Revisiting Some of the Best Video Game Music From the 8-bit and 16-bit Era


Sport techniques from the 8-bit and 16-bit period weren’t precisely the graphical powerhouses that fashionable consoles, PCs and even telephones have developed into. However there are numerous different elements together with good controls, a strong storyline and memorable characters that issue into the creation of a well-rounded recreation.

High quality video games nearly unanimously even have nice sound and music.

High quality video games nearly unanimously even have nice sound and music. Hamstrung by {hardware} limitations, composers of yesteryear typically needed to get artistic as a way to conquer shortcomings related to the platforms of the time. Listed here are 10 prime examples the place composers did simply that…

The Legend of Zelda – 1986 – NES

The Legend of Zelda wasn’t the primary recreation I ever performed on NES. That honor, in all chance, went to Tremendous Mario Bros. However it was the primary title I bear in mind taking part in with an enthralling soundtrack.

The second you depress the ability button and the title display screen hundreds, you’re greeted with a mesmerizing waterfall and a fascinating tune that quickly modifications to sign a severe journey awaits.

Stick round and skim the prologue or lower to the chase, choose your character and hop proper into an enormous world set to music from legendary Japanese composer Koji Kondo.

In a 2007 interview with Wired, Kondo stated that with Zelda, he was making an attempt [to use the music] to reinforce the ambiance of the environments and places. “The sound of Mario is type of like common music, and Zelda is like… a type of music you have by no means heard earlier than,” he added.

Arguably extra spectacular than the intro and overworld tunes are the dungeon themes. The primary eight underground labyrinths all share a standard soundtrack however for degree 9, typically known as Dying Mountain, we get an much more unnerving monitor as we seek out and put together for the ultimate battle with Ganon.

The one factor which may be extra awe-inspiring concerning the recreation itself or the music is the retail field it got here through which featured a cut-out to disclose the gold-colored recreation cartridge inside.

I can solely think about what number of copies had been bought primarily based on this aesthetic alone. We do know, nonetheless, that The Legend of Zelda was the fifth best-selling NES recreation ever with greater than 6.5 million copies bought over its lifetime.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 1989 – NES

Seeking to capitalize on the rising reputation of the “heroes in a half shell,” Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird partnered with Konami in 1989 to launch one of many first video video games primarily based on the franchise.

The tip end result was a single-player motion recreation that was vastly totally different from the beat ‘em up TMNT arcade recreation put out in the identical 12 months. Whereas many will bear in mind the sport as being overly tough with clunky controls, it did serve up a top quality soundtrack.

Japanese composer Jun Funahashi drew the task for Konami. The soundtrack wasn’t all that lengthy though it did characteristic some memorable tracks together with the underwater bombs theme, the mini boss combat music and the primary overworld theme.

I do consider the sport may have benefited from utilizing the Turtles’ theme tune from the animated sequence however contemplating Konami featured it within the arcade recreation, maybe they didn’t wish to be repetitive. The Turtles franchise would go on to spawn further video games and exhibits, a number of characteristic movies and a ton of licensed merchandise.

ToeJam & Earl – 1991 – Sega Genesis

ToeJam & Earl is certainly the quirkiest recreation on this checklist. Conceived by Greg Johnson, the sport revolves round two alien rappers which have crashed on Earth and should get well items of their ship as a way to rebuild it and return to their house planet of Funkotron. It’s a glorified scavenger hunt, actually.

The soundtrack, composed by John Baker, is what actually made this recreation. A bizarre mix of jazz and funk with hip hop parts, it’s in contrast to something that had been heard in gaming as much as that time. In a 2009 write-up, IGN stated Baker was impressed by the likes of Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters. Yeah, I can definitely hear that affect.

Enjoyable reality – Johnson and Baker recorded a particular model of the sport’s essential theme, ToeJam Jammin’, to be used on a promotional cassette tape that was solely out there to Sega Visions journal subscribers through mail order throughout a brief interval in 1991.

In the course of the growth of ToeJam & Earl: Again within the Groove greater than 25 years later, somebody reportedly noticed the cassette on the market on eBay and requested Johnson if it was legit.

It was, and he even had an previous copy in his storage. Backers of the Kickstarter mission requested if he may embrace the monitor within the new recreation as an Easter egg. Johnson was comfortable to oblige.

ToeJam & Earl was extra of a cult traditional than an in-the-moment success. In response to Ken Horowitz in his e book Enjoying the Subsequent Degree: A Historical past of American Sega Video games, Sega bought roughly 350,000 copies of the sport throughout its run. The franchise spawned three sequels together with the aforementioned Again within the Groove, which launched in 2019.

Tremendous Mario World – 1991 – SNES

It was Christmastime, 1991, and there was just one factor I had on my want checklist: a Tremendous Nintendo. It was too way back to recall the specifics however because the 12 months wound down, I obtained into an argument with my dad concerning the tv in my room, a modest 13-inch set. Regardless of the case, it was severe (not less than in my nine-year-old mind) and I dug my heels in. To hell with the Tremendous Nintendo, I needed a brand new TV for Christmas as a substitute.

Both I used to be extremely convincing or my dad and mom actually simply didn’t wish to idiot with it as a result of they known as my bluff. With what needed to have been just a few weeks or possibly even a month to go earlier than Christmas, they pulled a rectangular-shaped current out from beneath the tree and stated I may open it. Was this actually occurring?

As certain as evening follows day, I unwrapped a Tremendous Nintendo with a bundled copy of Tremendous Mario World. I may have it proper then and there, they stated, as long as I deserted the brand new TV thought. However no, I used to be too prideful, too cussed. I used to be going all-in. TV or bust.

The SNES was returned and I in the end obtained the TV I needed. Had I taken my dad and mom’ peace providing, nonetheless, I’d have gotten to expertise the magic of Tremendous Mario World and its superb soundtrack a lot sooner than I did.

Tremendous Mario World offered composer Koji Kondo with the proper alternative to showcase what was potential on Nintendo’s new {hardware}. It additionally allowed producer Shigeru Miyamoto to lastly understand his dream of gifting Mario a dinosaur companion, Yoshi.

In evaluating Tremendous Mario World to Kondo’s most up-to-date work on the time, Tremendous Mario Bros. 3 for the NES, you may instantly choose up on the complexity of the tracks within the former.

The theme utilized in underground levels is an ideal instance as there may be only a lot occurring directly. It’s not sufficient to overwhelm the participant, thoughts you, and is finished tastefully, however it’s in stark distinction to the extra simplistic songs from the earlier recreation.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – 1992 – Sega Genesis

By the vacation season of 1992, Sega’s high tier mascot – Sonic the Hedgehog – was gearing up for one more spherical with Nintendo’s Mario for console supremacy.

On his facet was the Sega Genesis, arguably the “hipper” of the 2 16-bit techniques, and a brand new sidekick named Tails. Whereas every console had their very own execs and cons, Sega’s advertising and marketing was fast to level out the benefit that tech like Blast Processing would provide the sport.

And to the layman watching a trailer for Sonic 2, they’d don’t have any purpose to not consider one thing known as Blast Processing was concerned. Simply take a look at how blazing quick Sonic can transfer round on the display screen! It was extremely spectacular again within the early 90s and admittedly, it nonetheless thrills to this very day.

Besides, it was form of a sham.

Sonic 2 gameplay was ridiculously quick for loads of different causes however Blast Processing wasn’t one in every of them. In truth, it was by no means utilized in any shipped video games for the Genesis; solely not too long ago has the know-how been efficiently mastered. However that’s a narrative for one more day.

The music for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was composed by Masato Nakamura, a bassist and songwriter with the J-pop band Goals Come True. He began on the mission early, utilizing idea photographs to get a really feel for the form of ambiance he believed the stage would exhibit.

Sega basically gave him free reign to work on the mission so he created a lot of it whereas recording along with his band in London, whereas they labored on their fifth album.

Every of the primary stage themes had a really distinctive sound that meshed completely with their appear and feel. Personally, Sky Chase Zone is maybe my favourite, adopted intently by Chemical Plant Zone.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a house run for Sega, promoting six million models following its November 20, 1992 launch. That wasn’t sufficient to edge out the 15 million unique Sonic the Hedgehog video games Sega managed to ship, however that title was a bundle with the console, which little doubt inflated gross sales.

Both means, Sega had a brand new flagship mascot on its roster to do battle with Mario and that’s about pretty much as good as you possibly can ask for in the course of the 90s console wars.

Avenue Fighter II – 1992 – SNES

Within the early 90s, there have been basically two camps when it got here to combating video games: Mortal Kombat and Avenue Fighter. Admittedly, the primary entry within the latter sequence wasn’t all that memorable however in its second at bat, Capcom hit a grand slam with a recreation that was enjoyable to play and had an excellent soundtrack as well.

Avenue Fighter II arrived in arcades in early 1991 but it surely wouldn’t be till the summer season of the next 12 months that it discovered its option to the Tremendous Nintendo.

From the second the Capcom brand hundreds and into the primary theme, this soundtrack delivers.

A lot of the recreation’s music may be credited to Yoko Shimomura, a Japanese composer and pianist that has contributed to just about 70 video games at this level. One in all her earliest gigs was Avenue Fighter II through which she was chargeable for all however three of the sport’s tracks. Sadly for Capcom, she left the corporate in 1993 to pursue her curiosity in writing extra classical music for role-playing video games.

One of many greatest takeaways from Avenue Fighter II is simply how effectively the theme tune for every fighter matches their persona. Guile’s stage had a patriotic really feel, Blanka’s made you’re feeling such as you had been actually battling within the jungles of Brazil and M. Bison’s theme did an excellent job of constructing you’re feeling such as you had been combating for all of the marbles.

Tremendous Metroid – 1994 – SNES

Artwork courtesy Reddit

“Eerie.” That’s the perfect phrase I can conjure as much as describe the soundtrack of Tremendous Metroid.

The third installment within the sequence, Tremendous Metroid’s title theme units a spooky ambiance that by no means lifts. Curiously sufficient, the intro got here to composer Kenji Yamamoto whereas he was using his bike house from work in the future. He immediately pulled right into a parking zone, pulled out a voice recorder and began recording what he heard in his head. “For about 10, 20 minutes, simply belting it out,” Yamamoto stated.

The subsequent day at work, he digitized the recording and performed it for director Yoshio Sakamoto who stated it was good.

Yamamoto labored with Minako Hamano, who was simply 24 years previous on the time, on a number of of the sport’s tracks. The SNES allowed using recorded sounds throughout eight channels concurrently, and so they definitely put that newfound tech to good use. By comparability, the unique NES solely had 4 channels out there.

Maridia’s cavern system and sandy desert sections are amongst a number of the recreation’s most memorable areas. The jungle flooring in Brinstar feels moderately secure however that each one goes out the window once you enter the world’s underground zones. The previous couple of sections of the sport together with Ridley’s hideout in Norfair and the ultimate battle with Mom Mind are simply flat out spine-tingling.

Collectively, it makes for a number of the finest in-game music in any 16-bit title and actually elevates all the recreation to an entire new peak. It merely would not have been the masterpiece in the present day that it’s with out Yamamoto and Hamano.

Frankly, I am stunned to see it thus far down the all-time gross sales checklist at quantity 33 with just one.42 million models bought. When you haven’t performed it, it’s one heck of a rewarding recreation that I promise you will not remorse choosing up.

Donkey Kong Nation – 1994 – SNES

David Sensible was chargeable for a lot of the soundtrack in Donkey Kong Nation, and what a gem it was. He was initially introduced in as a freelancer to create three demo tracks that had been in the end blended collectively to create “DK Island Swing,” the primary degree’s theme tune. Shortly after, he was employed as a full-time composer by Uncommon.

The corporate would present him graphics for ranges and even let him play by way of a number of the levels as a way to get a really feel for a way they need to sound. For the underwater levels, Sensible spent 5 weeks composing what would grow to be Aquatic Atmosphere utilizing a Korg Wavestation synthesizer.

He later described Aquatic Atmosphere as his favourite monitor, and I wholeheartedly concur.

Treetop Rock is one other banger that you just simply can not help however fall in love with. I can not think about swinging from treetop home to treetop out with out his jingle coaxing me alongside. Good, merely sensible.

When you’ve by no means performed Donkey Kong Nation, you’re definitely lacking out on arguably top-of-the-line platformers of the mid-90s. That stated, the soundtrack is robust sufficient that it may be loved independently of the sport. In truth, Aquatic Atmosphere is on my basic streaming playlist and it all the time brings a smile to my face every time it comes up.

Donkey Kong Nation went on to grow to be the third best-selling SNES recreation ever with 9.Three million copies bought worldwide.

Honorable Mentions

An article on traditional online game music merely wouldn’t be full with out a few honorable mentions. These outliers aren’t from the 8- or 16-bit period per se, but it surely’d merely be remiss of me to not acknowledge them in some type or trend on account of their lasting legacy on the trade.

Daytona USA – 1994 – Arcade

Developed by Sega AM2 and launched into arcades in 1993 earlier than a full rollout the next 12 months, Daytona USA was the primary Sega title to make the most of the Sega Mannequin 2 arcade system board. It was a inventory automobile racing recreation primarily based off the recognition of NASCAR and because of some severe consideration to element, it actually confirmed out within the arcades.

The usual twin-seat cupboard allowed for 2 gamers to battle it out. You’d sit in a race-inspired seat with purposeful accelerator and brake pedal, gear shifter and steering wheel. These controls alone had been sufficient to get many to drop of their quarters, however there was extra.

The inner {hardware} and software program is what actually made the sport. Critically, Sega insisted that the sport run at 60 frames per second with texture filtering as a way to finest Ridge Racer, a competing racing recreation from Namco. This gave it a buttery easy look that few titles of the period had been capable of match. Real looking recreation mechanics like drifting and energy sliding made gameplay really feel way more genuine. However it additionally wanted a killer soundtrack, and for that, Sega turned to composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi.

Mitsuyoshi needed the soundtrack for Daytona USA to face aside from the gang, and to do that, he applied vocals. However getting them into the sport wasn’t straightforward so he had to make use of temporary vocal samples and loop them for the specified impact. When you hear intently, you may most likely choose up on it within the recreation’s essential theme, Let’s Go Away.

Fact be instructed, the tune wasn’t all that spectacular. It is the truth that it is actually all you possibly can hear as these machines took up prime actual property proper on the entrance of the arcade and Sega little doubt cranked the amount to 11 to drown out the competitors.

Simply think about being a kind of arcade operators that needed to hear this tune play continuous throughout your whole shift. That type of psychological scarring seemingly by no means dissipates.

Techno Syndrome (the Mortal Kombat theme) – 1993

Mortal Kombat was certainly the most well liked and most controversial online game franchise of the early 90s.

The primary recreation within the sequence hit arcades in 1992, gorgeous gamers with its digitized graphics and unprecedented ranges of violence. Months later, writer Acclaim Leisure launched a large promoting marketing campaign – Mortal Monday – to advertise the sport’s September 13, 1993, arrival on the Tremendous Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sport Boy and Sport Gear.

Between the house launches of the unique and the sequel precisely one 12 months later, a 10-track music album was produced by Belgian band The Immortals. It featured tracks for every of the primary recreation’s seven playable characters in addition to sub-boss Goro, and two different songs: monitor 5, Techno Syndrome, and monitor 10, Hypnotic Home.

9 of the 10 tracks on the album had been just about rubbish however Techno Syndrome, launched as a single the earlier 12 months, was the only exception. The tune, which featured the enduring “Mortal Kombat!” scream, grew to become synonymous with the franchise and is maybe essentially the most recognizable composition on this checklist.


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