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All Music Considered: Video game tunes


As we wind down 2023, we are bringing some of the directors of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED to this side of the microphone to talk about the music that they listened to the most this year. Today I'm joined by Vincent Acovino to talk about the music he listened to this year. Hey there.


DETROW: In each of these conversations, there's been a theme to it. I'm going to guess that perhaps your theme is videogame related.

ACOVINO: You'd be right. You'd be right.

DETROW: It is a passion topic for you. You and I worked together on one of my favorite stories of the year, looking back at the legacy of Mortal Kombat.


ACOVINO: It never gets old.

DETROW: No. And other than that, which I assume was probably your top song on Spotify this year, what else did you listen to?

ACOVINO: Older video game music especially isn't preserved very well, so you can often only hear it on YouTube, and fans get a little wild with how they assemble the music there. They do compilations of all different genres, vibes and time periods. For example, one playlist I was listening to this morning was called Funky Nintendo Video Game Music To Fill Your Big, Dumb, Empty Head.


DETROW: Other than the kind of mean framing at the end, that sounds appealing.

ACOVINO: Yeah. So the thing about a lot of video game music, it is meant to be highly replayable. So especially back in the day, you know, you can only fit so much audio on a cartridge. So the song would loop over and over again. So for that reason, the songs had to really hook your ear and had to be really good. So that's how you get something like the classic Super Mario Bros. theme.


DETROW: Which is so memorable that I could hum the entire thing at any moment's notice at any point, you know.

ACOVINO: Yes, (humming Super Mario Bros. theme).

DETROW: (Humming Super Mario Bros. theme).

ACOVINO: I'll share another one of these earworms. It's from my favorite video game ever, which is The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, and it's actually composed by Koji Kondo, who also did the Super Mario theme that we just heard. And it's a sweet, sort of melancholic song. And it plays right after the player has traversed into the future and found that the world has been cast into disarray. It's called "Sheik's Theme."

DETROW: What's another song from this year?

ACOVINO: So another thing I listened to a lot this year was music from the Resident Evil series, which is a horror video game franchise. You're being relentlessly hunted by zombies and other enemies, but one of the tropes from the series is that the room where you save your progress is a kind of safe space, and the music often reflects that.


DETROW: What's one more song to send us out on?

ACOVINO: So I love when music in a video game surprises you. And so I want to share something from Super Mario Galaxy. This is a game about an Italian plumber jumping on the heads of flying turtles, right? And yet this is a composition in the game.


DETROW: What's high brow? That's...

ACOVINO: It's high brow. It almost sounds like a classical composition.


ACOVINO: I don't think you would be able to identify this is from Mario if I just told you to guess.

DETROW: No, I would not.

ACOVINO: So I think part of what's cool also about this song is that as you play the game, this theme re-emerges and evolves and changes, and new instruments are added each time. And so I think that kind of shows you the sort of special relationship that sometimes we can have with video game music. It's something unique to the medium. It's this sort of relationship between music, game and player that is all a part of what makes listening to video game music a special experience.

DETROW: That's Vincent Acovino taking us through a journey of his favorite video game music on YouTube. Vincent, I learned a lot from this. Thank you.

ACOVINO: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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