Video Games Live Level 5 Review

Album cover for Video Games Live Level 5
Album cover for Video Games Live - Level 5

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Name: Video Games Live Level 5
  • Label: Mystical Stone Entertainment
  • Composer(s): Various (produced by Tommy Tallarico)
  • Number of Tracks: 12

So it seems like Tommy Tallarico has gone to Kickstarter a few times now to raise funds for Video Game Music (VGM) compilation albums he's been working on over the years. I decided to support one of his previous albums, "Video Games Live - Level 3" back in 2013 and reviewed the album the following year. Tallarico then went back to Kickstarter in 2014 and successfully raised $187,646 for his "Video Games Live - Level 4" album. I didn't jump on the bandwagon for that particular album because I felt there wasn't a very good selection of tracks on the album, save for Earthworm Jim. In fact, this is a problem I have with all the "Video Games Live" albums in that they tend to focus more on console titles with very little focus on PC or multiplatform titles (although maybe I'm a little biased, considering I'm almost exclusively a PC gamer).

So Tallarico went back to Kickstarter again this year to raise funds for another "Video Games Live" album, with the very creative title: "Video Games Live - Level 5". Again, Tallarico was successful in raising funds ($263,931 to be exact) and again I wasn't too impressed with the suggested track list, but since I'm a fan of Frank Klepacki's work I went "What the hell" and decided to back the project. Last month, the album was finally released and the final track list is below:

  1. World of Warcraft - "Malach, Angel Messenger" (feat. Malukah)
  2. Super Mario World
  3. Ico - "You Were There" (feat. Laura Intravia and Omar Najmi)
  4. Xenoblade - "Guar Plains"
  5. Command & Conquer - "Hell March"
  6. Metroid
  7. Grim Fandango
  8. Chrono Cross - "Radical Dreamers" (feat. Laura Intravia)
  9. Phoenix Wright
  10. Okami
  11. Top Gear
  12. The Legend of Zelda - "A Celtic Link"

So I went to Humble Bundle and downloaded the album (since this is the usual way Video Games Live distributes their album to Kickstarter backers) and downloaded the 12 320kbps MP3s that make up the album.

As you can tell by the track list, there's three tracks that are based off PC games which is actually not bad if I were to be completely honest (3/12 is 25% after all) but unfortunately there's only two games I can relate to on this list (since I played WoW for only 10 minutes and never again): Command & Conquer and Grim Fandango.

Every C&C fan knows that "Hell March" isn't actually from Command & Conquer but from Command & Conquer: Red Alert, an alternate history spin-off that turned out (IMHO) to be better than the original Command & Conquer series. "Hell March" is a rockin' track and is one of Frank Klepacki's most renowned works, even managing to feature in an episode of the BBC series Top Gear (somehow?)

So how is "Hell March" on Video Games Live Level 5? Um.... interesting I guess. It actually starts with the first part of "Hell March" from the first Red Alert and then finishes with "Hell March 2" from Red Alert 2. While you can't fault the guitar work on this track I feel like the track has a shaky start since it sounds more like a B-grade horror movie with the screeching violins - I mean I do realise what they're trying to do, the series definitely felt like a camp, B-grade, sci-fi film especially with Red Alert 2 and Red Alert 3, but it's kind of off-putting when used on "Hell March".

The other two tracks based on PC games are "World of Warcraft - Malach, Angel Messenger" and "Grim Fandango". The WoW track is competent enough but in the end sounds a lot like generic film music, although the vocals by Malukah are a nice touch (I do prefer her work on The Banner Saga though as well as her epic cover of Civilization IV's "Baba Yetu" with Peter Hollens). "Grim Fandango" is an instrumental medley of various themes found in the game and they obviously sound fantastic, but isn't that much different to the source material.

Don't get me wrong, the rest of the album is great, technically speaking - the orchestra and vocalists do a fantastic job and the tracks are of professional quality, but since I've never played any of the games that feature this music, I don't really feel an attachment to the tracks. However, there were a couple of exceptions where despite never having played the game, I gained a new founded appreciation for the music: "Top Gear" and "Phoenix Wright".

Okay, I'm kind of cheating with "Top Gear" since as you know, I reviewed the excellent Horizon Chase album by Barry Leitch not that long ago and so I have actually heard the "Top Gear" theme before, despite never playing the original SNES game. However, I've never heard such a beautiful rendition of the "Top Gear" theme until I listened to the Video Games Live version of it. It really works well with an orchestra. Also, despite never having played "Phoenix Wright" I felt the track was a good choice too as I can't help but bang my head and tap my feet to the music; it would work well as a theme song for a courtroom drama on TV.

Score – 6/10

It's the same story. "Video Games Live - Level 5", like previous "Video Games Live" albums, is technically good, but there's simply not enough tracks on this album that have really captivated me; even the tracks I was looking forward to such as "Hell March" and "Grim Fandango" turned out as merely "alright" versions of the originals. The stand out track on this album for me would be the orchestral version of "Top Gear" and hopefully Barry Leitch feels the same way. If you happen to like the soundtracks for most of the games on the track list however, then you might be able to appreciate this album more than I did.

If you're interested in purchasing the album, it's currently available for $15.00 USD from the Video Games Live official store.

[ Video Games Live - Store Page ]