Time for a break from the normal routine. A brief "pause" if you will. Normally I like talking straight up music. I love all aspects of video game music both retro and new. From the oddly modulated bass of Super Nintendo games to the occasionally tinny music of the Sega Genesis to more modern full-bodied orchestral soundtracks you get from games like Skyrim and Super Mario Galaxy; nearly all of them have something great to offer.
But what happens when you have to stop playing for a bit and don't want to turn the game off? Or more likely, if you were playing back in the day and couldn't turn the game off because you'd lose all of your progress? Enter the pause button. Usually you would trigger it by hitting the start button and a little sound effect would issue forth to let you know that yes, you could safely leave Mario sitting there when you ran off to have dinner while the Goombas were frozen in place. Or maybe Dr. Wiley's Castle was proving just a little too taxing and you needed to stop and do homework. Whatever your reason for stopping, sometimes it had to happen. While these may not be musical notes, they were welcomed sounds by gamers everywhere when it came time to run to the bathroom. Here are my Top 5 Favorite Pause Sound Effects.
#5: Mega Man
It's not a "pause trick!" I'm just...uh, clever, yeah.
Whether battling a robot master or trying to exploit the infamous "pause trick," I must have heard Mega Man's pause sound over a thousand times--no joke. Between the constant weapon switching and using energy tanks in later sequels, I think I easily spent half the time I played any given entry in the franchise hitting the start button and fiddling around on the menu while the game was paused. Funny enough though, it never felt like the game-flow was too interrupted by this constant jamming on the start button. Changing from the regular pea-shooter to something like the near unbeatable saw blades from Metal Man was a quick and user friendly experience. I think the only real problem came when I would pause a Mega Man game for dinner and come back a few hours later only to have forgotten what weapon I should be equipping.
#4: Sonic the Hedgehog
What? Why would you pause a runner?
Sometimes you gotta go fast! ...And other times you gotta go slow. Like so slow that you have to out and out stop going so darned fast! Stopping for any reason though while playing a Sonic game probably seems like heresy. Despite the speedy nature of the game, sometimes you'd have to bring things to a halt. It was hard enough pulling away from a Sonic game thanks to the feeling it gave you of being constantly in motion. But knowing that you had to make the world's fastest hedgehog come to a complete standstill felt like I was doing something boarding on criminal. Still, hearing those familiar chimes let me know that even if I felt a little dirty for freezing the little blue fuzz ball he'd be waiting to zip away as soon as I got back.
Never beat the game. Never got past the Turbo Tunnel. Never stopped renting it. Why? Well, even though I was fairly certain that all of my attempts to get anywhere in this infamously hard TMNT knockoff would end in failure I could be sure of one thing: The Pause music was awesome. In fact, I think Battletoads is a classic example of what I call the "War Games" syndrome. The only way to win is not to play the game. But dang, that was some awesome pause music...
Yes, that's a 10 hour loop of the music that I linked to above. Yes, I know that rather than a chime or ding sound like several of the other sounds on this list this is straight up music; but for me this was a new thing. I was so used to a click, a bleep, a bloop, or some other sound effect that let me know the game I was playing was paused. Not so with Battletoads. You hit start on the controller and instantly cue the boom box and scratches and clap effects. There was no wonderig or worrying that you might not have hit the pause button. So long as the "hip beats" were flowing, you knew that your game was safely stopped until you came back to it so you could lose as quickly as possible at your own convenience.
Too many times, my runs on the later levels of the original Super Mario Bros. would look like this:
This probably won't end well...
Confession time. I would leave my Nintendo on overnight at times. I hated getting all the way to World 8-4 and then have to call it a night. I would sometimes hide the little red power button with a piece of paper or something so my folks wouldn't' see that I had left the Nintendo on. After all, getting all the way to Bowser--the real Bowser--was ridiculously hard. What am I saying "was" for? It's still ridiculously hard getting to the real Bowser!
Not only was I constantly pausing the original Super Mario Bros. for bathroom breaks, meal breaks, and homework breaks; I was pausing it for, "Holy cow, I need to beat this game but am too tired to finish this tonight and need to come back to it tomorrow" breaks.
But then there were those other times I paused the game...
Those times of denial.
I don't know if there's a way to flood your whole body more quickly with unfiltered rage-quit feelings than missing a platform jump or slamming into a fire rope in Super Mario Bros. Often times I would pause the game, searching the screen to see where I went wrong, or what cheap thing had killed me. Other times I would pause it just to see if Mario didn't really just die. I was in utter denial of the fact that I had just lost a life. Somehow pausing the game was my one last desperate act of hope, hope that I hadn't just screwed up and would now need to start all the way back at World 8-1.
No such luck ever happened.
#1: The Konami Pause
THE pause sound
You know the sound. You've heard it before. In everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Blades of Steel and seemingly countless others. This was one of the first sounds that I ever recognized as having been used in multiple games. I remember listening for it when I was a kid and feeling a bit of goofy delight in knowing that I had heard the same sound in not just one other game, but in multiple games spanning totally different genres. Even as a kid I recognized it as a hallmark of quality. As if simply by virtue of the fact that team at Konami were using familiar sounds they had a mythical leg up on the competition. It didn't make a lick of sense back then and it doesn't now. Why should a recycled sound show anything other than a company that was too cheap to make something new for each game?
Because for me it was like the Nintendo Seal of Quality. I took it as branding that knew it kicked all sorts of butt. Like saying, "Yeah, we put that sound in there because we knew you'd want to hear it! That's right! We're Konami! We're kick butt! We made Contra! That sound is our little love letter to you. Like it? Just hit start and you can relive the magic!" Back in 80's Konami was a game-making juggernaut that knew how to churn out beloved hits that would stand the test of time. Not only was the gameplay tight, the controls intuitive, and music great, but Konami did a great job using old assets in a way that didn't feel forced, but rather welcoming.
Man I miss old school Konami.