I don’t think there’s a single gaming website on the whole internet that hasn’t written a feature on the best game music. Usually it’s the same old songs from the same old games —Zelda, Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Parappa the Rapper…. Yes, I know just as well as anyone that the Moon theme from DuckTales is one of the greatest things ever, but I wanted to take this time to draw attention to some of the more overlooked game soundtracks.
Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (Nintendo DS)
Though far from an obscure game, Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (or Days of Ruin for all you Americans) doesn’t get the love it deserves when it comes to killer soundtracks. The Advance Wars series has always had good music, but they suffered from the GBA’s lacklustre audio capabilities and Dual Strike’s overuse of record scratches. It’s not the early 90’s, guys. Dark Conflict’s soundtrack is much better, featuring higher quality audio, and a lot of shredding guitars. Each character in the game gets their own theme music and yes, most of them sound like they came straight out of a rock opera. The standout track in any Advance Wars soundtrack has to be the music that plays when you activate your character’s CO power, and Dark Conflict’s is no exception. Nothing gets you fired up for a big offensive like shredding guitars.
Super Mario Land 2 (Game Boy)
The overworld music from the original Super Mario Bros. has no doubt been stuck in the head of anyone from the moment they turned on the game. But what about the overworld music from other Mario games? Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Land seem to get their fair share of remixes, but not Super Mario Land 2. Obviously the actual game wasn’t as memorable as the ridiculously catchy overworld music. Or maybe everyone just got sick of it because almost every track in the game is an arrangement of the same tune. Even the boss battle music.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (am I missing a colon?) sounds like no other Final Fantasy soundtrack out there. Sure, there are a few traditional sounding classical pieces, but for the most part The Crystal Bearers is a bizarre mix of different styles of music. And that’s why I love it so much. No other RPG has managed to successfully blend classical music, rock, jazz, country, western and big band pieces that sound like the main street music at Disneyland. Granted, none of it is quite as memorable as, say, Battle on the Big Bridge from Final Fantasy V, or Final Fantasy VII’s One Winged Angel, but it’s definitely an ambitious soundtrack that certainly turned out a lot better than other Final Fantasy soundtracks that tried to mix things up a bit (here’s looking at you, X-2).
Mr. Driller: Drill Land (GameCube)
This is, without a doubt, the most epic soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a puzzle game. You can rave all you want around Tetris and Dr. Mario’s catchy songs, but neither of those games featured freaking opera! Oh, Mr. Driller: Drill Land, if only you actually came out outside of Japan so more people could know of your ridiculously awesome soundtrack. Seriously, the above clip is the only track from the game posted on the whole of Youtube. Then again, it’s not hard to see why people overlooked this obscure game when it looks like this:
Rakuga Kids (Nintendo 64)
Another game you might not have heard of (due to it never hitting American shores) is Rakuga Kids, a strange (yet remarkably pretty) fighting game from Konami where all the characters were pictures drawn by kids with magic crayons. Even stranger than the concept was the soundtrack, which consists almost entirely of surfer rock. It’s a weird choice of genre to use and not entirely fitting with the whole theme of the game but the songs are nice, and the sound quality is a lot higher than you’d expect from a Nintendo 64 game. Music from Rakuga Kids also showed up in a few of Konami’s Pop n’ Music games, for the few people who care.
Mickey Mania (SNES)
Kingdom Hearts gets a lot of praise for having soundtracks that fit the theme and mood of whatever movie its referencing, but Mickey Mania was doing the same thing almost a decade earlier. Mickey Mania was basically a platformer that took place in a bunch of different Mickey Mouse cartoons. It wasn’t a terrific game (no Mickey Mouse game should be this difficult) but the graphics and, more importantly, the audio all fit really well with the theme of each cartoon the game was referencing. To be fair, this next track isn’t from a Nintendo game at all, but some of my favourite pieces in the game are exclusive to the Sega CD/Playstation version and I couldn’t help but put them in.
Silver Surfer (NES)
Time to wrap up this article with some good old NES music. Silver Surfer was far from the best game ever, but this excruciatingly difficult game did at least have a good soundtrack going for it. A lot of music on the NES was really basic —consisting of little more than a simple tune and a bass line—but Silver Surfer’s music features really complex melodies, neat drum effects and a whole bunch of crazy stuff underneath it. To use a cliché, the music from Silver Surfer really gets the blood pumping, like the soundtrack to any schmup should. It doesn’t have that many different tracks, but Silver Surfer has one of the greatest soundtracks you’ll ever hear on the NES’s sound chip. Just don’t actually try to play the game or anything.