And weíre back, this time with my top 10 NES original soundtracks! Yeah yeah I know, Iím doing things out of order here, sue me. Awhile back I posted my Top 10 SNES Original Soundtracks (OSTs), because the SNES is the best thing ever and its music was doubly so, but I felt like the good olí classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System deserved its day to shine as well. So here we are.
Iím not going to go into another long spiel about my connection to and appreciation of video game music as a whole, you can read about that in my top 10 SNES original soundtracks list. The quick version is that I have been a musician since my youth, Iím working on my own video game soundtrack, and I love video game music, a lot.
This is where it all began.
I also love the NES, which was really the first time that I began to see the true potential in video games. Sure, I had played many video games before it, from arcade games to Atari games to TI computer games and more, but the NES came along and changed everything, due in no small part to a little plumber named Mario. I may view the Super Nintendo as my favorite system of all-time, but the NES still has a special place in my heart.
Anyway, you didnít come here for this, you came here for music. So letís get to the list!
Like last time, I have a self-imposed rule for this list; I will only choose one soundtrack per franchise. Otherwise a few key franchises (Mega Man) might overrun the entire list, and that would not be fun, would it? Iím also choosing one song to post with each soundtrack, but this is not a best songs list, it is a best soundtracks list. The chosen song is meant only to give a taste of what the soundtrack has to offer.
Iím going to be totally honest here, Iíve never actually played Blaster Master. Well, I might have tried it out once way back in the NES days, but I honestly donít remember playing it, so Iíll just stick with ďI havenít played it.Ē One thing that I do know, however, is the music, because Blaster Masterís soundtrack has transcended the game and become the kind of thing that you stumble upon everywhere (at least, when youíre into classic gaming), in videos, podcasts, etc. In researching this top 10 list I was a bit surprised not just at how many of the songs from the Blaster Master soundtrack that I recognized, but at how excellent they all are. A quality soundtrack through and through.
Even if you are like me and have never played the game, Iíll bet that you have heard the song that I chose. This is one of those classic NES tracks that makes a lot of ďbest ofĒ lists, and for good reason.
Ah, Punch-Out!!, my favorite boxing game about an underdog going up against a bunch of ethnic stereotypes! Sure the characterizations of your opponents were a bit overdone (even more so in the arcade game, Vodka Drunkenski anyone?), but that was half of the fun, and the other half was pretty tight boxing gameplay that just felt right. To be honest, I probably would have put this soundtrack a lot higher up in my list, but it only has a handful of songs. Yet what awesome songs indeed!
This song will probably be pretty familiar to you, doubly so if you ever hung out on YTMND.Com. Itís more cutscene music than gameplay music, but that still counts, right?
Up up down down left right left right b a startÖ BAM! Or in my case, throw a select in there, because I generally played this game the way it was meant to be played; with a partner! Contra was one of the darker, more ďbadassĒ games in the NES library, charging Bill and (in 2 player mode) Lance with stopping the Red Falcon Organization by basically running around shooting everything in sight, and the soundtrack reflected that perfectly.
I had to go with the most banging track in the game. There is a reason that there are so many rock covers of this song, and that is because it is basically guitar lead heaven.
Life Force was a bit of an odd game, essentially a Gradius game that was not a Gradius game, but focused on living, organic enemies and worlds instead. And just like Konamiís Contra mentioned above, it had co-op, which was really the main reason to play through the game. Donít get me wrong, the game itself was pretty sweet either way, but it never hurts to have a friend along for the ride!
It also has a soundtrack where pretty much every song is memorable. It was very tough to choose only one, but that is how it goes, so take a listen and let me know if I made the right choice.
The Legend of Zelda
Oh man, I remember the first time that I played The Legend of Zelda. Having no idea where I was ďsupposedĒ to go. Realizing that this was half of the point of the gameÖ explore! Find things out on your own! And this was before the era of hand-holding helpers in Zelda games too. Sure, there were a few obtuse puzzles that most of us had to find the solution to through Nintendo Power or friends (this was before the Internet, kids), but that was fine by us.
Again, this game would be higher up on my list, but there really arenít that many songs in the soundtrack, so it is tough to justify putting it much higher. On the other hand, with an overworld theme like this, what more do you really need?
While Super Metroid found itself at the #2 spot in my top 10 SNES original soundtracks list, the NES Metroid will have to suffice with a #5 spot. It had some moments of ingenuity, and does a good job of capturing the mood of dreary underground exploration for an NES game, but Metroid had yet to reach the lofty heights of musical excellence. Still, itís pretty darn good nonetheless!
There were a few different options for this track, but I decided to go with the one that retains a sense of optimism and energy, appearing early on in the game before you really get into the dark depths of Zebes.
Hate me if you must, but I have to admit, I have never been the biggest fan of the traditional Kirby platforming games. I love a lot of his other stuff, from alternative platformers like Canvas Curse and Epic Yarn to non-platformers like Avalanche and Dream Course, but most of his traditional platformers have been merely ďokĒ to me. The NES game, however, is definitely one of my favorites. And the music in his games is always phenomenal, with his first NES outing having what may just be the best Kirby soundtrack of all-time.
Again, there were way too many songs to choose from, so I went with what is perhaps one of the most well-known. Even my not-a-hardcore-gamer (but Kirby fan) girlfriend, upon hearing a few intro bars, yelled out ďThatís Kirby!!!Ē (She also told me that Iím not allowed to make it less than number one on my listÖ oops...)
Wizards & Warriors
It wasnít until just a few years back that I found out that the composer of the infamous soundtracks for the Donkey Kong Country series, David Wise, was also the man behind the music of Wizards & Warriors, and everything in the universe suddenly made sense. Wizards & Warriors was a pretty neat action / adventure game, and even at the time (before I got heavily into video game music), I knew that the soundtrack was something special.
Although the actual in-game music is all pretty incredible, I think the title screen song sets the tone for the rest of the soundtrack, and must be heard.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 is without a doubt hands-down one of my favorite games of all-time, and it should be one of yours as well, especially all of you weird people who just voted it off in the recent Nintendo All-Time Classics Survivor poll on the forum. Itís pretty much a stunning game on every single level, and the (generally) upbeat and varied soundtrack stands out as one of the premiere musical accomplishments of the 8-bit era.
Oh gosh, there are just way too many to choose from here. Youíll just have to take a listen and see if I made a good choice.
Mega Man 2
I believe that my choice of Mega Man X as the best SNES soundtrack was a bit controversial, but I do not foresee the same opposition here. It is essentially universally agreed upon that the NES Mega Man games had some of the best soundtracks of the era, and both 2 and 3 are singled out as the cream of the crop. However, due to my self-imposed limitations, I could only chose one from the series, and I had to go with 2. Awesome game, awesome music, awesome everything.
Mega Man 2 has a soundtrack with a ton of memorable music, but only one song could possibly be chosen to represent the game for the purpose of this list. You know the song that I speak of. How could I choose another?
Awesome! I always wondered why the music sounded different than other NES games. Unless my ears played tricks on me, and this chip isn't in any North American releases.
EDIT: Wow, the difference is remarkable. The NA release does NOT have this chip, and the versions sound very stripped compared to what the Japanese got. I feel cheated!!! It sounds so good! Like it could've been on a Turbo Graffix 16.
Ah, so close to owning all ten! That makes a first for one of these.
10. This is one of our earlier NES games, I think we found it in a flea market for real cheap or something and bought it because the name sounded cool (to kids anyway). My older brother hated the game progression, he just wanted to go left-to-right and clear stages like in other games. But I loved the idea of exploring the worlds and trying to figure out where to go next, though I recall being confused for a while after beating level 3 because that's the first time you have to return to a previous level to find the next one, and this is the first game I played where the levels weren't sequential so it took me a bit to figure that out. Completing this game was quite an accomplishment that took several years, but the music helped me through it as it's a great soundtrack to listen to as you figure things out. The only stinker is level 8, no idea what they were thinking with that one.
9. I never played this game meself, but I liked to watch my older brother play it. The music was pretty rockin', though not much variety.
8. Hm, the music of this never really stuck out to me. It's good for the game and fits, but it's a bit of generic action-y stuff overall so it's nothing I'd seek out in isolation. None of us ever beat this game without the 30-man code either.
7. Here's the one I don't own, however I do recall borrowing it from a friend way back in the day. I don't remember it at all though, and even the music isn't sounding familiar which is typically what I remember most.
6. Ah, back when Zelda had actual music! I'm a little surprised at this though... I mean, there's like, four tracks in here total, and only two of those you constantly hear throughout the game. Not one I'd put on a total soundtrack list, especially over Zelda II which has more and better music. The dungeon theme in Zelda II is still the best piece of Zelda music around. Anyways, this one of course introduced the iconic overworld theme, though I'm a bit surprised and disappointed that the mysterious dungeon theme didn't become a staple as well. I still remember walking into level 9 for the first time after all those months of getting through the game and hearing a different, more ominous theme... chilling!
5. This game has aged like cheese in the sun, but at least the soundtrack holds up. Still the best in the series as far as I'm concerned, nothing has surpassed Brinstar and Brinstar Depths.
4. This game is almost an SNES game, that's how awesome it is. Though I find it odd how you chose the one Game Boy theme in the game when it has so many better choices...
3. I had never heard of this game when I bought it in a lot on eBay with a bunch of other games that I actually wanted. The game itself is pretty average, just a simplistic game with terrible hit detection, so the music is the only thing special about it. I still recall the tunes even though I played it like once, maybe twice.
2. Certainly iconic stuff and suits the game, but nothing I even thought of as exceptional. But at least you picked the best track this time!
1. There's really nothing left to say about this one, so I won't. I do disagree that Wily's Castle 1 is the best in the game though... there are several I'd put ahead of it, and I think Flash Man is my fave. One thing I will say though, Wily's Castle 1 is quite expertly composed... The way the measures sort of bleed into each other without sounding off is no easy feat.