Among my many niche interests, my fondness for video game music is by far the most misunderstood.
Although more and more people are coming to accept the genre, I think it’s safe to say that most “normal” people still see listening to game soundtracks as a bit odd. Unless you get it, you just plain don’t get it.
That aforementioned “odd” factor is multiplied tenfold for arcade game music in particular. This is a side of gaming that’s already been ostracized by the general public. The music thumping from within these games certainly isn’t mainstream.
But hey, ain’t arcade game music just the best darn thing?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I legitimately jam out to a wide variety of arcade game ditties. If the song in question captures my attention, I’m more than happy to bop my head and tap my fingers to the beat—while engaging with the actual gameplay, of course.
Picking a favorite soundtrack would admittedly be downright impossible, but I have a fairly solid list of favorites already in mind.
I couldn’t possibly write an article on arcade game music without mentioning the incorruptibly creepy CarnEvil score by Kevin Quinn and Jason Blochowiak. I’ve seen the soundtrack referred to by others as “Danny Elfman-esque”, a fair comparison to make given the unique blend of spooky and cartoony motifs on display.
Perhaps the grooviest of all arcade game soundtracks is that of Double Dragon. Whether you love the game itself or not, I don’t believe for a second that anyone can listen to its accompanying compositions without getting lost in the sheer magic that composer Kazunaka Yamane unleashed upon the Earth.
Standing in cool contrast is the score behind Target: Terror by Vikas Deo and Deep Sharma. From the metal riffs of gunplay carnage to the hip hop beats of the high score entry screen, the various cues never cease to pump me up. Target: Terror makes me crave the return of original music in Raw Thrills games.
But hey, if we're talking licenses, I'd be a fool not to mention Crazy Taxi. With 7 banging rock anthems by The Offspring and Bad Religion, this soundtrack is just about as '90s as can be. Whatever song you get at the start is sure to hype you up for the rest of your run. (I can only hope for a Crazy Taxi rival with my personal favorite rock songs of the 2000s.)
And who I am to forget the respective soundtrack of each and every entry in the House of the Dead series? I have no clue how the music is so darn consistent from game to the next—especially considering the changes in composers over the years—but I’m sure glad it is. Talk about powerful flippin’ music.
I could actually buy the House of the Dead 2 soundtrack CD for $300 on eBay right now if I felt so inclined. Fun fact: I in no way feel so inclined.
Speaking of which, I feel it’s really important to note the fact that most arcade game soundtracks never see any sort of release. Sure, you could scour after some older game tunes on tape or CD for exorbitant prices if you really wanted to, but what if you wanted to purchase something a little newer?
When I asked Justin Burke of Sega Amusements International about a House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn soundtrack release, for instance, he said he was unaware of any such plans. I still dearly hope that the delightful compositions from various arcade games will one day see the light of day.
I know I’m part of a supremely tiny audience asking for arcade game soundtrack CDs. Even so, wouldn’t it be cool if we at least got limited runs? Or a copy of the soundtrack included with every brand-new cabinet purchase? I’m just firing off ideas here.
At the end of the day, I wrote this article simply because I wanted to highlight a sorely underappreciated aspect of coin-op game design. I, for one, would be pretty tickled if anything came of this.
If you like talking arcade game music as much as I do, you’d be right at home in the Wilcox Arcade Discord server. Even if you don’t join, I can’t thank you enough for reading this article.
Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds. I’m out.