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

The 10 best Zelda songs
It’s a bigger controversy than you think

The cheesiest game songs EVER
Pop ballads, hair metal and other ear-ripping tunes so bad you can’t stop listening

Videogame music makes The Terminator better
Cameron’s classic gets an aural upgrade



  • TheWoolyMammoth - April 28, 2009 9:44 p.m.

    Wow! Brilliant article Brett! Hits home with me as I'm a massive gaming soundtrack nerd also. The earlier Sonic games are the tunes that I find the most impressive, also ones I listen to consistently today. Only picked Brawl up a couple of days ago and the first thing I noticed was the amount of music on offer, must have wasted over 2 hours listening to it all before I even played the damn game!
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - April 28, 2009 10:26 p.m.

    Aquatic Ambiance!
  • leroybrown - April 28, 2009 11:27 p.m.

    Good list. However, Naoto Shibata's excellent shred version of Castlevania III (from Dracula Battle released in Japan) is FAR FAR superior to the sloppy, out of tune, childish mush by the Minibosses. Here's a link, enjoy!
  • twishart - April 29, 2009 1:01 a.m.

    Elston: great editor, or greatest editor?
  • 435 - April 29, 2009 1:11 a.m.

    Streets of Rage and ToeJam & Earl. Two of the best soundtracks ever created. I squee every time I hear a track from either of them.
  • onesweetdream11 - April 29, 2009 1:15 a.m.

  • RareHero - April 29, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    I got something to add. Ridge Racer Type 4's soundtrack should probably go down as one of the best of all time. Here's a link:
  • TrIp13G - April 29, 2009 2:04 a.m.

    CV III's beginning level theme is so tight. Also, you totally brought back some great memories with the inclusion of Spidey's theme from Arcade's Revenge.
  • TyeTheCzar - April 29, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    I highly recommend you check out the Japan-only Indie-developed(by one guy) Touhou series for it's great music(Visit for more information). I'm telling you, their tunes(all done by one guy... who also makes the entire games) rival that of top-banana composers. Here are some examples of the songs; note that they've recieved a LOT of remix treatment there:
  • JakkedGamer - April 29, 2009 4:40 a.m.

    The duke nukem guitar theme should've made it on this list, and i'm not just saying that because i'm a duke fan, i'm also a musician.
  • madrejugo - April 29, 2009 4:54 a.m.

    You forgot The moon level soundtrack from Ducktales, for the nes.
  • garnsr - April 29, 2009 5:22 a.m.

    I think Wipeout XL definitely deserves a place, it got me into techno-type music. Castlevania has the best music in any video game. Whatever happened to Yuzo Koshiro, he was so huge in the 16 Bit era. And nothing from Tommy Tallarico?
  • GR_DavidHoughton - April 29, 2009 8:35 a.m.

    Aquatic Ambience and Terra's Theme back-to-back? Are you trying to kill my ears with joy, Brett?
  • bruce - April 29, 2009 10:06 a.m.

    It's a shame that DK devolved to that Kong-Rap or whatever it was called in DK64. Also I'm going to start listening to Out Run in my car! Prime driving music!
  • teamRAMrod37 - April 29, 2009 11:23 a.m.

    I almost drowned in nostalgia when I heard Aquatic Ambiance.
  • TheWoolyMammoth - April 29, 2009 12:06 p.m.

    Remember, it's not a list of every soundtrack ahead of it's time, just 17 examples of said tracks! =)
  • FinalGamer - April 29, 2009 12:18 p.m.

    As my first post ever in this place, lemme just say I wholeheartedly agree with this entire article. I mean I'm a real fan of videogame music, BIG fan, it's the only thing I listen to all day even, and I didn't even realise about a few of these until now. I love when you guys do articles on music, thanks for this one.
  • miiketakashi - April 29, 2009 1:27 p.m.

    I'm reliving some classic C64 games and soundtracks, so this article couldn't have come at a better time. I remember One Man and His Droid being used during Ghostbuster's game-within-a-game, Invade-A-Load! It still sounds fantastic today, that was the power of the C64's SID chip, it was always ahead of its time.
  • BenitoMasterSystem - April 29, 2009 3:54 p.m.

    Oh, and i can't believe there's nothing from Jet Grind Radio on here.. Also, I'm a sucker for ambient, haunting music and aquatic ambience is awesome..

Showing 1-20 of 72 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000