The 1990s were a fascinating time to be a video game fan. You had two juggernauts who were neck-and-neck in terms of popularity, fighting for the lion's share of the video game market. On one side, you had the legend of Nintendo; a company that's been in operation since the 1880s & the proclaimed saviour of the video game industry a century later. On the other side, you had the titan that is SEGA; a business that prospered in the arcade industry & made their transition into the home console market with eventual success.
It would be the release of the Super Nintendo & the Mega Drive at the turn of the decade that would both excite & divide fans. Both consoles have equally valid positives & negatives that would turn in into a back-and-forth war of home console Top Trumps. In the end, I have always found that depending on who you speak with, it will generally be down to the gamer's preference & belittling someone for their opinion isn‘t right in hindsight. One of the aspects debated between factions was the quality of its sound. Whether you're fan the Super Nintendo's sample-driven, atmospheric pieces or the raw energy from SEGA's FM sound-chip, the title of this article should pretty much confirm that the latter has been my preference for nearly a quarter of a century. The Mega Drive was not only my gateway into the world, it cemented the foundation of my love for this form of entertainment.
I've spent a number of hours flicking through various OST compilations & today, I will be revealing my Top 10 Mega Drive Soundtracks. Whilst there were plenty of noteworthy entries, please note that this is of course an opinion piece & I have noted down those that have sparked a personal appreciation with the entries listed in no particular order.
Will one of your favourites end up in this list? Let's find out!
Rocket Knight Adventures
Composers: Masanori Oouchi, Aki Hata, Michiru Yamane, Masanori Adachi, Hiroshi Kobayashi, Akira Yamaoka
Considered one of the true hidden gems on the system, Rocket Knight Adventures is a side-scrolling platformer where you play as a possum named Sparkster, in an adventure to save the kidnapped Princess Sherry & stop his arch enemy Axel Gear from stealing a ship capable of destroying entire worlds. It's a game that boasts a nice sense of challenge, a delicious level of detail and a soundtrack; full of energy and delightful melodies that will strengthen your resolve through each of its stages.
Recommended Tracks: Stage 1, Stage 3, Final Boss
Developer: Rare (Port by Arc System Works)
Composer: David Wise (Arranged by Hikoshi Hashimoto)
Before the days of Banjo-Kazooie, Conker & GoldenEye, Rare released a beat-em-up platformer featuring a group of humanoid toads on their mission to save their friends from the Dark Queen on her home planet. Its older NES brother has garnered the reputation for being one of the hardest platform games for the system. Whilst the Mega Drive does tone down this difficulty, Arc System Works did a great job in bringing this gem into the 16-bit era with a composition of synth & beat-heavy tracks that will keep you on your toes, just as much as the game does.
Recommended Tracks: Arctic Caverns, Surf City, Volkmire's Inferno Race
Developer: Virgin Interactive, Westwood Studios, Walt Disney Feature Animation
Composer: Allister Brimble
As one of the last Disney games to be released for the system, Pinocchio is a simple platformer re-telling the classic animated movie from 1940. Although basic in format, its the game's soundtrack that's one of its strongest attributes. Alongside the renditions of When You Wish Upon a Star & Give a Little Whistle, the latter levels contain some strong pieces with an added dash of emotion in certain places. Personally, Level 8 track pulleth the strings of the heart.
Recommended Tracks: Level 4, Level 5, Level 8
Composer: Naoki Kodaka
Following the release of Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, Sunsoft acquired the licence to create a game loosely based off the movie. It's the first time we are able to don the mask & become the Caped Crusader in glorious 16-bit form. One of the perks of this version is the variety of weapons you get to play with & you'll have the opportunity get behind the wheel of both the Batmobile and the Batwing. Its soundtrack ensures that the adrenaline-fuelled action of The Dark Knight's quest for justice remains consistent; from start to finish.
Recommended Tracks: Stage 3, Stage 4-1 & 5, Stage 4-2 & 6-3.
Developer: Now Production
Composer: "Milky" Eiko Kaneda
The second entry in Namco's horror platform series remains a blood-soaked journey with our protagonist, Rick, returning to the mansion he barely escaped from in the first game. If you have read my review of the Splatterhouse Trilogy, you'll be aware of my appreciation for the series & my love for this particular game's soundtrack. It's a jam-packed blend of horror & arcade melodies that maintains a consistent level of beats & atmosphere throughout.
Recommended Tracks: Insectoid/Leviathan Boss, Unholy Crystal Boss, The Ultimate Evil
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Composer: Masato Nakamura
Well there had to be a Sonic title in this list somewhere...and here it is! This was a very tough call, as the first four Sonic games are often seen like first four albums in Metallica's discography; all of them are great but you have your favourite. Whilst all of them feature stellar tracks, I had to pick with Sonic 2 primarily based on consistency & because of the upbeat nature of a majority of the tracks. A masterpiece in its own right.
Recommended Tracks: Chemical Plant Zone, Aquatic Ruin Zone, Mystic Cave Zone, Super Sonic.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Composers: Michael Jackson, Hiroshi Kubota, Takayuki Nakamura
Loosely based on the experimental music film of the same name, you play as The King of Pop in your mission to moonwalk, high kick & perform choreographed dance sequences in order to save the children kidnapped by the evil Mr. Big. Moonwalker has a unique charm & featuring hits from the albums Thriller & Bad, we see a rare & early example of renditions of licensed music heavily featured in a video game.
Recommended Tracks: All of them!
Battle Mania 2
Developer: Vic Tokai
Composers: Shigenori Masuko, Yoko Suzuki, Fumito Tamayama
Battle Mania 2 is a Japanese & Korean-only shoot-em-up game that has become one of the rarest Mega Drive games in the world. Internationally known as Trouble Shooter, of which its predecessor saw release in the US under this title, the game is a direct sequel in which a group resurrects the leader of the Blackball & its the jon of our female protagonists to stop them at all costs. Its soundtrack has a strong rock & metal influence with a blend of fast-paced tracks layered with some delightfully soft synths. Yes please!
Recommended Tracks: Dancing Hunter, Lunatic Monkey, Smoking Head
Developer: Vic Tokai
Composers: Fumito Tamayama, Hiroto Kanno
Decap Attack is a thrilling horror platformer where you play as Chuck D. Head; a headless mummy on a mission to prevent the evil Max D. Cap from taking over the world. The game features a wonder horror aesthetic, complimented with well-designed & bold graphics. Its soundtrack is one of energetic beats & will certainly get your body moving through its various levels. This is easily a Top 5 entry for me, although I'm not meant to be ranking these (Ssshhhhh Ryan!).
Recommended Tracks: Intro, Level 2, Level 7
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Composers: Manami Matsumae, Takashi Tateishi, Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita (Arranged by Kinuyo Yamashita)
Whilst various games were ported onto multiple systems, the thought of a major Nintendo title being released officially on the Mega Drive was almost unheard of at the time. The Wily Wars is a remake compilation of the first 3 Mega Man games featuring a new & exclusive section called Wily's Tower, which is unlocked after all three games have been completed. Whilst there are some design issues, the game is a gorgeous rendition of the original title & a soundtrack that gives some of its classic hits a worthy upgrade. Like Battle Mania 2, a physical copy of this game is extremely rare but luckily, it was recently included in the Mega Drive Mini console & I believe it's worth buying on this basis alone.
Recommended Tracks: Cutman Stage, Woodman Stage, Airman Stage, Gemini Man Stage
Thanks for reading the first edition of Press Select & we hoped you enjoyed this article! Were there any soundtracks you deem to be worthy of a top spot, but not mentioned in this list? Please do let us know via our social media pages, as we are always interested to hear your opinions, as you've been kind enough to listen to ours.