I’ve always loved video game music. I listen to it in the car, while cooking, doing chores, and getting work done on the computer. When I was a teacher I played piano renditions for my students when they would test or work on projects (check out this playlist on Spotify that’s great for focusing). There are so many aspects that factor into what makes an amazing game, but I personally believe the soundtrack is paramount, especially when it comes remembering your time with it fondly. These are my personal top 10 nostalgic video game music tracks! I hope some of these picks resonate with you too.
Grass Land Theme (Super Mario Bros. 3)
Super Mario Bros. 3 has always been my favorite game on the NES. This tune captures what the game is all about: it’s simple, catchy, lighthearted, and fun. It’s some of my earliest nostalgic video game music-I immediately think of blowing into NES carts, trying codes in Game Genie, and those little dancing green trees on the World 1 map!
Zelda’s Lullaby (A Link to the Past)
I love this theme from Zelda (my favorite game series of all time). It’s calming and contemplative but also feels like a “call to action” for adventure. Though it’s present in most Zelda games in some form or another, the version from A Link to the Past stands out nostalgically because of the sense of accomplishment I got upon beating a Dark World dungeon playing with a friend as kid. Those dungeons were hard, and hearing this theme was like a reward! I also love the rendition from Ocarina of Time, which holds a lot of nostalgia as well. May the way of the hero lead to the Triforce!
Corridors of Time (Chrono Trigger)
Let’s cut right to the chase here: Chrono Trigger is my favorite RPG of all time, and has my favorite OST of any video game. The entire game is absolutely astounding, but the point when you arrive in the Kingdom of Zeal and hear this theme was the point where the game, for me, went from an excellent RPG to a timeless masterpiece. This section of the game blew my mind, and still does to this day. Amazing.
Green Hill Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Is there a more quintessential Sonic song? (probably, but this is the most nostalgic for me!). I’m instantly transported back to being blown away by the graphics and speed of the blue blur back in 3rd grade. I still get that feeling playing Sonic 1 on my Genesis or Nomad, and I couldn’t stop smiling when playing through Sonic Mania’s remixed version of this too! So much nostalgic power.
Dreamer (Streets of Rage 2)
Oh man is this theme catchy. Not only does it take me back to the early days of the Sega Genesis and playing through Streets of Rage 2 co-op with friends during sleepovers, but for whatever reason also reminds of the flashiness and glory that was 90s arcades. Is that just me?
Lower Brinstar Theme (Super Metroid)
I picked this theme for two reasons. One, it’s so atmospheric and it makes me think of how long I was stuck in this area playing through the game with a childhood friend (we really could have used a guide!). Second, growing up in Texas, we did a lot of gaming in the summer when we weren’t in school, and it was always so, SO hot outside. It’s not only nostalgic video game music, but representative of that summer heat!
Stage Select Theme (Mega Man X)
If you were to Google “90s video game edge” this theme would probably just start playing at an unnecessarily loud volume. It characterizes everything was awesome about Mega Man X and gets you ludicrously psyched to take out some Mavericks on the stage select screen! I definitely let this theme play before choosing the next level in a Mega Man X play through, which happens frequently since the game is one of my favorites of all time.
Aquatic Ambience (Donkey Kong Country)
I’m not gonna lie, I still play this song in my head when I go swimming to this day. It perfectly captures the peaceful aquatic environments in the technological marvel that was Donkey Kong Country. And it represents everything wonderful in the game and this period of time in gaming. It’s so very relaxing, and carries so much nostalgia!
Wing Cap Theme (Super Mario 64)
This song fills me with pure joy. I instantly think of memories of sailing through the skies with the wing cap or surfing over lava with the koopa shell. There was nothing quite like it in gaming in 1996. The wing cap theme also represents the magic and potential that was the Nintendo 64 at the time. Beautiful!
Stickerbush Symphony (Donkey Kong Country 2)
This theme in particular is the epitome of nostalgic video game music for me. It’s not only a beautiful song in a spectacular game, but somehow makes me recall a flood of unrelated childhood memories. When I listen to Stickerbush Symphony, I think of carving pumpkins for Halloween, playing at the neighborhood pool in the summer, and building tree forts with my friends. It brings a simultaneous mix of sweet memories with the bittersweet acknowledgement that those times are in the past forever. Stickerbush Symphony is a masterpiece.
Do any of these tracks still resonate with you? What are some of your most nostalgic themes? Please share in the comments below!