No Tune Unturned: Christmas Special

Merry Christmas and welcome back to another episode of No Tune Unturned, a feature in which a dude with no musical training beyond boring childhood piano lessons elaborates on why, precisely, he likes video game music so much. The last instalment was way back during the Dreamcast’s birthday, but stalwart fans of No Tune Unturned (hello, legion of stalwart fans) can take a breather,because there’s a Christmas Special in store!

We here at Critical Gamer love Christmas. This time of year tends to attract family members like blue hedgehogs to golden rings, so it’s only fitting that the first guest on No Tune Unturned is my very own brother (and recent Critical Gamer writer) Bryan. We’ve both brought five songs of wintry cheer and more enthusiasm than is strictly necessary, so let’s waste no time in getting to the music. It’s like Christmas carolling but not!


Freezeezy Peak

From Banjo Kazooie

Composed by Grant Kirkhope


There’s a thrilling magic wrought of wintry adventure and boundless cheer that accompanies the frolicking of Freezeezy Peak’s opening strings. Horns join their joyous voices until 0:10 introduces a familiar bouncing beat that could only be from jolly Master Kirkhope himself. One can almost hear the jingling of music notes and chuckling of diabolical snowmen as the Kirkhopian symphony takes a simple melody to wondrous heights. Be it leaping across the frozen lakes in a hunt for feathers or sled-racing against a deceptively speedy polar bear, this tune of winter’s lovable majesty is always the perfect backing. Like the holiday season itself, you can’t help but to wish it’d last all year; which, granted, is possible, but would kind of mess up the rest of this feature, so we’ll hold off on that for now.

Diamond Dust (Act 1)

From Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island

Composed by Richard Jacques


Unlike the goofball adventures of bear and bird, Sonic 3D is pretty boring and not actually 3D. That’s why my PC copy of the game spent most of its time far away from any computer and secured firmly in a CD player where it belonged. The spirited soundtrack is full of life– shockingly so– and the snowy soundscape of Diamond Dust is the best it has to offer. Jingling bells drive the cheery beat forward as the melody bounds through mounds of music like a kid through snow on Christmas break. A mini-orchestra flits in and out of sight throughout the song, but leaps into an unexpected round of drama at 1:44, elevating Diamond Dust far beyond your average “ice level”. The building momentum of 2:21 glows with a warmth ordinarily reserved for the best spot in front of the fireplace, made momentous with the chiming of bells to bring everything to a close. Hunting through an isometric wasteland for lost Flickies has meaning thanks to Richard Jacques.

Phendrana Drifts

From Metroid Prime

Composer: Kenji Yamamoto


Christmas is about warmth, family, friends, and comforting joy… but sometimes it’s none of these things; sometimes you’re alone. Surrounding the warm fires and glistening trees are the billowing winds and howling snowscapes, dotted by civilization’s dim pinpricks of refuge. Phendrana Drifts captures the icy chill of isolation with an ethereal mystery unmatched, putting you in the heavy boots of that lone bounty hunter on her mission to penetrate the frigid depths of Talon IV. An echoing piano and wavering synth are joined by distantly human vocals at 0:10 that drift the mesmerizing melody into focus. A light scattering of cymbals and the occasional drumbeat join in come 0:59, lending the perfect whisper of structure to the windblown symphony. 1:35 brings scales climbed and descended by the soft precision of a second piano, leading into another stretch of the forlorn chorus. A piano gains strength to reintroduce a familiar theme before the song finishes with a slow fade to silence.

Chilly Promise

From Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise

Composed by Grant Kirkhope


 The third Viva Pinata song to appear in No Tune Unturned (the Repose and Grant Kirkhope episodes being the other two), Chilly Promise is simultaneously the musical embodiment of a winter wind and a warm blanket. Icy pinpricks and a distant chorus welcome you to the Pinarctic, a frigid garden home to local Pinatas like the waddling Pengums. Strong, soft strings paint the world of ice and icing before a lone flute takes the stage at 0:28. The scene is quiet, no doubt dampened by enough snow to bury a boatload of Polollybears and then some. I’ll be flabbergasted to the end of my days at how subtle and wonderful Viva Pinata can be, both mechanically and artistically. If the sudden, undeniable urge to stand in the middle of a white-laden field and think about the icicles strikes you but you can’t find any white-laden fields in your area, just pop on some headphones and let Grant Kirkhope do the work for you.

Snow Rise

From Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Composer: ???


If there’s something to love about Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s the music. As I was plodding through the game, getting onto the fourth world and already inwardly criticizing its design, my cold heart was melted, surrounded by ice as it was, by the relentlessly groovy ditty that is Snow Rise. A jaunty flute gets things rolling, joined by jazzy mix of piano, drums, bass and saxophone; the same saxophone that picks up the melody by 0:20. Things take a turn for the grand with 0:36’s introduction of a lone horn, soon joined by its friends to bring the song to 1:08’s swelling climax. It’s not a lengthy song, nor a very complex one, but its tinkling pianos and laid-back enthusiasm capture a sun-splashed field of snow with every well-timed note.

Ring Rink

From Ristar

Composed by Tomoko Sasaki


Ristar is a little dude with tennis shoes, gloves, and a star-shaped head that is also his body. Perhaps second only to Rayman in the “Weird-Looking Platformer Hero Awards”, he stars (ho ho ho) in a Sega Master System title developed by the renowned Sonic Team. The song in question lights the frozen Planet Freon like a Christmas tree fashioned from Yamaha sound chips, guiding our hero through the slippery slopes of madcap fun. Jaunty and unassuming, the music plays on as Ristar bounces from wall to wall as shooting stars will do, seasoned lightly with holiday cheer. The trumpets at 0:43 are both joyful and triumphant, not to mention catchy; that little ditty has been rattling around in my head for a full day. But hey, if that’s the first that comes to mind when I open my eyes in the morning, it’s fine by me.

Snowy Fields

From Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Composer: Tomoya Tomita


 A rousing fanfare opening gives way to a mystical harp, ushering in 0:08’s charming sonic sleigh ride. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a cute game; there’s no tangling that truth. And based on the cuddly melody kicking things off, it sounds like we’re in for just some more of said cuteness with an extra dash of holiday cheer. 0:48 defies such conventional thought by snowballing momentum that melts the soaring arcs of 0:58. These cautiously climbing swoops of strings paint a whimsical wonderland enchanting enough to lend actual credence to the name “Epic Yarn”. How anything can be so adventurous and yet so equally cosy is a marvel unique to Kirby’s fabric-coated outing.

Song of Silence

From Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life

Composed by ???


 Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life has the uncanny ability to captivate players with a simple, rustic farming village; the music, no more complicated than the game, does the same. Song of Silence is the record I pop into the old virtual phonograph when winter shows its face and the crops are slowing down. The measured rhythm of an acoustic guitar joins with a assemblage of percussion in an homage to those fulfilling days of cold work with the promise of a piping hot bowl of soup at the end, which I’m pretty sure real farmers have all the time. Frost-bitten tomatoes or no, time crawls on unhindered, and this gentle song captures the moments of long winter days and silent nights.

Cool Edge – Day

From Sonic Unleashed

Composer: Tomoya Ohtani



What word better defines Sonic than “cool”? This song defies you to find one, as it embodies the word in multiple senses. You already know you’re in for a wintry treat when a relentless beat of drum and bass set the stage, joined by a a chord-thrumming guitar at 0:08. Notes ringing like musical icicles begin a melody at 0:30 at a methodical tempo complemented perfectly by the energetic guitar shredding behind it. 1:00 takes a turn for the dramatic, as the tune soars upwards for an inspiring finale; it’s almost enough to make one believe that running top speed along an Arctic tundra would actually be fun, instead of exhausting and probably very painful. Yet another testament to Sonic’s stellar musical history, Cool Edge sings out every shear mountaintop and ice-coated valley of the stage, all with the pacing of Sonic’s ceaselessly pounding feet.

Dream Bells

From Christmas NiGHTS

Composed by Tomoko Sasaki


When NiGHTS Into Dreams performs a rendition of “Jingle Bells”, by Frosty’s corncob pipe, it goes for it. In fact, the entire Christmas NiGHTS add-on nearly has a seizure with the absurd amount of Yuletide magic bursting from every wrapped present and blinking light. Originally only accessible during the holiday season according to the Saturn’s internal clock, this slice of nostalgia is available for the modern human being via Sega’s HD rerelease. (If you’ll recall, its Japanese exclusivity distressed me greatly in the past.) Bells and a brief snippet of “Joy to the World” welcome you to this festive world before launching directly into a frenzied chorus. Meanwhile, Spring Valley from the original game has been transformed into a tinsel town of dreams, decked out top to bottom with bright ornaments of the shiniest quality. When the tempo gets unturned at 1:38 and you find yourself pulling off perfect paraloops through giant wreaths, the soaring excitement of Christmas NiGHTS may prove too much for you. Don’t worry; this is normal. Just take a sip of eggnog, breathe in the piny scent of your nearest Christmas tree, and get back in there. This is the pinnacle of Christmas and videogame crossovers.

Thanks for reading/listening, and thanks to Bryan for supplying his own witty charm while cutting my workload in half. We ought to do this again sometime; maybe a sequel to the World of Warcraft episode? If you readers have any suggestions or requests, leave them in the comments below or hit up @NoTuneUnturned on Twitter.

And as always, I leave you with a wise pearl of wisdom that I hope to pass down generation to generation:

Videogame music is great, so listen to it!

Oh, and Merry Christmas! 

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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