The Best Video Game Songs

Video games have been permanently ingrained into culture. I’m sure everyone can recite the first seven notes from Nintendo’s 1985 Super Mario Bros. or can remember the creepy yet hastily descending “doots” from Space Invaders.

While those songs are certainly memorable, I personally do not consider them to be “great.” What defines great? That’s a matter of personal preference. Do not let me tell you what to enjoy. However, this is my personal list of the Best Video Game Songs – NOT soundtracks – that I could come up with. In no particular order:

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Hyrule Field Main Theme (Nintendo 64 – 1998)

There’s two games that “blew me away” when it came to their open world. One game was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when you leave the prison (you folks know what I’m talking about). But the first game that really impressed me was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. One reason was because I had never played a video game like it before. The other reason was because of the incredible theme that accompanied the first appearance of this “open world.” The field of Hyrule was my playground, filled with places to explore and had danger afoot. The music manages to encapsulate the feelings of wonder and excitement of exploring.

Mega Man 4 – Dive Man (NES – 1991)

With such a wide arrangement of Mega Man games to choose from, why Dive Man’s stage? Dive Man’s underwater level hits a few points home: the low bass tones emphasize the deep water within the level. The lead MIDI has a bit of a strange ring to it when it peaks, suggesting to me the villainy behind the level. The song also builds up and builds down both flawlessly and seamlessly. I could hear the song play for hours and not expect an “ending” per se, from it. It’s one of the few Mega Man songs that will pop into my head from time to time and really make me want to hop back onto my NES and lose an hour in the game.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Hell March (PC – 1996)

Some people may say Metallica was their first encounter with heavy metal music. But if you lived in a shell like I did, you either first heard it from Doom or Command & Conquer: Red Alert. The Hell March is a literal staple in video gaming. The sluggish, hefty bass riff leads the charge (or march) with a steady 4/4 drum beat and distorted guitars. Verses, while mostly simple chugging riffs, evoke thoughts of the battles between a Mammoth Tank vs. a Tesla Coil, or attack dogs mauling down an enemy spy. The theme was updated in both sequels of the game, but there’s a simplistic nostalgia from the original theme that cannot be replicated.

Homeworld – The Beginning and the End (PC – 1999)

Homeworld is widely regarded as having one of the greatest soundtracks for a video game. As one of the first songs in the game, The Beginning and the End, brings me sheer bliss. This real-time space strategy game introduced a full X, Y, and Z axis to gaming – a feat for its time. Composer Paul Ruskay managed to create a brilliant track to get the user familiar with the gameplay mechanics. The peaceful song not only keeps the player cool during the tutorial, but also establishes the true vastness the game brought – you’re in space after all! This song has been on repeat at my home for years as its calming effects are trance-like. It is hands-down one of my favourite songs ever.

Stardew Valley – A Flicker in the Deep (PC, Switch, PS4, Android – 2016)

It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s my favourite song the soundtrack has to offer. In its wide variety of moods, from seasonal themes, to battles, A Flicker in the Deep brings a sort of joy which I feel isn’t captured in any other song in the game. While it may be one of the shortest songs on my list, it’s certainly one of the most impactful ones.

Pokemon Red/Blue – Viridian City (Game Boy – 1998 US)

If there’s one song that always stood out for me, it’s the Viridian City theme from the original Pokemon games. Why? It kind of has a double meaning: at first, you enter Viridian City to get started on your journey. It’s the first major place you visit and get a feel for the game. It’s your established “base” until you make your way to the next city. However, Viridian City is also your LAST city in the game. You beat Team Rocket there and you make your way to the Pokemon League. The music, somehow, is nostalgic even while you’re in the game for the first time. It’s the first song to see you off, and the last song to see you go. With it’s peaks and relatively calming presence, it’s always cheering for you.

Terminal Velocity – Ymir Theme (PC – 1995)

3D Realms, folks. The original Duke Nukem, Blake Stone, Wacky Wheels, and more came from this company. Yet most people haven’t heard of the 3D flight simulation shooter, Terminal Velocity – which is okay! Let me bring you up to speed: you’re a ship and you shoot things. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Ymir’s Theme, from level one, somehow made the gameplay feel a lot more epic than it actually was. With the heavy synth rising and falling over the industrial beats, you ended up listening to the loop multiple times in the level as you struggled to find where to go. To this day, the synths will make their appearance into my mind and I’ll just want to drop everything and shoot some tanks.

FTL: Faster Than Light – Milky Way (PC – 2012)

Whether you’re battling the rebels or making your next jump through space, FTL’s music is all something to awe over. However, Milky Way has a very calming, yet action-packed feel to it. The revving arpeggios from the beginning of the song continue throughout and end up becoming the background as lead instruments take over. The song is eerily simplistic, but rich with depth and lots of layers. A beautiful song.

Left 4 Dead – Tank Theme (PC, Xbox 360 – 2008)

I’ve spent many hours (days, even) playing L4D (Hi, Cherish and Andrew!) While it’s a short theme, you don’t even need to see the Tank coming to feel a sense of dread. The music does it for you. Operatic and booming, the Tank theme from Left 4 Dead, a “zombie” shooting game, absolutely strikes fear into the players. The main reason being: no one knows where the Tank, a super-strong Hulk-like “zombie,” is coming from. Valve built L4D as a game with no real “script,” meaning things don’t happen in an order – everything is randomized. A Tank can appear wherever. As such, it’s the music which really triggers the anxiety in the player – beginning you let the player fear what they cannot see.

Silent Hill – Silent Hill Theme (PlayStation – 1999)

Can anyone name me a song that’s both creepier and beautiful at the same time? I don’t think I need to say much about this one. It’s a classic. With traditional instrumentation and 90s synth, it’s an absolute wonder.

Resident Evil 4 – Echo in the Night (GameCube – 2005)

I may be biased, but Resident Evil 4 my favourite game in the series (I know, right? Please don’t fight me on it). As the game got drearier and darker, this theme played and wow. What a treat. The eerie, echoing howl right off the bat. The moody, dark tones in the background. Is that talking in the background or are my ears playing tricks on me? It’s an incredibly sinister song that is riddled with atmosphere.

Kirby’s Dream Land – Green Greens (Game Boy – 1992)

Kirby, man. What a guy (thing?) The song, Green Greens from the first stage is somehow playful, yet action-packed. It features a memorable lead that has an interesting twinge with it – enough to make it unique and stand out from other songs in the game.

Doom – At Doom’s Gate (PC – 1993)

Doom. Level One. You already know the song. Forget the Metallica influence. What can be said about At Doom’s Gate that hasn’t already been said? It perfectly captures the intensity, violence, gore, and speed which Doom is known for. A great heavy metal thrill ride, the loop of the song doesn’t feel exhausting nor does it begin to sound boring. As long as there’s bad guys to shoot, give me hell.

Portal – Still Alive (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2007)

The end theme to Portal, the triumphant and hilarious song both wraps up the game and teases a future. It’s a painfully simplistic song, but it’s the lyrics and singing which certainly makes it standout – and original.

Katamari Damacy – Katamari on the Rocks (PS2 – 2004)

If someone were to ask me “What’s Katamari about?” I’d tell them, “You roll stuff up” and then play this track and walk away. That’s because I feel this song perfectly summarizes the enjoyment and amazement of the game. A joyful theme, it has enough strange in it to intrigue the listener to want to play. Great instrumentation, percussion, and singing, the song – and the soundtrack – puts a smile on my face. “La la la la la Katamari Damacy.”

Gunstar Heroes – Opening Theme (SEGA – 1993)

A triumphant opening to an arcade classic. Gunstar Heroes’ opening theme quickly fades into a grandiose anthem. With the spinning logo, the amount of sheer excitement one feels before pressing “start” cannot be ignored. The rest of the game’s music is great too, but the intro certainly takes the cake.

X-Men 2: Clone Wars – Sentinel Complex (SEGA – 1995)

The crushing bass groove, technological babble in the background, and screeching metal throughout makes this song both original and powerful. When matched with the hefty bass sounds from the attacks in the game, it almost feels as if it’s part of the action. While this beast of a game was memorable for being a challenge for a lot of kids, I’m certain this song is memorable for the riffs within it.

Honorable mentions:

Sable Theme (PC – TBD)

There’s not much to be said yet about Sable. It’s an adventure game which is heavily influenced by the artist Mœbius. The song, Glider, is an original song written by Japanese Breakfast for the trailer. While there’s still no release date for the game, the song seems to at least capture the feeling of it.

Fallout 3 – Bob Crosby and the Bobcats – Way Back Home (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2008, Bob Crosby – 1951)

While technically not a song from a game, the folks at Bethesda wanted to really make this post-apocalyptic world feel apocalyptic. How so? Digital music didn’t survive the nuclear fallout, only vinyl did. Crosby’s song somehow, ironically, manages to summarize the Fallout game perfectly.

Chrono Cross – Time’s Scar (PlayStation – 2000 US)

I asked my brother what he felt were some of the best songs. He gave me this from Chrono Cross. Holy smokes, it’s great. The peaceful and calming music picks up after a minute and absolutely rocks. Taking advantage of the PlayStation’s higher audio capability, composer Yasunori Mitsuda knocks it out of the park. What a treat.

And that’s it!

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Did I miss a game? Is there something I should reconsider? Let me know in the comments below, or follow me on social media.

Pokémon GO & Growing Up as a Nerd in the 90’s

With the new release of Pokémon Go seemingly affecting everyone’s lives and social media platforms (which arguably are the same thing to some folk), it always surprises me when I see something from my childhood come back into the mainstream. That’s not to say Pokémon ever went away. There are still new movies, new toys, and of course the online sensation known as TwitchPlaysPokémon which went all over the news which also introduced lots of people to the streaming service Twitch. This also happened with the Twitch Bob Ross marathon, but I digress.

I grew up in the 90s. I was born in the mid-80s, letting me absorb the cool TV shows that survived the end of the 80’s era: GI Joe, Transformers, Dino Riders, and Denver the Last Dinosaur were only a few of the many shows that trickled over into the 90s with me.

I was pretty obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I wanted to be a palaeontologist when I was in grade three and wrote cool stories featuring both dinosaurs and Transformers in my English classes. Why I never considered just writing about the Dinobots – I’ll never know. I collected rocks and went through the gravel in neighbours driveways to look at the imprints of trilobites or plants within them. It was really fascinating to me.

Ah, my first comic book.
Ah, my first comic book.

In the early-90s, I stumble across a animated TV show called The X-Men on FOX Kids. There was also Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Tick, and a short-lived Hulk series that I also enjoyed. I picked up my first comic book, X-Men #36, in 1994 when I visited a local convenience store. I recognized Sabretooth from the cartoon. The book also featured Jubilee – who I also knew from the show – as well as having a gatefold cover which caught me up with what was going on in the series. I recognized a lot of the X-Men on there. I felt like I was in the loop!

Coming to the mid-90s, some kids my mom babysat brought over this three-part movie series on VHS called “Star Wars.” Needless to say, that changed my life in a dramatic fashion. No longer did I want to dig up old dinosaur bones: I wanted to fly into space, maybe meet the Shi’ar Empire, fly an X-Wing, and so on. You know, the usual stuff kids dream about doing.

But as with everything, there comes a price.

I was a scrawny kid. I had asthma, acne, allergies – the works. All I ever wanted to do was talk about Star Wars and read comic books. It’s quite typical to look back and think that’s all kids in the 90’s wanted to do. If they weren’t doing that, they were playing video games. Let’s not forget that great pastime. I especially played the non-sport games or popular games from franchises. NHL series? Nope. Zelda? No time! At least Super Mario? I certainly played those games to death but would easily prefer games on a different “console” – the PC. SimCity 2000? Totally. X-Wing? I still have all five floppy discs! Command and Conquer? My ion cannon was ready!

While everything I wrote above gives you a good idea to what kind of kid I was, it was definitely not considered “the norm.”

I remember in grade seven on May 4th (years before the “Star Wars Day” even existed), my grade seven teacher wrote on the chalkboard “May the Fourth be With You.” I distinctly remember arriving early to class that day before both the teacher and the majority of my fellow classmates came in. I saw those words on the board, and I nearly cried in embarrassment. I ran up to the chalk board and erased everything that was written. I went back to my seat while the few other students didn’t say anything about my actions. When class started and the teacher arrived, she asked why her message was erased. Once I was ousted as the culprit, she asked me why I did what I did. I shyly shrugged my shoulders. She was good enough to accept the answer and move on with the day.

She understood why I did it: I was picked on a lot as a kid. Star Wars wasn’t cool. I wasn’t into the same things the rest of the students were: MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV), WWF, sports, hanging out with each other after school. . . it just wasn’t me. While I did participate in after-school sports, I wasn’t considered “cool” enough by my peers for a variety of other reasons. I still had no idea what music they were talking about, what movies they went to see together, and what games they were playing. I had my own world with my own interests.

I was often bullied and usually made fun of for my indulgence of the things I enjoyed. However, I eventually became a bit numb to it and ended up wearing it like a badge of honour. In my grade eight yearbook, my nickname was “Star Wars Fan” as the teacher opted not to have “Freak” put into the book. Good call, grade eight teacher. Good call.

1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.
1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.

So you can see how looking upon the fads now, I’m a bit surprised by how popular all of these things are. While sure, Star Wars is definitely one of, if not, the most popular film franchise of all time, there was a period when it was completely not cool to like it. I know that because I lived it.

With Return of the Jedi’s release in 1983, there was no new Star Wars until 1999. That’s a long period of time for something to be removed from popularity. While the 1997 Special Edition release brought the series back into the spotlight my fellow peers didn’t care, but my excitement and intensity over the films only increased. Newer toys were being released which I bought up with my paper route money.

I remember trying to talk to someone in my grade eight class about a few toys I had purchased. Their response? “You could’ve used that money to buy a car.” I was laughed at by a few of the other students. I was thirteen. Star Wars was what made me happy. I’m sorry I didn’t watch Party of Five or 90210. I was busy watching Nova on PBS. Besides, I wasn’t even old enough to drive.

Even as I began to discover music, I found myself starting to enjoy both progressive rock and heavy metal. It was complex stuff that shunned away the masses but really drew me in. As with heavy metal music, it is a purposeful insular culture that gives the middle finger to the establishment. And for me, that establishment was the two Catholic schools I attended and the rest of the people who didn’t understand me.

By that time as well, I was in high school and I had stumbled across a PC game called StarCraft. Even to this day, I watch professional StarCraft as my “sport” of choice. I don’t and never have followed popular sports. But I do follow the eSports scene.

Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.
Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.

With all that being said, you can imagine seeing the rise in popularity of comic books, their respective movies, and other nerd culture being highlighted in the media – how someone like me can feel a bit overwhelmed and if not sometimes feeling like a bit of a shut in.

However, now some friends and family will come to me to ask me questions about comic book character X, or ask me about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or Legends as it’s now called). Suddenly the ridicule for the things I enjoyed for the first sixteen years of my life was to be forgotten: my interests were in the spotlight and as collateral had it, so was I.

But I wasn’t, and still at times, am not ready for it. It’s just seems strange to see people freak out over Pokémon Go now when I still talked about Pokémon exclusively with my younger brother when I was in grade ten because I didn’t know anyone else who was interested in it (shortly after I found, and still have, some long-time and close friends who I can nerd out with). Even look at the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Kickstarter that BROKE records. While I am super happy for MSTies everywhere, it was only myself and two other friends who watched the show religiously, making it a surprise for me to see the revival actually happening. How didn’t I know so many other people liked it? Where were these people in my life growing up?

Now when the big comic book movies hit the theaters, I’m allowed to be myself in public and indulge in the culture I was once made fun of for indulging in before. When I’m at work, I’ll see a customer with a comic book movie shirt on and talk to them about it. They may not be fans of the comic books, but that’s okay! It’s great to finally be able to have the conversation without getting made fun of.

I'm actually level 15 now.
I’m actually level 15 now.

As irony would have it, I was out playing Pokémon Go with a friend the other night. We were only two out of about 150 people in the downtown core playing at a couple of close proximity Pokéstops. Five kids, I’m guessing ages 7 to 10, rolled up next to us on their scooters and bikes, looking out to the crowd of 15-35 year olds playing Pokémon Go. Their response? “Pokémon Go is THIS popular? What a bunch of losers!” they said out loud.

While everyone ignored them, my friend and I laughed as they rode away in disbelief. It was certainly something wonderful to see that despite all of the diversity and ridicule one may have had growing up, I looked out upon this group of Pokémon Go’ers and felt right at home.

In another instance this week, I spoke with a lady in her late-forties and joked with her about the game – not revealing that I play it. She said, in all-seriousness, “If I catch my son playing the game, I’ll kick his ass.” Her son, she admitted, is twenty-seven years old. Fortunately I was mature enough to simply let the conversation bounce off of me and not feel concerned about what she thought (and unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to correct her at the time).

So in one instance there’s a mother bullying people younger than her over the game, while in another instance those young kids who looked down upon my friend and I would’ve been the same kids to do that to me when I was their age.

While some things will never change and crappy kids and adults will always exist – one thing is for certain, if not a bit clichéd: enjoying what you do – regardless of popularity – is important. Life does get better.

Remember my grade seven teacher who wrote “May the 4th be With You” on the chalk board? Later in the day she did come to me in private before recess and apologized for unintentionally offending me. She knew how I felt and it was really one of the only times in my grade school years I felt someone outside of my family actually get what I was going through. I know this because here I am in 2016 still remembering that very simple gesture from all those years ago. I can only hope that more people are like that to children today. Empathy is a wonderful thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch some Pokémon with some friends.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!