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