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20 famous songs and the iconic video games they sampled

Since they first hit the world, video games have served as inspiration for countless musicians. These 20 tracks paid homage to the art form by sampling in-game music or SFX.

Even before video games had soundtracks, the sounds they were packaged with became iconic in their own right. From Pac-Man’s garbling to Mortal Combat’s Scorpion yelling “Get over here!”, some sounds have lived far beyond the active period of the games they were packaged in.

It’s no surprise then, since the ’80s when sampling really started to play a major hand in popular and underground music alike, that video games were a go-to source for creators. Since then their presence (via samples) has been ubiquitous in hip hop, from MF Doom to Drake, as well as playing a major hand in electronic music and even mainstream pop.

Not to mention, the proliferation of the internet alongside powerful audio production tools such as Ableton allowed sampling to hit the digital age with a force. Now a humanity’s worth of source material is out there to be plundered, and stitching it together has never been easier.

Though you may not recognise every melody line from obscure 8-bit relics or the specific gut-punch sound from a forgotten fighter game, these artists have chosen these sounds for a reason. They might stand as the centrepiece to a composition, provide the cherry on top to a near-perfect hit, or add some much-needed character to a song that’s almost there.

Today we’re looking specifically at songs that have cracked the popular sphere and the video games they stripped sounds from. Here are 20 famous tracks that sampled iconic video games.

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Image: Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow

Madvillain – Do Not Fire! 

In 2004 Madvillain – the fusion of late rap icon MF Doom and super-producer Madlib – collaborated on Madvillainy, an album that turned hip hop on its head. Do Not Fire! is an instrumental interlude that hits about halfway through the record, sampling two Indian hit songs as well as a number of sounds from Street Fighter II.

Listen out for the samples – a collection of short voice takes as well as a few menu and miscellaneous sounds – right at the beginning of the track then peppered throughout.

Sugababes – Freak Like Me

Remember the noughties? You couldn’t slap on the radio without getting your daily dose of the girl/boy group revolution. Sugababes were right amongst it, taking home a handful of British number ones as well as a ton of charting singles for their troubles.

Freak Like Me, their 2002 track which introduced new band member Heidi Range, features a sample of the Frogger startup sound. It first comes through the mix at 0:04.

NSYNC – The Game is Over

Including a video game sample in a tune called The Game is Over is maybe a little heavy-handed, but NYSNC were never really about the subtlety. This particular tune never made it as a single, but definitely still slaps.

The 8-bit beat which cruises through the whole track is a flipped version of Pac-Man‘s Intro Theme, laid under some punchy brass synths.

Haruomi Hosono – Galaga

More tribute than sample, Galaga by Yellow Magic Orchestra member and Japanese pop savant Haruomi Hosono is a love letter to the soundtrack of Galaga, a popular arcade game first released in 1981.

Hosono’s version lets a portion of the soundtrack play out before his own accompaniment comes in, adding a beautiful set of layers to what was already a wonderfully composed piece of music. It came out in 1984.

Burial – Archangel

British producer Burial remains one of electronic music’s most important voices for the emotion his compositions were able to capture. What many don’t know is that he was a prolific video game sampler, pulling sounds from everything from Dark Souls to Fable. 

One of his most celebrated tracks, Archangel (later covered beautifully by Chet Faker), lifts an orchestral progression from Opening Infiltration off the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty score. Burial speeds it up, looping the motif over a punchy beat.

The sample first drops into Archangel at 0:34, and you can hear the original version in Opening Infiltration at 1:38.

Kanye West – FACTS

Perhaps in reference to the Madvillain track above, Kanye West also looked to Street Fighter II when putting together his The Life of Pablo track FACTS – later available as Facts (Charlie Heat Version). 

The first verse features the Street Fighter II announcer saying “PERFECT” at 0:28, then that same announcer can be heard yellow “YOU” (presumably half of “You win!” or “You lose!”) shortly afterwards at 0:33.

Curiously, that exact same “PERFECT” sample appears on Pt. 2, another track from the same record. Confirmed, Ye is a Street Fighter fan.

MF DOOM – That’s That

This one’s a double feature – MF DOOM sampling DOOM. That’s That featured on the rapper’s 2009 album Born Like This, and lifted a few SFX and percussive sounds from the PS1 edition of id Software’s game-changing shooter.

A couple of the sounds are hard to place as they’re peppered throughout the track, often mid-to-low in the mix. But there’s no mistaking that DOOM shotgun sound – keep an ear out for it from 1:15 through to 1:19.

Curren$y – No Squares feat. Wiz Khalifa

2012 track from New Orleans MC Curren$y, No Squares, contains a prominently featured sample from the God of War III soundtrack. Revenge Falling is the swelling orchestral track that plays as Zeus strikes down Kratos and Gaia – one of the game’s most dramatic and memorable moments.

On the other hand, No Squares is a juicy piece of stoner rap featuring the lord of stoners himself, Wiz Khalifa. It contains a flipped Revenge Falling sample throughout the runtime – hear it from the first beat until the last.

You can hear the original motif at 2:17 in the God of War III track.

$uicideboy$ – Ugly

From the moment you step foot in Lavender Town in Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, you know there’s something wrong. That spine-chilling progression perfectly encapsulated the town’s ghostly motif, leaving players unsettled and more than a little creeped out.

$uicideBoy$ sampled the eerie score in their 2015 track Ugly. Those four stabs are instantly recognisable in the mix – listen out from about 0:08 onwards.

Aphex Twin – Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount

Right after the serene Avril 14th on Aphex Twin’s 2001 album Drukqs comes Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount, a more typical Aphex track filled with syncopated beats and randomised trills. You’d be forgiven for missing a few of the more obscure samples hidden in the mess of it all.

The game in question is Space Invaders, with Richard D. James sampling the sound of enemies exploding once shot. You can hear it from 2:15 onwards in his track.

deadmau5 – You Need a Ladder

Canadian producer deadmau5 has never been shy about how video games have influenced his output – and continue to do so. He told Rolling Stone in 2016: “When I’m working on something and need to take a little break, I’ll go down and play some video games.”

All signs point to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past being one of the games he grew up on, because his track You Need a Ladder prominently samples Koji Kondo’s Overworld Theme. The name of the track is also a reference to the game – a ladder would allow Link to cross obstacles such as lava or bottomless pits once obtained.

Hear the sample from 0:59 onwards.

Charli XCX – Boys

Likely one of the best-known video game samples in pop comes via Charli XCX, who lifted the unmissable coin sound from Super Mario Bros. for her steamy 2017 hit Boys. The sample marks the bars of the chorus, following her singing the word “boys”.

Mario’s coin sound first appeared in Super Mario Bros. for the NES 1985, and has since become one of the most recognisable sound logos in the world. It’s no wonder so many ears pricked up when Boys first hit the airwaves.

Listen for the coin sound all throughout the song.

Danny Brown – Lincoln Continental

Way back in 2010 Danny Brown was turning heads with his high-energy hip hop, even though it would still be years before he attracted mainstream appeal and started collaborating with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and The Avalanches.

Brown’s sophomore album The Hybrid ends with Lincoln Continental, and fans were quick to pick up the Final Fantasy VII sample that formed the bedrock of the track. Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most-loved entry into the series – the game even scored a remake in 2020.

Lincoln Continental samples the game’s main theme – listen out for the melody from 2:41 onwards in the original track.

Shelley FKA DRAM – Cha Cha

Koji Kondo stands amongst video game music’s most sampled figures. As Nintendo’s MVP composer all the way from Punch-Out (1983) through to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), he’s been responsible for some of the art form’s most unforgettable musical moments.

Star Road was released as part of Super Mario World for the SNES in 1990, and was subsequently sampled by DRAM on his 2014 track Cha Cha. The sample is easy to pick out – both songs start with the same summery melody.

If you listen closely, you’ll also hear the same Super Mario Bros. coin sound Charli XCX sampled on Boys.

Wiz Khalifa – Ms. Rightfernow

If anyone were to epitomise the beauty of weed and video games in tandem, it’d be Wiz Khalifa. Ms. Righterfernow isn’t the only song of his sampling video games, but it samples a particularly well-known composition – Masato Nakamura’s Green Hill Zone from the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog.

Listen out for the sample in Green Hill Zone starting at 0:16, then in Ms. Righternow straight out the gates.

In 2020, Wiz managed to complete the circle by earning a role in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. That’s fate, baby.

Kode9 – I Am feat. The Spaceape

As label-head to Hyperdub, you’d expect Kode9 to share a few interests with Burial. Turns out, they’re both happy to sample their favourite gaming sounds.

Am I features the final beep from the PlayStation 2’s startup animation (hear it right as the words ‘PlayStation 2’ pop onto the screen), nestled deep within the beat – almost inaudible, really.

Maybe a nod to those in the know, or maybe he thought the track couldn’t live without it. Either way, listen to the sample from the first bar of I Am below.

Dragonforce – Through the Fire and Flames

While Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames is probably most famous to gamers as the ultimate track to master in Guitar Hero 3, it also contains a sample from Pac-Man.

Guitarist Herman Li supposedly found a way to reproduce the sound on his guitar, which he does in live shows. Listen out for the sample at 4:58.

Drake – 6 God

Currently the 10th most listened to artist on Spotify, it’s fair to say having your track sampled by Drake would make some major differences in your life. In 2015 he released 6 God, containing a sample from David Wise’s Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest score.

Like many of the hip hop samples we’ve covered already, this is used quite prominently in Drake’s tune. Listen out for the original from 0:49 for the sample, then press play on 6 God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childish Gambino – Eat Your Vegetables

That’s right, we’re doubling up on DK. In 2012 Childish Gambino released Eat Your Vegetables, flipping a sample from one of Donkey Kong Country’s most-loved stage tracks, Aquatic Ambience.

The song has since disappeared from most streaming services, perhaps due to a sample dispute, perhaps internal politics, perhaps a simple mistake. You can still find it on Youtube though – hear the sample from the beginning of Eat Your Vegetables below.

In the original track, it’s the lead synth that kicks off at 0:47.

Burial – Come Down to Us

Off the 2013 Rival Dealer EP, Burial’s Come Down to Us features a double header of video game samples. The first comes from Russel Shaw’s Fable score, and the next from Jón Hallur’s Eve Online soundtrack.

The way they’re used speaks volumes to Burial’s sampling philosophy – this was the man who was rumoured to hold over 1000 samples of fire crackling. No sound in a composition is unimportant, and every noise fits into the mix like a glove.

To hear the Fable sample, listen to Temple of Light from 0:26 then Come Down to Us from 1:10.

To hear the Eve Online sample, listen to the start of Red Glowing Dust then Come Down to Us from 4:15.

If you’re on the hunt for some arcade or video game samples to use in your own music, you’re in luck! Happy Mag recently recorded a free-to-use sample pack filled with 100s of retro sounds – find out more and download the pack here.