I may be a gamer, but I’m a musician first. Nowadays, I don’t get nearly as much time to play as I used to. That said, video games have always had a huge influence me – So much so that, when I’m writing a song, I’ll often reference or take inspiration from some of my favorite soundtracks. As a result, a huge chunk of my iTunes is now dedicated to video game music – from 8-bit to orchestral. As much as I love the classics like “Ocarina of Time” and “Super Mario Bros.,” there’s a massive amount of relatively unknown music out there. Well, I say “NO MORE!” Here are my Top 10 Underrated Nintendo Soundtracks! Accompanying each pick is the North American release date, the system, the composer(s), and other notable works from those composers. Think I’m wrong? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments! Also – I put together a video compiling some musical examples from the list… check it out and enjoy!
10. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap – (1/10/2005) – GameBoy Advance – Composer: Mitsuhiko Takano (Resident Evil 5, Monster Hunter 3)
O.K. We get it. the Zelda series has outrageously gorgeous music – arguably, the best Nintendo has to offer. But for me, the music from Minish Cap and the game itself are never given the proper amount of respect. In addition to giving some amazing on-the-go renditions and revamps of classic Zelda tunes, Minish Cap also brings a set of strong original themes to the table. This soundtrack also pushes the GameBoy Advance to it’s limit and makes the most out of it’s audio capabilities. Just listen to the Indian Tabla drum in “Castor Wilds.
9. Mario Paint – (12/10/1992) – SNES – Composer: Kazumi Totaka (Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion) and Hirokazu Tanaka (EarthBound, Metroid)
I don’t think I’m the only one who spent hours trying to perfect a drawing in this eclectic title. From composing music to swatting flies, I can’t remember the last time that I’ve had such a mind-numbingly good time playing a game (even the TITLE SCREEN is fun!). Given how much time I put into this eclectic title, one would think that I would have muted the TV after a few minutes, but no. As strange and repetitive as some of the Mario Paint themes are, they just never grow old for me. Instead, the music from this game puts me into a trance-like state and wipes away my worries faster than the instant erase tool.
8. U.N. Squadron – (9/??/1991) – SNES – Composer: Manami Matsumae (Mega Man) and Mari Yamaguchi (Mega Man 5 and 10, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts)
U.N. Squadron was originally a Japanese manga-based arcade title called Area 88, but it made its jump to the U.S. on the SNES in 1991. The game itself is definitely good – solid side scrolling shoot-em-up plane action. The soundtrack, on the other hand, ROCKS. Seriously. Perfectly suited to the moment, the music from U.N. Squadron pumps you up and makes some relatively ordinary action extraordinary.
7. Super Mario Land – (7/31/1989) – GameBoy – Composer: Hirozaku Tanaka (EarthBound, Metroid)
Eyes were definitely on Nintendo when they released the Gameboy in 1989. Among the launch titles (Tetris, Baseball) the clear alpha dog was Super Mario Land. Admittedly, this title isn’t quite up to par with other Mario games, and it feels a little bit… wonky (bouncing balls instead of fireballs…) BUT. The music rules. A serious side-effect of playing Super Mario Land is incessant head bobbing and foot tapping. UNLESS, of course, you’re my Mom. Apparently, my brother played this game incessantly while my Mom was pregnant with me – meaning that every time she hears this soundtrack, it makes her sick to her stomach as though she were back battling morning sickness. Yet ANOTHER reason for me to bust out the old GameBoy when I’m back home. Classic. (P.S. – Compare “Muda Kingdom” to The Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” and compare “Chai Kingdom” to “Oedo” from The Legend of the Mystical Ninja… Weird, amirite? – P.P.S. – They’re both in the accompanying video).
6. Silver Surfer – (11/??/1990) – NES – Composer: Tim Follin (Bionic Commando)
Anyone who has played this game (and anyone who has seen the Angry Video Game Nerd episode) can testify… THIS GAME IS SO DAMN DIFFICULT. Good lord. The root of many tantrums during youth and underlying emotional issues later in life, Silver Surfer is one of the most frustrating titles in the NES library. Is it Ninja Gaiden difficult? Probably not. Is it still insane? ABSOLUTELY. That said, the soundtrack for the Silver Surfer is reason enough to play. This futuristic techno masterpiece is a welcome addition to anyone’s music library. Check out the theme in the accompanying video – you’ll become a believer.
5. Mega Man Zero – (4/26/2002) – GameBoy Advance – Composer: Ippo Yamada (Mega Man X2, Demon’s Crest)
Let’s be honest. As awesome as it was playing as X, we all wanted to play as Zero in the Mega Man X games. On top of that, Mega Man X3 was just a tease. Yeah, you can play as Zero… until you die. Once. ONCE. And then he’s gone for the entire game! Fun, right? Wrong. But we kept hoping, and years later (YEARS), the GameBoy Advance brought us the Mega Man Zero series. Finally, we could slash and hack with the Z-Saber to our hearts delight. On top of great graphics and gameplay, the Mega Man Zero series offers some amazing . Industrial, gritty, and haunting, this music is a perfect accompaniment to the false utopia that is “Neo-Arcadia.” (P.S. – Check out that awesome throwback to Zero’s theme from the original Mega Man X)
4. Snowboard Kids – (5/3/1998) – Nintendo 64 – Composer: Isao Kasai (Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games) and Tomohiko Satou
The Nintendo 64 was a first-class console for single player titles, from Ocarina of Time to Super Mario 64. That said, the Nintendo 64 shined just as brightly in the multiplayer realm with titles like Mario Kart 64, Mario Party 1-3, and Super Smash Bros. One of my favorite of these titles was Snowboard Kids. In fact, I probably played this game more than any of the other multiplayer games I mentioned (it takes a while to earn the cash for a feather board or a star board!). Tight gameplay, whimsical graphics, and a kicking 90s-esque soundtrack all contribute to make this great title what it is. Plus, you can snowboard as SHINOBI (Shinobin, in game). ON A KUNAI. Admittedly, the character design is just… weird. Look up the Characters “Linda” and “Slash” – you’ll see what I mean. Strange as they are, their oddities make them that much more memorable. This soundtrack makes great listening, and all of the themes are hard to get out of your head. (WARNING: STAY AWAY FROM SBK, THE NINTENDO DS REVAMP. IT WILL MAKE YOU LOSE FAITH IN HUMANITY.) (Oh, and if anyone has any extra info about the composers for this game, let me know… I could barely find anything!)
3. Mega Man X2 – (12/16/1994) – SNES – Composer: Yuki Iwai (Mega Man X, Super Street Fighter II Turbo)
This may be considered slightly blasphemous, but I’ve always preferred the Mega Man X series to the original Mega Man (gotta love that wall jump). Regardless of where one’s allegiance lies, no one can deny that both series have some of the best music that Capcom has to offer. With the X series, the usual reference point is the first title, leaving some of the others out of the picture. However, spend a little bit of time with the Mega Man X2 soundtrack and you’ll find that it can rival the original. X2’s music is more action driven, and is intended to get the player’s adrenaline pumping. The fast paced tunes supply the perfect background as you outrun lava in Flame Stag’s factory or avoid giant blocks of stone in Crystal Snail’s underground lair.
2. Little Nemo the Dream Master – (9/??/1990) – NES – Composer: Junko Tamiya (Bionic Commando, Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight)
Given that many movie games are unplayable marketing ploys, Little Nemo the Dream Master comes as a pleasant surprise. Especially impressive is that Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, the movie behind the game… is awful. Yup, back when Capcom was still consistently kicking ass and taking names, they managed to turn a Hollywood flop into a seriously enjoyable gaming experience. Even better than the gameplay is the music, which perfectly accompanies each stage. All at once, the music is whimsical, twisted, scary, happy, and TOTALLY RAD. Do yourself a favor and give this old NES title the second look it deserves.
1. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja – (2/??/1992) – SNES – Composer: Kazuhiko Uehara (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) and Harumi Ueko (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time)
I cannot fully explain my love for this soundtrack. Or this game. Both classic. Fun on it’s own, and better with a friend (and a Game Genie). I spent ages playing this masterpiece with my brother, and the music has always stuck with me. Just as the game does with Japanese folklore, the composers take traditional Japanese music and instrumentation into the modern era. The resultant themes are timeless and perfectly at home on the SNES. The main instrument you will hear is the SNES’ take on the “Shakuhachi,” a Japanese bamboo flute. The airy flute shows off just how beautiful the SNES can sound. Sauntering, jaunty, and pensive, the soundtrack for Legend of the Mystical Ninja is not just a great video game soundtrack… It’s great music. Grab a friend and lose yourself in this fantastic title (Game Genie recommended… it’s a toughie).
I hope you enjoyed my list! Don’t forget to comment, share, like – Let me know what you think! Don’t forget to check out the video so you can rock out to some seriously sweet music.