When Games Matter: When Music Makes a Game
When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Super Brothers: Sword & Sworcery EP would be a lousy game were it not for its stunning sound track. I mean that as the highest form of flattery. I think too often videogames tend toward stunning visuals at the expense of things like music and sound design. S&S‘s music sets the tone of the game throughout — it is literally enchanting and endows the most mundane tasks in the game with significance.
Of course, you could probably say this of just about any game — take away the malaria pill from Far Cry 2 and the gun jams from Far Cry 2 or GLaDOS’s dead pan banter from Portal and those games would not represent exemplary achievements in game design. However, I think we rarely say this about a game’s musical score. In fact there are tons of games that I can think of that probably wouldn’t suffer from no music at all. In the case of S&S the music brings the world to life and imbues it with awe.
Were it not for Jim Gutherie’s perfectly paced score, the player would spend the majority of the game randomly swiping at stuff and tapping junk on screen . . . OK, technically the music doesn’t change what you are actually doing but it does give it meaning. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to love about S&S apart from its music but none of them would be worthy of note on its own. The 8-bit people, environments, and enemies, when placed alongside the game’s music, invite the player to use his imagination, and simple tasks like moving from screen to screen or even opening up a menu feel transcendent rather than mundane.
Most of the game is spent trying to figure out various musical puzzles by tapping and swiping various objects on screen. The goal behind each of these puzzles is literally to coax pixies out of their hiding places and release their magical power. If you feel a little bit ridiculous reading that last sentence you should probably know that I felt ridiculous writing it. The greatest achievement of S&S, however, is never making the player feel ridiculous for doing these things.
I write about games every week; it’s a hobby and part-time job of sorts. I rarely find myself lacking in words to describe what makes a particular game special. In the case of S&S, I was blown away by how a simple thing like the perfect musical score totally revolutionized the game. I rarely say this, but my words really can’t do it justice — you really just need to try it. In this case, hearing is believing.