To date, Cheese and Pixels has been far more Cheese than Pixel, albeit even then not that much of the former. I personally don’t think I’m obligated to keep myself bound to one or two narrow lanes of interest, but really it’s more because the only video game I’ve played in earnest of late is Rogue Legacy, and I haven’t been able to collect my thoughts on that game in a cohesive fashion beyond “I liek dis”, and so I’ve been filling C&P with other things as they come to me. I do mildly regret that I’ll be kicking off my thoughts on the wide world of video games with a pile of hot takes that will earn me zero friends and fewer page views, but I doubt I’ll lose sleep over it.
I fancy myself a connoisseur of video game music, insofar as I listen to it even when I’m not playing games and I listen to songs from games I’ve never even played before. So I’ve been listening to it for a good long while. And there are some songs that keep cropping up, that you can’t get away from no matter what you do. They’re good, oftentimes even great, but they’re very surface picks, and people just never seem to get tired of them. Maybe I’m just human, but I sometimes get tired of things I hear over and over, and I also sometimes have an urge to say something about it. I don’t hate any of these songs (not that that will stop anyone from thinking I do), but I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to retiring them, or at least shelving them for a decade or so.
1. Super Mario Bros. — World 1-1
If you’re my age (30) or so, there’s a good chance this was the first video game song you ever heard. It’s as catchy as classics come. If you’re my dad, however, it’s also the only video game song you’ve ever heard.
My dad hates video game music. There were very few games he ever deigned to play in the first place, and when playing those he did, he turned the sound off. Those six notes, however, remain stuck in his craw. Until the day I moved out, there was no occasion in which my dad walked in the room while I was playing a video game that did not result in him going “doo doo doot doo-doot doot!”. Video games were the Pavlov’s bell that made those six notes come from his mouth. It did not matter what I was playing. It always happened. One time I wasn’t even playing a video game. I was watching Law & Order.
Because I hate being a curmudgeon for too extended a period of time, I’ll try when possible to counter my awful hot takes with a version of the song under the guillotine that I enjoy listening to. In this case, you get two! Both from OCRemix (longtime slogan: “Where Production Values Matter More Than Having Fun”).
The first is “Dirty Mix”, which samples “Ring of Fire” and is responsible for why I sometimes repeatedly say “noodles” in a terrible Brooklyn accent for what appears to be no reason:
And second is “The Life and Death of the Mario Brothers”, which makes me wish I wasn’t too old to use the word “molly” without being laughed at by kids who haven’t eaten enough:
2. Super Mario Bros. — World 1-2
You know a game has reached legendary status when it has two songs you’re tired of hearing. This one has an extra layer of annoying because no one ever sings it correctly. They always sing the doo-doos on the downbeat and stress the first doo in the couplet, when you’re supposed to space them out a little more and stress the second doo. It’s difficult to demonstrate in writing, but accept that I’m right and we’ll move on.
There is an absolutely fantastic version of this song called “Plumber’s Cave” that was supposed to be in Wario Land: Shake It! for the Wii, but didn’t make the final cut. I recall reading that the song was omitted because the developers didn’t feel like it fit the style of the rest of the game. Evidently the style of the game wasn’t COMPLETELY BADASS, because this song gives you your 100 percent daily recommended allowance of it. I mean, listen to that jazz flute! LISTEN TO IT!
3. The Legend of Zelda — Overworld Theme
How many times can they make an orchestral version of this song and not expect me to fall asleep within the first five seconds? Straight-up orchestral music is the most boring VGM. I can listen to classical music any time I want. I’m showing my age and era bias pretty flagrantly here, but I don’t care and I don’t really want to have an argument about what “real” video game music is.
No fancy remixes for this one, more of a simple re-arrangement: the version that appears in Link’s Awakening. The fourth Zelda adventure is for me a heavy sentimental favorite, because it was the first Zelda game I owned and really had a chance to dig into, but I like the mystical yet more heroic turn that it takes in the second half of its loop.
4. DuckTales — The Moon
People are always going on about how great this song is. Once again, I can’t dispute that it is an excellent piece of music, and its massive popularity is proof that licensed video games, considered terrible so often that there’s a word for games that add to that mountain of failure, are capable of adding meaningfully to the mythos of a property. But it’s not the best song in the DuckTales NES game. It’s not even second. Most days, I would place it third, and depending on how I’m feeling about the Transylvania theme on a given day, I might even slip it in at fourth.
This is borne out in the fact that the Moon theme isn’t anywhere near the best part of the DuckTales Remastered soundtrack either. As spotless a reputation as it has, you would think it would have gotten the most love and attention. Not so much, as it turns out. It barely gets an update at all—virtually no changes to the melody with only a short almost ambient jam that goes nowhere. I’m not asking for an OCRemix-level reinterpretation, but that’s seriously weak. Compare the Amazon theme, which you can tell by its interpretation has captured so much more of Jake Kaufman’s heart. Listen to how happy those bass and flutey synths to be in there. I’ll even take dubstep Transylvania over the limp-noodle Moon remaster.
5. Mega Man 2 — Dr. Wily’s Castle, Stage 1
This one, I actually get the fuss about. Mega Man 2 was such a huge improvement over the first one that at least some of its component elements, if not the whole game itself, were bound to become emblematic of the series. In fact, it probably represents the biggest-ever improvement from one installment of a video game series to the next outside of Super Mario Bros. 2 [Japan] to 3. But people just refuse to let go of this one. There are so many other tracks from other games in this venerable series that I’m inclined to reach for first, and as for this game, I’m more of a funk lord, so the Crash Man theme is my jam. Mega Man is such a wide-ranging series with so many great pieces of music that it seems a shame to keep slobbing this one song’s knob over and over again. It all reminds me of the time I was eating at this wing joint and they were playing Nickelback and Finger Eleven and other similar bands over the speakers, and when the song ended, it turned out they were on satellite radio. Like, why pay all that money for Sirius/XM when you’re just going to tune the dial to the same stuff you’ve heard a million times everywhere else? Are you feeling me here?
6. Final Fantasy VII — One-Winged Angel
Maybe I should cut this one some slack. There are now so many Final Fantasy entries of such wavering quality that it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff. I think only trolls and the truly hateful would argue that VII should be in the latter category. But given the choice between this track and “Dancing Mad”, are you seriously telling me you’re not going to take “Dancing Mad” every single time? “Dancing Mad” is one of the easiest 18-minute songs to listen to, with its operatic prog-rock sweep and gradually increasing intensity, whereas I can barely stand one minute of Latin chanting in “One-Winged Angel” and that seven minutes feels like an eternity. It’s that combined with the fact that Sephiroth seems like a bit of a ninny compared to Kefka. Also, this game used to be everywhere all the time, even well into the PS2 era. Final Fantasy VI never got to be everywhere all the time. Maybe I have a complex about this. Or perhaps I’ve just been listening to too much Axe of the Blood God.
 We’re all aware of the fluke that is Super Mario Bros. 2/USA, and the prospect of of yet again rehashing the most basic facts of its genesis is exhausting. Suffice it to say that since it’s so much its own thing, I don’t consider Super Mario Bros. 3 a natural outgrowth of its mechanics and style, and I really doubt anyone else does either.
 Until just now, I thought this song was lost to the mists of time, but if you go to vgmixarchive.com and listen to “crashman jam working title”, you’ll get a six-minute slice of fried funky gold, and it even has that oh-so-90s “pssh come on!” sample in it. Was pretty sure it used to be called “Crash Beat Boombox”, but I’ll take it in any form I can get it.