There’s something to be said about a game’s soundtrack that instantly throws you into the action, setting the pace and tone for the experience the moment you take your first digital steps into a new and pixelated world. While lush visuals and gripping cinematics are a fine way to entice players into a game’s universe, I’ve always found myself more drawn to tunes that perfectly mesh with the on-screen action, crafting the mood and building the title’s atmosphere more than anything else when firing up a new game.
I’ll be excluding the usual mustachioed plumbers, green tunic-sporting swordsmen, and spiky blue speedsters in this list, not for any lack of love for the franchises, but solely due to the fact that if you’re reading this article then it’s likely those timeless melodies are likely burned into your very marrow.
Without further ado, here’s a list of some of the most instantly-infectious stage 1 themes compiled for your listening pleasure.
Magician Lord- Dale of the Evil Gods (Neo Geo)
This driving track instantly throws you into the totally radical 1990’s fantasy action with its pumping percussion and killer synths. If a track has ever gotten me excited to run around in my purple pajamas, tossing fireballs at an entire bestiary of fantasy foes and morphing into a fire-breathing dragon, this would be it.
Streets of Rage- Fighting in the Street (Sega Genesis)
I’ll never forget the first time my awkward and pasty 8-year-old self fired up Sega’s now iconic 16-bit beat-’em-up for the first time. The classic brawler’s soundtrack, composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro (of Actraiser and Ys fame) is heavily inspired by early 90’s acid house and eurobeat music, and was the perfect soundtrack to the pipe-swinging, phonebooth turkey-eating action. Seriously, the entire soundtrack feels as if The Shamen scored a buddy cop action flick, and that’s a goddamn glorious thing.
Progear No Arashi- To The Blue Sky (Arcade)
If you’re a fan of Bullet Hell shooters and haven’t played Capcom and Cave’s stunning CPS2 collaboration, you owe it to yourself to do so. This charming gem of a shooter is a sublime experience, and the subtle but potent track that opens this gorgeous shmup’s high-flying action is a perfect fit that grabs you and doesn’t let go with its gorgeous pianos and sweeping synths.
Contra 3: The Alien Wars- The Streets of Neo City (Super Nintendo)
If ever there was a game that showcased the beefy power of the Super Nintendo’s beloved sound chip, Contra III: The Alien Wars is it. Konami, no strangers to mustering the mightiest music out of Nintendo’s hardware, really went above and beyond with this action-packed track that compliments the on-screen destruction. Strap on your headphones and spread shot this tune into your glowing red ear cores. It’s worth it.
Doom- At Doom’s Gate (PC)
From the moment you step into the bloodied Martian moon base gone to shit, this fearsome Slayer-inspired MIDI riff latches onto your face like a bloodthirsty hell-spawn and doesn’t let go. As someone who was used to the slow and simplistic (though still atmospheric) tunes of Wolfenstein 3D, this face-melting track took me by surprise, introducing me to the demonic FPS with the subtlety of blunt force trauma to the scrotum.
Ys- First Step Towards Wars (TurboGrafx CD)
Yet another track composed by Yuzo Koshiro, this serves as the ultimate field music to any RPG. Fast-paced and epic in its composition, this was a fantastic song to introduce console gamers to the CD era of gaming, as well as the Ys series’ brand of lightning-fast action. Having said that, I REALLY need to get my PC Engine Duo repaired. Like, yesterday.
Shadowgate- Entryway/Main Theme (NES)
While a superb adventure in its own right, the 1989 Kemco port of ICOM Simulations’ classic 1987 MacVenture title is also widely renowned for its jaw-droppingly epic soundtrack. From the moment you step into the hallowed halls of the game’s titular castle, commposer Hiroyuki Masuno’s adventurous main theme coaxes you into Shadowgate’s haunting and dangerous world of mystery and adventure as you embark on your quest to find and defeat the wicked Warlock Lord. If you haven’t had the chance to experience Shadowgate yet, the game’s impressive remake is just around the corner courtesy of Shadowgate creator’s Karl Roelof’s and Dave Marsh’s (you can find our interview with Dave here) new studio, Zojoi. Pre-0rderering the “Hero” tier version will net you the digital soundtrack, which features 25 tracks based on Masuno’s masterful score.
Are there any tracks you think deserved a spot on this list? Be sure to share them in your comments, we’d love to hear them.