The 8-bit generation was when games began to have music that was actually pleasing to listen to. The composers of that time period have become more recognized than the people who actually programmed the games. Koji Kondo, Tim Follin, and Tommy Tallarico are just a few of the notable composers of the 8-bit generation. Anyone who is a fan of the chip-tunes from the 8-bit generation, and wondered what they would sound like if played by a talented musician using actual instruments, should check out Banjo Guy Ollie’s Youtube channel. His covers of classic video game music are amazing.
10 Journey To Silius – NES
This game began as a licensed game for the Terminator franchise. When Sunsoft, who is known for having excellent music in their games, couldn’t secure the rights to the Terminator franchise the game was changed to Journey to Silius. A casual observation will make this apparent, as many of the in-game assets were not changed for the final product. Interesting factoids aside, this fun game has some sensational music. The music is an up-tempo composition that really intensifies the action. The music can be listened to here, and Banjo Guy Ollie’s cover of the Stage 1 music can be listened to here.
9 Blazing Lazers – TurboGrafx-16
Before we get started with this entry it's important to make something clear – the TurboGrafx-16 is an 8-bit console, despite having “16” in the name. Blazing Lazers is a shoot ‘em up that would still be a great game without the awesome music tracks. The action is non-stop, the difficulty level is perfect, and there is rarely any slow-down or flickering.
This is the game Kanye West proclaimed as his favorite TurboGrafx-16 game when he released his album Turbo Grafx 16 last year. The music is a rock style with driving beats. You can check out the Blazing Lazers soundtrack here.
8 Silver Surfer – NES
This game has been heavily criticized for its insane level of difficulty. The music, on the other hand, makes this game worth trying. When you give up in frustration after ten minutes the main thought in your head, other than how hard the game is, will be that the soundtrack was really good.
The music was composed by the previously mentioned Tim Follin. You can listen to the soundtrack without the frustration of actually playing the game here.
7 Golvellius: Valley Of Doom – Sega Master System
The Sega Master System was not a console known for good music. The console’s sound chip was not the best. There were great games for the console, just not a lot of good music. The Japanese version of the console featured FM synthesis music, which is a LOT better, but the North American version did not have this feature.
NTSC Master Systems can be modded to enable FM synthesis, but this is not something the casual gamer would have the necessary tools for. Golvellius was a Legend of Zelda rip-off that had some great music; some argue the standard tunes are better than the FM version. Check out the standard soundtrack here, and the FM soundtrack here.
6 Super Mario Bros. 2 – NES
The soundtrack for Super Mario 2 was composed by the legendary Koji Kondo. Kondo is responsible for most of the iconic music in NES games. He composed the music for classics such as the original Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario 2 features mostly upbeat ragtime style music that gives the game a fun and light-hearted feel. Kondo’s work for Super Mario 2 is some of his best work. You can go here to listen to the soundtrack, but chance are most of you probably have it memorized already.
5 Duck Tales – NES
Without the amazing soundtrack, by Hiroshige Tonomura and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, Duck Tales would still be one of the most beloved NES games. The music in Duck Tales, however, is widely considered some of the best 8-bit tunes ever composed.
Duck Tales was remastered in 2013 and featured updated music, but the developers of the remaster also included the original soundtrack for those looking for a little nostalgia. The original soundtrack can be listened to here, and the remastered version here. Banjo Guy Ollie has an incredible version of the Moon Theme; which can be listened to here.
4 Ninja Gaiden – NES
Like Sunsoft, Tecmo was a game developer that had a reputation for having great soundtracks in their games. With its great up-tempo techno style for the levels and somber cut-scene music, Ninja Gaiden is no exception.
This game is well known for its difficulty, but the frustration of replaying levels over and over is lessened by the outstanding soundtrack. You can listen to the soundtrack here. Banjo Guy Ollie has a cover for one of the more well-known songs in Ninja Gaiden, check it out here.
3 Ys: The Vanished Omens – Sega Master System
The original soundtrack for Ys is good, but the FM synthesis version is tremendous. This is also an extensive soundtrack with twenty tracks; which for an 8-bit game is impressive. The music was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who is renowned for his work in many Sega titles. Space Harrier, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, and Sonic the Hedgehog all had music composed by Koshiro.
His mellow music for Ys is a bit different than most of his works; which has been described as “electro funk”. Check out the soundtrack here. Banjo Guy Ollie has covers for two of the songs – Check them out here and here.
2 Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – NES
All the Castlevania games for the NES have good soundtracks, but the third game in the series is particularly good. Unfortunately, like most of Konami’s NES games, the Japanese version is much better. Seriously, check out the Japanese versions of their NES games and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The cartridge for the Japanese version of Castlevania III had a special chip added to allow for improved music. This was left out of the North American version despite the popularity of the Castlevania games over here. Click here to check out the Japanese version, and here for Banjo Guy Ollie’s cover of one of the songs.
1 Mega Man 2 – NES
If we filled this list with all six of the Mega Man titles for the NES it's doubtful that anyone would argue. They all have great soundtracks. Mega Man 2 is by far the best of the series though. The music for Mega Man 2 was composed by Takashi Tateishi and Manami Matsumae, and their music for this game is widely considered the best for any 8-bit game.
Each song has a unique sound and is immediately recognizable. Check out the soundtrack here. Banjo Guy Ollie has covers for nearly every track in this great game, click here to check out the selection. His version of the Dr. Wily Stage 1 is awesome.