8 Video Game Startup System Noises: A Critical Analysis

You’ve got your game. You’ve got your Mountain Dew. You’ve got your shades drawn and your doors locked to prevent any and all intrusion from the outside. You’re ready to play a video game, and you know what? Your system is ready, too. And it would like to show you it’s ready with an inviting system startup noise. Here at Smosh, we think these noises are just as much a work of artistry as the games themselves, and took it upon ourselves to analyze them as such. Now that this startup is over, let’s get into the list, shall we?

Nintendo Gamecube (Primary)

Like the system it’s providing the overture to, the primary Gamecube startup noise is mischievous, fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yet this sense of childlike fun is juxtaposed with the stereotypically adult orchestral textures in the tune, from the xylophone to the pizzicato strings to the brass hit concluding the piece. Perhaps the piece is saying that the Gamecube takes its fun seriously, a bravura thesis statement to make.

Nintendo Gamecube (Alternate)

If you hold down ‘Z’ while booting up your Gamecube, you get this alternate startup noise, which is just too overtly silly for my taste. Squeaky toys? Children’s laughing? A “boi-oi-oing” sound? The Gamecube was unfairly derided for being a disposable system in comparison to its contemporaries; this startup noise supports rather than disputes that opinion. Hard pass.

Sega Dreamcast

This hypnotically tuneless soundscape makes me feel like I’m deep-sea diving into the Sega ocean. It’s abstract yet accessible, just like the system. It’s ballsy in that it doesn’t have a singable melody, though that never stopped me from trying and annoying the heck out of my friends. It feels like the intro to a smooth ‘80s ballad that never comes. A feat in experimental soundtracking.

Sony Playstation 1

Sustaining synths and a borderline haunting four-note melody near the end make Sony’s first foray into video games a dark and mature one. It’s in a major key, but it doesn’t necessarily feel cozily inviting. Rather, I feel like it’s asking me to prepare for a life-changing event, which is exactly what Sony wanted us to feel when we first bought the system.

Microsoft Xbox

The original Xbox might take the cake for most intense startup sound. With its industrial, electric, mad scientist tones that don’t even coalesce into music until the very end, I feel blasted and even a bit ill at ease from this sound. Also, anytime you have a steady high-hat beat that slowly increases in tempo, I will freak out. This is the Mad Max: Fury Road of system startup noises: it’s here to grab you and not let go.

Nintendo Virtual Boy

Ahh! Jeez, Nintendo, are we about to play a faux-virtual reality video game or watch a terrifying John Carpenter movie? I give it props for having a clear melody and sticking to its aesthetic guns, but man alive that sound is intense. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what I think of when I think about Nintendo. I’m glad they eventually softened their approach, but I would like to hear a spooky full band version of this around Halloween.

Microsoft Xbox One

You know what? Sometimes simple is better. You can throw the kitchen sink of noises at a startup screen (i.e. the aforementioned alternate Gamecube startup), but often all you need is one iconic noise. I’m a big fan of the Xbox One’s minimalist approach, and think it’s easily the strongest of the contemporary consoles. Also, on a dorky music theory note, it’s interesting that the two notes you hear the strongest are only one whole step apart from each other. This is commonly referred to as a 9th chord, but usually has other chord tones like a 3rd or 5th that prevent it from feeling clustery or discordant. In this, those tones are literally the only two you hear, yet it doesn’t feel atonal. Did I lose all of you yet? Cool!

Sony Playstation 3

If you’re asking me, straight up, what’s the best video game system startup noise, I’m telling you the Playstation 3, hands down, 10 times out of 10. It’s such a beautifully simple idea: an orchestra tuning up, equating the video game experience to a night at the symphony. It’s relaxing, inviting, and ambiguous. It serves as the perfect introduction to every game you could play. It’s the gold standard for startup noises, one the video game industry has yet to best.

Which startup noise is your favorite? Which ones did we miss? Feel free to give me a follow on Twitter, but I’m just telling you now, the startup noise is the Perfect Strangers theme in full, and you can not skip it.

Greg Smith
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