There’s countless lists like these out there, where a ton of people who never played an hour of vidya their whole lives try to help you remember the Mario Bros theme or that one Tetris song. I’m not going to do you like that. I’m going to show you the real classic video game songs.
I’m going to take you back to the true gems from the real video game culture of the late 80’s to early 90’s, the actual golden era of gaming back when it was actually about gameplay instead of a new paint job of graphics for the same old crap.
If you lived it like we did, when you bought a SNES game for $60 after saving up all summer, and popped it in knowing you had a complete, bug-free game on your hands, then get ready to reminisce. Game developers cut no corners back then, and this is reflected in the musical journey we’re about to take.
The Best Classic Video Game Songs, Period
And away we go. In no particular order…
Final Fantasy – The Prelude
- Platform – NES (1987)
- Composer – Nubuo Uematsu
All fantasy afficionados know this tune. It’s half the reason most RPG fans are into music too. It’s been copied across other video games, movies, TV, and music releases more times than can be counted.
Sure, you can point out that it’s just an arpeggio. “Anyone could have made that.” Well, only one person did, and it is now the ultimate arpeggio. Once you know it, start listening out for it and you’ll catch it in the most unsuspecting places.
I remember my younger, newbie buddy grinding out and finally beating Garland (the first “boss” of the game). He crossed the bridge that appears to the mainland and this song start playing. He was hilariously triumphant because he thought he’d just beat the game.
That’s not a credit screen rolling, bro. That’s the intro sequence and the intro theme song! He didn’t settle in for the long haul… we ended up back on Excitebike after that.
The Legend of Zelda – Overworld Theme
- Platform – NES (1986)
- Composer – Koji Kondo
My brother and me used come home from school excited to play that Little Mermaid game (it actually rocked) and never get to because our mom became obsessed with the original Legend of Zelda. She actually innovated a cheat for the game.
She found you could hide in the doorways of the labyrinths and the monsters couldn’t hit you but you could still shoot your sword out at them. What has your mom ever done?
About 25 years later, I gifted her a USB stick complete with an emulator and this game and Mappy Land to play on her laptop. She never messed with it, which pissed me off because she robbed us of all our Little Mermaid time and now doesn’t care.
But back in the day nobody conquered Hyrule like my mom. She even managed to find all the hidden entrances in the rock walls and head stones in the graveyards… she must have read out Nintendo Power magazines or something now that I think about it…
Donkey Kong Country – Theme
- Platform – SNES (1994)
- Composer – David Wise
Super Mario Bros. 3 might have introduced the concept of a world map with stages you progress through to beat the game (complete with secret zones), but nothing stands out more to me than starting the first area on Donkey Kong Country and walking backwards to the left to discover the first secret treasure.
If you played this masterpiece, then you’ve seen the zillion other games that ripped it off whether that be on console, PC, or an internet flash game. It’s not even just platformers. Those launcher games took the TNT barrels that shoot you out and ran with it.
This game could be argued to have spawned an entire new genre, if you want to stretch it a bit just for the sake of an argument (this is the internet, after all). Shout out to Kongregate, where I waste too much time.
Super Mario Kart – Theme Song
- Platform – SNES (1992)
- Composer – Soyo Oka
Although the main theme song is the most famous due to it being heard the most, the entire soundtrack is a work of art. I can hear it now… and in the background I can hear my brother shrieking as another one of my red homing missile turtle shells slammed him off the track.
I guarantee Nintendo saw a rise in extra controller sales with the release of this game. If not just the homing shells then the secret short cuts on the time trials contributed too. I wanted to punch that turtle that rides the cloud and fishes you out of the depths on the haunted house stages.
ToeJam & Earl – Main Theme
- Platform – Sega Genesis (1991)
- Composer – John Baker
Now that I think about it, this game is to blame for my interest in hip-hop culture, funky autowah, and flying jet packs to secret islands to steal birthday gifts. The composer of this track and all of the others in the game said he wanted to emulate the sound of Herbie Hancock, and he nailed it.
If you haven’t played this game, you need to invite a friend over and get ready for some co-op madness. These are two of the most memorable characters ever, and I’d be willing to argue some more that Earl was the inspiration for Patrick on SpongeBob SquarePants.
It’s a lot like the next game, but instead of attacking your main mode of advancement is evasion using all kinds space age contraptions like teleportation devices, rocket ships, spring boards, and more. I’d be surprised if anyone ever beat this game while not using an emulator with save states. It’s long!
Zombies Ate My Neighbors – Evening of the Undead
- Platform – SNES (1993)
- Composer – Joe McDermott
Look… there were Ghosts & Goblins hard, there was Battletoads hard… and then there was this game. The other games at least had check points where you could start over. On this one, once you lose all of your lives, that’s it… Back to stage one (unless you’re using a ROM and quick saving freeze states, which I highly recommend).
This soundtrack was so amazing that I’m not even sharing the main theme. This is the suburban theme you hear as masked maniacs chase you with chainsaws through hedge-mazes, before you hit the shopping malls and medieval castles.
I’ll never forget trying to rescue cheerleaders on the football field and the giant UFO shows up and sucks them into the sky. And the little Chucky doll things in the grocery store…
Dr. Mario – Fever Theme
- Platform – Gameboy (1990)
- Composer – Hirokazu Tanaka
Dr. Mario was Nintendo’s ultimate reply to the Tetris craze, with the ante upped with Match Three elements. Now that I think about it, this game was a little strange. Somehow three little virus creatures have infected your pill bottles, so you have to toss the pills back in to get rid of them all the while they’re mocking you and dancing to the incredible soundtrack.
Like I said above, there’s an entire mobile game market that’s earning their livelihood from emulating Dr. Mario. And in the end you’re hard pressed to find one that is better than the original. The entire game has the same purpose of being a real doctor, you stop viruses and try to set a high score (in your bank account).
DuckTales – Title Screen
- Platform – SNES (1989)
- Composer – Hiroshige Tonomura
The Moon theme is the one everyone rants and raves about online, but this is by far the best and most famous of the tracks on this game. It might be semi-cheating since the theme was used on the cartoon and movies too, but this MIDI version is definitely the best version and best song on the game.
And it has the most philosophically potent lyrics… Life is like a hurricane (here in… Duckberg!). It’s right in there with the David the Gnome theme song (the greatest of all time).
Let These Classic Video Game Songs Take You Back…
That was quite the emotional journey for me. If you enjoyed it and know another 80’s kid who would like to take the ride, share it with them using the buttons below. Much appreciated!