The Legend of Zelda turned 29 Years old today. It was an all-time NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) classic and paved the way for numerous successful Zelda games for years to come.
When I think of games, I immediately think of retro games first. Retro games take me back to simpler times in the 80s and 90s when I was playing NES, Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64. Growing up during this time period, the games had a lasting impact on me and so did the music. Certain games had music that, to this very day, I still blast from my car stereo from time to time. Breaking down the greatest of anything can be difficult since there needs to be specific criteria and since personal taste is a big factor. With that being said, I’d like to share 5 of the “greatest” NES game soundtracks that have had a lasting impact on both my childhood and my iPod. If you want to make your own game music, you should check this course out. Here are the criteria:
A) No repeating franchises
B) One theme does not equal an entire soundtrack
C) Music needed to be fantastic but also complementary to the game
D) Lasting impact
E) Bonus points for being technically impressive
Without further ado,
The Five Greatest Nintendo Game Soundtracks Ever
The countdown begins with a game that I didn’t play until the mid-2000s. It took me that long to finally play it and then realize that it had some of the best NES music ever. It’s all 8-bit music of course, but if you translated this soundtrack into guitars, bass and drums, it would sound like Avenged Sevenfold. I love 8-bit style music for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons I love it is because it’s hard for bad songs to hide when there are no gimmicks. Despite being limited to only 5 channels, 8-bit songs like the tunes in Castlevania absolutely rock and it says something about their composers that they were able to shine with such limited technology. It says that the music is outstanding at its core and doesn’t need any bells and whistles to dress it up in order to be awesome.
The classic theme: Stage 1
If I had to pick one to share: Stage 3
Bonus: Here’s a YouTube video of me playing a couple of the Castlevania tunes as a one man band.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!!
I realize that most of the songs in this soundtrack are not original tunes. For example, almost all of the character introduction songs are not original nor is the opening theme. But the songs that are original are so memorable and so complementary to an incredibly unique and exciting retro game. Every aspect of your fight seemed to have its own music: from squaring off toe to toe with Bald Bull to getting knocked down to finally beating southpaw Soda Popinski by TKO. The password screen and music has been etched into my mind since childhood and every time I drive down the Henry Hudson or FDR to New York City, I sing it in my head. It’s one of the games that I needed to have the entire soundtrack on my iPod back in the day. I tried to learn the whole soundtrack for a YouTube video that never happened, but still remember enough to entertain friends whenever there’s a piano around.
The classic theme: Fight Theme
If I had to pick one to share: Password Screen
The Legend of Zelda
I know I’m going to get punched in the face for saying this, but I didn’t love playing the Legend of Zelda as a kid. I did, however, love to watch my older siblings figure it out. Despite the fact that the soundtrack is less than 10 tracks deep, there is no denying in my mind that it is one of the greatest ever. The main theme is as legendary as they come. The dungeon theme scared me as a little kid and blew me away as a musician later in life. The “game over” theme creeped me out but was somehow beautiful at the same time. All in all, the soundtrack was memorable, technically brilliant and helped elevate a classic NES game into a true masterpiece.
The classic theme: Overworld Theme
If I had to pick one to share: Title Screen
Bonus: One Man Band video
Super Mario Bros
Hands down: the most iconic video game theme song of all time. It’s a song so popular that your parents and grandparents know it. If you can find a weird way to play it on YouTube, you’ll probably go viral. Besides THE song, this soundtrack consists of some of the most memorable themes of all time, such as the unorthodox underground theme and the water theme that makes you want to do the waltz. The big question most people will likely have will be “How is this NOT number 1?” Well, my friends, read on.
The classic theme: Overworld Theme
If I had to pick one to share: Water Level
Mega Man 2
No game soundtrack has had a bigger impact on me than Mega Man 2. This game has so many memorable, catchy and beautifully composed tunes that still hold up today. Most people know about Dr. Wily’s Castle Stage 1 and it seems to be a popular notion that it’s one of the greatest game songs of all time (if not THE greatest). But, beyond that, this soundtrack is one of the few complete NES soundtracks that I can sing off the top of my head because it is THAT good and I’ve spent so much time listening to it. It definitely helps that this game is one of my favorite games of all time. Beyond that, it’s very difficult to find a bad song on this entire soundtrack. Some may not be keen on the Dr. Wily Stage 2 theme where the melody repeats the same transposing four notes while the bass line stays the same, but I think it adds to the tension of the situation. It’s extremely difficult to pick a favorite song from this soundtrack and personally, I’ve gone through phases where my favorite has been Metal Man, or Flash Man, or Air Man, or Wood Man, back to Metal Man, then Bubble Man, then… well you get the picture. It’s the most iconic NES game not named Mario or Zelda, and in my view has the greatest game soundtrack on the NES- or any console- ever.
The classic theme: Dr. Wily Stage 1 & 2
If I had to pick one to share: Metal Man
Bonus: One Man Band
By the way…
If the list were a top 10 and if franchises repeated, the list would likely consist of:
Mega Man 3
Super Mario 3
What is your top 5?
Are you outraged by my rankings?
What did I get right and what did I get wrong?
If you want to make your own game music, you should check this course out.
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