The 2017 Game Soundtrack of the Year

2017 is drawing to a close, and that means it's time to start handing out GameCrate's prestigious (I mean, maybe, right?) Golden Crate Awards! Let's kick things off by talking about the best game soundtracks of the year.

For last year's award we combined original soundtracks with those made up of licensed music, and Mafia III ended up taking the top spot after edging out Mick Gordon's awesome score for Doom. This year all of our contenders are made up primarily of original tracks, and though Mick Gordon's work on Prey and Wolfenstein II didn't make the cut he remains one of the strongest creative voices working on gaming music today.

On a sad note, 2017 saw the death of composer Daniel Licht, known in gaming for his work on the Dishonored series as well Silent Hill: Downpour and Book of Memories. Licht also famously composed the music for the television series Dexter, and a quick comparison of that show's opening theme with Licht's work on 2017's Dishonored: Death of the Outsider makes his unique musical style clear. He will be missed, and the Dishonored series won't be the same without him.

Honorable Mentions

There may not be a more personal and polarizing aspect of games than their music, and when I asked the GameCrate team for their personal favorite soundtracks of 2017, I received far too many different responses to include all the worthy games as official nominees below. It's still well worth recognizing some of the great musical achievements we saw in the past year.

2017 saw great new Zelda and Mario games for the Nintendo Switch, each with fantastic original soundtracks, while Sonic Mania remixed and reimaginined some of the greatest and most popular game songs of all time.

The soundtrack for Pyre is another strong auditory effort from Supergiant composer Darren Korb, continuing the success of previous efforts Bastion and Transistor, and the jazzy tunes of Persona 5 landed it just outside the top four soundtracks of the year in our rankings.

But of course, like so much when it comes to music, your mileage may vary.

Here are the top four gaming soundtracks of 2017.

Runner-up: Splatoon 2

As charming and odd as the game itself, Splatoon 2's music combines heavy beats, electronic hooks, guitars and drums, and cutesy vocals to create something somehow both totally unexpected and perfectly in keeping with the game's overall style. The music is fast-paced and well suited for the competitive action of Nintendo's one-of-a-kind twist on the team shooter genre.

Splatoon 2's music comes from veteran Nintendo composers Toru Minegishi (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, among many others), Ryo Nagamatsu (Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Mario Kart 8), and Shiho Fujii (Super Mario Odyssey and New Super Mario Bros. U), but it's got a unique style all its own, unlike anything else Nintendo (or anyone else) has ever released.

Listen to the whole soundtrack in a playlist here.

Runner-up: Cuphead

It makes sense for Cuphead, a game that draws so much inspiration from classic animation, to have a soundtrack that wouldn't seem out of place accompanying one of those very cartoons.

Here's what the Steam page for the game's soundtrack has to say about the Cuphead OST:

"Composed by Kristofer Maddigan, the Cuphead OST features nearly 3 hours of original jazz, early big band, and ragtime music. Each song is played by live musicians, including a 13-piece big band, 10-piece ragtime ensemble, a solo pianist, a vocalist, a tap dancer, and a few surprises."

You now have five seconds to think of another game soundtrack in history to ever feature a tap dancer. While you're thinking you can skip to 1:50:30 of the video above to hear the sweet tapping action.

Runner-up: Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata is a very special game that can be hard to talk about in any detail without spoiling some of what makes it so special. Very minor spoilers lie ahead, so skip to the next game if you'd prefer to avoid them.

Nier: Automata's soundtrack is a strange and enormous achievement, and the incredible six hour OST video above is a testament to the game's shocking depth. The soundtrack employs musical styles ranging from ambient electronica to soaring classical pieces to retro chiptunes, but the best part is that most of the songs on the soundtrack come in multiple different versions, some with vocals and some without, with differences that mirror the different perspectives and gameplay styles that unfold as you play the game (and then play it again and again).

There's a lot going on with Nier: Automata's soundtrack, including faux-French vocals and layered music with tracks that blend into one another depending on the player's location and the action in the game. If you're interested in more information, check out the audio section of the game's Wikipedia (preferably while listening to the game's soundtrack).

Winner: Nidhogg 2

It's very possible you missed this indie fighting game entirely, but it's absolutely worth a play just to experience its 90s gross-out visuals, its stripped-down take on fighting game gameplay, and its absolutely killer soundtrack. While Nidhogg 1 loyalists were split in their reception of this sequel, it's hard to argue with a $20 Steam price tag that gets you both a wild and hilarious indie fighting game and one of the best albums of 2017 for fans of "glitch, experimental, and beat-driven music."

Electronic artist Mux Mool leads the way with nine tracks on the game's OST (including the opening track, titled "Intentional Death and Dismemberment Plan"), but Geotic, Doseone, Osborne, and Daedelus are also featured. The Nidhogg 2 soundtrack will catch your attention and get you bobbing your head from the very first seconds, and by the time it's done you'll likely be seeking out more music from the artists featured.

It's equally great music to work, dance, or stab your enemies to, and the soundtrack deserves to be a hit even if the game remains relatively obscure.

Congratulations to Nidhogg 2, winner of GameCrate's 2017 Game Soundtrack of the Year Award!