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11 Nintendo Songs from The '80s That Are Still Insidiously Catchy

You might not have been the same kind of nerd as I was. You might, you lucky devil, not have even been a nerd at all. But if you're wondering why a particular nerd subset is flying its goofy Legend of Zelda hats at half-mast today, wonder no more: Hiroshi Yamauchi, the no-nonsense businessman who turned a playing card company into an all-nonsense videogame titan, is dead. For those among us whose first musical loves had titles like "Overworld Theme"--well, it's a REALLY bad time to tell us about how badly the Wii U is selling.

In lieu of a black armband I've solemnly prepared this listicle, built to document the 11 insidiously catchy, NES-generated songs from Nintendo's golden age that I've been listening to ever since I heard the news. Important and related mourning fact: It's hard to remain solemn while you're listening to the theme from Super Mario Bros. 3.

11. DuckTales - The Moon (1989)

One of the first and most important disappointments to learn as a small child is this: Nearly every videogame based on a TV show or movie is terrible. DuckTales is the rare exception, which isn't too surprising given its Capcom pedigree.

The moon theme is universally considered the standout from its great soundtrack. I'm partial to The Amazon, but I'm not about to fight the moon fans on this one. They have way more skin in this game.

10. Contra - Boss Battle (1987)

I don't recognize this one at all without my character's strangled, endless death rattles drowning it out.

 

9. Blaster Master - Area 1 (1988)

8. Metroid - Brinstar - Intro (1986)

A major but slow-burn fault of the NES's sound hardware: It is unable to distinguish between Determined, Gritty Marches (the lifeblood of today's videogame soundtracks) and Giddy, Wholesome Struttin' Tunes.

This is Struttin' Music, and as such completely inappropriate for this solemn occasion. Except inasmuch as Yamauchi-san would have wanted us to strut.

 

7. Marble Madness - Level 1 (1989)

One of the serendipitous ways really good NES music got made: Developers desperately trying to cram music somebody made with actual instruments down into a couple of slightly different-sounding beeps.

The NES version of Marble Madness has a minimalistic, almost unsettling soundtrack (to go with its minimalistic, abstract graphics.) It got that way because Rare, who handled the port, had to remake the arcade soundtrack, which is similarly minimalistic but more Tron than unsettling.

6. Kid Icarus - Underworld (1986)

More strutting. Which is fine, because I'm not prepared for the 300 -inspired, Dark and Intense Kid Icarus Reboot that would come if Nintendo were ever bought out by an American publisher.

 

5. Super Mario Bros. 2 - Main Theme (1988)

Of all the unforgettable Mario themes Mario 2's ragtime-y shuffle still feels freshest, or at least the least-turned-into-everyone's-ringtone. Being the black sheep of the series probably helps.

4. Earth Bound - Fallin' Love, And (1989)

Full disclosure: My girlfriend and I met and bonded over our mutual love of the Super Nintendo version of EarthBound , which is the greatest videogame ever made. Secondary full disclosure: I love this game (and its music) enough to make that first disclosure.

The game was written by Shigesato Itoi, a famous writer whose fame is particularly hard to explain outside Japan; for the music he recruited Keiichi Suzuki, who fronted a well-regarded and bizarre new wave band called MOONRIDERS.

Suzuki and friends arranged very weird, '80s-pop versions of most of the songs for the soundtrack. Relevant weirdness example: "All That I Needed (Was You)" is performed in-game by the preteen heroes; as a nod to that, I guess, Suzuki decided to use a classically trained boy soprano as the lead singer.

So just in case you were wondering what a boy soprano would sound like in a song with multiple guitar solos:

 

3. Tetris - Music 3 (1989)

I will fight Music 1 and Music 2 fans on this one. I will fight them until somewhere around Level 19, when I lose control of the I-blocks and my carefully constructed towers rapidly descend into madness.

2. The Legend of Zelda - Intro (1986)

The way the barely coherent story scrolls up from the bottom of the screen is appropriate here, because this is the Star Wars of videogame themes: The first time you hear it you're worked into a foreboding, exciting action-movie fervor, and the million times you hear it after that you're taken back to that place.

Speaking of which, if this article inspires you to go back to this place, and it's maybe been a while, take my advice: This game is exactly as hard as you remember it being when you were a small child, your life as an adult has done nothing to prepare you for it, and you are maybe even worse at it now than you were then. Draw a map. Draw. a. map. It's dangerous to go alone.

 

Hon. Mention: Battletoads - The Song You Hear After You Die In The Turbo Tunnel AGAIN, And You Throw Your Controller At The System, And It Resets, Basically, But The Screen's All Garbled, And You Blame Your Little Brother For It - 1991

1. Mega Man 2 - Intro (1988)

Please understand: It took everything in my power to not make this a list of 10 songs from the Mega Man series. Every robot master's surprisingly complex song is burned into me at this point, and while I think 3 (which came out in 1990) plays a little better, 2 is where the music reached sudden maturity.

Nothing stands for all the great music in this series better than the intro, which comes from a more innocent time: A time when we still thought cutscenes were kind of neat. I had a hard time choosing it instead of, say, Bubble Man's theme, but this is an appropriate No. 1 for another reason, one that alleviates my guilt: For some reason, the Valley is a nexus of great Mega-Man-influenced music.

The Minibosses' 10-minute, note-perfect Mega Man 2 medley is indisputably their opus:

And Random, aka Mega Ran, got his pseudonym and some of his beats from the Blue Bomber. I'm sure all of us were thinking about writing an epic, completely earnest hip hop noir about Splash Woman and the last-robot-standing subtext of Mega Man's game design, but he just beat us to it.

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