The good with the bad: 9 great songs from not-so-great games

The good with the bad: 9 great songs from not-so-great games

1. “Level 1,” Silver Surfer

Is Silver Surfer for the NES a bad game? It’s impossible to tell. The game is just too maddeningly difficult to make a value judgment one way or the other. A traditional side-scrolling shooter in which everything is instantly lethal—including the walls, ceiling, and floor—it’s practically unbeatable by conventional methods. It’s good the background track in its first level is such a ripper, then, since it’s all most players are likely to hear of the soundtrack. “Level 1” is a squeaky, chirping chip-tune club banger full of the triumphant swelling typical of superhero themes, and its vaguely spacey atmosphere perfectly suits the Herald Of Galactus. It’s as fast paced and unpredictable as the game is but in a way that inspires head banging instead of controller throwing. [Patrick Lee]

2. “Pitch Perfect,” Wii Music

The “Pitch Perfect” mini-game is an awful, horrible, no-good atrocity within a forgettable and hugely disappointing Nintendo title. It’s like a leftover from low-budget edutainment CD-ROM games of the ’90s, asking players to match chords and move notes around in a shoddily designed experience that has to instruct the player on what the rules are every few seconds because it’s so unintuitive. Defying all sense and reason, the “Pitch Perfect” theme packs more charm into a one-minute loop than the entire game from which it originates. The gently brushed drum, the peppy glockenspiel, the jazzy square-wave blips, and the vocaloid quips, like a barbershop quartet of digital cats—this is light-hearted! This is fun! This song has spirit! Where the heck was this spirit when they were making the rest of the game? [Derrick Sanskrit]

3. “Werewolf Battle,” Werewolf: The Last Warrior

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is awesome. Amazingly awesome. For most of the game, you control a golden werewolf with swords for hands. He can climb buildings with his sword arms. He kills mutants—for America. It’s a shame that it’s almost as crappy to play as it is conceptually sweet. Needlessly difficult, buggy, and just not up to the standard of other NES games by Data East like Batman, the only part of Werewolf that lives up to its lead is the soundtrack. The whole thing is great, a mix of uptempo rockers and ominous psych outs. “Werewolf Battle,” in particular, is a righteous bruiser with a driving beat that totally psyches you up for sticking that sword arm right through some mutant chest—for freedom. [Anthony John Agnello]

4. “Wunderding,” SaGa Frontier 2

Masashi Hamauzu has spent years elevating Square’s role-playing games with his circuitous piano-based compositions, but no game has benefited more from his work than SaGa Frontier 2. It certainly looks like a good game, with its fairy-tale kingdom wrought in gossamer-soft watercolor. Beneath that facade is a bunch of the RPG tedium that’s made the whole SaGa series an acquired taste—but oh that music. A lilting charmer at first, the tinkling synth vibes of “Wunderding” transform once they’re backed with a thumping beat. It’s perfect music for fantasy court melodrama or sailing on heavy seas. [Anthony John Agnello]

5. “Creepy Caller,” Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs was not a game that sat well with a lot of people, myself included. Its action was shallow, its plot and themes were confused and dull, and the design had some strange problems, including a Chicago police department that had absolutely no aquatic capabilities, allowing every police confrontation in the Grand Theft Auto-style open world to be beaten with a lazy backstroke. It felt like a game that failed to live up to its own promises. The soundtrack, however, retains tantalizing hints of the game so many of us wanted Watch Dogs to be—“Creepy Caller” in particular. Brian Reitzell’s tight, anxious track features an intimate, slowly strummed guitar riff, intermingled with effects and a bass line like a terrified heartbeat. It’s pure electronic paranoia, dark and mysterious, the sort of music that can keep a player tethered to the screen. It loops on the main menu, filtering in fading thunderstorms and the sound of a rusted gate opening. Pity the rest of the game wasn’t this good. [Jake Muncy]

6. “Twelfth Chapter—In The Sky,” Drakengard

Drakengard aspires to be a so-called “dark fantasy,” meaning it has elves and dragons, but also swearing and child molesters. It’s a failure in almost every way. Dull and repetitive, its plot is nonsensical, its characters are unlikable, and its graphics are muddy and bland. Its soundtrack, though—composed by taking existing classical music tracks and mutilating them beyond recognition—successfully combines the traditional with the modern to create something new and disturbing. “Twelfth Chapter—In The Sky” drops when the game is at its most bizarre, around the time the giant carnivorous babies enter the plot. It should have been as laughably stupid as it sounds, but thanks solely to this song’s eerie screeching and stuttering, it lands as genuinely terrifying. [Patrick Lee]

7. “La Mer,” Suikoden IV

Suikoden IV, the runt of Konami’s litter of Japanese role-playing games, is as empty and boring as the open ocean on which it’s set. A prequel that attempted to streamline and focus the series after its slightly bloated third installment, it instead ended up removing many features fans loved and replacing them with a whole bunch of nothing. One convention it mercifully decided to keep was the series’ reputation for excellent music, especially great opening themes. “La Mer,” composed by world-renowned Japanese accordionist Coba (no, really), is a promise to new players that they’re about to depart on a sun-bleached high-seas adventure bursting with tropical vibrancy and energy. It’s a promise the game is unable to keep, but it’s a beautiful promise all the same. [Patrick Lee]

8. End Theme, Sewer Shark

In 1987, Sewer Shark must have seemed like a sure thing. A bleeding-edge rail shooter designed for Hasbro’s then-forthcoming VHS-based Control-Vision console, Sewer Shark made use of multi-track full-motion video and thus would look, in the year of the Acorn Archimedes and Zelda II, like a game from the distant future. (They even hired a real Hollywood director, sort of: John Dykstra, an Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor who had worked on the original Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.) The Control-Vision would never be completed, leaving Sewer Shark—along with Night Trap, by the same developer—to languish, unreleased for five years, until it found a secondary home on the Sega CD. We don’t know if the Sewer Shark the world greeted in 1992 was fundamentally different than the one planned under the aegis of Hasbro, but on Sega CD it proved quite dire: abrasive, unwieldy, and basically unplayable for more than a few minutes. The only consolation was that when you died—and you died often—you were treated to the game’s lovely end theme, by none other than composer and Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh. Perhaps the chugging synthesizers were a mite out of date by 1992—that stuff, which sounds like a cross between a John Carpenter theme and early Nine Inch Nails, is late-’80s to a tee. [Calum Marsh]

9. “The Most Inspiring Song Ever,” Fallumns

Fallumns was a pretty forgettable Newgrounds game—except for its default soundtrack: “The Most Inspiring Song Ever.” That’s a pretty bold claim. Throughout history, after all, there have been many inspiring anthems that could claim that title. There’s that song from St. Elmo’s Fire. The Rocky theme. “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” The list goes on. But the “The Most Inspiring Song Ever” makes a strong argument, even outside its potentially hyperbolic title, treating players to soaring lyrics such as:

You always come through no matter the odds.
You’re less like a man, and more like a god!
But even the gods, they’re ants to you,
There is nothing you can’t do!
You can do it!

If you’re having a rough day at work, putting this song on repeat is pretty much guaranteed to snap you out of it. Also: Stop playing games at work. [Drew Toal]

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