Were you a gamer in 1987? Do you still play those games today?
If you’re a fan of all things 8-bit, 16-bit, and oh-no-I’ve-just-been-bit (for any ‘Altered Beast’ lovers out there), then you’ll love ‘I Played 1987’, our collection of the best video game music from the year that gave us ‘California Games’, ‘Gauntlet’, and ‘Wonder Boy in Monsterland’.
The games of 1987 reflected an industry finally getting to grips with the capabilities of home consoles, making for some great Arcade ports, and even better console originals. ‘The Legend of Zelda’ made its first appearance on the NES, ‘Super Hang-On’ had gamers leaning into corners like never before, and the first ‘Final Fantasy’ game redefined the RPG for decades to come.
Our team of in-house producers have painstakingly recreated the most iconic themes and tracks from the best and best-loved games of 1987, capturing the creativity and passion that makes each of them such a well-loved and enduring piece of video game nostalgia.
From the sleazy-but-cheesy ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ to the high fantasy epic ‘The Bard’s Tale’, 1987 was certainly a gaming year to remember. Sit back and enjoy the tunes that made those games such retro classics.
The NES-Famicon system port of the original arcade version of ‘Double Dragon II’ was in fact a radically different game. The ending was considerably happier, and whole levels, enemies, and bosses were added into the mix. While it may have missed out on some of these new additions, the arcade version did have an epic character design for the boss Abore, whose distinctive look is supposedly based on Arnie’s infamous Terminator outfit, and the ‘WWF Superstars’ version of André the Giant, also designed by Technos.
Wonderboy in Monster Land
The RPG installment of the legendary Wonderboy series, this particular game suffered from some questionable translations. Just picked up an invisibility cloak? How’s “I’m loose” as a response? How about some Wing Boots? “Body stiffen”. But of course. Maybe you’d just like to buy a stiff drink and forget the whole thing? “Jump at fence, get time.” You just can’t get the staff. Whatever its linguistic shortcomings, there’s no denying it was a joy to play.
Those of us buying the European version of epic racing sim ‘Enduro Racer’ may not have realized just what we were missing out on. Those lucky enough to have access to the Japanese version, however, will know that they had access to ten different tracks, rather than the five repeated as on English versions of the game. Fortunately, we weren’t short-changed on the music front.
The motorbike racing sim so gosh-darned good that other games couldn’t leave it alone, ‘Super Hang-On’ references seemed to pop up all over the place. In ‘Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II’, a quick cheat code will unlock the Super Hang-On bike, complete with working brake lights. In ‘Sonic Riders’, you can unlock the ‘Super Hang-On gear’, which will also play ‘Outride a Crisis’, taken from the brilliant original soundtrack.
One of the first (and best) of the 80s ninja-game craze, ‘Shinobi’ was the start of what would become one of the best-loved gaming series of the decade. The Master System port of the game threw in a whole load of new features, from the luxuries of an on-screen life bar, to the now-optional ability to rescue hostages (but, you know, you really should rescue them, if you have time). Unfortunately, win or lose, on the Master System you’ll get the same ‘Game Over’ screen, though. You can’t win ‘em all.
The Legend of Zelda
Not only was it the first in a Legend(ary) series, but it was also the first game to allow players to save their game data! Thanks to the nifty innovations of the Famicon Disk System, you could also hear higher-quality audio through the extra sound channel included. While these changes only applied to the Japanese versions of the game, we like to think the save game idea caught on elsewhere.
Zelda II: The Legend of Link
The only game in the series not to begin with ‘The Legend of’, it contains one of the few instances in which Link actually speaks. Admittedly, “I found a mirror under the table” probably wasn’t a line worth waiting for, but at least he tried. While this and many of its other features were destined not to appear in future Zelda games (not least the side-scrolling aspect), the towns in ‘The Legend of Link’ would later reemerge as the names of the sages in ‘The Ocarina of Time’.
The Bard’s Tale
A game so popular they renamed an entire series after it, ‘The Bard’s Tale’ was one of the Commodore’s finest accomplishments. Originally entitled ‘Tales of the Unknown Volume 1: The Bard’s Tale’, the game proved to be so successful and so iconic that it was ‘The Bard’s Tale’ element that stuck for the games that followed. One of the developers working on the game, Joe Ybarra, later went on to co-found Electronic Arts. Keep an eye out for his cameo appearance as the “Archmage Ybarra”.
One of the best multi-player games around at the time, and the ultimate X-Games precursor, ‘California Games’ also included some rad Easter eggs. During the Flying Disc event, if you leave the controller alone for long enough, you will see an alien abducting your partner on the radar along the top of the screen. Oh, and if you fall off the surfboard in the surfing competition, there’s a rare chance that you might get eaten by a shark, to the tune of the Jaws theme tune. Gnarly.
A cute’em up with a heart of gold… Wait, it was what? One of the most controversial releases of the year? One of the most violent games ever produced at the time? Ah, of course. ‘Barbarian’ had Middle England up in arms with its gory decapitations, brutal blood’n’guts sword fights, and the fact that it happened to feature The Sun Page 3 model Maria Whittaker on the box cover. While the model’s scantily clad appearance may have drawn the game into the public eye for all the wrong reasons, it did nothing to hinder ‘Barbarian’s sales as it went on to become one of the biggest games of the year.
It’s fair to say that the moral panic incited by the increasingly popular video games industry didn’t stop at a bit of gratuitous violence and nudity. In fact, in order to quell fears that video games were destroying the literacy of the youth (finally, someone thinks of the children), ‘Castlevania II’ was used as the foundation for a 1990 novella intended to encourage reading in the gaming community. While the novella may not have been likely to drag too many away from their screens, it did contain some useful hints and tips on how to complete the game. Can anyone say “counterproductive”?
A game of firsts, ‘Gauntlet’ may not be the familiar name it once was, but it paved the way for generations of games to come. The 1985 hack’n’slash was one of the first to allow more than two gamers to play at once when it arrived in arcades, requiring a total redesign of the standard gaming cabinet. Although later ports reverted back to two-player, the game retained its other unique feature – a narrator’s voice to guide the player through the game. “Red Warrior needs food – badly” may not sound groundbreaking, but before now, who’d have even known he was peckish? Food for thought.
One of the best-selling and best-received games in 1987, even this massive surge in popularity wasn’t enough to save ‘Operation Wolf’ from essentially being black-listed in Germany in 1989. Given the fact that, in the year of its release, it came second in sales only to the massively popular ‘Robocop’ spin-off game, by 1989 it seems fairly clear the damage had already been done. If not to the youth of Germany, then to the millions of computer-generated hostages and civilians staggering aimlessly across countless ‘Operation Wolf’ arcade and TV screens in the intervening years.
Another game, another moral panic. This time it was ‘Punch Out’, the ultimate boxing sim, that provoked outrage, apparently within the Nintendo company itself. While the game’s regional stereotypes were non-pc to say the least, they weren’t so unusual for the time. However, Nintendo were apparently so afraid to use the name ‘Vodka Drunkinski’ for the arcade player’s Russian opponent, they changed it to the much more acceptable ‘Soda Popinski’ on the NES version. ‘Punch Out’ initially bore Mike Tyson’s name, but he too was pulled from the game once his star began to fall, and his final boss character was pallet-swapped to make him appear to have white skin, and renamed ‘Mr. Dream’.
One of the first games to be designed by Yu Suzuki (the man behind countless Sega arcade classics, including ‘Out Run’, ‘Super Hang-On’, ‘Virtua Fighter’ and ‘Daytona USA’), ‘After Burner’ was a flight simulator like no other. Its position as the precursor to the modern flight simulator is clear, but its music also had a lasting impact. In fact, the music from ‘After Burner’ can be heard remixed in the Route 666 chapter of ‘Bayoneta’.
Brilliantly simple and frustratingly addictive, ‘Arkanoid’ was the 1980s’ answer to ‘Pong’. While the simple game mechanics have made it one of the most cloned titles around, there’s no beating the original music in all its glory. Its ‘story’ may have been a bit of a stretch, but not as much as the strain of trying to stop those pesky balls falling off into oblivion.
International Karate +
The karate-fighting genre may have been a short-lived one, but ‘International Karate +’ was certainly the pick of the bunch. Not only was it a great fighter, but there were lots of hilarious little touches added for good measure. Inflict everyone’s worst nightmare on your fighters as you make their pants fall down. Watch as Pac-Man rolls past in the background. Swear at your opponent until the game resets itself in protest. Karate’s never been as much fun since.
Leisure Suit Larry
Probably the most infamous game of the year, and maybe even the decade, ‘Leisure Suit Larry’ was the game that nobody asked for, but seemingly everybody loved. It began as a remake of an earlier Sierra game, the tastefully titled ‘Softporn Adventures’, a game so dated that creator Al Lowe supposedly said “It may as well be wearing a leisure suit”. With a theme tune inspired by Irving Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’, the music became one of the game’s most enduring features. Perhaps for the best.
Final Fantasy I
It may have marked the beginning of the most successful RPG franchise ever, but ‘Final Fantasy’ was very nearly just that when it was released in 1987. Most at Square thought that the game would be their last, given the run of failures the company had been producing. Fortunately, Final Fantasy sold over 400,000 copies, saving Square and setting them on a course to dominate the RPG genre for decades to come. Of course, the theme tune has appeared countless times since then, and while it may be one of the most iconic pieces of gaming music history around, it was in fact composed in just five minutes by Nobuo Uematsu.
Green Beret/ Rush’n’Attack
Known as ‘Rush’n’Attack’ in the USA, and ‘Green Beret’ in Europe and Japan, this perhaps wasn’t the subtlest of Cold War-inspired titles to have emerged in the 1980s. It was, however, great fun to play. The NES version not only changed the player’s goal from rescuing hostages to destroying a secret weapon, but also threw in a slew of new levels, extra weapons and player capabilities. It even managed to scrape into the IGN list of the top 100 NES games, coming in at a respectable number 99.