A roundup of all the month’s best Indie Game soundtracks


If October is the month of Horror games, then it appears November is the month of the western. This month, I’ve included two different cowboy western themed games in my look at the three best indie soundtracks of the month.

Marcin Przybyłowicz, composer of my personal favourite soundtrack of 2015, The Witcher 3, is back with a western themed soundtrack for CreativeForge’s new RPG, Hard West. For me, it just edges out Ink Stains’ 12 is better than 6, for this month’s Top Score award. Both are amazing soundtracks in their own right, incorporating that cowboy flair in unique and interesting ways. This is a great example of how two different approaches to a similar core idea can garner totally different results.

Rounding things out this month, we have the 8-bit soundtrack of Studio Pixel’s Kero Blaster. It’s nothing clever, and nothing experimental. It’s just a fun simple soundtrack, filled with catchy melodies, and memorable hooks. It’s a soundtrack that will take you back in time to classic games of the 80’s and 90’s, and it really works with the Metroid style gameplay.

Seeing as I only started this series in September, I’m going to be doing a full round up of the best indie soundtracks of 2015. This will likely be out in early 2016, so I’ve got an opportunity to talk about some of the other soundtracks I missed this year.


 

Top Score- Soundtrack of the Month

Hard West

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Developer: CreativeForge Games

Composer: Marcin Przybyłowicz

Good composers always have a unique, identifiable sound. So many games try to use the “epic,” orchestral music soundtrack style so popularly used in film, but in doing so, barely any manage to sound even mildly interesting – it’s such a homogenous sound, I can’t even tell if what I’m hearing is an original soundtrack, or one of the pieces of royalty free stock music that so many games use.

The moment I opened up the trailer for Hard West, the music sounded familiar – not in the sense that I felt as though I’d heard it before. I recognised the musical style; the composer’s individual identity and uniqueness was apparent to me straight away. It took about ten seconds for me to think “that reminds me of the The Witcher 3.” As it turned out, it actually was Marcin Przybyłowicz, the composer of the music for the title, and given that The Witcher 3 is my personal pick for the best soundtrack of this year, I was unsurprisingly very excited to listen to this one all the way through. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

Some of the Slavic influence from The Witcher has leaked in, but it’s been combined with what sounds like a lot of influence from the work of Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). By fusing that classic spaghetti western sound, with elements of modern cinematic scores, he’s succeeded in creating a hybrid score that feels bold and edgy, whilst also being palatable enough that it doesn’t feel out of place in the current climate of commercial music. It doesn’t sound like he’s tried too hard to be unique. It’s just naturally happened.

The trumpet takes the starring role for much of the soundtrack, with heroic melody lines that really give the tracks a sense of grandiose elegance. Instruments more typically suited to the world of rock music also sit in the mix, with the distinctive twang of the slide guitar really enhancing the cowboy flair. There’s a degree of comparison to be drawn between this soundtrack and the work of Darren Korb on the soundtrack for the game Bastion, and that’s certainly not a bad thing to be compared to.

There’s a wide range of styles on display here – through dark, ominous exploration music, to harsh aggressive battle themes. There’s a serious, driven quality to the entire soundtrack. If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s that there’s not much in the way of light to break up the darkness. It’d be nice to hear something a little happier, to contrast the energetic nature of the rest of the music. Not to be cliché, but without light there can be no darkness, and just a pinprick of light would really help make this soundtrack shine

This is a minor gripe of course, and one that doesn’t hold the soundtrack back in any way at all. So few games that try to sound “epic” find a way to do so that’s actually interesting, but Przybyłowicz has managed to achieve that feat here. You can pick up the soundtrack as DLC on Hard West’s Steam page, or via iTunes and if you enjoy spaghetti westerns, trumpets, or the Witcher 3 soundtrack, I highly recommend you check it out.

If you want to know more about Hard West, check out M. Joshua Caullier’s look at the alpha build of the game, as part of his Need to Know video series.

Standout Track- Born Unto Trouble

Silver for Monsters was my favourite track on the Witcher 3 soundtrack. This guy’s clearly an expert when it comes to composing awesome battle themes. (Also, bonus points for using the alternate spelling of Daemons.)


Second Fiddles- the Best of the Rest

Kero Blaster

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Developer: Studio Pixel

Composer: Pixel (Daisuke Amaya)

Every month, I come across a few games that use a heavily 8-bit inspired soundtrack. It’s easy to see why. It’s a fairly simple, inexpensive style of music to produce, and it really suits retro, pixelated visual styles. Most of the time I don’t give the music for these games a second look. Composing this style of music isn’t easy – composing good chiptune music is a specialist skill that not just anyone can do. It takes a great composer to take these retro timbres and layer them in a way that’s unique, interesting and memorable – and that’s just what Kero Blaster has achieved.

Kero Blaster is the follow up to the popular platforming adventure title, Cave Story. It’s a pretty similar game in terms of mechanics, but this time around the overall aesthetic is a lot brighter. You play as a frog armed with a peashooter, sent on a mission to fix a bunch of teleporters that have gone rogue. The music really suits the visual style, not only in terms of fidelity, but also in terms of the content. The whole thing is just charming, and the music plays a big part in making the game into such a pleasure to play.

When you play Kero Blaster, you’ll get plenty of nostalgia from classic games of the 80’s and 90’s. It’s not complicated music – it’s just a simple collection of melodies that really fit the style of the game. There’s plenty of diversity in terms of the styles on display. There are tons of bouncy, energetic themes, and there are also plenty of darker, more contemplative themes, giving the music plenty of range.

You can pick up the soundtrack to Kero Blaster via the official website, or via the Steam Store. I would say this is possibly the best retro 8 bit soundtrack since Shovel Knight, so if that sounds like your bag, you should definitely pick up this soundtrack.

Standout Track: Train Station

A brief moment of contemplative calmness, breaking up the bouncy energy running through the entire soundtrack. There’s something oddly chilling about it… In a good way of course.


12 is Better Than 6

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Developer: Ink Stains Games

Composer: John R1se, Ivan Reshetnev, Son of the Son, and Exaige

First off, full disclosure – I was a kickstarter backer for this game. After covering the game as part of our September kickstarter weekly segment, I trusted the developer with £2 of my hard earned cash, in return for a copy of the game. What can I say… The promise of a wild western style Hotline Miami style game, wrapped up in a hand-drawn pen and paper art style was one I couldn’t pass up.

The tracks on display on the kickstarter page were definitely unique and interesting, featuring a bluesy three-piece outfit rocking out with a cowboy vibe, in a style I referred to as “Angry Cowboy Rock.” I’m a huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, so this was right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was all still a little rough at that phase, but it was certainly enough for me to take notice.

The tracks have been polished up since then, and the rest of the soundtrack has proven to be just as good, if not better than the tracks which I’d heard pre-release. It’s not music you would naturally associate with video games, but it really suits the game.

It’s kind of like a bluesy Dynasty Warriors. The music for this game needs to give you a sense of invincibility, making blasting your way through hordes of enemies an absolute joy. And trust me, staining the paper world with red ink is made so much sweeter by the aggression in the music. Thrashing drums, rock solid bass, and gritty electric guitar are all most of the tracks need to give you that feeling of wild invincibility.

Some of the tracks feature additional instruments as well, including trumpet, harmonica, whistling and singing. All of these help to keep the music fresh, but the instrument that really stood out to me was the virtuoso Spanish guitar, which occasionally comes in with flamenco style solos reminiscent of Queen’s Innuendo. It really adds a touch of class to proceedings, and makes the Mexican setting that more believable.

The biggest criticism I can make for this album is that it’s a little similar throughout. There’s not much in the way of variation, although that’s not too much of a hang up when you consider how well it does that one style. Maybe one more slow track, something dark and ominous, could have been added, to break things up a little more.

If you want to feel like an invincible cowboy, 12 is better than 6 has the soundtrack for you. When I walked to the nearby shop with this album playing on my iPod, I felt like Clint Eastwood, strutting through the desert, with a revolver on my hip. You can pick up the soundtrack on Steam, and there’s also a free version available on Gamejolt, which features only two of the tracks.

Standout Track- Espiritus Del Diablo (John R1se feat. Exaige)

Adding animalistic vocals, and percussion to the formula was a really smart move. It reminds me of Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, being played by cowboys who really like Led Zeppelin.


Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

About High Scores

This is a monthly feature, where we celebrate the best new music, direct from the world of indie gaming. Each month, we’ll be looking at what we think are the three best new soundtracks, and discussing what makes them so damn good. No extra credit will be given to soundtracks that are attached to bigger games- small Steam releases will have just as much chance of being featured as bigger releases.

To be featured in High Scores, a game has to be a full release- Early Access titles won’t be considered. The soundtrack needs to be available to purchase or stream online in some form or other. Soundtracks also have to feature only original content. If we’re even slightly suspicious that a game might be using royalty free music, it won’t be featured.

I want to make sure I’m as fair as possible on composers for smaller indie developers. If you’ve got a suggestion for an obscure title that I may have missed, feel free to tweet me @PAldousMusic, and let me know.