5 Video Game Music Projects You Should Download Right Now

Despite the fact that I have Potholes In My Blog available as a means of writing about music whenever I want to, sometimes I get the feeling that tackling certain topics over there will just leave readers confused and perhaps even annoyed. While that hasn’t stopped me from writing anything before, I believe that Distant Arcade is the proper home for this post that bridges the gap between video games and music. How? By writing about video game music, of course.

Interestingly enough, VGM is having a bit of a moment right now thanks to the brilliant minds at Red Bull Music Academy. They put together a new documentary series, Diggin’ In The Carts, that explores the massive impact that VGM has had on modern artists such as Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Just Blaze. I actually might end up writing about the series here at Distant Arcade, but right now, I wanted to do a more introductory-style post to highlight some truly fantastic VGM projects from the past few years.

Oh, and the best part? They’re all available at a pay-what-you-want price, meaning you can enter “0″ if you can’t afford to throw some money at the artist just yet. And that’s OK, because why else would they let you get it for free if they didn’t encourage it? Anyway, let’s get to the list!

1. Shag – Flyrule

Kicking things off with one of my favorite instrumental projects, well, ever and regardless of genre. Denton, Texas-based producer Shag (who’s only, like, 21 years old) got a lot of attention with the release of Flyrule, which re-imagines music from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as hip-hop beats. With that in mind, I was a little apprehensive when I saw this project several years ago, simply because I was worried about the execution. If handled well, Flyrule could be killer. If not? Cornball city. Luckily for Shag and his ever-growing fanbase, dude pulled it off and successfully created one hell of a tribute to one of the greatest video games of all time.

2. Shag – Flyrule 2: A Terrible Fate

Yeah, so, Flyrule was such a runaway success for Shag that he had to make a sequel, right? Of course, just like Nintendo did when they followed up OoT with the absolutely fantastic Majora’s Mask, which flipped its predecessor’s lighter approach on its end and went straight-up dark. As a longtime Zelda lover, I obviously loved the game and its soundtrack—how could I not? So when I saw that Shag had taken on the music of MM, I was immediately intrigued and smitten. While I’ll basically fight anyone who thinks OoT doesn’t have the best soundtrack ever, MM comes damn close and it makes for some seriously great head-nodding instrumentals. Flyrule 2: A Terrible Fate is a must listen for the flip of “Astral Observatory” alone.

3. Random – Mega Ran

Prior to Mega Ran‘s release, teacher-turned-rapper Random was working diligently to get his music heard. And it’s not like material before this album wasn’t strong; it’s just that it wasn’t reaching the right ears. That all changed when he turned his love for the classic Mega Man series into one hell of a rap-video game crossover. Nerdcore existed before Mega Ran and it will live on when we’re all dead and gone, but few projects in this sub-genre of music have appealed to a wide fanbase. But here’s the thing: Random knows how to spit and write, making for a killer combo as an MC. Also, he put together a highly engaging, unique spin on the Mega Man narrative. Gamer or not. what’s not to enjoy about that? Also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s just a super-nice dude who shows the utmost respect to his fans and source material.

4. Cory Johnson – The Legend of Zelda

I know, more Zelda?! You’re goddamn right. especially when it sounds this amazing. Cory Johnson is a multi-instrumentalist who hails from Huntsville, Ala.—at least, that’s what his Bandcamp indicates—and he delivered one of the most stunning Zelda-themed music projects known to man. To put it quite simply, he dug through the soundtracks of the series and picked out a gang of songs (23!) to transform into instrumental, post-rock mayhem. Now, mayhem is putting it a lil’ harshly, but there is some seriously hard stuff on here that will make fans of Explosions in the Sky and similar acts very proud. It’s difficult to pick out a favorite, especially when they all sound so damn good, but I’m especially partial to his versions of “Fairy Fountain,” “Kakariko Village,” and “Legend of Hyrule.”

5. Jake Kaufman – Shovel Knight Original Soundtrack

So here’s the thing: I am yet to actually play what many are touting as one of the best Wii U games of 2014, aka Shovel Knight. That being said, I am incredibly eager to do so, and not just because so many reviewers and gamers alike have showered this indie title with love. It’s the fact that they have also given major props to the soundtrack, which can only mean one thing: I’m even more of an ass for not having played Shovel Knight. But enough of all that, because I have been making my way through the soundtrack by Jake Kaufman and it is awesome. Just the main theme alone is worth listening to on repeat, if only because it will instantly remind you of the glory days of playing games as a kid on your NES (or Famicom, depending on your region). There’s a good reason for that, too: Kaufman wrote and recorded more than two hours of music that you can actually play on an NES or Famicom. Crazy, right?

Did I miss anything you think should be on here? Let me know in the comments!