Life in the Slow Lane

July 10, 2008

More video game theme songs

Filed under: Games — pauljlane @ 9:53 am

As promised in Night & Day, here are a few more of my favorite video game songs.

* TECMO BOWL: OK, this music sounds like it was made by some kid using armpit farts. But for those of us who remember using Bo Jackson to destroy defenses across the land, there’s something about that that just fires up the troops. The touchdown jingle is pretty catchy, too.

• MIKE TYSON’S PUNCH-OUT: As if staring down Iron Mike himself wasn’t bad enough, this music did a solid job of creating angst and drama, forcing you to lose yourself in the game (as if the action didn’t do that alone). There was no better feeling in 1988 than hearing that victory music after you scored your final knockdown.

• CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT: Not quite as creepy as “Resident Evil,” but the soundtrack to this PlayStation title uses a full orchestra to plop you right smack dab in Dracula’s sights. It sounds great on its own, but combined with the action on screen you really feel like you’re moments away from joining the undead. Listen to this multiple times and you’ll gain a greater appreciation after each listen.

• THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: Except for “Super Mario Bros.” this is the opus of the 8-bit gaming era. Forget saving some chick stuck in the tower – you’ll feel like you can leap tall buildings in a single bound and stop a speeding bullet after taking this in.

•••

Here’s my original column from Night & Day in case you missed it. I tacked a few more videos on at the end.

As the video game world increasingly takes a turn toward the hero of the guitar sort, it’s the supporting music of the princess-saving hero that suffers.
Whether you’re trying to perform real songs like on “Guitar Hero” or skateboarding to a punk hit in the Tony Hawk game series, using real tunes in your game adds a level of authenticity.
What it also does, though, is eliminate the need for an original, catchy hook the game can call its own. Seeing the words “DUH-duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH” may not mean much at first glance, but fans of the “Super Mario Bros.” for the Nintendo Entertainment System can probably place the tune to the syllables within seconds.
Creating an original score for a game appears to be a lost art. Maybe there’s too much else going on these days with enhanced graphics and online components to worry about original music, but that’s a touch that is not lost on all gamers.
Much like at a sporting event, where PA crews pump in banal rump-shakers to artificially create fan enthusiasm, it’s just easier not to let things develop organically.
Here are some of this scribe’s favorite video game tunes from over the years. Many of the games are great on their own, but the music makes them better.
• SUPER MARIO BROS. If you’re older than 25, you can probably place a specific tune to every specific level on this game. The songs are simplistic, but no tune matches any game any better than the score here does. The water-level song feels like you’re swimming, the castle-phase music has a treacherous feel and the end-of-level song gets you pumped to stomp more koopas. If there was any higher level of bliss than this slice of 8-bit heaven, it’s yet to be unearthed.
• ICE HOCKEY: Another NES staple, there were two or three songs here that looped throughout the game, with intros and outros to begin and end each period and a nice interlude between stanzas. The music was fast-paced to keep up with the frenzied action on the ice, yet was, like the game itself, meant reflect on how simple life should be — you’re either a fat player, average player or skinny player, and that’s it.
• TETRIS: For many gamers, the debut of this game in the late-1980s was a first introduction to culture of any sort in post-Communist Russia. It sounded sort of goofy, but it was catchy and — like the game itself — you just can’t get it out of your head.
• PAC-MAN: There might only be four seconds of music at the beginning of each level, but your license to play video games is revoked if you can’t hear it in your head right now.
• RESIDENT EVIL: This was the first game I owned for the original PlayStation. I don’t scare easily, but I couldn’t wait to turn the game on at the end of each class day in college because of the chills the soundtrack would give me. The music on Nintendo’s “Castlevania” series was creepy, but the soundtrack for “Resident Evil” was enough to make those imaginary bugs start crawling around on your arm. I just did a full-body shudder in remembering this music.
• METROID: This music did about as good a job as could be done with 1986 technology of creating a solitary atmosphere. The echoing, singular keyboard strokes really made you feel like you were alone in the middle of outer space, with no hope of ever seeing another friendly being again. Before I could appreciate it on that level, though, my 8-year-old ear just knew it sounded cool.
• MEGA MAN 2: If you weren’t ready to kick some robot butt after hearing the main theme, you’re heart is about as steely as the creations you fought in this game. By the time you got to the world of main boss Dr. Wily, you were playing to background music that was better than the hair band garbage on the best-seller list at the time (if “Mega Man” were created now, they’d probably stick in “Mr. Roboto” or some other dreck). The game was as great as the music, too.

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