I know I'm going to get crap for this one, but boy, have I been looking forward to writing it. I'm really looking forward to your input on this one!
I believe a good soundtrack can elevate a game to a whole new level. There's something about the marriage of music and gameplay that speaks to me on a really deep level. When I hear a tune that gets my toes tapping and matches the on-screen action, I start feeling euphoric. A game's soundtrack can heighten anything/everything a game has to offer.
While I absolutely love the gameplay of Mega Man, I might love the music even more. By and large, the mainline Mega Man games have some of the best music found in gaming. There are so many absolutely fantastic tunes that get stuck in your head and stay there for years. I still sing/hum some of these tracks on a weekly basis! The music is just that good.
I'm intimately familiar with the Mega Man soundtracks (1-11), and I thought it would be fun to go through each game and pick my favorite tune from each one. Instead, it turned out to be a torturous experience where I felt like I was choosing between my children! There are so many songs that really, REALLY make me smile, but I did my best to whittle each game down to the best tune...in my opinion. I fudged things a bit and included an honorable mention for a few, but overall, the tracks embedded below are my picks for the best song in each game.
Mega Man 1 - Dr. Wily Stage 1
Mega Man's debut outing has some fun and memorable songs in it, but you can tell it was the first time out for all involved. The tracks are a bit simple, and rather short by series standards. It was a beginning to something great, and certainly showed the promise of the series ahead.
I have to give the nod to Dr. Wily Stage 1 in Mega Man 1, as it feels like the most complicated tune in the mix. It also has an appropriate weight to it for the mission you're about to take on. It has a foreboding feel, which makes perfect sense, as you're about to step into the lair of Dr. Wily for the first time.
Mega Man 2 - Dr. Wily Stage 1
Mega Man 2 REALLY dialed up the soundtrack to 11. To be honest, Mega Man 2's soundtrack could still be argued as the best soundtrack in the mainline series to this day. Every track in this game is an absolute audio feast. There's really not a bad song in the entire game.
Once again, I have to pick Dr. Wily Stage 1 as my favorite track in the game. This one was really difficult, as there are so many other insanely good songs in this soundtrack. Still, Dr. Wily 1 takes what was put forth in the previous game and tweaks it to feel even more intense. The tempo has been picked up, it feels like a huge battle is ahead, and you're ready to show Wily what's up.
Mega Man 3 - Dr. Wily Stage 2
Following up Mega Man 2 with its unbelievable soundtrack was an insurmountable task. Mega Man 3 certainly has a good to great soundtrack, but it just can't match the heights of what came before it. It almost feels like the composers knew they had an impossible mission in front of them, but they gave it their best.
Dr. Wily Stage 2 does a good job of bringing about a serious feeling to your mission. While Dr. Wily Stage 1 is a strong start on your path through Wily's castle, it's Stage 2 that plays up the danger waiting ahead. There's a bit of a sullen tone to this track, which I really appreciate.
Mega Man 4 - Cossack Fortress 2
Once again, Mega Man 4 has an enjoyable soundtrack, but it fails to meet the lofty heights of Mega Man 2. Still, there are plenty of great tracks in here. They just have a different feel from other songs in the series, and aren't quite as fleshed out as I'd like. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, just not the best the series has.
Cossack Fortress 2 has a lot in common with Dr. Wily Stage 2 from Mega Man 3. There's a slightly sad tone to part of the track, but it gives way to a much peppier and toe-tapping track. While not as crazy and energetic as other tracks, I really appreciate the mood this one sets.
Mega Man 5 - Napalm Man
It's hard to talk about Mega Man soundtracks without sounding like I'm coming down hard on them. I think Mega Man 5 is filled with fun and enjoyable tunes, but with that said, I feel it's a considerable step down from the previous entries. It just doesn't have the excitement I'm looking for in Mega Man games. Impressive for any other NES franchise at the time, but not up to snuff with what the series has brought to the table.
Napalm Man's theme, once it gets past the 5 second intro, is a really slick and enjoyable track. That main melody is really catchy, and shifts around in a way that you don't usually hear in Mega Man games. The second half of the track is more standard Mega Man fare, but it's still not afraid to dance around a bit. Definitely a standout for the game.
Mega Man 6 - Mr. X's Fortress
I'm sad to say that Mega Man 6 might be my least favorite soundtrack in the whole series. I say might because there's one other game that gives it a run for its money, which we'll get to later. It's clear that Mega Man was finishing up its run on the NES, and not a lot of care was put into the soundtrack overall. Not bad, but not all that great either.
Mr. X's Fortress is a song that feels like it came from prior Mega Man games. I find it to be leagues beyond the other tracks in the game. The strong melody flowing throughout really carries the whole tune, and once again, we get a bit of that dissonant feeling that really sells a track for me. I constantly find myself whistling/humming the opening moments of this tune, as it's just so damn good.
Mega Man 7 - Dr. Wily 1
Mega Man makes the jump to the SNES, and it does it in style. This is a real return to form for the Mega Man series when it comes to audio. In my opinion, this is one of the best Mega Man soundtracks. There's really not a bad tune in the entire lineup. There might be a few that are a bit too "whimsical," but that's a minor complaint. Such a great soundtrack, and underrated by many in my opinion.
Dr. Wily 1 is a really, really enjoyable track. Those opening moments with the twinkling sounds that build into the bass, followed by that screeching guitar-like sound...it's magical. More than almost any other track in the series, Dr. Wily 1 does an amazing job of telling a story as it plays out. You feel like the song builds with you as you make your way into Wily's castle, and then it really opens up when you see the craziness inside.
Mega Man 8 - Tengu Man (Saturn version)
Mega Man 8 might have the most unique soundtrack out of all the mainline Mega Man games. It really does some different stuff, and gives you a lot of tunes that might sound out of place for a Mega Man game if you heard them on their own. With that said, the soundtrack just works, and helps give the whole adventure a different feel. Another one of my favorites, as I really appreciate the decision to try something new.
Mega Man 8 on the Saturn had a different tune for Tengu Man than the PS1 version, and I think it ends up being the best song in the game. There are plenty of other fantastic tunes, but there's something about the complicated drum line, midi horn, and tempo of the track that gets my blood pumping. It still has a bit of the soft feeling that other tracks in this game have, which only adds to the flavor. Really love the sound of this one.
Mega Man 9 - Wily Stage 1
If any game in the Mega Man series is going to give Mega Man 2 a run for its money in the soundtrack department, it's Mega Man 9. Dear lord, this soundtrack is unbelievable from start to finish. It's honestly so good that I don't know if I like 9 or 2 better! So many ridiculously memorable tracks in this one.
Dr. Wily 1 in Mega Man 9 could very well be one of my favorite chiptune tracks period. There's not a damn thing I don't enjoy about this one. A quick tempo, a melody that is intense and moody, and it perfectly fits the action. This song is so good that it gives me goosebumps everytime I hear it. An instant classic, without a double.
Honorable Mention: Endless Stage - This song almost won out over Wily 1, but it just barely missed the spot. A different feel from everything else in the game, but boy is it good. A really slick and sneaky track.
Mega Man 10 - Wily Stage 1
Mega Man 10 had the same job that Mega Man 3 did. It had to follow up the near-perfect soundtrack that came before it. When I first heard Mega Man 10's soundtrack, I came away slightly disappointed. After multiple listens, I now have an appreciation for the tunes in this game. Not as good as 9 or 2, but no slouch!
Wily Stage 1 doesn't feel too much like the other Wily Stage tracks in the series. It feels like it could be a level stage for any of the robot masters in the game. That said, it's definitely a banger, as the kids say. That moment later in the song where the track really opens up and the high notes are hit is absolutely awesome. Really takes the song to a new level.
Honorable Mention: Wily Stage 5 - Again, this song almost took home the win. A much different approach from other songs in this game, but it's beautifully crafted. I love how it molds in the song from the opening scene, and includes the "beep beep" noise that acts as a mayday of sorts. A seriously smart tune.
Mega Man 11 - Fuse Man
I love Mega Man 11 in terms of gameplay and level design. I unfortunately do not love its soundtrack. To be painfully honest, it might be my least favorite in the series, or at least the most disappointing. We're going to dive into this soundtrack in detail later this week, so I'll leave my reasoning for being upset for that feature.
There's a reason why Mega Man 11's promo videos used Fuse Man's song as background music. I think it's the best song in the game hands-down. It has the energy I'm looking for, it gets a bit experimental in the middle, and it's a tune you have trouble getting out of your head. Whoever came up with this tune was no doubt inspired by great songs of Mega Man's past for this one.
Honorable Mention: Menu Music - Okay, this song is a real bop. So great for a menu song that I feel it's almost wasted! There's so much to it that people usually don't hear as they click passed the menu quickly. It definitely deserves some more recognition, as it's fantastic.
Those are my picks for the best song in each Mega Man game! I'm sure my choices will rile a few people up, and that's totally fine. The important thing to remember is that my word isn't gospel! I didn't give right or wrong answers...I just gave honest ones. I'd love to hear what tracks you love in each game, and let me know what you think of this list!