When you read “PlayStation sound,” what do you hear? Do you hear that familiar electronic cascade, and the gentle ringing of chimes? Do you remember anxiety as you waited to see if your scratched copy of Metal Gear Solid will actually load?

Maybe that’s too personal, but there’s no doubt system boot-up sequences can have a significant impact on our brains, even decades later. We’ve heard these sounds hundreds, maybe thousands of times, it’s not surprising they can trigger a wave of memories and nostalgia.

In celebration of these often overlooked audio experiences, we decided to compile eight of the most memorable, ranked in order of console release date, not in order of preference. 

We’re going to start post video game crash (sorry Atari), at the point when consoles began their great trek toward modern incarnations.

And so, our audio journey begins in the mid eighties, with the Sega Master System. 

Sega Master System – 1985

The Sega Master System was a essentially a rebranded Mark III computer, and was Sega’s attempt to wrestle dominance of the home video game market from the Nintendo Entertainment System. It failed to do so, and never became a ubiquitous household name. The Master System is often overlooked, especially by modern audiences that think the Genesis was Sega’s first home console, but it had some excellent games and sold upwards of 13 million units. More importantly though, it had a seriously awesome boot-up screen.

Take a look and a listen-

These older console/computers had substantially longer introduction sequences as they waited for you to insert software, sometimes consisting of entire songs as opposed to the seconds long intros of later consoles. 

This thing goes on for almost seven minutes. Seven GLORIOUS minutes.

Nintendo Game Boy – 1989

The Nintendo Game Boy, and its successor the Game Boy Color, would go on to sell a whopping 118.69 million consoles, more than any other on this list. The Game Boy was bulky, ugly, not particularly good with batteries, and had a remarkably terrible screen, but the software library was unbeatable.

Everyone tried to dethrone King Nintendo and his Portable Prince in the nineties, from Sega’s Game Gear to Atari’s Lynx. Even superior hardware, backlights, and color screens couldn’t take down the tenacious Game Boy, and it lives on as the second best selling portable console of all time after the Nintendo DS. 

A fine counterpoint to the Master System’s long, complex intro, the Game Boy boot-up sequence is short and to the point. 

Simple, iconic, and engaging, the boot-up sound for the original Gameboy left an indelible mark in many gamer’s minds, including mine. To this day I expect to hear the introduction from Link’s Awakening kick in afterwards.

This simple sound was expanded and repurposed for other Nintendo portables down the line, which is indicative of the strength of its legacy.

Sega CD – 1993

The Sega CD (or Mega CD for those outside the US) was a, get this, CD add on for the Sega Genesis. It was released in late 1991 in Japan, late 1992 in North America, and 1993 in Europe. Because it was a disc based system, that meant more space, and it seemed like most developer’s response to this was to fill every game with subpar Full Motion Video. While somewhat novel at the time, the overemphasis on grainy, low production value footage over gameplay led to the demise of the system. There are some terrible games on the Sega CD, though it did produce some very memorable ones as well, like Hideo Kojima’s highly collectible Snatcher, Sonic CD, and the infamous Night Trap. 

I’m trying to think of a phrase better than “totally radical” to describe the startup of the USA version of the Sega CD. It’s unapologetically nineties in the best possible way, from the rotating, scaling text to the genuinely well composed music.

It’s a song that makes one want to look out through a cloud of smoke over a futuristic cyberpunk city awash in rain and neon. Or maybe I’ve been playing too much Snatcher.

Put on some sweet headphones and crank this up to see what I mean-

Interestingly, the Mega CD startup (the Japanese version) is completely different. Gone is the haunting cyberpunk melody, replaced with a blue sky and a much more upbeat song. I don’t like it nearly as much, but maybe my American sensibilities are a clue as to why Sega changed it in the first place. 

Sega Saturn – 1994

Oh, the poor Sega Saturn. Often cited as the console that began Sega’s downward descent as a hardware player, the Saturn was unexpectedly released in late 1994 to very little fanfare and somewhat tepid reception. The rush to market alienated publishers whose games weren’t done, and annoyed retailers who were caught off guard. Not a great way to launch a console.

The entry of Sony into the console market certainly didn’t help. The Saturn could not compete with the lower price, superior power, and better software library of the PlayStation. Despite coming to market sooner and a library of stellar titles like Shining Force III and the Panzer Dragoon series, the Saturn was a commercial failure for Sega, selling only around nine million units.

Here’s the intro to all of the versions of the Sega Saturn, including the American and Japanese systems. As with many Sega consoles, there are also a few versions of the Saturn produced by third parties, including Hitachi (Hi-Saturn) and JVC (V-Saturn).

The Saturn startup sequence strikes me as the first “modern” intro, and this style is still used to this day; aggressive, short, and keen on showing off the technical capabilities of the console. 

Sony PlayStation – 1994

The PlayStation was Sony’s first foray into the console market, and it was a doozy. It almost immediately began to take market share from Sega’s underperforming Saturn, and even the release of Nintendo’s (relatively) powerful Nintendo 64 barely slowed it down.

This familiar sequence is going to bring back a lot of memories for a lot of people. Part of that is the memorable sound design that combines synthesized pads with a digital chime that has stayed in the video game hardware zeitgeist like few others. 

If you don’t think this makes a great notification for your phone, then I have some bad news for you…you’re missing a part of your soul. Sorry you had to find out this way.

The other reason this sequence brings back so many memories for so many is that the original PlayStation had some loading issues. Over time, especially in first generation hardware, the optical drive would often deteriorate and fail to load your beloved discs.

That meant, for a large group of unfortunate PS1 owners, the first half of the sequence would play and then it would freeze. Because of these issues, there was always a sense of trepidation when turning on a PS1, and seeing the second half of the sequence meant your game had loaded, and you could breathe a sigh of relief. 

Sega Dreamcast – 1998

The Dreamcast was Sega’s follow up to their woefully underperforming Saturn, and completely turned around the company’s fortunes to make them the hardware powerhouse we all know and love today. Wait no, it got crushed by the PS2, and was Sega’s last console. Bummer.

Still though, it’s a well beloved console by players, and one of my personal favorites. It pioneered some interesting hardware peripherals like the VMU, and had some truly inventive and entertaining games like Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, and Rez.

It also has what might be my favorite boot-up sound of all. A red spiral (or blue in the Japanese version) forms on the screen, while a wonderfully soothing and compelling audio sequence welcomes you to the OS.

The playful introduction invokes a sense of wonder, and the underlying serenity of the sound design does feel dreamlike.

It’s great. You can see the Japanese and USA versions here, as well as the much more obnoxious dev kit versions immediately after-

Nintendo GameCube – 2001

The GameCube was Nintendo’s follow up to the N64, and the first of their consoles to use optical media as opposed to catridges. As the name suggests, it was shaped like a cube, with a unique handle and small stature. The MiniDVD discs it used were small too, and that meant it couldn’t play standard DVDs like its primary competitors the PlayStation 2, and the later Xbox.  

There were some incredible games for the GameCube like Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, and Eternal Darkness, but unfortunately, as with the N64, the lack of third party support handicapped the system’s competitive competency. The GameCube fell into third place, while the PlayStation 2 dominated the generation and went on to become the highest selling console of all time.

The GameCube has one of the strangest startup sequences of any console; not only because of the lively and playful sound, but because you could manipulate the experience with a controller.

If you hold down the Z button before the GameCube logo comes on screen, you’re greeted with a somewhat unsettling…monkey and child laughing? Weird.

Lastly, if you plug in four controllers and hold down the Z button on all of them, you’re greeted with an ancient Japanese sounding number.

Here’s all three-

Why did Nintendo do this? It’s hard to say, but it’s a neat Easter egg, made all the more intriguing for how odd it is. Kind of a good analogy for the Nintendo GameCube itself: very strange, very playful, and very awesome.

Speaking of awesome, here’s the GameCube startup four billion times at once. Just…trust me.

Microsoft Xbox – 2001

Microsoft’s initial entry into the console market was quite a gamble. Even with the power of one of the world’s biggest software giants behind it, the Xbox was far from a sure thing. Console gaming hardware had always been the purview of Japanese companies, so to see an American entity try and stand against Sony and Nintendo was quite exciting. Luckily, the Xbox had an ace in the hole that helped launch it to a competitive position: Bungie’s Halo.

The original Xbox boot-up sequence is very sci-fi; it brings to mind witnessing a creation in a mad scientist’s lab. It’s a stark contrast to Nintendo’s strange yet charming Gamecube, and more aggressive than the rather chill PlayStation 2 startup sequence. 

It’s effective at establishing the flashy, green Xbox brand, and gets straight to the point: this is a brand new console like nothing you’ve seen before.

Sequence Complete

What struck me when going through these boot-up sequences was just how much they brought back when I experienced them again. These simple sounds triggered floods of memories, and immediately made me want to dig through my closet and revisit some of my favorite games from all these wonderful consoles. It’s a shame these simple little audio cues are so often overlooked, because the designers have had more of an impact on us gamers over the years than we probably realize.

If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the awesome Sega CD intro. That song is a banger and I hope they play it at my funeral.

Of the more traditional, shorter intros, the Dreamcast has to be my number one. There’s something about the brevity of it and the ethereal quality that makes me smile every time I hear it.

A contributor to the Forgotten Code collective.

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