Music in videogames has come on leaps and bounds over the past few decades. We’ve gone from short, repeated chiptunes; to the lavish, fully-orchestrated, cinematic soundtracks we enjoy today. It is now easier than ever to buy gaming soundtracks, and it’s now even possible to see our favourite gaming themes played live. A group of dedicated game music fans are even trying to get the genre recognised in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame.
Is there any better time to look at some of the most iconic themes heard in videogames? Note that I’m using the word “iconic”, this isn’t a list of the “best” tracks out there. These are the tracks that define gaming music, the tracks that people make ringtones out of, that bands cover and the ones that even non-gamers know.
Here’s the rules of this list, only one track is allowed, from one game series.
10: Doom – E1M1 (At Doom’s Gate)
A game as hellish, chaotic and adrenaline-pumping as Doom surely needs a suitable soundtrack; composer Bobby Prince does not let us down with this insanely metal piece, as played in the very first level of the classic FPS. Even in it’s lo-fi MIDI form, it’s still a frantic and instantly recognisable track – Few games start with music as good as this.
9: Street Fighter II – Guile’s Theme
The soundtrack to Street Fighter II is incredibly iconic; so much so, that you could replace Guile’s Theme on this list with any other theme from the game, but this one earns it’s place on the list, due to the brilliant “Guile’s Theme Goes With Everything” meme:
8: Mega Man II – Intro
One of those essential NES series, the second Mega Man game is the pinnacle of everything the Blue Bomber is; the game’s brilliant soundtrack being a notable highlight. It’s NES-era Capcom at their very best, with wonderfully memorable melodies and fantastic sounding instruments on each stage. The iconic title sequence (which is used throughout the series) is the pick of the bunch. You aren’t a videogame cover band unless you cover this tune.
7: Halo – Theme
Now for one of the more recent iconic tracks on this list, one which is particularly notable because of the haunting Gregorian chants during the intro. Microsoft know that all they need to do is get those chants going, and millions of gamers worldwide will blow their collective loads in an instant.
6: Portal – Still Alive
Jonathan Coulton’s quirky ode to science and baked goods, is one of the most rewarding and surprising endings to a game ever. It’s a witty song that perfectly summed up everything that Portal is; the delivery of the lyrics by GlaDOS making it all the more memorable. How can you listen to this and not want to sing along? Not even the brilliant Want You Gone from Portal 2 could top this slice of hilarity.
5: Final Fantasy VII – One Winged Angel
No videogame music list would be complete without Final Fantasy, but with so many games bearing the Final Fantasy name, finding the most iconic track is a mammoth task. At the end of the day, it had to be from the most popular tune from the most popular game in the series. It had to be One Winged Angel.
A mainstay of all videogame orchestras, Nobuo Uematsu’s blend of latin chanting, rock operatics and orchestral epicness is an energetic, dark and chaotic piece of music that begs to be heard in a live scenario.
4: Sonic The Hedgehog – Green Hill Zone
The Sonic titles are well known for their excellent soundtracks, so it was difficult to come up with a definitive track but the Green Hill Zone theme is exactly that. It’s the track that springs to mind whenever any gamer thinks of Sonic, and is a happy, bouncy tune that is never too happy or too cheesy. One of the best pieces of music ever conceived on the Mega Drive.
3: Legend of Zelda – Overworld
Long time Nintendo composer, Koji Kondo is a master of writing music for videogames. He has written so many iconic tracks that I could have just filled this list, several times over, with his output. Few pieces of music in gaming are as emotive as the Legend of Zelda Overworld Theme. The introduction to these theme is enough to make the hairs on the back of any gamer’s neck, stand up straight (especially if heard by an full orchestra). Immediately, this triumphant-sounding track tells you that you are on an epic adventure, full of danger.
2: Tetris – Type A
Originating as a Russian folk tune titled “Korobeiniki”; throughout Western culture, this track is fondly known as “The Tetris Theme”. Featured as one of three selectable tracks in the Game Boy version of the game, it’s short and repetitive ; but bloody catchy. There have been countless covers and dance remixes of this tune over the years, and here’s the cheesiest, most 90′s one of the lot (Andrew Lloyd Webber is partly to blame, as it happens. It reached #6 in the UK singles chart).
1: Super Mario Bros. – World 1-1
To be honest, could there have been any other game to take the #1 slot? Absolutely everyone knows this little Koji Kondo-composed ditty; gamer or non-gamer. It’s the catchiest of tunes, thanks to its simplistic and melodic nature; you probably know at least one person who has it as their ring tone. Interesting trivia fact: The sound effects for Super Mario Bros. were designed so that they always sound like they fit in with the music’s key.
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