I’ve spent a great deal of times in this column talking about my love of classic games and I’ve even gotten into some of the reasons why, as I took the time to explore some of my favorites. I’ve talked about gameplay, nostalgia, graphics, and a number of factors that make me really appreciate the era of gaming in which I was reared (the late 80s to early 2000s). More so than anything else that I take with me though, besides badass hand-eye coordination, is an appreciation for really well written music that was composed with little available tools or tracks.
When it comes to that sort of score, nothing can possibly compare with the 8-bit tunes that were blasting out of the grey cartridges of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES had three of the best companies ever programming music into its gaming legacy—Nintendo itself, Konami, and Capcom . To this day these three companies manage to pump out music that is not only tone-setting, memorable, and unique to their own company’s house style, but is also actual music and quite musical.
The interesting thing to note is that the limitation on these machines for music did not place a limitation on musicianship. To be fair, there are a lot of NES games with straight up shit music, but that could be said for EVERYTHING ON THE RADIO TODAY, so there’s that. The point here is that 8-bit music (or Chiptones) were limited not only in the number of tracks that could be playing at a time, but also by the ability of the computer (remember game consoles are computers at the end of the day) to process and play them with interfering with the processing of the visual elements and responsiveness of the game.
Despite this limitation the music produced could be absolutely epic and worthwhile in its own right as music. As a generation or two grew up with gaming as part of the development of their musical ear, game music became worthy of note and note was taken. Musicians often clamor to shop off their chops and their nerd credentials by arranging and covering some classic and epic tunes.
Take for example Konami’s Castlevania series. Some of the most gothic and epic tunes anywhere can be found blasting through the halls of Dracula’s ever changing home. Take these examples of the original and compare it to the crazy musical covers people arrange for them:
Acapella by Smooth McGoove-
Then take something as iconic as the music from the Legend of Zelda and see what people do with it:
A friggin orchestra-
Jazz Trio Cover-
Going back to Konami let’s take a look at the theme to Contra:
And finally let’s take a look what some folks have done with Mega Man 2’s intro music:
Ukulele (THAT’S RIGHT)-
What’s your favorite old NES jam and a highly musical cover version of it?