The Top 40 Game Soundtracks of All-Time (Part One)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 06:55pm 29/01/18 | Comments
The stuff you need to listen to before the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Or, if you simply enjoy a good tune.
Any blockbuster movie released over the last 30 years has done so alongside a suitably epic orchestral, instrumental, or synthesised soundtrack. Without music, the on-screen action would have felt lifeless. And almost completely devoid of propulsion. Today a blockbuster game release can and often will feature a soundtrack as aurally impressive and bombastic as a film of similar ilk. In fact, many games today borrow musical cues quite liberally from many films. But for most of the last 30 years of gaming, something like that just wasn’t possible.
Mainly because when they did decide to “borrow” musical cues, the result was, well, different. During the 1970s and 1980s both consoles and personal computers struggled to recreate plausible sound effects, let alone music. Game music was often tied to specific, and often limited, audio hardware that had to be programmed to recreate music. Instrumentation was rudimentary at best, piano chords often sounded like harmonic beeps, and file-size limitations resulted in musical pieces that didn’t last very long at all. And would often, just loop over and over.
But much like with movies, even without this simple music the on-screen action for several classic games would have felt lifeless. As gaming hardware evolved over the ensuing years, game soundtracks began to sound more and more modern. In the sense that a synthesised violin started to sound like an actual instrument from the 16th century. Modern! The passage of time also brought numerous changes to how game soundtracks were perceived by the wider community.
Take navigating through a game menu as an example, a place where music is often used to catch someone’s attention in the way a pop song on the radio might. Or how about an action or racing game, where fast gameplay, adrenaline, and tempo work together to form a sort of reflex-induced trance. Game soundtracks can be as diversely motivated as they are musically. Now, we can sit here and debate the best, insert thing here, of all time. Where, insert thing here, refers to game soundtracks.
Or, we could simply give you a list of some of the best, most influential, coolest, and downright funkiest game music that you need to listen to.
40. Bomberman Hero
Platform: Nintendo 64
Composer(s): Jun Chikuma
No one will remember Bomberman Hero for being a particularly good game. After all, it sidelined the series’ beloved multiplayer gameplay in favour of becoming a decidedly average Super Mario 64 clone. But, it did feature an amazing soundtrack. Taking a page out of the underground electronic music scene of the ‘90s, Jun Chikuna’s score of kinetic jungle and drum & bass mixed with melodic flourishes is a pure joy to listen to. Her keen sense of fast rhythms and even faster (and sometimes slower) melodies, which was honed throughout the ‘80s, really comes into fruition here. Plus, it’s some of the best melodic drum & bass this side of Roni Size.
39. Street Fighter II
Composer(s): Yoko Shimomura and Isao Abe
The impact that Street Fighter II had on the arcade scene in the early ‘90s was nothing short of monumental. It was a game that just about single-handedly defined an entire genre, the fighting game. The mix of action, adrenaline, and style, was also present in the soundtrack. An intoxicating mix of musical styles from around the world that at times felt like the sort of music you could set an uplifting montage sequence to. That part in a ‘80s action film where the hero trains for hours on end to get strong enough to take on the entire world. Or Van Damme.
38. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Composer(s): Jun Funahashi
If you remember your late ‘80s crazes, you’d remember a period where nothing in the world seemed to be as popular as a certain group of Ninja Turtles. So, when it came time for the first home videogame starring the world’s most famous mutant turtles to hit the scene, everyone kind of expected it to feature the iconic theme music from the cartoon series. It didn’t. Instead composer Jun Funahashi’s score for the game created a new set of compelling melodies and themes for the Ninja Turtles. Music that was as catchy and memorable as it was in the spirit of the franchise.
37. Red Dead Redemption
Platform: PS3/Xbox 360
Composer(s): Bill Elm and Woody Jackson
Capturing the feeling of both the sort of stoic, classic western that came from the black and white era of Hollywood through to the sort of grand, spaghetti western that came out of Italy in the 1960s and 1970s was no small feat. And Red Dead Redemption did just that. But as brilliant and evocative as it was as a game, a lot of credit must go to the wonderful score. From haunting violin solos and muted horns, through to chugging guitars, tambourines, and even cinematic choir chanting, the music of Red Dead Redemption evokes a sense of scope on par with the genre’s greats. A classic western on all fronts.
The transition from the NES to the SNES served as an evolutionary leap not only in terms of visuals (going from 8 to 16-bits) but also in terms of sound quality. The musical capabilities of the SNES sound hardware served as the perfect foundation to take the already established style of action-based 8-bit game music to the next level. For Mega Man X, this meant the frantic melodies of previous entries in the series could now enter the realm of complex synth-driven breaks, drum solos, and multi-layered instrumentation. Composed by a team of Capcom musicians, the music from Mega Man X is just about the pinnacle of early 16-bit era creativity.
35. Duck Tales
Composer(s): Hiroshige Tonomura
Sometimes a single piece of music can transcend its origins and become something more. The idea behind the music that Hiroshige Tonomura composed to form the backing of a stage that saw Scrooge McDuck take a trip to the moon to find some treasure may have been as simple as trying to evoke a sense of wonder. The execution is just about peerless. The simple melody that starts out contemplative which then becomes inspirational by the way of wonderful simply begs to be listened to. Apart from a catchy chip-tune version of the animated series theme song, the rest of the soundtrack to Capcom’s Duck Tales unfortunately falls way short of this stellar lunar expedition.
34. R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
Composer(s): Namco Sound Team
As the last Ridge Racer game to be released on the PlayStation, Ridge Racer Type 4 (or R4) brought with it a clear change in musical direction for the series. Gone was the synth-heavy rave style music of previous games, and in its place music that explored a variety of electronic music styles from the era. With that in mind we get tracks that cover styles as varied as funk, breakbeat, house, nu jazz, and even UK garage. What would tie it all together though was the unified inclusion of the sort of jazzy production techniques that would define a lot of Namco music from here on out. And even more impressively, Japanese electronic music.
Composer(s): Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE)
In the mid-90s, the Sony PlayStation made videogames look Cool with a capital C. And more than just a plaything for kids. Games like WipEout were genuinely on the pulse of youth culture, thanks in part to it featuring music that wouldn’t be amiss at a rave or club. And what better way to accompany music that conjured up images of a smoke and laser light filled warehouse than with a futuristic racing game that was as fast as it was stylish. Although the soundtrack would feature licensed music from burgeoning electronic artists like Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers, most of the soundtrack was composed by in-house Psygnosis artist CoLD SToRAGE. A name as quintessentially rave-like as the grooves in the game.
32. Police Quest II: The Vengeance
Composer(s): Mark Seibert
Most computer games in the late ‘80s barely featured a soundtrack that extended beyond a few bleeps and loops. With Sierra at the forefront of computer game development, it spent a lot of time in the latter part of the decade enticing established composers and musicians to create music for its games with the caveat that they could do so utilising cutting edge late-80s computer music equipment. The sort of stuff no one really owned. So even though the end results were barely heard by most PC users, music in Sierra games like Police Quest II was ground-breaking. And very much of the time, with the music here being more reminiscent of a classic ‘80s TV shows like Miami Vice than anything in the world of videogames.
The soundtrack to the ground-breaking Star Fox (or Star Wing as it was known in Australia and Europe) features all the things you wouldn’t really associate with a classic Nintendo soundtrack. For one it’s a little all over the place. The music seems to be focussed on heavy rock style drumming and guitar riffs one minute and grand orchestral music akin to The Legend of Zelda the next. And some waltz thrown in for good measure. But even though the pacing and tone veers wildly, overall, the music feels like it all belongs to the same game. A game that is also, kind of all over the place. But in a good way.
BONUS TRACK – Robocop
Platform: Game Boy
Composer(s): Jonathan Dunn
Licensed games were everywhere in 1990, and although it may seem kind of surprising that the violent satire Robocop would get a video game release aimed at a younger audience, it made perfect sense at the time. Sort of. Which meant that UK developer Ocean created versions for several different hardware platforms – including the Nintendo Game Boy. Apart from being a forgettable and simple action game, Robocop for the Game Boy does feature one amazing piece of music. And it plays over the introduction and menu. Vastly different in tone than any of the music from the movie, this sombre, eloquent, and deeply emotional piece is a showcase for what can be accomplished with hardware limitations. Or more fittingly, the perfect combination of man and machine.