F*ck Yeah!! 14 motivational video game tracks to get you PUMPED

Many video games want players to feel hyper powerful — here are a few of the best music cues crafted especially to get the blood pumping.

By Thomas Quillfeldt; music picks by the author, Mark Robins, James Marshall, Leon Cox, Joshua Garrity, and Steve Vancouver

Relatively few video games are about gently massaging your brain into a soporific stupor — a vast swathe are about Jumping! Running! Sprinting! Leaping! Achievement! Winning! Scoring! Shooting! Blowing things up! Flossing!

To that end, one of the most important jobs for game composers is being able to ratchet up the excitement, and prime players to face the challenges ahead. We’ve picked out some of the most effective, adrenaline-producing video game tracks from across a range of styles — loosely grouped into old-school chiptune, electronica, heavy rock, and traditional orchestral, with plenty of crossover.

Everything listed below can also be found in this handy YouTube playlist, but do read on for some groan-inducing gags and snippets of insight into each track.

👾 Old-school chiptune 👾

“Metal Squad” from Thunder Force IV aka Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar

Year: 1992

Platform: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

Composer: Toshiharu Yamanishi

Makes you wanna:

Jump out of a spacejet and kick some alien ass in mid-air; you plummet to the surface of LV-426 whilst screaming “come and get me you ugly face-suckers!!!!!!”

Bit o’ background:

The audio staff for Thunder Force IV were big metal-heads, and were keen to get the console’s FM synthesiser to produce a credible electric guitar sound — they landed on a workaround involved the Mega Drive’s distortion sound effects.

“Bionic Action” from Mega Turrican aka Turrican 3: Payment Day

Year: 1993

Platform: Mega Drive/Genesis, Amiga

Composer: Chris Huelsbeck

Makes you wanna:

Suck a Chupa Chups lolly, put on an violently colourful early ‘90s tracksuit, turn your baseball cap backwards, and endlessly jog the streets, grinning at passers by.

Bit o’ background:

Chris Huelsbeck is one of those prodigious composers of late-’80s/early-’90s fame who has stayed in touch with his loyal fan base. He’s also one of the legendary composers to have proactively engaged with the classical rearrangement scene, with classy orchestral versions of his music being played at concerts like the Merregnon-produced Symphonic Shades.

This version of “Bionic Action” from the third Turrican title is a remix by Huelsbeck himself (album on Spotify, Bandcamp), which really does improve on the Amiga and Mega Drive originals.

"Strike the Earth! Plains of Passage" from Shovel Knight

Year: 2014

Platform: Just about everything

Composer: Jake Kaufman

Makes you wanna:

Do impossible things with shovels.

Bit o’ background:

Shovel Knight was a giant risk for the tiny development team at Yacht Club games, which launched a Kickstarter for the game in 2013 on a wing and a prayer. There’s an excellent chapter on their struggles in Kotaku journalist Jason Schreier’s book Blood Sweat, and Pixels. Fortunately, the story had a happy ending.

It’s written into every line of code of Shovel Knight that the game is an homage to NES platformers. To complete the effect, the team of course opted for a chiptune soundtrack. The music was mostly put together by Jake Kaufman, with help from Manami Matsumae, the veteran composer behind the sound of the original Mega Man, no less.

The soundtrack’s Bandcamp page says that Kaufman “used freely available hobbyist tools to write the soundtrack and program all the sound effects, resulting in over two hours of music that can actually be played on a real NES / Famicom console.”

Further listening:

🎧 Electronic 🎧

"Devil KAZUMI" from Tekken 7

Year: 2015

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Arcade

Composer: Rio Hamamoto

Makes you wanna:

Go to an EDM-rock rave in a gothic cathedral dressed in a red velvet cape and foot-high black goth-punk boots — and punch something/someone real hard.

Bit o’ background:

Rio Hamamoto is both a Namco and Tekken veteran, having composed for games as far back as 1999’s Tekken Tag Tournament; he’s also had a hand in music for classic series including SoulCalibur, Ace Combat, Katamari, and Ridge Racer.

Hamamoto brings an operatic element to both “KAZUMI’s Theme” and the final boss theme "Devil KAZUMI". With the latter, we get an enormous-sounding track that veers between four-to-the-floor EDM and driving industrial rock, with snatches of classical-ish strings and choir interspersed.

“Digital Paralysis” from Amplitude

Year: 2014

Platform: PS3/PS4

Composer: Harmonix Music Systems

Makes you wanna:

Sprint like a Duracell bunny on uppers.

Bit o’ background:

Before Harmonix essentially launched a world-conquering sub-genre in 2005 with Guitar Hero (alongside peripheral manufacturer RedOctane), the developer had been honing its rhythm game chops on titles like 2003’s Amplitude.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Harmonix had released a whole bunch of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central titles; the company had been acquired and sold; and also won a court battle with its behemoth ex-owner, Viacom.

Keen to revive Amplitude for those fans that had been craving a sequel, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign that only just squeaked over the line. Of the 30 tracks that the game launched with in early 2016, 15 were composed in-house as a concept album that makes up the campaign mode — a trippy trip through the brain of a patient in a coma. Considered one of the most challenging tracks in the game, D’n’B song “Digital Paralysis” is among the five tracks that make up the third and final brain region of the campaign — the Limbic System.

“Roller Mobster” from Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Year: 2015

Platform: PC, PS3/4/Vita, Android

Composer: Carpenter Brut

Makes you wanna:

Nod your head until your neck gets sore; tap your feet until your shoes wear through; jam out in your jammies.

Bit o’ background:

The Hotline Miami series is synonymous with achingly cool indie electronica, in particular synthwave artists from continental Europe including Perturbator, Scattle, and Carpenter Brut. Indeed, you could spend a happy few minutes compiling a list of ‘synthwave games’, which might also include OutDrive, Furi, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. PC Gamer published an interesting piece tracing this movement from the 2011 film Drive, through 2012’s Hotline Miami and Kavinsky’s 2013 album OutRun, to the current crop of neon indie games.

Typical of the subgenre, “Roller Mobster” sounds like what you think you remember ‘80s action movies sounding like — aggressive, synthetic, pumping.

“Rogue's Landing - Vyse's Theme Remix” from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Year: 2000/2012

Platform: PC, mobile, last gen consoles & handhelds

Composers: Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda, arr. Richard Jacques

Makes you wanna:

Shoot a motivational aerobics video where everybody is wearing fluorescent spandex, constantly grinning ear-to-ear, and high-fiving each other.

Bit o’ background:

Aside from being an extremely well-reviewed kart racer, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed features a massive list of remixed music from Sega’s rich back catalogue.

“Rogue's Landing - Vyse's Theme Remix” saw veteran composer and audio lead Richard Jacques remix both "Vyse's Theme" and "Military Facility Dungeon" from 2000’s Skies of Arcadia into a track fit to be raced to. The beloved JRPG is a firm fixture in what is considered the canon of great Sega Dreamcast games, and its original score is comfortingly traditional fare created in a world where the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokémon series had already firmly established the JRPG sound.

Further listening:

🤘 Raaaawk 🤘

"A Stranger I Remain (Maniac Agenda Mix)" from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Select Vocal Tracks

Year: 2013

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, mobile

Composers: Logan Mader & Jamie Christopherson, arr. The Maniac Agenda

Makes you wanna:

Ride a Dodge Tomahawk at 400 mph down a quaint middle-England high street, flipping the bird at the law as you whizz by like an extreme frisbee.

Bit o’ background:

Media composer Jamie Christopherson was tasked both with writing the original score and 13 vocal songs for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. He was also briefed to try to differentiate the music from previous Metal Gear Solid scores, opting to “put the metal in Metal Gearas he jokes.

This track — with vocals by Free Dominguez, produced and co-written by ex-Machine Head guitarist Logan Mader, and remixed by bass collective The Maniac Agenda — is equal parts hardcore and electronic.

“Daisaku Kuze theme (Pledge of Demon ~怨魔の契り~)” from Yakuza 0

Year: 2015

Platform: PS3/PS4, PC

Composer: Hidenori Shoji

Makes you wanna:

Smack gangsters in the face with knuckle dusters on… then go bowling.

Bit o’ background:

The West seems to have finally clocked on to the appeal of the Yakuza series (aka Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan); especially following Yakuza 0’s warm western critical reception, arriving as it did in a calendar year (2017) chock full of high quality Japanese exports (such as NieR: Automata, Persona 5, Resident Evil 7, and Nioh)

Guitarist Hidenori Shoji is another in a long line of talented Sega sound designers and composers (and a member of the Sega Sound Team band [H.]), having first been credited on Sega Touring Car Championship in 1996. He has contributed compositions to every entry in the Yakuza series, and, here, mixes plenty of electronic elements with some straightforward throbbing heavy rock riffage.

“Battle Scene” from Saturday Morning RPG

Year: 2012

Platform: PS4/Vita, mobile, PC, Switch

Composer: Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth

Makes you wanna:

Fight Decepticons to the death in a pan-galactic cyber war for the future of robotkind.

Bit o’ background:

Vince DiCola surely could have retired in a blaze of awesomeness after composing much of the music heard in the best film ever made, 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. These days, he continues to spread the prog rock love whilst operating as part of a media composition partnership with session/touring musician and composer Kenny Meriedeth.

You can’t knock “Battle Scene” for sounding just like some of DiCola ‘80s output nearly 30 years later, as that’s exactly what he was hired to do by game designer Josh Fairhurst (also owner of Limited Run Games) for the throwback game Saturday Morning RPG. Bombastic orchestral instrumentation is layered on top of some kick-ass driving rock.

“BFG Division” from DOOM

Year: 2016

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Composer: Mick Gordon

Makes you wanna:

Rip & motherfluffing tear.

Bit o’ background:

Aussie prodigy Mick Gordon burned a hole through to hell with his searing industrial metal score for id Software’s reboot of the shooter series. There are a bunch of brilliant interviews out there, covering every aspect of the score:

And, of course, you can grab the OST on CD and vinyl at the Laced Records store.

Further listening:

🎻 Orchestral 🎻

“Duel!” from Final Fantasy Brave Exvius

Year: 2015

Platform: Mobile

Composer: Noriyasu Agematsu

Makes you wanna:

Dress up as an armour-plated chocobo and peck monsters to death.

Bit o’ background:

Despite having a giant credits list stretching back to 2000, Noriyasu Agematsu is a relative up-and-comer in and around Square Enix, having previously composed for the mobile RPG series Chaos Rings.

And let’s be frank — his score for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius is way, way, WAAAAAAAAAAAY better than one might expect of a free-to-play title. The sheer quality of the live orchestral work is breathtaking, with melodies to rival classic Final Fantasy tunes. Agematsu himself admits that he is heavily inspired by Final Fantasy III through VI, and main battle track “Duel!” even preserves the two-to-four bar intro of traditional Final Fantasy battle themes.

If his amazing work on Brave Exvius doesn’t propel him into contention for the next full-fat Final Fantasy title (XVI or otherwise), it would be a crying shame — that said, he’s likely to face competition from...

“Decisive Battle II” from Octopath Traveler

Year: 2018

Platform: Switch

Composer: Yasunori Nishiki

Makes you wanna:

Don an elaborate fantasy costume with lots of decorative straps and belts angling off it; then cast Holy at a be-tentacled breath-monster, before KA-POW’ing it in the chops with a golden axe.

Bit o’ background:

Like Final Fantasy Brave Exvius before it, Octopath Traveler establishes a high-water mark for modern JRPG music. As Mathew Dyason points out in his brilliant Game Score Fanfare music analysis video, Yasunori Nishiki approached the music for Octopath Traveler with a strong sense of deliberacy and craft. The young composer (in his 30s) figured out what was so great about JRPG music of the ‘80s and ‘90s — strong melodies and clever arrangements — and brought it into the 2010s to extraordinary effect.

Again, like Brave Exvius, Octopath Traveler features incredible melodies that, by some mysterious feat of wizardry, feel both nostalgic and fresh. “Decisive Battle II” is a classic up-tempo boss battle theme that soars and soars, suffused with a rich orchestral rock sound that Nobuo Uematsu reached for, but could only dream of, when crafting his early chiptune Final Fantasy scores.

“The Opened Way ~Battle with the Colossus~” from Shadow of the Colossus

Year: 2005

Platform: PS2/PS3

Composer: Kō Ōtani

Makes you wanna:

Pull yourself up onto the dome of a 100-foot creature of the deep, clinging to any handhold available to steady yourself against the sway of its giant gate; before plunging your sword deep into its grey matter.

Bit o’ background:

Many would agree that Shadow of the Colossus is one of those landmark artistic achievements in games that deserves to be updated every so often, to make sure the audio-visual spectacle is available to audiences on modern machines at modern resolutions; clearly that’s how publisher Sony feels in any event, given the 2011 PS3 HD remaster and recent 2018 remake.

One thing has remained more or less the same across all versions: Kō Ōtani’s masterpiece of a score, which was only tweaked for the remake, rather than completely reworked. It sounds like “The Opened Way ~Battle with the Colossus~” received a bit of a remix — both versions new and old are thunderous orchestral tracks, which fill one’s heart with strength and resolve.

Further listening:

Inevitably, we’ve missed some great upbeat video game music that makes you feel HYPED! — feel free to tell us what should have been on this list (but wasn’t):