17 videogame soundtracks ahead of their time


Sample song: Chop Chop Master Onion’s Rap

Why it was ahead of its time
How often have you heard “Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind” since PaRappa’s release? There may only be six songs in the whole game, but each was an irresistibly catchy rap about mundane, everyday activities (training, cooking, even pissing) that made an instant star out of PaRappa and went on to win awards at the first annual Interactive Achievement Awards. What should have been an invisible niche game ended up with coverage in USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and other ultra-mainstream outlets that barely knew what a Super Mario Hedgehog was.

Above: PaRappa’s spin-off, UmJammer Lammy, the only game with a song about crapping baby rabbits

The novelty definitely wore off – 2002’s sequel didn’t make half the stir of the first game, and the PSP revamp had to compete with modern-day rhythm giants like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution. It may be weak today, but in its day there was no comparison whatsoever - something 99% of games today can’t claim.


Sample song: Encounter

Why it was ahead of its time
You know that dreary, overarching dullness that permeates most modern game music? That crap that sounds like it’s trying to be moody and meaningful but is instead just plain boring? That’s the sound of lazy musicians attempting to copy the movie-quality score of the first Metal Gear Solid, a wide-sweeping set of tracks that combine unobtrusive background music for dialog, intense strings for combat and piano-laden dirges for fallen friends. As far as we’re concerned, this is the zenith of modern game music, the standard by which all other “serious music” soundtracks should be judged.

Above: MGS brought moving music, proper camera placement and competent voice acting together to create an undeniably powerful work of art

The themes played throughout are absolutely integral – take the music away from Sniper Wolf’s death and that scene loses most, if not all of its impact. The graphics were still primitive enough that we needed another connection to seal the emotional deal, and Solid’s soundtrack did just that. For the first time, the music is an actual character in the game, something that movies could claim for decades, but hadn’t really happened in games. Each track in isolation may not be all the engaging (including the embedded track above) but as a whole, it’s formidable.

Nintendo DS

Sample song: Right There, Ride On

Why it was ahead of its time
The first year of Nintendo DS software was wildly disappointing. Kirby Canvas Curse used the touch screen well and both Advance Wars and Castlevania made strong audio debuts, but by and large most of the stuff was lackluster and, for this article, tiring to listen to. You most assuredly cannot say that of Sonic Rush, which proudly blasted rich bass lines, infectious beats and Go! Team-caliber vocal performances when everyone else was still trying to figure out what the hell to do with two screens.

Above: Ethno Circus, another example of distorted vocals, rhythmic bass and funky backbeats

There’s a damn good reason Rush’s soundtrack stood out – the composer was Hideki Naganuma, who years before oversaw Jet Grind Radio and arcade-only Ollie King. Too bad he wasn’t behind Sonic Rush Adventure…


Sample song: Main Theme

Why it was ahead of its time
Brawl combines aspects of every game on this list, employs the most noted and respected game musicians out there and pays constant fan service to gamers who’ve stuck with them through the years. There is no other soundtrack that even comes close – 312 tracks, all handled by top names like Akihiro Honda (Metal Gear), Kenji Yamamoto (Super Metroid), Koji Kondo (Mario and Zelda), Yasonuri Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger) and the aforementioned Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Actraiser, Ys). Literally nothing like it.

Above: Brawl contains classic and updated versions of several top-notch soundtracks, Metroid Prime included

True, it’s kind of cheating to say Brawl’s soundtrack is this amazing when a good chunk of it is reused tracks from already beloved games. But that’s not why we’ve placed on the list – it’s here because what other game strives to include more than 300 songs handled by a VGM dream team? It’s the kind of OST that can only happen after decades of quality work, making Brawl not just a perfect compilation, but also the ultimate celebration of where game music has been (Game & Watch noises) and where it is today (Metal Gear Solid IV’s Love Theme).

Apr 28, 2009

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  • ross_drew - January 11, 2012 8:42 a.m.

    Aw what?! The Sensible themes never made it in?
  • mrmorozov987 - June 10, 2010 9:43 p.m.

    I can't believe you missed Doom. Doom! Blasting demons in the face wouldn't have been half as fun without the ear-splitting 90's hard rock.
  • Imgema - May 18, 2010 11:33 p.m.

    I would add F-Zero X. Why? Because, it has death metal music in it. Complete with nonsensical distorted vocals (listen to Devil's Forest theme). But that's not the only reason... The other reason is that its for Nintendo for Christ sake! You would never expect a soundtrack like that from a Nintendo developed game and of course you will NEVER see another one, ever again.
  • arahman56 - February 27, 2010 12:04 a.m.

    What? No love for Monty on the Run's theme? Unless you're told, you wouldn't even think that it's from a Commodore 64 game.
  • Fat - May 14, 2009 1:53 a.m.

    I thoroughly remember the Donkey Kong ambient theme. I remember playing this game so long ago, I even remember that level being a pain in the ass. Aaahh, nostalgia.
  • LionheartAce - May 4, 2009 3:06 p.m.

    Super Smash Bros. Brawl OST is a beast, I crapped my pants at most all of the songs.
  • dland - May 4, 2009 12:46 a.m.

    Good job Brett!! You did a fine article, and you are the master of VG music. I bow to you.
  • Kang81 - May 3, 2009 1:17 a.m.

    Hands down, the music from the Donkey Kong Country series has the best scores ever! Aquatic Ambiance for the win...only the best video game song ever made, imo. Now if I could only find a way to take that track from my iPhone and turn it into a ring tone.
  • theatticusera - May 2, 2009 9:12 p.m.

    Sonic rush is one of the best platormers ever :)
  • Red - May 2, 2009 12:39 a.m.

    Gotta raise my hand here and say that I still listen to the music from Jet Grind Radio and Jet Set Radio Future occasionally.
  • sharker - May 1, 2009 1:19 a.m.

    wait, i don't know what i'm talking about
  • iluvmyDS - April 30, 2009 1:35 a.m.

    Loved all the selections. Hopefully we'll hear these on the podcast.
  • PCG_Evan - April 29, 2009 5:23 p.m.

    Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Earthworm Jim, DOOM, and a hojillion other PC games would've qualified well for this, too.
  • BenitoMasterSystem - April 29, 2009 3:50 p.m.

    How come a karate chopping, fu manchu moustache wearing giant onion doesn't get any shit for a gong sound effect, but TDar had to retire theirs?!?! Injustice if ever there was one.
  • Xplosive59 - April 29, 2009 3:41 p.m.

    WOOT sound garden Fear factory DK is not any indication to the industrial death metal band Fear Factory REcaptcha: Castrate large (dont hurt me)
  • RedOutlive10 - April 29, 2009 1:55 p.m.

    Definitely yes for Metal Gear Solid's Encounter. Made boss battles unforgettable.
  • dustLOOP - April 29, 2009 11:32 a.m.

    What about Castlevania SOTN - Lost Paintings?! That track orchestral-wise in the game ost world is light years ahead of its time. Well I think so anyway :D
  • G0LFK4RT - April 29, 2009 10:54 a.m.

    My favourite ones on this list are Castlevania III, Silver Surfer, and MGS. I actually don't like the Megaman soundtrack that much, but I really really like the Megaman 2 soundtrack. Dr Wily Stage 1 FTW. ReCaptcha: Yellowed Especially
  • sprog - April 29, 2009 10:19 a.m.

    First of all, an absolutely cracking article! It was good to see FF6's theme in there, that games had music that provoked the rare (at the time) feeling that you weren't just playing a game, you were following an epic and well crafted story. If I had to add anything to the list I'd have to say Thunder Force IV - those riffs were amazing -, FF7's One Winged Angel - an entire choir assembled for one last boss theme? Crazy! - and I always loved the Pyramid Head boss music at the end of SH2, horrifing and beautiful at the same time with such despairing, tragic air.
  • FistfulofPelican - April 29, 2009 8:55 a.m.

    10/10 for including UmJammer Lammy music!

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