Video game soundtracks: The 100 best themes of all time (Part 1)
28th Apr 2012 | 15:30
From bleeps to beats, we've compiled an epic 100 song playlist of the greatest video game music of all time. Whether they're lo-fi blips or modern orchestral epics, game music has the power to fill any gamer with nostalgia. Is your favourite missing? Don't worry, you'll get a chance to vote for your personal favourite next week. For now, though, enjoy our picks...
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER...
01. Metal Gear Solid / "Main Theme"
Year: 1998 / Composer: Tappi Iwase
One of the most iconic, cinematic, and enduring themes in video game history, composed by legendary Konami music genius TAPPY.
02. Final Fantasy VII / "Those Who Fight Further"
Year: 1997 / Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Final Fantasy VII was heaving with memorable tunes, but the boss music is our personal favourite. Uematsu's rock band, The Black Mages, do an awesome metal version.
03. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / "Sons of Skyrim"
Year: 2011 / Composer: Jeremy Soule
With thundering drums and a choir made up of what sounds like a load of angry vikings, this is one of the most stirring, goosebump-inducing themes ever.
04. Super Street Fighter II / "Guile's Theme"
Year: 1993 / Composer: Isao Abe
This has become something of an internet meme, but don't let that distract you: this is '90s video game music at its most awesome.
05. Sonic the Hedgehog / "Green Hill Zone"
Year: 1991 / Composer: Masato Nakamura
Nakamura was a member of J-pop band Dreams Come True, and used his ear for a great pop tune to compose this monumental slice of Sega nostalgia.
06. Super Mario Bros. / "Theme"
Year: 1985 / Composer: Koji Kondo
Probably the most recognisable piece of video game music in history. There's even an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to its long-lasting legacy.
07. Command & Conquer: Red Alert / "Hell March"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Frank Klepacki
A sample of marching soldiers gives way to a driving beat and chugging metal riffs. As soon as Westwood founder Bret Sperry heard it, he said "That's our theme!"
08. Donkey Kong Country / "Aquatic Ambience"
Year: 1994 / Composer: David Wise
An atmospheric ambient track that's a perfect fit for Donkey Kong Country's gorgeous underwater levels. Rapper Childish Gambino sampled it in his song Eat Your Vegetables.
09. We Love Katamari / "Katamari on the Swing"
Year: 2005 / Composer: Yu Miyake
Miyake combined the talents of dozens of Japanese singers and musicians to create this insanely catchy and eclectic soundtrack. This track is easily the highlight.
10. Sega Rally Championship / "Game Over Yeah!"
Year: 1994 / Composer: Takenobu Mitsuyoshi
This is maybe the only game in history where we actually look forward to screwing up. If we had it our way, all game over screens would be in the form of a song.
11. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon / "I Am Impact"
Year: 1997 / Composer: Shigeru Araki
Mystical Ninja was notable for squeezing proper recorded songs into its tiny 128mb cartridge, the best of which was the insane theme of Goemon's giant robot pal, Impact.
12. Deus Ex / "Main Title"
Year: 2000 / Composer: Alexander Brandon
Deus Ex had dynamic music that would change to reflect your actions, but its most enduring composition is Alexander Brandon's theme tune. Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee added some lyrics.
13. F-Zero / "Mute City"
Year: 1990 / Composer: Yumiko Kanki
F-Zero's fast-paced racing felt all the faster thanks to its energetic, pulse-pounding soundtrack. The Mute City theme is our favourite. You can almost FEEL the speed.
14. Super Mario 64 / "Jolly Roger Bay"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Koji Kondo
The man behind the original Super Mario Bros. theme composed this enchanting track to accompany Mario 64's superb underwater level. That damn eel...
15. Doom / "At Doom's Gate"
Year: 1993 / Composer: Bobby Prince
Also known as 'E1M1', this badass metal track was chosen by John Romero to be the soundtrack to Doom's opening level. The urge to play air guitar is uncontrollable.
16. Mass Effect / "Uncharted Worlds"
Year: 2007 / Composer: Sam Hulick
This is the background music of the Normandy's galaxy map. The original Mass Effect's soundtrack was classy and understated, and arguably the best of the series.
17. Red Dead Redemption / "Far Away"
Year: 2010 / Composer: José González
Composed especially for the game, this track plays unexpectedly when you first arrive in Mexico. It perfectly evokes the mystery of the new environment, and the tragedy of Marston's story.
18. Ico / "Heal"
Year: 2001 / Composer: Michiru Oshima
Ico's soundtrack is famously sparse. Most of the time all you can hear is the sound of the wind. But whenever you rested, you'd hear this calming melody, bringing a moment of respite.
19. GoldenEye 007 / "Facility"
Year: 1997 / Composer: Graeme Norgate
GoldenEye's brilliant Facility infiltration mission felt all the more Bond-like thanks to this memorable tune which incorporates elements of Monty Norman's classic theme.
20. PaRappa the Rapper / "Chop Chop Master Onion Rap"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Masaya Matsuura
How can you not love a talking onion that teaches you kung-fu via the medium of rap? Chop Chop is PaRappa's most memorable character, and this track will stick in your head for days.
21. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars / "Intro"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Barrington Pheloung
This had a great classical score, created by long-time TV and film composer Barrington Pheloung. Did you know he's the guy who wrote the theme for Inspector Morse? Now you do.
22. Killer Instinct / "Main Theme"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Robin Beanland
This is the high quality version of the theme that came with the 'Killer Cuts' CD you got bundled with the game. It may well be one of the most '90s pieces of music ever recorded.
23. Super Metroid / "Item Acquisition"
Year: 1994 / Composer: Kenji Yamamoto
The rest of Super Metroid's score was dark and oppressive, reflecting the dangerous planet Zebes, but this fanfare - heard when you get an item - was a moment of calm in the storm.
24. Space Harrier / "Main Theme"
Year: 1985 / Composer: Hiroshi Kawaguchi
Video game music doesn't get much better than this. Kawaguchi's blistering, high-energy theme is the perfect match for Space Harrier's slick, fast-paced gameplay.
25. Streets of Rage / "Fighting in the Street"
Year: 1991 / Composer: Yuzo Koshiro
This critically acclaimed soundtrack became a hit album in Japan. The pounding trance/techno will forever be associated with punching street thugs in the balls.
26. The Secret of Monkey Island / "Intro"
Year: 1990 / Composer: Michael Land
Land's soundtrack can best be described as 'pirate reggae'. This theme tune is super catchy, and has featured in every Monkey Island game to date.
27. Alex Kidd in Miracle World / "Theme"
Year: 1986 / Composer: Tokuhiko Uwabo
This is either one of the catchiest themes ever, or one of the most annoying. It played incessantly throughout the entire game, and drove us a bit mad as kids.
28. Grim Fandango / "Casino Calavera"
Year: 1998 / Composer: Peter McConnell
The Grim Fandango soundtrack was a sublime mix of jazz, bebop, and big band music. This toe-tapping number plays when Manny becomes owner of a casino in year two.
29. Deus Ex: Human Revolution / "Icarus"
Year: 2011 / Composer: Michael McCann
A stunning piece of music with classical and modern themes intertwining. The retro synths hark back to the original game's score. Powerful, evocative stuff.
30. Mirror's Edge / "Still Alive"
Year: 2008 / Composer: Lisa Miskovsky
Mirror's Edge sadly may never get a sequel, but we'll always remember it for its superb free-running mechanics and fantastic score. The theme is especially good.
31. Grand Theft Auto / "Joy Ride"
Year: 1997 / Composer: Craig Conner
Credited to fictional rap group 'Da Shootaz', this was actually by in-house DMA (now Rockstar North) composer Craig Conner. It was featured in the original, and in GTA3.
32. Super Mario Galaxy / "Gusty Garden Galaxy"
Year: 2007 / Composer: Mahito Yokota
Nintendo Gamer editor Matthew Castle loved this track so much, he wrote his Mario Galaxy review with it playing on loop. It IS a pretty special bit of music.
33. Portal / "Still Alive"
Year: 2007 / Composer: Jonathan Coulton
The voice of GLaDOS, Ellen McLain, sings this sweet - yet oddly sinister - song over Portal's end credits. It was penned by talented singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton.
34. Metroid Prime / "Menu"
Year: 2002 / Composer: Kenji Yamamoto
Retro Studios' Metroid Prime was the best in the series since Super Metroid, and this menu music is a prime example (ho ho!) of its awesome, atmospheric soundtrack.
35. NiGHTS into DREAMS / "Dreams Dreams"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Naofumi Hataya
Corny? Yes, massively, but anyone who finished Sega Saturn's NiGHTS will remember hearing this over the credits. It almost drove PSM3 editor Dan Dawkins to tears as a youth.
36. Killer7 / "Rave On"
Year: 2005 / Composer: Masafumi Takada
You head this tune whenever you visited the Vinculum Gate to give the Gatekeeper your Soul Shells. Why he's listening to rave music is a mystery, like most of the game.
37. Gitaroo Man / "The Legendary Theme (Electric)"
Year: 2001 / Composer: iNiS
Gitaroo Man plays an electric version of an acoustic ballad he played to his girlfriend earlier to try and free her from an evil mind control spell. OBVIOUSLY.
38. Halo: Combat Evolved / "Halo Theme"
Year: 2001 / Composer: Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori
The spooky chanting in the Halo theme is full of mystery, and is perhaps some ancient hymn of the Forerunners. Whatever it is, though, it rules.
39. Daytona USA / "Let's Go"
Year: 1994 / Composer: Takenobu Mitsuyoshi
In the '90s, Daytona USA was so popular that arcades would crank the volume right up. As a result, you'd hear "Daaaaytona!" ringing out of the machine constantly.
40. Yoshi's Story / "Yoshi's Happy Song"
Year: 1997 / Composer: Kazumi Totaka
Is this the happiest song in the world? It's a distinct possibility. We love how slightly out of the tune they are. It's so cute we might hurl. Or cry. Or both.
41. Forza Motorsport 4 / "Theme Song"
Year: 2011 / Composer: Lance Hayes
This sounds like it belongs in Mass Effect or Deus Ex or something. A super cool, contemporary theme for the best racing game on Xbox 360.
42. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil / "The Port of Adia"
Year: 1998 / Composer: Darren Mitchell
An epic orchestral track that builds and builds, pushing the Nintendo 64's sound chip to its limits. Who remembers the Cerebral Bore?
43. Final Fantasy VIII / "The Man With the Machine Gun"
Year: 1999 / Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
A lively track that served as the theme tune for troubled hero Laguna, who favoured a machine gun in combat. Some of Uematsu's best work can be found in Final Fantasy VIII.
44. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin / "47 Makes a Decision"
Year: 2002 / Composer: Jesper Kyd
Jesper Kyd composed one of gaming's best cinematic scores for Hitman 2, the best of which was this rousing number that really captures the tension and drama of Agent 47's line of work.
45. Duke Nukem 3D / "Grabbag"
Year: 1996 / Composer: Lee Jackson
This heavy duty track was covered by thrash metal legends Megadeth. It's exactly the kind of theme tune you'd expect a guy like Duke Nukem to have.
46. The Legend of Zelda / "Overworld"
Year: 1986 / Composer: Koji Kondo
The insanely talented Koji Kondo wrote this, which has become the Zelda series' theme tune. If we could sum it up with one word, it would probably be 'adventure'.
47. Mega Man / "Level Start!"
Year: 1987 / Composer: Manami Matsumae
This fanfare plays whenever you select a level in Mega Man. The NES had a lot of great, catchy little 'fanfares'. Why don't games have them anymore?
48. Ridge Racer Type 4 / "Urban Fragments"
Year: 1998 / Composer: Namco Consumer Software Sound Team
We had a hard time choosing just one song from this peerless soundtrack, but decided on "Urban Fragments", which features vocals by American singer Kimara Lovelace.
49. Okami / "The Sun Rises"
Year: 2006 / Composer: Masami Ueda, Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Capcom's dazzlingly pretty adventure game had a soundtrack inspired by traditional Japanese music, to match its beautiful art style. This track is brilliantly uplifting.
50. Shenmue / "Shenmue (Main Theme)"
Year: 1999 / Composer: Takenobu Mitsuyoshi
Shenmue tells an incredibly sad, tragic story, and hero Ryo Hazuki is always having a hard time. This somber theme tune reflects this, and features traditional Chinese elements.
Ready for the next 50? Continue to part 2!