In trying to come up with posts that my readers find interesting and entertaining, I find that there are many times I shy away from subjects I’m pretty sure a lot of my visitors don’t care about, but which are quite meaningful to me. What fun is it to have a blog if you don’t feel like you can post about anything that strikes your fancy?
So for my final Flashback Friday of 2013, since a number of my fellow bloggers are on holiday hiatus anyway, I figured I’d drop one of those topics that means a lot more to me than it probably means to any of you. Today, I’m going to present to you my Top 20 favorite 8-bit tunes from games I owned for the classic Nintendo Entertainment System back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
I find myself killing time on YouTube listening to a lot of my old favorites, and it’s obvious from the comments that there are many people who are just as fond of these old school melodies as I am… I just don’t think many of them also follow squirrel blogs.
So if you don’t think old video game music is your thing, that’s fine. Come back tomorrow, and I promise I’ll have a Saturday Squirrel you will not want to miss! But if you choose to continue on into my countdown, here are a few notes I’d like to mention before I begin…
1. The link in each entry is to a YouTube video of the music. I am not about to embed 20 videos in this post, as even two embedded videos are enough to noticeably slow down the load speed of my blog… twenty would probably make the WordPress server explode like one of Dr. Wily’s robots.
2. I only considered NES games I actually owned. If something is not here that you really liked, it’s quite possible I didn’t have that game.
3. I did the best I could to minimize the number of entries from the Mega Man series, which is undoubtedly the gold standard in 8 bit music. But I still wound up with 7 entries from that franchise.
4. There is only one entry from a Mario game here, and amazingly it is not from the uber-popular Super Mario trilogy. Sorry, but I never found Mario music to be something special.
OK, let us begin, shall we?
Kid Icarus was the sister game of the more popular Metroid, both of which were early NES releases in 1986. Both games had their musical scores composed by one of my favorite names to ever appear on the credits of a video game, Hip Tanaka.
The Kid Icarus intro does a fine job of setting the magical tone for the game, which is a mashup of mythology and fucked up humor.
If I ever do a post on an individual NES game, it will probably be the rather bizarre but popular entry that was The Goonies II, which I played the absolute shit out of back in the day. No, it wasn’t a sequel to another NES Goonies game, it was called Goonies II because it was supposed to be a sequel to the movie itself! Here is the first theme you encounter in the game, an 8-bit stylized version of Cyndi Lauper’s masterpiece from the movie soundtrack “The Goonies R Good Enough”.
There are a whole bunch of prior rock songs that use the same chord progression as was used in this theme from the original Mega Man game. The most famous is probably Journey’s “Faithfully”, but I always heard Bon Jovi’s “She Don’t Know Me” when I played this stage. One of Bon Jovi’s best songs ever, and he’s totally disowned it because it was the only hit he had that wasn’t written by his band…
Not many old NES songs were written in waltz time, but the Norfair theme is one of the best. And since you usually spend a good deal of time in the bubbly Norfair zone while playing Metroid, you get to hear this tune quite a bit. It grows on you, and never gets old.
Mega Man composers really outdid themselves when it came to the music for the Dr. Wily stages in the series. This is the best one from the third Mega Man installment. Very catchy and motivates you to carry on to the goal…
Yes, it’s basically a reworked version of the Nutcracker theme. But I built a lot of Tetris stacks to this theme back in the day, and I’m sure it was what I was listening to when I hit my all time high of 190 lines cleared…
The original Castlevania game had some good but not great music… but this Stage 3 theme was a notable exception! What a fun theme to listen to while traipsing through Dracula’s castle!
Gauntlet had four basic themes which rotated throughout the game depending on which numbered room you were in. This one was easily my favorite of the four. Too bad this was a game that was nearly impossible to beat, even if you were that elf who could run faster than the arrows he shot.
You’d expect a great theme from a robot master who looked like a member of Devo…
The only thing that keep this from being a shoo in for the Top 10, and possibly even Top 5 is that annoying part at the end of the loop. Other than that, this is a fan-fucking-tastic little 8-bit ditty that even gets in a little of that spirit of ’76 and goes along perfectly with the three Stage 2 screens.
One of the longest, yet most satisfying of all early Mega Man themes. Very catchy, and the perfect background music for battling these silly rotating things:
There are not many NES games I owned that I ever gave up on trying to beat.. but this was one of them. Solomon’s Key was almost hopelessly difficult to finish, because even if you did make it to the end, if you didn’t find all of the hidden items you were pretty screwed. This music accompanied you the whole way through the game in every main room… and it totally captures how absolutely impossible some of the rooms are to beat, let alone the game itself.
The ice caverns in Goonies II were my favorite parts of the game. The enemies were totally unique (penguins, polar bears, eskimos, and yes, walrii!), the floors were predictably slippery, and the music totally ruled. This is an awesome theme that captures the desolation of the ice stage very well.
Hip Tanaka at his absolute best… this is a totally creepy, hypnotic, desolate, spine tingling, doom impending masterpiece of a musical score. And waiting for you at the end of the level is this creature…
If ever there was music that got you going, this is it. And you’ll need it too, as Quickman’s stage contained the infamous run from the instant death beams! The absolute finest robot master theme in the Mega Man series…
The game Contra is best remembered for popularizing the infamous Konami Code, which for Contra gave you 30 lives, and you pretty much needed all of those to beat this game. But it contained one musical gem buried within the depths of all that alien warfare… this theme which would guide you through the two enemy base stages, which saw you and your partner shooting at aliens and trying to blow up buttons to remove the electric fence and advance onward.
Dr. Mario was one of the many Tetris inspired puzzle games that Nintendo released in the early 90’s. You used different colored
suppositories pills to kill viruses, trying not to have the pills overflow the jar. The game had two music scores you could listen to, Fever and Chill. The latter is a really funky ditty that takes two whole minutes to loop through, practically an eternity for NES themes.
The most criminally underappreciated 8-bit theme ever composed. I absolutely love this little 40 second looping ditty, and it seems to get very little love from other video game music enthusiasts. Very haunting, very catchy, just damn fine synthetic music…
The Adventures of Link was the first sequel to the very popular original Zelda game, and a game a lot of Zelda enthusiasts like to bury under the carpet for some reason, refusing to acknowledge it ever existed. I’m not sure what their problem is, but I enjoyed playing this game, and even the most ardent Zelda II haters out there can agree there was one great thing about this game… the palace theme. Totally kickass and gamer friendly.
#1. Mega Man 2: Wily Stages 1&2
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who is into old school NES music… the theme for the first two stages of Dr. Wily’s fortress in Mega Man 2 is pretty universally regarded as the best 8 bit music ever composed. In a world that can’t agree on much, at least we have this 74 seconds of pure awesomeness. I guess if there is any theme that needed to be directly embedded, it is this one…
If you made it through this entire post, thank you for indulging me! If not, I won’t hold it against you….