Stage 1-1. Hyrule Overworld Theme. Duck Tales' Moon Theme. These songs defined the 8-bit era for so many gamers. Not for me, though; my experiences were a little different than most. It wasn't until much later that I got Nintendo's magical gray box. These are the songs that take me back to my childhood.
Black Belt was one of the first games I ever played. It was a simple side-scrolling beat-'em-up in which every enemy you hit instantly exploded into bits. As a kid, you can imagine how amusing this was. As I controlled super-generic-karate-guy Riki through what, in retrospect, were some pretty bland stages, I would get excited by the prospect of hearing this theme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCfbQH…
Black Belt's boss battles were unique for their time. Instead of using the same view as the rest of the game, the action would take on a typical 2D-fighting game setup. As you progressed through the game, the bosses became increasingly more difficult, with each having some kind of quirk you had to overcome to keep going. Before the age of the internet, beating an obscure game like this was difficult. For as difficult as it was for my childhood self to beat, the Japanese version of Black Belt, a largely similar game based on Fist of the North Star was much more difficult. It would be years before I would discover the connection between the two titles.
The original Phantasy Star was a game far ahead of its time. Not only was it one of the best-looking games on SEGA's technically superior Master System and Sonic creator Yuji Naka's claim to fame, but it was the first console game with 3D dungeons.
Phantasy Star's dungeons were notoriously difficult, even for their time. The first-person 3D dungeons were visually simple, making it extremely hard to remember if you were backtracking or in a new area altogether. Players like my brother and myself eventually took to the task of mapping the dungeons on good ol' pen and paper.
Thankfully the dungeon theme is an easily looped track that doesn't become grating on the ears, even after listening for hours. Plenty of folks like myself ended up hearing this on loop while trying to find their way to Medusa, or a dragon, or a robot cop, or a nightmare only to fall through the floor mere steps away from the correct path. Phantasy Star's Dungeon Theme is so ingrained in the series that it's appeared in nearly every Phantasy Star game since, including Phantasy Star Online.
I didn't get a chance to play an NES until very late in the console's life cycle, even so Mega Man was one of the series I knew I had to try. A friend at school had just given me his Mega Man II cart, insistent that I play it and get back to him. From the moment I turned the power on and this song started, I knew I was in for a badass adventure. Mega Man 2's intro was the first song that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
These first moment would be the beginning of a lifelong love of Capcom's all-but-forgotten Blue Bomber. Some of my favorite gaming memories to date involve the Mega Man series. To this day, however, this track remains my favorite in series history.
Confession time - I didn't play The Legend of Zelda for about ten years. When my brother got the NES we would soon be fighting over, Zelda II was the hot commodity. My grandma didn't know anything about games, but she knew that cart was gold for some reason, which meant it must have been good, and thus we got it.
Zelda II is a game that never really got the credit it deserves. Despite deviating from the then-unestablished Zelda formula, Adventure of Link was an innovative, interesting game that combined RPG elements, including experience points and a leveling system, with the more standard hack-and-slash elements the series is famous for.
Outside of palaces, Zelda II wasn't all that difficult. It was once you got into them, however, that its challenging nature become readily apparent. Link's spells were typically costly, life refills seldom dropped and dying meant starting the whole thing over.
Just hearing Zelda II's Palace Theme conjures feelings of frustration brought on by an early death. It took me years to finally beat Dark Link and rescue Zelda, but it's okay to love games you suck at, right?
If there's a game that epitomizes the '80s, it's Space Harrier. It's worlds consist of neon and pastel checkered fields, color-changing skies and enemies that would look right at home in Labyrinth or The Neverending Story.
Space Harrier's unnamed protagonist is also an unmistakable product of the '80s, with his red jacket, blue pants and shades. From the moment you hear Space Harrier's iconic quote, "Welcome to the Fantasy Zone, get ready!" that theme kicks in to set the tempo for the rest of the game. To this day, Space Harrier holds up as an arcade classic. If you haven't experienced it, you should grab it on 3DS. You should probably dodge the Genesis sequel though, it's pretty awful.
Aztec Adventure was a game I didn't want. Even at the ripe old age of eight, the first thought that crossed my mind was "What the hell is this crap," immediately followed by "Wow, this is actually pretty good." Like most other games I played as a child, I was utterly terrible at this game.
It was almost like a South-American-anime-meets-Zelda kind of game, in that you're dropped into the world, told the stage had begun, then set free to figure the rest out on your own. You could pay an anthropomorphic dog, cat or bird to aid you in your quest, but it seldom seemed helpful, considering they were all dumber than a sack of bricks.
Despite all that, Aztec Adventure's peppy forest tune kept my spirits high as I soldiered my way on to a noble death at the hands of some enemy whose name I can't remember. I revisited Aztec Adventure many times over the years and never seemed to get any better. I should probably try again, even if only just to hear that jingle.
Fun fact: Fantasy Zone is the only game on this list I never owned. My next-door neighbor when I was a grade-schooler owned this one, and I played it endlessly at his place. There's something about Fantasy Zone that was—and still is, by the way—delightfully foreign.
From its colorful backdrops, to the soundtrack, to the character and level design and everything inbetween, this was a game that told you its creators weren't from around here. Fantasy Zone was the first game that led me to wonder who the kind of people who make games are, and where they come from. It set me up for a lot of my later decisions in life, from learning Japanese in high school, to getting into anime and aspiring to one day make games of my own.
Because of all this, Fantasy Zone's inaugural zone theme is something of an anthem for all Japanese games to me, it embodies that feeling of the cultural difference between them and the States to me. It's a fantastic listen.
Sunsoft's NES rendition of Batman was a must-have for me as a kid. It was a game about The Batman, who just so happened to be on my lunchbox, jacket, shoes and birthday cake in 1989; so when his NES title came out just before Christmas that year, you can guess what I asked for.
This game could have been utter crap and I still would have played the hell out of it. I wasn't even ten years old yet, so it's not like I was a connoisseur of fine entertainment or anything yet. Batman it would turn out, however, was a solid action game that only got more challenging as it went along.
That said, when I got this game my brother and I were in the habit of making stupid-ass bets with each other, like getting through the first level without getting hit at all. When you're an uncoordinated schlub like me, that just ain't gonna happen. I must have heard this song a million times trying to meet my brother's crazy demands. The rest of this soundtrack is awesome too, and it has NES renditions of Michael Keaton's Batman, so there's probably no reason you shouldn't try this game.
Music is a powerful medium. It can stir emotions and resurface long-forgotten memories. Different songs mean different things to each of us. With that said, what songs take you back to the 8-bit era? Let us know in the comments.