Game Music Bundle 7 (Various Artists)

Cover

Once again, the good folks at the Game Music Bundle have released a selection of video game soundtracks for the perusal of enthusiasts. Largely hailing from indie games outside the scope of the contemporary industry, and often by young and hungry composers eager to make their mark on the industry, the Game Music Bundle offers digital downloads of multiple albums across two price tiers. Donating a minimum of $1 unlocks one tier, while a minimum of $10 unlocks the other, with a minimum suggested donation of, fittingly, $13.37.

These capsule reviews are provided to help anyone who might be wavering in their decision to purchase and support the musicians and projects involved. The window to buy is very limited, and while many of the soundtracks are available on iTunes, Bandcamp, and elsewhere…some are exclusives that will never be available again!

This particular Game Music Bundle is no longer available, but many of the individual albums are; purchase links have been provided where appropriate. Go here to be notified of future releases!

$1 Minimum Albums

The Banner Saga (Austin Wintory)
The Banner Saga is one of the most famous Kickstarter success stories, a game funded by 20,000 backers with just the promise of what was to come. Girded with that cash, the developers were able to hire rising star Austin Wintory and a live ensemble, The Dallas Winds, replete with soloists and singers. The percussion and string-heavy score is a relatively close cousin to Skyrim, with the same sense of Nordic-ness about it and singers bringing the full force of ancient languages to bear. There are times when Wintory’s music outstrips the sonic abilities of his limited group of performers, primarily in the large action cues; anyone annoyed by singing in what sounds like Old Norse will be turned off as well. Still, the album is overall a very sparse and finely crafted work.
Rating: * * * *
Purchase

Device 6 (David Olsén & Jonathan Eng)
Device 6 presents the sound of swinging 60s spies as filtered through the lens of swinging 60s acid trips. It features a core of well-done, off kilter spy sounds and tropes and then passes them through odd audio filters, adds bizarre sound effects in places, and generally does its best to create a blindsiding reversal of expectations. It’s an interesting effort when the pieces lock together (as in “An Elaborate Study,” which offsets a cool 60s melody with towering brass hits) but the techniques fail or distract as often as they succeed.
Rating: * * *
Purchase

The Broken Age: Act 1 (Peter McConnell)
Another Kickstarter game development success story, The Broken Age reunited the lead developer and composer of Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer and Peter McConnell, to attempt another adventure game in the grand old tradition of Lucasarts. Financial difficulties with the project led to it being released as two separate “acts;” this is the first, and thanks to Kickstarter McConnell was able to work with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and a San Francisco ensemble to record the music live. The result is a touchingly melodic score that often incorporates a very innocent sound, often on malleted percussion, to echo the “childhood’s end” theme expressed through the game’s twin protagonists. McConnell proves as adapt at managing an orchestra as he was with a jazz ensemble for Grim, and the music winds up as more a unifying force than anything, bringing together two two disparate environments and characters. Highly recommended.
Rating: * * * * *
Purchase

The Floor is Jelly (Disasterpeace & Ian Snyder)
A really bizarre album, part affable indie guitar strumming, part white noise relaxation CD, with a 20-minute track of synthesized ambient music as its stinger. People who know Disasterpeace from works like FEZ will probably be disappointed by the sound here, and while individual tracks by he and Ian Snyder are highlights, the album as a whole is a bit of a discordant mess (though that may have been exactly what the composers were aiming for).
Rating: * *
Purchase

Luftrausers (KOZILEK)
This aerial shooter has a soundtrack made up of three disparate elements fused together: heroic major-key music modeled on that of shmup soundtracks of yore, aggressive techno/trance beats, and the sound effect of boots stomping in unison. Nearly ever track has all three elements present, each taking their turn onstage with interesting and sometimes uneasy transitions between them. The music would have been stronger without any sound effects at all, but it presents enough of an interesting fusion of diverse styles to be worth a look.
Rating: * * *
Purchase

$10 Minimum Albums

Transfiguration (Austin Wintory)
Journey was in many ways Austin Wintory’s breakout score, highly regarded and well-received. For the Game Music Bundle 7, Wintory unveils an arrangement of highlights from Journey for solo piano. Stripped to the bare minimum, the sparse solos are quietly involving and the lively “Road of Trials” in particular is a virtuoso performance. The final song, “I Was Born For This,” marries the vocals of the original to a new piano arrangement for an entirely new spin on it. Piano lovers and Journey fans will find much to like here.
Rating: * * * *
Purchase

Starbound Orchestral OST (Curtis Schweitzer)
The score to a still-in-development, massive game incorporating facets of popular titles like Minecraft and Terraria, the Starbound Orchestral OST offers an equally massive amount of music: over three-and-a-half hours. The majority of the music is gentle, classically inclined, and surprisingly acoustic for a science fiction score. It’s music that is more about tone than theme, but it is always melodic even at its most classical; the best tracks are those that feature the piano (“Eridanus Supervoid”) or allow lightheartedness to creep into the equation (the delightful, album-highlight “Stellar Formation”). It’s worth noting that the concluding 45 minutes, the “Experimental OST,” are quite different, offering up a Hans-Zimmer-inspired cocktail of electronics and occasional ostinatos that’s much closer to the “stereotypical” sci-fi game sounds of exploration and combat, but no less compelling for it. A long, occasionally somewhat draggy journey, but a delightful one.
Rating: * * * *
Purchase

The Yawhg EP (Halina Heron & Ryan Roth)
This quirky and visually arresting indie RPG is all about preparing for doomsday, and its soundtrack reflects that bleak, navelgazing mood (if not the vibrantly quirky art of the game itself). Seemingly mastered from vinyl, it features analog white noise throughout and most of the tracks feature singing that seems to be coming from a room or two over. More than anything the album, even the instrumental tracks, seems like a self-distributed indie concept album with appropriately dour and spartan, well, everything. If you’re a sucker for this sound, you may find this album a revelation; otherwise, it’s best enjoyed in the context of its unique game.
Rating: * *
Purchase

Magnetic By Nature (Lance Montgomery)
Magnetic by Nature is, as one might intuit from the title, an entire;y electronic album. But save for a few moments of harshness near the end, it is almost entirely gentle, flowing synths. Made up of long, meaty tracks of electronic ambience, Magnetic by Nature will probably play best to lovers of Brian Eno and Michael Nyman.
Rating: * * *
No purchase link available

Escape Goat 2 Original Soundtrack (MagicalTimeBean)
With a name like “Escape Goat,” one must hope for some kind of all-redeeming wackiness, and the soundtrack, at least, delivers. It’s bright, self-consciously synthy with bubbly melody and intense motion, all with a light, light dusting of 1980s synth flavor which some might call cheese. Aficionados of that sound, and of winsomely catchy synthesized music, will call it delightful.
Rating: * * * * *
Purchase

Curious Merchandise (Ben Prunty)
Perhaps the most aptly-named album in the bundle, Curious Merchandise mixes low-key electronics in a diverse set of styles with occasional intrusive sound effects and filters. When the music is allowed to breathe on its own it’s quite interesting, if often content to meander in the background. One has to wonder why the melodic, astounding “Ashur the Sky God” at the end of the album is so much of a one-off; if that sound were more prevalent over the affable but occasionally anonymous electronics and sound effects elsewhere in the album, it would be a sure winner.
Rating: * * *
Purchase

Winnose: Original Soundtrack (Calum Bowen & Todd Luke)
Bizarre. There is no better or more apt descriptor for this aggressive cocktail of high-pitched synth, scratchy guitars, and the occasional indie vocals than that. It’s an assault on the senses, creative to be sure but also headache-inducing. If anything, it’s like the scores to The Yahwg, The Floor Is Jelly, and Into the Box stuck in a blender set to “frappé.”
Rating: * *
Purchase

Eldritch Original Soundtrack (David Pittman)
A game best described as “Minecraft meets Cthulhu,” Eldritch took the roguelike aspects of the world’s best-selling cube simulator and married them to H.P. Lovecraft. The music, though, seems to take the most inspiration from Matt Uelmen’s score to Diablo, with acoustic guitar hits and squealing electrics amid dark sound design. Watery burbles and whispers certainly add a layer of uneasiness to the music, but with little or no tonality or melody in the ambient sound design, ultimately this is a score to appreciate in the context of the game, not as a standalone listen.
Rating: *
Purchase

Bardbarian OST (Maximum Satan)
With a picture of a barbarian literally and figuratively playing his axe on the cover, and an entity named “Maximum Satan” in the artist field, no one should be surprised at the hard rock sound that comes through. This single-track album is single-minded in its pursuit of an authentic instrumental heavy metal sound; people who don’t like that particular sound or prefer a different variation thereof should prepare for ten minutes of headache.
Rating: *
Purchase

Tribes: Ascend (Chris Rickwood)
A revival of the decade-old Tribes franchise (itself a somewhat confusing (but popular) spin-off of the Starsiege games) Tribes: Ascend sought to recapture the fun of that old multiplayer jetpack shooter. One area in which the authenticity shines through is in its score: the music sounds very much like that of a Western video game from the early 2000s when a sort of generic techno-rock sound with echoes of the Hans Zimmer blockbuster sound was completely dominant. Western games’ music has undergone a revolution since then, influenced by Japanese VGM on the one hand and classic film scores on the other. As such, workmanlike music like this is well enough in-game, but aside from the occasional highlight (like the choral-inflected “Arx Novena III”) there’s not much to recommend it.
Rating: * *
Purchase

Into The Box Soundtrack (Talha Kaya & Doğaç Yavuz)
Probably the most “authentic” sounding chiptunes in the bundle, Into the Box is clearly inspired by the SID chip music of the Commodore 64 demoscene and game composers like the Follin Bros. In fact, overall it seems to be an attempt to meld that decades-old style with the structure of modern trance music more than anything else. It certainly nails the overall sound, but to many people unfamiliar with the unique sound of the SID chip, or to anyone who finds the sound to be chalkboard-nails irritating, won’t find much to like in this brief album.
Rating: * *
Purchase

Soul Fjord (Austin Wintory)
The third and final Wintory album in the bundle is one that seeks to combine, of all things, 1970s blaxploitation funk with 970s Norse myth and warriors. Wintory hews much more strongly to the former, adding the occasional Nordic grunt or other background element to bring in the “fjord” aspect along with the “soul.” Your tolerance for the music will be strictly proportional to how much you enjoy music that is true to the funky-fresh blaxploitation styles of old.
Rating: * * *
No purchase link available

Bonus Albums

Dragon Fantasy Book II Original Soundtrack (Dale North)
Many artists, both indie and mainstream, have attempted to capture the sound and feel of classic 1990s RPG scores, and that is what this album attempts. Its clearest influence is Noriyuki Iwadare’s often goofy music for the Grandia series, but references to VGM majordomo Nobuo Uematsu are thick on the ground as well. These artists were successful because they had a pop songwriter’s ear for melody, no fear about crossing genres in search of the right sound, and worked skillfully with the synths at their disposal. Many imitators fail at one or all of the parts of that formula, but this is generally quite pleasant and successful, even if it fails to approach the genre’s high points.
Rating: * * * *
Purchase

Ether One Original Soundtrack (N.J.Apostol)
One might expect, given the title, for Ether One to have an ethereal sound, and at times it certainly does. But the album is, all in all, heavy and repetitive (if often good-natured and occasionally attractive) ambience, good at establishing a mood but less successful at maintaining interest with the best of such sounds.
Rating: * * *
Purchase

The Music of Junk Jack X (James Primate)
This album presents a very spare sound, like an early and raw SNES or Genesis game, occasionally recalling the most ambient and hard-edged moments of Earthbound. The music is affable enough but is so thin and occasionally harsh in its employment of sound effects and bleeps that only the most devoted fans of this sort of sound and approach are likely to get much out of it separated from the game.
Rating: * *
Purchase

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