Buzz Aldrin’s Space Race - Hearing the orchestral intro music in 1994
Upgrading PC hardware doesn’t feel as significant as it used to. And that’s okay, but a few of us can relate to plugging in something as trivial as a soundcard and experiencing what felt like a revelatory leap at the time. The CD-ROM update to Buzz Aldrin’s Space Race incorporated orchestral intro music that required an advanced sound card to simply listen to. But imagine! Dropping a significant chunk of money just to hear recorded music. Though it might sound silly by today’s standards, place yourself in some really old 1994-era velcro sneaks, and just listen. Phew. That’s the sweet serenade of PC gaming.
THPS2 - Darksliding in Skate Heaven to the Anthrax version of Bring the Noise
Not many of us actually came out of the 2000s skateboarding obsession as professionals, but Neversoft at least gave us something that fit beneath our aptitude ceiling in the Tony Hawk series. THPS2’s soundtrack is the arguably the strongest of the PC releases, but what trick and track combination worked for you may vary. No matter how it clicked, the game was a spiritual homage to skating culture. Every song felt of the era, and had likely been in a professional skate video before. Even though it wasn’t realistic, the game served to inspire through its exaggerated move set, because pulling off a 900 to a darkslide to a backflip to a manual while Anthrax throbbed through your headphones wasn’t a far cry from the feeling of landing a simple kickflip to the tune of your buddies’ applause and Rancid’s throaty sermons.
Peggle - Hitting the last orange peg
You’d think that hearing Ode to Joy after completing a few hundred Peggle levels would get old, but surprise, it never does and never will. Some challenges are a struggle, so the deliberate way in which the camera zooms in to tease the ball’s final contact, how it peels back, lights up the board in every which way, and bumps that familiar song—yeah, it’s nice.
Botinacula - Any tunes that play when you complete puzzles with your little plant buddies
Amanita Design puts out pretty adventure game after pretty adventure game ( and a movie here and there) and while their dedication to art is a massive component of their signature, so is their music. Samorost and Machinarium could very well be included in this list, but Botinacula takes the cake for how it kicks you in the face with inspiring tunes almost immediately. After solving the first few puzzles with your little plant friends, you’re rewarded with the game’s most recognizable song. As with most Amanita tunes, each sounds as if it’s part of the environment. This track, Juchu, sounds as if the characters are singing while the incidental creatures and scenery are the backup band. The result is a soundtrack equally as important to the game as its visual components. Listen to the rest of the tracks here.
X-Wing/TIE Fighter - When backup arrives and the rebel alliance fanfare plays
LucasArts' iMUSE (Interactive Music Streaming Engine) was used in some of their early adventure games, beginning with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. It allowed their MIDI music soundtracks to adapt on the fly to fit the action on screen, be it transitions between scenes, changes in mood, or when something exciting occurred. This was great in adventure games, but I think it really worked best in the Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter games. You'd be out on a mission, battling the Empire, and when your backup arrived the soundtrack would transition to the rebel alliance fanfare (basically, the opening bars to the Star Wars theme). Not only did it let you know allies were here to help, it also made the game feel more cinematic. Likewise, when more enemy ships showed up you'd get a bit of the Imperial March woven into the soundtrack. No matter which side you were on, Rebel or Imperial, those little dynamic musical cues made you feel like you were in the movies.