SimAnimals (Winifred Phillips)

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The latest in a long and storied series of Sim games, SimAnimals places players in control of a forest rather than a city, but with all the requisite tools and gameplay mechanics still in place. Along for the expedition was composer Winifred Phillips, best known at the time for her contributions to God of War and fresh off a remarkably creative take on Speed Racer that remains sadly unavailable.

Phillips conjures up a unique soundscape for the forest, mixing the pastoral sound one would expect with jazzy colors straight out of Gershwin. As in the opening “Sim Animals Theme,” this style suggests a bustling ecosystem while lending a contemporary flair and upbeat tempo to the proceedings. Explored throughout the album in tracks like “Free Play” and the dazzling end credits suite, and anchored by strong rhythmic pianos and mallets, the sound is a delight.

As in Speed Racer, many of the tracks utilize sound effects as instruments, though in a much more ambient sense. Birdsong and running water wind throughout tracks like “Trailhead,” anchoring the sometimes urban music firmly in the forest. One could make the argument that the music would be stronger without these effects, but they’re generally subtle enough to be enjoyed or ignored as the listener prefers.

The music does at times depart from the strong style Phillips has defined for the title. Darker tracks such as “Danger Woods” and the first part of “Dry Gulch” take a more menacing tone — appropriate in the context of the game, but less effective as stand alone listens surrounded by lighter material. Luckily, these songs are a tiny minority of the music.

SimAnimals is by and large an intricate, delightful score. While the sound effects and darker passages may be off-putting to some, the pastoral jazz fusion that forms the majority of the music is involving and perfect for its setting, as evinced by its licensing to appear in several television commercials that seek to create just such an atmosphere. Phillips’ talent for creating interesting sounds and developing them in surprising ways has paid off with further work, including Spore Hero, the video game version of Legend of the Guardians, and even an Assassin’s Creed title, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation — all of which are well worth the time to seek out (and are widely available to purchase).

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