Quantum Conundrum Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
Developed by Airtight Games and published by Square Enix, Quantum Conundrum is an acclaimed physics-bending puzzle title that has often inspired comparisons to Portal 2. Rather than stick with the usual Hollywood crowd, the game's development team decided to hire a composer from a band background to create the soundtrack specifically Chris Ballew, vocalist and bass guitarist of Presidents of the United States of America. Those who purchased the game throgh Steam could also pick up the original soundtrack, though no stand-alone version was made available.
Of all the tracks on the soundtrack, the theme song "Flip a Switch!" is closest in style to Chris Ballew's work with Presidents of the United States of America. Blending pop-punk stylings with a cartoony feel, it captures the playful yet edgy mood of the game well. For those that can stand pop-punk, "Flip a Switch" boasts plenty of catchy vocal lines and guitar passages. The lyrics relate to the game perfectly, reflecting the ever-changing physics of the game well ("I flip a switch and lose the gravity, Light as a feather and floating free"). Ballew even incorporates some onomatopoeia ("Ping! Zing! What is thing thing?") and voice manipulations that works very well with the answering instrumentals. While a potential treat for game players, the song will certainly come across gimmicky, even ridiculous, for outsiders.
Moving on to the instrumental background music, the majority is quite atmospheric. "A Clockwork Fluffy" sets the meditative mood for the gameplay quite well. It's interesting how the disparate elements funky bass guitar riffs, spacey electronic descants, distorted percussion beats, and the odd harp arpeggio come together to create a slightly familiar, slightly alien soundscape. The end result is quite effective in combination with the physics-warping visuals. But on a stand-alone basis, the track isn't always as appealing. The track is certainly groovy in places, but will be too ambient and unmelodic to draw in the crowds. And while certain sections are full of novelty, others tend to be very thin and repetitive ending up sounding more like muzak than cutting-edge underscore.
The rest of the soundtrack maintains this groovy understated approach to usually disappointing results. "He Ain't My Brother" is more grounded than "A Clockwork Fluffy", placing the focus on funky acoustic guitar riffs. The overall sound is reminiscent of John Guscott's De Blob, but it isn't always as fulfilling. After all, for all its magical sections, there are also a number of absolutely barren ones. When the track is prolonged to the 4:20 mark, it's difficult to sustain interest. "Unexpected Results" isn't surprising at all, just four more minutes of light guitar grooves and distorted synth noises. Yet other tracks, such as "In Search of Bigfoot", "Safe and Sound", and "It's Out Density", further wear out the formula and end up fading into the background.
Like Ballew's music in general, Quantum Conundrum's soundtrack is at its best at its strangest. The highly percussive "Desmond's Theme" is hardly a traditional character depiction. In fact, it seems to be a slightly warped depiction of a child's early experiments with xylophones. While hardly entertaining, at least it is fascinating in small doses. "Do Bots Dream of Electric Sheep" is a delight in context, slowing everything right down and weirding things up. Ballew creates some incredible soundscapes using warmed synthpads and acoustic instrumentation offering his own twist on the 'new age' formula. "Unsafety Dance" also ranks as one of the soundtrack's best, building upon the groovy approach of the soundtrack into a goofy dance performance.
It's understandable that Square Enix decided to make owning Quantum Conundrum a require for those wanting to download the soundtrack. After all, while much of the music sets the scene and supports the gameplay well, few tracks are satisfying on a stand-alone level. While Quantum Conundrum has plenty of rhythm, it is too limited in the melody department to offer much mainstream pull. And while Quantum Conundrum features lots of playful and novel sounds, it lacks the artistry of more accomplished recent ambient scores like Portal 2, Globulous, and PixelJunk Eden. Nevertheless, Chris Ballew did a lot right here and it would be interesting to see what he produces were there a sequel for the game a slightly meatier, darker, and even weirder score would be nice.
Overall Score: 6/10