capitalize on the upcoming World Cup hype, and it was also a golden opportunity to ease the slippery transition from the classic isometric/top-down to 3-D. What the older titles, like Sensible Soccer, lacked in presentation they more than made up for with fun and engaging gameplay, but those days were long gone. International Superstar Soccer 98 might not have been perfect, but it laid the foundation for which EA and Konami would continue to build on for their future 3-D installments.
52 Teams, 20 players a team, 6-game modes and 3 sponsors meant ISS 98 had the content (despite not having the license for player’s names), but in the end, it was the gameplay that shone through. Every well-placed pass, hotly contesting the ball in the air and finishing off your opponent with that ecstatic goal – that you won’t let them forget anytime soon – all came together to form the tightest and most visceral football experience imaginable, one that wouldn’t be bettered until Konami released its Pro Evolution series on the PlayStation 2.
So, players, had the ball glued to their feet when they dribbled, and header parties occurred far too often thus disrupting the flow of the game, but in the end, ISS 98 captured the passion and the competition of the beautiful game. (Craig Sharpe)
#30. 1080* Snowboarding
Nintendo had something very special on their hands with 1080* Snowboarding. Already a niche market, the essence and the death-defying descents of the snowboarding world had never been captured in a video game, and with the iconic Shigeru Miyamoto as lead producer, it was never going to fail. 1080* took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s ungainly controller by encouraging the player to perform a wide range of outrageous tricks and techniques that would cover all button inputs.
Any snowboarding enthusiast will tell you that there’s not just one objective in this extreme sport; 1080* provides the thrill of winning a race and looking stylish whilst doing it. The 5 different playable characters’ help provide a compelling challenge as you explore each boarder’s strengths and weaknesses over a diverse range of courses. Discovering alternate routes adds a welcome layer of replayability, while the different modes help in augmenting player skill and preparing for that next big race with a rival friend.
If there’s one thing to take away from 1080* Snowboarding, it’s the calculated approach toward the game’s physics design. Every impact, whether that be a smooth salt-shake continuation as the player executes the perfect trick or the violent crash as the player comes tumbling down an unforgiving frozen peak, 1080* succeeds in communicating incremental movement and nuance, just one degree to the left could spell the end for that perfect run you had planned. Timing is everything. (Craig Sharpe)
#29. Blast Corps
Remember that time there was a runaway semi-truck with a nuclear warhead attached, and the only way to save the world was to level a whole bunch of cities?
Okay, that probably didn’t happen, and even in 1997, it was a flimsy premise for a game. I mean, in a world where scientists have developed a giant bipedal robot, it seems like there might be another way to solve this problem.
Luckily what this wacky premise does make for is hours of gleeful destruction, as you must clear any potential obstacle from the path of the runaway warhead as quickly as possible. Blast Corps features 8 vehicles to help you avert disaster, and the kind of categorical rating system that games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga are still using today to keep you coming back for “just one more try”. Yeah, right.
Essentially a frantic puzzle game that kind of tricks you into thinking you’re playing an action game, Blast Corps is an incredibly addictive experience, and totally worth replaying on the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#28. Wave Race 64
If ever there were an argument over the definitive jet ski racing game, Wave Race 64 would forever be on the top of everyone’s list. Nintendo outdid itself when it transformed what would have been a F-Zero successor into one of the most memorable racing experiences on the console. With accurate wave physics, beautiful graphics, and a refreshing tropical soundtrack, Wave Race 64 has it all, and continues to hold up today.
The game gives the player the choice of playing as one of four racers, each with their own skill set, as they race around yellow and red buoys, indicating left and right respectively, that give speed boosts, helping the player as they race for the gold. While the gameplay itself is simple, the controls still feel tight, and it’s a blast to play through the game’s 9 playable courses and improve your skills. The game offers several different modes, from Championship mode for the pure racing experience to time trials, a stunt mode, as well as local multiplayer to challenge friends.
If none of that is enough, Wave Race 64 also has an unlockable dolphin that can be ridden around on, which should be a selling point on its own. In general, there are a lot of unlockable secrets that can be had from playing through the courses, from alternate skins to riding alongside a killer whale. With all of that in mind, there’s no reason to avoid picking this one up on Virtual Console and taking it for a spin. (Arturo Bory)
#27. F-Zero X
Developed by Nintendo’s EAD division, F-Zero X is the first F-Zero installment to have featured 3D graphics. Unfortunately, even for the time, the visuals weren’t anything to write home about. However, what F-Zero X lacks in the visual department it more than makes up for in adrenaline fuelled, non-stop action. With an emphasis on breakneck speed and competitive intensity, F-Zero X is one of the best arcade racers released for the N64. The game’s “death race” mode and a random track generator is what I remember best about the game. In the death race, the player’s objective is to annihilate the 29 other racers as fast as possible, while the X-Cup generates a different set of tracks each time it’s played. It also features 30 vehicles on the screen at once, and an extremely fun 4-player multiplayer offering. For all those reasons and more, F-Zero X is a game I have fond memories playing. The N64 had its fair share of racing games, but few were as fast and exciting to play as F-Zero X. (Ricky D)
#26. Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Prior to its release, Rayman only had one sidescrolling, cartoony adventure to his name, and The Great Escape solidified his name as the protagonist of one of gaming’s most light-hearted, whimsical series.
Full of adventure and wonder, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is like playing through an animated cartoon film. The game radiates personality through its bright visuals, eccentric characters, and colorful soundtrack. It was one of the many games to add on to the newly-defined “3D Platformer” genre of gaming that Super Mario 64 had pioneered, and it did so with absolute excellence.
In this game, you play as Rayman, who has to free his friends from the imprisonment of Razorbeard, a robot pirate who has taken over the Glade of Dreams, and take him down. The story is simple, but very well-told through the extensive cast of quirky characters that Rayman meets along his journey. The gameplay is tight and always tons of fun as you run, jump, hover, bounce, and swim across the Glade of Dreams’ many colorful locales. And of course, the soundtrack perfectly nails a wide range of emotion and atmosphere (Including the infamous “Tomb of the Ancients” music, which surely causes many nightmares to this day).
Throughout The Great Escape, there is a sense of childlike curiosity and joy that is always apparent. The game is a joy for both young and old, appealing to anyone and everyone, and offers an incredible world to get lost in. Rayman 2: The Great Escape may have been ported to just about every other console out there, but many gamers first experienced it on the wonderful Nintendo 64. And what an experience it was. (Nathan Brown)
#25. WCW NWO Revenge
AKI’s last WCW game is bittersweet for wrestling fans. It’s a time capsule of the American wrestling industry at a time when WCW had the deepest and most talented roster in the business. The game was released at the peak of WCW’s success, and sadly two years before WCW went out of business and the industry became a veritable monopoly under WWE. No Mercy may be considered the best wrestling video game ever made, but WCW / nWo Revenge has always been my favourite, if only for the roster which includes legends like Ric Flair, Sting, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Big Poppa Pump, Chris Benoit, Bill Goldberg, DDP, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio, British Bulldog, Booker T, Eddy Guerrero, Juventud Guerrero, Disco Inferno, La Parka, Ultimo Dragon, Saturn, Roddy Piper, Hollywood Hogan, Bret Hart, The Giant, Marcus Buff, Randy Savage, Konnan, and Raven, to name just a few. Revenge is the game where AKI truly established themselves as the masters of fighting games, with a fast-paced and revolutionary grappling system and reversals that captured the rhythm of real wrestling. The controls were so successful that not only did AKI Corporation use it in future wrestling games, but they also used the engine in their Def Jam Vendetta series . Everything from the graphics, move-set library, real life arenas, instant replays and the numerous finishing moves was made right, and the games was made to stand the test of time. It won 1998’s “Fighting Game of the Year” by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and was one of the best-selling N64 games of all time. It’s a must-have for any fan of wrestling games and one of my all-time favourites! (Ricky D)
#24. Resident Evil 2
That Resident Evil 2 is even on the N64 is something of a small miracle. Originally for the PlayStation, a small team of around 20 people managed to not only cram the game onto a cartridge but actually add more features to it as well, with different costumes and new gameplay modes. On the technical side, it’s a marvel, with tons of stuff going on behind the scenes to make it work, like how it adjusts its aspect ratio based on what characters do on screen or the way the music was ported to be even better than the Playstation version.
Never mind that the game itself is still great, and many would argue one of the best in the series. It’s spooky, creepy, and exciting in equal measure as you make your way through the ruins of Racoon City. Animations and audio are top quality for the time, and the cutscenes are some of the best the N64 was able to muster. It might be a bit harder to play nowadays, especially when compared to the later Resident Evil games, and the fixed camera and wonky inventory will drive some away, but for long-time fans of the series, Resident Evil 2 remains a favorite, and it’s just begging for an HD re-release. (Andrew Vandersteen)
#23. Jet Force Gemini
Of all the games developed by Rare during the N64 era, Jet Force Gemini might be the biggest outlier. A 3rd person sci-fi shooter is generally not the kind of game you expect from Rare even today, and it was, even more, jarring back in 1999 when it first came out.
Tasking players with beating back ravenous hordes of insectile extraterrestrials while simultaneously seeking out and rescuing a bunch of Ewoks, Jet Force Gemini is far from your typical Rare game, but like fellow Rare outcast, Blast Corps, that makes for a lot of its charm.
Take, for example, Lupus, a cybernetically enhanced dog who joins the twin protagonists, Juno, and Vela, on their mission. I mean, talk about dogs of war. Seriously, though, any game that lets you play as a dog with guns mounted on his back is okay by me. Also, there’s a guy named King Jeff in this game. No really. And the bad guy is named Mizar–ya know, like “miser”.
But honestly, potshots aside, you really should play Jet Force Gemini. It’s like a weird gaming time capsule in and of itself, and it’s absolutely one of the best reasons to own the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)
#22. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
While the series has recently fallen under heavy criticism, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater brought immense levels of innovation to the gaming community. Intuitive physics, interesting levels, a surplus of things to do, and one of the best soundtracks of all time made this first entry an instant classic. There are few 90s gamers who did not experience this addictive skating simulator on one of the six consoles it was released on. Everyone got their hands on this game, but nobody wanted to let go.
The physics in THPS are sure to hook casual and hardcore gamers alike. Players became addicted to improving their skills and eventually chaining together impressive strings of tricks. Whether it was your first Ollie or your tenth time performing a combo of two Kickflips, a Stalefish, three grinds, and a wall ride, it never seemed to get old. Almost like learning an instrument, players everywhere were striving to be the best living room skateboarder in their town.
While the mechanics were absolutely solid, the best part of the series lies within its youthful soul. With the combination of lighthearted humor and the fantastic and rebellious soundtrack that featured Primus, Suicidal Tendencies, and Goldfinger, the developers were able to perfectly capture the carefree atmosphere that resided in this amazing decade.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the start of a beautiful franchise. The sequel is still the highest rated game on Metacritic, further showing how incredibly solid the series’ mechanics and replayability are. This game is like candy, it’s simple and sweet but so addicting that you just can’t seem to put it down. As I grow old I will look back on the 90s and reminisce on what I miss most about my childhood. I will think back on those simple times of watching Rugrats, eating Gushers, and playing Tony Hawks’s Pro Skater. (Chris Souza)
#21. WWF No Mercy
Developer AKI Corporation created four phenomenal wrestling games for the N64, each better than the previous, and their final game for the system, WWF No Mercy, was the proverbial cherry on the cake. The core gameplay between WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (AKI’s first N64 title) and No Mercy is virtually the same, but systems were refined, move sets improved, and rosters expanded. Unlike most wrestling games of the era, in AKI’s titles wrestlers have a momentum meter rather than a health bar. You can’t simply wither an opponent’s bar from green to red and render them useless. In No Mercy no matter how beaten down someone may be, a quick reversal and appeasing to the crowd could be enough to turn the tides back in their favor. This means a match is never over until the bell has rung, leading to many tense back-and-forth contests which faithfully emulate the real life spectacle.
Aside from the remarkable core gameplay, No Mercy has some amazing additions that made it really stand out, such as it’s in-depth story mode. In most wrestling games, including AKI’s prior work, if the player were to lose a match during a campaign the game would simply prompt the user to try that match over again until success was achieved, however in No Mercy if the player loses a match the storyline continues but branches off in a completely different direction, leading to unexpected rivalries and intense matches. Add to that the fact that No Mercy featured the best Create-A-Wrestler seen yet, the first time inclusion of popular modes like the ladder match, and it was the first WWF game that allowed players to venture backstage and the first game that allowed players to smash their opponents through the fabled Spanish announcer’s table.
The game still holds up well today, even 15+ years after its release. WWE 2K16 may have more polygons on one wrestler’s face than there is in all of No Mercy, but once you step into the ring it’s clear that the N64 classic still reigns supreme when it comes to gameplay. (Matt De Azevedo)
#20. Diddy Kong Racing
Latching on to the kart racing boom of the late 90s, Diddy Kong Racing proved that it was much more than just a quick Mario Kart-wannabe cash-in. The game offered a unique experience compared to the cavalcade of kart racers on the market at the time.
The first non-sidescrolling game in the Donkey Kong franchise, DK Racing was another Rare-developed classic for the N64. Bright and cheerful, this game offers a fantastic cartoon world with plenty of fun characters, some returning to the series, and some new to the game. This is an excellent multiplayer game, with endless opportunity for comical racing fun. There is also an open-world adventure mode that caters to single players, and it proves to be just as fun as its multiplayer counterpart.
The most unique aspect that DK Racing had to its name at the time was most definitely the different modes of transportation that the player could drive around in. These include regular karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes. The wide amount of options when it comes to transportation were a huge draw for this game, and the best part is, each one each worked like a charm. These different driving mechanics are still rare to find in kart racers today, with Mario Kart 8 for Wii U finally including these flying and hovering options a whole 17 years later. And to this day, it is still incredibly fun to have an airplane or hovercraft race, thanks to the tight controls that the game offers. DK Racing totally nailed the different driving vehicles over a decade earlier.
Every aspect that you could want in a kart racer is here: tight controls, great level design, memorable music, an awesome world to explore, and easy-to-grasp, fun gameplay. Diddy Kong Racing is ahead of its time classic that will always provide a great time to any gamer. (Nathan Brown)
#19. Star Fox 64
When the industry made the incredible leap into the 3D gaming world, some series did not translate well into these new and improved visuals. Thankfully, Star Fox 64 gracefully accepted this new world of gaming and gave players an experience that they have never seen before.
Slippy, Peppy, and Falco all join Fox McCloud in another game filled with intense space combat. Star Fox must team up to defeat the evil scientist Andross and bring peace to the universe, and players must take control of the Arwing, Landmaster, and submarine in order to stop him once again. With multiplayer, a variety of modes, and an immense amount of replayability, it is no surprise that this installment is still regarded as one of the best in the series. Players became easily addicted to receiving medals and the branching leveling system.
Innovation was certainly a prominent theme in this installment. After becoming one of the most popular rail-shooters of all time, Nintendo pushed the envelope even further by incorporating new elements of gaming into this series. Star Fox 64 was the first Nintendo 64 game to have included support for the Rumble Pack. While we may take this feature for granted now, it opened a whole new sense of gaming. There was a time where we could only see and hear gaming, but now we can feel it. This was a powerful transition that began with Star Fox 64.
At the time, rail-shooters were not exactly rare but Nintendo took a popular idea and gave it their signature charm, creating a memorable and fun experience for gamers of all ages. It is not an easy task to make an on-rails shooter massively replayable, but Nintendo certainly proved it was possible. (Chris Souza)
#18. Pokémon Snap
One of five Pokémon games released for the Nintendo 64, Pokémon Snap is a rare example of a linear title that manages to instill a sense of adventure and curiosity in the player, sending them on voyages through various locales to take photos of classic first-gen Pokémon. It felt like every time you played through one of the game’s seven courses, you discovered something you hadn’t noticed before, and that something would lead to you getting that last snapshot you needed to get the next item. Getting Porygon to hit the switch & reveal the entrance to the cave level, knocking Charmeleon into the lava to reveal a roaring Charizard, getting Pikachu to pose on a surfboard & getting Snorlax to dance for you are only a few of the things you can discover by experimenting with the items at your disposal, such as the Apples and Pester Balls.
Pokémon Snap was a pretty addictive game; I always found myself going back to certain courses to improve certain snapshots, each time getting a few points more than the last. It wasn’t as if you could just snap a Pokémon at whatever angle or distance you saw fit and call it a day; no, you had to factor in the Pokémon’s size, its position in frame, the type of pose it was holding, and whether any other Pokémon were in the shot with it. It was a rather complex system, and it really managed to get young Pokémon fans to hone their photography skills to beat their highest scores. Considered a cult classic nowadays, fans have been clamoring for a sequel for years now. Whether or not we’ll ever see one is up in the air, but for what it’s worth, I certainly wouldn’t mind returning to Pokémon Island with my trusty camera one more time. (Matt Niyomina)
#17. WWF WrestleMania 2000
These days Vince McMahon’s WWE has a near-monopoly when it comes to the wrestling market in North America, but back in the 90’s / early 2000’s things were different. There was a time when the WCW and WWF were neck-and-neck in the war for television ratings, and that battle reverberated into the video game market. Due to the success of WCW/nWo Revenge and other THQ published wrestling games, World Championship Wrestling was leading the way in the digital ring, and Mr. McMahon couldn’t just stand idly by and let that happen. In order to get the upper hand, the WWF dumped their long-time partner Acclaim Entertainment and signed a pact with THQ. This upset WCW, causing them to end their own partnership THQ and turn to Electronic Arts as the future publisher of WCW games. After the dust settled it was the WWF that won out big time, as THQ went on the produce many high selling WWF games, while EA’s wrestling games sunk, much like the WCW itself.
After joining forces with the WWF, AKI Corporation simply took their engine from WCW/nWo Revenge and slapped a WWF skin on it, so the core mechanics were excellent right off the bat. Where the PS1 wrestling games featured annoying and complicated button combinations, AKI’s N64 games have smooth and intuitive controls that somewhat resemble the Super Smash Bros. series, making their games easy to pick up and enjoy. WrestleMania 2000 was the first THQ-published wrestling game to feature a Create-A-Wrestler mode, and since they already had everything animated AKI carried over many moves and taunts from WCW/nWo Revenge, which allowed fans to easily create their favorite WCW wrestlers. While the game doesn’t allow players to edit the move sets of the existing roster, their appearances can be altered, and each wrestler is able to have multiple alternate attires. WrestleMania 2000 featured other advancements such as the inclusion of accurate entrance music/videos, and new features like the First Blood match.
AKI released a new N64 wrestling game every year for four straight years, never overhauling but simply adding and refining. WrestleMania 2000 wasn’t their best work, but it was a huge success and a necessary stepping stone towards No Mercy. (Matt De Azevedo)
#16. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out of nowhere to revolutionize gaming in 1999. It set a pretty high standard for the genre, and sports games in general. It made Tony Hawk a household named and set in stone a franchise that would last until this very day. It took only a few months for Activision to release a sequel, adding in manuals and establishing a gameplay mechanic that would remain in the series across three console generations and two decades. This improved players’ ability to string together high-scoring trick combos and many other tricks were introduced for the first time, as was the option to edit the combinations for tricks.
Three new professional skaters were introduced to the series on this game (Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, and Eric Koston) and it was also the first of the Pro Skater games to feature Create-a-Skater and Park Editor features, now staples in the series. Combine that with perhaps the best stages in franchise history and a soundtrack that includes Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine, and you have one of the very last great games to come out on the N64, just months shy of the release of the Gamecube. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is still one of the most critically acclaimed video games ever made, and the second highest-rated video game of all time on Metacritic. The first Tony Hawk game may have set the bar, but the sequel landed a perfect 1080 and is still to this day the second best entry in the series, losing out only to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. (Ricky D)
#15. Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire
Shadows of the Empire was a huge multimedia project by Lucas Arts consisting of a book, comic, video game, and toys (so many toys). The story was created to fill in the gaps between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi; following the adventures of the mercenary Dash Rendar as he attempts to recover the frozen Han Solo from Boba Fett. The game compliments the book while still remaining accessible to those that haven’t read it. Shadows brilliantly build upon the lore from the movies by recreating the Battle of Hoth and using familiar characters like Boba Fett and the robot bounty hunter IG-88, who was briefly seen in during one scene in Empire Strikes Back. The game features both a 1st and 3rd person firing mode as well as a wide array of weapons and vehicles to experience. Shadows finally gave the player the Boba Fett fight that was so lacking in Return of the Jedi as you hunt him across the galaxy to an epic encounter against him and his terrifying ship, Slave-1. Coming out only a few months after the launch of the N64 in the U.S. Shadows of the Empire showcased the power and creativity the N64 could have and if that isn’t convincing enough the game also includes AT-STs, grand space battles, a crazy speeder bike fight through the streets of Mos Eisley, secret endings, and the nightmare-inducing Wampas. While Shadows of the Empire may no longer be canonical, it is a fun story any fan of the series will enjoy. (Ryan Kapioski)
#14. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
The horror …
Make no mistake, this game was not easy. Aside from difficulty, Rogue Squadron is remarkable for its application of the Star Wars license, but it was also just a great dogfighting game with outstanding graphics.
To the first strength, the game took direct influence from the opening Hoth level of Shadows of the Empire, and in contrast to previous X-Wing games, was a much more arcade-style experience. As a result of LucasArts’ stipulations against using scenes from the films, the game expands on the Star Wars universe in many interesting ways – intersecting with characters from the films on planets both familiar and new to fans.
The developers at Factor 5 were also inspired by the Expanded Universe comics and novel of the same name, introducing young players to events only implied by the existing Star Wars films. The dogfighting controls have since been improved upon, but were excellent at the time, offering much more mobility than the all-range levels in the previous year’s Star Fox 64.
And finally, the graphics: was there ever a better year in console gaming than 1998? Rogue Squadron, along with Banjo-Kazooie and other second-generation games, showed what the Nintendo 64 was truly capable of putting out. Eventually, Rogue Squadron‘s sequel on the GameCube would look even better, but compared to the blurry textures of Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron almost looked like the movies it was based on. A pity about that distance fog, though … (Mitchell Akhusrt)
#13. Donkey Kong 64
It’s hard to discuss the N64 without bringing up Rare games, and while not their last or greatest game on the system, DK64 is an outstanding platformer, and some would argue it even overshadows Nintendo’s own Mario 64. The levels are massive, there are tons of collectibles to go after and secrets to find, and the variety in the worlds is impressive. Better yet there’s five different Kongs to play as, each with their own unique abilities and collectibles to go after. It’s a game so chock full of stuff Rare had to package it with the N64’s expansion pack just to make sure it worked.
DK64 is a game pushing the N64 to its absolute limits. The graphics are some of the best on the system, with real-time lighting effects throughout the levels. The audio is nothing short of legendary, with reactive music that changes as you move through the worlds, creating an audio rollercoaster that adds so much to the experience. On every level, DK64 is a game that needs to be played by any fans of platformers and is a must-have for N64 fans. (Andrew Vandersteen)
Once upon a time, a bear and a bird traveled through many strange and varied worlds in their quest to stop an evil witch. Their adventure became legend, and Rareware’s platformer collect-a-thon prowess was once again beyond doubt.
Two years later, they were back with an equally beloved sequel, Banjo-Tooie, a game whose reputation has soured a bit since 2000. Reviews of the Xbox 360 re-release were not as kind as the Nintendo 64 original, citing its monstrous size and an unwieldy number of collectibles. But rather than dwell on negatives, why not nail down why Banjo-Tooie actually deserves another look?
Let’s face it, Super Mario 64 will always be a hard game to beat, and the first Banjo performed admirably to even come close. Banjo-Tooie, however, deserves to be considered another genre altogether. Like Metroid Prime, Dark Souls or Tomb Raider, the sprawling, interconnected levels of Tooie betray Rare’s true intentions: to create an adventure game like no other – simply in the guise of a 3D platformer.
Viewed today as a semi-open-world Metroidvania, Banjo-Tooie can go toe-to-toe with any other adventure game. The controls are tighter than Banjo-Kazooie, the graphics are second only to other Rare games, and the art (though much kookier) rivals the Zelda games for best fantasy designs on the console. And that’s all without mentioning Rare’s signature British weirdness, only a few notches below the adults-only Conker’s Bad Fur Day in terms of humor (or in the UK, humour).
Banjo-Tooie is an ambitious action-adventure that also happens to be a sequel to a 3D platformer, and played on its own terms it is a massive and rewardingly-twisted fairytale world to explore. (Mitchell Akhurst)
#11. Pokémon Stadium
Before fans were blessed with Pokémon Showdown, online battle modes or even VGC, we had the original Pocket Monster fighting spectacle, Pokémon Stadium. At the height of Nintendo’s pop-culture hit, the big N released a fully 3D battle arena in 1998… exclusively in Japan. Luckily for international audiences, the developers quickly reacted to the original game’s criticisms (like its brutal difficulty) as well as the overall positive reception to its release and put out a sequel to the game the next year. Officially arriving in English speaking countries in 2000, the second game in the series was dubbed Pokémon Stadium to avoid confusion, and was bundled with the Transfer Pak, a device that allowed players to trade, battle and store their own Pokémon from Red, Blue, and Yellow. Despite lacking a traditional story mode or some of the complexities of the handheld series, the game was a massive success. Gameplay was solely comprised of one-on-one battles against trainers and gym leaders, while a diverse set of rules, conditions and challenge modes kept the tedium from ever setting in.
For standard battles, players could compete in one of four tournaments (Poke Cup, Petit Cup, Prime Cup, and the Pika Cup), each with their own strategies and limitations. Dedicated fans could either import their own Pokémon from their Game Boy cartridges or rent pre-made replacements, appealing to both veterans and newcomers alike. For a real challenge, trainers could take on the Gym Leader Castle, that pit their team against the original 8 Kanto Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the Champion before facing off against Mewtwo himself, and unlocking a harder difficulty setting. Additionally, a few mini-games were included as extras, presumably for players to wind down from battle- but in reality, this just caused gamers to destroy their controllers with button mashing. While some critics find the lack of an actual narrative RPG experience to detract from Pokémon Stadium’s quality, it completely accomplished what it set out to do. (Matt Bruzzano)
#10. Paper Mario
Even in the N64 era, folks were nostalgic about 2D Mario games, and since Nintendo was essentially at war with Square at the time, Paper Mario wasn’t just the easiest way to revisit some Super Mario World nostalgia, it was also the closest thing fans were getting to a Super Mario RPG sequel.
Borrowing the button-tapping, action-RPG mechanics from Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario traded in the rest of the package, probably to avoid tricky legal ground over their former joint venture with Square. Luckily the game turned out great, not just in spite of these obstacles, but in some ways because of them.
The 2D perspective meant that the developers could make the game look gorgeous (for the time) since they didn’t have to design and animate entire free-roaming environments. It also helped matters that the button-tapping mechanics of the previous game actually better fit the platformer style perspective, rather than the isometric point of view of its forebear. Add in a cast of almost totally new characters, and you have an essential classic for the N64 era, and the first in a self-referential series that is still ongoing even today, both in handheld and console form. (Mike Worby)
#9. Perfect Dark
One of the most eagerly anticipated games released for the Nintendo 64 was none other than Rare’s spiritual successor to GoldenEye. After Rare and Nintendo lost the rights to the James Bond license in a bidding war with EA, the masterminds at Rare decided to flex their creative muscles with a completely new concept. Without the restrictions of a 007 license, Rare was able to implement whatever crazy ideas they had into the shooter genre. That game was Perfect Dark, and in my opinion, it is bigger, and better, than its groundbreaking predecessor. Goldeneye is a classic, and yes without it, Perfect Dark would never exist. Goldeneye set the bar, and it was hugely important for the genre, especially for console gaming, but just because it came first, doesn’t make it the better game. Goldeneye may have set a standard, but Perfect Dark improves upon it, in every way possible.
Yes, Perfect Dark borrows many functions from GoldenEye 007, the most obvious being the control scheme and general gameplay, but Perfect Dark also has more weapons, better production value, an original story, slick graphics, a killer soundtrack, tons of cheats, a trove of hidden secrets, a co-op mode, a counter-op mode, and an anti-hero who just so happens to be a highly skilled marksman, a lethal hand-to-hand combat fighter, an expert pilot, and an eager bounty hunter with a wicked sense of humor. (Ricky D)
#8. Banjo Kazooie
Having undoubtedly proved their platforming pedigree with their Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo, Rare set about the seemingly impossible task of following up the prolific Super Mario 64. With game design legends such as Gregg Mayles and Chris Sutherland at its helm, Banjo-Kazooie was released exclusively on the N64 in the summer of 1998. Although the game was initially labeled as a rip-off of Nintendo’s nearly perfect 3D platformer, it actually built on the standards that it set for the genre and even surpassed it in many ways.
To be clear, the two games do share an immense amount of similarities. Both were primarily adventure based platforming, collect-a-thons that had the player traverse a hub world that branched out to several, more distinct areas. Where Banjo-Kazooie first set itself apart from Miyamoto’s magnum opus was its approach to the hub world itself. Peach’s castle served as an adequate means of connecting the more vibrant worlds of the game together but lacked a sense of character and cohesion that Banjo-Kazooie prides itself on. As the titular bear, Banjo, and his partner, Kazooie, scaled the lair of the evil witch Gruntilda, the vain antagonist would occasionally berate the player to impede their progress and mock their failures, motivating gamers not to give up in an entertaining, self-aware, fashion. This quirky nature was also evident in the actual levels themselves, featuring more interesting NPCs, detailed locales and ambient music that made the paintings of Super Mario 64 look like cardboard cutouts by comparison. Instead of rigidly sectioning off the worlds into multiple missions, Banjo-Kazooie had completely open levels with multiple different objects to collect such as music notes, Jiggies, and Jinjos, that could all be pursued simultaneously. Environments like Treasure Trove Cove and Freezeezy Peak were non-linear, multi-pathed levels that still serve as guiding examples for modern game design.
By building on the 3D framework that Nintendo conceived, Rare delivered one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time. (Matt Bruzzano)
Since its release in 1997, no game has captured the glitz, the glamor, and the glory of James Bond-like Rare’s golden hit, GoldenEye 007. The perfect adaptation of the Bond flick, GoldenEye, GoldenEye 007 is a free-roaming, first-person-shooter putting the player in control of everyone’s favorite double-O agent: Bond, James Bond.
The atmospheric campaign perfectly captures the film’s tension and excitement, giving players a variety of experiences, from stealthy infiltrations, to run and gun bonanzas, all layered with familiar Bond elements, like some familiar gadgets and guns, to truly make the player feel like a secret agent. On top of a brilliantly crafted, truly immersive campaign is a revolutionary four-player multiplayer, pitting players against one another in an all-out brawl.
Careful attention to detail and immense amounts of fan service escalate an already fantastic experience to make it one of the most memorable games ever made, from the familiar blood-soaked screen that falls every time the player dies, to favorite foes, with cameo weapons and gadgets, and even multiplayer modes named after other films. This game has it all, but with Bond, even the world is not enough, so Rare stuffed the game with everything imaginable. Hilarious, unlockable cheat codes ensure the game has immense replayability, complete with the scalable difficulty, on top of other unlockables like the cast of twenty-four characters that make their way in to the multiplayer.
Still an immensely fun shooter to this day, in its time the game was revolutionary, pioneering a whole genre in gaming that’s shaped up to be perhaps the most popular and prevalent today, introducing staples and fixtures such as shooters tendency toward more realistic tones and zoomable sniper scopes. GoldenEye 007, like diamonds, is forever and it’s a truly timeless gem. (Tim Maison)
#6. Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart 64 remains, to this day, one of the greatest titles that Nintendo has ever created. Mario Kart 64 features eight different racers classified into three different weight categories, 14 unique power-ups to inflict friendship-testing amounts of rage (darn blue shells), and 16 tracks with an extra mirror mode that flips all the tracks to create an added difficulty. The tracks are comprised of hidden shortcuts, dangerous obstacles, and little surprises around every turn.
While the sequels have improved upon the racing formula and customization, nothing has quite captured the heart-pounding intensity of the Battle Mode. Friends duke it out to pop each other’s balloons in four small arenas with the power-ups provided on the map or as vengeful bombs. Mario Kart 64 offers a bit of something for everyone, with the Grand Prix for friends to compete against each other and computers, the Battle mode to lose to those friends, and the time attack mode to improve upon your skills and feel better, now that you’ve lost those friends. Mario Kart 64 is the 2nd bestselling game on the N64 for good reason, as it is truly a masterpiece that still stands the test of time. (Ryan Kapioski)
#5. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Judging by the Disney-like presentation, some may think that Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a harmless video game about a squirrel who is trying desperately to save his girlfriend. Rare, however, opted to deliver something flamboyantly vulgar and determinedly self-referential. Conker received critical acclaim from video game journalists, who praised its visual appeal and smart, funny humor, but due to limited advertising and a release towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s life cycle, it was a commercial flop.
Regardless, twenty years later Conker has earned a loyal cult following due to its unique style and its boundary-pushing story. Rare’s final Nintendo 64 game is perhaps the N64’s most visually impressive. The game pushes the console to its graphical limit and contains almost two hours of cut-scenes with fully animated character faces perfectly synced to some impressive voice acting. Apart from the opera-singing pile of crap, the stunning visuals, the catchy soundtrack and the lovable protagonist, one of the main reasons why the game resonates with so many people decades later, is because of the bleak and emotionally devastating climax.
It’s easy to see why Conker’s Bad Fur Day is so beloved after all these years. Conker was, and is everything that Nintendo has raised audiences to believe heroes are not. He’s crass, selfish and talks with a vocabulary that would make Eddie Murphy blush, but in those final moments that mirror Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Conker shows he’s no different than us.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a rare game that hits you in the head and stomach simultaneously. The only rule it adheres to is that tropes are made to be eviscerated, turned upside down, and crushed. Conker’s Bad Fur Day has the shape of a Nintendo IP but the soul of a Stanley Kubrick film. (Ricky D)
#4. Super Smash Bros.
The most recent installment of Nintendo’s classic beat-em-up franchise has 58 playable characters available to wreak havoc with; some are first-party favorites, while others are unexpected third-party newcomers. Back in 1999, it was a much simpler time. Only twelve of Nintendo’s most iconic characters were at the players’ disposal in the original Super Smash Bros., and it laid the foundation for what would become one of Nintendo’s most popular series. One of the console’s most popular multiplayer offerings, it can be said that Nintendo wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the help of Smash Bros. I can recall countless memories of scrambling around Hyrule Temple and Sector Z with a beam sword in hand, laying the smack-down on now-veteran characters like Donkey Kong, Fox and Jigglypuff without a single inkling of pity or mercy in my young, innocent soul.
Looking back on the original Super Smash Bros. reminds us of a time when Smash wasn’t really considered a competitive fighting game like many consider it now. It was more of a goofy party game that you’d play with a handful of your friends, all huddled around a CRT TV to watch Luigi crack Samus in the face with a baseball bat while wearing cutesy bunny ears. With all the excitement surrounding online play and competitive tournaments today, recalling those lazy nights when you’d blast through the single player campaign with your favorite fighter to defeat Master Hand at the end feels nostalgically refreshing. With enough replay value and frantic gameplay to keep players coming back time & time again, Smash was, without a doubt, one of the N64’s absolute essential titles. (Matt Niyomina)
#3. Super Mario 64
Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and featured relatively large areas which are composed primarily of true 3D polygons as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.
There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat – and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time — the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)
#2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
How exactly do you make a follow-up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.
Taking place a couple months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused a lot of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.
From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed from its very inception.
As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)
#1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Nearly 20 years later, it’s no surprise that everyone is still talking about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Along with Sony’s heavy nostalgia hitter, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time regularly finds itself in the conversation for not only the best game ever released on its particular console or in its individual series but the best game of all time, full stop.
That’s no accident. Coming off the heels of arguably the best game on the SNES, Ocarina of Time already had some pretty big shoes to fill, a problem which was compounded by the fact that this would also be the Zelda series’ first foray into the realm of the third dimension. However, Nintendo made sure to put in the time and effort to guarantee that Ocarina of Time delivered at any cost, and deliver it did.
A huge game at the time, and a large game even today, Ocarina of Time was a marvel for the wide-eyed gamers of the late 90s, and reasonably so. Few gamers will have forgotten the first time they left the safety and comfort of Kokiri Forest and entered the vast expanse of Hyrule Field, and with good reason. There had never, mark my words, never, been a game that had unleashed that kind of freedom on a player in the history of the medium. Sure, there had been huge worlds and giant world maps in the past, without a doubt, but never with the level of technical polish and scope that Nintendo had managed to convey here.
That level of initial wonder extends all the way through what might be Link’s finest adventure to date, and, as such, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still lives on in the annals of all-time classic video games, a place it has earned with full honors. (Mike Worby)
‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par
‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.
Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.
Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.
House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.
As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.
What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.
When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.
Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.
Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.
One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.
It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.
Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2019- Part Two
Continuing on from part one, I’m counting down the best video game soundtracks of 2019 from ten to one.
10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice- Yuka Kitamura
One of the better games released in 2019 was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, an action title set in a fictional version of the war torn Sengoku period of Japan. This version of this time frame includes magic but there is still a sense of accuracy in regards to the general tone of the game, making strong reference to actual locations and buildings in Japan. The music is just one element that makes the world of Sekiro come to life as it is full to the brim with authenticity.
Yuka Kitamura- known for her work on the Dark Souls games and Bloodborne– adapts a slightly different style than her usual work. In an interview with Game Informer, Kitamura explains how there was more focus on fantasy style and grandiose music in the other games- likely due to the entirely fantastical settings. The setting of Sekiro required a certain element of “wildness” as it was grounded within the bloody Sengoku period. Despite the challenges that Kitamura and her team ( she also worked with various external composers) faced with creating a style that could capture both the brutal nature of the Sengoku time with the fantasy of the magic within Sekiro, they pulled it off fantastically and the music seems to flawlessly blend with the game environment.
The use of authentic Japanese instruments is a perfectly executed component of the soundtrack, such as the Taiko (Japanese drum), the Shamisen (a three-stringed tradition Japanese instrument) and the Biwa (a lute). My personal favourites are the tracks that feature the Shinboe, the Japanese flute. I love the almost contradicting nature of the soothing flute with the violence of the Sekiro world. Kitamura describes the more peaceful sounds of the soundtrack as an attempt to encapsulate “ancient Japanese beauty and a sort of time- honoured tradition and religious aspects.” The inclusion of cultural elements of ancient Japan makes this soundtrack stand out as you can tell that a significant amount of the music is influenced by real history and Japanese tradition.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice boasts an incredibly well-crafted soundtrack. Kitamura clearly set out to try and capture the Sengoku period accurately whilst maintaining ancient Japanese culture with authentic instruments. Whilst she was mostly confined to boss battle music with her work on Dark Souls, she is able to do far more here. The result is a stunning soundtrack with moments of intensity and beauty that perfectly captures the essence of Sekiro.
Top Track: End of a Vicious Struggle
There is plenty of amazing boss battle music in the Sekiro soundtrack- such as “Divine Dragon” and “The Owl”- but the piece I have chosen as my top track is “End of a Vicious Struggle” as it is a perfect culmination of events of the game. The piece plays at the end of the game when (and if) the player actually manages to make it there. The game is known for its difficult and sometimes brutal nature so if it is completed, there is a definite sense of accomplishment there. “End of a Vicious Struggle” not only has a perfect title, it almost sounds like a reward for getting there. Combining various traditional Japanese instruments with an orchestra, the piece perfectly closes the game.
9. Katana Zero- LudoWic, Bill Kiley, DJ Electrohead, Justin Stander and Tunç Çakır
The indie game scene is becoming more and more dominant when it comes to amazing gaming soundtracks. 2-D neo noir action platformer Katana Zero is no exception in this, providing one of the best video game soundtracks this year.
The soundtrack is made of up tracks split between five different artists, though Bill Kiley and LudoWic take on the bulk of it. The music is a blend of a few similar genres, the most prevalent being 80’s style synthwave, techno and electronica. There are definite similarities with 2012’s Hotline Miami here, both in terms of gameplay and the music. The player takes on the role of an assassin and the game plays out in similar 2-D style to Hotline Miami but from a side scrolling perspective rather than top down. NewRetroWave.com describes the soundtrack as “perfectly moody and drenched in dark neon tones” and this is certainly true. These “neon tones” also reflect the 80’s vibe that permeates throughout the game. You can almost hear the bright neon lights and tacky outfits. Certain tracks stand out for their incorporation of this 80’s style, such as the boss battle theme “All For Now” which sounds like it was ripped straight from the Blade Runner universe. The artists do an incredible job of pushing the synthwave style to the limit and seamlessly blending it with a more modern electro sound.
Games that both look and sound perfectly retro have become something of a cliché in the contemporary gaming world, even more so within indie games. It can be difficult for titles that adapt this style to stand out, but the soundtrack of Katana Zero successfully navigates these clichés and reworks them into something truly fantastic. Managing to sound both futuristic and retro, Katana Zero successfully makes its mark within the gaming world.
Top Track: Snow
“Hit the Floor” is an amazing club bop and “Katana Zero” encapsulates the moody neon style that the game is going for but I’ve chosen “Snow” as my top track as it brings something a little different to the soundtrack. Calmer and smoother than most of the other tracks, “Snow” uses the synthwave genre a little differently here. Rather than creating techno, science fiction like tones, it creates a sense of ease and solitude whilst maintaining the retro feel. Bill Kiley- the composer for “Snow”- creates a piece that is relaxing but doesn’t take you out of the world entirely. The unique feel of “Snow” is what made it stand out to me.
8. Outer Wilds- Andrew Prahlow
Another indie game that took the gaming community by storm was Outer Wilds. Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds is an indie space adventure game from Mobius Digital and Annapurna Interactive. The music here is interesting as it is homely and comforting despite the intergalactic setting.
Prahlow was given the description “backpacking adventure in space” by friend Alex Beachum (from Mobius Digital Games) when he was first told about Outer Wilds. This is what led him towards the banjo, which has become the most iconic element of the Outer Wilds score. The banjo tune is most prevalent when the player finds themselves sitting around a campfire, plucking at the strings of said banjo. This “homely ensemble of guitar, banjo and harmonica” creates a feel of cosiness to the music that can’t help but make the player feel at home. This is a pretty unusual choice for a game set in space. Usually, the whole point of being in a galaxy far, far away is for there to be a sense of the unknown. No matter what kind of media you look at- film, television or books- when you get to space there is a sense of feeling very alien (pun very much intended). You are away from everything that you know so you might as well suspend any disbelief. That is why science fiction soundtracks can sound so otherworldly (I have space puns for days). But the choice to go for a musical style that is so inviting and comforting immediately sets a different kind of mood. It suggests a home, a place of safety and comfort. This is what the game instils when you find yourself around that campfire. Despite being placed in a world that is millions or possibly billions of light years away from our own, Prahlow’s music immediately puts you are at peace. I absolutely love this decision and I think it makes Outer Wilds one of the more unique soundtracks this year.
Once the player leaves the comfort of the campfire, the sound changes to one a little more concurrent to the usual science fiction sound. The introduction of synths creates the traditional sci-fi alien sound but that banjo never truly leaves your side as you are constantly pulled back to the games main theme. “Into the Wilds” is a great example of this. It starts off with the banjo before skyrocketing into an out of this world style synthwave sound, suggesting a traveller bound for discovery and adventure in the wide open galaxy. It then comes back down to the homely banjo theme, grounding you in that comforting place beside the campfire roasting marshmallows. There is also a theme for an alien race called the Nomai which is more piano based, synthetic sounds that continue during the player’s exploration of space and even a brief but lovely song called “Morning” which features David Tangney on the cello. No matter where the soundtrack goes to, it always comes back to that comforting theme.
Outer Wilds is an amazing take on a sci-fi soundtrack. The rustic themes work incredibly well and blend with the synth based sounds to create a soundtrack that reinvents the sound of space travel.
Top Track- Travelers (All Instruments)
Towards the end of the game, there is a moment when all of the instruments come together and join the banjo to create a fully-fledged song. The “Travelers” song even includes whistling performed the aforementioned Alex Beachum from Mobius Digital Games. The song represents a collective coming together of the space travellers, bound together by the music despite the dangerous surroundings. Without going into too much detail the player finds themselves in a time loop under dangerous circumstances, constantly trying to solve a certain problem before it is too late. No matter how precarious the situation is and how deep you find yourself in the darkness of space, “Travelers” instils a sense of hope, camaraderie and home that sticks with you even after the game ends.
7. Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsén, Jonathan Eng and Linnea Olsson
In most cases, video games tend to shape the soundtrack around the games narrative, mechanics and general structure. However, in the case of Sayonara Wild Hearts the music is the basis on which the whole game is formed. Basically, the music IS the game. Unique, unusual and electrifying, Sayonara Wild Hearts boasts and incredible soundtrack that blasts most mainstream music out of the water.
Developed by Swedish game developers Simogo with help from Annapurna Interactive, Sayonara Wild Hearts is described on the official website as “A pop album video game”. The structure of the game is very similar to an album as it focuses on short, punchy levels. The player takes on the role of a young woman whose experience with a broken heart leads her on a path to discover larger meaning in the universe. Gameplay is on rails as the woman traverses the levels via various methods of transportation such as motorcycle and skateboard. Combat ranges from shooting lasers to dance battles. Enemies in the game- fabulously stylish ones at that- can be defeated by pressing buttons in time with the music. Every aspect of the game is tied into the music, making the soundtrack one of the most –if not the absolute most- important elements of the entire game.
Heavily pop influenced, the soundtrack is bubbly, kitschy and as vibrant as the games visuals. The inspiration behind the album is varied, with Simogo referring to the game and music as “a soup made of pop culture”. Just a few of the artists they were inspired by included Carly Rae Jepsen, Sia, Charli XCX and Blümchen whilst some of their gaming and media inspirations ranged from Sailor Moon to Tron, WarioWare and Punch Out. You can certainly hear all these pop culture influences within the soundtrack oddly enough. The creative way in which the music was formed makes for a sound that is both unique and familiar.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of the most creative games released in 2019 and the same can be said for the soundtrack. The music is hugely important to the game and it ends up being one of the best aspects of it. The soundtrack is as good- if not better- than music in the charts today with Linnea Olsson giving a vocal performance as impressive as many female artists out there. Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng have crafted a soundtrack that reflects the charming, neon pop nature of the game that is also brilliant in its own right.
Top Track: A Place I Don’t Know
Whilst I adored the remix of “Clare de Lune” that was created for the game, it seemed unfair not to pick one of the many fantastic original songs for my top track. Not quite as energetic as some of the other tracks “A Place I Don’t Know” plays at the games conclusion and is a song that could be considered a theme for those who have experienced the pain of heartbreak. The game’s narrative centres on a woman whose heart is broken so it is no surprise that this comes across so well in the music. The song is a peaceful but sad entry. It never crosses the line into too morose or morbid, maintaining a chipper feeling with the inclusion of whistles. “A Place I Don’t Know” manages to capture the essence of what it feels like to lose direction in life. No matter how that loss comes about, everyone can relate to having felt it at some point.
6. Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda: Danny Baranowsky
Spin off/crossover game Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necromancer is similar to Sayonara Wild Hearts in that music is an essential element to the overall game. Cadence of Hyrule is a rhythm game and so the player must alter their play style to sync up with the music. The game manages to perfectly intertwine music and gameplay whilst throwing in some incredible Legend of Zelda remixes.
Cadence of Hyrule composer Danny Baranowsky worked with an eclectic team of musicians on the soundtrack, including Jules Conroy (better known by his YouTube handle of FamilyJules7x) who provided all the guitar segments in the soundtrack, vocalist Adriana Figueroa, game composer Riley Koneig, violinist and otamatone connoisseur Michaela Nachtigall, woodwind specialist Kate Letournea and Power Up Audio and their creative director Kevin Regamey. With so much talent, it is no surprise that Baranowsky was able to put together such an amazing soundtrack. What I find interesting is these are all very much contemporary artists who make use of social media and new technologies to create their music. Most are proficient YouTubers to who had an interest in games and pop culture before they ventured into music. This brings another level of understanding to the music. It was worked on by people who are not just amazing musicians and artists, but also big fans of the francahises. It certainly comes across in the finished product as the Cadence of Hyrule soundtrack feels like a labour of love by people who know and respect the original music.
The creative use of music is incredibly endearing in this game. As with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the unusual gameplay mechanics make for a title that is original and fresh despite the crossover of such a well-known franchise. Managing to sound both modern whilst retaining the retro feel of the original games, Cadence of Hyrule is not only a brilliant soundtrack in its own right but also a wonderful tribute to the music of The Legend of Zelda series.
Top Track: Overworld (Combat)
My favourite remix on the Cadence of Hyrule soundtrack is the combat version of the “Overworld” theme. One of the most famous and instantly recognisable themes from the Legend of Zelda series, the “Overworld” theme is remixed here in a techno style that works incredibly well with the rhythm based mechanics of the game. The theme was also successfully remade in the Link’s Awakening remake, so it is great to see such an iconic theme getting some brilliant reworks. “Overworld (Combat)” stays true to the original whilst giving it a cool new twist.
5. Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali and Various Artists
This entry was actually one that I put into my best soundtracks list last year as the first episode of Life is Strange 2 was released in 2018. The following four episodes have since been released and the music only improved as the series went on.
The first season of Life is Strange was well known for its killer soundtrack, both licensed music and the original score. Whilst the second series will probably not become as iconic as the first, the music was still a highlight that draws the player into the story of two brothers desperately trying to find a place of solace following a terrible accident. Artists such as Phoenix, The Streets, First Aid Kit and Milk & Bone are included within the game and emphasise the indie and artistic vibe that the Life is Strange series is known for. DONTNOD Entertainment- the developers of the series, are incredibly adept when it comes to utilising the licenced music within their games. They include them at appropriate times within the game, which may not necessarily be an incredibly important moment. For instance, “On The Flip Of A Coin” by The Streets is a song that can be missed entirely as it is only heard if Sean chooses to switch on the radio in his room in the first episode. He will also start singing along to the song too which is a nice little touch. The song doesn’t come into play in some big narrative moment. Instead, it is used to show a bit of Sean’s character. These moments may not be grandiose but they are pivotal in allowing the player to form an emotional connection with the characters. The use of music in the scene is what allows us to do that.
Jonathan Morali once again creates a score that is simple yet beautiful and emotionally charged. All four episodes include music from Morali and there is no weak link. The score for each episode reflects the events and the characters perfectly, evolving with the characters as they do. There are even themes that represent some of the newer characters that are met along the way, such as “New Perspectives” which is a theme for Sean and Daniel’s mother Karen and “Free Spirits” which represents both the brothers and their grandparents. There is even a little hint of Max and Chloe’s theme from the first game in episode five. There are no bombastic themes or out there styles, just simple, real music. This is what I believe makes the Life is Strange 2 soundtrack one of the best this year and significantly higher on the list than it was last year. The music represents reality and the harsh truths that come with it. There is no pomp or ceremony. The simple and solemn guitar riffs used throughout the score represent this notion well and pull you even further into Sean and Daniel’s story. They also merge well with the choice of licensed music, making the songs feel as though they are related and believably connected to the world within the game.
The Life is Strange 2 soundtrack stands out as a musical composition that is able to tell a story. The licensed music slots in well with the original tracks and brings the story of Sean and Daniel to life whilst also emphasising their journey and hardships. Jonathan Morali’s score gives the game heart- as it did with his score for the first game- and brings emotion and depth to the narrative and characters. It is truly one of the best game soundtracks of 2019.
Top Track: Blood Brothers/Lone Wolf
Without going too far into spoiler territory, “Blood Brothers”/ “Lone Wolf” is a piece of music that plays with two specific endings of the game. There are four major endings to the game with a few variations here and there making for a total of about seven endings. Whilst the Blood Brothers ending is considered as bad by some and good by others, the Lone Wolf ending is a particularly upsetting one (I got it the first time around. I cried then loaded my last save and changed it). Because of the heavy emotion and narrative impact of these endings, Morali’s score here is probably the most emotional it has been since the first season. There is certainly a hint of sadness to it as a melancholy guitar tune is plucked heavily throughout. The theme intensifies in the midway point as Daniel demonstrates the danger of his powers in both endings. He has become something of a living weapon in these endings and after everything the player has been through with him as a sweet little boy, it is difficult to watch. As the theme and the cut scenes end, the player is left to consider the consequences of their choices throughout the game. The emotional impact wouldn’t be anywhere near as high without Morali’s sombre song playing throughout. Brutal yet beautiful, “Blood Brothers”/ “Lone Wolf” is a theme that emphasises the notion of actions, consequences and choices.
4. Devil May Cry 5- Kota Suzuki
One of the heftiest soundtracks on the entire list,(136 songs on the full soundtrack that equates to almost 5 hours of music across 5 discs)Devil May Cry 5 is a soundtrack that soars to incredible heights with its sweeping orchestra and badass battle themes.
Kota Suzuki has been a key player at Capcom for a long time, known predominantly for his work in the Resident Evil series. He is joined by multiple collaborators for the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack- Yoshiya Terayama, Hiromitsu Maeba, Steven McNair, John R. Graham, Casey Edwards, Cody Matthew Johnson and Jeff Rona. Together they have created a soundtrack that bursts with fantastical energy, never dropping out of the high octane gear for even a moment. Elements of dubstep, rock and techno style influences are splashed throughout, making the songs feel even more out of this world. They never lose sight of the source material though; calling back to the theme from Devil May Cry 3 numerous times as well as including a small remix of the SNES Capcom logo theme within the title screen music. There are also different genres explored too such as in “The Heaven of My Hell Opening” which has laid-back, elevator music vibes. The versatility of the composers is what makes this soundtrack so special. Their ability to fuse various genres together and make them work is one thing, but they make sure that it stays true to the game as they do so.
An incredible feat when it comes to video games soundtracks, the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack is exuberant and over the top in the best possible way (just like the game). When asked what the essence of the Devil May Cry series was that he wanted to capture within the music, Kota Suzuki responded with, “Music that rocks…that sounds cool, and exudes originality.” This pretty much sums up the entire feel of the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack and makes it one of the best this year.
Top Track: Devil Trigger
I really love the track “Silver Bullet” but for the sake of how massive this song was, it has to take the top stop. This song is Nero’s battle theme in the game and it was composed by Casey Edwards and performed by Ali Edwards and Cliff Llloret. It is composed rather complexly, mashing up several genres to create one awesome song that kind of makes you want to head bang. There’s a bit of metal and techno/electronica in there as well as some pop and rock too. “Devil Trigger” was incredibly popular upon release, gaining around eleven million YouTube views since then. Influential, powerful and just fun to listen to, “Devil Trigger” is a great anthem for the Devil May Cry series to rally behind.
3. Kingdom Hearts III- Yoko Shimomura
Fans of the Kingdom Hearts series finally got the long awaited third instalment at the beginning of 2019. With the game came a soundtrack that included both new tracks for the game and remixed versions of older music. Despite there not being a huge amount of new and original music, there is a lot to enjoy from the Kingdom Hearts III soundtrack.
As with the other Kingdom Hearts soundtracks, Hikaru Utada wrote and performed two new songs for the third game. “Face My Fears” is a collaborative song with Skrillex that opens the game and “Don’t Think Twice” is the closing theme. Both new songs exude the magical and epic feeling of the Kingdom Hearts universe, making use of a full orchestra for both numbers (with some added Skrillex dubstep for “Face My Fears”). The themes that Hikaru Utada creates for Kingdom Hearts are always so spectacularly beautiful as well as being suitably epic to fit into the game. With her Kingdom Hearts III tracks, she manages to raise the already stupendously high bar that she set for herself. In terms of Yoko Shimomura’s score, there are a few new noticeable additions to the soundtrack. “Scala Ad Caleum” is a violin and piano heavy piece that demonstrates Shimomura’s talents whilst the new Gummi Ship exploration music is catchy and cheerful, almost sounding like something from a Pokémon game. There are also some great new battle themes, including one where Sora faces off against three characters at once who I won’t name for spoiler purposes. Shimomura clearly has an amazing grasp on the series and continued to demonstrate her talent as a composer with Kingdom Hearts III.
I find the music of the Disney worlds particularly impressive in Kingdom Hearts III. Shimomura reflects the various animated worlds with her score despite their originality and lack of connection to the music that we already know from those films. Films like Frozen and the Toy Story movies have such iconic music and although these can be heard in the game (“Let it Go” makes an appearance as does the instrumental to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”), Shimomura also creates a whole new assortment of tracks for each world. The music fits right into each world and not be out of place in their respective film franchises. My particular favourite is the “Kingdom of Corona Field Theme” for the Tangled world. This upbeat and cheerful track plays during the exploration segments of the Tangled world and sounds like it was written by Alan Menken himself- famous Disney composer who wrote the music for the Tangled movie. Shimomura’s ability to create brilliant original music based on established franchises is impressive enough. However, she goes above and beyond expectation by providing music that stands up to the original scores from the Disney films. There are also incredible remixes of music from the other games, such as “Roxas’s Theme” which gets an epic orchestral upgrade.
There has been some backlash towards Kingdom Hearts III from fans and critics and the same judgement has been aimed at the soundtrack also. Whilst the criticisms are understandable, I believe that Kingdom Hearts III provided one of the best gaming soundtracks this year. With its large scale orchestral arrangements, varied styles and Disney inspired world themes, Kingdom Hearts III impresses by offering both old and new arrangements.
Top Track- Dearly Beloved
I wanted to pick an original song for this but I just couldn’t resist putting one of my absolute favourite Kingdom Hearts pieces here with the remix that it got for Kingdom Hearts III. “Dearly Beloved” is a simple yet beautiful piano piece that is absolutely heaving with emotion. The new version plays on the title screen of Kingdom Hearts III and it is a completely perfect way to welcome players back into the world that they have been waiting to come back to for so long. Starting off small, the song escalates to an orchestra before winding back down to the piano. The Kingdom Hearts III version is my favourite version of this track due to the upgrade it received and the nostalgia that it represents. “Dearly Beloved” is an astounding piece of music that feels even more beautiful than it did when we first heard it back in 2002.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses- Takeru Kanazaki,Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was my first experience with a Fire Emblem game and I was blown away by how immersive the whole experience was. One of the elements of the game that really hooked me was the music. The Fire Emblem: Three Houses soundtrack is one that I kept coming back to over and over again.
The main theme of the game- “Edge of Dawn” being the title of the vocal version- is easily one of the strongest of any from gaming music this year. It is reworked constantly throughout the score in a variety of different situations and it never feels out of place. “Edge of Dawn” is perfectly executed, establishing the tone of the game from its first use in the opening. In an article on the soundtrack, Twinfinite.net states that “ it’s critical for long video game soundtracks to have a strong theme that the rest of the tracks can be built around…it’s also important for that theme to be versatile enough that it can fit various moods”. This is very much the case with the main theme as it transitions during the game. It goes from epic opening number to relaxing ambience to bombastic battle theme with ease. The composers have created such a versatile main theme that it can represent any emotion or situation, which is an incredible achievement alone.
The rest of the soundtrack is no less impressive. Though there are tracks that don’t quite reach the level of others, the score is still incredibly enjoyable. There is also a selection of tracks that will only appear in certain story paths, so replaying the game means that you will keep hearing something new. The ambient music throughout is fantastic-particularly the track “Life at Garrech Mach Monastery”- as it is incredibly soothing and despite its repetitive nature, doesn’t get tiresome or boring to listen to. It is constantly relaxing and draws you into the world of the school. The battle music is the opposite situation, hyping the player up with energetic orchestral themes dominated by the brass and the strings section. A great example of this is “Fodlan Winds”, which is a general battle theme that can also get a little repetitive. As with the calmer music, the battle music doesn’t feel boring at any point.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has one of the most dynamic soundtracks of 2019. I immediately wanted it as soon as I heard it whilst playing and it stuck in my mind for a long time afterwards. The score represents the various tones of the game perfectly, from the relaxing monastery exploration to the intense battles to the dramatic time skip. All three composers clearly put a lot of work into the score. They have crafted a soundtrack that reflects the narrative and the characters. The teenagers start off relatively carefree and grow up after a time skip where a war is now taking place. The score perfectly captures this sense of innocence being lost with the juxtaposition of soothing themes and battle music. The game became one of the favourites of many this year and the soundtrack is also a huge achievement that is one of the best.
Top Track- Blue Skies and a Battle
I know a lot of people would want “God-Shattering Star” as the top pick and I would agree that it is an incredible track with awesomely dramatic vocals. However, I think that “Blue Skies and a Battle” deserves some recognition as it is such an awesome piece. The song plays during the Battle of the Eagle and the Lion- the mock battle between the Blue Lion, Golden Deer and Black Eagle Houses. The piece is appropriately epic; this is the battle that you spend a fair amount of time preparing for after all. However, it lacks the hardness of some of the later battle themes that occur during more serious events in the story. There is a sense of playfulness to the song as the students all come together for a mock fight rather than a real one. It also has a superb beat drop that both shocked and pleased me when I first heard it. “Blue Skies and a Battle” may not be the most dramatic of songs on the soundtrack but it represents the Garreg Mach students in their prime, before the horrors of war would later consume them.
1. Death Stranding- Ludvig Forssell
Death Stranding had two albums out around the time it released: the musical score and “Death Stranding: Timefall”. “Timefall” is an album with licensed songs inspired by the game. The album is good but it is Ludvig Forssell’s enigmatic, creative and sublime score that I am choosing as the number one pick for the best video game soundtrack of 2019.
Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding was met with mixed emotions upon release despite the hype that surrounded it beforehand. No matter how disillusioned you were with the game, there is no faulting the incredible music that Ludvig Forssell and his team in the music department have created. A fusion of sci-fi synth, beautiful piano segments, mournful violin tunes and full blown orchestras, the soundtrack is mind-blowingly good. “The Final Waltz” is a great example of using all four of those elements, starting with a synthetic sound and flowing easily into a quiet piano as a lone violin evolves to an orchestra. The piano makes a return toward the end of the piece, joining the lonely violin to create a track that is heaving with emotion. I haven’t played Death Stranding but I could feel the palpable emotion from the in-game scene that this track aligns with. It made me feel something despite not having any kind of context. The synth segments converge with the orchestral elements to create an odd fusion of sounds that really shouldn’t work but completely does.
The soundtrack conveys several different moods and tones throughout. One of the more interesting pieces is “Souless Meat Puppet”, a song with a creeping and eerie melody that gets more menacing as it progresses. It creates an atmosphere again without even knowing what is happening within the game. This then compared to a softer piece like “Strands”- a nine minute track which includes a heavenly choral arrangement, a lovely piano tune and a crashing synth conclusion- shows just how far the soundtrack can be stretched in terms of genre. Like many entries on this list, there is a versatility to it that conveys the various situations and tones throughout the game. Death Stranding is the most impressive example of this.
Forssell went out of his way to create something unique for the Death Stranding soundtrack. In fact, the first place that he, Joel Corelitz (an additional composer for the game) and the team working on the music went when researching for the soundtrack was Home Depot. In an interview with Polygon, Joel said “Ludvig Forssell and I found ourselves in the aisles of Home Depot banging on random objects to hear how they sounded.” From using metal oil drums to duct taping over the strings of their instruments to create a dampening effect, the team wanted to utilise anything and everything to get the unique sound they wanted. They even when as far as to abuse a piano by using a rubber mallet on the inside strings and scraping a gardening rake over them. They went out of their way to create a soundtrack that reflected the bizarre universe that it would later inhabit and their efforts were not in vain. Press F to pay respects to that piano though.
Death Stranding was a polarizing video game. There is no denying that fact. But if you come away from the game feeling disappointed, at least take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication from everyone involved on the title, including the soundtrack. The music is engaging, enlightening and incredibly powerful. I would say that it outdoes plenty of soundtracks from various media forms such as film and television. Forssell and the team behind the music have created something that will be remembered as something of a masterpiece, even if the game itself isn’t.
Top Track- BB’s Theme
This theme is a major element across Death Stranding, important to the narrative and used in the gameplay. The song is intended for a bridge baby- the babies in the amber pods- and it expresses the desire to protect them. Even though there are some peculiar plot points in Death Stranding, this theme of wanting to protect a child of your own is one that is relatable to anyone. Protagonist Sam can whistle the tune of “BB’s Theme” or play it on the harmonica in game and it acts as a crucial plot point that links Sam to another character. Composition wise, the song is fantastic. Jenny Plant’s lullaby style vocals are eerily calming as she is accompanied by whistling. The song progresses from soft synth tones to a full orchestra with the synth continuing to add sci-fi elements throughout. The song is a huge achievement, managing to be incredibly relatable despite the weirdness of Death Stranding in general. One of the strongest forms of love is the love between a parent and child and the song perfectly captures that within its lyrics whilst managing to maintain a cool and edgy sound. The song ends with the sound of a baby cooing, wrapping up the theme for the bridge babies seamlessly. A mature song that links well with the game whilst being great in its own right, “BB’s Theme” takes the top spot as the best song from the best game soundtrack this year.
If you’ve managed to read all the way through this, thank you so much! I’m shocked you made it but I’m also super grateful! I hope you enjoyed my list and would love to hear what you think were the best gaming soundtracks of 2019.
Here is to a great 2020 full of incredible music from incredible games! Check out our soundtrack mix tape here.
Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2019- Part One
2019 has been a year of ups and downs for the video game industry but one aspect that has been consistently excellent is the quality of soundtracks in gaming. The bar is constantly being raised in regard to the standard of music in games, with gaming soundtracks becoming as iconic as film and television scores. There has been a huge amount of amazing video game soundtracks this year so I’m going to be counting down twenty of the best soundtracks from 2019 from across the gaming world. Before we do so, let’s start with some honourable mentions. There are a few games that had brilliant soundtracks that I just couldn’t fit into the main list. Cutting them was a painful process so I thought I would give them and their composers a shout out.
Anthem- Sarah Schachner
Anthem may have received a lukewarm response upon its release in February but one element of the game that cannot be faulted is the soundtrack. Perfectly capturing the futuristic, sci-fi nature of the game, the Anthem score is an achievement that deserves to be acknowledged. It is also great to see a female composer make her mark in an industry dominated by male composers. Schachner clearly understands the world of Anthem and brings it to life excellently.
The Outer Worlds- Justin E. Bell
A recent game that became a hit, The Outer Worlds is another sci-fi style game that allows players to explore various planets and become a helping hand or a terrorising force to the inhabitants. Bell is able to capture the epic science fiction nature of the game, but he blends it with differing genres to create a unique sound. The most noticeable is the nod to the Western genre, reflecting the player’s travels through the vast wilderness of space.
Little Town Hero- Toby Fox
Cutting this one hurt as I really love this soundtrack but with so much great competition this year, unfortunately I couldn’t justify its place. Though the game itself received mixed reviews, Fox’s score oozes with charm. Fox has carved out a place for himself in the gaming world and his soundtracks are always vibrant and bubbly with a hint of powerful emotion. Although Little Town Hero doesn’t have quite the same depth as the scores for Undertale or even Deltarune: Chapter 1, Fox has crafted a little gem that is brimming with personality.
Borderlands 3- Jesper Kyd, Michael McCann and Finishing Move Inc.
When it comes to pure, unadulterated video game fun, Borderlands is the franchise to go to. The long awaited third game released in September and it had a surprisingly varied soundtrack. The eclectic combination of styles comes about thanks to the three separate composers. They each bring a different feel to each world and provide more depth than one might expect from Borderlands.
Metro Exodus- Alexei Omelchuk
The music from this game is incredibly powerful, perfectly reflecting the post-apocalyptic nature of the story. Based on the Metro book series which is set in Russia after a devastating nuclear war, the game is a first-person shooter with a strong narrative aspect. Ukrainian composer Alexei Omelchuk creates an eerie and haunting soundtrack that also invokes a great deal of emotion for important story moments and gripping tension for action scenes. His music could easily go toe to toe with a film soundtrack, and it would probably win.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Remake)- Ryo Nagamatsu
Ryo Nagamatsu truly hits the nail on the head with his remake score. Bursting with cuteness and personality, the Link’s Awakening remake soundtrack cleverly combines an 8-bit musical style with orchestrated pieces. This invokes an element of nostalgia whilst also bringing the game into the contemporary video game scene.
These honourable mentions deserved a moment to be recognised and praised but now let’s get into the list. I’ll be listing entries twenty to eleven in this instalment, with part two coming afterwards.
20. Untitled Goose Game: Dan Golding
A surprise hit of 2019 was the indie game centred on the player controlling a slightly dastardly goose aptly named Untitled Goose Game. The game was praised widely and quickly became an internet sensation due to the passive aggressive nature of said goose. Interestingly enough, developers House House weren’t actually planning on having a prominent soundtrack. This soon changed following the release of the games trailer in 2017. Classical piece “Prelude No. 12: Minstrels” by Debussy was used to highlight the silly antics of the playable goose. The music was edited in a way that it almost seemed like it was framed around the goose’s behaviour, adding an extra layer of humour to an already pretty funny premise. The popularity of the trailer led to the decision to include music, but not just as a background element. The music of the game is situational in that it changes based on the actions of the player. Golding went through an elaborate process to bring this to life, but it was well worth the effort. As the goose lurks around its victims, the music will feel more low energy, but it perks up as soon as the player’s dastardly deeds are being committed. The piano tunes that follow your naughty goose around are all variations of six Debussy Preludes, with some original music from Golding also appearing on the radio in game. Due to this incredibly smart decision to include reactive music, I had to put Untitled Goose Game on this list even if the soundtrack itself is only half the length of some of the other entries here. Creative, unique and wonderfully executed, Untitled Goose Game succeeds in creating a soundtrack that reacts to your various devilish goose deeds.
Top Track: The Garden
It is difficult to highlight actual tracks from the game due to the reactive nature of the music but the piano piece that is used as you annoy the gardener in the game’s first level-The Garden- is my favourite. It is an example of Golding fantastically adapting Debussy, but it also somehow manages to reflect the actions of a wayward goose. The scheming of the goose; the irritable nature of his victims; the bad behaviour with no rhyme or reason; it is all captured perfectly in “The Garden”. It encapsulates everything the goose represents: being a bit of a nuisance.
19. Astral Chain: Satoshi Igarashi
Nintendo title Astral Chain is a game that unexpectedly rose to prominence upon its release in August 2019. An entirely original IP, Astral Chain is a hack and slash adventure game centred on a world known as “The Ark” and a police force known as “Neuron” who the player is a detective for. The music is a dynamic aspect of the game as it regularly fluctuates between three distinctive genres: metal, orchestral and electronica. The score boasts a range of tracks and it is impressive how Igarashi- who previously scored Bayonetta 2– manages to switch so easily between them. You get a feel for how a scene in the game is playing out just by listening to the soundtrack due to Igarashi’s masterful manipulation of the various genres. In a developer blog by PlatinumGames, Igarashi gives some credit where it is due to two other composers who helped out on the game, Naofumi Harada and Hitomi Kurokawa, as well as two outside composers who were also involved, Masahiro Aoki and Satoshi Setsune. Igarashi also includes a graph on this blog depicting the music genres used in the game and how they reflect certain moods during the game such as tense and calm. This shows the importance of maintaining the three genre structure and how Igarashi and his colleagues went about enforcing this method throughout the game. Not only does the score juggle three separate genres, it does it incredibly well. This versatile nature of the score is what makes Astral Chain one of the best soundtracks this year.
Top Track: Dark Hero- Female Version- sung by Beverly
Despite the brilliant tracks throughout, it is one of the actual songs from the game that I have chosen for the best of the soundtrack. There are two different versions of this song, a male and a female version. I chose the female version as Beverly-the artist who sings it- has an incredible voice that amps up the epic nature of the song. The male version is still good, but it is incredibly auto tuned. This does actually fit in with the Astral Chain world with its robotic sound, but Beverly’s version is still the more enjoyable. The song is a perfect encapsulation of both metal and electronica and sounds like it was ripped straight out of a mainstream anime. With great vocals and awesome instrumentals, the song is fabulously over the top and stands out significantly.
18.Sea of Solitude: Guy Jackson
Berlin based indie game developers Jo-Mei Games released the adventure game Sea of Solitude in the summer of 2019. The game centres on a girl named Kay who has turned into a monster. As she traverses through a submerged city on a boat, she encounters various creatures and other monsters as she goes about trying to become human again. Sea of Solitude acts as metaphor for depression, loneliness, fear and battling your inner demons and the musical score is a reflection of Kay’s fight against her personal darkness. Composer Guy Jackson was brought on to score the game after he demonstrated some melancholy pieces of music he had been working on in his spare time during a meeting with CEO of Jo-Mei games Cornelia Geppert. The score has moments that reflect a significant amount of emotion, from anger to pain to desolate sadness. Jackson captures each emotion perfectly with his simple yet raw and powerful music. The game itself may have received mixed reviews, but there is no faulting Jackson’s carefully crafted score which stemmed from a folder of sad music on his computer. This is why I believe Sea of Solitude has one of the best soundtracks of the year. From humble and unpolished beginnings, Jackson managed to create a perfect score to represent the tumultuous traversal of mental health issues that we all deal with at some point.
Top Track: I Picture You Before Me- sung by Stella Angelika
“I Picture You Before Me” kind of acts as the games main theme as it appears at the beginning and at the end of the game. There is an instrumental version of it but the version I have chosen is a version sung by Stella Angelika with Guy Jackson accompanying her on the piano. The unique nature of the song’s inception is intriguing, as they did not begin recording with the song completely finished. Jackson referred to the state of the song as a “sketch” when he and Angelika began recording. He began playing the piano and whilst Angelika sang some lyrics she had written on her phone, it was mostly an improvised composition. Although the final version was given some fine tuning, the improvisation was kept. This improvised style reflects the true emotion of those involved, especially Stella Angelika who stated that the lyrics she had written on her phone to aid her with her improve were written during “the darkest time”. She went on to say that “The things that I was feeling really went into this little sketch”. This raw emotion is what makes this track a stand out on the album, reflecting the nature of the game as well as capturing real human emotion within the artist. It is a unique way of creating a song, but Jackson and Angelika really nailed it with “I Picture You Before Me”.
17. Pokémon Sword and Shield: Minako Adachi and Go Ichinose featuring Toby Fox
Pokémon Sword and Shield is a game that has been getting some flack since its release in November. Despite praise from critics, fans have slated the animations, the incomplete Pokédex and the narrative. Once again, Sword and Shield is a game with outstanding music that outweighs the negative energy surrounding the actual game. The soundtrack represents the end of an era as Pokémon music aficionado Junichi Masuda is not involved. In an interview last year, Masuda stated that “it’s important to have the younger generation at Game Freak take over the development of Pokémon as a series”. Masuda has been involved in the series since the very first Red and Blue games. Whilst it is sad to see him depart, the new composers bring heaps of energy to the behemoth of a score (there are around 72 tracks) whilst maintaining the key elements that are the most recognisable from the series. The original music from the first games are referenced constantly throughout. The title screen theme is an homage to the main theme from Pokémon Red and Blue, which became a theme that most Pokémon media rallies under (it was even remixed brilliantly in the ending credits to Detective Pikachu). The Sword and Shield remix revitalises the theme to represent the new game, the new region and the new trainers ready to set out on their adventures. Other classic themes such as the “Pokémon Centre” music, the “Evolution theme” and the “Wild Pokémon Victory Theme” are included with a modernised sound but little else changed. As much as I loved the homages to classic Pokémon music, it was the new themes that particularly caught my attention. The soundtrack switches genres frequently, including funky electronica, cutesy pop, punkish metal and even a bit of country mixed in there with “Hulbury Town”. There is something for everyone and it is all extremely enjoyable to listen to. No matter how Pokémon Sword and Shield will be remembered in the grander scheme of the Pokémon franchise, the music will surely be remembered for its greatness.
Top Track: Battle! (Gym Leader)
Whilst Toby Fox’s “Battle! (Battle Tower)” theme that he created especially for the game is an enjoyable addition to the soundtrack, it is the “Gym Leader Battle” theme that truly steals the show here. The theme is bombastic, highly energetic and wouldn’t sound out of place in a nightclub. The excitement of Pokémon battles is highlighted in this track, particularly when the crowd cheers start to kick in about three quarters of the way through the song. Their chanting is reminiscent of those attending a real-life sports match and it is a clever feature to integrate into the music. The “Gym Leader Battle” theme is awesome and definitely a standout on the Sword and Shield soundtrack.
16. A Plague Tale: Innocence: Olivier Deriviere
Set in 14th century France, A Plague Tale: Innocence is mostly a stealth based game about a teenager named Amicia and her younger brother Hugo attempting to find a safe place after their home was invaded by the Inquisition. They must deal with various enemies as they navigate their war-torn homeland, most notably swarms of plague rats that devour everything in sight. As with many games where the narrative takes precedence, the soundtrack is an important element and one that is wonderfully executed by Deriviere whose previous video game work includes Remember Me and Vampyr.
Due to the time period in which the game is set, the main focus of the score is only on a few instruments. There is an emphasis on the strings section such as the violin, cello and guitar to encompass the medieval mood. The strings are used in both the action sequences and the quieter moments to great effect. In the tense moments where the player may find themselves sneaking around to avoid danger, the strings will screech in a deep and booming fashion such as in the track “The Inquisition”. They often start slow and build to something that goes from slightly unnerving to utter heart pounding tension. These segments reminded me strongly of music found in television, such as Bear McCreary’s The Walking Dead or Ramin Djawdi’s Game of Thrones scores. Both make great use of the strings for epic moments and Deriviere’s work here wouldn’t be out of place amongst them. The Soundtrack World website describes the intimidating string work perfectly, “…contains a pattern that keeps repeating, but instead of getting tedious, enough variation has been added to the pattern to keep the music interesting and gets progressively darker and builds to a broader sounding climax.” This is certainly the case for “The Inquisition”, and several other tracks, the ones Soundtrack World references including “Orphans” and “Escape”.
The calmer moments of the soundtrack are equally powerful but it invokes more soothing emotions. The soft pluck of the guitar strings is calming, despite the stressful situation that Amicia and Hugo find themselves in. They act as peaceful interludes amongst the violence and decimation within the game and Deriviere composes these pieces beautifully.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a perfect example of how a simple soundtrack made up of only a handful of instruments can be just as effective as a complex one. Deriviere keeps the soundtrack firmly grounded in the 14th century game setting whilst also breathing life into this plague infested world. Amicia and Hugo’s journey is often without music in-game but when the soundtrack does kick in, the fear, violence and life or death scenarios feel all the more real.
Top Track: Father
I was torn between this track and “Beyond the Horizon” here. “Beyond the Horizon” is unique in that it is the only song that makes use of a different style and different instruments, including an organ and some male vocals. However, I believe that “Father” has a stronger emotional impact. “Father” is the second track on the soundtrack and it encompasses the childlike innocence of Amicia and the connection between her and her father before her world is turned upside down. It represents that which a great deal of us still cling to: optimism and hope. It is a simple guitar piece with a small strings section kicking in about halfway through. Beautiful and hopeful, the song suggests a peaceful life. Although this peace is ultimately shattered, it reflects a happier time for the siblings. Sometimes being able to reflect on these happier moments is what keeps us going, making this piece feel incredibly human.
15. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab
When it comes to franchises, Star Wars is one of the most iconic of them all. Anyone who is able to work on anything even remotely to do with it- films, games, television, terrible holiday specials- is sure to be subject to criticism and intense scrutiny by the hordes of dedicated Star Wars fans. This goes for the music of the franchise too. John Williams created one of the most iconic and beloved film scores of all time. Other composers have chipped in via the various spin off movies and television shows (most recently Ludwig Göransson in his incredible music for The Mandalorian). It’s a hefty task but when it came to score the music for the latest Star Wars game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab took up the challenge and did amazingly well.
With John Williams’s soundtracks, he captured the feel of a completely fictional sci-fi world whilst maintaining some relatability and humanity with tracks such as “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “The Force Theme”. Barton and Haab are able to do the same here, blending bombastic, orchestral action pieces with softer pieces that are equally orchestral but make use of the woodwind section to create a soothing sci-fi atmosphere. The score is so convincing at times that I honestly wondered if John Williams had a hand in it in some way. The inspiration that Barton and Haab took from Williams is incredibly clear to anyone, even those who may have only heard the main Star Wars theme. However, there is an interesting use of music in Fallen Order that does separate it somewhat from Williams’s orchestral inspiration.
The opening of the game has a fascinating use of music that hasn’t really been seen in the Star Wars universe before. A strange, alien sounding song can be heard and as we focus in on playable protagonist Cal Kestis, we realise that this song is actually music that he is listening to on his headphones. The use of music within the Star Wars universe itself is rarely delved into (except the weird cantina acts) and-correct me if I’m wrong internet- I’m pretty sure that no one has ever been shown just listening to a recorded artist on a music player. It is an interesting place to start the game, with an alien song rather than an orchestral score. We all know the intense and mind-blowing way that the movies open, so I found this opening a brilliant twist on the use of music to introduce us to a Star Wars adventure. Oh, and fun fact, the alien band that Cal is listening to is actually a Mongolian heavy metal band who use throat chanting in their songs. You’re welcome for that titbit.
The soundtrack has not been officially released so I’m not even entirely certain of the names of all the tracks despite my research. There are a few dotted around out there, mostly based on the names of the various planets that you visit such as Kashyyk and Dathomir. There’s even a petition to get the soundtrack officially released which I’ll link here if you are interested. Though I can’t be specific with titles from the soundtrack, it is clear that Barton and Haab had a clear understanding of the Star Wars universe as their music slots straight into it without a second glance. There are moments of brilliance that feel ripped straight from the movies as well as quieter moments that are equally strong. There is no doubting that Barton and Haab succeeded in pulling the player into a galaxy far, far away with their brilliant music.
Top Track: Cal Kestis Theme
Whilst I couldn’t find an official upload of “Cal’s Theme”, a YouTuber by the name of Flash Music put together the pieces of Cal’s Theme that they could decipher throughout the game. Thanks Flash Music! “Cal’s Theme” is quite a whimsical number in its initial iterations, suggesting a character that has much to learn and has a great journey ahead of him. In this compilation, the theme gets more mature as the game progresses. I love when composers use a particular theme for a character that alters throughout as that character develops. That is exactly was Barton and Haab do for “Cal’s Theme” and it is a brilliant way to show that his path will not be an easy one and he may not come out the other side of it as the same person.” Cal’s Theme” easily stands up against other character themes throughout the Star Wars franchise, even one such as “Rey’s Theme” from the latest trilogy, and that is why I feel it is one of the best pieces from the soundtrack.
14. Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro and Inspion Izene Inc.
Catherine: Full Body is a remaster and extended version of the original Catherine game from eight years ago. The remaster includes 21 new tracks and this soundtrack is what I am putting on the list. The Catherine soundtrack was great at bringing together an eclectic group of music genres and somehow making them all work amazingly together. The Catherine: Full Body soundtrack continues this tradition with some awesome remixes of classical pieces, smooth and soothing jazz melodies and hip hop songs that sound ripped straight from the mainstream music charts. Composer Shoji Meguro- famous for his work on the Persona series– enlisted the help of Inspion Inzene Inc for the extended soundtrack due to their help on the sound design of the original title (I’m linking an interesting article in regards to Inspion’s involvement but be warned that the website is in Japanese!). This collaboration works well as there is a sense of familiarity regarding the soundtrack but a fresh new set of tracks to distinguish the new material from the original content.
The Catherine: Full Body soundtrack is just as creative, eclectic, unique and quirky as the soundtrack for Catherine was, with just the right combination of various genres. It makes for an interesting listen that offers up a bit of something for everyone whilst expanding the already brilliant original material.
Top Track: Tomorrow (Rin’s Theme)
For all its varying genres of music, the piece that stood out to me the most was the simple yet beautifully performed “Tomorrow.” Acting as a theme for the new character in Full Body Qatherine- known as Rin- the theme is simple and sweet and incredibly soothing. Rin is a new neighbour who befriends Vincent in the game. The tune is played by Rin on the piano and acts as a tool for helping Vincent during his nightmares. This helpful nature is reflected in the melody of the song, which echoes with a benevolent nature. Despite there being some amazing remixes of classical music involved in the soundtrack (the “Ride of the Valkyries” remix is my personal favourite) “Tomorrow” is a lovely tune that brings some sweetness to the game.
13. Afterparty: scntfc
Following the success of their first game Oxenfree, indie game developers Night School Studio continued to demonstrate their strength in the indie game field with their recent release Afterparty. Afterparty follows Milo and Lola, two best friends who find themselves suddenly in Hell with no recollection as to how they died. Composer Andrew Rohrmann- known by his stage name scntfc- returns to score Afterparty following his work on Oxenfree. The score is a unique mix of booming club style electronica and creeping, atmospheric, organ heavy tunes that embodies a theme worthy of the underworld.
Whilst there are other elements that pop up throughout, the game mostly revolves around the premise drinking and partying and this is reflected well in the soundtrack. Milo and Lola find out that the only way to escape from Hell is to out-drink Satan himself, making getting wasted pretty important to the plot. The music encompasses a techno vibe that would be associated with a party heavy environment. It’s fun to listen to and is easy to imagine a bunch of drunken party goers dancing uneasily to the infectious beats.
The electronic techno music is definitely an element that makes this soundtrack one of the best this year, but the ability to infuse it with a different style completely is what makes it great. I would say that the other style of music is a crossover of rock and religion. I’ll use the track, “Your Own, Personal Demon” as an example. It begins with an organ and develops with choral voices, drumbeats and eventually includes the electric guitar. There is an element of music that one may think of when considering Heaven, Hell or religious matters (organs and a chorus of singers) then it merges with the style that reflects the badass that is Satan in Afterparty. After all, he is the Lord of the Underworld who throws 24/7 parties. A cool guitar riff would suit him nicely. With this mashup of musical styles, scntfc creates an interesting music combination that is both clever and enjoyable.
The music of Afterparty is proof that taking musical risks- such as merging styles that may not seem compatible- can really pay off. There has clearly been a lot of thought put into which musical genres reflect the games premise and characters best and it all comes together nicely. With Afterparty, scntfc has scored another incredible soundtrack for Night School Studios. Here’s hoping they continue their collaboration in the future.
Top Track- Hades Gonna Hate
“Schoolyard Strangler” is a perfect representation of how the various genres combine to create one unique track that reflects the (under) world of Afterparty perfectly. However, I just couldn’t resist putting “Hades Gonna Hate” as the top track as it is pure electronic enjoyment. It seriously sounds like a song in the mainstream music charts today with its awesome techno beats and addictive riffs. I dare you not to at least tap your foot whilst listening to this one.
12. Code Vein: Go Shiina
When I first started listening to the Code Vein soundtrack, I was struck by how dramatic and powerful the first track alone was. Honestly, the sudden choral voices made me jump a little. Booming and harmonic in style, the soundtrack is incredibly epic and shockingly well done. Despite having licensed music included, I’ll be focusing on the musical score of the game.
Code Vein is a role playing game set in a post-apocalyptic society where a terrible and mysterious event led to the destruction of humanity. Whilst many games have dystopian settings, few of them go as bombastic with their music as Code Vein does. The score is highly orchestral, making the game come alive. It is hard not to feel something when a swelling chorus and orchestra bursts to life as you play. The player battles various monsters and vampiric creatures throughout the game and the music plays a key part. Fights can quickly become more effective once the music begins to intensify and the score alters with player decisions. This dynamic approach to the soundtrack did cause issues for the composer though, as Go Shiina suggests this in a behind the scenes video on the game where he states, “the music needs to be composed in a way that allows for change at any time without undercutting the track, and these changes aren’t necessarily limited to dark sounds that match the backing.” It was clearly a struggle to include reactive music but Shiina pulls it off to the point where even the most tedious of battles can be uplifted by the power of the soundtrack.
Code Vein is another game that received mixed reviews upon release but as with the other entries on this list with the same issue, the soundtrack is far from mediocre. Shiina was given a fair amount of freedom on the project, “They basically let me do what I wanted with the composition”, he says in the BTS video. I personally think this was a great move on behalf of Bandai Namco. They clearly placed a lot of trust in Shiina, likely due to his previous work with them on games such as the God Eater series. They were right to do so, despite his Code Vein work being “very strong and hard compared to the (God Eater) music”. This hardness is apparent throughout, with certain tracks literally booming. “Main Theme” is a great example of this (the one I first listened to that gave me a slight scare). It immediately opens up with a chanting chorus of voices followed quickly by a bellowing organ before the full orchestra kicks in. A review from Shack News accurately describes the singing as an “almost-Gregorian monk-chanting piece”. This is such a unique way to introduce the player to the game. Don’t forget, this is only the main menu. This kind of introduction is important as it is the first impression that the player gets. This intro indicates that the player is certainly in for an epic journey.
Code Vein manages to inflict some serious damage with its astounding music that begins as soon as the game is started up. It doesn’t let up throughout and can uplift the player during battle due to the interactivity and intensity of the score. Code Vein is yet another fantastic soundtrack that may not have gotten the credit it deserved due to the reaction from critics.
Top Track: Memory of the Lost
I know I’ve been heaping praise on the “Main Theme” of Code Vein but for my top track, I have to choose the melancholy “Memory of the Lost”. Played during a sequence in the game that delves into a certain character’s memories, “Memory of the Lost” is an emotionally charged piece of music. Starting off with the string section, the piece then begins to include a piano and a female vocal performance. The composition of the song screams anime and that is definitely not a bad thing. Anime has some of most inspiring and beautiful soundtracks and this track is certainly the best that Code Vein offers.
11. Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead
PlayStation 4 exclusive Days Gone was released to mixed reviews in April of 2019 but the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard this year. Acting as a composer for films and television as well as video games, Nathan Whitehead has created a score that sucks you into rural post-apocalyptic Oregon and doesn’t let go. In Days Gone the player takes on the role of Deacon St John, a biker who is surviving alone after a pandemic turned people into “Freakers” (basically fast zombies). The score is a versatile collection that ranges from terror inducing themes for the Freakers and softer numbers for emotional moments in the story.
Whitehead previously worked on some of the films in The Purge franchise so it is no surprise that he is incredibly well adept at invoking a feeling of suspense and imminent danger within his score. His piece “The Freakshow” is a haunting theme for the Freakers that immerses you in a deep feeling of dread. It is a perfect monster theme but there is also a touch of softness to it to remind the listener of the human that once resided within. When discussing his work on the PlayStation Blog, Whitehead mentions that this was essential for the theme, “It was…important to maintain a thread of humanity”. “The Freakshow” builds and builds until it becomes heavily reliant on the string section and the sense of tension that it can bring (the best example of utilising the strings like this is the theme from Psycho). There is an overall tone of fear but that small yet potent inclusion of something to reference the Freakers humanity is a nice touch that shows that Whitehead clearly went out of his way to bring some gravitas to this score.
Whilst the more harrowing and action-packed scores are exciting to listen to, I found myself drawn to the quieter pieces. Whitehead noted that his two biggest influences on the score are “Deacon…and the setting of the Pacific Northwest” and I found that this came across most powerfully in the softer moments of the score. There is a certain peaceful nature to the various guitar riffs, especially when combined with an orchestra. Whitehead wanted to create an “organic, lived-in sound with a touch of Americana” and this is particularly powerful in the guitar heavy tracks. You can’t help but hear the rural American countryside, although Whitehead did say that he didn’t want it to “sound too country”. I think he succeeds in this as there isn’t a permeating twang that you get with pure country scores. It represents the beauty of the environment that Deacon finds himself in during his travels whilst also reflecting Deacon as a character and his connection to nature.
The Days Gone soundtrack manages to invoke a plethora of emotions, from serenity to tension to fear and back again. Whitehead shows off his versatility as a composer whose score changes with the players actions, such as increasing in tension if Deacon happens to run into a pack of Freakers. There are similarities to Gustavo Santolalla’s The Last of Us soundtrack (one of my favourite game soundtracks of all time) in that the composer has perfectly managed to capture both the feeling of a desolate and dangerous world and the struggles of the last bastion of humanity. Despite other elements of Days Gone not being so well received, the soundtrack is easily one of the standout features of the game. Clearly a labour of love on Whitehead’s part, Days Gone is undoubtedly one of the best soundtracks in gaming this year.
Top Track: I Remember
One of the most affecting tracks of Days Gone is “I Remember”, a track about Deacon and his life before the outbreak that destroyed the world. It is a heartfelt track with a focus on the guitar, creating a soothing atmospheric tone. The theme acts as a reflection of Deacon’s past with hints of themes from his future. The piece slowly builds to a powerful orchestral theme before ending with the quiet guitar again. Whitehead said that the piece was meant to be “wistful and a little hopeful…to reflect Deacon’s resolve.” The lower guitar moments seem to represent the wistful elements, with the crescendo symbolising Deacon’s strength and “resolve.” Beautifully created and almost rustic in its tone, “I Remember” is the most striking piece from Days Gone that shows how game scores can be just as moving as movie scores.
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