Game Music, Reviews

Desktop Dungeons OST (Review)

January 24, 2014 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook Desktop Dungeons OST (Review)on Twitter

As we continue into the new year, we at OSV have decided to take a look back at some of the albums that we missed from 2013. Starting today, we will be covering some of the albums we missed in addition to newer content. The first of these is the soundtrack to the indie title Desktop Dungeons. The game is a tactical dungeon crawler that focuses on exploring randomly generated maps, in rounds that take around 10 minutes to complete. The dungeon gameplay has complex tactical elements, but also works like a puzzle. Primarily, you have to figure out ways to maximize the efficiency of your abilities and limited resources in order to make it through the dungeon alive. It started out as a freeware game but received further development and was eventually released on Steam last year. Our two composers for this soundtrack are Danny Baranowsky and Grant Kirkhope. Now for anyone who is an avid videogame music lover, that may be all you need to hear in order to be sold on this album. Grant Kirkhope is the well known composer of games including Banjo-Kazoie, Goldeneye 64, and more recently Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Danny Baranowsky, another equally talented composer, has written for games include Super Meat Boy, Canabalt, and The Binding of Isaac.

It’s always interesting to see what happens when multiple composers come together on a single project. Both Kirkhope and Baranowsky have their own unique styles of music writing, so I was curious to see how their music would contrast against one another. Would they try to blend their styles of writing into a consistent whole or would they intentionally use their contrasting styles to create more variety in the game score? The soundtrack features pieces that are individually written by the composers and a fair number of pieces that they collaborate on. If you’re familiar with either composer, you’ll be able to pick out elements of their music writing in this album. You can hear Kirkhope’s catchy melody writing, much in the vein of his Banjo-Kazoie music, and Baranowsky’s driving rhythms and unique melody writing style can also be heard throughout the album.

A majority of the pieces on the Desktop Dungeons OST are featured on the different battle map locations. It’s nice to hear a good variety of music in these sections, considering it’s where you spend a majority of the time in the game. What I like a lot about the music for this game is that it remains energetic and exciting, even when you may be taking your time calculating your next move. I find that a lot of tactical or strategy games tend to have very passive soundtracks. They usually have some cinematic or militaristic vibe to match the action on screen, but they usually try not to draw too much attention away from the player while they think. The route that Baranowsky and Kirkhope choose to go, is to have the music emulate the locations and settings for the different battle, rather than trying to accompany the action itself. This results in tracks that are as diverse and foreboding as the locations themselves. Each of the areas, which include deserts, caves, tundras, and swamps, have their own unique soundscapes that never come off as repetitive or monotonous.

One of Baranowsky’s tracks “Dunes of Damnation” is a great example of how the battle music in this game stays fresh and interesting. Here Baranowsky emulates an eastern sound for the desert level by featuring the exotic sounding hammered dulcimer. The music switches back and forth from percussive sections (featuring the lower strings, dulcimer, and drums) to slower tension building sections (featuring the dulcimer, and higher strings) which eventually build back up to more climactic moments. The track not only maintains interest by changing up its pacing, it also helps create the appropriate atmosphere for the level’s setting. The shift in moods within the track is what really helps the music maintain its appeal and keeps things from feeling dull, even after repetitive visits to the level.

Kirkhope’s tracks, meanwhile, showcase his usual melodic writing talents, as well as his ability to create foreboding and tense atmospheres. His track “The Namtar Giveth” has echoes from his orchestral boss pieces in Kindoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This track builds up with an intensifying string and brass sections before breaking to a calmer section featuring melodies in the bass. While Kirkhope’s recognizable melodic writing is present, the music also adopts a darker and more serious tone. The string arrangements in the section at 1’36” in particular have similar vibes to his work on the Banjo-Kazooie games. The music maintains a good portion of Kirkhope’s unique sound but also blends well with Baranowksy’s tracks.

Of course some of the highlights for this soundtrack occur when the composers combine efforts on a piece. The track “Whaaarrgarrrbl” is easily one of the most enjoyable pieces on the album. Acting as the music for the game’s jungle area, the piece is filled with catchy rhythms, frequent changes in instrumentation and tone, and has a great amount of energy and momentum that’s almost impossible not to be moved by. It would be interesting to hear how this track, as well as the others that the two composers collaborated on, were put together. Each composer’s set of individually written tracks contain great music, but their collaborative tracks really yield something special.

True to my expectations, the Desktop Dungeons OST is a great collaboration by two talented game composers. Danny Baranowsky and Grant Kirkhope each use their own unique writing skills to create an exciting and engaging atmosphere for the game. Each piece of music enhances the settings within the game, giving each area its own identity. Both composers create distinct tracks that showcase their abilities, while remaining similar enough to make a cohesive sounding score. The soundtrack has many high points, but many of them are reached when the two combine forces on the tracks. This album is a must-grab for videogame music fans, especially if you are fans of any of their previous work. The Desktop Dungeons OST can be found on Bandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes.

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