When you’ve booted up a beat-’em-up or a fighting game, before you can get your beat-down on, you have a very weighty decision to make: Who shall be the instrument of your butt-kicking? Which avatar of violence will you utilize to wreak gratuitous havoc on the denizens of the virtual universe in which you’re about to set foot?
The music that accompanies this decision-making process has a relatively short time in which to pump you up so that you’re at your butt-kickingest when you begin the process of mashing your avatar’s fist into the various faces of your adversaries. What follows is a collection of (mostly) simple beats that are some of the best get-excited tunes that gaming has to offer. Keep at least one of these on hand for those days when tasks seem insurmountable. Maybe they’d even get you out of bed on a morning that you’re being oppressed by the crushing weight of existential bleakness.
TMNT IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
A simple loop that you may recall from your childhood, this music is nostalgia city. Pretty much the entire soundtrack to Turtles in Time was musical gold, but people were likely to linger on the character select screen for more than just a moment because each of the four turtles played slightly different–conservative, strategic players picked Donny, who had reach and higher defense, while reckless players picked Raph, who had speed and maneuverability.
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)
Streets of Rage 2 is one of the greatest beat-’em-ups of all time, and if you don’t agree with that statement then you have questionable judgment at best. The character selection music is mellow enough to give you time to debate whether you’re going to go for speed (Skate), raw power (Max), or a combination of the two (probably a wiser choice). The screen even gives you a breakdown of each character’s stats! Generous. Good music by which to select your outfit for a night out on the town (perhaps to bust some heads).
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 (Dreamcast)
I never owned a Dreamcast, and I’ve never spent dedicated time with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. Despite this, every gamer I know seems to know this song. Perhaps people enjoy being taken for rides? Do me a favor and listen to this for somewhere between thirty and ninety seconds. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Congratulations! Now it will never leave your head.
Super Smash Bros. Melee (GC)
Brawl‘s music might be more refined, but this is the song that played in my dorm room for something like eight hundred hours over the course of my college experience. The original Smash Bros. for N64 was delightful, and Brawl is an excellent game with much more content, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across someone who’s played either of these as much as they’ve played Melee. The character select music, with its triumphant horns, is a different sort of “pump up” theme, far removed from wailing guitars and excellent bass beats. I’m pretty sure this is still enough to get you excited before you have to tackle something difficult, however.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike (DS)
The Advance Wars games are all known for their colorful, ever-growing cast of delightful characters. By the time Dual Strike hit store shelves, players had fully twenty-seven commanding officers from whom they might select. And the game went ahead and stacked equip-able abilities on top of that! That’s a lot of decisions to make before you get to send hundreds of cartoon men to their violent deaths. Fortunately, the lovely people at Intelligent Systems gave us this groovy tune to bob our heads to while we outfitted our characters. This is good music to listen to while you pick out which of your friends is going to join your Elite Strike Team.
TMNT: Tournament Fighters (Genesis)
What, again with the Ninja Turtles? Well, it turns out that whoever the Konami musical wizards were in the early to mid nineties, they were particularly kind to the TMNT franchise. Tournament Fighters, while not particularly remarkable as a game, did a lot to put the Genesis hardware to good use (the game also came out on SNES and NES, each with totally unique soundtracks!).
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (DC)
Fighting games like to bring the funk, and the Street Fighter franchise is no exception. While not as catchy as Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, this piece of music is certainly just as odd of a choice for a character select screen. Nevertheless, it’s hoppin’ enough to make you want to delay your decision just a little bit… sure, the fighting is gonna come, but are you so eager to get to it that you’re going to interrupt the funk?
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game (XBLA, PSN)
I cannot possibly say enough good things about Anamanaguchi‘s soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim game (except perhaps that you should buy it, buy it buy it buy it), but this delightful character select riff is so simple and short that it’s not even on the soundtrack. That doesn’t change the fact that it is the single happiest chiptune ditty in the history of videogames. Seriously, put on this music and… clean the house, do your homework, drive to your job, hang out with your friends–it doesn’t matter. This song can get you pumped for anything. If I set this to be my alarm in the morning, I would wake up at 5:00am, run six miles, cook my wife a bountiful breakfast, write a sonnet, and then go to work. And love it. The video I’ve given you here has fifteen minutes’ worth. I hope that’ll be enough.