So many of the great games of the past decade (and beyond) have come from the indie game scene. While indie games themselves continue to gain more attention and press, we want to raise awareness of the fantastic music to be found on indie game soundtracks in all genres.
Read on for a selection of original game soundtracks that deserve the spotlight. (And if you’d like to add any of these albums to your collection this December, use the code dd2020 on our Bandcamp all month long for 15% off any digital purchase.)
aivi & surasshu’s first project post-Steven Universe is the score to this charming indie game about a group of meddlesome students at a school for witches. Fans of animated series like Steven Universe and The Owl House will be drawn to the world of Ikenfell, while the timing-based RPG tactics call back to classics like Super Mario RPG.
And what about the music? It’s aivi & surasshu at their best, and it showcases the talents of Sabrielle Augustin, who composed additional tracks for the soundtrack. aivi & surasshu pioneered a blend of piano and chiptune/synth back on their debut album The Black Box, and over the last few years they’ve carved out a genre they call digital fusion, blending spontaneous improvisation with computer-aided techniques. The Ikenfell score is a perfect example. It also features contributions by Renko, Sammus, Adriana Figueroa, Rekcahdam, and more.
You might like this album if: you’re already a fan of aivi & surasshu’s other work; you’re a fan of chiptune in general; you like strong character-driven music with powerful vocals.
For the King
Chicago’s John Robert Matz is one of the hardest-working indie composers out there. Since his breakout score to the starship bridge simulator Artemis, Matz has provided music for Rocketjump’s skits, games like Fossil Echo, and Devolver Digital’s endlessly memed press conferences. He also lent his golden singing voice to the main character in the hit game Wandersong.
The soundtrack For the King may be the culmination of everything Matz has worked for as a brass player and a lover of music history, wrapped up in one stunning package. Shades of early and Renaissance music blend with fantasy music to create a gorgeous musical tour of a faraway land.
You might like this album if: you’re a fan of Howard Shore’s music from Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for Game of Thrones.
You may know Toronto-based composer Robby Duguay from any number of things. He’s a driving force behind The Game Brass, and his quirkily nostalgic 12 GB of Christmas albums are a fun, clever treat to roll out around the holiday season. You may have heard his work in games like Graceful Explosion Machine or Super Crush K.O. But Fossil Hunters stands out, even among Duguay’s impressive body of work.
Fossil Hunters is an action-adventure game about digging up and building dinosaurs. With a hand from orchestrator/Twitch star Trevor Alan Gomes, the soundtrack brings Duguay’s melodic vision to life with a wide range of percussion and a live 60-piece orchestra. Fossil Hunter’s bright melodies are whimsical and majestic all at once, and the soundtrack evokes some of the playful grandeur of the 3D Mario soundtracks. Gomes has also arranged several of the tracks for solo piano, which perfectly round out this gorgeous album.
You might like this album if: you’re looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure; you like the warmth and presence that only live recordings can bring.
Austin-based composer Alexander Brandon is a titan of the PC gaming world. His credits include classics like Unreal, Deus Ex, and even Jazz Jackrabbit 2, and you’ve heard his voice in series like Thief, Mortal Kombat, and Wasteland.
With Aven Colony, players are tasked with building a settlement on a distant planet, so that humanity can survive. Brandon composed in layers to mirror the increasing complexities of the colony as the game progresses. From beds of dense, otherworldly synthesizers, more human elements start to slowly come in — percussion, brass, even voices.
The soundtrack album brings all of these variations to the table, so that you can hear the music build, track by track. The blend of synths and organics highlights the tenuous marriage of technology and nature that drives civilization, and while the game may be strategy-based, fans of sci-fi action movies are going to find a lot of familiar things to love in the music.
You might like this album if: inspiring, uplifting science fiction is your thing; you enjoy a musical fusion of digital and organic instrumentation.
Matthew Chastney is a British composer, releasing music as The Dreamless Sleep and scoring media projects — especially trailers for Netflix projects like The Umbrella Academy and The Prom. On this album, he gets to show off his sensitive side.
Tin Hearts is a puzzle game about guiding a troop of toy soldiers back to their home. Chastney’s music fits the cozy, home-spun aesthetic of the game, and provides the exact kind of calm, thoughtful vibe that you would want from a puzzle game soundtrack. Warm, pastoral, and gentle, Tin Hearts features Richard Curran on strings, Jordi Francis on harp, and winds by Laura Intravia and Kristin Naigus. It takes restraint to take a superstar lineup of talent and use them for something this gentle, but Tin Hearts is perfection for it.
You might like this album if: you’re looking for cozy, feel-good music that will help you get in the zone and solve puzzles.
The last few years have seen nostalgia for the 80s at an all-time high. But not the boring, dull, ugly 80s that actually happened — no, rather the neon-lit dreamscape that laser-light Sears portraits and pastel Taco Bell tables promised us.
Arcade Spirits follows up on those better, cooler 80s. The video game industry crash never happened, and arcades are where all the coolest people still hang out and work. You play as a newly-minted arcade employee navigating love, life, and video games in this pixel-perfect romantic comedy.
The soundtrack by Pittsburgh artist and composer Greg Mirles falls square within the new synthwave/retrowave tradition, bringing you the best music from a past that never was. Retro synths are used to surprisingly chill effect, creating a sonic backdrop that’s propulsive enough to feel entrancing, but not urgent.
You might like this album if: you’re an 80s child (or have the heart of an 80s child); chill synthwave is your jam.
Mythic Ocean is a gorgeous underwater adventure with a unique hook — the world has ended! But that’s okay, because the gods are about to make a new one. What will the world they design be like this time?
Your role is to talk to the childlike godlings, trying to help them grow in power and in compassion, until you ultimately decide which of them will have the biggest role in shaping the world to come. It’s a surprisingly philosophical and psychological game beneath the sweet, colorful graphics.
Mythic Ocean came from a team of just three developers. One of the writers, Darren Malley, also contributed this gorgeous, ethereal soundtrack. Other games have tried to capture the otherworldly feeling of the ocean before — including classics like Ecco the Dolphin — but none of them quite match the emotional breadth and depth of Malley’s sprawling, 2.5-hour score.
You might like this album if: you enjoy the Ecco the Dolphin soundtrack; you like jazz flute; you’re looking for something atmospheric.
Bloody Trapland 2: Curiosity
In Bloody Trapland 2: Curiosity, players are tasked with helping a team of furry, adorable animals through a landscape plagued by…well, bloody traps. The game definitely caters to a particular sense of humor, but everyone can enjoy Swedish composer Fredrik Häthén’s score.
By turns adventurous, jaunty, contemplative, ethereal, and melancholy, Häthén takes the many varied environments of the game and uses them to create a sprawling sonic world all his own. All the things that you might expect from a game soundtrack are here — twinkly tunes for the Snowy Mountain, the obligatory desert stage theme — but Häthén’s deft hand takes a sharp left turn with the tropes, landing in fresh, unexpected places. You might not expect to find such a comforting, charming ride behind a title like this, but that’s just the first delightful surprise of many.
You might like this album if: you like variety in your listening experience.
Bubsy: Paws on Fire
Stemage has been a pillar in the video game music scene for over a decade, starting (as many modern game composers did) as an enthusiast and a cover artist. From his early work as the core of Metroid Metal to his gorgeous guitar performances for Steven Universe to his energetic turn as an in-house performer for the label Brave Wave, Stemage is a dynamic, captivating performer.
But he’s also been composing original game scores for years, and his collaboration with developer Choice Provisions on the Bit.Trip series led him to work on Bubsy when the developer revived the classic platformer series.
It’s fitting that a musician who cut his teeth interpreting NES/SNES music finally gets to play in the platformer sandbox, and Stemage’s love for the musical tradition here absolutely shines. His chirpy, bouncy melodies are partnered with arrangements that evoke the tunes of the 32-bit era, with each playable character getting their own arrangements of each piece of music. If you geek out over classic VGM, this isn’t an album you can miss out on.
You might like this album if: you can’t get enough of the retro sound; you want something high-energy that will get stuck in your head (in a good way).
Ary and the Secret of Seasons
Brighton-based composer Marcus Hedges has spent years establishing himself on YouTube with lush orchestral arrangements of classics from the video game and animation canon.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an indie adventure game that hearkens back to the battling, platforming, and puzzles of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era. For a composer like Hedges, who’s made his name bringing modern grandeur to the classics of that age, it’s a perfect fit.
Hedges’s score for Ary is vivacious and varied, capturing the shifting seasons of the land of Valdi. But at its heart, is a mastery of arrangement and orchestration. If you grew up humming Zelda tunes, Ary is worth checking out.
You might like this album if: you love Zelda games, especially the N64 classics; you appreciate sweeping orchestral scores.
Speaking of nostalgia for the Nintendo 64’s heyday, Playtonics’ Yooka-Laylee is a throwback 3D platformer from many of the same people who brought you Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country. The game launched following a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, where over 73,000 backers pledged more than ten times the initial goal to help get the game made.
Naturally, Rare superstars Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, and Steve Burke had to come on board to compose the music. All of the colorful whimsy of the Rare scores you grew up with is here — this is a perfect soundtrack for fans of classics Donkey Kong Country or Banjo-Kazooie. The ever-so-slight sense of skewed bounciness may also please fans of vintage Tim Burton soundtracks.
You might like this album if: you’ve got nostalgia (or current love) for the colorful platformers of the 64-bit era; you love high-energy weirdness with a sense of childlike wonder.
Frog Fractions 2
Frog Fractions is… hard to explain. The original game starts out pretending to be an edutainment game about eating bugs on a lily pad. But before long, players have to navigate a text adventure game, a Dance Dance Revolution-style rhythm game, and the horrors of bureaucracy (to obtain a work visa).
The game was meant to be a joke between friends, but it turned into a runaway hit. A sequel was Kickstarted, and after a couple of years of silence, an augmented-reality game slowly tipped backers off that their long-awaited sequel was … hidden inside another game, a town-building sim called Glittermitten Grove.
The world of Frog Fractions is confusing and surreal, and the music for it brings in a team of heavy-hitting video game composers like Danny Baranowsky, Ben Prunty, and Ryan Ike, who coproduced the album with Erica Newman (aka YerrikTRB). The album provides music for Glittermitten Grove, music from the ARG that led people to discover Frog Fractions 2, and of course, Frog Fractions 2 itself. Imagine a Carmen Sandiego-themed Gregorian chant, an Alien/Seinfeld mashup, and a Final Fantasy VI–style battle track all on the same album and you’re beginning to understand what you’re getting into.
If that sounds a little odd or confusing, you’re not wrong. But we encourage you to give it a shot knowing that you’re listening to some of the best game composers of the era, cutting loose, collaborating, and having a fantastic time.
You might like this album if: you have an offbeat sense of humor; you want to see what some composers you love come up with when challenged to write something very, very weird but also good.