Octogeddon Soundtrack (PC), Big Giant Circles, 2018
“Every game before Plants vs. Zombies, I was just making a game. Now, after making Plants vs. Zombies, I’m making a game in that shadow.” That’s how developer George Fan described the not necessarily easy task of following up one of indie gaming’s biggest successes. But while Octogeddon didn’t sell by the bucketload like Plants vs. Zombies did, it still ranked as another success for Fan, with consistently strong feedback from reviewers and gamers. Like Plants vs. Zombies, Octogeddon works from a deliciously silly concept – this time it’s a homicidal octopus that swears revenge after seeing his friends served as sushi, vowing to destroy the world’s most famous landmarks (think Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty etc.) Fan decided to mix the arcadey nature of the gameplay – including hilarious weapon/tentacle upgrades – with rogue-like elements that helped to keep the game’s early levels challenging, even upon repeated playthroughs.
The Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack – courtesy of Laura Shigihara – had become one of game music’s first indie breakthrough successes back in 2009. Shigihara didn’t return for Octogeddon and instead, scoring duties went to Big Giant Circles (aka Jimmy Hinson). Looking at Hinson’s discography, the charming, action-packed 2D aesthetic and gameplay that Octogeddon sports was right in his ballpark – consider his previous chiptunes-pop smashes Pocket Mine and Extreme Bike Trip. Other scores released since those fairly succinct works had given Hinson the opportunity to create more expansive soundtracks – and Octogeddon is his most successful attempt at a full album-length score yet. He’s is helped on a few tracks by Fan, who has his material arranged by Hinson, ensuring a coherent album flow.
On the Octogeddon soundtrack, fans of Hinson’s earlier scores will find the same artistic traits that made his previous works such a blast – with the added bonus that now we get nearly an hour rather than 15 minutes of euphoric, constantly enjoyable music. Hinson still knows better than almost any other game music composer currently working how to write crowd-pleasing, instantly thrilling works that combine simple, catchy melodies with plenty of musical substance.
Not only does he always find the perfect balance between riding a memorable melody hook and moving on to the next one before things get repetitive. His instrumentations remain as lushly detailed and joyfully dense as always, mixing pop, metal, orchestral and electronica into a colourful, seamless whole. While the Octogeddon soundtrack rarely turns into overt parody, it’s still in tune with the game’s consciously ridiculous humour, underscoring the rampage of a cute 2D octopus with bombastic pop hooks and stadium-sized guitar riffs and beats (and the power metal chorus on “Angry Octopus (Credits)” is an absolute hoot).
It’s that sense of fun and bravado that makes the Octogeddon soundtrack such a joy to listen to. From the moment “Angry Octopus Instrumental (New York Ocean)” mixes a sing-along sea shanty with stomping metal guitar riffs, a heroic horn motif and wordless male choir pads, it’s obvious that Hinson is ready to create as massive a sound as possible. This isn’t game music that is concerned with subtlety – all that Octogeddon wants is to entertain and it does so brilliantly.
Particularly during moments where orchestral elements take the lead, this feels a bit like a Remote Control score that actually has strong enough melodies to pull off its pop-influenced orchestral writing – and has enough humour to also throw in brazen metal guitars and drums, location-inappropriate uillean pipes (“Didgeridoo I’m Comin’ for You (Sydney Ocean)”) and location-spoofing accordion (“French Dip (France Ocean)”). It’s thanks to the soundtrack’s enthusiasm and Hinson’s musical talents that such unlikely combinations work as beautifully as they do here. Particular kudos must go to “Octovania (Tokyo Ocean)”. Yes, this is Hinson paying homage to the Castlevania soundtracks and he perfectly integrates that franchise’s Gothic melodic instincts with his metal / sea shanty / accordion mix.
Once our raging sea critter reaches shore to continue his trail of destruction, the music changes a bit, while staying true to the Octogeddon soundtrack’s focus on big melodies. “New York Squishy (NY City)” sets the tone with a greater emphasis on colder, 80s-inspired synth beats that replace the sea shanties – a creative approach to signal the transition from natural to man-made environment. Melodic metal guitars are still accounted for and keep energy levels relentlessly high, but the music lurches closer to the neon-coloured dance floor. Tempi slow down a bit now – “Sunsets and No Regrets (Sydney City)”’s surprisingly moody guitar solo suits the track’s mid-tempo pace perfectly. Later city tracks like “Nightlife-or-Death (Tokyo City)” and “OCTOpus vs PENTAgon (DC City)” are slower still, thunderously pulsing and thumping as they go for (comic book-inspired) gravitas rather than adrenaline.
Since the Octogeddon soundtrack’s level cues already deliver some sterling action game music, you would expect the boss battle tracks to at least maintain that level of excitement – and you would be correct. Heavy, grungier riffage than usually dominates “Badliest Catch (Miniboss)”, although there is still space for creative ideas like the gutsy lead for harmonising horns and guitar at 0:50, or the bits of accordion melody flitting across the stereo field later on. Hinson and Fan add chiptunes to “Rocktogeddon (Boss Fight)” during its particularly intense finale for fierce guitar and bubbling synths. But of course the real star is “Sushi Showdown (Final Boss)”. From its galloping metal rhythms to the score’s most complex drumming, supported by the classical bombast of a choir and towering brass, this is the perfect summation of the score’s commitment to deliver a power-pop wall-of-sound that is as enticingly over-the-top as it is immediately accessible.
- 01 - Angry Octopus Instrumental (New York Ocean) Big Giant Circles 2:42
- 02 - New York Squishy (New York City) Big Giant Circles 3:20
- 03 - Didgeridoo I'm Comin' for You (Sydney Ocean) Big Giant Circles 3:19
- 04 - Sunsets and No Regrets Big Giant Circles 3:36
- 05 - Octovania (Tokyo Ocean) Big Giant Circles 2:48
- 06 - Nightlife-or-Death (Tokyo City) Big Giant Circles 3:05
- 07 - French Dip (French Ocean) Big Giant Circles 3:07
- 08 - OCTOpus vs PENTAgon (DC City) Big Giant Circles 3:12
- 09 - Badliest Catch (Miniboss) Big Giant Circles 2:59
- 10 - Rocktogeddon (Boss Fight) Big Giant Circles 3:36
- 11 - Sushi Showdown (Final Boss) Big Giant Circles 3:15
- 12 - Fish are Friends (Minigame) Big Giant Circles 1:58
- 13 - Angry Octopus (Credits) Big Giant Circles 2:18