Game Music Revue: Famicom/Namcot Game Sound Museums

When I moved to Japan a few years back, my game music collecting habit really kicked itself into overdrive. And whenever I would go out looking for CD soundtracks of my favorite classic titles, I would occasionally stumble upon these strange tiny CDs of Nintendo game audio. I would pick one up whenever I saw them. They were cheap, and many of them were for some of my favorite games of all-time, so why not?

Next thing I knew, I had over 30 of them.

These CDs were released in 2004, perhaps to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the system, which was the year prior. There were two sets. The first 21 collected game audio from some of the earliest, best, and most influential first party games for the system. An additional 15 CDs were also released, chronicling the early Namco (or Namcot) releases.

If you’re on the hunt for pure gameplay audio and music, then these CDs are a goldmine, as that’s all they contain. But be warned, when I say that’s all they contain, that’s literally all they contain. No remixes, no arranged versions, no bonus tracks. These discs feature audio and music from the games they are named after, no more and no less.

Sometimes, that’s more than enough. For example, the Super Mario Bros. 3 disc features 30 tracks (about 20 minutes in total) of music, every single song from the game.  And it sounds amazing. The same goes for the Zelda and Zelda II discs, nothing but classic game music tracks, with some high-quality sound effects sprinkled in for good measure. And while none of the songs are epic in length, the one or two minutes each offer you are top-notch gold, some of the greatest music of the 8-bit era.

You really can’t say that for the soundtrack to Donkey Kong 3, Dragon Buster, or Genpei Toumaden. Most of these just include a brief smattering of forgettable music and some even end up having to fill the last track with two minutes or so of gameplay audio just to fill the disc up to a respectable 10 minutes. You really can’t blame them, there wasn’t much music in games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, or even Rolling Thunder. But does anyone out there really want to hear to someone play any of those games for upwards of five minutes? Probably not.

But some of these are fantastic just for the hidden gems they include. The Ice Climbers disc, for instance, features the complete soundtrack and game audio for both the cartridge and Famicom Disk. The changes aren’t major by any means, but they’re interesting nonetheless. And the combo disc that includes music from both Stack-Up and Gyromite is an interesting listen if for no other reason than finding a copy of Stack-Up can be cost prohibitive, so hearing high-quality rips of the gameplay audio is nearly impossible.

But for me, the most interesting of the bunch is the soundtrack disc for the Famicom Disk Writer, an in-store kiosk that allowed kids to erase and re-write Famicom game discs for a heavily discounted process. This kiosk came with a demo reel playing, and the audio of that is included on the CD. It features a few memorable clips from various Famicom titles, as well as what sounds like some original compositions. The CD even includes the sound effects the machine would make while writing a disk, as well as a track that plays the error sounds the machine would make if something went horribly wrong. I can’t imagine these sound effects and music tracks are available anywhere else, so that’s kind of cool. Also, they all have nice little booklets and liner notes. Work went into these, no doubt about that.

And of course, many of these are dirt cheap if you know where to look. I think the Super Mario Bros. 3 one set me back about $40, but I paid less than $10 a pop for the rest. If you’re in Akihabara and want to pick up a cheap souvenir, you could certainly do worse.

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