When Music Makes a Game

By Drew Dixon

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 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. The music takes the mundane action of S&SEP and imbues it with meaning. 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. This combination of simple art design with stellar music has me wondering whether games’ current bias toward hyper realistic and high definition art is actually advancing the medium.

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 a part-time job. 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 totallymade the game worthwhile. 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.

This article originally appeared in When Games Matter, a column that can be read weekly at Christ and Pop Culture.


Drew Dixon is co-editor of Christ and Pop Culture, he also writes about games for Relevant, Paste Magazine, and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Steam: Drizzoo703 XBL: Drizzoo82 PSN: Drizzoo

Written by Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about videogames for Paste Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Bit Creature, and Think Christian.