The good news is this makes those games that do this well stand out all the more. Now to be clear, a few rules to help narrow things down: we're not talking about sequences from music games like Elite Beat Agents or Parappa the Rapper: instead, I'd like to focus on musical performances from games that are otherwise mostly unmusical-like. And I'm talking about original material, not covers or re-imaginings of famous songs from other sources. Got all that? Good. Let's see which games managed to reach for those shiny, shiny stars without embarrassing themselves or boring us to death.
10) "You Are Dead," Total Distortion
It's hard to get excited about losing a videogame, especially if it happens many times. The infamous '90s RPG/music video maker/general CG eyesore Total Distortion helped soften the blow with this humorously blunt death song, which played when you were killed by an evil guitar warrior demon robot thing, of which there were many. It may be dumb, but you can't help but love it. In fact, I'm a little surprised a song this stupid is as well-developed as it is: it lasts a couple minutes, has verses and choruses, and even a harmony part. It almost sounds at times like some lost Tears for Fears B-side, or would if it weren't for the kind-of-but-not-really rap vocals. As cheap as the production values are, it's undeniably catchy, not to mention its killer reverb. The whole game kind of has the same "so bad it's awesome" vibe, and if you don't believe me track down footage of the pre-fight argument with the first warrior, which mostly consists of him calling you a turd over and over in his absurd modulated voice. And speaking of which...
9) "The Great Mighty Poo (Sloprano)," Conker's Bad Fur Day
God help me. I know it's been quite a while, but I still can't believe they made Conker's Bad Fur Day at all, let alone populate it with such gleeful filth and juvenalia. But that's what Rare did, of course, and somehow the project of making "a dirty platformer" resulted not only in a bunch of boner and alcohol jokes but also in surprisingly grandiose scenes, like this boss fight with a giant singing bowel movement. I'm not really sure how it came about, what changes this scene went through during production, or what the developers told their husbands and wives when they went home at night, but I do have a guilty affection for it. Maybe it's because the humungous crap is so jolly in its "clagginess," or maybe it's just that the song is pretty damn irresistible. The remake for Xbox Live (Reloaded) spruced up all of the graphics considerably, and makes this part in particular look positively demonic. I think maybe what bothers me the most, though, are the shudder-inducing references the GMP makes to its "chocolate starfish": can a being made of shit shit? What would that shit consist of? I mean, we do see him eat "sweet corn" and cockney dung beetles, but an anus made of shit just fucking boggles the mind, though not as much as why I'm still talking about this.
8) "Death to Squishies," Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Hmm... I wonder who homicidal robot pop star "Courtney Gears" is based on. She may not be the main villain of the third Ratchet and Clank game, but she does get her own intimidating music video, complete with robo-backup dancers, and thereby overshadows the real ultimate bad guy by quite a bit, if I must say. Using an android singer to spread your message of world domination seems to have been a pretty solid move in Dr. Nefarious' case, as nothing sells the masses on destruction like a music video. Whatever songwriter-bot she uses seems to have a little trouble rhyming, however, at least at the end.
7) "Klogg is Dead" and "Little Bonus Room," Skullmonkeys (tie)
Skullmonkeys, the not-so-classic sequel to the undeniably classic claymation point-n-click The Neverhood, is definitely not as widely loved and remembered as its predecessor. That could be because it departed from its adventure roots to become a Rayman-esque PlayStation platformer, or because it was kind of impossibly fucking hard. Regardless, it at least continued building on the unique visuals and music from the first game, the latter provided by the wonderful Terry Scott Taylor. Vocally, most of his soundtrack songs consist of hilarious mumbles, grunts, and sneezes, but the hidden finale cut-scene, which features a well-coiffed Skullmonkey pianist and others rejoicing in the death of the villain Klogg, gives us the rare example of a Neverhood/Skullmonkeys song with actual lyrics (there's even a bouncing ball).
That may be the game's big showstopper, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another, even better ditty with words we can understand, "Little Bonus Room", which plays whenever you stumble upon a secret area. It may start out as gentle and reassuring but becomes increasingly creepy as the singer starts comparing himself to both of your parents and swearing he'll never leave your side. I always thought Klogg was the one singing this to torment you, which makes it even creepier, so I'll count it, although it doesn't really explain why he gets residuals.
6) "Good for You, Good for Me (The War Song)," Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Abe Lincoln Must Die!
Telltale's successful episodic Sam & Max series has got a lot of mileage out of incorporating unexpected musical sequences into its gameplay, from the C.O.P.S. "motivational song" to a Mariachi number about time-traveling soul thieves (Sam & Max Hit the Road also had a couple toe-tappers of its own, courtesy of its villain, a larcenous country-rock singer named Conroy Bumpus). But in terms of sheer craziness and spectacle, you can't top this catchy and completely ridiculous Charleston scene instigated by Special Agent Superball and his identical fellow g-men in anticipation of glorious, glorious war: there's even a kickline in front of the American flag. And then, in fitting with the best random musical outburst tradition, they all sashay out of the Oval Office and, per Max's observation, we never speak of it again.