Kotaku's "Best Game Music of 2011" is a multi-part series in which we'll be discussing the best video game soundtracks of the year. Today, we'll take a look at the diverse, kinetic grooves of MediaMolecule's LIttleBigPlanet 2.
As a game, LittleBigPlanet 2 was all about motion and physics. It was a Rube Goldbergian dream diorama, a series of flipping levers, bouncing springs, swinging doorways and tumbling blocks. The game had a heavy thunkiness to it that unfortunately was its undoing in the gameplay department -- it was so dependent on its physics engine that the basic platforming never felt quite right, and didn't come close to the kickarse bounce of Super Mario 3D Land.
But boy, was this game musical. It was another one that I had a lot of fun reviewing, largely because it was a a game whose aesthetic charms pushed it past its gameplay shortcomings and won me over.
Since I'm loathe to say the same thing twice, here's what I thought of LBP2:
And oh, the music. For all its talk of building, jumping and making, LittleBigPlanet 2 has a musical soul. The visual hodgepodge of each level is reflected in its soundtrack, which is comprised of one of the more eclectic collections of licensed music I've encountered in an entertainment product. Prokofiev transitions seamlessly to Ladytron, stank elecronica by Lorn is replaced by ripping boss-battle metal from Nightwish. A jaunty platforming level is backed by the old standard "Limehouse Blues" and then suddenly I'm bouncing along to gorgeous dream-pop by Ochre before a crashing, epic boss encounter scored by Dimitri Shostakovich. Dimitri Shostakovich! In a videogame!
Wow, I couldn't have said that better myself! As much as I enjoyed the disparate licensed tracks in LBP2, I liked the original score just as much if not more. Awesomely, much of the licensed music is assembled over at the "Littlebigland" website, which frees me up to talk more about the score, specifically the work of Winifred Philips.
Well, let's just start with my favourite track from the whole game. "Victoria's Lab" pops up early in the game, and it was from this moment on that I realised that LittleBigPlanet 2 was going to do a whole lot more for me than its predecessor had. The music is great on its own, but in the game it does this very cool thing where depending on where you are in the level, it layers and builds until it climaxes during the final few parts. The tunes all appear to have been broken down into a series of layer-able sections, and the layers are automatically added as players progress through each level.
For example, this track starts with the simple beat, and not much else -- if you hop around the beginning of the level, you'll hear that same simple beat until you decide to move onward. Then, the music grows in complexity along with the level and right when the beat drops, you're making your way through these cool swinging robot hands and dodging electrified flooring and the entire thing is rocking like a Wile E. Coyote contraption.
(It helps that the tune is bitchin' in its own right.)
This video, meanwhile, is hilarious and amazing -- it looks to have been created entirely with in-game assets. Whoever did this had a lot of fun; I could watch it all day.
Which brings us to another favourite track, "Eve's Asylum", which is also another of Philips' compositions. This one suffers a bit when played straight-up as a song, as my favourite part is the very first 30 seconds or so. In the game, that part loops, just this gorgeous chord progression echoing through the darkness. It accompanies the level "Fire Flies When You're Having Fun", which sees Sackboy/girl jumping through a darkened cave lit only by giant flickering fireflies. It was one of the most gorgeous things I saw in gaming this year, and I didn't want it to end.
The funny scat-singing and groovy horns are great, but those opening moments are what make "Eve's Asylum" stand out for me. Another top gaming moment of 2011.
I do want to recognise one licensed track -- the tune "Infotain Me" by the band Ochre came to represent a lot of LittleBigPlanet 2, partly due to the marketing campaign, but partly just because it's a great song. It matches that LBP vibe: mellow and thoughtful, brainyness with a hint of transcendence. This is a tune you listen to while riding the train after leaving a phase of your life behind, a song designed for fleet shadows and time-lapse footage of the sun setting. It's epic, is what I'm saying and in a way that is entirely in lockstep with LittleBigPlanet 2's peculiar breed of humble, handmade ambition.
As great as "A Fifth of Beethoven" and Shostakovich's "Gadfly Suite" are, this Ochre track will stick with me for longer. It's as listenable as the rest of the soundtrack, but somehow captures the essence of the game the best.
LittleBigPlanet 2 got outpaced by a lot of other games I played this year, but I find myself coming back to it regularly not for the user-generated content or the multiplayer, but just to play through those brilliant levels again, and to see them twist, shuck and jive along with these killer tunes.
We'll be back next week with more of the best video game soundtracks of 2011. Some really good ones coming up. Stay tuned!