The Top Ten Most Iconic Video Game Sound Effects Of All Time [Update]

By James Hawkins in Lists!
Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 10:00 am
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The Ten Iconic Sound Effects
Video games are filled with all sorts of weird, interesting sound effects. Some are manipulations of real noises: a grenade exploding or an engine gunning. Others are totally artificial: a melodic riff that plays when the character achieves something. But either way, they have come to define the games we love.

So, here at Joystick Division, we have compiled a list of the most iconic and notable video game sound effects of all time. They may not be the most complicated or pleasant effects to date, but the choices are all rooted in how they have impacted the gaming industry, culture, and our lives. Without further ado, I bring you our top ten most iconic video game sound effects of all time [Update: It's now eleven. There was a big one we missed, but we've added it in].

10. Lancer Rev
Gears of War Series
The lancer quickly became an iconic video game weapon because of its ability to loose ridiculous Hell upon whatever it touched. We vindicated our blood-lust by sawing Locusts in half with a spray of red goop. It was especially jarring for those of us that played its multiplayer, because hearing that jerky, grinding rev meant that violence was going to happen to us very, very soon. And very, very closely.

9. M1 Garand Ping
Damn Near Any WW2 Game
The standard weapon of any World War II game is the M1 Garand. That's because the standard weapon of actual World War II was the M1 Garand. It has become iconic now, appearing in dozens of games, being replicated in many different ways. But one feature is always consistent: as the clip runs out, a loud "snap" or "ping" emits from the heart of the weapon. It is the firearm's way of saying "you'd better fucking hurry up and reload."
(Apologize for the lack of video game footage on this one...but you get the gist.)

8. ReDead Scream
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda games are a bit darker than people give them credit for, especially for an iconic Nintendo franchise. There are a whole bunch of really off-kilter characters and enemies that could easily haunt dreams. And none more so than the ReDead. One would be hard pressed to find a fan of Ocarina of Time that would go on a tirade about how freaky and startling the ReDead's scream was the first time they heard it. Even hearing it now is almost guaranteed to curdle a bit of blood.

7. Start Buzzer
Mario Kart Series
The countdown buzzer hasn't changed that much over the course of the Mario Kart franchise, and one wouldn't think it needs to. It is simple, reasonably pleasant, and has a bit of a gameplay trick built into its existence. Pressing "accelerate" as the second light switches the the third, your kart boosts ahead of the pack. So maybe it isn't the sound effect entirely, but those three humming beeps definitely have made their mark as the signal for an iconic gameplay feature. And that's enough, right?

6. Lumbering Crimson Head
Resident Evil: The ReMake
For many, the crashing Cerberus dogs crashing into the white hallway is the scariest iconic scene from a horror game in history. While that may be the case, the thumping shuffle of the Crimson Head as he tears down a hallway has to be the scariest noise. It means that a very powerful, very aggressive, previously unheard of enemy will be converging on your location with brrrraaaiiinnnns in mind. And the real kicker is that sound coming from beneath a distant doorway, because the unpredictability makes the tension almost unbearable.

5. Alarm
Silent Hill Series
Very rarely, in video games, does a single sound mean the whole world is changing. The alarm chime in Silent Hill signifies just that. The walls turn black, the ash disappears, and evil percolates from everywhere. The Silent Hill alarm is the aural manifestation of a total threat, and fans of the series can tell you, once that shrill ring starts blaring, it is time to check your clip and hide.

4. !
Metal Gear Solid Series
Out of context, the ! sound effect is disconcerting and pretty unappealing -- like the sound of excitement in a children's game. But in the walls of the game, this sound means the action is heating up, and it has meant that for a very long time. In each of the Metal Gear Solid games, the 'sheerp' and the little "!" have been a prominent gameplay feature, and as the Metal Gear Solid franchise is among gaming's most iconic, the warning of the startling of the guards has ridden the coattails to the top.

3. Turret Auto-tune
For the most part, we tried to leave out any actual talking from out sound effects list. But the Portal turrets are so bizarrely auto-tuned, so digitally overdeveloped, we thought them suitable for mention. So it is noteworthy that they make it so high on the list -- not being an actual sound effect. But regardless of that small indiscretion, the talking turrets of Aperture Labs have become an icon for the Portal franchise. Along with cake, a pissy robot, and a box-shaped friend.

2. Puzzle Complete
Legend of Zelda Series
The Legend of Zelda series could, quite literally, populate an entire "Top Ten" list of great sound effects. But the chime that occurs upon a puzzle's solution is one that is consistent in the series, and totally recognizable. Though it has become more and more sophisticated over the years, the Puzzle Complete sound effect is the most iconic noise from the second most iconic franchise of all time. And that is enough to put it at number two on the list.

1. Coin
Super Mario Series
This one is fairly obvious. The sound that springs from the coins Mario collects is, hands-down, the most iconic video game noise. It has been around for ages, and pretty much embodies the true, "bit" sound of the earlier Nintendo era. Just like the 8-bit profile version of Mario is the image that has come to signify "video games," the coin sound has breached the confines of the video game culture and is recognizable to just about anybody anywhere. It's kind of like our "Hey Jude."

Update: Pac-Man Dies
Here's one we missed and shouldn't have: Pac-Man dying. We've all heard it too many times, and it's easily one of the most recognizable video game sounds ever. Thanks to Steve for pointing our our omission.

Honorable Mentions: Shell Jump Blukup! (Super Mario Series), Bloody Screen and Heartbeat (Call of Duty series), Silenced PP7 (GoldenEye 007), Combine Shout (Half-Life 2), Otis Ringtone (Dead Rising) 

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