Video Game Scores - Elevating Gaming Beyond A Hollywood Movie

Movies are always celebrated for their scores and soundtracks.  The feelings their scores invoke at just the right moment, can touch a memory in such a way to make you smile and even cry.  Throughout the history of movies, there is always a score or soundtrack that someone considers iconic in their life.  For me, its not just one movie, but composers who are iconic.  To me, John Williams and Hans Zimmer, are iconic.  When you watch a film and you hear the score,  you automatically can tell if it was a score created by them or not.  The scores they create always invoke emotion.  When you hear their scores, even outside of the movie, they invoke memories.  Memories that can be good or bad, but resonate with what was going on in your life at that time.

Personally I think scores in video games play a bigger part than most people realize.  For me, these scores bring back a lot of memories of childhood as well as game nights with friends.  When someone hears a score to a movie, they don’t necessarily know the movie off the top of their head.  Play them a soundtrack to a game and they will know where it comes from.  Each of the big three console manufacturers (Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony), each has scores that are iconic to them and invoke a lot of memories.  Let’s take a look at the iconic scores for each.


Nintendo has had memorable soundtracks since they first introduced Super Mario Bros and the original NES to the masses.  Nintendo has been a part of gaming DNA since the 80’s, and their inclusion, I believe led to an evolution in the gaming industry.  Their soundtracks are ones that can easily get stuck in your head just from the sure mention of them.  For anyone that has played Nintendo games, the song can pop into your mind the second someone mentions it.  Just think of the first level for Super Mario Bros on the NES as well as the Lost Woods in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64.  If you have played the games, the memories are there.  There are times when Saria’s Song will just randomly jump into my mind, and I cant help but hum it all day long.


The standout scores really started once Naughty Dog shifted to making the story driven action games that we have come to love: Uncharted and The Last of Us.  With the later, Gustavo Santalolalla created a masterful soundtrack.  The soundtrack creates a sense of despair but also hope at the same time.  When you hear the heavy acoustic guitar track “The Last of Us” you know its from The Last of Us.  The most iconic would be from the Uncharted series.  The moment you hear “Nate’s Theme”, regardless if it is 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0, you just know its from Uncharted.  It calls to the moments that you first played Uncharted.  Every piece of the soundtracks for Uncharted 1-4 and Lost Legacy, fit perfectly into the games.  The soundtracks have their highs and lows based on the game itself.  When the tempo picks up, the soundtracks pick up accordingly.  


Halo has been an epic journey on XBox since the original console.  For anyone that has played a Halo game, you just hear that iconic monk chant, and it snaps you back to when you first experienced the game.  The scores fit the games perfectly, especially when you were moving into an uptempo part of the game.  From “Covenant Dance”(Halo: Combat Evolved), to “Halo Them Mjolnir Mix”(Halo 2), to “Behold a Pale Horse”(Halo 3), you just know they are from Halo.  I can remember back to when Microsoft announce Halo 3.  When “Finish the Fight” started to play, you just knew they were announcing Halo.  Although Bungie has moved on from Halo, Microsoft ensured that the legacy of the Halo scores lived on, not only with Halo 4 and 5, but with the Halo Anniversary Edition.  They have made sure to keep the soul of the scores originally created by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori fully intact, but also evolve them to include bigger orchestral arrangements.  Even the updated arrangements still invoke those memories of Halo LAN Parties, and the fun it brought to game nights.


The next time you play a game, make sure to take in the soundtrack.  There are amazing pieces work out there, even amongst 3rd-party games.  If its something that you enjoy, definitely let the composers know and pickup the score, I am sure they will appreciate it.

Matt Diorio (CGN Host)
Matt Diorio (CGN Host)
Editor/Podcast Host/Content Creator