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Five for Friday: Favorite Video-Game Soundtracks

Next week, the video-game industry converges on Los Angeles for the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3. The nearly weeklong event showcases the biggest and flashiest video game titles due in the near future. Expect a new "Super Mario Bros." to be on display, as well as the latest installment of Ubisoft's violent and topical "Far Cry" series. But we're not interested in the latest tech extravaganzas – at least not here. Instead, we'll be more curious as to what all these new games sound like. Until we find out, here are five of our favorite video-game soundtracks.

Transistor
This 2014 sci-fi game from Supergiant bleeds style, owning a cyberpunk-meets-art-nouveau look that takes inspiration from sharply angled comic panels. The future-set title also features a smashing heroine in the form of a sword-wielding woman who used to be a singer. How and why she's no longer behind the microphone remains a central mystery, and Darren Korb's score heightens the ambiguity with a modern spin on noir that merges rock, orchestral, and electronic flourishes. The original songs, sung by Ashley Barrett, serve as the standouts – five total, all imagining what a cabaret would sound like in a Blade Runner-inspired world. But don't overlook the instrumentals, many anchored by a metallic guitar, whose notes ever so slightly waver as Korb dips in and out of jazz, bossa-nova, and clubby, synthetic beats.

Journey
Austin Wintory's ruminative score to 2012's Journey owns a unique milestone in the world of video-game music. The work stands as the first – and thus far only – video-game soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy. And it's a beauty, one that pairs well with this soothing, calming exploratory game, in which the player adventures around the desert with a cloaked figure. Wintory's score should also connect with fans of ambient-inspired classical music. Heavily basing his creations around the use of the cello, he treats the stringed instrument as a metaphor for the player, letting solos divert from grander orchestrations to represent the wandering nature of the game. Light electronic touches appear, yet Wintory primarily focuses on the grace of slowly strummed arrangements by augmenting them with hints of worldly exoticism.

Hotline Miami 2
As a game, Hotline Miami 2 focuses on a retro look. And with vintage, 16-bit-inspired stylings and exaggerated violence, the game plays like an old coin-op for the Grand Theft Auto age. The soundtrack, featuring a diverse crop of artists, also takes a retro-modern approach. Think "Miami Vice," but with a vibe that could satisfy today's club-going crowd. Owning a techno sheen, the tracks take on an after-party vibe – and one happening at an illicit warehouse. Some, such as "Night Driver," build around frantic beats and pulsating synthesizers. Others, such as "Voyager," slowly unfold, with satellite-like tones and patient tempos fit for opening credits.

Hohokum
Hohokum, a 2014 title from Honeyslug, ranks as one of the more graceful takes on interactive entertainment. Brightly colorful yet sparse, it allows the player to navigate a snake-like character through abstract worlds – some looking like a whimsical circus, others resembling a toy-constructed city in the clouds. The soundtrack, compiled by a number of artists on indie electronic label Ghostly International, claims a whimsical tone. Matthew Dear's "Pawn in Their Game" possesses a sunny, handclap-ready feel, while Tycho's "A Walk" features stuttering beats and broad electronic brush strokes. Geoff White's "Wedding Party" conveys a more a celebratory mood, with ping-pong rhythms and elastic synthesizers. Ben Benjamin's "Air Parsing" feels as fragile as hand-blown glass. Everything coalesces to create a light, fairy-tale-like soundscape.

Fez
This indie run-and-jump puzzle game takes inspiration from the Nintendo Entertainment System titles of yesteryear. The soundtrack, from chiptune artist Disasterpeace, also feels lifted from 1985 – at least on first listen. Spend time with it, however, and the songs reveal themselves to be incredibly layered and multi-dimensional – much like the game, which toys with a player's perception. The synths have an almost human-like tone. Many tracks blossom with warm, fuzzy sounds. Blips and bleeps abound, of course, but often they only briefly show themselves. Disasterpeace instead aims to stretch and twist the electronic tones as if inviting the listener in for a closer look.

June 9, 2017

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