Someone asked me on Twitter today what one of my favorite Nintendo game soundtracks is. And true to form, I couldn’t really make up my mind. My favorite NES game soundtrack?! You might as well ask me what my favorite episode of Dark Shadows is (Answer: all of them.)
Anyway, it got me thinking. If someone were about to cut my heart out with a spoon and I HAD to make a list of my all-time, absolute favorite NES soundtracks, which games would make the cut?
It was a tough series of decisions, but here’s what I’m going with:
#10 – Batman
And “The Soundtrack is Better than the Game Award” goes to…Batman. Not that Batman was a terrible game, though. It was actually quite good for a NES game based on a popular franchise (see also: #1 on this list), even if it was sometimes frustrating as hell.
I never actually owned Batman until I was an adult and started collecting NES games, but when I was young there was a boy who lived a few doors down from me who had this game. We spent countless hours in his basement playing this and Dr. Chaos (which also has awesome music). That story didn’t really have a point, sorry. So anway, yeah… Batman. The music is really good.
#9 – Shadowgate
Ahhh good ‘ol Shadowgate, the first adventure game I ever played! This game is full of memorable music–dark, mysterious and disturbing music–but memorable.
Confession time: When I was a little girl, Shadowgate used to scare the hell out of me. Especially when your last torch is burning low and the “OH SHIT!” music starts playing. To be honest, Shadowgate’s music still gives me the creeps a little bit. Especially this theme, which is a piece of music I’ve heard more times than I care to admit.
#8 – Dragon Warrior
The music of Dragon Warrior is actually pretty good, but any music gets annoying after you’ve had to listen to it a few thousand times–and if you played this game you undoubtedly did. Once that repetitive overworld theme burrows into your brain you might as well go kill yourself. But the rest of the themes are really quite enjoyable, especially the Town music. Hast thou seen Nester?
#7 – Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Bet you didn’t expect to see this game on the list. You may not have even heard of it. Back when video rental stores were around, Little Nemo: The Dream Master was one of my top Nintendo game rentals. It’s not the greatest game, but it’s super cute, fun to play and has really wonderful, whimsical music.
#6 – Metroid
The Metroid music gets under your skin the moment you power on the Nintendo and hear those unmistakable low-frequency tones that sound like a distress signal from deep space. The entire game is full of weird, spacey music that really makes you feel isolated and uncomfortable–even more uncomfortable than when you found out you were playing as a girl the whole time. It’s dark, deranged and completely awesome.
#5 – Gauntlet
I don’t know what it is about Gauntlet‘s music that makes it so great, but man is it fucking great. Maybe it’s the light classical, faux-harpsichord ditty that’s starts off all prim and proper but out of nowhere goes totally fucking bananas, lapsing into an arpeggio of rapid fire bleeps and blips before completely composing itself and carrying on as if nothing ever happened. It may be repetitive, but it’s catchy as hell. Just ask MC Chris.
#4 – Blaster Master
Two facts: 1) Blaster Master is an amazing NES game. 2) Blaster Master has truly awesome music. It would have ranked higher on my list for just the music alone, but I have to factor in things like nostalgia and number of times played (according to meaningless rules I just made up), and the games in my Top 3 have this one beat–but not by much.
Everything about Blaster Master is cool, from its nonsensical premise (I lost my pet frog down a hole and now I’m driving this badass tank around battling mutants! LOLWUT?) to its curious combination of sidescrolling and top-down 2D action. It is one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had on my NES and its music holds a special place in my heart.
#3 – The Legend of Zelda
It was unavoidable. The Legend of Zelda’s music, alongside that of Super Mario. Bros., pretty much defines Nintendo to me, as I’m sure it does for everyone else. It’s an instantly recognizable classic and thus deserves a high spot on my list. Just hearing the Hyrule overworld theme brings me back to childhood and puts a huge smile on my face. It’s also the greatest mobile ringtone in the world, especially when paired with the “Secret!” noise for incoming text messages.
It’s a secret to everybody.
#2 – Mega Man 2
True story: I had a boyfriend once who was really obsessed with Mega Man 2. Like, I mean really obsessed. He played it all the time and
forced me to listen to enthusiastically extolled the virtues of the game’s soundtrack. I remember he was particularly fond of the Bubble Man theme, which still plays in my head whenever I think of him.
The funny thing is, I actually suck at Mega Man 2. In fact I suck at most Mega Man games. Without having witnessed said boyfriend beat the game over and over again, I might not have ever developed the fond appreciation I have for the music of Mega Man 2, which is really quite fantastic–even after it’s been drilled into your brain several hundred times.
#1 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
An odd choice? Perhaps; but I’ll attempt to explain. Aside from the fact that I was obsessed with all things Ninja Turtles as a kid (and still am), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES was one of those rare games based on popular franchises that didn’t suck. No, it wasn’t a GREAT game, but it was decent and the music kicks ass. It was also unreasonably hard–as if the developers were purposefully sticking it to all the crazed little kids who loved TMNT. “Haha you dumb shits will NEVER be able to beat this!” And to this day, I never have.*
So why does this game deserve the #1 spot? Because for me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the NES game, not the actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) represents the ultimate–but ultimately elusive–victory. It is the game I would play over and over and over again just trying not to get my ass kicked. And when you’ve played a Nintendo game that many times, the music does things to your head. And in my head, this game’s music plays relentlessly on repeat, even today, over 20 years later.
*But I sure beat the shit out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game!
Extra Boss Stage!!!
Super Castlevania IV
Yeah I know, this is technically cheating because it’s a Super Nintendo game. But the music of Super Castlevania IV kicks so much ass, if I didn’t somehow include it I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.