Welcome to the first part of a brand new CelJaded list for Top 100 Best Video Game Music. This initial post features entries #100 to #91.
Make sure that you’ve read the introduction first as it contains all the house rules that this list follows along with a few other musings that you might find interesting.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then also consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all currently published entries and the posts in which they appear.
Also please note that I do not own any of the music samples you see embedded below; they are the property of their respective copyright owners.
#100 – Runner AD2025 …For Alien Soldier
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: Norio Hanzawa | Year: 1995
I’ll let you in on a little secret; I’m not always the biggest fan of Treasure’s audio work.
It seems almost sacrilege to suggest as much considering the sheer creativity of their output over the years, but I think their earlier games have a tendency to sound a bit noisy and abrasive.
So why then I have chosen to begin this list with one of the most noisy and abrasive tunes from their retro darling Alien Solider? Well, because it’s absolutely relentless that’s why!
Any video game that asks you to choose between difficulty levels dubbed “Supereasy” and “Superhard” isn’t looking to be subtle and this opening level background music starts things off with that mindset very much at the forefront!
Runner AD2025 is a pure adrenaline-thumping tune that lets you know exactly what you’re getting into with this high-octane action shoot ’em up from the masters of the genre.
There’s an interesting arranged version included in the sample above too, which may be more suitable for those whining babies who enjoy a little more “clarity” in their music.
Follow Treasure’s example and embrace the chaos!
#99 – A-Type …For Tetris
Principal Platforms: Game Boy, many others… | Composers: Hirokazu Tanaka | Year: 1989
I’ve made my controversial feelings about Tetris abundantly clear, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate its audio design.
Many puzzle games following Tetris have adopted its very deliberate and surprisingly tense style of music. It’s a methodical sound that supports the scenario of dropping blocks remarkably well and really helps relax you into the game’s rhythm.
What’s even more impressive is that the most well known composition (featured above) comes from the Nintendo Game Boy’s tiny speakers!
It proves that good video game music doesn’t always need cutting edge technology in order to be melodic and satisfyingly catchy.
#98 – Clotho …For Columns
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Mega Drive, Game Gear | Composers: Tokuhiko Uwabo | Year: 1990
I just couldn’t resist sticking it to Tetris one last time…
Seriously though, Sega’s colourful Tetris clone has some really good music with the default Clotho perhaps being the most well known and admired.
Columns may actually have been the first video game I can remember playing where the audio tracks are given their own specific names instead of just being named after a character or stage.
The attractive Ancient Greek theme here is found in the other backing tracks which are called Lathesis and Atropos. According to Wikipedia, these are all named after the Moirai; the white-robed incarnations of destiny featured in Greek mythology.
Pretty deep for a simple puzzle game, I’d say!
#97 – Into the Cosmos …For Metal Slug 3
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Neo Geo | Composers: Takushi Hiyamuta, Yoshihiko Wada et al. | Year: 2000
Here’s another track in much the same vein as Alien Soldier from earlier; a relentless shoot ’em up accompaniment that leaves little room for subtlety.
After four straight missions of platforming mayhem, the final level in this third Metal Slug game launches you into space to fight alien invaders from inside a huge attack rocket.
As breakneck as the pace is up until this point, it arguably reaches a fiery crescendo here as you team up with former enemy soldiers to blast away at the UFOs and giant meteors between you and a mothership finale.
Metal Slug 3 is the best entry in SNK’s popular arcade series and with music as good as this, it’s an honour that’s well deserved.
#96 – Boss …For Fantasy Zone
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Master System | Composers: Hiroshi Kawaguchi | Year: 1986
A sinister boss theme from an early arcade shmup by Sega.
Composed by the legendary Hiroshi Kawaguchi, this short but punchy number perfectly caps off all those fluffy levels with a spot of sinister drama.
In 2007 Platinum Games would adopt this track for their own game Bayonetta whereupon it gelled flawlessly with a cameo arcade shooter set piece.
It’s quite telling of the quality in this composition really; that it can so effortlessly support a game over 20 years younger than itself!
#95 – Into Sandy’s City …For DOOM II
Principal Platforms: PC, many others… | Composers: Robert Prince | Year: 1994
If you asked someone to pick their favourite piece of music from DOOM, then the chances are they’d choose the recognizable At Doom’s Gate that plays during the opening level.
It’s a certainly good one, but I prefer this track from DOOM II just a little more.
Named after game designer Sandy Peterson and reputedly based on a debut single by Stone Temple Pilots called Sex Type Thing, Into Sandy’s City is one of the slower offerings in DOOM’s collective sound bank.
That fact doesn’t detract from how suitably eerie and foreboding it sounds though. I especially enjoy the haunting bells and the distant baseline’s churn once you reach the closing minute.
It’s a very thematic piece that stands apart from the more rock-driven influences found elsewhere on the soundtrack.
#94 – I Vow to Thee, My Country …For Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Principal Platforms: PC | Composers: Geoff Knorr, Michael Curran | Year: 2010
When you declare war on a rival leader in Civilization V, the music swaps from a serene peace theme to that of a tense war theme unique to the leader that you’re fighting against.
My favourite of these battle anthems belongs to Elizabeth I of England and it’s a track so good that it was actually used in the game’s official trailer way back when.
The momentum builds in the same epic way as the in-game battles do and the audible hints of maritime flavour only suit the civilization in question even more.
#93 – Toejam Jammin’ …For Toejam & Earl
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: John Baker | Year: 1991
Commonly known as “the theme from Toejam & Earl”.
There are only a small handful of tunes present in this cult roguelike game, but what a cool bunch of tunes they are regardless.
From Big Earl Bump to Rapmaster Rocket Racket, each one has an imaginative name and plenty of quirky beats to help make your journey a little more funky.
This song was probably one of the first times I ever heard something from the funk genre (as sad as that may be!) and I still have a profound fondness for that sound even now.
Toejam Jammin’ is the perfect title theme though, as it instantly sets the tone for what is to be one wacky adventure full of smooth moves and soggy tomatoes!…
#92 – Trinity Escape …For Perfect Dark Zero
Principal Platforms: Xbox 360 | Composers: David Clynick | Year: 2005
This song does not represent a famous scene from The Matrix, but rather one from the mediocre Xbox 360 launch title called Perfect Dark Zero.
Trinity Escape is a difficult mission where your usual stealthy gameplay is jettisoned in favour of close quarters FPS combat and lots of running your ass off.
Sadly it also plays at a frustratingly inconsistent pace. Much of the level is characterized by unnecessary voice acting, an over-reliance on ‘hold this position’ gameplay, and lots of annoying futuristic doors that take forever to open.
The music here is both varied and thrilling however and the composer has done a great job amping up the tension with some heavier riffs. Just listen to that baseline following the 2:00 minute mark!
The game itself might not be much cop, but the music in Perfect Dark Zero is something you can most definitely count on.
#91 – War Has Never Been So Much Fun …For Cannon Fodder
Principal Platforms: Amiga, Mega Drive, SNES | Composers: Richard Joseph, Jon Hare | Year: 1993
Only on Amiga would you find an intro theme like this!
What else do I really need to say though? It’s quirky, poignant and sneakily well named too. Do you think it’s a glorification of war in the name of light-hearted thrills, or a condemnation of bloodshed altogether?
Although its chief composer is sadly no longer with us, his work lives on in one of history’s most memorable video game anthems.
RIP Richard Joseph.