Yes er ah ii, every thing boils down to lists at some point and while this isn’t my first it’s certainly been a while since i did one (and completed it mind you).
I wouldn’t call this list a definitive collection, it’s not The Best Video Games Cues in the Entire Fucking Universe or anything like that; these are merely my picks for favorites. Even then however, i don’t know if this is even my definitive list of all time favorite video game tunes, as a list of favorite anythings will likely change over time.
The tunes aren’t ranked as i wanted to be able to complete this post as quick as possible, and i did assign myself the criteria of keeping the songs from games that i have owned and played. So despite the theme from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon being possibly the best song ever written i couldn’t include it into the list.
On a final note the tunes here are rather well-worn, i’m sure most people who like video games have come across many of these so i don’t think anyone will be surprised by what they find here (other than the fact that Mario’s Main Theme isn’t present.)
So let’s get to the list!
Earthworm Jim 2: Anything But Tangerines
This is the oldest and probably the closest song to me on the list, as i have been listening to this tune since i first loaded up Earthworm Jim 2 on my Sega Genesis in the by gone days of 1995. While the Yamaha YM2612 powered rendition is the version that i first fell in love with (and i’m willing to bet most people did, along with the snes version), i didn’t truly hear it until i found a MSDOS version of the game and loaded it up with CD quality sound.
Believe me when i say you haven’t actually heard this song until you’ve heard this version:
Tommy Tallarico distilled all the adventure, weird humour, and dorky heroism of EW2 into 2 minutes of 90’s electronic rock goodness, and it never ever gets old. Play loud for best results.
Quake 2: Quad Machine
Sascha Dikiciyan aka Sonic Mayhem has been responsible for some of the most kick ass sound tracks of the 90’s, and producing some stellar tracks as recently as 2011’s Space Marine:
While some who might read this may cry foul and ask why i don’t like Operation Overlord, or Decent into Cerberon, or Rage i have to admit that a kid i really didn’t like anything other than the main menu music from Quake 2. in fact i usually muted the sound track while i played Quake 2 as it was too abrasive for my radio friendly tastes back then. It wasn’t until recently that i rediscovered the other tracks in Q2 and wondered why it took listening to Queen’s of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf to really like heavy music.
Regardless of all that, Quad Machine remains my favorite track.
Shinobi 3: Idaten
Despite this track coming from the Sega Genesis’ heyday i didn’t actually find this track until i played Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on PS3 a full 13 years later. It’s pretty straight forward why i like it as well, as it’s just a jamming tune and the first time i heard it come on in Shinobi 3 a surprising amount of adrenaline kicked in.
It’s also features hard-hitting drums and a grooving bass track that certainly helped build the Genesis’ legacy of delivering a hard rock sound, and i take it as a definitive example of that unique Genesis aesthetic.
Final Fantasy VII: Anxious Heart
Before the age of voice acting (on console releases that is), much of the emotional weight of large-scale RPG’s had to come from their music. Case in point Anxious Heart was the go to tune in FFVII when a melancholic memory or moment needed a proper underscore. I connected with it immediately, as it spoke to that melancholic angsty teenager i was, and while i’m embarrassed at times about how i acted and thought during those years this song still brings the goods.
Advent Children: Complete gave a short and effective arrangement with better instrumentation.
Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed: Carrier Zone
This is the newest entry onto this list, and it certainly grabbed my subconscious while playing the Carrier Zone track in SSART. As i was always on the edge of my seat, and never not riding a high of the energy, tension, and speed that this song perfectly conveys. It sends chills down my spine, and honest to god brought tears to my eyes.
Truly an example that remixes/remakes can not only be fun, but better than their source materials.
Max Payne: Main Theme
A lot of these tunes come from my youth, which isn’t too surprising if i’ve listened to a song regularly for 15 years it’s likely going to be a contender for this list. This song in particular boasts a strong melodic theme that has led to it getting a few variations; notably there’s the grandiose cello powered theme from Max Payne 2 and then there’s the stripped back and incredibly depressing version for Max Payne 3.
Despite the higher production values of the newer arrangements, which strengthen the theme’s texture, melancholy, and tragedy i always default back to the original. As i find that the newer themes despite sounding better and heightening the emotion don’t have the same heart as the original piece, and as a result they feel hollow and uninspired.
Which funnily enough makes them a lot like the newer games.
DOOM (2016): BFG Division
I made a mistake in my TYTL awards in giving Rogue One‘s music the best score by default, as that award rightfully belongs to DOOM. As technically it breaches new ground for scores with Mick Gordon coming up with an innovative way to make it interactive and responsive to player input, which makes the music for DOOM unique and only possible within its medium:
As for the song itself, sure it’s more monotonous than something like Rip and Tear and less immediately memorable than Gordon’s awesome remake of E1M1 however it beats both of those tracks with its relentless pummeling sound. This is exactly what the Doom Marine has blaring in his helmet while he rips Hell a new asshole, and no other track represents all the violence, speed, and pure healthy aggression than this track. It is no less than Fucking. Metal.
Jet Grind Radio: Humming the Bassline
I’m well aware of the game being properly titled Jet Set Radio, however i’m going to succumb to the petty need to be different and title it via its NA release.
Picking one track that Hideki Naganuma provided for the game is certainly a tough process, as That’s Enough, Let Mom Sleep, and Grace and Glory have all burned themselves into my brain following the many many hours i spent skating around in the game. Not to mention there’s Richard Jacques’ excellent Everybody Jump Around, and all of the tracks supplied by Deavid Soul duo with the standout being ass shakingly great Miller Ball Breakers.
In the end though Humming the Bassline gets the prize for being hummable.
Dawn of War 2: For the Craftworld
I’m a sucker for choir work, and DOW 2’s soundtrack is awash in them. To its detriment i might add, as most of the score provided by Doyle W. Donehoo for all three DOW 2 games is incredibly monotonous with the stand outs being Khaine’s Wrath, Choir of Destruction, and For the Craftworld.
The song just clicks off all the right checks for proper bombastic and epic music, with strong percussive elements, faux latin chanting, and proper grim dark atmosphere. It has always been on my rotation since i first heard it years ago.
Street Fighter 2 Freestyle Dojo
The last is definitely a cheat, as it’s a remix and not a proper track. Though i have to be honest and admit that i listen to it far more regularly than any track from the Street Fighter series, which indeed has some awesome music.
From SFII there’s Guile’s Theme of course (that makes everything awesome of course), Blanka’s Theme, with my favorite being Ken’s Theme. SFIV sports the great VCN Stage track that certainly helped build my excitement for Street Fighter’s triumphant return, Brave or Grave, the hip hop inspired soundtrack to SFIII 3rd Strike, and i can go on and on.
The remix wins out for being simple, memorable, and a perfect remix of an iconic piece of music that i’ve listened to since i was a teen.
THE SHORT LIST
There’s far far too many good tunes that didn’t make the list (as you can tell from all of the links above), but some runner ups would have to be: