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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Favorite Tunes: First Level Themes

No one can really forget the very first level of a video game. It is the staring point after all. But one of the main reasons the starting level from a game stands out is not only due to it's design, but the music that accompanies the stages. So here's a look, or rather, listen to some of my favorite first level themes from some of my favorite games. Click on the title to hear the tune.

Ground Theme - Super Mario Bros. (NES)


Oh come on, you knew this one was gonna be here. We can't have a list like this and not have the granddaddy of all starting tunes not present. Composed by Koji Kondo, the classic Ground Theme is the longest track in Super Mario Bros. It was also the most difficult to come up with for the veteran music writer. The Ground Theme is actually the very first song you hear in the game because the original Super Mario Bros. has no title theme. And unlike a lot of game's, the tune doesn't even play during the demo mode. If you want to hear this theme, you have to press start. Ground Theme a is just as famous as Mario himself. It's also known as The Super Mario Bros. Theme, showing up in nearly very Mario game in some form or another. It's such an infectious tune that even those that don't play video games can recognize it. Heck, it can be identified by just the first 7 notes. Now that's a powerful piece of music.

Green Hill Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)


This could be considered Sonic's Ground Theme. It's hard not to see screens of Green Hill Zone, and not hear this tune playing in your head. For many people, Sonic the Hedgehog was the reason the picked up a Genesis so this game was their first exposure to the unit's audio processor. Sonic the Hedgehog showed that, in the right hands, Genesis music could sound just as lovely and harmonic as the SNES. So why hasn't Green Hill Zone been in as many games as Mario's classic Ground Theme. Well, the composer, Masasto Nakamura, actually owns the rights to his own music, meaning every time Sega wanted to use this tune, they had to give the guy some cash. So while we may not hear this track often, it's a delight whenever it does show up. You cannot say you weren't grinning like a school girl when you sped through Green Hill Zone in Sonic Generations.

Fly to the Leaden Sky (Stage 1 - Valley), Battle Garegga (Arcade / Saturn)


You say you've never played Battle Garegga? You poor, depraved soul. MAME this sucker to see what it's all about. Battle Garegga's soundtrack is still one of Manabu Namiki's finest works (I'll be dropping more material from him later in this feature.) The opening stage theme is so insanely energetic that it almost makes you wanna get up and dance, but since you need every ounce of concentration to survive in this game, it's probably not recommended. It's kind of hard to really appreciate the game's music because they stages are pretty brief even by SHMUP standards and there's a lot of noise that can drown out the audio. Nevertheless, Battle Garegga's first stage music is pretty boss.

Mute City - F-Zero (SNES)


No matter which cup you choose to start your racing experience in F-Zero, Mute City is always the starting course, which treats you to one of the series most endearing selections of music. Mute City, like other themes on this list has been arranged and remixed in the F-Zero sequels and the Super Smash Bros. series and those have all been well and good but the original still sounds triumphant as ever. Captain Falcon, the poster boy for the F-Zero series hails from Mute City so it's hard not to hear this theme when you see a picture of him. That and his numerous taunts.

Vampire Killer - Castlevania (NES)

Castlevania Chronicles

What could be more awesome than entering Dracula's castle and hearing this theme play? Arguably the one that's next on the list, but Vampire Killer is still amazing in sound and in title. Just mentioning this tune makes gamers swoon, transporting them back to the start of Dracula's castle, whipping bats, Medusa Heads and Mermen.

Simon Belmont's Theme - Super Castlevania IV (SNES)


Once you reach the inside of Dracula's Domain, the door closes and this theme kicks in. OH. SNAP. Simon Belmont is here and he's going to whip you good. There are plenty of reasons gamers remember Super Castlevania IV with such fondness, chief among them is the music, which even by the SNES's beautiful standards, is still some of the very best the system had to offer. Kinda sucks that once you finish the first stage, you don't get to hear these theme anymore. That is, until about midway through the fight with Dracula's second form. Simon Belmont is so awesome that he can turn on his theme music during a final boss fight. Dracula heard that theme knew he was screwed.

Ragnarok Canyon - Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES)


The Battletoads games are stupidly hard but if you gotta suffer, you may as well suffer to some awesome beats. Ragnarok Canyon, the start of the Toads journey in Battlemaniacs serves up some one of the best rock beats you'll hear on the SNES. The use of guitars and drums in this tune are absolutely SICK! David Wise is primarily known for his work on the Donkey Kong Country games, but he's also the man responsible for the music in the Battletoads series. Needless to say, David Wise is freaking awesome.

Opening Stage - Mega Man X (SNES)


You press start at the title screen and expect to go to a stage select screen just as you would in the classic Mega Man series. Instead, you're teleported to a green highway, with a background that looks like the aftermath of a robot rebellion having it's way. This is not your father's Mega Man game. The music in Mega Man X has a heavy feel of rock going on and what better way to introduce you to a new style of Mega Man music than the first stage? Said stage also shows you a good chunk of the new gameplay mechanics.

The Shinobi - Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis)


Name one tune that Yuzo Koshiro wrote that was bad. Yeah, that's what I thought. You can't! There are no such things as bad Yuzo Koshiro tunes. Just songs that are more fantastic than others. If you need further proof how cool it is to be a ninja, just listen to The Shinobi. It's the perfect embodiment of what it means to be a ninja. Calm, collected, and stealthy. That and silting people's throats with Japanese swords.

Lakeside - Sparkster (SNES)


In 1994 two different teams developed two Sparkster games. One for the Genesis, the other for the SNES. The Genesis version was a direct sequel to the 1993 Genesis original, while the SNES game was a completely different beast. Both games use the same songs but like most Genesis and SNES games, the audio differences between the two is quite noticeable. While I like to steer clear of arguments of what games had better sound that were released on both platforms, I really do have to side with the SNES versions of Lakeside. It's a very heroic theme and in my personal opinion, I think it should be made the official theme of Sparkster.
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1 comment:

Billy Skittles said...

Captain Falcon hails from Port Town, not Mute City.