Video games. We all play them. We all love them. And if you’re anything like us, you spend as much time listening to soundtracks as you do actually playing the games they originated from. That’s why we wanted to put this list together of 10 songs from classic games that just won’t quit.
10 — Super Metroid
There are few games on the SNES that so adeptly utilize the console’s Sony-branded sound co-processor than Super Metroid. While the graphics of the title contribute to a foreboding atmosphere, the game’s thick and haunting feeling could not exist without its original soundtrack fueling that sense of dread, anxiety, and ultimately heroic triumph.
While there are some remixes here from the two previous entries in the series, Super Metroid boasts some of the most compelling tracks in the entire franchise. They include the opening theme, Crateria, and Samus’ Theme… however we think Brinstar Overgrown is the standout track here.
The driving bassline, its sporadic symphonic hits, ethereal and otherworldly vocal timbre, and the simply delightful rhythm propels Overgrown Brinstar to number 10 on our list!
#9 — Chrono Trigger
How do you pick just one track from Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack? It almost feels like it’s unfair to single out just one. From playful tracks like Kingdom Trial to funky, driving tunes like Lab 16’s Ruins, the jovial Guardia Millennial Fair, and who can forget the terrifying Lavo’s Theme?
And while there are many tracks that we could choose, we think the standout hit from Chrono Trigger’s original soundtrack is Secret of the Forest.
This song exudes an air of mystery while also leaves us homesick, a track that feels as though we’re floating down a dark and ambiguous river. And we love it.
8 — Ape Escape
From the Super Nintendo to the original PlayStation; the gaming industry’s ability to satisfy our auditory desires evolved. We went from music produced by the circuits in the console itself to redbook audio played from the CD itself.
The PlayStation has so many great soundtracks in particular, but we think one of the best is Ape Escape. Coming later in the PS1’s lifecycle alongside the introduction of the DualShock analog controller, Ape Escape boasted a superb EDM-inspired auditory landscape. Tracks like Fossil Field, Crabby Beach, and Snowy Mammoth all absolutely slap, but of all the songs there’s one that has us banging our head above all the others.
Specter’s Theme. The synthesized electric guitar, the vamping bassline, and the verse/chorus structure feels like something you might hear on contemporary radio back in 1999. While it’s a track that might sound a little dated to today’s ears, we think it still holds up.
7 — Earthbound
Few soundtracks are as epic in scope as Earthbound's. Or, as they call it in Japan… Mother 2. The seminal brainchild of Shigasato Itoi and built by Ape Inc. and HAL Labs. Our protagonists travel the entire world, then through time, and finally (spoiler alert) get transformed into robots to defeat the root of all evil using the power of prayer. And Earthbound’s soundtrack takes us on an equally emotional journey.
Home Sweet Home is a tear jerker, Hospital is a ragee inspired romp, Mr Saturn’s Theme leaves us… confused… while Battle Against a Weird Opponent makes us uneasy to say the least.
But there’s one sequence in the game that feels like its music could be heard straight off a vinyl record in your grampa’s collection. That would be the Runaway Five. During the game you have to help a band of Blues Brothers-inspired characters make their way through a haunted tunnel… trust us, it makes sense in game. Anyway they play upbeat, funky and bluesy tracks with—again, you guessed it—amazing bass lines. Throughout the sequence, we hear several Runaway Five tracks and our favorite of these is Runaway Five Left the Building!
6 — Mario Kart 64
A series as popular as Mario Kart needs very little introduction. The titular character, Mario, and his friends—and for some reason his enemies… take a break from the doldrum of everyday life in the Mushroom Kingdom to compete in (evidently royally-sanctioned) gokart races.
It’s no surprise that a premier Nintendo franchise like Mario Kart would have some amazing tracks. But that’s what we’re here for. So we’ve gotta choose one game in the karting line-up. We think—of the classic entries—Mario Kart 64 has some of the standout songs.
From the Title Screen Theme, Mario Raceway, Toad’s Turnpike, and the Winning Results Screen, there are so many amazing songs in Mario Kart 64 it’s an embarrassment of riches. However, we think that Rainbow Road slightly edges out the competition. First, because there’s just more development of the melodic concepts in Rainbow Road as compared to other tracks in the game, and we’re a sucker for driving triplets in the bass line.
5 — Unreal Tournament
From the bright and happy Mario Kart 64 to… 1999’s Unreal Tournament… the ultra-competitive, 'roided-out machismo shooter that positively defined my childhood and what PC gaming meant for me.
Now, Unreal Tournament’s soundtrack has its roots in the demo scene of early computering, the music of UT has almost an Amiga quality to it with sample-based mod music that still hold up to this day.
I remember in my mid teens getting all my friends together with their PCs to play 16 player LAN deathmatches. The whooping and hollering. And when you’d win the match you’d crank the volume on your speakers so everyone else in the house would hear “You have won the match.” You’d get up and do a little dance. It’s was great.
Look, Unreal Tournament has some amazing songs in its lineup. I mean, I don’t think there’s a bad one among them, honestly. Songs like Skyward Fire, the Opening Theme, and the bombastic Menu Music are all classics...
However we here at Heavy Element think that Forgotten Destruction is the best song in the Unreal Tournament 99 soundtrack.
4 — Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer is one of the best franchises that Electronic Arts ever ruined. There. I said it.
C&C, Tiberian Sun, RA2, and even… yeah… even Generals--they’re all classics.
But the number of childhood hours we here at Heavy Element sunk into Red Alert, specifically, is too far numerous to count. So it’s probably no surprise that we think very highly of Frank Klepacki’s soundtrack for Red Alert.
Tracks like Radio, Crush, and Roll Out absolutely defined the epic feel of the Real Time Strategy genre, commanding your units across the battlefield and engaging in mutually-assured destruction. Hoping that you can take out enough of your opponents power plants before they could launch their retaliatory A-bombs.
But there’s one track—one song—that I’m sure you’ve heard. One track that is synonymous with the Command & Conquer brand at this point… and it’s still one of the best songs of any video game—ever. Hell March.
Over the year, much speculation has been had over what the guy is saying… but all that falls away as the distorted guitars come ripping through the mix—granting you battlefield control, Commander.
3 — The Sims
From one franchise EA ruined to another: The Sims. The original. The OG. The granddaddy. Now, there’s much to be said for the music in classic Maxis titles. Among them are some of the greatest songs ever put to a gaming soundtrack. And, seeing as The Sims is a life simulator, it’s gonna need to include a wide variety of music to fit the theme of the game.
Not only is there the kind of background music that games have. Things like your typical Buy Mode and Build Mode (all of this background music is fantastic, by the way)… but there’s also diagetic music that your Sims listen to on the radio.
And one song that always got us pumped was the track as listed as ROCK2.MP3 in the games files.
We'd tell have our Sim flip on the radio and then go work out. Get swole, li'l Sim buddy!
2 — Halo
Halo: Combat Evolved was released to the public over 20 years ago. I guess that means it belongs on this list, doesn’t it?
What can be said about Martin O'Donnell's masterwork Halo: Combat Evolved? The music in this game is so tightly composed and so iconic that the main theme has become almost as synonymous with video game music as the opening theme to Super Mario Bros.
There are so many amazing songs that are a part of the Halo soundtrack. Brothers in Arms’s bombastic military march and the almost tribal feel of Drumrun… but when we think about the standout track in the Halo OST, we think its A Walk in the Woods.
While it’s one of the slower tracks on the album, it’s by far one of the best and that’s why almost every Halo game since has had some rendition of this classic tune.
1 — SimCity 3000
There are few gaming franchises with a more storied and respected musical resume as SimCity. Starting with certain flavors of the original game all the way up to the most recent entry in the series, SimCity has some absolute bangers! Be it the midi tracks of SimCity 2000 played back through your Roland MT-32, the lofi aesthetic of the SNES release, the electronic jazz fusion of SimCity 4, or the more orchestral take that SimCity 2013 brought to the table, this franchise is not want for great music!
But, to put it simply, SimCity 3000 is one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. From the piano-driven opening of Sim Broadway, to the symphonic power of Magic City, the ethereal violin of New Terrain—the first half of the SimCity 3k soundtrack delivers a delightful array of musical texture.
But halfway through the playlist, things change. The soundtrack throws a few jazzy hits your way; and while we love the song Nightlife… our favorite song is most definitely Updown Town.
Well, that’s it for our list of 10 songs from classic video games that just won’t quit. But we want to know what you think. What songs did we miss?