Hate 'em or love 'em, video games are one of the most amusing and innovative forms of entertainment. I don't play them often (being a working man and all), but for years of my life were shaped by them. From age six and waking up to play Mario 64 to age 16 playing Rock Band with the homies (shout out to Wiser, Frisbee, and Chief; that bad will never die), I was enthralled by them.
Everyone has their preference in genre: the RPG, the third person shooter, the superhero game, etc. My personal favorite games were the extreme sports games. It's an odd pick because modern bro video game culture has hyped up FIFA, NHL, and Madden as the dominant sports games. Pregames are spent yelling at the TV screen, picking three random teams, blaming the controller for all of your mistakes (cough cough Jules Curiel cough wheeze) and forcing friends to pass the controller with a specific slaughter rule number depending on the game. Games like this end up with people more angry than satisfied.
As "fun" as that may sound, extreme sports games piqued my interest. Games like the Tony Hawk series, the SSX series, and Aggresive Inline were the basis of my video game experience. The gameplay was superb, filled with beautiful graphics and aesthetics, cool tricks, elaborate plot lines, and endless creativity. There's only so many ways to score a touchdown in Madden, but there's a seemingly infinite amount of ways to go down a mountain in SSX. It's no coincidence that so many kids in my neighborhood picked up skateboarding after Tony Hawk debuted in 1999. If wasn't one of them, but I could hang with my Mongoose bike: sans training wheels, avec pegs.
One of the undeniably important sports video game features is the soundtrack. Major sports games have come a long way in their soundtracks since their beginning, but since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was released, the action sports soundtracks have been better. It's probably because the extreme sports culture is very similar to hipster culture: both are trying to create new things and create a new standard for what's cool. The music helps dictate both aesthetics. Don't believe me? Check out this legendary JP Auclair segment and see how nicely the music plays off the shots:
There is good music in Madden and NHL, but the majority of the songs are handpicked by labels and publishing companies to be poorly synched into games for profit. Who can forget Bon Jovi's awful "Everyday" in Madden 2003 or this Fall Out Boy reject song in NHL06. I won't knock FIFA here because their soundtracks are gold, but who can hear it over the fuming rage of a gamer when his virtual player doesn't shoot on the first touch???
While most will say the Tony Hawk games have the best soundtracks (THUG2 has gems all over the place), my favorite video game soundtrack belongs to SSX On Tour.
Being a shitty teenager when this game came out, I was poorly educated in modern music. I had waived off top 40 completely. To be fair, it wasn't an entirely terrible decision when songs like Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" and Jibb's "Chain Hang Low" are charting. I escaped by listening exclusively to classic rock. Jimi Hendrix, Queen, and Led Zeppelin were non-stop in my iPod. Luckily, On Tour had my classic rock fill with songs from Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Dio, and Scorpions. It also has Louis XIV's "God Killed the Queen". Their album may have received the meanest Pitchfork reviews ever, but that song is unbelivably catchy.
The soundtrack also included the music I had been missing out on while listening to classic rock. It's filled with jams that introduced me to some great music, including LCD Soundsystem ("Daft Punk is Playing at My House"), Death From Above 1979 ("Romantic Rights"), Queens of the Stone Age ("Medication"), The Hives ("No Pun Intended"), Bloc Party ("Banquet") and OK GO ("Here It Goes Again" before the legendary video was released). All of these songs have aged well, and some of these songs (especially "Banquet" and "Daft Punk") earned their rotation into my party playlist.
The soundtrack isn't rap heavy, but it picks its spots well. Music from Jurassic 5 (one of my favorite rap groups ever, but that's for another article), Blackilicious, and Chali 2na all do their job, and Paul Wall's "Sittin' Sidewayz" KNOCKS. I used to hate Paul Wall in '05, but the Houston grills-clad rapper has grown on me big time.
My favorite part of the soundtrack is their electronic selection. The curator found Diplo early in his career, adding "Indian Thick Jawns" and a sped-up "Big Lost" from his inaugural Florida to the game. These songs have a laid-back fee helped set the tone for the rest of he electronic picks do as well. Acts like Z-Trip (now immortalized in Frank Ocean's "Novacane") and Bonobo (whose "Flutter" and "Pick Up" are dope beyond measure) showed the early signs of electronic's meteroric rise in the music landscape.
Throwing monster tricks and skiing/riding (I preferred skis cuz I'm different like that) down virtual mountains to the SSX On Tour got me as hype as a teenager playing games simulating life could. I'd take it any day over yelling at the controller for not passing a ball on time any damn day.