If you have no idea what the “30-day video game music challenge” is, here is a quick introduction. I was made aware of this challenge recently through a YouTube channel called GameSack (check them out!). The challenge is as follows: for a period of 30 days, you must come up with a video game piece of music that respects a given theme, following this sheet:
It’s no secret to the people who know me: I love video game music. I couldn’t wait the whole 30 days, instead I created an ordered list of 30 songs in one sitting. I had lots of fun solving this challenge on HARD mode, especially because of the limitation that no game must be repeated over the entire list. This made picking the perfect track for the perfect day a heartbreaking task that becomes a game within itself. If you’re curious, here were GameSack’s picks (Joe went out of his way to pick really obscure games, if you had heard of some of these prior, congratulations!).
Day 01: Title Screen - Title Screen (Gunstar Heroes)
Here I start things off with a bang. The explosive title screen to one of my favorite run ‘n gun games of all time: Gunstar Heroes. I was first made aware of this game thanks to the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console. It also introduced me to a video game developer that would also become my favorite of all time: Treasure Co. Ltd.
Fun fact: you cannot hear the full version of this song during the actual title screen because the demo mode launches too early. Instead, you must head to the sound test menu if you want to hear the full piece.
Day 02: Opening level - Kingdom of Zebulos (Rocket Knight Adventures)
In my opinion, the first level in a video game is its most important. It has to leave an impression on the player to make sure they continue playing. If we exclude processing power and graphical capabilities from the discussion, I think that the first level of Rocket Knight Adventures is the one that leaves the best first impression, thanks in no small part to its amazing soundtrack.
Full disclosure, this is my favorite platformer of all time.
(Warning: audio levels in this video are unusually high)
Day 03: 8-bit - Artificial Intelligence Bomb (8Bit Music Power Final)
There is a lot (a LOT!) of 8-bit music. Choosing just one song to represent this entire category is unfair. I thought of using this battle theme from Lagrange Point on the Nintendo Famicom, which uses special audio chips to implement FM sounds usually found on 16-bit devices. However, my pick for this category is a relatively new composition (2003) from a chiptune artist simply known as “naruto”. Not only does this song seem to push the sound capabilities of the NES hardware without using additional sound chips, it is also just damn catchy! Strangely enough, this song became somewhat of a meme in 2011.
The song was included in the 8BIT MUSIC POWER FINAL compilation, which is essentially a music album on a Famicom cart. I must add, this project was entirely created by fans and released in 2017.
Day 04: Music from a console exclusive series - Sector 1 (Power Blade)
It was extremely difficult to find music for this category. The way I understand it, the song has to be from a video game series that is entirely represented on a single video game console. This means any successful video game franchise is probably automatically disqualified, since great franchises usually migrate to next generation consoles. Worst of all, some series from the past often get rebooted many generations down the line. It also disqualifies any series that were eventually ported to PC, or received a home port from the arcade. Since we need music from a series, it also means the game either must have a sequel, or be one itself.
At first, I thought about choosing music from Adventures of Lolo 3, since it is my favorite puzzle game on the NES (well, excluding Tetris…). However, I later found out that this was a console port of Eggerland from the same developer (HAL Laboratory) on the MSX. I then had my looks on Super Spy Hunter from the NES (check it out!), but was disappointed to learn is got a reboot on the PS2. Nothing to cry about, though, the reboot is worth a look as well! To be fair, Spy Hunter got its start in the arcades, so I don’t even know why I’m talking about it. Super Spy Hunter deserved a mention somewhere! 😄
After spending some time searching through video games series lost through time, I stumbled upon this rockin’ tune from Power Blade on the NES. This game and its sequel are very sough-after by video game collectors. Especially Power Blade 2!
I will leave a special mention for Startropics, an NES exclusive series by Nintendo themselves that never left America. The OST doesn’t get my blood pumping as much as Power Blade, but you can bet many people a rightfully very nostalgic for it!
Day 05: Hub world / Overworld - Main Theme (Final Fantasy VII)
I was fortunate enough to receive a (used) PS1 for Christmas in 1999. Final Fantasy VII was the game that was included. I was around 6 years old and all I knew at the time was the NES and the Sega Genesis.
The game felt absolutely alien. I was not used to video games relying on text (I was just learning how to read, and had no notion of English). The music sounded so real, it felt like I was playing a “grown-up” game (which was pretty much the case).
Fast forward a few years, and I was able to get the mechanics down to progress through the game. The overworld map is only accessible after roughly 5 hours of gameplay (when you know what you’re doing) and completely changes the pace of the game. To hear this airy theme as the world opens up before you is just awesome. Despite all its flaws, Final Fantasy VII is awesome.
Day 06: Makes me feel relaxed - Last Wave (Out Run)
Out Run is my favorite driving (not racing!) game of all time. It was released in the arcade in 1986, making it incredibly advanced for its time. The best thing about it is that it’s still totally playable today. And as you enter your high score, you watch the sun set on some Californian boulevard (presumably) while listening to the Last Wave. The day is over, but it was a day filled with incredible experiences.
Day 07: Indie game - Facility (Xenocrisis)
This 16-bit game was part of a Kickstarter campaign and was released in 2019.
The game is a top-down “twin stick” shooter along the likes of Smash T.V. or Robotron 2084. If you are a fan of metal, prepare to headbang to this song. And if you like the song, I strongly recommend you check out the game!
Day 08: FPS or 3rd person shooter - Commander Deko (Sin & Punishment: Star successor)
As you might have noticed by now, I am biased towards older console games. Unfortunately for me, the FPS and 3rd person shooter categories are really under-represented on older consoles. Sure, the Nintendo 64 had many great shooters with great music (GoldenEye, Perfect Dark), and PC gamers had no shortage of great FPS games (Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, …), but I have a hard time connecting with these games. I can’t connect with everything! 😃
For this category, I will go in an unexpected route and select a song from Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, which is an on-rails shooter for the Nintendo Wii where you see your character in third-person. The game was developed by Treasure Co. Ltd, which means heavy explosions are to be expected. It is a great action title, surely one of the best available on the Wii.
Day 09: Licensed game - Building Theme (Dick Tracy NES)
Dick Tracy for the NES is an objectively bad game due to its unnecessary difficulty. It’s a shame, really, because the game has a great premise, great atmosphere, great visuals, and above all, great music. This song plays when you enter a building filled with thugs separating you from a key suspect.
Day 10: RPG battle - Pokey Means Business (Earthbound)
Earthbound is a game. A weird game. A quirky game. A confusing game. A wonderful game. This song plays during the first phase of the final boss. The first few notes sound like they come straight from an 8-bit console, which is completely strange for an 16-bit game. It’s on purpose: it makes the player feel uneasy. And suddenly, the real “groove” begins, and unleashes double drum pedals sounds like you have never heard coming from a Nintendo game.
I love Earthbound.
Day 11: Puzzle game - 2 Player Versus (Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine)
For Day 11, I didn’t want to choose something too obvious like the Tetris theme. I wanted to choose a song that didn’t seem to belong in a puzzle game.
Dr Robotnik’s is the only port of Puyo Puyo released in America. It has little to do with Dr Robotnik’s (the main villain in Sonic the Hedgehog), other than the fact he’s the game’s final boss. This theme plays when you challenge your opponent in multiplayer.
Fun fact: This theme is called “VS Satan” in Puyo Puyo.
Day 12: Makes me sad - Hope & Joy Peace & Love (Gradius Deluxe Pack)
If you live outside Japan, you probably have never heard this arrangement of the Gradius theme before. Gradius is a very influencial shoot-em-up from Konami, first released in the arcades in 1985. The first time I have heard this arrangement was from the “Gradius Arcade Soundtrack” CD. Check it out here, this version is played by the original composer of the song Miki Higashino. The arrangement is melancholic, it was the last piece of music the composer would work on for Konami before leaving the company. I find it to be a very powerful and emotional piece of music, especially considering how sad it is that Konami is such a shell of its former self.
Anyway, fast-forward to today, I have recently discovered that this arrangement was not first introduced in the Gradius Arcade Soundtrack album, but rather in the Gradius Deluxe Pack, released exclusively in Japan for the Playstation and Sega Saturn.
Day 13: From a game I don’t like - Title Screen (Solstice)
Solstice is not a terrible game, but it certainly is not a great one. However, upon hearing its title screen music, credited to the mighty Tim Follin, you would probably start the game expecting an absolute masterpiece. This song creates unreal expectations, and sadly the game does not live up to them (not even close). Any time I power on Solstice, it is to hear its title screen theme while I do something else. I have never played the game for more than 10 minutes at a time, and I have owned this game for over 7 years now.
Day 14: Featuring vocals - Dreams of Our Generation -JP- (Rhythm Heaven Fever)
Video game music has a troubled history in vocals. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t. For this pick, I chose the song that plays during the credit roll for the Wii game Rhythm Heaven Fever, specifically the original Japanese version. I can’t quite explain why, but this song always makes me feel optimistic and joyful. “It’s sad that it’s over, but we remember the wonderful time we had”, kind of feeling. If you like rhythm games and don’t mind wacky humor, Rhythm Heaven Fever is indeed a wonderful time.
Day 15: Boss battle - You Will Know Our Names (Xenoblade Chronicles)
Around 2010, when the Nintendo Wii was at its peak popularity, a game called “Xenoblade Chronicles” was released exclusively in Japan. And it was almost left at that, if it weren’t for Operation Rainfall, a group of gamers that massively campaigned to get the game released in the West. And you know what? It did!
As a result, the press coverage that Xenoblade Chronicles enjoyed was massive. Many gamers ended up picking the game from this coverage, even if they were not RPG fans. The game was special.
When I first booted up Xenoblade, for some unexplainable reason, I was brought back to Final Fantasy VII all over again. I was captivated by this game’s universe, its cinematic vision, and especially its music. Xenoblade offers great freedom to the player, and does without the random encounters. You can walk freely anywhere an just bathe in the atmosphere.
And then, at some point, you will decide to have an encounter with a towering enemy that is 60 levels higher than you. And “You Will Know our Names” will start playing, and you will realize you made a grave mistake. Indeed, you will remember that enemy’s name.
What is so great about this boss theme is how it progresses. The first few seconds of the song are filled with dread and despair to make the player feel like they’re doing a huge mistake and should run away. However, as you get better and better in the game, you will eventually be able to challenge these enemies without having to run away. By doing so, you will be able the later parts of the song, where it morphs into an anthem that makes you feel invincible. And then you might win, just by the skin of your teeth! It’s an immensely satisfying experience.
Day 16: 16-bit - The Void of Space (Verytex)
Hitoshi Sakimoto produced some legendary pieces for the Sega Genesis. This composer used his custom sound driver to craft his songs, making them easily recognizable across different games. His songs feel like they are pushing the Genesis to its absolute limit.
Verytex is one such game with Sakimoto compositions, but it has the distinction of also being entirely directed by Sakimoto himself. Thus, the music really is at the forefront (it even keeps playing when the game pauses, and does not restart when you lose a life). While Verytex is an average shoot-em-up at best, it’s very apparent that Sakimoto gave it his all in the sound department. This is 16-bit music at its peak.
Day 17: Music I never get tired of - Unforgotten Memories (Halo 2)
Unforgotten Memories is a piece of music that could fit anywhere. The only reason it’s considered “video game music” is because it belongs to a video game franchise. It could easily fit in any modern superhero movie, drama, fantasy film. It could be used as study music. It’s a powerful piece that slowly disarms you. Personally, it makes me reflect on what we must sometimes lose to gain something. For a song from a war game, that’s quite an accomplishment.
I might get tired of playing Halo after a few hours, but I will never get tired of hearing this song.
Day 18: Game Over - Game Over Yeah (Sega Rally Championship)
Getting a game over usually stinks, because it’s a double whammy: you lose your progress and you also have to hear a song which has the sole purpose of making your feel defeated.
At least, Sega Rally Championship gives you dignity in defeat. It’s a positive theme that makes you look ahead. Sure, you lost, but it was a good attempt. And, hey, maybe you’ll do better on your next try! Game over, Yeah!
Day 19: Cover/Arrange - Mario Mix for Piano (Andreas Kuch / jackie1188), remix of Super Mario Land overworld
I first encountered this song in my younger days as I was surfing Newgrounds. It was featured in a parody called “Dumbass Mario” by Bigfoot3290. The video was since deleted from Newgrounds (old content regularly gets deleted from the website), but it survives on deviantart if you’re really that curious.
I find this cover fascinating because it squeezes so much out of the relatively simple overworld theme from Super Mario Land. And, you know, I’m a sucker for classy piano arragements. 😃
(if you’re wondering why this video shows a DDR-style game with the song, it’s because it’s the only video of the song I could find on the internet. I’m the creator of this “stepchart”, I guess it shows how much I love this arrangement)
Day 20: Racing game - Can You Feel the Sunshine (Sonic R)
Okay, this pick is a bit of a goof, I will admit. At first, I wanted to choose Magical Sound Shower from Out Run, but I realized I had already used music from Out Run in this list! I didn’t know where else to look, since Out Run is pretty much the only racing (driving) game I enjoy playing.
But then, from the deep corners of my memories, I remembered the existence of Sonic R, this strange Sonic “running” game from the Sega Saturn. While Sonic R is a technical masterpiece for the console, its gameplay is close to garbage in terms of value. Thus, this piece, Can You Feel the Sunshine, feels completely out of place when playing the game. It’s a song (with vocals!) about running into the sunset at full speed. Imagine hearing this song while running into every possible wall due to slippery controls. At some point, the frustration is so immense that the entire experience becomes comical.
In the end, Can You Feel the Sunshine does bring back good memories!
Day 21: Frustration - Stage 2 (Gaiares)
Gaiares is a game that frustrates me to no end. For starters, it’s an absolutely gorgeous game for the Sega Genesis. It also incredibly innovative: your ship is able to steal your enemies' powerups (not unlike in Einhänder, published by Square 8 years later). But… Gaiares is hard. In fact, aside from Undead Line set on hard, it might be one of the toughest 2D shooter I have ever played (excluding more modern bullet-hells). It doesn’t help that this shoot-em-up is “checkpoint based”, meaning every death brings you back to a previous checkpoint instead of letting you continue.
On an unrelated note, I just want to add that Gaiares' ship explosion sound is the most flaccid, depressing explosion sound in video game history.
The first stage in Gaiares requires practice, but it can be easily cleared. The second stage, however, is a constant road block for me. It requires my full attention and best reflexes, which I can’t always deliver when I’m trying to relax by playing video games. Thus, as much as I want to love Gaiares, when I hear Stage 2’s music, I know that I might soon have to power it off.
Day 22: Town/village - Lynna City (The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages)
I like the Zelda games, but not the ones you might expect. The games I played the most in this franchise, by far, were the Oracle games on Game Boy Color: Oracle of Ages, and Oracle of Seasons.
This village theme from Oracle of Ages brings me back to a happy place, back when I barely knew enough English to get through the game.
Day 23: Underrated - Mystic Cave (Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
The Sonic the Hedgehog series is known for its great music. You might find it strange that I pick a song from one of its main instalments as an underrated theme, but hear me out. I challenge you to find a top 10 list anywhere that lists Mystic Cave as one of the best songs the series has to offer. If you do find one, congrats! As of this date, I currently can’t find anyone that seems to agree.
People are quick to point out Ice Cap zone (which I find overrated), Chemical Plant and Emerald Hill zones, … but somehow, they always forget the total banger that is Mystic Cave zone. I wonder why: as a kid, this zone (and thus, song) was always the main highlight of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for me. And it still is!
Day 24: Constantly stuck in my head - Silver Lining Arrange (Escathos)
Escathos was a late revelation for me. This shoot-em-up has unimpressive graphics, but that’s the only negative I can find about it. It feels as fresh as it feels retro. It’s everything I love about video games in one neat little package. And its first level theme is just as iconic: it contains a bit of everything, and is propulsed with a high dose of energy.
When I think of “video games” as a generic term, this is the theme that pops up in my mind, more than any other.
Day 25: Gets me pumped - Pac Jump Up! (Pac-Man Championship Edition 2)
How many video game songs could you play at a rave without anyone noticing? Okay, bad question, there are probably a lot of songs that could fit in this category (Batman & Robin on the Sega Genesis probably being the earliest example I could think of). However, I’d argue that Pac-Man Championship 2 has the most rave-capable soundtrack. Any time I hear Pac Jump Up!, I feel energized. This applies to any track from this game: it just makes you want to jump in excitement. Namco at its best!
Day 26: Music I like from a game I haven’t played - A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic (Katamari Damacy)
Surprise! I have never played a Katamari Damacy game! Who would have thought. It seems like it would be exactly my type of game, but, for some reason, I just never got my hands on it. That doesn’t mean I have never heard its delightfully weird soundtrack, though! Thanks to games like Stepmania and FlashFlashRevolution, I was able to discover music from many video games without having to play the games themselves. And Katamari Damacy is one such game.
I’m particularly fond of A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic because I could never imagine it be from a video game, but I’m also convinced the developers found a way to make it work in the game’s strange universe.
Day 27: Handheld game - Title Screen (Wario Land 4)
Back in the early 2000s, the Game Boy Advance was king. If you exclude game re-releases on the GBA, you’ll notice most of the early titles on the platform were lackluster. There was one exception, though: Wario Land 4, which is in my opinion the crown jewel of the Game Boy Advance. It was a short game that did not overstay its welcome, but it was filled to the brim with personality and good, quirky, strange, if not bizarre music.
The title screen music, where Wario in his convertible is driving in the desert, facing the left side of the screen, is simply iconic. In a few seconds, you completely notice the game’s strong personality.
I find this game’s strong sense of identity very enjoyable, considering the fact that Wario Land is not a huge series to begin with. It’s not like Mario or Zelda, blockbuster series that aim to sell as many units as possible. In Wario Land, Wario is doing his own thing, whether you like it or not. It completely transpires in the musical score: genres are bended, and blended together into a collage that, as a whole, somehow stands on its own.
Before the arrival of the Nintendo Switch, handheld games always were to console games what console games were to arcade games (read: underpowered). But the Wario Land 4 theme, inexplicably, always makes me forget about that. It makes me feel like a total boss.
Day 28: Makes me feel nostalgic - New Age (The Incredible Machine 3)
Plot Twist: I have played PC games as well! The Incredible Machine (known in Quebec as “Professeur TIM”) used to be one of my favorite games. It was like playing with virtual K’NEX (read: Legos for hipsters)! The music in TIM was diverse and attempted to imitate existing pieces of music. I recommend you check out the complete OST.
Growing up, it was eye opening to hear so many “new” takes on music. Looking back, it was not unlike attending music class while playing with blocks in a sandbox.
The most nostalgic theme for me, by far, is simply known as “New Age”. Even younger, this theme managed to make me reminisce about things (what things? I can’t remember…). That’s the mark of a truly powerful piece of music.
Day 29: Final boss music - Xiga (Radiant Silvergun)
Final bosses in video games, by law, should be intimidating. Not always in the way the player imagines, but somehow, a final boss must be the climax of the game. Otherwise, why bother?
When I started collecting video games, Radiant Silvergun for the Sega Saturn was my ultimate dream. My “final boss”. Back then, Youtube barely existed: viewing footage of the game in high quality was simply not possible. Video game emulation for the Sega Saturn was still in its infancy: on typical machines of the time, emulation was not an option.
So I was stuck reading articles about how Radiant Silvergun, a Japanese-only game released on a system I did not own, was apparently the best game in my favorite genre of game: the shoot-em-up. And I was also well aware of its reselling value of ~200 USD. The game was simply out of reach. But I swore that, one day, I would get my hands on it.
And I eventually did. Because, let’s face it, when you want something as an adult, you get it. 200 USD is not that much to fulfill a “dream”, all things considered. It still was quite the project: to play the game, I had to buy the console, the game, and an adapter to bypass the Japan region-lock. Being able to play this game was the peak of the video game collecting hobby for me. It was the most epic video gaming moment I have experienced, and I doubt anything will surpass it. Virtual Reality came close.
Since then, the game was re-released on Xbox Live Arcade for 10 USD. Videos of it can easily be found. The game has lost some of its mystique. But one thing has not changed: the epicness of its final boss.
Xiga is the final boss of Radiant Silvergun, which was the final boss of my video game collecting. And I have no words to describe how awesome it is, just have a look yourself. Just remember to…
- BE PRAYING
- BE PRAYING
- BE PRAYING
Day 30: Credits - Now You’re a Hero (You Have to Burn the Rope)
Thanks for reading through my list! I hope you discovered some new pieces of video game music, and maybe some new games to enjoy.
The credits of You Have to Burn the Rope, an online Flash game from ~2008, are not actually my favorite credits theme. That honor probably goes to the credits theme of Wario Land 3, a delicate piece that could be considered a tearjerker depending on your background.
But Now You’re a Hero is irresistible for the type of list I’m making right now: it’s a song that tells you congratulations on beating the game, and retells everything you had to go through to win. Side note, the game is usually beat within 30 seconds. Yes, the credits last longer than the game itself!
Listen to my playlist!
If you want to listen to the songs in order, here is a YouTube playlist I created.