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Retro Respawn – Best Video Game Music of the Fourth Generation

Music is a great bringer of nostalgia for many. Be it a great album, a television theme tune or, for the case of this feature, a memorable background track to a video game, music can set off a person’s pleasure receptors like little else.

One era of gaming history that I feel benefits from some excellent tracks would be none other than the fourth generation. Yes, the crackly tracks of the Super Nintendo and SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis may cause younger readers of this piece to bristle with distaste, but to us older folk they are a magical gateway to a time when life seemed more simple and when optimism, rather than barefaced and crushing pessimism, were the order of the day.

I have picked the Top Ten Tracks that I personally believe to be the best of the era. Top Ten lists can be divisive, especially amongst hardened Video Game Enthusiasts, so I’d like to go over some ground rules first before proceeding.

All of this is my own personal opinion. I’m not claiming it to be an objective list, so please don’t get your under garments in a twist if you see a track you don’t like.

I am only going to select music from games I have actually played, so if you’re wondering why your favourite music from some obscure Japanese Turn Based Fantasy Elf-em-up is missing, that’s why.

It’s one track per game. This is to avoid one or two games claiming all the plaudits (Because I could honestly do that considering the top two in this list)

Click the green text to bring up the music on YouTube

So with that clear, let’s start off with Number 10!

Number 10 – Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium: Opening theme – Super Nintendo

It’s already very much on record that I’m a big fan of professional wrestling, so it was only natural that at least one of these tracks would be from a wrestling game. Ironically though, it’s from one of the games I didn’t play until long after the generation had come to a close. During my younger days, I wasn’t really aware of the import market or the existence of Japanese Wrestling. So, I never got a chance to play this game during its original run in the early 90’s.

As I got older, I became more aware of Japanese exclusives. Combined with a burgeoning love of the Japanese version of sports-entertainment™ (also known as “Puroresu”) I stumbled upon the existence of this beauty.

The game itself is excellent and I love the opening theme tune, complete with a pulsating cut-scene featuring a number of crunching wrestling moves. Nothing gets me more riled up and ready for a session of Lariats and Suplexes!

Number 9 – Super Soccer: Argentina’s Theme – Super Nintendo

As I mentioned in a previous Retro Respawn feature, Super Soccer may not be the stone cold classic to me that it is for others, but it certainly has one hell of a soundtrack!

Every team in the game has their own theme music that plays in the background during their matches, and Argentina’s theme is by far my favourite. It’s a high tempo tune that fits a team who were renowned for their flair. However, there’s also an edge to it that belies a side that always had penchant for treachery when the chips were down and victories were required.

As a piece of music, it suits the former World Champions perfectly and is great to listen to when in the thralls of a high scoring contest.

Number 8 – Street Fighter II – M. Bison’s Theme – Super Nintendo

Let’s face it, the SNES adaptation of this game’s soundtrack is a genuine triumph. Yes, some of the tracks don’t quite match their Arcade counterparts, but this is still a game that had some of the best music ever to be heard on a home console.

Why did I go with Bison’s over everyone else’s? I think it’s the calm sense of dread that the music used to fill me with whenever I heard it in my youth. I always knew that I was cruising for a bruising when I heard it. As Bison whipped off his cape in preparation for battle and the tempo of the music began to slowly speed up, I steeled myself for an epic battle that I knew was incoming.

One of the best themes on any game ever.

Number 7 – Bonanza Brothers: Bonanza Elegy – SEGA Mega Drive

This quirky and unusual game took all of seconds to capture my heart with the snazzy tune of its opening level. I used to spend hours playing this particular game with my friend Adam. Playing two super thieves, you have to raid houses, banks, and secret laboratories, all while evading capture from a slew of dopey guards.

This theme sets the scene perfectly, with it being both upbeat while also having a distinct mischievous tone. It fits a game of thievery and subterfuge undeniably well and remains one of my all-time favourite Video Game music’s from any era.

If you’ve never played this game, I strongly encourage you to do so. I chuffing love it!

Number 6 – Super Mario All-Stars: SMB 1 and SMB 3 Underground Theme – Super Nintendo

They say you shouldn’t tinker with a classic. Remixes of popular songs and melodies can sometimes land the composer in hot water, especially if the new remixed tune fails to match up to the original. Thankfully, this is one of the occasions where the new piece of music not only matches the original but even goes some way to exceeding it.

By adding drums into the background and giving the theme an all-around more echoey and cavernous feel, Nintendo expertly made use of the superior sound of the SNES to enhance this iconic track from the original Super Mario Brothers.

Fresh and new, while also doing right by the original, this tune is one of the best remixes Nintendo has in its vast musical collection.

Number 5 – Rise of the Robots: Loader Theme – Super Nintendo

Isn’t it funny how some games, despite being tosh as tosh can be, can still bring something of worth to the table?

Rise of the Robots is known for being one of the most over-hyped and despicable pieces of tripe to ever find its way to the home consoles. With horrid gameplay and shaky animations, this game is deserving of nothing but scorn for everything barring its soundtrack.

Created with the assistance of Queen supremo Brian May, ROTR’s soundtrack has some real gems in it, most notably the theme from the battle with the pathetic “Loader” Robot. Just listening to this theme makes me disappointed. Can you imagine if a soundtrack this good was actually attached to a game that wasn’t the absolute pits?

Disappointment aside, this remains one of my favourite Video Game music’s and it easily rests at #5.

Number 4 – Sonic The Hedgehog: Greenhill Zone- SEGA Mega Drive

The theme tune that defines an entire character, and indeed an entire generation for some. Sonic The Hedgehog was a huge hit and one that made the Mega Drive/Genesis a legitimate colossus in the marketplace.

There’s not much I can say about this one really. It’s possibly the best opening level theme tune of all time. The minute it kicks in, you instinctively know what you’re getting into. It encapsulates the speed, the sharpness, and the overall pizazz of Sonic in one fell swoop.

It’s spectacular!

Number 3 – Sonic The Hedgehog 2: Chemical Zone – SEGA Mega Drive

Sometimes a sequel can be disappointing and fail to build on the success of the original. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is very much NOT one of those sequels. SEGA built on an excellent game and ended up with an exceptional one. Graphically, gameplay wise and, indeed, musically, Sonic 2 was a massive step up from its already exemplary predecessor.

There’s some great music to be found in this game, but to me the Chemical Zone theme is by far the best. A fierce and exciting track that pumps adrenaline straight into your FACE, from the second it starts.

How do you improve excellence? Chemical Zone, that’s how!

Number 2 – Donkey Kong Country: Aquatic Ambience – Super Nintendo

From the frantic pace of the previous tune, we move onto the much more considered and calmer water level music from Donkey Kong Country.

This is a game with a wealth of great music, such as the ever intensifying theme of final boss King K Rool, the industrial foreboding of Fear Factory (No, not that Fear Factory) and the heart pounding beats of mine cart madness.

Good as those all are, for me Aquatic Ambience is the best music in the game. It’s not for nothing that you’ll find a wealth of remixes and rearrangements of this track all over YouTube. There’s an almost operatic quality to it, with a synthesized melody that shimmies and dances from note to note. It’s rare to find music like this on a platformer. Mario’s underwater music, though excellent over the years, has never really captured the feel of Aquatic Ambience. Yes, Dire Dire Docks is an absolute classic but more in a chilled out sort of way. It lacks the force and weightiness of DK’s first musical underwater jaunt.

This is one of the tracks that defined an era in gaming, yet there is still a mighty piece of music out there that stands above it.

Number 1 – Donkey Kong Country 2: Stickerbush Symphony – Super Nintendo

This may be controversial, it may not be, but to me there isn’t a single piece of Video Game music that means more to me than Stickerbush Symphony.

The minute I hear it, I’m transported back to those halcyon days of youth. DKC 2 is probably my favourite game of all time. As with Sonic 2, Rare took what made the original DKC so great and enhanced it, while adding new features on top.

The music in this game is outrageously good, with even the music played at the end of the stage evolving and changing as the game progresses. There are levels set in theme parks, pirate ships, marshes, lava pits, and even giant beehives, each having incredible music that sets the scene perfectly.

As the name would suggest, Stickerbush Symphony is set in the levels where you have to blast your way through a world of brambles and thorns. Being shot from barrel to barrel, you know one mistake will leave you impaled on the thorns while the stage specific death music blares at you (oh yeah, there’s stage specific death themes in this game. Go to YouTube, someone has made a video of them all)

The stage theme overall is atmospheric, with a constant base beat in the background, but where it really takes the step from being a great track to an all-time classic is the middle eight. That stretch of music, followed by the horns that come after it, just tugs at every single one of my nostalgia nerves and never fails to make me smile.

Retro writing is, at heart, about memories, be they pleasant or negative. There is nothing but positivity that I feel for this track. Not only is it the best Video Game music of the fourth generation, it may very well be the best Video Game music period.

Thanks for reading

Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum

There’ll be no plugs this week as I’m writing this over a week in advance. As you read this, I’ll be on a mate’s STAG and probably getting very drunk. I’ll look forward to the hate mail when I get back and overcome my hangover.

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