Traveling tunes: 10 methods of gaming transport and their moving themes

Traveling tunes: 10 methods of gaming transport and their moving themes

1. Bicycle: “Bicycle Theme,” Pokémon X and Y

Even more than catching monsters or pitting them against each other for profit and glory, Pokémon is really about adventure. The most fundamental draw of the series’ premise is not necessarily collecting cool monster companions, but living in a place where any 10-year-old can strike out on their own, see the world, and save the day. That’s what Pokémon X and Y’s “Bicycle Theme” understands. Why ride your humble banana seat when you could cross the surface of the ocean on the back of a Lapras, or have a Drifblim take you to the skies? Because riding your bike is accompanied by this wind-in-your-hair, spirit-of-adventure earworm. It’s enough to make you forget the ’mons are even there. [Patrick Lee]

2. Sand: “The Road Of Trials,” Journey

Forget surfboards, snowboards, roller skates, and all the rest. These things just get in the way of your feet—especially when you’re coasting down thousands of tons of sand, all of it spilling down mountains and through caverns as you ride the very Earth itself to places unknown. Wrapped in a full-body cloak, it’s tough to imagine the right music to accompany your ethereal, soul-searching travels. It requires something both classical and organic but fused with a timeless and pan-cultural ambition that elevates it out of any one genre or rhythm. All of which is to say, there’s a reason Austin Wintory’s music for Journey became the first game soundtrack ever to earn a Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media. The game’s emotional wallop wouldn’t be half as affecting had Wintory not paired it with his lush orchestration, and when you’re soaring down a sand avalanche, the vibrant string instruments and simple percussion help urge you ever forward. [Alex McCown]

3. Airship: “The Airship Blackjack,” Final Fantasy VI

The moment you acquire an airship in a Final Fantasy game always marks an expansion in its scope. The series’ iconic vessels lend the player freedom to explore worlds in new ways and a new piece of music to sum up the identity of your flying device. “The Airship Blackjack” is a driving, danceable Nobuo Uematsu joint that crystallizes the series’ wonder and an airship’s empowerment with verve and hope. All of Final Fantasy’s airship themes shine, but when behind the helm of an inexplicably aloft hunk of misshapen steel and magic, “The Airship Blackjack” is the first track that should be pumped through the sound system. [Jake Muncy]

4. Dragon: “Taking To The Skies,” Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch

Flight has always been an important part of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies, and it’s just as integral to its first ever video game. And in Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch the first airborne moment comes on the back of a loyal, friendly dragon. What could be more exciting for a 13-year-old wizard than soaring through the skies on a fire-breathing reptile? How about a journey scored by Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi? The living legend wrote the entire soundtrack, but he outdid himself with “Taking To The Skies,” a stirring orchestral piece that further uplifts an already astonishing moment. [Patrick Lee]

5. Motorboat: “Kapp’n’s Song,” Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Life can get monotonous when you spend every day devoid of conflict in a peaceful hamlet with charming animal friends. Sometimes you need to get away from it all and head to a private beach far from the arcadian shores of home, and what better way to transition to the sweet leisure of your island oasis than with the folksy shanties of your local ferryman—er—lizard-thing. Kapp’n strums a gentle ukulele as he bears his soul, offering some life advice along the way. The lyrics are often just as humorous as they are wistful, reminding players that while this simple kappa has made out pretty well in his life, yours is almost certainly better, and as the beach comes into view things are only looking up. [Derrick Sanskrit]

6. Biplane: “Light Plane,” Pilotwings

A fitting soundtrack for one of the most relaxed (if occasionally infuriating) games ever released, Pilotwings’ songs are all about lulling the player into its laid-back groove. Its Light Plane levels focus on gentle changes in elevation and slow-banking curves, and this jazzy track, which shows off the power of the then-brand-new Super NES’ fancy 16-bit sound chip, captures those lazy feelings perfectly. The cheerfulness can get a little dissonant once you start diving in for a tense landing with the sound of the game’s blaring altitude siren whooping in your ear, but 1990 was a little too early for real dynamic music, so we can probably give “Light Plane” a pass and just enjoy the ride. [William Hughes]

7. Snowboard: “Be Cool, Be Wild And Be Groovy,” Sonic Adventure

When Sonic The Hedgehog needs to get from the top of a mountain to the bottom, he doesn’t walk. He doesn’t even run, like he would if he had to get to the bottom of, say, a skyscraper. No, he jumps on the nearest conveniently placed snowboard and rides down, pursued by an avalanche and jamming along to a track that demands you be cool, wild, and groovy simultaneously. In fairness, if you were in danger of being crushed to death by an avalanche, you could probably use some adrenaline-pumping electric guitars and exploding horns assaulting your ear drums, too. Unlike Sonic, though, we probably wouldn’t be jumping off ramps and pulling sweet tricks the whole way down. It’s amazing how cool you can be under pressure with the right soundtrack. [Patrick Lee]

8. Bus: “Get On The Bus,” EarthBound

EarthBound may be the high-water mark of the humble bus as a muse for endlessly catchy video game tunes. After all, Nintendo’s quirky masterpiece features not one, but two odes to wheeled commuter transport: The Blues Brothers-riffing “Runaway Five On The Move!” and this track, which plays when Ness and company board a regular city bus. Of the two, “Get On The Bus” manages to eke out a slight win, thanks to the way its surf rock-heavy bass and skyrocketing organ solos show off EarthBound’s sonic obsession with non-traditional video game instruments (not to mention how it turns a potentially tedious travel cutscene into a toe-tapping delight). It may not be able to drive ghosts away, but it’s still the most triumphant song this much-bemoaned form of public transit is probably ever going to get—with apologies to Wesley Willis and Raffi. [William Hughes]

9. Time Machine: “The Epoch—Wings Of Time,” Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger’s Belthasar understood something fundamental about building a time machine that engineers like Doc Emmett Brown, Mark Duplass, and H.G. Wells’ thick-skulled time traveler failed to realize: The device has got to sound awesome while you’re using it. And not just crazy engine noises—though Chrono Trigger’s Epoch has those too. It’s got to have smooth jams. It’s got to have beats that stir the blood for adventure but can also keep you cool when you suddenly find yourself traveling to an ecologically devastated future. Epoch’s got the jazz fusion theme song to fit the bill, a chunk of righteousness that is alternately proggy, funky, and cool. Think Miles Davis at his ’80s best, or Béla Fleck at his least embarrassing. It’s enough to make a tame traveler think, “Listen to this groove! If I were John Oates’ cousin Marvin Oates, I would call him on the phone and tell him I found that new sound he’s been looking for.” [Anthony John Agnello]

10. Pirate Ship: “Lowlands Away,” Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Contrary to popular opinion, high-seas piracy in the age of exploration wasn’t all bearded parrots and grog and scurvy and sword-guns and still yet more scurvy and a dollop of syphilis. Buccaneers in the know say successful pirating is 10 percent treasure-laden barques and 90 percent soul-deadening monotony. To pass the long stretches of downtime between murderous booty grabs (“the doldrums”), the ill-fed, flea-bitten crew in Assassin’s Creed IV sings a series of sea shanties, the most memorable of which is “Lowlands Away.” It’s a haunting melody about a beautiful dream: a woman weeping for her lost love, a man she will probably never see again in the flesh, likely due to mutual syphilitic destruction. [Drew Toal]

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