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).
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.
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.
GamesRadar is the premiere source for everything that matters in the world of video games. Casual or core, console or handheld - whatever systems you own or whatever genres you love, GamesRadar is there to filter out what's worth your time and to help you get even more from your games. We deliver the best advice, the most in-depth features, expert reviews, and the essential guides for all the top games.