Just like in movies, music can play a huge role in establishing atmosphere and the general “feel” of a video game.  Highly talented people laboriously craft music to fit a game’s atmosphere…however, sometimes external music sources are the way to go.

I have always enjoyed collecting video game music.  Everything from the 8-bit boops and bleeps of the Nintendo era up to the sweeping orchestral scores of today, video games provide musicians with unique opportunities for creative output.  Throughout the years, I (and many people I know) have experimented with matching up different music with different games.  While there are literally dozens of music/video game combinations known to us, here are my personal top 5 (in no particular order.)

1.  Lemmings + Tool (specifically the Ænima album)

I know this is an unlikely combination, but it really does work!  Many of the tracks off the Ænima album seem to match up perfectly in time with how the various Lemmings walk, and the music feels somehow appropriate.  Watching the little creatures traverse the environment with Tool’s unique lyrics and sound playing in the background is a real treat, providing an otherworldly atmosphere of weird.  I’m not sure if it works on every version, but I can guarantee that this works when playing the SNES version of Lemmings.

2.  Counter-Strike and Gangster Rap/Cannibal Corpse

I’ll be upfront about this: I don’t really dig rap all that much.  I appreciate it as a musical style, and I acknowledge the difficulty in creating lyrics that flow together and beats that match the overall tone…but it still just isn’t for me.  Despite this, when it comes to Counter-Strike, nothing gets me amped quite like some down and dirty gangster rap (Scarface works excellently for this purpose.)   On the other end of the spectrum, Cannibal Corpse works as well.  Their crazy shredding combined with the growling of Chris Barnes or George Fisher (depending on which era you listen to) really helps increase the intensity.

I guess it all depends on your music preferences and mood.  I used to find that my scores were higher when I listened to rap, but I had more fun when listening to Cannibal Corpse.

3.  Street Fighter IV and Calyx

There are a ton of Drum ‘n’ Bass artists out there, but Calyx’s music seems to fit the tempo and action of Street Fighter IV perfectly.  His tracks add a sense of urgency to the fights, and make things almost seem to be moving quicker than they actually are.  Gamers will most likely know of Calyx through Midnight Club Racing 3: Dub Edition Remix, where his track “Get Myself to You” was used quite regularly.

4.  Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planewalkers and Tes La Rok/The Widdler

Most people are convinced that all dubstep sounds the same, however Tes La Rok punches holes right through the middle of that theory.  His tracks are hard hitting and grimey, yet still chilled out and relaxing at the same time.  Their long playtime and heavy use of repeated phrases can help put you in an alert zen-type state, which is extremely helpful when playing MTG on XBLA.  ”Mental Block” and “Innasekt-Archetype” are good places to start with Tes La Rok, although some of his tracks are a bit too “active” for a slowpaced game like MTG.

Another great option is the album “Origin” from “The Widdler“.  It works wonderfully with this game, due to its loungey/dubstep atmospherics.  Tes La Rok’s music fits the game better, but you can listen to the entire Origin album straight through and not find any tracks that don’t match up…so it does have that going for it.

5.  Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis and Saafi Brothers

The Saafi Brothers group produces amazing tracks, with deep layering yet straightforward main synth lines.  The music style matches the gameplay in Rockstar Table Tennis, providing the perfect backdrop for calm yet focused competition.  It provides a nice contrast to the silence without distracting you, thanks to the simplicity of their music.  Any of their albums work well, although I personally would recommend their “Midnight’s Children” album.

There are many, many other game/music combinations that we’ve discovered throughout the years, but you’ve been given a look at my 5 favorites.  Please contribute your own favorite game/music combinations in the comments below…I’d love to give them a try!