The late 80’s NES title, Mega Man 2, was — and remains — a shining example of video game design. Colourful, varied, and challenging in a crucially fair way: if you fucked up, it was on you. It’s about as perfect as the medium gets.
It was also a game filled to the brim with absolutely phenomenal music. This wasn’t a quality limited to Mega Man 2, either. There was something in the air in those early years when it came to scoring video games. Maybe it was the technological limitations. Reduce the palette of possibility and magic can spark. Just talk to Ridley Scott about Alien. These days it’s a common practice for games to have fully realised, majestic-sounding orchestral scores. The trouble is that often, once you get past the ostensible majesty and you peak through the walls of sound, you notice that the composers have forgotten one fundamental pillar in their construction: actually crafting a good melody. Mega Man 2 on the contrary is a game indicative of its time — it decidedly does not suffer from this structural deficiency. It’s all goddamn melody.
Much has been written about the way Mega Man 2 (and the series overall) structured its world around distinctively designed boss-centred worlds, and the inventiveness in visual and gameplay design that this brought. This was echoed in the music and the individual boss themes, which perfectly reflected the character of your adversaries. And once again it comes down to the limitations. Each boss was just a few pixels tall and wide; their world composed similarly so — but these basic ingredients, combined in the right way, could be as evocative as an oil painting. The musical themes bear this out better than perhaps anything else. They were lessons in how, with just a few overlapping synth lines, whole stories could be told — as long as you wielded a supernatural understanding of melody and dynamics that is.
I mean, listen:
And that intro theme, fer chrissakes:
Each one a stone-cold classic.
But there is one theme nestled in the game that towers above even these slabs of greatness.
It doesn’t wait to introduce itself in any way. There is no count-in. No four-beat high-hat warning to the listener. It just goes. It’s a double-barreled blast to the face. It’s kinetic, evocative, and perfect. It’s probably the greatest video game theme of all time.
Now, now, wait, hold your pitchforks, Ocarina Of Time-theme-worshippers!
Slow your roll, Metal Gear Solid-theme-acolytes!
Chill out, The Last Of Us-theme true believers!
You’re all equally correct in your devotion to those tunes. They are amazing and perfect and you’re absolutely right to say that they can’t be bested in any way.
Except you’re all wrong because here’s Mega Man 2’s ‘Dr Wily’s Castle theme’ to make you eat shit:
That Iron Maiden-esque gallop. Those slower staccato notes breaking it up. That yearning melody peppered throughout. Those soaring, interlocking lines, harmonising perfectly. That insistent beat, never letting up, never letting you quit.
Takashi Tateishi and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, take a bow, you goddamn mad geniuses. I’ve been headbanging to your synth lines for decades, and I don’t plan to stop until whiplash says otherwise.