I recently reviewed SimAnimals for the Wii and was unimpressed with the clunky graphics and irksome control mechanics, awarding it just one star out of five.
However, one thing the game does get right, which I didn’t cover in the review, is the sound, specifically the music. I was pleasantly surprised therefore when the SimAnimals soundtrack appeared on my doormat one morning. I’ve listened to it two or three times now and, while it lacks variety (this is a soundtrack for a relatively one-dimensional game after all), it sports the confidence and charm of a composer that knows exactly what she’s doing.
The composer behind the album is Winifred Phillips who has scored music for several high-profile videogame titles, including The Da Vinci Code and God Of War, and it’s worth reminding ourselves at this point that a title aimed at younger gamers is always likely to include pleasant, jaunty numbers. Philips doesn’t let herself down on that front but she also doesn’t shirk her own composing responsibilities in any way. This is certainly a grown-up soundtrack and not merely an album of nice little ditties.
It begins with its own overture, the SimAnimals Theme, which can then be heard, in parts, throughout the entire album. It’s an effective device that works well, holding the 19 included songs together and giving the album a strong focal point. From there, the mostly two to three minute tracks skip along at a fair old pace, re-imagining the forest creatures that make up the title. It’s all very pleasant, like a summer’s day hike throughout your local woods and the compositions are intelligently done. My one real criticism would be that they lack staying power to root themselves in your memory banks for long, but this more than holds its own as an album of background music to listen to while reading the Sunday papers.
And then occasionally, brilliantly, Philips shows a side of her composing armoury that is at once disturbing and utterly thrilling. Bringing forth her darker side does the album a world of good. On Danger Woods, the brass section is cranked up to eleven while decidedly unsettling strings bray and whine to great effect. Then we get the classical/jazz whirling dervish that is Hard Times, a track that would scare the willies out of you with the lights off and wouldn’t be out of place in a Tim Burton film.
Philips is a veteran game composer of some repute and this latest effort sits nicely in her body of work. It’s perhaps not always the most challenging album to listen to, but it fits in perfectly with its subject matter and serves as a very satisfying collection of evocative compositions.