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Some games are instantly forgettable. Those that are not invariably feature an excellent soundtrack. Usually the only way to enjoy these tunes is to play the game, but thanks to YouTube, we can enjoy them anytime!
Here we’ve collected 10 of the best retro video game soundtracks that you can listen to now.
Released in 1990 on the Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari St (among others) this game proved revolutionary and gave the C64 a second wind thanks to the revolutionary use of an altered colour palette (up to this point programmers had been using the same 16 colours on every single game released) and a collection of graphics that demonstrated power never before seen on the 8-bit home computer.
Just as impressive, however, was the soundtrack by Chris Huelsbeck, which you can enjoy here:
The Turrican Soundtrack Anthology Volume 1, an updated version by Chris Huelsbeck, has recently been released and can be purchased for a not-unreasonable $10.
Grand Theft Auto Vice City (2003)
Each of the radio stations in Vice City runs for around an hour and were so popular that they were released on CD shortly after the game.
While there were some excellent stations, perhaps the most satirical was V-Rock, hosted by self-absorbed, supposed rebel DJ Lazlow (real-life “deej” Lazlow Jones) which not only features an on-air meltdown but some superb 80s rock from artists like David Lee Roth, Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister, Autograph and in-game rockers Love Fist (no, really).
Grand Theft Auto (there is now an online version) has come a long way since, but Vice City remains one of the most memorable gaming experiences.
Final Fantasy X (2001)
Amazing, evocative music by Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano permeates Final Fantasy X, the tenth instalment of the popular RPG. Upon its release on the PS2, the game had already achieved a cinematic scope in the number of people who were working on the title (released in 2014 as a PS3 and PS Vita title) and the music sits alongside striking graphics and voice work to create an original and unique game world.
That’s an immense 4 hours, 26 minutes of stunningly beautiful music right there.
As FPS blasters go, Quake is up there with the best. Certainly influential on many of the games that came after, it combines the puzzle-driven path through devilish danger introduced in Doom with improved visuals and a far superior soundtrack, written and performed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.
Running almost two hours, the soundtrack features songs with a hellish collection of titles ranging from “The Hall of Souls” to “It Is Raped”.
This isn’t the sort of music you’ll be playing to your grandma. If you’re nostalgic for Quake (or want to frag grannie) you can play Quake Live in your browser (based on Quake III).
GoldenEye 007 (1997)
One of the games that made the Nintendo 64 the must-have console of its time, GoldenEye 007 – based on the 1995 movie GoldenEye – also holds the distinction of being the best James Bond videogame ever released at that time (an honour that is still held in the eyes of many).
Particularly strong on this game was the soundtrack to the Facility mission, which blends atmospheric chimes and a driving riff with elements of the original Monty Norman theme tune.
Listen to this, and you’ll really feel like a secret agent!
Want to be the Brosnan Bond? Setting up a Nintendo 64 emulator to play GoldenEye 64 is surprisingly simple.
Half Life 2 (2004)
Perhaps one of the most-loved videogames of all time, a major part of the post-pan-dimensional-alien-conquest scenario played out here is the atmospheric soundtrack, highlights of which include the low punctuating bass lines and the silence/occasional sting that completes the post-industrial world subjugated and oppressed.
Half Life 2 is a superb game already; the soundtrack just adds to the endless replayability.
Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
I first discovered the Duke on my uncle’s PC in 1997, where he had a demo of the first level installed. Hooked, I played it until I completed it, and then played it again. Drawn in by the character and the rocking theme tune (“Grabbag”) I was eventually able to complete the full game – trips into space and all – a few months later when I got my own PC.
While the theme tune didn’t sound great at the time – most due to a poor sound card – it remains memorable.
For added bonus rocking, here’s a Megadeth cover of Grabbag:
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
A groundbreaking action adventure game that is still playable, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the fifth game in the series, and introduced a few gameplay methods that can still be found in 3D adventure games. The game was released on a 32 MB cartridge, the biggest available at the time, and featured this stunning 2 hour, 10 minute soundtrack by Koji Kondo.
As well as its initial N64 release, Ocarina of time has also been ported to GameCube, the Wii (via Virtual Console) and the 3DS.
When you talk to non-gamers about videogame soundtracks, you’ll probably get a blank look – until, that is, you mention Tetris, the ridiculously addictive Gameboy puzzler from 1989.
Although the game was released five years previously, Tetris only became a phenomenon after being bundled with Nintendo’s successful handheld device. So popular is the tune (a version of the Russian folk tune “Korobeiniki”) that it has been covered and released by at least five recording artists.
Mario 64 (1996)
Proving that the second half of the 1990s was when videogame designers finally realised that good theme tunes were necessary for a successful game – and when storage capacities meant that it was possible to include such tracks – is Mario 64, at the time the ultimate version of the adventures of the Italian plumber with a bad habit of eating wild mushrooms
With tracks that range from the cheesy calypso Latin of the main theme to the atmospheric, this is a soundtrack you could quite easily listen to in your car.
Soundtracks To Gaming Greats
Some of these soundtracks can be purchased now on MP3. The others you’ll find on your retro gaming systems and emulators, as well as on YouTube.
How do you feel about retro videogame music? Do you have any favourites? What tunes would you like to see added to the list? Tell us in the comments!