SEGA has been steadily posting Sonic soundtracks to iTunes as of late, both from his early 2D outings and his most recent jaunts on this generation of consoles.
Like any video game series that’s been around as long as Sonic has, there is a LOT of music to choose from when you’re trying to find the right song to spice up your next high society gala/gathering of fellow nerds. A lot of people know the most popular Sonic tunes, but outside that spectrum of songs, there’s some very interesting and weird ones that you may have missed or just forgotten about completely.
To that end, I’m giving you eleven interesting Sonic songs that you’d do well to have in your collection.
11. “White Acropolis (Snowy Peak)” – Sonic the Hedgehog ’06 (Xbox 360, PS3)
Sonic 2006 is a terrible game. It’s broken in fifty thousand different ways. However, many redeeming factors lurk beneath the gross surface.
One big one is the incredible music that persists throughout the entire game. I could do a whole article on the great music from this game, but I settled on “White Acropolis (Snowy Peak).”
Set in what appears to be a combination ski resort/evil headquarters, “White Acropolis” is soaked in a James Bond-esque spy vibe…but also with killer robots. The song is sort of a cold, industrial-dance-spy-jazz song. It’s pretty much as cool as it sounds. It fits the serious tone of 2006 very well, even if pretty much nothing else did.
10. “Tidal Tempest (Bad Future)” – Sonic CD (U.S. Soundtrack) (Sega CD)
Set in the mysterious ruins of an ancient, long-vanished race, Tidal Tempest is one of the most memorable levels from the already memorable Sonic CD, a game that came out in between Sonic 1 and 2 for the ill-fated Sega CD attachment for the Genesis (points if you can name three more games for the Sega CD!).
Featuring adventure-based gameplay and time travel, when you travel to the “Bad Future” of this zone in the U.S. version of Sonic CD (Japan and Europe had a different soundtrack of equal quality), you are treated to this moody, atmospheric piece that mixes ominous chanting (courtesy of vocal group Pastiche, who’s all over this game, including the rockin’ theme song) with nightmarish, depressing synth that feels oddly hopeless.
If a Sonic song and a Blade Runner song had a baby, it’d probably sound a little like this.
“9. Red Hot Skull (Red Mountain Part II)” – Sonic Adventure (DC, GC, PC)
Set in the bowels of an active volcano that was once a prison of an unknown sort, the second half of the Red Mountain Stage is evocative of one word: Hell.
Lava rises without warning, and the ghosts of former prisoners stare out at you in their cramped cells, bobbing rhythmically to the heavy, unsettling music. Jun Senoue lays a loud, delayed guitar line over slamming guitar and bass, punctuated by the occasional hellish wail from the backing vocals.
Something you might miss about this song is the cool, campy horror-movie style organ solo that shows up late in the song, reminding us that yeah, this is a dark and creepy stage, but not without the sense of humor that’s always accompanied Sonic games.
This track is a reimagining of a song called “Crying World” from a little-known Sega game called Ristar, released for the Sega Genesis way back in 1995. Check it out here.
8. “Theme of Sand Ruins” – Sonic Riders (GC, PS2, Xbox)
Sonic Riders is a game that’s not looked upon too favorably by a lot of gamers, but you’d know that if you read my last article (shameless plug). Because of the less-than-stellar reputation this game is stuck with, a lot of cool music just goes unheard.
One of my favorite tunes is the “Theme of Sand Ruins”, a track set amid the crumbling (yet still mysteriously powerful) desert ruins of the ancient Babylonians. This track is (at least to the best of my discernment) Middle-Eastern music hybridized with a heavy dance beat, making for a weirdly compelling track.
There’s a sitar in this song! How often do you hear a sitar in video game music?!
If you play the game, I suggest playing the nighttime variant of this track, because it somehow makes the song even cooler and more effective. Don’t ask me why.
7. “The Doom” – Shadow the Hedgehog (GC, PS2, Xbox)
Joint research projects between hostile, evil aliens and humanity gone dangerously wrong!
I wrote about Shadow last time, so I won’t try to praise the hidden virtues of this much-hated game again, mostly for fear of violence being committed against my person.
Set aboard the ill-fated Space Colony ARK that Shadow was born on, The Doom is one of the worst levels in this game. I have to be honest. Confusing, poorly thought out, and overly long, the level deserves no acclaim on its own.
That being said, the music is great. Serene, relaxing synth is paired with an upbeat drum track that suits the somber, lonely vibe of the ARK perfectly. The music isn’t particularly complex, nor does it exhibit much in the way of progression, but “The Doom” is a relaxing enough track to keep you from killing anyone when you die for the fifth time twenty minutes into the level.
And that’s something.
This song could be considered a bit of a companion piece to “Aquatic Base” from Sonic ’06. Also of note: This song was composed by Jun Senoue, and is one of his few compositions since the late nineties that isn’t guitar-driven. I hear tell that there is a vocal track mixed deep into this song. I’ve never been able to make it out, but Shadow levels have had a history of having vocal tracks mixed in, so I can’t say for sure it’s not true.
6. “Tidal Tempest (Good Future)” – Sonic CD (U.S. Soundtrack) – (Sega CD, PC)
Okay, I know I already did a Tidal Tempest song on here, but this one deserves acclaim too, specifically because of the smokin’ guitar solo laid down by Erik Frykmann at the thirty-three second mark. Seriously, the dude tears that guitar a new one. The backing rhythms are very synth-heavy, with sexy female backing vocals from Pastiche. This song is the epitome of nineties cool.
5. “Mystic Mansion” – Sonic Heroes (GC, PS2, Xbox)
This is hands-down the weirdest level in Sonic Heroes, featuring ghosts, bizarre teleporters, and tons of little unsettling details to keep you on edge. Well, as “on-edge” as you can get playing Sonic Heroes.
This level is creepy and inventive enough to deserve its own article, but, since I’m already in the middle of this one, it’ll have to wait. The most important things to note about this song is that it was composed by Jun Senoue (like many of the songs on this list) and that the lead line is played on a frickin’ theremin.
Jun usually gravitates towards guitar in his compositions (because he’s a fantastic guitarist), so to see him experiment with something as weird and offbeat as a theremin is awesome. Throw in some weird chimes and some heavy rhythm guitar, and you’ve got another great Senoue song.
4. “Deeper” – Sonic Adventure 2 (DC, GC)
That’s right, folks. We’ve hit the big leagues. A damn Knuckles rap.
If you played Sonic Adventure 2, you might remember that Knuckles was branded with a very “urban” vibe, featuring hip-hop/jazz fusion songs for each of his levels in the game, all with vocals by rapper Hunnid-P, who has just recently resurfaced on YouTube with hints at a new project with Sega (Fingers crossed for Sonic Adventure 3. Squee!).
It goes without saying that these can get pretty dorky, but, if you dig deep down, you’ll have to admit that they’re also pretty sweet.
The two most memorable Knuckles raps are likely “A Ghost’s Pumpkin Soup” and “Space Trip Steps,” as they are the catchiest of the five level tunes. “Catchy” doesn’t necessarily equate with “best” in my mind, and that’s why I’ve picked “Deeper,” the theme to the level Death Chamber, as my showcase track.
Set in an ancient pseudo-Egyptian pyramid that’s been retrofitted with devious machinery by the ever-present Dr. Robotnik, Death Chamber is architecturally fascinating on its own. Throw in this somber, jazzy piece, and you’ve got art. Moody piano, lonely improvised saxophone and great, relaxed vocals from Mr. P make for an excellent track to relax to.
There are two versions of this song, one with a brief vocal interlude that’s ostensibly between Sonic and Knuckles (just Hunnid-P talking to himself) and one where that’s been removed so you can hear the relaxed saxophone solo behind it (Okay, it’s actually because Sonic says “damn,” but I like to imagine it’s for a less stupid reason, like the saxophone).
Try as I might, I cannot find the version with just the sax, which I think is superior on a straight musical level. That being said, this one is basically just as good. Listen for the “conversation” at about fifty-seven seconds in.
But really, listen to the saxophone behind all of that.
3. “Big Fishing at Emerald Coast” – Sonic Adventure (DC, GC, PC)
There were three songs composed for Emerald Coast in Sonic Adventure, and two of them are pretty well-known and loved, having just gotten remixed for Sonic Generations.
This one, however, is just as cool.
It was written for the infamous Big the Cat fishing stages from Sonic Adventure, and it’s a very relaxed “island” song, featuring a happy, carefree slide guitar. The perfect song for sprawling out on the white sands of an idyllic beach with nothing but a few cold ones and the sunshine.
The slide guitar may not be for everyone, but for those who can enjoy it, this song is the musical version of a lazy day in the sun.
2. “Rusty Ruin Act 1/2” – Sonic 3D Blast (Genesis)
This song is AWESOME.
The pinnacle of 16-bit epicness.
Set in what is apparently the risen ruins of the fabled city of Atlantis, Rusty Ruin features a number of diabolical traps and loads of interesting scenery, two things you can always expect from the polarizing Sonic 3D Blast.
This song defies explanation beyond “cool and catchy,” so I suggest you to just turn it on and crank it up.
1. “Jungle Joyride (Night)” – Sonic Unleashed
A lot of people hate the night stages in Sonic Unleashed, which is sort of understandable because they can be absurdly frustrating and long. That said, the music deserves a chance, as it is just as good as the daytime stage tunes.
This song is flat-out beautiful. The spotlight is split between a beautiful, mournful cello and a striking piano that duet just as harmoniously as any two vocalists could.
Set in a flourishing oceanside jungle at sunset, Jungle Joyride Night is a visual spectacle, awash in brilliant floral greens and the rich golden tones of the sinking sunlight striking the vast ocean. This song is perfectly suited to the environment, and it remains hauntingly evocative of the imagery in my mind.
The track is a masterpiece all on its own, and deserves to be heard and enjoyed. If you only click on one song from this list, let it be this one.
So there you have it. Eleven pared down from my large list of honorable mentions. Throw me a line in the comments and tell me what you think.