Cornea blowing graphics that push the limits of a console have often been a primary selling point for video games. However, it is the imaginative work the development team puts into sound engineering for a game that makes it remembered for decades after playthrough.
A game’s soundtrack certainly enlivens the experience, instilling valor during gunfights or inspiring wonder while exploring a world. Underrated though, is the creativity that goes into the game sound effects. Particularly, the ones that are so well done that you could hear it anywhere and be brought back to that game.
These are small audio snippets played for a few seconds whose memory lasts a lifetime for gamers. Put on your top-shelf pair of headphones, and prepare to be reminded of some of the most iconic sounds in gaming.
10. Gears of War - Headshot
First person shooters often reward players gratuitously for achieving headshots against the enemy, yet no game achieves this quite as gratuitously as the infamous king of virtual brutality, Gears of War.
Who could expect anything less from a game offering chainsaw executions, curb-stomping finishing moves, and literally punching someone until their head explodes?
Graphically, headshots in Gears of War are wonderfully rewarded. Featured are streams of blood pulsing out of the neck, following a gory firework out of the blown cranium. Even better though, is the legendary sound of the gunfire decapitation.
It all begins with a percussive boom, immediately followed by a squelching noise of grey matter pulling apart and separating in the air. The finish lingers, like someone pumping their hands in a pot of chunky-thick Ragu, and pulling them out to shake it on the floor.
9. Call of Duty - Hit Markers
Audio Director at Infinity Ward Stephen Miller and his team used about 90 microphones to record 50 different guns firing to give each firearm in Call of Duty Modern Warfare its own signature sound. Despite all this work, the one sound that has continued to be the fan favorite throughout the series is the muted thump of the hit marker.
Across the bloody spectrum of weapons, the Call of Duty hit marker is the one consistent verification that you’ve connected a hit. The sound is like a staccato kick drum, with twice the accompanying wave of euphoria of popping bubble wrap.
We’ve endorsed the best headsets for Call of Duty Warzone for many game elevating benefits, though none so strong as being able to hear this beautiful kill notification in crystal clear high definition.
8. Tetris - Tetris Song
Technically, this is a song but I wouldn’t quite classify it as a game soundtrack. More like a carousel tune, going round and round forever as the player gets lost deeper in the hypnotic joy of fitting different shaped blocks into rows.
The Tetris theme is based on a Russian folk song called “Korobeikini,” the song’s lyrics telling the tale of a Russian merchant who exchanges his goods for sexual favors from a young lady, and then ends up marrying her. This is where the jaunty song’s narrative ends. Interestingly, the poem this song is based on continues the story, ending with the merchant being robbed and murdered by a forest ranger.
Not sure what this has to do with stacking blocks, but it is a fun tune regardless!
7. Doom - Monsters
The premise of Doom is a march through hellish regions inhabiting some of the most terrifying monsters ever displayed on screens. To terrify the space marine protagonist known as “Doomguy,” it makes sense that the team cooked up all sorts of terrifying growls and roars to rile him and the player up.
The Doom Monster sound has likely served as the inspiration for any monster sound in all FPS shooters following it, the godfather of all monster mashing shooters. You’ll definitely want some of the best audiophile headphones to fully appreciate the terrifying and infernal sounds hell has to offer.
6. Legend of Zelda - Puzzle Solved
The Legend of Zelda series, especially the early iterations, are host to a whole book of different iconic sounds. The decision was tough, but the one that wins out with us is the timeless “puzzle solved tune.”
This string of eight notes was composed by Koji Kondo for the first Legend of Zelda in 1986. Since then, it has lived on in every Zelda game, evolving from an 8-bit MIDI tune to a luscious harp piece in Wind Waker and the current simplified piano version present in Breath of the Wild.
Some honorable mentions here are the chest opening fanfare, Link’s sword noises (Ha!), and Navi’s utterly useless “Hey, listen!”
5. Mortal Kombat - “Get Over Here!”
It’s no surprise that Mortal Kombat’s most iconic line is delivered by its most iconic character, the demon ninja Scorpion.
Scorpion is a master martial artist who is also trained in the use of a chain spear to fight his enemies. One of his main uses for the spear is to throw it across the battleground, plunging it into his opponent’s chest, and then yanking them towards him to continue the beatdown in close quarters.
Right at the moment before he pulls the enemy in, Scorpion yells his iconic line to let them know they have no chance of escaping death. This usually ends with his flaming fatality, where he pulls up his mask to reveal a barebone skull that shoots white hot flame from the mouth.
4. Metal Gear Solid - Alert
For a game that is largely centered around stealth and silent subterfuge, Metal Gear Solid could not have executed the character detection sound more startlingly. This alert is so iconic, it’s presence in various memes and parody videos as a common expression of surprise
Whenever Snake gets spotted by an enemy, this loud alert blares, disrupting the quiet of the stealthy atmosphere. Simultaneously, a large red exclamation point jumps above the enemy’s head, and stays there until Snake is able to hide long enough that patrolling soldiers let their guard down again.
Unless Snake can quickly escape to cover, this alert typically announces incoming death for the player, which only makes things more desperate.
3. Pac-Man - Waka Waka
The ravenous cheese wheel Pac-Man loves to eat blinking white dots, floating fruit, and retreating blue ghosts. He’s happiest when he’s feasting, the sound of his chewing an 8-bit “waka waka waka” sound as he navigates around various buffet mazes.
At the date of this article, Pac-Man is celebrating 40 years as the most well-known video game character globally, living in a game that is the highest grossing video game series of all time. In case you felt like celebrating by downloading the game on your smartphone, we have a few recommendations on how to hear that signature waka waka with the best earbuds for mobile gaming.
2. Sonic - Rings
The uplifting jingle of acquiring golden rings in the Sonic Series pairs well with the bright candy tones of the environments the blue hedgehog dashes around in. Even the heartbreaking sound of Sonic being damaged and dropping some rings is a sweet tone, often used in humorous internet videos when someone gets hit or unwittingly smashes into something
However, I was thrown off the first time I heard the familiar ring as a gas station attendant rang up my road trip snacks. After some internet digging, I found this video by Youtuber Nexpo that goes into the possible connection between the golden ring jangle and convenience store POS stations.
Somewhere, Dr. Robotnik is laughing maniacally as he swims in a sea of gold rings.
1. Super Mario Series - Jump
This is a toss-up for me, because the boingy springboard sound of the heroic Italian plumber is, to me, just as memorable as his renowned triple jump noises (Ha! Hoo-hoo! YA-HA!). Shigeru Miyamoto knew a winner in the sounds of Zelda and kept it consistent in his Mario series.
Mario’s jumps needed a strong sound because his hops were his basic attack against all opponents, from the lowly Koopa to the mighty Bowser. These days, the outdated jump sound has been left out of the most recent games, but live on in many internet videos as a comical sound effect of a character jumping or scene transition.
As for the triple jump call, it lives on even in the most recent Mario games. Charles Martinet nailed the peppy voice of Mario, as well as the signature voices of Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, and Toadsworth.
Who knew that a small string of notes or a simple noise could so embed themselves so deeply in a player’s psyche? Sound has always played a pivotal role in all video games, and when it’s done with care it is a potent, memorable thing.