Music and video games can be a sublime combination. Whether you’re performing humiliating karaoke versions of cock rock classics with your friends on Harmoix’s Rock Band, or fiddling through rhythm action puzzle games like the recent PSP title Patapon, or trippy two and half D hiphop kungfu classic Parapa the Rappa..
Kick Punch, it’s all in the mind, if you wanta’ test me, I’m sure you’ll find, that all the things I’ll teach ya, is sure to beat ya, nevertheless you’ll get a lesson from teacha
..there’s a special thrill to be had in a soundscape that responds (however trivially) to the interactive elements of a compelling game. The degree of such interactivity can vary hugely, from the now ubiquitous (often unnoticed) matching of musical pace to narrative peaks pioneered by Lucas Arts point and click adventure games in the mid nineties, to the sophisticated transpositional / compositional auditory components of games like Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s ‘Rez’.
Indie darling’s Q-Games, are one of a new breed of developers designing high quality experimental titles for console distribution on Microsoft and Sony’s online stores. Well known for tiny, esoteric but highly acclaimed titles released under their Pixel Junk brand, Q-Games have just released the stunning platformer Pixel Junk Eden. With an ambient electro soundtrack light years ahead of even the most critically lauded musical games, and starkly colored organic art direction, Pixel Junk Eden transforms an otherwise simple platforming dynamic into a deeply absorbing, if occasionally unsettling, experience. As a tiny insect like creature you leap from plant to plant in a surreal series of (apparently undersea) gardens, collecting pollen which fills seeds and springs plants into twisting fluxing life.
Art direction and music for the game were provided by Baiyon, a Japanese multimedia artist (Pixel Junk, although established and run by British born graphics coding genius Dylan Cuthbert, is based in Kyoto). As such, music and play elements combine preternaturally well. An aquatic soundtrack – a million miles away from the high bpm blips and beeps you might associate with chiptune / 8bit (see Paul Bond’s article in this months Analogue) – mixes with squishy sound effects, shifting tempo and urgency in response to an ever draining timer and swaying, growing plants. Oddly, most reviews in the gaming press have described the result as relaxing, when in fact the subliminally unsettling soundtrack, together with the titles tight difficulty curve, should be the only things giving the PS3 owners among you pause. Assuming you can tolerate the games oddly bleak beats and quirky physics, I’d recommend picking up Pixeljunk Eden, right the fuck now.