Video game music has come a bit of a long way from the overmodulated beeps and bops of 8-bit music from the late 70s and early 80s.
As the technology used in video game consoles and computers advanced, so did the way that music was played on them — from computer chip music and digital synth to MIDI files and pre-recorded music. And now, starting in 2023, there will be a new Grammy Award for the Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media.
Pairing the right music with the action of games can really make an impact on the player. This list celebrates our favorite video game soundtracks and compositions from the past 35 years.
The Legend of Zelda - Koji Kondo
In the mid 80s, Koji Kondo was one of the first video game music composers hired by Nintendo. Over the years, he’s worked on multiple Zelda games, including The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask.
Kondo’s perhaps most well-known composition, and part of the first soundtrack entry on this list, is the Legend of Zelda’s “Overworld Theme.” A lasting musical classic from the 8-bit era, many fans of the series remember the Legend of Zelda soundtrack fondly.
Street Fighter 2 - Yoko Shimomura and Isao Abe
In the early 90s, Yoko Shimomura composed the Street Fighter 2 arcade game soundtrack before going on to compose the music for Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV.
The music behind a fighting game, like Street Fighter 2, is extra important because it can help inform players about a character who has little-to-no backstory or dialogue. Each one of the street fighters has their own unique theme music, including Guile’s theme, which apparently goes with everything.
Doom - Robert Prince
Released in 1993, Doom is an intense game about a marine in outer space trying to fight off hell demons with any gun he can get ahold of. Just that short synopsis sounds pretty metal. It makes sense that the soundtrack was heavily influenced by heavy metal bands, like Metallica, Alice in Chains, Pantera, and Slayer. Although, there has been some controversy over whether the Doom music was influenced by these bands or if certain riffs were outright stolen from them.
Regardless, Doom’s soundtrack was truly a pivotal moment in gaming music history that continues to influence modern home console and arcade games.
Donkey Kong Country - David Wise and Eveline Fischer
Throughout the 80s, Donkey Kong got a few facelifts. But in 1994, the franchise was rebooted with Donkey Kong Country, which set the tone for the look and sound of the Donkey Kong we know today. David Wise, who was working as a freelancer at the time, composed the “DK Island Swing” for Donkey Kong Country.
This upbeat, drum beat and jazz fusion heavy track is enough alone to make the soundtrack a classic.
Crazy Taxi - The Offspring and Bad Religion
Crazy Taxi is a high-octane game. Aside from customers getting in and out of your cab, you’re constantly driving around town as fast as possible, speeding past buildings, bridges, cars, and buses. Pairing this game with a soundtrack that’s completely made up of hard and fast punk rock music is a perfect fit.
The original version of Crazy Taxi featured songs from The Offspring and Bad Religion. Due to licensing issues, this music was replaced in the remakes for Game Boy Advance and PlaytStation Portable.
We hope that this article helps bring attention and praise to an often-overlooked aspect of video games.
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