Some the best, catchiest, and memorable music of our time has come from video games. Think about it, you only have to see a picture of old mate Mario to trigger that infectious melody of his in your head.
While no doubt iconic, Mario’s original theme is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to music featured in video games, and let me tell you folks, some of it slaps way harder than your standard top 40s.
Here are some gaming tunes that are absolutely top-notch ear gear both inside and out of their respective virtual worlds.
Donkey Kong Country – Aquatic Ambience
When it comes great video game soundtracks, there are few quite as influential as Donkey Kong Country‘s. Composed by David Wise, it actually became one of his crowning achievements, garnering him both critical acclaim and a cult following.
The best track by far is called Aquatic Ambience and it was essentially vaporwave before vaporwave even existed. As its name suggests, the tune features in underwater levels and is soothing as hell but also has a kind of weird spooky vibe.
I like to put it on at kick ons and watch people lose their fucking marbles when I tell them it’s from a Super Nintendo game. Try it one time.
Super Mario 64 – Dire Dire Docks
I got a Nintendo 64 when I was 10 years old and Super Mario 64 was the first game I fired up on that bad boy. In other words, it came into my life at a time I now consider to be peak nostalgia, and this song sends waves of euphoria directly to my goddamn pleasure cortex, man.
The Dire Dire Docks theme was composed by the legendary Koji Kondo, who also created the most iconic piece of video game music of all time – the freaking OG Super Mario Bros. overworld theme. In other words, the dude is royalty when it comes to this particular flavour of music.
The track starts off pretty chill but also introduces a melody that will set up camp in your brain for years. As it progresses, layers are subtly added until it peaks with some kickass drums. In the game, the music changes depending on where you’re positioned in the level, which, at the time, blew my tiny mind.
Released in 1996, Quake‘s soundtrack could easily stand alone as a stellar industrial album, and for good reason – the whole thing was composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
That’s really all there is to it, it’s a rad soundtrack for a landmark first-person shooter created by a bloke who knows his way around heavy industrial music. I probably wouldn’t put it on your Fuck Jams playlist though, the weird quiet whispers will really kill the mood.
Pictionary theme for the NES
Have you ever loaded up a game and wanted to dance hard enough to burn a hole to the centre of the Earth? If you haven’t, you’ve obviously never played Pictionary on the NES.
You wouldn’t bloody think it, but Pictionary features one of the wildest 8-bit bangers ever conceived. Listen to that driving bass, the heavy drums, the tantalising leads. Unbelievable stuff. It was composed by a bloke named Tim Follin, who also did the music for the Silver Surfer NES game.
Honestly, the whole soundtrack is so good. I’m even putting another song in for this one below and I don’t care what you have to say about it. I’m the boss of this article and I say that Pictionary’s music whips ass.
Streets of Rage 2 – Stage 1-1
Fuck ME, someone tell Stevo to put the call in because this party is off chops.
Created by legendary video game composer Yuzo Koshiro, the title stage 1 music for Streets of Rage 2 was inspired by the Detroit house and Eurobeat scenes, as well as classic action movie soundtracks from the 80s and 90s.
Honestly, slip this into a pumping club set and there would be carnage on the dance floor. This is a 16-bit party banger of the highest order. Praise it.
DOOM – fucken most of it
If you’re a metal fan, DOOM’s classic soundtracks may sound familiar to you. That’s because most of it was inspired by classic 80s thrash like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. The song above, for example, was inspired by Megadeth’s Hanger 18.
Pretty obvious, no? Anyway, most of it is pretty killer and was composed by Robert Prince.
More recently, the DOOM (2016) soundtrack copped a lot of attention for also being fucking sick. Better yet, it was composed by an Australian bloke named Mick Gordon, who took the heavy metal theme and absolutely bolted with it, creating the perfect industrial-cross-djent accompaniment to blowing the brains out of demons.
Duke Nukem 3D’s Main Theme
Following a similar theme to the above, Duke Nukem 3D‘s main tune was a metal banger with a lead line so full of 80s cheese it could have been pulled straight from a Van Halen B-side.
The theme was composed by Lee Jackson, who did the music for pretty much every Duke Nukem game ever made. Now that’s a legacy, folks.
Fun bonus fact: I played the Megadeth version of this song on guitar at a school open night when I was in year 11 and it made me feel like a powerful mage.
Way on the other side of the spectrum, Rime‘s soundtrack (and the game itself, for that matter) is great if you fancy having a bit of a cry.
It’s not all sad, but it’s definitely all beautiful, and perfectly accompanies the heartfelt and emotional experience the title offers. Composed by David Garcia Diaz, the soundtrack may not have any party bangers, but it’s certainly nice to chuck on if you’re in the mood for something a little more relaxing.
It’s also on Spotify if you’re keen to have a listen.
Fez – all of it
You might remember Fez from a doco Indie Game: The Movie, which explored the lives of some indie video game developers and the struggles they faced. Fez was one of those games, and while its creator, Phil Fish, was a bit of a weird unit, the game turned out to be a success.
Like its semi-vintage design, the soundtrack uses classic video game sounds with a modern flair to create a truly unique musical backing. Personally, I think it makes for great thinking music, which is fitting because the platformer contains a ton of puzzles that’ll make you wanna hurl your keyboard out the window.
The chiptune-Esque sounds were composed by Rich Vreeland, who is also known by his stage name, Disasterpeace.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Song of Storms
Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t think of a single Zelda song that doesn’t go insanely hard, but you can’t go past the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time for back-to-back audio carnage. Again, Koji Kondo is the mastermind behind this soundtrack.
The Gerudo Valley theme? Banger. Kakariko Village theme? Iconic. The Spirit Temple theme? Spooky and cool. But there’s one song in particular that goes harder than the rest, and it’s the Song of Storms, folks.
Hell, it goes so hard, the bloke in the windmill who teaches it to you straight-up loses his marbles over it.
BONUS: August Burns Red recently did a cover of the main Legend of Zelda theme and it’s so fucking good it’ll break your Deku Stick in half. It’ll unsheath your Master Sword. It’ll blow your ocarina. It’ll bomb the weird crack in your wall revealing precious hidden gems. Ok, I’ll stop now.
Why no one decided to pair Zelda with blast beats before this will elude me for eternity.
Rounding out the list is Monument Valley, an Australian-made game for mobile with a soundtrack that suits it so perfectly it should be criminal.
The original soundtrack was put together by a few different artists, but the song Amature Cartography – which also features in the game’s trailer – is an absolute standout. Created by an electronic artist called Obfusc, this calming number gets a helluva workout in my patented relaxation playlist I like to call Brain Massage.
In summary: video game music whips sack.