Last night as I was toiling away at work, a certain track invaded my headspace. Alluring and uplifting, it gave way to the creative flow that churned my mind to focus better, and it expanded to other tracks that made me feel similarly. All led to the realization that I have not spoken much about music on this blog, aside from the yearly SiIvagunner Top 10’s. And nostalgia with video games is something I (secretly?) find immensely enamoring.
To some extent, this list will be a buddy piece to my Top 10 Most Impactful Games of My Childhood article, complete with similar title. As such, the rules that apply to that article apply here, but I’ll list them again (edited) for those who don’t want the extra work:
- I had to have [listened to] the game [soundtrack] before August 20th, 2006 (My 13th birthday).
- The game[‘s soundtrack] had to have had an impact on me as a child, and continues to have an impact on me as an adult.
- I have to remember [listening to] the [soundtrack], even though this may directly tie into the second requirement.
For this piece, though, I will add a little extra to each game listed: I will provide a link to the game’s “MVP” track, the tune that most transports me to the time as a child, sitting too close to the TV and indulging in carefree gaming. But without further filibuster, the top 10 most impactful game soundtracks of my childhood await.
#10: Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense (N64 Version)
A game that not many people know of, Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense was a game I spent a large numbers of hours on on my Nintendo 64. And I make that distinction because the PlayStation version of the game has a different soundtrack. Think of it like a less edgy Twisted Metal, and not quite as chaotic control-wise. What 2nd Offense had over Twisted Metal in my mind, as well as its previous title, was goofiness. Context plays a crucial role in most fictional pieces, but I tend to prefer goofiness over darkness.
What makes this game’s place on the list even more ironic is that it consists heavily of ’70s-esque Disco and funk music… and I don’t generally like Disco or funk. Really heavy on bass, and beats to boogie down to, it took me back to an era I have never inhabited. Even now, I like most of the tracks to this game, even if most don’t have any residual emotional impact. They’re just damn catchy tracks that bring me back to the early days of my N64—which, by the way, still works. Nearly twenty years strong.
MVP Track: Rollerqueen
During each match, one is able to adjust the settings and pick whatever track they wish as background noise. Rollerqueen was always my go-to, so whenever I listen to it, I think back to the times when I was in the snowy “Utah” stage and I would switch the track to Rollerqueen. I’ve done it so often that had it the technology to do so, I’d bet the game would just auto-set to have the track play whenever I was in Utah.
#9: Pokémon Pinball
This game was so aggravating as a child. With the harsh visibility of the Game Boy Color combined with the giant black cartridge, complete with rumble pak, there were a lot of handicaps to getting any good at this game. But the soundtrack didn’t let you know it.
All the surface value tells you is that this is a trite game full of Pokémon flavor and bouncy energy. One would think they’re walking right into a carnival with how whimsically the tunes play. Once the player starts up the main game, they’ll realize quickly that it was actually a ticket to the Shadow Realm. Even so, the constant repeating of the main track on the title screen is something so nostalgic to me that it almost hurts. Over and over until my head started to believe the music was ingrained inside me.
MVP Track: Catch ‘Em & Evolution Mode (Red)
When I played Pokémon Pinball a billion times as a kid, 999,999,990 of those times were spent in the Blue Field, which is one of two stages the player can choose to play pinball in, the other being the Red Field (like Pokémons Blue and Red). This heavy favoritism boiled down to one thing: Blue Field was way easier. Despite this, I always preferred the Red Field’s overlay music, and the “Catch ‘Em/Evolution Mode” theme was the most exciting track to hear, since most of the game’s appeal is the Pokémon incorporation to pinball. I adored the chance to add to a single run’s collection of pokémon, and the evolution mode specifically was much more intense. The linked track just revives all sorts of fond memories of trying desperately to control that FUCKING BALL so I could evolve my pokémon.
#8: Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine, also known as “The first Gamecube game I ever played,” has a lot of nostalgic value to me. Not just through its music, but every facet of its existence. The graphical presentation, the weird clean-’em-up gameplay feature, the arrival of a “shadow” counterpart; it was magical. Even today, Sunshine has a certain zaniness to it that makes it among my favorite Mario games ever. People like to shit on F.L.U.D.D. and its importance to the game, but personally, I thought it was an amazingly entertaining pastime.
The game’s soundtrack delivered similarly, impacting me with the calming and occasionally nerve-inducing sounds of a tropical adventure. Almost like they took inspiration from the spicy theme of Super Mario World and indulged in it in giant spurts. Upbeat, intermittent, ominous, or relaxing, there are so many tracks from Sunshine that instantly transport me to the sights of Delfino Isle from many years ago.
MVP Track: Delfino Plaza
There is no debate. Delfino Plaza is the definitive Sunshine track. It serves as the hub world’s theme and magnificently captures the spirit of the game’s aesthetic, while simultaneously being incredibly catchy. Running around the Plaza, spraying innocent bystanders with water for no reason, collecting secret Shine Sprites, and flipping incessantly with fruit in-hand, my younger self was rarely happier. That sweet melody will never grow old, even if I do.
#7: Pokémon Silver
My Pokémon career technically began with Pokémon Stadium (if I recall correctly; I was five-ish). And while I enjoyed battling and taking random photos of pokémon, its soundtrack didn’t have too much of an impact on me (though I do adore the Castle Theme). What started my mainline journey with Pokémon was Silver, which spawned by giant affinity for Gen 2, Feraligatr as best starter, and adoration for simplicity in Pokémon games. Even if the sound quality of the tracks were hampered by the original Game Boy’s limited hardware, the catchiness of the beats were not hampered at all.
What makes this a somewhat surprising placement on the list (in terms of position) is that I have a lot of nostalgic value for this game, soundtrack included. What makes it somewhat lower is that while many tracks are nostalgic to me, there is no one track that is incredibly nostalgic. When we venture further into the list, these games will typically have one or two great tracks that immediately immerse me into the days of before. Silver has a large selection of tracks that do it adequately, though not amazingly. The combination of it all is what gets it its place.
MVP Track: Goldenrod City
If there is a track that has that certain magic, Goldenrod City takes the coin case. Playing the game as many times as I have (probably tens of times), Goldenrod City has always had this “home” quality to it. Something about the size of the town compared to others, the amount of things to do, the importance of the area in relation to breeding (long straight paths for back-and-forth travel, with a breeder just slightly south of the city), and the peaceful music just gets me. I adore the area and it imprinted in me a fondness for big, bustling areas in future Pokémon games.
#6: Pokémon Snap
Now here’s a game I never talk about, despite it having a profound impact on my younger life. Pokémon Snap was so accessible that even my mother, who does not like video games, played it quite often. For a small child that was very, very fond of Pokémon, simply given the opportunity to go through stages and capture the likeness of my favorite pocket monsters, it was a delectable, ever-repeatable treat. Every secret, every scripted event is imprinted into my brain for the rest of my life, no matter how much I may wish to forget.
Now, from an auditory standpoint, this game isn’t really that strong, either. The difference between this and Silver, however, is that there aren’t many tracks to this, somewhat like Pokémon Pinball. The lack of a selection makes the main tracks all the more memorable, and should one have liked them, that’s all the more reason to cherish them, because you’ll hear it forever. For me, it was always a decent soundtrack. But a few stand out more overall.
MVP Track: Cave Theme
I am in a constant dilemma of fluctuation when it comes to musical preference. The question always presents itself: upbeat and energetic or soulful and somber? For the MVP track of this game, it came down to Cave and Valley, polar opposite tunes that mean a great deal to me. In the end, I went with Cave because when I thought about the context of its selection, one had to access it through a secret entrance. That sort of “I found this place by circumstance,” combined with the harmonious, almost chilling theme is more nostalgic than an otherwise memorable track. I love both, but something about the Cave is really soothing, as it was as a child.
#5: Soulcalibur II
Sometimes I think back to that moment in Toys ‘R’ Us, when I played the demo of this game for the first time. That single moment opened up an entire franchise for me to adore. I think that’s beautiful, don’t you? Soulcalibur II is a fighting game that happened to include Link from The Legend of Zelda as a guest character in the Gamecube version of the game. While I may be biased, I think Link is the most appropriate character to guest star in this series and no one will ever top him (though Geralt from The Witcher III was also a great choice). Something about it stuck with me, and its soundtrack impacted me for pretty unusual reasons.
Compared to every other entry on this list, Soulcalibur II‘s soundtrack is weird. This game incorporates a lot of standard instrumentation as opposed to traditional game audio beeps and boops. And while it did not have me bobbing my head with every track, it did something else that some games on this list couldn’t: provided emotional clarity. Many tunes from Soulcalibur II have an essence of tone to them, whether sturdy and intense, painful and dramatic, or slow and tranquil. It had a profound impact on my (admittedly long) process of appreciating emotional connection in video games. It’s one thing to have a game be fun, but when I genuinely appreciate and care for the things occurring, it’s a whole new layer of adoration that could hook me for life. The soundtrack made sure I would remember my adventure throughout not just mentally, but emotionally.
MVP Track: Healing Winds (Reprise)
Y’know how I know this was the right choice for MVP? The moment I played the track and linked it in the text above, I got chills. That cold, freeing, elating sensation of having your spirit escape from the physical self is something I use often as an indication of connection. Healing Winds (Reprise) is a tranquil, beautiful piece from the game that only plays in the options menu, but sometimes it’s worth it to listen to something like this. And while this is just my perspective, I think this track embodies everything that this game means to me. Emotional, uplifting, and completely its own. Fighting and action aside, it’s the promise of hope that really gets me. Listening to the remixed version in Soulcalibur VI for the first time made me cry.
#4: Star Fox 64
Let me tell you a story. It might come as a shock, but I implore you to believe it as fact. In my childhood days, I had a Nintendo 64 console. With it, I had a decent selection of games. Some games weren’t as recognized by the general public, while others were must-have first-party titles. I had Starfox 64, which was among my most-played first-party games on the system. What did I not play (or own)? Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Donkey Kong 64, Paper Mario, F-Zero, Kirby 64, Yoshi’s Story, Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel (not technically first-party, but still enormously popular), and Super Smash Bros. And I dare call myself a Nintendo fan?! Yeah, well, Star Fox 64 ended up being among the few big first-party titles I owned from day one, and it benefited from it.
This isn’t restricted to just 64, but Star Fox‘s franchise in general has some amazing tracks. 64 just happened to be the one I owned, and playing the blasters out of it as a child, there are many, many, many tracks that are highly nostalgic to me. Going through Corneria, the asteroid belt, Sectors Y and Z, Venom, among others, was always accompanied by really fitting musical scores. If not for all the charming one-liners and the sounds of space battle, it may have been worth it to turn everything off and just listen to the music.
MVP Track: Father’s Funeral
Oh, hey, chills are back. Anyway, this track meant a lot to me as a child. It only plays during the menu select screen following the title card, and considering the tone of the game, it’s a really odd musical choice. Slow, haunting, and slightly inviting, there’s some essence to it that rings similar to Healing winds before it. Knowing the story of Star Fox and stumbling upon the actual name of this track, though, completely adds an emotional factor to the intention of this music’s play in the game. Almost like we, as the player, are in Fox’s shoes and are choosing to start our mission, knowing full well the potential consequences of doing so and the legacy we have to fulfill. It’s fucking beautiful and I love it. I had no awareness of it as a child and still I felt something. Like coming full circle.
#3: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
To those who remember the list of impactful games, this should not come as a surprise. Ranking #1 as the most nostalgic game of one’s childhood, its musical aspect should also have been really high on the charts, as well. And it is! While I am not nearly as fond of the game as I once was, its soundtrack continues to stand as time machine of quality, throwing me back to being ten-years-old and experiencing the colorful array of characters and settings for the first time.
Everything about the presentation of Thousand-Year Door clicked with me as a child. Even now, it holds up better than most games from that era, especially those going for a more mature, realistic aesthetic. Its storybook flair was enhanced by its adventurous soundtrack, which carried a large variety of moods that reflected the narrative and the events that transpired in each chapter. While I’m not super fond of many tracks the game has to offer, I can’t say I dislike any of them. And though I’m not about to download the whole soundtrack, replaying the game offers nostalgic value in nearly every auditory facet. Even the stupid cricket sound your hammer makes with a badge is nostalgic to me!
MVP Track: Main Theme
This. Fucking. Track. The very first one that plays (outside the cutscene intro) is so unbelievably nostalgic to me on account of one thing: anticipation. I played this game many times as a child, by which I mean I rented it many times and finally owned it years(?) later. Every time I opened the game, it meant getting farther in this seemingly endless game with all sorts of different worlds to explore and enemies to tackle. And every time I opened the game, I was greeted to this track, which began simply enough, like a curtain unfurling. After twenty seconds, it just goes off the rails and turns into this ultra-catchy ensemble of chaos that makes me want to get up and dance. It was a gorgeous entrance to an otherwise amazing game (as a child) that made me appreciate it all the more.
#2: Donkey Kong Country 3
How nostalgic is this game to me? For a long time, I believed this was the first game I ever played. It was actually the original Donkey Kong Country according to my father, but this is the game I remember playing before any other. As a stupid child, I had no gaming skills whatsoever, so I could never get past a certain point in the game (the second world). So the first world, especially, is so high on the nostalgia charts that looking at the coiver alone takes me back to the first stage in the entire game. The beautiful presentation, responsive controls, and catchy musical track. It was all my baby brain could handle.
I prefer Donkey Kong Country 2 in terms of overall quality, but my heart clings to this entry as my personal favorite, if only for those longstanding memories of playing it at every. Waking. Moment. I didn’t care if Donkey Kong wasn’t even in the game at that point—I couldn’t care. All that mattered was the beautiful game in front of me cascading me with tracks that will stay with me until I die. Most notably in the first world, but for that limited basis, it only made those specific tracks all the more memorable.
MVP Track: Stilt Village
The track to the very first level of the game. Kiddy Kong sitting idle at the beginning of the stage (because girls were icky and I didn’t want to be them), this song playing, and hiding inside the wooden structures found across the stage are not just an image, but a moment that is picturesque in my mind. I remember very little from my time prior to age five, but that is one portion of time that I remember not just vaguely, but clearly. It’s kind of amazing. Stilt Village, while not incredibly impressive overall, gets the MVP nod because of its importance to me. In that moment, a passion sprouted. That was the track that accompanied the image, and in that time, I discovered what it was like to mentally recall enjoying video games. I don’t even know how I could top that… oh wait, yes, I do.
#1: Super Mario World
When I was thinking of candidates for this list, the first game to come to mind was Pokémon Snap, because I was entranced by the Cave theme. After that, I liked the idea enough to draft a Top 10 of it, and when I thought of nostalgic soundtracks, my mind jumped straight to an obvious conclusion: Super Mario World. Donkey Kong Country was allegedly the first game I ever played, and its third rendition was the first game I remember playing. Super Mario World was the first game I ever beat (albeit with help). Battling Bowser as he flew around on his clown car, seeing him fly away as I dealt the last hit, then having the credits roll as I bragged to anyone who would listen, it was the most proud I had been in my very young life.
But this history lesson is more about the music, and when I think about it, I don’t think there’s a single track that isn’t nostalgic to me. And I don’t mean in the Silver “It was sorta kinda nostalgic or whatever,” but really nostalgic. The first world, the second world, and portions of the third world were the peaks of nostalgic value, and Star World was all my little brain could take at that point. The music that accompanied the game throughout was the perfect blend of cheery and foreboding that I could appreciate even with zero knowledge of anything. But the one track that stands out above all—in this game and every other game ever—is the very reason I decided to go through with writing out this Top 10.
MVP Track: Castle Theme
Hello, chills, welcome to my soul, where you will take permanent residence because dear lord this track destroys me in all the best ways. This beautiful, wonderful, eerie, soul-crushing, emotionally-overflowing track beat the shit out of my child brain and took its lunch money and came back for more eight billion times. The Castle Theme is beautiful in that while Stilt Village taught me joy, Castle taught me fear.
Bowser is a substantial threat and should be taken with the utmost seriousness, and this amazing track does that so incredibly well. In my adult life, I’ve often preferred the goofy, colorful antics of the Mario series, but seeing the possibilities of something dark and sinister, through the eyes of a child, makes for an incredibly gripping commitment. If not for how it was done in Super Mario World, I’m unsure of how I would have differed now. For that, I thank it tremendously. Silly as it may be, this track nearly reduces me to tears knowing how much it impacted me.
Honorable Mentions: Mega Man X4, Metroid Prime, Custom Robo, Sonic 3 & Knuckles
For more video game Top 10’s, check out the accompanying archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.