Though I highly doubt I would ever just pick a game based solely on its music, a good soundtrack to a game can make or break it. As a professional musician it is something I pay attention to, and over the years I have started to put together a list of those games that have great music, but are not as well known. Yes Super Mario Bros. The Legend of Zelda, roughly all of the Megaman titles, Metal Gear etc. have great soundtracks, but what about those N.E.S. unsung heroes?
Please be aware that this is not a “Top 10,” nor is this finalized. Please don’t get offended if your favorites aren’t on the list. In fact, post them up under this so we can add to the list.
1. The Adventures of Bayou Billy – First of all just look at the cover of the game… it just screams “I rule.” Despite the overly macho cover, Billy is in fact one of the hardest games out there for the N.E.S. (If you play it all I have to say is… alligators in the first level). However despite the difficulty, the game is quite fun (Driving levels AND light gun supported stages). Best of all is the music. I just love the grooves on each level which will almost instantly get stuck in your head. Also, this is one of the few games that have a BGM test music menu so you don’t even have to play to listen.
2. Amagon - Out of all of the N.E.S. games I have played, this has to be the hardest/weirdest game I have ever played. Some guy in shorts with a rifle running around on an island with giant walking lions… did I mention you can morph into a Tarzan-like behemoth that can shoot lasers out of his chest? The game also boasts a really addicting soundtrack that really adds to the insanity that is this game.
3. Batman – While this was one of the few semi-decent, and by semi-decent I mean it doesn’t completely suck, Batman titles it excelled with the music. I can still hear the first level song in my head as soon as I think of it. That’s probably because the 2nd level was too hard to ever get past.
4. Blaster Master – Blaster Master arguably has one of the best first level songs I have ever heard. Not sure how enjoyable the game was, but at least the music was decent.
6. Contra – Yes while it is a more popular game it still ranks up there in the top ten best game soundtracks. Just think about the base levels with the music. It just added so much tension and excitement to the game it made you jump every time you caught a stray bullet, or hit that stupid electric fence.
7. Dr.Mario – The other day I did an experiment. I captured the audio from this game (the song chill), looped it and played it at a party. Despite my desire to take credit everyone loved it. Dr. Mario truly has a seriously underrated and underappreciated soundtrack.
8. Ghosts and Goblins – Just take a minute and find a MIDI file of the first level. The composer of the soundtrack perfectly recreated the scary/funny feeling that permeates GnG. I mean you have to have some kind of hacky soundtrack for a game that can have you end up in your boxers throwing lances at zombies.
9. Gyruss – If I were to order these in a “Top 10” format this would definitely be #1. This soundtrack really plays up the intense action game-play throughout this game. There are also bonus points awarded to this game because the song is actually a Toccata and Fugue written by J.S. Bach (Toccata and Fugue in d minor). Perhaps it is my music degree, but I honestly appreciated having a taste of classical music in a video game.
11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - This game holds two awards, one for a really good soundtrack, and another for the most annoying and horrible game ever! 20 something years later and I STILL can’t find stupid Splinter!!! It’s one of those games I love to hate. Someday I’ll get the chance to actually beat it...
If you are looking for some more samples of the music from these games check out www.VGMusic.com. The songs there are MIDI reproductions so they do not sound 100% like the originals but they are pretty accurate recreations. If you have any additions please post away!