Music is an important part of any game. When done right, good music can really complement a section or stage of a game and make the experience even more enjoyable. Regularly, fans of games will effuse about musical pieces that enhanced their playing experience.
What doesn’t always get as much consideration though is the music you find in the menu or selection screens. This could be down to the fact that you often spend comparatively little time on these screens as opposed to the rest of the game, but sometimes these pieces of music really add to the game in question. In most cases it will be the first or second piece of music that you hear, and it will go a long way to getting you in the mood for the gaming action in which you’re about to partake.
Today, I will take a look at my personal picks for the Top 10 Retro Menu/Selection musics!
This is not supposed to be an objective or exhaustive list. It is merely a list of my ten personal favourites, so please don’t get your silk knickers in a twist if I don’t include your own favourite.
Some quick ground rules apply:
- I can only select music from a game I’ve actually played, so if the music from your favourite turned based Elf-em-up isn’t included, that’ll most likely be why.
- It’s one game per series.
- The game has to be at least 10 years old to qualify as Retro.
So with that in mind, let’s get started with my first choice!
Number Ten – Tekken 5 – PlayStation 2
I’ve always loved the music in the Tekken games. To be honest with you, my favourite menu/selection theme from the series is the one from Tekken Tag Tournament 2, but that game was sadly not old enough to be classed as Retro, so instead I had to go for my second favourite, which would be the character select screen from Tekken 5.
I must admit that I liked the simplicity of the original Tekken‘s character select menu, but it annoys me somewhat because it always feels like it’s got another gear to kick into that it just never reaches. I would like to also throw some love to Tekken 3 for its select theme. As the game was one of the first that I got for my PlayStation back in the day, the music has always had a nostalgic value for me. But the selection music from Tekken 5 is the one I like the most, mainly because it feels more like a fully formed piece of music than the others, and it never fails to get me jazzed for a scuffle!
Number Nine – Grand Theft Auto – PlayStation
The song so great that Rockstar even put it on the radio stations in Grand Theft Auto III, “Joyride” by Da Shootaz is a song that any devotee of the original game in the GTA series will recognise without much difficulty. It’s gritty, has some serious base and never fails to get you all revved up. Quite a few times I’d just linger on the menu without selecting anything so that I could hear the song in full. It suits the game brilliantly, and I like it so much I even have it on my iPod. This was a narrow victory for GTA, as I almost went with “Small Change” from Grand Theft Auto 2, but ultimately the original won out.
Number Eight – Rise of the Robots – SNES
This is the second time that Rise of the Robots has made its way onto one of my music lists, this despite it being possibly one of the very worst games of all time. I really do despise this game, and I’m thrilled that prior to its release I didn’t get sucked into the hype surrounding it and pick it up, because it would have made me a very unhappy young lad back in the day. And believe me, the hype for this game was utterly ridiculous (think No Man’s Sky with bells and whistles on).
What goes a long way to making me dislike the game so much is that it had potential to actually be really good. The storyline premise of robots being controlled by an evil A.I. and taking over a city is hardly an original one, but it could have resulted in a fun game to play in the right hands. On the SNES release the music is another area which is really good, which makes it even more disappointing that it’s attached to such a rubbish game. The menu music is bright, lively and fills you with hope, only for the game to then crush that hope in short order.
Number Seven – Lylat Wars – N64
In general, I really enjoy the soundtrack to Lylat Wars/Star Fox 64. In some ways it’s befitting of the best space operas. I particularly love the menu music, which has an almost timid beauty to it. Even though the loop isn’t a particularly long one, it has (pardon the pun) a spacious quality to it. It’s almost as if you are listening to it in the cold open vacuum of the outer atmosphere as you gently float amongst the stars. If you’re ever feeling pent up or stressed out, I find this to be a relaxing and reassuring piece of music. Lie down, close your eyes, and just picture the very universe underneath you.
Number Six – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – SNES
As someone who grew up with a SNES, it was only natural that I’d eventually find my way to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and, having found it, it was again only natural that the menu music would make this list. It’s an iconic piece that sets off a rush of nostalgia straightaway every time I hear it. I love the soundtrack to this game as a whole, and many of its tracks have been taking up space in my nostalgia cortex for years and will continue to do so for years still to come.
The strange thing is that I’m not an especially big Zelda fan either. To this day A Link to the Past is the only game in the series that I’ve really put any proper time into. I don’t know why that is, but ever since the series has gone into the third dimension, I’ve just not been that interested. But regardless of whether or not I play the series at this point in time, I’ll always be fond of A Link to the Past.
Number Five – Destruction Derby – PlayStation
This is the music that plays after the conclusion of a race, and in some ways it almost seems completely out of place in a game where you drive at high speeds and vehicular carnage is encouraged. However, I always felt it worked because it almost operates as a cooldown technique. After the high risk destruction that you have just partaken in, this calm and relaxing music allows you to take a moment to catch your breath before heading back onto the race course for more blood and thunder thrills. An underappreciated track, in my opinion.
Number Four – Super Mario World – SNES
This is a list of heavy hitters, and there’s no doubt that when it comes to Retro gaming, Super Mario World certainly packs one hell of a punch. Anyone who was around in the 90s when this game came out would likely have been as enchanted as I was by the colourful graphics and the excellent gameplay, but another area where SMW excels is when it comes to its soundtrack. Whether it be the atmospheric music on the world map that changes as you enter other areas, the imposing music that plays during boss battles or even the bombastic music of the special Star World, SMW has some of the best music of any video game ever.
The menu music is no exception. All I have to hear is the first few notes, and I’m immiediately whisked back to my childhood, when the world was a place of wonder and possibilities as opposed to one of confusion and anger. The minute this kicks in, you know you’re in for a good time, and it still raises a smile to my face every time I hear it.
Number Three – Halo: Combat Evolved – Original XBox
I’ve never really been much of a confessed Halo: Combat Evolved nut. I certainly played it back in the day and liked it just fine, especially in co-op campaign mode with friends. For the time, and even for today, I thought the game looked excellent, and I found the gameplay to be enjoyable as well. However, I’ve never really had the, at times almost religious, love for it that big fans of the series do. It’s a polished first-person shooter, but I must confess that the story never really grabbed me, and I’ve just never gone all in with it.
What really impressed me about it though was the soundtrack, which I think is genuinely one of the best soundtracks in any game ever. It’s ironic actually that I said some fans of the game have a near religious love for the game, as the opening 45 seconds or so of this menu music could be mistaken for something you might hear in a church or cathedral. I wonder if this is an intentional choice as well, seeing as the alien Covenant whom you spend most of the game fighting religiously worship the Halo rings of the game’s title, and it’s that worship which causes the events of the game to play out to begin with.
Whether this was intentional or not, the music is eery, powerful and completely fitting to the game’s narrative and lore.
Number Two – Sonic the Hedgehog – SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis
By far the shortest piece of music on the list, but that doesn’t limit the power that Sonic the Hedgehog’s menu music wields. In some ways, it isn’t even menu music, due to the game not really having a menu to begin with, but it’s as close as you really get. There are few theme tunes that are as recognisable as Sonic‘s. The minute that drum kicks in, you know what’s going to happen, and no sooner has the music kicked in that it finishes, with Sonic waving his finger at you as if to say, “Ah ahh, if you want more, you best press start!”
It’s cheeky, chirpy and to the point, a bit like Sonic himself!
Number One – Street Fighter II – CPS1
I think there are few character select screens more recognisable than that of the original Street Fighter II. Street Fighter II blew people away when it hit the arcades in the early 90s, with its vibrant graphics, brutal moves and colourful characters grabbing fight fans’ hearts straight out of the gate. Another big feather in its cap was its soundtrack. Each character had their own distinctive stage and theme music. However, before you could start fighting, you had to pick a fighter first, and the music that greets you is just as good as everything else.
The minute this starts up, my mind is taken back to that selection screen, with the world map behind you waiting to take you from one end to the other depending on your opponent. I can still see Ken’s grimace, Ryu’s calm sternness and Guile’s really quite odd vacant look. This game caught my attention from the first time I saw it. I can’t think of a more iconic select screen!
Thanks for reading
Until next time;