As part of our season of celebrating video game music that we're inventively calling the Nintendo Life VGM Fest, we're making a few lists of ~moods~, because that's pretty much how we organise our Spotify playlists these days.
Everyone knows that video game soundtracks are full of epic orchestrations, relaxing melodies, and terrifying boss battle music — but every now and again, video games will also offer up a track that's just so darn funky that we can't help but get down.
The songs that we've chosen from this list are from a wide range of games and genres. It's not only literal funk that's funky, despite everything that funkologists might say — this list represents surf rock, jazz, dubstep, and whatever Splatoon is. Electronink?
So get your dancing shoes on and turn the speakers up, because it's time to jam.
Staff key: Gavin Lane (GL), Kate Gray, (KG)
Dolphin Shoals (Mario Kart 8, 2014)
Composer(s): Atsuko Asahi
It's a shame that you spend most of Dolphin Shoals underwater, because the music is one of the best things about this track (and Mario Kart 8 in general). Whoever thought that the best instrument for an anti-gravity coral reef was a sax must have been mad — and we're so glad they did it anyway. KG
Pigstep (Minecraft Nether Update, 2020)
Composer(s): Lena Raine
"Dubstep in Hell" is quite the pitch, but it works perfectly in Pigstep, one of the most coveted discs in Minecraft. It's quite the contrast to C418's twinkly lo-fi piano, but then again, the Nether is quite the contrast to the Overworld, too. Honestly, if Hell is this funky, sign us up. KG
Hear it in: Minecraft
Gerudo Valley (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, 1998)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
Spanish guitar. Latin trumpets. Flamenco beats. Castanets, maybe. How is it fair that the funkiest jam in Ocarina of Time is in one of the trickiest sections of the game? Maybe it's time we quit our jobs and become thieves, since they've clearly got the best tunes. KG
Steam Gardens (Super Mario Odyssey, 2017)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
I would not have predicted that Super Mario Odyssey would contain a garden full of robotic watering cans, a secret T-Rex, and a surf rock track so gosh darn funkalicious that I could play it to my parents and they'd never guess it was from a video game. Koji Kondo, you're a genius. KG
Hear it in: Super Mario Odyssey
A-Mazing Post Pounding (Yoshi's Woolly World, 2015)
Composer(s): Tomoya Tomita
Man, maybe I need to play Yoshi's Woolly World. This track sounds like it belongs on a TV show about a hard-boiled crimes detective who's two hours from retirement, not a game about a knitted dinosaur. Then again, he does have eggs... and eggs can be hard-boiled... so maybe it's not that different after all. KG
Hear it in: Yoshi's Woolly World
Spicy Calamari Inkantation (Splatoon 2, 2017)
Composer(s): Shiho Fujii
The Splatoon games have the most incredible soundtracks, combining a wide variety of genres like reggae, electronic, and even ska. I personally really like Ika Jamaica from the first game, but it's less "tunes to dance to" and more "tunes to very slowly wiggle to". For the purposes of this list, Fujii's Spicy Calamari Inkantation is the funkiest squid bop in the games. KG
Hear it in: Splatoon 2
K.K. Groove (Animal Crossing: New Leaf / New Horizons, 2012/20)
Composer(s): Manaka Kataoka / Atsuko Asahi / Kazumi Totaka
The K. Funk might have been the more obvious choice, but when it comes time to get down Saturday night (and Oliver Cheatham is unavailable for some reason), you can't go wrong with settling into a K.K. Groove, know what I'm saying? Yeah, you do. GL
Funky's Staff Credits (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, 2018)
Composer(s): David Wise
I'm going to admit something that perhaps I shouldn't, dear reader — I'm not the biggest fan of the DKC series. HOWEVER, if there's one area that series consistently and inarguably excels beyond... well, most other video games, it's the soundtracks; it's none too surprising seeing as the maestro David Wise was at the helm for most of them.
This particular funky (sorry, Funky) closer to the 2018 Switch port of Tropical Freeze makes me want to reassess the entire game I played on Wii U every time I hear it. In fact, I may well buy the Switch version on the basis of this track alone. Just. LISTEN. TO. IT! It's way too funky in here. GL
Hear it in: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Theme 7 (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 GBA, 2001)
Composer(s): Manfred Linzer
This portable take on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was remarkable in various ways, and while the GBA obviously wasn't able to credibly recreate the licensed tracks that made the home console games so distinctive, this little cart contained an incredible soundtrack all of its own — this is a particularly funky example that has stuck in my mind over the years. GL
Hear it in: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
Toxic Caves (Sonic Spinball, 1993)
Composer(s): Howard Drossin / Brian Coburn / Barry Blum
The game itself is an ambitious overshoot that would have benefited from more time in the oven (and from using the same engine as the platformers proper). The music, though? The music is up there with some of the best tracks in the entire series, which is seriously saying something when you look at the plethora of 16-bit classics the hedgehog has to his name. I could have gone with plenty of those, but I adore the grunginess of Toxic Caves. GL
Go Straight (Streets of Rage II, 1992)
Composer(s): Yuzo Koshiro
Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima's soundtrack for this game sends many gamers into fits of ecstasy and hyperbole, this writer included, but that's because it's really, really, really good. It fires you up beautifully to dance through the streets (of rage) beating seven bells out of hoodlums, all in time to the killer beat. I've gone with Go Straight because it's the Round 1 track, but every one's a winner in this game. Timeless stuff. GL
Those are just some of our personal favourites, but what about yours? Let us know your favourite funky video game tracks to boogie on down to in the comments below, and if your picks vibe with us you may well see them migrate north from the comments at some point.
Be sure check out the other Nintendo Life VGM Fest articles in our season of music-focused interviews and features.