Top 10 Retro Video Game Music That You Need to Experience

Tags: #VideoGameMusic ,   #MortalKombat ,   #Castlevania ,   #Soundtrack

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-05-12 18:00:06

While music is in every video game, not many modern soundtracks stand out. Usually, we get ambient tracks that are not very listenable. In other cases, the developers simply license the music from real artists, as EA does with Madden NFL or FIFA series. However, it wasn't always like that, as we had brilliant soundtracks that would make you replay the game you just finished. That's why we're taking you back to the age of classic video game music in our top ten list.

10. Real Bout Fatal Fury Special (NeoGeo CD, Saturn, PlayStation)

One of the best-arranged soundtracks ever

The powerful Neo Geo system gave us not only some terrific action games but also unique soundtracks. However, they often sounded muffled because of all the compression needed to cram them in a cartridge. Yet, when the company released Neo Geo CD, almost every Neo Geo port came with an arranged soundtrack featuring CD-quality music. Thankfully, that was also the case with Real Bout Fatal Fury Special.

As the game takes us around the world, you'll enjoy everything, from atmospheric traditional Chinese music to the perfection that is "TAKU-HATSU Rock," which combines a brilliant guitar solo with Japanese folk music. In "Playing Around with Bulls," the Spanish guitar takes center stage while "Hapushu! Fuuu" is your classical East-meets-West tune, ideal for the Hong Kong stage in the game. If you like this soundtrack, don't miss Fatal Fury Special and Fatal Fury 3 too.

9. Super Turrican (SNES)

Super Turrican takes you through the range of emotions

Turrican is a series of terrific action platformers which always pushed the system limits. The same goes for Super Turrican, which showed us what can be done on SNES visually and musically. As probably the best video game composer from Germany, Chris Huelsbeck takes us through a range of emotions. While some of the songs are sinister, others give us hope or even sound happy.

Huelsbeck is brilliantly using a piano to make it all happen, as it provides such a contrast to industrial techno, very suitable to the game's theme. It's impossible not having these sounds move you in different ways and even motivate you to play more. Start your journey with the Stage 2-4 theme to see what we're talking about!

8. Screamer 2/Screamer Rally (PC)

Both soundtracks are excellent, so give them a chance

The Screamer series is among the favorite forgotten racing games, but it also offers some of the best music! That's particularly the case with Screamer 2 and Screamer Rally acid techno soundtracks by DJ Atomiser. "Kool" is perfect for the snow stage in Finland, while mysterious sounds of "Egypt" take you well... to Egypt! 

While "Earthquake" as a title song is the perfect dance track, on the other end, you have our favorite, "Brutality (Apocalypse Mix)," as the darkest theme on Screamer 2. The nineties gave us so many fantastic rave soundtracks in arcade racers, but it's hard to argue against Screamer rally games! Before it, we had no idea we even liked this kind of music!

7. Batman (NES)

Batman soundtrack is dark but also very catchy

In 1989, Tim Burton gave us a fantastic Batman movie, followed by games for every imaginable system. Among them was Sunsoft's Batman for the NES, which really stood out. Yet, while it's still considered a classic for its gameplay, this title includes some of the best 8-bit music. Somehow, the composer Naoki Kodaka gave us very dark and atmospheric tunes while making them catchy.

While the soundtrack can generally be described as dance/pop, it also features some hard beats with solid bass. Yet, every piece of music here is so much different, from the "Streets of Desolation" on stage one (done by Noboyuki Hara) to the "Axis Chemical Factory" and "Laboratory Ruins." There's no weak theme here, so the only reason the game didn't rank higher is that the soundtrack is relatively short. Yet, the replay value is extraordinarily high!

6. Moto Racer (PC, PlayStation)

Music is the best part of the excellent Moto Racer

Moto Racer came out of nowhere and was one of the sleeper hits of 1997. This terrific arcade racer featured intuitive control, pretty graphics, and an excellent sense of speed. However, it also had one of the best soundtracks we've ever heard. Then 25-year-old French composer Raphaël Gesqua did an incredible job with numerous rock tunes. 

While your typical road tracks are all about stunning classic rock, dirt bike stages are usually more funky or experimental. It's so hard to pick just a few numbers, but the opening "Speed Bay" will get you going, followed by "Rock Forest," "West Way," and the very unique sounding "Lost Ruins." All songs are in CD-Audio format, providing the best possible quality at the time. You can even buy it legally nowadays from Gesqua's website. 

5. Die Hard Trilogy

Die Hard Trilogy gameplay is a bit rough, but its music is evergreen

Putting three games on a disc sounded risky back in 1996, but somehow, Probe Entertainment delivered! As you can guess, every title in the trilogy got a single game of a different genre, and they all played and looked very well. Yet, what always made us come back was the music created by Steven Root. Not limiting himself to a single genre, he gave us almost 20 numbers, ranging from techno to rock. 

Yet, if you play these games, you'll easily connect them with different stages. While snowy Die Hard 2 is all about cold-sounding, Christmassy numbers, New York-based Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance is more urban and diverse. While the game might not appeal to those who didn't play it back when it was released, the soundtrack quality is hard to deny!

4. Streets of Rage 2

Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack is the best work of Yuzo Koshiro

In his illustrious career, Yuzo Koshiro made some brilliant soundtracks, but most will agree that his work on the Streets of Rage series is the best. While he showed his brilliance in the first game, the sequel really made him famous. This beat-em-up was the pure perfection for Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, combining brilliant graphics with addictive gameplay and music that's way better than anyone could have expected.

What Koshiro intelligently did was to set up a tone as stage one opens with now-iconic "Go Straight," followed by unforgettable "Dreamer" and "Under Logic." The soundtrack is heavily influenced by dance music and is one of the best showcases of the consoles' sound hardware. Somehow, even piano sounds so clean and authentic on the "SOR Super Mix." There's no game in this genre that can challenge it!

3. Mortal Kombat II (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Mega 32X)

The only Mortal Kombat soundtrack you'll ever need!

You'll often see the Mortal Kombat II soundtrack ranked among the best ever, but we are always annoyed that the focus is only on the arcade version. While we love the original work by Dan Forden, Matt Furniss brilliantly deconstructed it, turning it into something way more sinister. Even though the Mega Drive/Genesis sound hardware wasn't particularly good, Furniss made it sound so clear while adding powerful bass and drums.

Yet, these are not only remixes of the original tunes, as they are all radically changed, sped up, made more brutal, and way more listenable. Picking a favorite here is almost impossible as everything starts with the best ever character selection screen music before we are taken to some iconic locations. Just check out "Living Forest," "Cloud Armory," "Wasteland," or "The Tomb," and you'll understand why this is the best fighting game soundtrack ever!

2. Transport Tycoon Deluxe (PC)

You'll love the jazzy Transport Tycoon Deluxe soundtrack

It's that simple – Transport Tycoon Deluxe is the best business simulation game ever! In this title, you start in the 1930s as you build your transport company in one of the four geographical settings. As the world and technology evolve, you also need to follow. This means expanding your empire and buying new vehicles, including futuristic trains or planes. Yet, what always keeps you going is the magnificent John Broomhall jazz soundtrack. 

This MIDI music doesn't have the right to sound as good as it did back in the nineties, even on the most primitive sound system of the time. While "City Groove" will forever be our favorite, there are no weak tracks here. This music oozes the atmosphere, and it only contributes to the timeless brilliance of the game. Thanks to the OpenTTD project, the game is better than ever, and you can play it on the modern system. Yet, you don't need to in order to enjoy this magical soundtrack.  

1. Castlevania Symphony of the Night (PlayStation/Sega Saturn)

Atmospheric, catchy, and epic - Castlevania Symphony of the Night soundtrack

When we first played the Castlevania Symphony of the Night, we knew almost nothing about it. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise, as it was a fantastic experience. Yet, as you wander around a massive castle, killing tons of monsters while enjoying timeless graphics, you start to notice that the music is really, really good. While the Castlevania series was always known for brilliant soundtracks, Michiru Yamane took a risky path, not relying on remixing themes for previous games. Instead, we got an entirely original soundtrack that stands out as a piece of art.

The first sounds of "Moonlight Nocturne" will make you passionate about classical music before you experience "Dance of Illusions" or grandiose "Dance of Gold." Yet, you can't dismiss the beauty of the funky "Wandering Ghost" or symphonic rock of "Tragic Prince." Still, there's so much more to discover and appreciate on this timeless soundtrack. Also, check at least a few other Castlevania soundtracks, including the Dracula X Rondo of Blood and Super Castlevania IV. Some of them are even available on vinyl!

While we undoubtedly missed some of your favorite soundtracks, we guarantee that all entries in our top ten are very enjoyable. Even if you've never played these games, their music will still appeal to you and maybe even motivate you to fire them up! 

What are some of your beloved video game soundtracks? What do you think about modern game soundtracks? 

Cover photo: Turntable Lab



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Julian Says:

Batman for the NES, what a classic. Genesis version also has an excellent soundtrack. Sunsoft was the king back in the day.

August 16 at 08:09:04 AM

Zolt Says:

There are some brilliant soundtrack for the newer games, pretty much all of them are retro-inspired, like Shantae. As for the big budget releases, the music is mostly ambiental and hard to notice. Not something you would listen in your car.

August 11 at 09:02:10 AM

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