With thousands of games releasing each year, there's more head-bopping, heart-squeezing videogame music than we can keep track of. But we tried anyway, scraping through our libraries (and beyond) to find what we consider the best tunes of the year so far. Headphones and/or the subwoofers in your kid's car are definitely recommended.
If you like the music, be sure to let the artist know—maybe buy a few records on vinyl, invite some friends and family over, get a cheeseboard way above your budget going, and let a track like Intentional Death and Dismemberment Plan direct the evening.
Tooth and Tail
Tango and latin dance music may not strike you as the best fit for a game about feudal gangs of small animals at war, but Tooth and Tail manages to pull it off. Every song is played with 20th century Russian instruments that blend the dance tunes into something a bit more pastoral, and once the drunken barroom singing comes in, you'll want to start dancing again—just with a battle axe in the hand that isn't busy with beer.
Destiny 2's Hive theme
Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C Paul Johnson
Most of Destiny 2's music is fine. It's just fine. You get nice orchestral swells that imply drama and hope and a story much bigger than yourself. It's typical Big Game Stuff. But tucked away on Titan, a planet you aren't required to spend much time on, you'll find the creepy-crawly Hive enemies, and accompanying them is the best music in the game by far. With one foot in Quake's Nine Inch Nails lo-fi industrial noise and the other in the punched up, blown out orchestral sounds of a Marvel movie fight scene, the Hive themes in Destiny 2 narrate the action as much as they drive it, providing a stylish soundscape of scraped guitars steady percussion to pop alien heads to. Shame it's hidden away.
Ruiner's somber synth beats feel like a direct response to Hotline Miami's retro club boomers. They're just as loud, have just as much bass, and the melodies are just as catchy, but Ruiner's soundtrack brings a sinister sadness right to the fore rather than bury it as subtext. In Ruiner's dystopian cyberpunk world, everything is awful and everyone knows it, but swaying and lazily bobbing your head is still a reliable way to tread the existential waters.
OK, so Sonic is good again (let's not talk about Forces), but what would we think of Sonic Mania if it didn't get such an excellent soundtrack? It's a surprising return to great level design for the series, but the biggest contributor to what makes Mania so endearing is its flashy, confident style—and the vibrant, energetic, and diverse soundtrack is largely to thank for that. If you weren't in control of the blue blur of a hedgehog zipping across the screen, the temptation to play air piano to the Studiopolis themes would be impossible to resist.
The trend of games with excellent compilation soundtracks continues. Hotline Miami popularized the practice, pulling from a handful of artists to cure an aural identity, but now Nidhogg 2 is the new champ. With a catchy, danceable tracklist, every track supports the physical comedy of its prolonged fights and the wacky new artstyle, but stays just as listenable on the dance floor or on a long commute home. Turn it up.
Of course Cuphead was going to make the list. To fit with its Fleischer Studios animation style, Studio MDHR enlisted a big band, a live big band for its recording sessions. The result is a massive soundtrack of toe-tapping hits, each with the ability to get a room up and moving. It might be the most surprising and instantly likable of all the soundtracks released this year.
Mick Gordon of Doom (2016) fame is back on Prey, but with the fuzz and feedback on his electric guitars (how do guitars work?) turned down, and the reverb on his synths and acoustic guitars turned up. Prey's soundtrack melds the computerized rhythms of '70s sci-fi with the homespun sounds of solo country music, planting a grassroots vibe at the center of its digital sound, firmly anchoring the cerebral story in the realm of possibility.
OK, so most of the Dream Daddy soundtrack is pretty simple, but the theme song will bore itself into your subconscious and never leave. Written and performed by Will Wiesenfeld, who also performs as Baths, the theme song channels the exaggerated romance and humor of one of 2017's most playful dating sims. It's also just a damn good song.