The secret to a generation-defining game: its soundtrack

Samuel Battis, Staff Writer

When asked to describe a great video game, music is rarely the first attribute that springs to one’s mind. And yet, the most iconic games of all time, without exception, possess masterfully designed soundtracks. What is it that makes music (or lack thereof) such a defining part of the gaming experience? Let’s see what some heavy-hitting titles from the past can tell us.


Super Mario Bros

Given full creative control over the Super Mario Bros soundtrack, composer Koji Kondo wanted to create a catchy theme that would accentuate gameplay. He began with a slower, lazier version of the now-iconic theme, designed for a prototype version of the game in which Mario ran through a world devoid of enemies. But as the game developed, Kondo insisted on a faster tempo to line up with Mario’s movements and dramatize the action. His theme utilized the key of C to build a simple, happy vibe, perfect for long hours of play. Equally important was the syncopated rhythm, providing its punchy, exciting feel. Kondo once said it was the “catchiest” melody he had ever written, and time has proven him right. Almost forty years later, the “Ground Theme” is still the most widely-recognized video game theme in America.


Wii Sports Resort

Evoking a carefree resort atmosphere, “Wii Sports Resort (Main Theme)” by Ryo Nagamatsu transports the listener to Wuhu Island, where dozens of sports coexist in a 3D world. Written in a major key with vibrant, tropical-sounding synthesizers, the melody is a vacation for the ears. It plays a crucial role in tying together the game’s many minigames, enhancing the gameplay experience. The quality of the theme, coupled with the innovative way it signals transitions in-game, have made it instantly recognizable by millions of fans. In a way, it is the modern equivalent of Mario’s ground theme—a catchy jingle that is well-known even among those who rarely play video games.



Primarily composed by musician David Rosenfeld, Minecraft’s ambient soundtrack needed to be simple—the game’s sound engine was too weak to support anything overly complex. This weakness turned into a strength as the minimalism of Rosenfeld’s compositions matched the game’s pixelated graphics perfectly. This combination was critical to the game’s mass appeal, reminding audiences of the look and feel of ‘70-’90s video game classics and triggering their nostalgia. Where this soundtrack differs from its predecessors is its melancholy, reflective tone, fit for exploring a vast, relatively empty world. Minecraft introduced more people than ever to a new kind of video game: creative, exploratory, and slow-paced. This made its soundtrack even more important—it welcomed players to an unfamiliar but unforgettable experience. – Wii Sports Resort – Ground theme