FrankJavCee, a vaporwave soldier and trill genius of dank memery, has a new album out. Opening it is the track “VaporTrap,” and it serves as a tongue-in-cheek example of entry-level song-making for the genre. It’s composed almost entirely of late nineties/early aughts Windows, Mac, and AOL nostalgia, loaded beginning to end with their signature start-up chimes, greetings, error prompts, beeps, ta-das, etc., and orchestrated in a way that creates a fuzzy, slightly glitchy hip-hop tune.
However one sample that really stands out from the rest (aside from the booming THX toll about 40 seconds in) is the music from the Sony PlayStation start-up screen. Not only does it set the tone for the back half of the song, but it is just an epic chunk of sound in and of itself. And it made me think about all of the other cool/not so cool video game console start-up jingle jangles from over the years. Remember how awesome it was to hook up a new system and hear whatever it was that greeted you on your TV for the first time? And how that sound only got better with each game you unwrapped and threw into it? It was the console’s way of telling you, “Nestle into your couch groove, child, because we’re about to have some good, long fun.”
Well, after a little digging around I was able to find most major console start-up tunes, and wanted to rank them in order of dankness, from not-as-chill to it’s-got-bars-like-it’s-Mars. (I have a college degree.) You’ll note that none of them really are inherently bad per se, because let’s face it, these are video games we’re talking about, and the only thing not great about video games is that an overwhelming amount of the people playing them are little boys made of garbage.
Nintendo really must have expended every ounce of creative energy revolutionizing video gaming with the Wii and its motion-sensor controls because the start-up screen, or rather its lack thereof, is kind of a goddamn disappointment. I give it zero Wii-Remotes-accidentally-flying-across-the-room out of five.
22) Neo Geo
What am I looking at here? What does all of that garbage on the screen mean? The jingle behind it makes me feel like I’m a microscopic being lost in a maze of circuits inside this console. Pass. (Fatal Fury was a cool game, though!)
21) Super Nintendo
This barely qualifies as a start-up screen yet it still beats out Neo Geo. In reality the individual SNES games had such great intros of their own that I kind of forgot the console itself only provided that cute little formal “Nintendo Presents” as a prefix for them.
20) Atari Jaguar
What a mess. This is the console version of a poorly designed flier that uses ClipArt and four different fonts to advertise a police auction on the edge of town. And is that jaguar-skinned cube necessary? What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX!?
19) Nintendo DS/Nintendo 3DS
Cool use of the mirrored ‘O’ to depict the handheld devices dual screens, but the chime here makes me nervous, like an iPhone Amber Alert notification or something.
18) PlayStation 4
Probably the last of the not-that-great start-ups in this mix. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very soothing, but it might be a little too New Age-y. It makes me feel like I should be getting ready to clean an oven instead of booting up Overwatch.
17) Game Boy/Game Boy Color/Game Boy Advance
I’d be lying to you if I said nostalgia didn’t play a big part in Game Boy’s position here. Sure, the chime is the precursor to to the SNES’s, which again barely qualifies as an actual thing in this world. But this time…it’s HANDHELD! Do you recall how happy you felt powering on Dr. Mario so that you could nonsensically mash little prescription pills into each other while in the back seat of the family van? Good times. Simpler times.
16) Xbox One
I’ll argue it’s the weakest of the three Xbox start-ups for the simple reason that it’s not long enough. Granted you are supposed to understand that it is an evolution from Xbox 360’s, but at the same time it’s also the most powerful of the consoles; it should punch my organs right out my body whole.
15) Wii U
I like music I can dance to, and this is the first one in the list that actually gets my shoulders to move. (They move terribly, but are still moving nonetheless.)
14) PlayStation 3
The PS3 intro makes me feel like I am buckling in for a cinematic joyride. Which is exactly the type of feeling you should have when you power on these next-generation consoles. It’s a step in a new direction after the PS2—instead of having you linger in space (you will understand this in a bit), you have been brought back to reality. And that makes sense, since PS3 took another leap toward more immersive gaming.
13) Panasonic 3DO
I remember reading about 3DO in Electronic Gaming Monthly but never actually played 3DO, and I know I’m not alone because no one played 3DO. It was $700, which converts to a billion grade school dollars, and it lasted about two years on the market. That said, when I YouTubed the start-up screen I was oddly enchanted. Yes, there’s no music, and yes, the asteroid field is cheeseball central, but it still took me on a journey. Plus it ends with that foil-wrapped baked potato-looking thing with the words “Welcome to the REAL World” resting over it and I am still giggling while typing this.
The PSP was a direct competitor with the Nintendo DS, and in terms of start-up screens it blows the DS out of the water. It carries a mild sense of whimsy, especially since its launch was sandwiched between the PS2 and PS3, but avoids being silly. It’s a soothing tone that was probably arranged to keep commuting gamers from going crazy while stuck in a subway tunnel in the middle of July.
11) Xbox 360 (original, updates here)
This might be the first, and possibly only, start-up screen on this list that actually makes me feel like I’m about to play on a next-generation console. The color transitions, the pulling away from the iconic x-sphere, that icy “whoosh”—it all just comes together. If it were a bit longer I would have this crack the top 8. But it’s not, so it remains at shameful, shameful 11.
10) Sega Genesis/Sega Game Gear
A classic. Not too showy but not too subtle. It also reminds me a lot of when I’d hear this in surround sound while seated in a Daytona 500 arcade car on the boardwalk. Those, too, were simpler, candy-addled times.
9) Nintendo 64 (DD)
Alright, now we’re getting into the real good stuff. Granted this start-up was on the Nintendo 64DD which was only released in Japan, but that doesn’t take away from how great it is. The rising cubed N and its accompanying music, matching the ascent of that ubiquitous logo, is well-conceived and very powerful. Plus you get to do fun stuff with Mario! (Remember on Mario 64 when you could severely disfigure his face? That was so bizarre.)
8) PlayStation 2
I always think of Saturn when I hear this. Like I power on the PS2 and am immediately transported to some abandoned playground on a space station locked into a low orbit around a foreign cosmic entity. Wait…playground…space station…PlayStation!? This all checks out.
7) Sega Saturn (bonus Japanese version, better)
Speaking of Saturn! How badass is this? You start surrounded by broken glass and are like, “Did I get into an accident? Where am I? I hope everyone is OK.” Then the glass pieces itself back together to retroform the Sega Saturn logo. You see, the glass represents your expectations, and the Sega Saturn, in a Shyamalanian twist, turns out to be the perpetrator of the shattering! I think you get it.
I never fully realized or appreciated Nintendo’s penchant with cubed logos until compiling this list. This is a fun one—Nintendo was always more whimsical and loose with their branding and it really shows here. My friends have a tight, spiral staircase in their apartment and I often play this jingle in my head when descending it. Plus the animation is slick and when coupled with the music it conveys enjoyment while not looking too cheesy.
It’s an obvious statement to make, but you can trace all iterations of Nintendo start-ups back to the original NES version here. It’s triumphant, it’s memorable, and it provides a little cheeky humor to keep you entertained despite knowing that in about four minutes you are going to be wishing death upon Bullet Bill and his whole family.
I remember being skeptical about Xbox when hearing that Microsoft was throwing their hat into the console wars ring. Turns out that was foolish thinking, with this behemoth of an introduction extinguishing any doubts right from the get-go. We never saw anything like it before, and we still haven’t to this day—I still feel like a bio-mechanical mercenary programmed to destroy all living things every time I watch it.
3) Sega Dreamcast
This is so elegant that I can’t even stand it. The atmospheric whispers and soft tones scoring a hand-drawn spiral resting atop clean, careful type hit all of my design pleasure points. ALL POINTS. It makes me feel like I’m getting ice water shot straight into the base of my spine, but in a good way?
2) Sega CD
I’m a sucker for synthy, keyboard-driven, 80s-inspired music, so the Sega CD start-up ranks this high due to strictly personal preferences. That said, it’s super engaging and gives a sense of urgency despite how long it is and how the graphical elements only move around the screen minimally. You could hit play on this and carry about your business around the house and it honestly wouldn’t feel at all out of place with whatever given song you select on a random Spotify playlist.
By far the best of the bunch. There’s a reason why FrankJavCee utilizes the PS1’s start-up music as the fulcrum to switch tempos in “VaporTrap.” It’s absolutely perfect and hits all of the marks—deep, crystalline, technological, transportive, and in full balance of mystique and awareness. That all may not make sense, but it doesn’t have to. This shit is magic.