For many of us, the soundtracks to our beloved childhoods were born from the greatness of the 8-bit video game era. Is there anything better than the hypnotic sounds waves of your Nintendo ES echoing into your ear? In joyous celebration of these timeless classics, I present a casual, yet nostalgic, stroll down memory card lane to indulge ourselves in some of the most iconic soundtracks of that era.
The Legend of Zelda, the first game of the series, started from humble musical beginnings in comparison to its contemporary counterparts. Making its first appearance on the NES in 1987, despite the technical limitations, The Legend of Zelda’s soundtrack is one of the most recognised, and celebrated to this day. Japanese composer, Koji Kondo, is the musical genius to thank for such amazing pieces. With many other works under his belt, Kondo’s work on The Legend of Zelda has emphatically driven the adventure puzzle game to the forefront of its genre. Juxtaposing the cheerful, melodic tones of the above ground world with the eerie scales and ghostly sounds of the caves and underground world created an atmosphere that propelled the game to be one of the best series.
Final Fantasy, a series also not afraid of the slow melodies to stimulate the gamers’ inner adventurer, ran alongside the Zelda series in 1987 on the NES. This 8-bit glory, much like Zelda, made use of the electronic organ to give the game that fantastical otherworldliness. However, what is great about this game is its swift transition from the happy-go-exploring nature to the sporadic bass beats, met with the up-tempo undertones and aggressive melody that get you into that fighting mode when those beasts want to get up in your grill. Who can forget the battle-winner theme tune, which has travelled through time in every instalment, remaining close to its 1987 original, but with the extras that come with the technological advancement.
Speaking of games and technological advancement, the 1987 release of Metal Gear for the Famicon/NES was more infamous than famous for its soundtrack. The soundtrack remains one steady level, with a purely sped up beat for alert phases. Kazuki Muraoka, composer for many of the games in the Metal Gear series, had more of a safe idea with the soundtrack for the first instalment. The sound seems to drag out the length of the game, rather than making it exciting. Perhaps this is to reinforce the espionage aspect of the game but, regardless of its efforts, the soundtrack instils tedium to the game’s intrinsic and complex storyline, which is fixed in later instalments with the likes of Donna Burke’s vocals making an appearance. For a first game, there have to be mistakes made in order to progress, which this game’s soundtrack does make. Fortunately, the contemporaries of this instalment ‘wow’ when it comes to blowing the socks off of musicality and gaming.
However, one game that has never had this problem is… drum roll… the Super Mario Bros. series. It would be absolute sacrilege for this game not to make an appearance on this list, being probably the most iconic soundtrack of any game ever. Making its way in to popular music, and even on an episode of Dancing with the Stars (which I highly recommend watching for all of you Mario Bros. fans), Super Mario Bros. has remained an influential piece of video game music throughout the decades. We return to the composer of these scores, Kondo, who struck gold with this soundtrack; the initial ‘dada da dada da da’ seems to be a universal language in itself. Sing that to someone from any other country and it’s guaranteed they will sing it back; the joy and happiness packed into the soundtrack is adorned by the remembrance of those pixelated clouds and…the star. Oh, when you got that star, it was time to party. Forget the LCR; jamming out to the theme music of the star power-up could rock anyone’s Saturday night.