Ok, I’m going to start off by immediately saying that this list does NOT, in fact, represent my top favorite game themes. Neither does it mean to undermine any of the multitudes of iconic first-level game tunes that didn’t make this list. This list is simply made up of those jingles upon first entering a game’s plane of existence that meant the most to me and why. (and yes, most are from older games)

I see you there with the pitchfork and torch. Don’t try to hide it.

So here are my top 5 most iconic 1st Level tunes from video games.

Emerald Hill Zone
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
You would think that, with most franchises, the best opening level theme of the first game would be the best in most people’s minds in terms of nostalgia. Well, as easy as it might be to say Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog is the best of the opening game themes, I’ve always found Emerald Hill Zone from it’s sequel game to be everything that Green Hill is and more. The tempo is faster; the beats are catchier, and the tune just emphasizes the fact you want to be zooming through the stage as fast as you possibly can in order to keep up with the melody. The older Sonic games were considered the prime examples of great gaming music during the Genesis era, but even later games didn’t have the same punch in their opening level music as I think Emerald Hill Zone proved to have.

Beyond the ColosseumDemon’s Crest
Ghosts & Goblins may have been the flagship game of its franchise, and certainly the 1st level Graveyard theme has become synonymous with Arthur and his battle against the forces of darkness. (even getting an upgrade in Super Ghouls & Ghosts) However, a lot of people forgot about it’s spinoff games, Gargoyle’s Quest & Gargoyle’s Quest 2 that featured Arthur’s demonic rival Firebrand. As cutesy and fun as the GQ games were for the Gameboy, the spinoff series got a huge overhaul with Demon’s Crest for the SNES, going darker and far more morbid than even any of the G&G games. Beyond the Colosseum, which opens as the first full-level theme of the game, is a gorgeous and chilling tune that really focuses on the fact you are truly in a demonic realm fighting the worst of the worst, but also features an bit of a tragic side to it that gives things a quiet despairing note to it. All in all, it was one of the things that cemented my love of a game I didn’t play until far into my 20’s and have loved ever since.

Battle of the HolyCastlevania: The Adventure
I know, I know. Being the huge Castlevania fan I am, why out of all the games in the series did I pick the opening level 1 theme of one of the crappier Gameboy titles? It’s pretty simple – Castlevania: the Adventure may have had clunky controls and not the greatest gameplay experience, but damn if it didn’t at least have catchy music. (a staple of most games in the series) I will admit that it was hard to pick at one level 1 theme from the over 20 games of my favorite series, but Battle of the Holy is a perfect example of a hopeless situation (aka: playing a shoddily-constructed game) being turned into something good with simply it’s opening music. Battle of the Holy is a sorely under-looked and under-appreciated tune in its own right that focuses on building the player up with not only a catchy beat, but also some courageous rifts that pump you up for the arduous battle to come. The music of “Adventure” is one of the shining points of an otherwise under-performing game, and in terms of it’s power to keep the player going on, it really can be more powerful than series regulars “Vampire Killer”, “Beginning” or “Bloodlines”.

The Desert RocksTurrican 2
I can never say enough great things about the soundtrack to the C64/Amiga game Turrican 2, as it’s music was what re-introduced me to the series again after a 15-year gap. What’s profound about the game’s level 1 theme is that, after the incredibly powerful Opening Theme to the game, Desert Rocks proves that the game itself is not simply depending on a strong opening theme, then being mediocre the rest of the game. Desert Rocks was as gripping a tune for my childhood as the rest of the game, and even moreso because I did live up to the hype the game’s opening delivered. The tune itself builds you up for the long battle you’re about to undertake in the name of your revenge again your enemies, starting slow and melodic as it gears you up for the intensity to come later. There’s a reason it was one of the most requested bonus tunes for the upcoming Turrican Anthology album.

For anyone who ever played the original Diablo game, I probably don’t need to explain this choice at all. For the rest of you, you’ll have to take my word for it. While not technically a “Level 1” theme in the traditional sense, since Diablo was an RPG dungeon-crawler, the town theme of Tristram was the first in-game music you heard upon entering the playable game itself. It served as the central-hub music during your treks through the dark, horrid catacombs beneath the town’s dilapidated cathedral, and for most players was a symbol of rest and recharging before driving back into the endless battle to slay the Lord of Terror, Diablo and his hordes of hell. The theme itself was simple, featuring mostly a single acoustic guitar as it’s main focus, that delivered a far-reaching tune that was both soothing and foreboding at the same time. With echoing arpeggios and soft background cello/bass to emphasize the dark shadow hanging over the town that shares it’s name with the music itself, Tristram’s theme will forever be what makes us recurring players “Stay a While and Listen”.