Peter McConnell – “Broken Age” Soundtrack Review

Peter McConnell

Peter McConnell

Broken Age is the long-awaited return of Tim Schafer with a graphic adventure of fun and frolics. Peter McConnell of Psychonauts fame comes to arrange the music side of things and it’s twenty-three tracks of diverse and chirpy bursts of music.

Opening with a simple orchestral drawn note for “Broken Age” and the quiet orchestral musings of “Vella Wakes”, “March in the Clouds” takes the violin and turns what is a warm orchestral march into something like a skip through a barn with a real country farm flavour added to it. “Battle at Shellmound” however shows exactly how large the orchestra is and how deep and strong the recording is. It’s brass has a sting in the tail and the low grumblings of strings are perfectly pitched to rumble you in your seat. It’s cinematic, vibrant and something of a triumph too with its crystal clear recording of every instrument. It sounds almost like a hyper sound – amazing.

“Face the Cupcakes” has a light and melodic approach with its harps and strings that make it feel fluffy whilst “Maidens’ Feast” has a distinct sci-fi flair of the 60’s and 70’s as the xylophone carefully taps out an eerie tune over increasingly burdens string shivers and bass bubbles. “Mog Chothra” is the first track over three minutes and it’s a track that plays on tension and emotion as it slowly builds and wraps itself around a simple chord pattern and motif – never quite exploding but holding your attention throughout. “Hero” on the other hand is noble and reminds me very much of children’s live action films where the main protagonist rises to the challenge in his head and moves on with his journey. It has a nostalgic feel to it, but I’m not sure why.

“Time to Get Up Little Spaceman” is a cute music box and xylophone led piece which is celestial and tinged in a sadness that surprisingly got to me. “Hello Space” on the other hand has a purring synth behind the angry and foreboding brass arrangement. “In the Situation Room” is a great track as it has a comedy shuffle to the percussion and its tinkling of off-key honky-tonk piano. There’s also some clumsy guitar work in there too. It reminds me Sam N Max and that’s a good thing. “At the Bridge” continues the mischievous tone with its creepy use of double bass and pizzicato styled strings and that leads perfectly to the humorous sneaking tune of “Operation Dandelion”. Strangely, there’s little in the way of memorable hooks in the Broken Age soundtrack, but this track was certainly one that stuck in my head, with follow-up “Walk Under the Stars” being another because it reminds me of Theme Park’s observatory theme. It has a grande feel to it despite being a very short piece but it’s great whilst it lasts.

“Rising Sun” feels like an atmospheric track before “Cloud Colony Arrival” goes for the euphoric dramatic theme. Everything feels pin pricked and on high alert in this complex and ever-changing dynamic piece that’s only 70 seconds long! “Welcome to Merriloft” is much longer and works because is it. With the woodwind and harps working in tandem beautifully, it creates a sense of wonder and quirk akin to entering Wonderland. It’s beautiful and warm, but suitably off kilter and therefore not quite as settling as a straight forward track would be. This style of music is constantly here throughout the soundtrack and is the overarching theme. Props for getting half a raja in the background too! “Dropping In” is an orchestral slide as the instruments constantly tumble-down the scales in little fits and starts. “Lumberjack’s Cabin” then completely changes things up with electric guitars, breezy American finger plucking and zither flicks. What a shame it lasts about 40 seconds. The pay off comes with “Was That East or West” that takes these instruments and makes more of a song from it and it feels so different from everything else so far, it’s a breath of fresh air – and frankly the second best track on the release.

The soundtrack then closes with “New Worlds” which is an interesting track of singular notes and stabs and then the jewel on the soundtrack “Shellmound Festival”. It’s a carnival of Caribbean proportions as steel drums, funky guitar and fluffy woodwind joyfully tap out a fantastic melody. It’s got more charisma than most of the other tracks on the album and makes me feel like a lot of the rest of the soundtrack would make much more impact on me if I’d already played Broken Age. I haven’t (yet!!!) and that’s probably why I feel like a lot of the work is lost.

Broken Age is a game that feels like a collection of cinematic snippets that didn’t quite connect to a story for me without having played the game. The sound quality is exceptional and there is nothing wrong with the soundtrack at all. It just did not enthuse me because the hooks were few and far between and the tracks a bit too short to get into. It sounds like it’s perfect for in game, not so much for a standalone product.

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Categories: arrangements, composer, game music, indie, music, review, VGM

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