Top 10 8-bit Game Music [Best Recommendations]

8-Bit music has certainly evolved a lot over the years. Once just viewed as filler noise to entice kids into humming along with what they were playing, you can now find bands devoted to replicating the sound of 8-bit game music, or reimaginings of the songs the artists grew up with. Now it’s recognized as its own genre of music in chiptune. There are even lots of newer games like Shovel Knight that go so far as to replicate the style into a modern game.

So, why don’t we list off some of the most influential of the 8-bit era of game music, to see where it all started? But let’s be clear: we’re focusing exclusively on tracks that were made using 8-bit sound chips. Often you’ll find game music like Tetris Type-A and Pokémon music cited alongside other 8-bit songs, but these are technically made with 4-bit sound chips and get conflated under the banner of chiptune since it sounds similar. But for this list, only true 8-bit need apply!

10. Chill (Dr. Mario)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Release Dates: October 14th, 1990

Mario has dropped the plumber act and gone to med school. Now he’s working as a doctor, and his patients are all infected with viruses. The cure? Pills! Lots and lots of pills. As the good doctor shoves as many pills as he can down his patient’s throat, you’ll line-up each color-coded end with a matching colored virus. Get 3 lined up with the virus, and it’s as good as dead! Keep doing this until the patient is cured and then move onto the next one.

While the main Dr. Mario theme is more recognizable to your average joe, Chill is the more representative work of Dr. Mario’s composer, Hip Tanaka. Rather than going for the digital jingles and theme songs you normally get from 8-bit game music, Hip Tanaka instead infused Chill with more of an underground flavor. It’s got a dark reggae-vibe to it, emphasizing the bass of the song rather than the melody. It’s a strange and maybe a little more unexpectedly unsettling track than what you may be used to out of music from an NES game, but it really shows what can be done with the sound chip as an instrument rather than a vessel to shoot tunes out of.

9. Underworld Theme (Kid Icarus)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1, TOSE
  • Release Dates: July 1st, 1987 (US)

Pit has been banished to the Underworld! The evil Underworld armies of Medusa have managed to climb their way out and take over Sky World. As a last ditch effort, Pit will have to climb his way out of the Underworld using the bow provided by the Goddess of Light, Palutena. Along the way, you’ll reclaim the 3 sacred treasures and use them to banish Medusa back to her home once again.

Despite taking place in the very depths of the Underworld, it’s got very jaunty background music. This is good, because this happy, adventurous little tune makes the beginning of the game much easier to swallow. Not that it’s bad, mind you! It’s just that Kid Icarus is notorious for its strange difficulty curve, where the beginning of the game is somehow leagues more difficult than the ending of the game. But for a game about climbing out from underground and reaching the skies, you really need that soaring music to keep you motivated!

8. Dragon Quest Overture (Dragon Quest)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Chunsoft
  • Release Dates: August 1989 (US)

It’s time to start a grand new adventure! The Dragonlord has returned and captured the fair Princess Gwaelin. You’re the only one up to the task as a descendent of the great knight, Erdrick. However, it’s been so long that the people have forgotten all about the tale of how Erdrick once defeated the Dragonlord, and you’ll need to prove that you’re trustworthy. You’ll travel the land in search of clues as to where the Dragonlord really is.

While it’s maybe a little quaint these days, at the time, Dragon Quest was one of the grandest adventure games out there. Naturally, a suitable big theme was required, and what we got was the track that greets us with every new Dragon Quest adventure to this day. The Dragon Quest Overture has the feel of a parade march, there to show off while also keeping you moving. And, hey, it’s lasted for so long because, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

7. Fountain of Dreams (Kirby’s Adventure)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: HAL Laboratory
  • Release Dates: May 1st, 1993 (US)

After beating all of King Dedede’s minions, Kirby is finally able to re-forge the Star Rod. As Kirby approaches the base to put it into place, Dedede won’t stop holding him back. He simply just won’t give up! The nerve! Even after stealing all the food from Dreamland in the last game. Kirby gives him one good smack with the Star Rod, and then puts it back into place. But then… something emerges from the base…

It’s not the most iconic Kirby track, or the catchiest, or even the lengthiest (less than 30 seconds). However, Fountain of Dreams is one of the most notable tracks in Kirby for how it’s used. The soothing tone gives you the sense that everything is wrapping up nicely. It helps too that, being Kirby’s second game, you’re already going in with the idea that King Dedede is Kirby’s equivalent to Bowser or Ganon. The music in this section plays into that idea, before the sudden appearance of Nightmare at the end. It’s one of the very first uses of music to manipulate your expectations of the plot in a video game.

6. Overworld (Legend of Zelda)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo R&D4
  • Release Dates: July 1987 (US)

The land of Hyrule has been overrun by the demon army of Ganon. He managed to do so by utilizing the Triforce of Power, and is on a mad hunt to find the other two pieces. Princess Zelda, not wanting Ganon to succeed in his mad quest for domination, splits up her own Triforce of Wisdom into 8 pieces and hides them deep inside temples strewn about Hyrule. You’ll of course play as Link, a young Hylian, and search for the pieces to free Hyrule from Ganon’s rule!

The Overworld theme in The Legend of Zelda has become synonymous with adventure. And why not? The Legend of Zelda was everyone’s first sandbox adventure game, spending hundreds of hours getting lost in its giant world. All the while, you’d hear this tune play on loop over and over and over again. At this point people hum it to themselves while out hiking or even driving down the highway, as it represents the infinite possibilities regarding what may be over the next hill.

5. Main Theme (Final Fantasy)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Square
  • Release Dates: May 1990 (US)

There are 4 Warriors of Light, each of whom carries a dimmed orb. Garland the knight has captured Princess Sara of Corneria, and the Warriors of Light are on the job. Once they do that, they’ll move from continent to continent to research how to reignite their orbs. They discover these orbs each represent the elements of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth, and that they’ll need to revive their power to deal with an even greater threat than Garland!

We really had to acknowledge Final Fantasy somewhere in here because it was the world’s introduction to Nobuo Uematsu, one of the most notable game composers in the world. The Main Theme of Final Fantasy plays at the title screen, and sets the tone for the game: something that feels timeless. It’s how we were greeted to the game and the soundtracks that would follow for years and years to come.

4. Super Mario Bros Theme (Super Mario Bros)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo Creative Department
  • Release Dates: September 13th, 1985 (JP)

Princess Toadstool has been captured by the evil King Koopa! Her servants, the mushroom people known as Toads, have been locked away by Bowser’s army. The only ones up to the task? The Super Mario Brothers, a pair of plumber twins with the ability to jump like none other! They’ll run, jump, ingest power mushrooms and fire flowers, and stomp on enemies to work their way to King Koopa’s Castle and save the fair maiden.

C’mon, you know this song. Everyone knows it. Not just gamers, but their parents, their children. Heck, even your grandparents, if they know any video game music, they are going to know the Super Mario Bros. theme. The interesting part of the track? Well… to be honest, it’s just a simple little Latin-inspired ditty that composer Koji Kondo wrote to draw attention to the mechanics. After all, jumping wouldn’t be as fun if the music didn’t sound as fun!

3. Brinstar (Metroid)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1, Intelligent Systems
  • Release Dates: August 15th, 1987 (US)

Samus has just landed on Planet Zebes, the hideout of the nefarious Space Pirates. Supposedly, they’ve been doing research on the deadly Metroids, which are gigantic parasitic cellular-like creatures that suck away the life of anything they come in contact with. Samus has only one mission: defeat the Space Pirate captain Mother Brain and eliminate any Metroid they come into contact with while they’re at it.

Metroid is one of the first games that was notable for creating an atmosphere beyond just a fun adventure game. This wasn’t just an adventure, but more akin to capturing the sense of horror of the unknown, similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien. However, in order to set that tone later on, they needed something a bit more adventurous to start you off before racking up the tension. Thus, we got the Brinstar theme: a suitably adventurous theme that makes you think you’re on a fun space adventure before getting more grotesque.

2. Bloody Tears (Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Dates: December 1st, 1988 (US)

Castlevania 2 is not widely considered to be a great game. It has its fans, sure, but it may have been a bit overly ambitious in its scope for the time. The day/night mechanic where enemies get stronger at night was neat in concept, but with no visible timer to count down when the change will happen, it comes off as a cheap way to increase the difficulty. The massive overworld and exploration was neat, but the hints were what we can only call “NES vague”; totally esoteric riddles that were only designed to be confusing to save space on the cartridge because an extra text box would take up another percentage point of data. You’ll find fans of Castlevania 2, but it’s mainly notable for establishing the path that the series would eventually take.

But dang if Bloody Tears doesn’t kill it. You can almost hear the Trans-Siberian Orchestra emanating from your little NES. The combination of gothic beats with the energetic flow of a rock song makes it the perfect Castlevania track. Forget any song you knew from the original Castlevania; Bloody Tears is the iconic track from the long-running franchise.

1. Wily Stage 1 (Mega Man 2)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Dates: June 1989 (US)

You’ve done it! As Mega Man, you’ve beaten all eight Robot Masters! It’s finally time to invade Wily’s Castle once and for all. It’s a stormy-looking day, though. It’s not going to be an easy climb. You’ve got a massive climb ahead of you, and he doesn’t provide a lot of accessibility to his home either. You’ll have to fight through swarms of robo-birds and Knuckle Joes to make it to the end. Word is he’s even got a robot dragon waiting for anyone who makes it in deep enough! You’ll need to make use of all the equipment Dr. Light has made for you thus far.

All the while, this rockin’ ditty is playing during your invasion. Wily Stage 1 isn’t limited by the NES’s 8-bit sound channels, but is enhanced by it. Somehow it manages to shred harder than any electric guitar could because the electronic beeps create a mystery to the sound, like there’s no way any instrument could ever capture the intensity of the moment. It’s the ultimate hype track, and was even remixed for the reveal of Mega Man when he was introduced to Super Smash Bros.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there’s so much more 8-bit game music out there that we simply couldn’t fit onto this list. We know there are plenty of other tracks we could have mentioned, even some from the games that were already listed above! Please, if we missed your favorites, don’t hesitate to leave your comments below!

Main-Theme-from-Final-Fantasy-Wallpaper Top 10 8-bit Game Music [Best Recommendations]


Author: Matt Knodle

I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.

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