Waterworld Is One Of The SNES’ Best Soundtrack Delivery Systems

Waterworld Is One Of The SNES’ Best Soundtrack Delivery Systems
Image: Ocean / Universal Pictures / Kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Hold onto your mutated gills and webbed feet, because today we’re diving into the music of Waterworld for the SNES.

Have you ever heard of a “Soundtrack Delivery System”? It’s a phrase used by some VGM fans to describe a forgettable game that nevertheless has fantastic music. Waterworld (playlist / longplay) for the SNES is one of the best Soundtrack Delivery Systems I’ve ever encountered. The game is based on Kevin Costner’s 1995 film Waterworld, which…kinda sucked. The most expensive film up to that point, it was a bloated, bald-faced Mad Max ripoff on water that asked the burning question: What if the rarest, most valuable thing in the world was dirt?

As mediocre as the film was, the games were worse. Back in the early ‘90s, good games based on movies were about as rare as middling Yuzo Koshiro soundtracks, and Waterworld wore those britches dutifully. Waterworld games were announced on eight different systems, and some actually came out (pPublished by Ocean, natch). Between all the available versions there’s only one thing I can unabashedly recommend: the SNES version’s absolutely stellar soundtrack, composed by Dean Evans:

Ocean / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

Kicking things off with “Map,” we can already tell this isn’t going to be a typical SNES trumpet-fest. Evans is the master of smooth, moody SNES chill, and he somehow manages to mix new age, Euro pop, and ‘80s-after-dark TV scores to great effect. In “Mission Theme 1” Evans jumps in with percussion straight out of a Love Deluxe-era Sade jam, then lays on those moody synths. This would be perfect accompaniment for a late-summer night drive through an unfamiliar city.

Evans explores a full range of moods and emotions on the OST. “Scores” sounds like the music they’d play for Celine Dion as she accepted an award for that Titanic song, while “Shop” sounds like it belongs in a USA Network movie’s love scene. Nothing wrong with that! But then, just when you’re lulled into a false sense of relaxation, he hits you with “Attack 1”:

Ocean / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

That low growling synth hints that you’re in for some trouble ahead, belied by that ambling percussion. Then at 1:06 that screeching, bluesy guitar solo starts in (really taking off about 2:16), with an oh-so-good breakdown at 2:42. It smacks of something I’d have heard on the tragically short-lived series The Highwayman. Good lord, it’s the best of late-’80s late-night TV…in 1995. In 2021.

“Attack 1” also epitomises a trend more common amongst the European game composers of the day. In contrast to most Japanese game tracks, most European compositions took their time. Whereas Japanese composers of the 16-bit era tended to create tightly compacted and densely intricate tracks, on average looping around the 1:30 mark, European compositions more often took their time opening up. Waterworld tracks vary widely in length, but they’re all significantly longer than a typical Japanese composition. This certainly doesn’t make them better, but I do enjoy Evans’ willingness to let a track unfold at its own pace.

The last tracks of the OST introduce more techno-ish dance beats, yet retain those same moody synth pads. “Mission Theme 2” is the perfect music to accompany a drive down a desert highway at dusk; its deftly programmed bassline, throbbing, four-on-the-floor kick, and groovy bongos serve as a nice contrast to its quietly desperate synths. In “Mission Theme 3” those synths are now angry, but still backing a solidly ‘90s techno rhythm section. A nice touch here is at about 2:02-2:20, where the synth slides down in pitch unexpectedly, as if it were running out of steam. “Final Mission Theme” rounds out Waterworld’s early ‘90s techno extravaganza, but the intensity and bongo work makes it sound more like a stripped-down version of the Miami Vice theme, which suits me just fine.

Ocean / VintaGamers Paradise (YouTube)

If I had to pick a favourite track (and of course I do), it would hands-down be the superlative “Diving.” It was the first track I’d heard from the Waterworld OST, and from its opening moments firmly establishes Dean Evans in the pantheon of European composer demigods, next to Tim Follin, Matt Furniss, and Alberto José Gonzales. The track takes its time, flowing through different moods, motifs, and even key changes. And it just feels sooo good.

And that’s the SNES Waterworld soundtrack! Doing research for this Morning Music, I have to confess I was a little disappointed to discover that Kevin Costner looks back somewhat fondly on his experiences with the film. In my head canon, I had pictured a defeated Costner stumbling upon Evans’ compositions years later and determining “Fishtar” had been worth it after all. Oh well, even though Costner’s indefatigable ego won out over my imagination, I still get to share this great Soundtrack Delivery System with y’all right now.

Speaking of sharing, drop a line below and let the community know what your favourite Soundtrack Delivery System is, whether you liked the tunes, and most importantly, tell us how you’re doing! Until next time.

Nathan Daniels is a VGM addict who lives in the mighty PNW. When he’s not pretending to write, he’s playing Gang Beasts with his kids and wondering where the years went.

Log in to comment on this story!