If you aren’t already feeling ancient at the prospect of Sonic the Hedgehog turning 28 next month, here’s a fact that’ll age you; it’s been 7 years since SEGA Sound Director Jun Senoue led the creation of a Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack (Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, for those who can’t remember!).
Senoue’s absence has been by no means a sabbatical, having been involved in several other SEGA titles – as well as peripherally with most Sonic games – and regularly performing with a multitude of live acts across four continents. Those who have taken the reigns in the meantime have accomplished some phenomenal feats, particularly Sonic Mania composer Tee Lopes who pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a perfectly blended score of old and new material, while simultaneously tipping the hat to the synonymous tones of the 90s titles. But with the classic itch well-and-truly scratched, many have longed for the return of Senoue and his trademark rock sound, in the context of a modern Sonic game.
As such, the anticipation for MAXIMUM OVERDIRVE, the Team Sonic Racing Original Soundtrack, reached fever pitch. Expectations have flown high based on the calibre of the tracks that had been drip-fed to us via Sonic the Hedgehog’s social media channels over the last few months. Now that the full OST has been released, we can firmly say that it does not disappoint.
First of all, it’s really worth noting the huge – and downright incredible – list of collaborations on this 130-song compilation, with the inclusion of in-house artists such as Sonic soundtrack staple Tomoya Ohtani, as well as recent contributors Hyper Potions and the aforementioned Tee Lopes. Senoue has once again recruited international artists from a multitude of genres and varying levels of notoriety to further embellish the diverse line-up, creating a soundtrack formula analogous to that which worked so well for the Sonic Adventure series.
Secondly, the sheer scale of this album is gargantuan, and is comprised of entirely new recordings with the occassional leitmotif or familiar chord progression for a smattering of nostalgia. Many of the songs on the sountrack feature Sonic Adventure Music Experience artists Takeshi Taneda (bass) and Act. (drums). Fans will recognise Taneda-san’s name from more than 20 years’ contributions to Sonic projects and will instantly identify his trademark sound in many songs. For many this will be their first exposure to Act. – if you’ve not heard this young artist before, you will soon be impressed by his sheer percussive ferocity that gives the OST an incredible clout.
“Green Light Ride”, the theme of Team Sonic Racing, sees the return of Crush 40 in all their glory, complete with a catchy riffs and legendary rock vocalist Johnny Gioeli delivering choruses with the same unwavering gusto that has solidified him a fan favourite.
The bulk of the soundtrack comprises the tunes to all 21 racing stages contained within the game, each with its own Intro “Fly-by”, Lap, Final Lap, and Goal track (again, the recording is so jam-packed that several Intros are amalgamated into other songs for the digital and physical releases). One of the most wonderful elements of the soundtrack is that the Final Lap tune is in each case a separate, up-tempo recording that subtly alters the main composition.
One great example can be head in the songs accompanying the Hidden Volcano stage, in which the Main Lap progression is loosely maintained in the transition, but has the effect of moving the pop-punk pace into overdrive through the increased velocity of the guitar and drum refrains.
Each collaborative artist’s selection feels right for each of the stage; the twinkling, up-beat EDM anthem from Hyper Potions to soundtrack the Colors-esque Ice Mountain feels so unbelievably natural you could almost conceive the stage having been designed around the song. Sonic soundtrack newcomer TORIENA collaborates on the entirety of Casino Park’s sound, bringing chiptune elements that have been oddly absent from Sonic music and makes it work, with melodies that pop above the drive of the guitar riffs; Pinball Party is particularly hard to get out of your head.
Lopes once again demonstrates his knack for selecting the perfect synthesiser voices for any occasion, from a jazzed-up Sand Road, to summoning a magnificent chorus of Arabic violins, dilrubas, and sitars to dual Senoue’s guitar in Boo’s House and revitalising the ghostly Sandopolis zone theme. For those seeking something heavier, Dangerkid’s Tyler Smyth (who previously supplied the immense “Infinite” anthem in Sonic Forces) lends his omni-talented skills on Frozen Junkyard and Thunder Deck to create some riff-driven tunes to add to a real sense of imperativeness.
Conversely Smyth’s mix of Green Light Ride orientates itself with a trap beat interspersed with a couple of dubstep drops for a much more modern pace, another showcase example of the diversity in not only the soundtrack but in what each contributing artist is highly capable of delivering.
British Drum & Bass act The Qemists also feature on the OST as well with their own Green Light Ride mix that keeps the racing pace even when you are customising your car in the garage menu (and I implore you to check out more of The Qemists material if you are a fan of D&B acts such as Pendulum!)
If all that wasn’t enough, all menus are complimented with their own atmospheric theme, many of which have been supplied by Sumo Digital Nottingham’s own Ross Tregenza, and are hauntingly beautiful.
Considering the huge emphasis of this game on delivering a novel racing mechanic, the additional magnitude of its soundtrack demonstrates the huge an effort invested in the title. As such, Senoue et al. should be applauded on what will most probably be considered a high-water mark in Sonic the Hedgehog music, and a compilation of songs that will undoubtedly soundtrack Sonic fan road trips for decades to come.