Insert Geek’s Top 10 Video Game Tracks ♫

Nothing tickles a gamer’s nostalgic funny bone more than music. In an era of HD remasters and re-releases; even if the gameplay might not hold up we still look to the music and ask, “Did they get it right?”. From 8-bit MIDI to fully orchestrated scores, these are the ten tracks that make me look back fondly on the titles and do more to make me want to revisit those games than any gameplay video ever could.

#10

Castlevania Symphony of the Night – Prayer

The SOTN soundtrack has waves upon waves of amazing music. The thunderously foreboding “Dracula’s Castle” sets the pace at the beginning of the game and “Marble Gallery” combines elements of dance and jazz rifts that oddly enough find it’s place well in the soundtrack. The one track that always gets me is “Prayer”. I’ve always felt strongly about it because it’s at the Load menu, so I would hear it all the time. It’s wonderfully angelic and oddly soothing. Quite possibly the best music for a Memory Card Loading screen ever. Check out “Prayer” in the link below (as well as all the other tracks).

The Symphony of the Night Soundtrack is essential listening to any gamer looking for good music. Composer Michiru Yamane went on to work on several other Castlevania games after Symphony of the Night.

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#9

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Lost Woods

“Lost Woods” always stuck in my head after playing Ocarina. Probably because it’s the same 35 seconds recycled over and over again. But those 35 seconds are aggressively joyful and really push you along your journey. Have a listen, but don’t be surprised if it pops into your head later on in the day.

#8

Mega Man 2 – Dr. Wily’s Castle

I’m confident that this track is on every Top 10 list on the internet. There are several frenetic melodies that happen simultaneously that are always building on top of each other. The best moments are when they work together in unison to rip through your ear. There’s a galaxy of fantastic 8-bit music out there, but composer Takashi Tateishi just owns it with “Dr. Wily’s Castle”. Have a listen below.

#7

Ninja Gaiden Shadow – Stage 3

Not too many GameBoy games rocked it as hard as Ninja Gaiden Shadow. Although I tried looking, I couldn’t find a proper title for this track besides, “Stage 3”. Composer Hiroyuki Iwatsuki really pushed that lone GameBoy speaker. So much that it was the first GameBoy game I got stereo headphones for. Yes, stereo headphones for a mono speakered device. “Stage 3” is best described as a mythical rock track. You’re a ninja in a military base completely infested with cyborgs, spinning pinwheels of flames, and collapsing spiked ceilings. This is the kind of music that sells that level of peril.

#6

Final Fantasy VI – Terra’s Theme

Nobuo Uematsu is best known for his work in Final Fantasy. He is gifted with the ability to tell stories through music alone. Terra’s Theme named after the character Terra (duh), illustrated in my mind, an unknown beckoning the character was experiencing. It leads to stakes much more grandiose than she could every imagine, even if she would never recall it. All of the events of FFVI are masterfully foreshadowed in the game’s first track.

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#5

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo – Guile’s Theme

People will argue about this track’s right to be in this spot. Is it true that Guile’s Theme goes with everything? Yes. Is there anything more American than Guile’s Theme? No. Does it change how people play Street Fighter? Absolutely. As someone that loves and plays Street Fighter with others that love and play Street Fighter, Guile’s Theme will be the theme/level that will make even the most storied opponents play differently. Guile’s Theme makes you feel invincible, unstoppable even if you are not. As it crescendos you just want to stomp through your opponent. Soon, you’ll missing blocks and dropping combos because the music drives you to play foolishly. THAT’S how badass the track is. It just changes your game. Or maybe I just suck when it comes on? Regardless, Guile’s Theme is here to stay at #5.

#4

Silent Hill 2 – Theme of Laura

Akira Yamaoka has a ridiculously large musical palette. He brings a studio-style mindset to game music creation. Dabbing into rock, alternative, industrial and trip-hop, he melds multiple genres together for it to fit into the Silent Hill series. It’s not the mess one would expect and comes together nicely in the iconic Theme of Laura. Akira has gained so much attention that Konami included the full soundtrack of Silent Hill 3 with each copy of the game itself. Theme of Laura is a marriage of hard rock acoustics and R&B. Even as a violin makes it’s presence known towards the end, the blend always sounds appropriate; truly selling the melancholy themes of Silent Hill.

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#3

Metal Gear Solid – Encounter

Encounter is the track that defined Metal Gear for me. It slowly ratchets up the tension to the breaking point and lets it sit there. Encounter kicks in when you get discovered and grabs you by the throat. The enemy radio chatter is usually heard over this track as they try to zero in on you. It keeps your palms sweaty and heart beating. Not too many tracks convey the sort of palpable urgency Encounter does.

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#2

Final Fantasy VII – Mako Reactor

Lets get this out of the way now, I refuse to put One-Winged Angel on this list. Yes, it’s a very epic track, but it has seen it’s way onto too many Top 10 lists. It’s like the “Free Bird” or “Sandman” of the Final Fantasy series. Mako Reactor is an excellent track that thrusts players into the world of FFVII. It a very industrious track that sounds [well] put together and manufactured. Every time I hear this, I can just imagine Barret laying some heavy shit on me. Mako Reactor later on makes a return as the evil Shinra’s theme, almost solidifying the track as a character itself.

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#1

Super Mario Bros. – Underground Theme

Everybody knows this theme. Even if you don’t play games, you’ve heard it and know it. The main theme is way too easy of a pick and just as tiresome (timeless nonetheless). However, the Underground theme is just as recognizable. It is the quintessential 8-bit bass line. I love it because it makes me feel like a kid, no matter what age I hear it at. That is something no other piece of music can do for me.

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Top 10 Game Boy Games That Defined My Childhood

The original Game Boy was something that seemed so unobtainable as a child. When I was in kindergarten, I felt this unexplainable magic, yes magic, when I tried wrapping my head around the idea of a portable gaming system. “Are you saying I can play video games where I damn well please? Naw… fuck off. No way! Black magic!”. My mother had just enough money to get me lunch everyday at school, but that was about it. Even asking for a Game Boy was out of the question. I scooped together as much dough as I could through raking leaves, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, delivering newspapers – hell, I even fed the neighbor’s cats when they weren’t home. Everything I could possibly do as a 5 year old to earn those bills. After a year I managed to save up a little over $100. I was a little short when we finally got to Caldor (yup, Caldor), thankfully my mom picked up the remaining tab and I finally walked away with my Golden Fleece. The Game Boy.

It's hard not to be captivated by the box art alone.

It’s hard not to be captivated by the box art alone.

#10 Kirby’s Pinball Land
Kirby's Pinball Land

I’m not the biggest fan of pinball, but Kirby’s Pinball Land would’ve been my gateway drug. If you wanted to get the high score for bragging rights it would let you do that. But if you wanted something more than that, Kirby’s Pinball Land gave players boss fights as well. Objective-oriented players could launch Nintendo’s little fluff of pink across three boards and a final boss board against King Dee Dee Dee.

#9 Tetris
Tetris Game Boy

Like most people, I got a copy of Tetris with my Game Boy. It features perhaps one of the most delightful soundtracks on the Game Boy, forever immortalized in my mind’s ear. Honestly, as a kid I didn’t “get” what Tetris was at first. It didn’t take long before I started ignoring the other games in my collection to visit Pajitnov’s masterpiece. Even my mom started borrowing my Game Boy solely for Tetris. Everyone I knew; gamers and non-gamers caught the fever.

#8 Ninja Gaiden Shadow
Ninja Gaiden Shadow Game Boy

It was one of the first action titles I got for my Game Boy. In terms of Ninja Gaiden difficulty, it might have been one of the more forgiving titles. Which was a good thing and prevented me from flinging the handheld unit against the wall. True to Ninja Gaiden heritage on the NES, NG Shadow had you slashing your way through armies of evil ninjas, robots, and beyond. What’s a ninja game without doing ninja-like stuff? Throwing fireballs, hanging from ledges, outrunning collapsing spiked ceilings, and platforming to escape overflowing lava are some of the scenarios that made Ninja Gaiden Shadow on of the best 2D Ninja Gaiden’s ever. Plus, it had a dope soundtrack. Check out a sample of it below!

#7 Metal Gear Solid
MGS Game Boy

Okay, technically it is a Game Boy Color title, so my list falls apart a bit here. But I absolutely have to include it. MGS on the Game Boy had nothing to do with the MGS on the original Playstation. While the game still included Solid Snake and Campbell, the story stood on it’s own. Maybe a more hardcore MGS fan could tell you precisely where the timeline falls with this, but not me. All I cared about was the fact that the Metal Gear formula held up in the palm of my hand. Codecs, box-related stealth, and creative boss fights gave MGS on the Game Boy a console-style feel. It had a wonderful collection of colorful cinematics that really gave it a Kojima-esque feel. I really wish this version made it’s way to the recently (re)released Metal Gear Legacy Collection. It truly deserves a spot amongst the other MGS titles. If you think I’m exaggerating, I will think you’re missing out.

#6 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Link's Awakening Game Boy

Nintendo always took care of their fans. Even haters can’t deny that. Link’s Awakening was a true on-the-go Zelda experience. It didn’t take long for this Zelda title to start up like they usually do. After a really sweet opening, you find yourself on the beach, recover your sword, and you’re off to adventure as you damn well please. I got lost in this when I played with stereo headphones on. To this day, I still remember throwing the boomerang and then grabbing a chicken as the boomerang swirled around me killing enemies and digging up rupees. I felt so smart.

#5 Super Mario Land
Super Mario Land Game Boy

Super Mario Land was a strange title. Yes, it was a classic Mario platforming game for the Game Boy so I had to have it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mario was stuck in someone else’s game. Everything starts out normally enough, you’ll jump on Koopas and Goombas. Then suddenly, you fight a fire-breathing Sphinx, pilot a submarine, or engage in aerial dogfights. Typical Mario right? Regardless, it was still a really fun game.

#4 Kirby’s Dream Land
Kirby's Dream Land

Kirby’s Dream Land had the cutest cast of characters I had ever seen. But who cares, they’re in they way of all the Warp Stars. The simple mechanics of flying, spitting projectiles that were formerly enemies, and eating spicy food was a gameplay loop that made Kirby so unique at the time. The only downside was that you could beat it in about 20 minutes or so. But it wasn’t like you weren’t gonna play it again after you had beaten it. After the ending credits I usually jumped right into the next playthrough, revisiting the varied levels and catchy soundtrack. Below is a piece of the soundtrack from the last boss fight!

#3 Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge
Mega Man Dr. Wily's Revenge

I felt like the coolest kid on the playground to be able to play Mega Man at will. Mega Man for the Game Boy still had the precise tough-as-nails action any fan of the series has come to expect. I was a tad disappointed when I was greeted with a boss/stage selection screen of only four bosses, but that quickly dissipated when I got stomped by Quick Man, one of three other hard ass bosses in Dr. Wily’s castle. Here’s a sampling of the soundtrack from later in the game. In case you haven’t noted the trend; I’m obsessed with MIDI music.

#2 Metroid II: Return of Samus
Metroid 2

One of Nintendo’s biggest properties and a sequel to the original NES hit released… on the Game Boy? Fuck yeah. The atmosphere (as usual in Metroid) is relentlessly creepy and isolating. The 2D map puzzle/action style was served up again on the Game Boy. Samus’ player model looked huge on the Game Boy’s screen, due to the upgraded Varia suit. A proper save function also lessened the frustration of writing down passwords constantly. Metroid II found Samus on a crusade to eliminate the last of the Metroids. While the Metroid types were recycled over and over, I still found myself immersed as I dug deeper and deeper into SR388. I still get chills when I think about this one. Play it with headphones.

#1 Pokemon
Pokemon Blue

I mean duh right? Pokemon moved Game Boy units. It moved Link cables. Pokemon was an overnight sensation that sold gang busters. It became the reason you stocked up on AA batteries, it was the reason you’re friends with that kid you weren’t friends with before, it was the reason you lost sleep, it was the reason your grades started slipping, it was PERFECT. Pokemon needs no introduction. This RPG classic is always thoroughly remembered by those who came into contact with it. Leveling up, battling, and trading Pokemon is a tried and true recipe for your addiction and Nintendo’s success. While newer additions to the series work hard to add in new hooks, the foundation still remains solid and proven. I’ve beaten it countless times as a kid and I can pick it up and go just as easily now. As soon as I get Surf and Fly, game over. Missing No. will give me all the Master Balls, Proteins, Carbos, and HP Ups I want. I’ll roid up my Pokemon and you’ll go down. That’s how I roll with my level 236 Blastoise. And yes, I know how to get a level 236 Blastoise without a cheat device. I practically bleed G1 Pokemon code.