Video game songs that weren’t allowed to hit as hard as they did

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from the clothing tips of the early Mario games (“denim, denim, denim”) to the earworm that’s the Tetris song, nothing transports us quite to a time and place like the music in a video game. A few beeps here, a few bloops there – that can evoke enough nostalgia to bring down a Tamagotchi.

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And then there’s video game music that goes way beyond the norm, a track or theme that hits so hard you’ll keep playing just for the pure vibes. This is all another way of saying that we’ve put together a list of times where gaming and music have come together to ridiculously good effect.

So why not go straight there? Kicking off the list is “Guile’s Theme,” the musical equivalent of drinking five espressos and snorting an entire bag of Haribo Tangfastics…

‘Guile’s Theme’ – Street Fighter II (Yoko Shimomura)

While “Ken’s Theme” was heavily inspired by a true rock hit (to be exact, Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings”), “Guile’s Theme” might as well have spawned a new genre, such is how it hit like no fighting game song had been done before. Rightly a cult classic these days, it has received both the a cappella and Fresh Prince of Bel Air processing, but no matter how many times you hear it, you’ll never get tired of this riff: it just doesn’t stop, delivering more tonal shifts than a locksmith convention and delivering waves of powerful synth and crushing electronic pianos in a booming sound of arcade machine glory. Nothing is impossible after listening to this relentlessly upbeat track over and over. A-level exams? They’ll give you a doctorate. Cooking with the family? michelin star. Everyone could use a little more cunning.

Pause Menu – Tourniquet 007 (Grant Kirkhope)

As superbly parodied in this the TikTok sketch, Rare didn’t have to do anything to create one of the sickest beats of all time only to stick it in a pause menu for a movie-related game on the N64. Yet a collective tip from Oddjob’s hat has to go to Scottish composer Grant Kirkhope who, albeit unwittingly, blessed us with one of the earliest examples of Trap music in 1997. Golden eye. Years ahead of its time, this cold slice of industrial bass is still going strong, inviting you to crank up the volume louder with every passing minute. The beats are tighter than Jaws in a bathroom ventilation shaft, and who can forget the Bond theme played on a xylophone? We don’t know why it works so well, but it does. Quite worthy of the granddaddy of console deathmatches, they killed it with this one.

‘It’s like that’ – Red Dead Redemption 2 (Daniel Lanois)

It’s no secret that Rockstar Red Dead Redemption 2 is better than most Western films put together, and it even has a world-class soundtrack to match. We’d have settled for Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in the end credits, but “That’s The Way It Is” hits you like buckshot in the gut. Produced by Daniel Lanois, who worked with the likes of Josh Homme and Willie Nelson on the game’s soundtrack, it’s a sentimental slice of non-cliched country, and, dare we say, shades of The National too, mixing sibilant vocals, twang guitar and luscious harmonies to tremendous effect. Written about acceptance, Lanoid apparently wanted a song that riffed on protagonist Arthur Morgan taking stock of his life. Beautiful? For sure. Dark? It’s the Wild West, what did you expect?

‘Main theme’ – earthquake (Trent Reznor)

That’s right – in case you forgot, the composer of earthquakeThe soundtrack for was none other than Trent Reznor, who (Nine Inch) nailed id Software’s 1996 theme Loss followed with the kind of wired vibe he would later use to score movies, including David Fincher’s The girl with the dragon tattoo. It’s easy to underestimate how much earthquakeThe soundtrack was the first time around, its scuzzy rock perfectly matching the medieval/sci-fi landscape, especially its intense opening theme. The FPS was also the first major computer game to use true real-time 3D rendering, which, like the brilliance of the soundtrack, may have been lost on many at the time, but cannot fail to impress today’s gamers. Oh, and that little noise wasn’t just your old PC speakers back then. The ‘aaaaaaah’ really sounds like that. Atrocious.

‘Aquatic atmosphere’ – donkey kong country (David Sage)

Imagine the scene: you are a video game composer who has been asked to compose music for a giant gorilla riding a swordfish underwater. What do you do? Well if you’ve been a long time DK instrumentalist David Wise, you conjure up one of the best pieces of ambient music to grace any video game, transcending not just the Super Nintendo, but arguably time and space itself. ‘Aren’t we all, in some way, Donkey Kong riding a swordfish underwater?’ you’ll think as this searing arrangement resonates in your brain cells. Give it a few listens and you’ll see why it holds a special place in the hearts of many Donkey Kong fans. And that kazoo solo – who the hell saw that coming?

‘Tristam’s Theme Song’ – Diablo series (Matt Uelmen)

‘The Tristam Theme’ – linked to the village of the same name at the beginning Diablo serial – is both next level and real level. It’s the perfect soundtrack as players rush through the moonlight to explore a place where horror lurks behind every corner and you never really know what to expect, heightening the dread with swirling guitar and high-pitched percussion (not so different from Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ folk preliminaries, as it happens). As intense as it was unpredictable, it became a fan favorite and even spawned countless guitar covers on YouTube. And while it may seem like it was designed by the devil himself, it’s actually the brainchild of famed VGM composer Matt Uelmen, who’s been composing it all since. Diablo at World of Warcraft at Starcraftand clearly had no trouble raising the scares to 11 here.

‘The choice’ – The last of us (Gustavo Santaolalla)

Gone are the days of VGM doing their best to sound like what you hear on the charts. Racking up over 50 million views on Spotify and its own vinyl release to boot, The last of us is a perfect example of how many game soundtracks today are huge releases in their own right. For both First part and second part from Naughty Dog’s apocalyptic thriller, Gustavo Santaolalla’s moving tracks gave the game much of its heartbeat. Performed by the Nashville Scoring Orchestra, it’s not even so much the notes that are hit at times, but rather the ones that aren’t, giving players and characters a chance to breathe. We of course have to salute the moment when Ellie plays a cover of A-Ha’s 80s classic “Take On Me” in Second part, who is both technically brilliant and charming in the same way that an X-Factor audition by a 17-year-old girl from Southport whose Nan is ill would be, but the original score itself is unrivalled, moving from dreamy acoustics to heart-pounding terror. a simple swipe of a thong. ‘The path’. ‘All gone’. ‘The choice’. In all fairness, we could have picked any track, but this one, with its gorgeous piano and fuzzy vibe, offers real melancholy amid madness.

entire partition – RimWorld (Alistair Lindsay)

Brian Eno Meets Max Richter Meets Another Artist You’ll Probably Hear In A Bank Commercial – The Management-Sim Soundtrack RimWorld is nothing if not soothing. It certainly helps when you’ve got the hopes, dreams, and lives of an entire off-world colony on your shoulders, but it could also work when you’ve had a rough day at the office and want to jump into a big bubble bath. and want a little atmosphere to relax. It’s an absolute stone cold banger of a soundtrack. Big credit has to go to Ludeon Studios, the indie developer who had the guts to bring the game to life in the first place, and second, to Alistair Lindsay, the genius behind the music you’ve spent hours playing this game on. Accustomed to management simulation scores, Lindsay previously worked on music for the roller coaster designer series. Good to see he’s done so well after so many ups and downs.

All of the tracks above can be found on YouTube. Obviously.

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