Press Start To Play

118 views

One of the things that distinguishes Millennials from folks of earlier generations is the relative dominance in one’s daily life of:

Video games.

As someone who’s right on the cusp between Generation X and Millennials, I’m not nearly as into gaming as some of my younger Millennial friends and peers were and still are.

And yet, a significant portion of my childhood was indeed spent playing games and watching other people play them.

As such, a large part of my childhood was spent soaking up video game music.

@Link Crawford recently wrote a great tnocs.com article about commercial jingles.

And I thought: Why not pay tribute to the great video game tunes out there?

The primary goal of any video game is to encourage play and to get players excited about getting their own copy. The mechanics of gameplay are obviously essential to a game’s success, but so is the look and the sound of a game. 

The video game was like a toy, a board game, and a cartoon all in one.

The more the cinematic elements of a game stood out, the more impressive, immersive, and addictive that game would be.

The best game soundtracks help to establish setting and theme, though at the very least it’s nice to have some ultra-catchy tunes that add to the delight of the experience.

Given the reliance of game soundtracks on computer chip technology, the evolution of said technology over time played a huge role in what music became possible for games.

The first video game with any music in it was Gun Fight from 1975.

But it was just a bit from Chopin’s Funeral March to indicate when a player died.

Another big step was Frogger in 1981.

It featured different musical tracks that change as you navigate your traumatized frog across the screen.

But the real progress began with the 1983 release of the Nintendo Famicon in Japan, and known in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES). 

Koji Kondo’s score for Super Mario Broswas the first major breakthrough in the chiptune medium.

Every different terrain that Mario explored had a different musical theme to set it apart from the rest. The tunes were catchy, but they also helped to conjure moods, such as the dark subterranean worlds, or the ominous dungeons. Not for nothing does pretty much everyone know this music!

Similarly iconic was Kondo’s score for The Legend of Zelda. Instantly memorable and sometimes downright beautiful, perfectly evocative of its fantasy setting.

These soundtracks had significant limitations imposed by the limits of their 8-bit processing technology, but those constraints forced composers to get creative and make the catchiest, most arresting music they could muster.

While some of the tunes literally took from early synth pop like Yellow Magic Orchestra [Super Locomotive: Rydeen], some original work sounds like long-lost YMO jams! [Mega Man 2: Air Man]

Other tunes rock so much, they are just begging to be covered by a live band. [Ninja Gaiden 2: Tower of Lahja]

And indeed, some of them were!

Once SEGA released its 16-bit Genesis system, the race was on:

Given how fast Sonic was, Nintendo needed to pick up the pace! The 16-bit systems offered much better emulations of distinct instruments than the classic 8-bit chiptune.

And thus: we get the Caribbean flourishes in Super Mario World, and the dramatic horns and strings in Final Fantasy 2.

The NES and SNES eras marked the time when I was most immersed in video games. Alas, I missed out on countless later releases on Playstation, Nintendo 64, X-Box, and other systems, games now considered classics by adoring fans. Mea Culpa!

But a few later games did catch my attention.

One was a beautifully immersive Castlevania release in which you can play Dracula’s son Alucard (!!!!). It’s an incredibly fun game, put over the top by its fantastic soundtrack. Some of the areas genuinely gave me the creeps playing them, due in part by some appropriately haunting music.

Another game was Zelda: The Wind Waker for Nintendo Gamecube. Just a lovely game.

And a soundtrack that’s perfect for kids, but something really anyone would love.

And the last one was Hollow Knight. This was the topic of my very first tnocs.com post. Despite my unbridled praise, I actually failed to say much about its soundtrack. This gorgeous game is made absolutely magical by Christopher Larkin’s score.

Seriously, if you just want some nice relaxing music to try out, listen here:

And check out these tracks too, while you’re at it!

What are your…

  • Favorite video game tunes?
  • Favorite video game covers?
  • Favorite Mario Paint Composer tracks?

Favorite anything else? Let me know!

Let the author know that you appreciated their article with a “heart” upvote!

6

Phylum of Alexandria

Committed music junkie. Recovering academic. Nerd for life.

Subscribe
Notify of
27 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
November 3, 2022 10:44 am

I’m not a gamer but my son is. Like you say, it’s generational. He’s big into Splatoon and showed me this video of the Nintendo 2019 conference/concert. It’s a live band playing music from the game, with holograms singing and dancing.

https://youtu.be/tj5PV-cz804

It’s nearly an hour long so I suggest skipping around. The first seven minutes are a character from Animal Crossing (another of my son’s favorites) singing a song from that game. Things pick up when the real musicians start playing, and again around the 15 minute mark when the holograms show up. The crowd is totally into it the whole way through.

It’s not something I’d ever listen to on its own but the musical and technological talent is pretty amazing. I’m impressed.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Offline
November 3, 2022 11:15 am

My video game recollections are few and far between, but I do remember a few. Mega-Super Bonus Points if anyone can ID the games:

  • Skimming lunch money to save change, so that I could go to the mall on Saturday to play the town’s only “TV game,” the original Atari upright cabinet.
  • Taking a girl from the office out to a local family restaurant at lunch – not to eat, but because I had a huge crush on her, and she loved to play what she referred to as: “Shoot The Martians.”
  • Carting my little brother after supper on Friday nights to a bowling alley game room, and putting an entire roll of of quarters in his hand to supplement his 75 cent allowance. He loved a particular game that had really super-bright, sharp, “shooting lines,” but was the only one in the whole place not in color – only black and white.
  • I didn’t play video games for the next 20 years, until someone gifted me a CD that was a wordless mystery puzzle, set on an island. I can still remember the music.
Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
November 3, 2022 11:40 am
Reply to  mt58

Um, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Asteroid, and Myst?

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Offline
November 3, 2022 11:41 am
Reply to  Virgindog

No.
Yes.
Yes.
Yes.

I need to work on better clue obfuscation.

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
November 3, 2022 11:46 am
Reply to  mt58

Where are Click and Clack when you need them?

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Offline
November 3, 2022 11:47 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Don’t drive like my dog.

Aaron3000
Member
Famed Member
Aaron3000
Offline
November 3, 2022 8:13 pm
Reply to  mt58

First one has to be Pong, right? (We had a generic home version of it ca. 1979, with Tennis, Squash, and Racquetball. Only sounds were blips when the ball hit the “paddles” and the wall.)

Edit: ah, Phylum got it (well, Frank Black got it).

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
November 3, 2022 9:35 pm
Reply to  mt58

According to the Space Invaders’ creator, the invaders were galactic squids.

JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
November 3, 2022 12:38 pm

I’ve never been a gamer – deprived childhood, my mum didn’t approve so never had a computer / console or even a Gameboy. Other than a bit of Pac-man and Donkey Kong online, playing Mario kart against my daughter on the Wii is about as far as I’ve gotten.

As such I can’t join in with the love of the music given that I rarely encountered any games. It all struck me as annoying bleeps though listening to some of these I’m happy to be proved wrong – the Hollow Knight music is pleasantly ambient.

I can provide music trivia though. In the land of the novelty record we were bound to get onto the gaming craze and in 1992 these three ‘beauties’ all charted.

Dr Spin – Tetris  – charted at #6
Fun and unbelievable but true fact; Dr Spin is  king of the musical Andrew Lloyd Webber in his little known rave phase. Or rather his shameless cash in money making phase. Owes quite a bit to 2 Unlimited to my ears.
https://youtu.be/a_O35BDdtWY

Ambassadors of Funk – Supermarioland – charted at #8
The man behind this one was Simon Harris who’s day job was a respected head of the Music Of Life label and hip hop / house music producer and remixer. Shameless cash in again comes to mind and an agreeably cheap video.
https://youtu.be/A2nF92mu8X0

HWA ft Sonic the Hedgehog – Super Sonic charted at #33
Its a low bar but I’d say this is the best musically even though it did the worst. HWA stands for Hedgehogs With Attitude.
https://youtu.be/MoubaWRkuHk

JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
November 3, 2022 3:56 pm

Not heard of Light Asylum before but really like that track. Reminiscent of an early 80s alternative synth sound. Saw Crystal Castles in 2011, it was more an ordeal than a gig. The aesthetic was fantastic, stark black and white with a constant strobe like lighting effect married to a pummelling all encompassing electro sound and visceral shrieking vocals. A total sensory overload. Their take on I’m Not In Love with Robert Smith is one of my favourite tracks ever. And then it all came crumbling down…..

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
November 3, 2022 1:00 pm

Can’t forget this. The same developer I wrote the Catalyst soundtrack for asked me to do another one for a game he’s working on. The project is on hold at the moment but he sent this to give me an idea of what he’s looking for. I installed the game, Tsuki Adventure, and its sequel, Tsuki Odyssey, on my phone and have been playing them for a few years now.

https://youtu.be/8MbT3snVR0s

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill Bois
Eric-J
Member
Noble Member
Eric-J
Online Now
November 3, 2022 2:07 pm

I think also deserving of mention is 1983’s arcade game Spy Hunter, which repurposed Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme to incredible effect (even if it didn’t play as a continuous score.)
https://youtu.be/_AWILugarIk

Last edited 1 month ago by Eric-J
Eric-J
Member
Noble Member
Eric-J
Online Now
November 3, 2022 2:26 pm

IIRC, the “Thunk” sound when Q*Bert fell off the pyramid was actually created by a mechanical apparatus in the base of the cabinet, so it felt like he had landed on the floor.

LinkCrawford
Member
Noble Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
November 3, 2022 7:28 pm
Reply to  Eric-J

Can confirm. Sounded like a pinball hitting the inside of the cabinet. And then Qbert would curse in Qbert language. Potty mouth.

LinkCrawford
Member
Noble Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
November 3, 2022 7:31 pm

I can TOTALLY relate to this! EXCEPT that I was never much of a gamer. Oh, I dumped my share of quarters into machines in the early 80s, but other than an Atari 2600, I don’t have much experience on home systems. I really don’t enjoy gaming much at all now.

But if I were a gamer (I’d game in the morning, I’d game in the evening…), I have no doubt that I would probably obsess over video game music. I know my son has video game tunes saved to his phone.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
November 3, 2022 9:41 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Do you remember the Sears knockoff console and games?

Whatever year Electronic Arts discontinued their college football and college basketball games was the year I stopped playing. Thanks a lot, Ed O’Bannon.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
November 3, 2022 9:34 pm

“Play-Station.” That’s the voice of Takako Minekawa. She’s still an active artist. “Fantastic Cat” is what I know her best for. I bought Roomic Cube because my Shonen Knife CDs were homesick.

Netflix is streaming a documentary series about video games called High Score. Pac-Man was marketed to females. I didn’t know that. High Score is okay, but nothing can beat The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It’s so bizarre, I have a hard time believing that nothing was scripted. The antagonist looks like an evil Kenny Loggins. I’m glad the plan to make a narrative film fell through.

I like the music for Dig-Dug.

dutchg8r
Member
Famed Member
dutchg8r
Offline
November 9, 2022 5:13 pm

I fall in with JJ on this and was always a ‘visiting Atari’ player as a kid. I would occasionally play NES at friends houses when that first came out. Only video games I had at home as a kid were games I could play on the Commodore 64. And I don’t think I ever turned the sound on for those because it was usually just the same droning buzz for every game. I did play them alot though, I had an Olympics one that had certain clunky classical selections for the figure skating competition; Blue Max (a plane bomber game); and a Race Car one. Oh, and this game called Temple of Apshai that I thought was so advanced, there were doors off hallways you had to open and move through levels, with either monsters and or a treasure in the room, man I was always playing that.

With the sound off. 🙂

27
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x