Flight of the Zinger
from Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Composer: David Wise
Once again, making itself standout among its peers, is Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series. Composer David Wise makes yet another appearance on my list with this very well-composed and intense theme. It is a masterfully-layered song, and it is hard to believe that it is actually 16-bit. As with other songs from the series, Wise’s outstanding ear for layering and mixing makes this a masterful accomplishment in sound design for pre-32 bit era gaming.
from Mega Man III
Composers: Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita
This is a classic. I have said before that Mega Man III has had a tremendous impact on me as a gamer. It was the first Mega Man title I ever beat, it was the one I played the most as a kid (that is, until Mega Man X came out), and it remains one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. There is not really a “bad” song in this game, but as with all soundtracks, some are better than others. The Intro Theme for this 1990 title marked a point where game music was really coming into its own. By the time this game came out, Mega Man and Castlevania had already made waves for accomplished sound design and Mega Man III, along with Casltevania III are, at least in my opinion, the culmination of five years of tweaking and discovering in the art of chiptune on the NES and remain, perched proudly upon the pinnacle of 8-bit era sound.
from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Composers: Greg Edmonson
Naughty Dog; 2009
I love the Uncharted series. I love the the gameplay, the level design, the story, the writing, the graphics, the voice acting and, obviously, the soundtrack. Nate’s Theme from Uncharted 2 is a revitalized version of Nathan Drake’s theme song which launched with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune alongside its host console, the PS3. Among Thieves is a game that shows just how deep-in Drake can get when he is driven and I could make the argument that Uncharted 2 just may be the best game on the PS3. That would be entirely subjective, of course, but it has everything I love in a modern game executed with flawless mastery. Nate’s Theme is adventurous, it’s got the mood of a hero’s theme but also has a little bit of grit, just like Nathan himself. We know he’s the good guy, but his motives are always a little suspect, and his knack for dragging his devoted friends into truly dangerous situations is astounding, which makes it hard to truly root for him in many occasions. This is what makes him a great character. He is not perfect. He is flawed, more than a little selfish, yet his wit and charm (thanks to Naughty Dog’s exceptional writing) keep drawing us in.
from Mega Man 7
Composers: Yuko Takahara, Hayato Kaji, Toshifumi Ōnishi, Kazunori Tazaki, Tatsuya Yoshikawa
Cloud Man’s theme is a bright and cheery tune from the great Mega Man 7 soundtrack. It has a nice structure to it, and thanks to a nice long loop, it is allowed to have all the tonal shifts and musical ideas one song needs to stand out. Mega Man 7, released near the end of the Super Nintendo’s cycle, has an absolutely breathtaking tracklist that is enhanced by the improved technical understanding of its time and Cloud Man is one of my favorite themes from this game.
The Man with the Machine Gun
from Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII is weird. I do not think I’m breaking any hearts by saying this, but this game is freaking strange. Yet, the music is unbelievable. Man with the Machine Gun has become a favorite among Final Fantasy music fans and I like it a lot as well, only not as much as most. That said, the battle theme played while in the company of three hapless Galbadian soldiers, Laguna, Kiros and Ward (who parallel the protagonists in a strange fashion), is one of the best themes of the series. The techno ideas mix well with the feel and tone of the soundtrack as a whole and it makes the scenes it plays in quite memorable.
from Mega Man X-6
Composer: Naoto Tanaka
Mega Man X-6’s high-energy soundtrack is perfectly reflected by this loud and aggressive rock anthem. Unlock of a lot of tunes from the Mega Man series that have elements of rock in them, Blaze Heatnix’s stage theme does not waste any time trying to beat your face in with its metal-inspired awesomeness. There should be a rule that states anyone who plays this song on guitar must be forced to play it on a black Flying V with flame decals.
The Decisive Battle
from Final Fantasy VI
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
It would stand to reason that one of the most epic boss themes of all time would appear on the soundtrack to one of the most epic games of all time, and I mean epic in the literal sense of the word. Final Fantasy VI is so big, so dense and so impactful in terms of storytelling and tone in games that the soundtrack has become one of the most revered pieces of musical composition in modern popular culture. You hear themes from this game and it conjures images of a fallen world and a madman who just may be the greatest video game villain of all time, if for any reason than he was successful in his goals. That is just something we do not see in stories; especially video game stories. The bosses leading up to this perfect title’s phenomenal final chapter break from the norm as well, ranging from a tense fight on a raging rapid early in the game (“Don’t tease the octopus, kids!”) to a eerie battle with the ghost of a long-lost train. The theme that accompanies these fights is one that, from the very first measure, denotes danger and menace and creates an unease that is palpable. Very few boss themes have justified the countless covers, remixes and homages that this tune has. It is a deservedly-iconic classic.
from Mega Man II
Composer: Takashi Tateishi
Mega Man II makes its first of several appearances on my list with Metal Man’s theme. This layered and energetic chiptune is a prime example of amazing music from a classic series. It is easy to forget just how much of an influence Mega Man II had on game music in its day. While other soundtracks were still working out basic musical ideas with their platform’s limited capabilities, Capcom was creating complex and iconic melodies. Metal Man’s high-energy style and it’s smooth guitar-sounding melody makes it a recognizable classic among fans of the series.
Oil Drum Alley
from Donkey Kong Country
Composers: David Wise, Evellyn Fisher Novacovic, Robin Beanland
Here is another tense and well-composed work from David Wise and the crew over at Rare. This bass-heavy tune has depth and a strong melodic breakdown giving it a sound that stands out among other game tunes. The song, like much of the DK Country soundtracks, implements complex musical ideas that were far ahead of its time and this will not be the last time you see Rare’s classic title on my list. That I can promise you.
Under Cover of Night
from Halo: Combat Evolved
Composers: Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori
Halo has become something of a modern example of a series full of classic and exceptional game music. O’Donnel and Salvatori are a duo who have successfully blended musical ideas that span centuries and continents and make a flowing catalog of moody melodies that conjure vivid memories of Master Chief raining death and destruction upon the Covenant and the Flood. Under the Cover of Night plays early in the first Halo game. The level is dark, starting the player off with a piston and a sniper rifle as voice overs provide support, recommending stealth over head-on combat. In the game, the song begins as the player rounds a mountain trail heading up a dusty hill, with only a few loose boulders and the sparse desert brush to provide cover. After a brief dialogue and the player moves, there is only silence and then… Drums fill the air and a chilling chorus belts out the first sustained notes of the song. In the darkness reverberating percussion pounds as the song begins an eerie choir chanting a haunting and unforgettable melody. It fits the level and the tone perfectly, as do all of the Halo themes.
NOTE: The actual portion of Under Cover of Night heard as described begins around 1:41 on the full version of the song.