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Gaming's greatest pause jingles

Among all the innovations gaming has introduced over the years, the greatest may be one of the simplest: the ability to pause your game indefinitely, whenever you want, for whatever reason. It’s a feature that’s largely taken for granted, though, and that can make it a little harder to notice when a developer applies its own unique touches to the function. Still, plenty do, and their games are made more memorable for it, even if only a little bit.

In the name of celebrating these subtle but important efforts,we’ve pulled together some of the most iconic, memorable and flat-out awesome pause tones we could find. A few are obscure, but many of them, surprisingly enough, are among gaming’s most recognizable sounds. Like this one, for example:


Super Mario Bros

This is the most obvious one, and in fact it’s difficult to imagine a sound more synonymous with the concept of “pause” than the two trilling notes that rang out whenever early Mario fans had to run off and take a leak.

       

A lot of that has to do with SMB’s ubiquity in the mid-‘80s – once you’ve heard a sound a few million times, it’s pretty much etched in your gray matter forever. But the pause sound, like everything else in the game, has an elegant simplicity to it. It’s clear, distinct and so instantly recognizable that even people with vague memories of the game itself can remember what it means.

That may also have something to do with the fact that the sound – or at least something awfully similar to it – would occasionally show up in other, non-Nintendo games, like Sega’s Streets of Rage:

       
Above: Coincidence? You decide

Less distinctive is the 16-bit variation from Super Mario World and Super Mario All-Stars, which took the 8-bit bell noise and turned it into something more like a malfunctioning clock:

       

Still recognizable, if you owned a Super NES, but nowhere near as iconic. That’s probably why, in more recent games, Nintendo’s gone back to the familiar ringing (albeit slightly sped up).

       


The Konamitone

Back in the ‘80s, Konami really seemed to like leaving certain creative fingerprints on all of its games. The infamous Konami Code was re-used in several games, for example, and it wasn’t uncommon for enemies from one game to show up in another series like it wasn’t even a big deal.


Above: Those monsters and eggs, for example, are straight out of Contra (and also Aliens) 

And then there was this jingle, which popped up when you’d pause just about every game Konami published for the NES:

       

Like Mario’s famous pause jingle, it carried over into the 16-bit generation, in games like Sparkster and Super Castlevania IV, although it was nowhere near as common; by this point in gaming history, pause tones in general were starting to fall out of favor. Maybe it was because trying to play in slow-mo (which meant your high-end controller would auto-hammer its own Start button until you told it to stop) would turn every game into a painful cacophony of machine bleats.

       


Mega Man

No less iconic than the Konami tone (but much easier to place), this pause sound – which was really more of a weapon-select-menu sound, but whatever – is as unforgettable and essential to Mega Man fans as the Mega Buster’s plink, the click-click-click of boss-room doors or the echoing disappointment of Mega Man exploding.

       

It also comes up a lot throughout the series, seeing as you’ll hear it every time you switch to a different weapon or gadget – which, in the course of a normal Mega Man game, tends to be necessary at least six dozen times per level.


Above: Ugh, fine, I’ll use the Bubble Lead 

Topics

Old-school

42 comments

  • Americanadnan - September 19, 2010 6:36 p.m.

    A lot of good pause music on here, one that I liked, but didn't make this list was from the Viewtiful Joe games, granted they weren't really music, but I like how they have a director guy say "I'll get the door" or "Make sure you flush the toilet" since it actually related to reasons I'd pause the game for.
  • marioman50 - September 18, 2010 7:10 a.m.

    I kinda dig the Ballad of Gay Tony pause menu music. I could imagine myself meditating, drawing, or sleeping to that music. Something peaceful.
  • chainsawninja600 - September 17, 2010 3:43 a.m.

    If you play both battle toad pause things, syncing them at just the right moment, it sounds awesome.
  • ViolentLee - September 16, 2010 10:58 p.m.

    GoldenEye's elevator-esque pause theme rules! I can't believe I had forgotten SF II's pause tone -- especially after trying so often to get the best upskirt view of Chun-Li (gotta love that big roundhouse kick she does!).
  • eternal85_gamesradar - September 16, 2010 9:16 p.m.

    OK OK, I gotta say, my favorite pause music was always "Kung Fu" for NES. It had the Bo Do Dup for the pause and the Dup Do Bo for the unpause. I loved it!!!!
  • Cleanser247 - September 16, 2010 8:08 p.m.

    I just love game music. Jeremy Soule, Marty O'Donnell, and Garry Shyman are some of my favourites!
  • TheWebSwinger - September 16, 2010 7:55 p.m.

    Awesome article! And...wtf Zombie Nation.
  • crumbdunky - September 16, 2010 3:25 p.m.

    Lollage! The Zombie nation one-it's my GF's message tone for when she gets a text-we didn't even know where our daughter got it but she said we'd never guess what game it was out of! She'll be gutted when I tell her we found out.
  • Lyon85 - September 16, 2010 2:33 p.m.

    I would give anything to hear the pause theme from Time Pilot on the ColecoVision. I'm sure it probably sounds better in my memories though.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - September 16, 2010 12:08 p.m.

    Awyeah, Scott pilgrim's on the list.
  • OnyxOblivion - September 16, 2010 11:11 a.m.

    Ummm...Crackdown?
  • philipshaw - September 16, 2010 10:38 a.m.

    I knew GTA IV would be on here because the menu music in that game and the DLC is great. You do make a good point in that TBoGT music is the only one you would listen to
  • jmcgrotty - September 16, 2010 8:01 a.m.

    This is pretty stupid. No one in their right mind would play any games not muted. So, the sounds should never be heard.
  • SkyDragonc5 - September 16, 2010 5:57 a.m.

    Why don't all games still have these. Then again it would ruin Dead Space...
  • lhjwamangoo - September 16, 2010 5:25 a.m.

    Samurai showdown jingle pops up to me.
  • bball42242442 - September 16, 2010 5:22 a.m.

    Goldeneye Wii better keep this, or somehow try n make it better... if it isn't the bond theme though.... i won't be as happy... (can't complain i'm gettin the collectors either way so w/e)
  • djsizzlefresh - September 16, 2010 2:46 a.m.

    All of these are pretty good but they are nothing compared to the Saints Row 2 pause menu theme
  • batmanboy11 - September 16, 2010 1:51 a.m.

    Good list. Glad to see Scott Pilgrim and GoldenEye get on.
  • TheWebSwinger - September 16, 2010 1:38 a.m.

    Such a cool article.
  • elpurplemonkey - September 16, 2010 1:37 a.m.

    Definitely one of the more original features I've read. Pause jingles are really something most people never notice. I'm glad you included GoldenEye, the whole process of pausing- from the watch to the music- is just too cool.

Showing 1-20 of 42 comments

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