One of the reasons the Nintendo Entertainment System (lovingly called NES) remains so highly regarded and so affectionately nostalgic is the music. In the early 1980’s, music composition for Nintendo games was rather limited – but those production hindrances also helped make the music for these games so special. The 8-bit limitations caused NES game music to rely heavily on catchy melodies, most of which is still immediately recognizable three decades later. The NES 8-bit music is so influential that it has even inspired a contemporary form of music "chiptune" with its superstar acts including the likes of ANAMANAGUCHI and Sabreplus.
Here are our picks for the Top 10 NES Game Soundtracks. The countdown takes into account the diversity of tracks in the game, how infectious melodies were/are, and of course how the soundtrack made each game that much better. If you have a game that didn’t make our countdown, let us know in the comments. Cool? Let’s blow the dust off this bad boy!
Composer: Koji Kondo
The Legend of Zelda ranks as our number 1 NES soundtrack of all time. The first in the series, The Legend Of Zelda features one of the most indelible melodies in video game history: the over world theme. This theme has become synonymous with the Zelda franchise. The melody is so infectious and recognizable that every iteration of the Zelda series since the original has had an updated version of this theme. Without this stellar piece of 8-bit music, The Legend Of Zelda would not be one of the most beloved franchises in gaming.
Composer: Koji Kondo
If any character is synonymous with Nintendo, it’s everyone’s favorite plumber, Super Mario. The original Super Mario Bros. shipped with the console itself, so right out of the box gamers got to familiarize themselves with the World 1-1 theme. This theme is instantly recognizable to people from all age groups and different cultures. The rest of the soundtrack is top-notch as well: from the underground theme to the castle theme, the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack is a huge reason why this game holds such stature not only in the video game genre, but in all of pop culture.
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa and Kyouhei Sada
Everyone’s heard of the Konami code, but Contra delivers on every aspect of the game, especially in the music department. As soon as you press start at the select screen, the music in this gem is relentless: every level has its own unique theme, which get better and better as the game progresses. Contra’s soundtrack is incredibly diverse, and so damn good, that guitarists on YouTube have covered the first level Jungle theme countless times, garnering millions of views.
Composer: Hiroshige Tonomura
Based on the TV series of the same name, Ducktales was a fantastic action play on the NES, and is widely revered as one of the best games on the console. If you were to take a survey of the best NES theme, chances are you’d hear Ducktales’ moon stage theme as a reoccurring answer. This magnificent melody encompassed the moon stage perfectly, with a soft sci-fi feel that would eventually turn into a fast-paced beat to match the action in the gameplay. Bonus points: the title screen features an 8-bit version of the Ducktales cartoon intro.
Composers: Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, Manami Matsumae and Ogeretsu Kun
Picture everyone’s favorite blue kid robot, standing on a rooftop, his hair blowing in the wind, with the most determined face 8-bit graphics would allow. Pretty cool, huh? Then, add a badass opening theme and you have the most EPIC NES opening ever! The Mega Man II prologue starts with a happy storytelling melody, and it builds until Mega Man is revealed in all his blue majesty. As if the open wasn’t enough, the tunes like the menu theme and boss-select theme stand on their own.
Composer: Yukio Kaneoka, Akito Nakatsuka and Kenji Yamamoto
A true Nintendo classic, Punch-Out had it all, including a knockout soundtrack. There was the classic fight theme, each character’s personal intros, and the timeless bicycle-training music. The latter theme has been remixed several times in pop culture, and is one of the most recognizable NES themes. Punch-Out also receives points for its thoroughness: there’s a theme for every part of the game, including winning, losing, and when your opponent is down for the count.
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
The original game in the beloved franchise, Final Fantasy has some of the best music not only on the NES, but in all of video game history. From the iconic opening title screen theme, to the “very effective” battle theme that started it all, Final Fantasy’s soundtrack is extremely memorable and fits every aspect of this historic RPG’s vast set pieces. Mr. Uematsu, we salute you!
Composer: Kinuyo Yamashita
Castlevania is packed with lots of action, contains a simple story and sports an unequivocally dope-ass soundtrack. Composer Kinuyo Yamashita did an amazing job capturing the gloomy subject matter, all while keeping pace with all the action of the gameplay. Look no further than the masterful boss battle theme.
Composer: Naoki Kodaka and Nobuyuki Hara
The title screen’s theme is dark, ominous, and the perfect pre-cursor to the ass-kicking you and the dark knight will be taking part in all over Gotham City in Batman: The Video Game. Then comes the first stage’s music – you’ll immediately feel you are Batman (the cool kind, not the Joel Schumacher kind) after a few seconds.
Composer: David Wise
Anyone who has ever played Battletoads knows firsthand that remains one of THE hardest video games of all time. To this day, people are still trying to beat this game for the first time! So it’s only fitting that while being a masochist for disappointment, you jam out to some dope tracks. The soundtrack to Battletoads is as colorful as the game’s color pallet. Every stage’s theme complements its setting and pace masterfully, which made the game’s punishing difficulty highly worth it. We’re partial to the Level 2 – Wookie Hole theme ourselves.