Songs in the Key of Panic

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A timer reaches 100.

Suddenly the music picks up. A frequent trope in video games.

There are three main types of cases music speeding up:

  • Hurry Music: Plays when a time of something is running out, meaning player has to hurry.
  • Song in a Key of Warning: Music speeds up when a player is in a disadvantageous situation of some sort. For an example: low health.
  • Nearing the End Music: Music speeds up when nearing the end of the task/level or some other progress in the game. Usually the situation gets tenser in this case.

See also Variable Mix, Critical Annoyance, Theme Music Power-Up, Musical Spoiler.

Examples of Songs in the Key of Panic include:
  • The Super Mario Bros. series does this frequently when timer reaches A HUNDRED SECONDS?!
    • For that matter, Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel both have this type of music for the Speedy Comet challenges.
      • This music is also used for other things (like if the thing you're standing on is starting to sink into quicksand).
    • The music also gets faster when you damage most bosses enough. Naturally, they get harder.
  • Final Fantasy V has the theme appropriately named "Hurry! Hurry!" that most memorably plays during the timed escape from the burning Karnak Castle... and when you're starting to run out of time, the already frantic theme speeds up even further, thus also making this an example of Song in a Key of Warning.
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Mappy
  • Sonic the Hedgehog does it with the drowning music. Said music has been known to scare a surprising number of people.
    • Also played if you're nearing the 10-minute time limit, or if you're in a 2-player match in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the 1-minute time limit that plays when one player finishes the stage is down to 12 seconds.
    • Also, Sonic 3 and Knuckles does this again in The Doomsday zone, speeding up the music when your rings run low as Super/Hyper Sonic.
  • TMNT Tournament Fighter on the NES
  • Mendel Palace
  • The New Zealand Story
  • The player has ten minutes to defeat the final boss in Metal Gear Solid 3. The music becomes louder and more intense as the time limit nears its end.
  • A Metroid game isn't complete without at least one of these.
  • Knights in The Nightmare does this when the time is running out, under fifteen seconds of time remaining makes the music plays faster.
  • In the level "No Fighting in the War Room" in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a different version of tracks from previous levels are played out as the time runs out. The very last track before the timer reaches zero is, for example, reminiscent of the intro to "Crew Expendable".
  • In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the music intensifies as the timer runs down during timed missions.
  • One level of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, where you have to disarm Time Bombs, integrated the beeping of the bombs into an increasingly frantic techno piece.
  • In the 3D Zelda games, music will speed up in minigames when time is almost out. Similarly, timed switches in many of the games emit a series of rhythmic clicks or ticks which gradually become faster until the switch deactivates itself.
  • In Battletoads' Rat Race level, the music speeds up as Scuzz gets closer to the bomb.
  • Spelunky inverts it: The music slows down when you have only 30 seconds left to finish the level before the ghost appears.
  • In The Journeyman Project's Mars Maze, the music creepily slows down and fades to a heartbeat and heavy breathing sounds as your oxygen supply depletes.
  • In the Super Mario World ROM hack A Super Mario Thing, this trope gets taken to a bizarre extreme with 'Puzzle Panic,' a level that immediately starts the player off with 100 seconds remaining (thus triggering the speed-up), and playing an already rather frantic-sounding tune. Whenever the player enters a pipe, the time resets back to the 100 seconds, and speeds the music up even further. The nature of the level's puzzle means that this has to happen multiple times throughout the level, rendering the music a chaotic mess by the time the player reaches the end. Best demonstrated here, in Raocow's original playthrough.
    • Actually, this was present in the original Super Mario World. In the Special Zone's "Funky" level, you can allow the timer to run down low enough for the music to speed up, then use Yoshi to eat one of the green berries that give you extra time. Rinse and repeat.

Song in a Key of Warning

Music speeds up:

  • In Street Fighter II (all five of them), the music becomes more urgent when one of the fighters' health bars is low.
  • In Tetris NES version, the music speeds up when the stacked blocks are nearing the top of the screen.
    • Columns does the same thing.
    • As did both Blastris games packaged with the Super Scope.
    • Some versions of Tetris actually change the song when you're near the top. If the threshold for the warning music and the threshold to switch back are the same (or too close to each other), the song can switch back-and-forth a little too much.
      • Tetris DX's music has three levels of speed. the type B track has an entirely different second part which can only be heard on the second level of speed.
  • An interesting subversion: in Mother 3, when you are trapped by the Ultimate Chimera, the music doesn't change, but Lucas's heartbeat, which you can hear over the music, goes faster and faster as his situation becomes increasingly dire.
  • Banjo-Kazooie has a maze in a desert level with music that gradually increases in speed, and goes up a pitch or two every so often to boot.
  • Winback does this at 50% health, then again at 25% health.
  • As mentioned above, the Final Fantasy V example doubles as this once the timer hits one minute.
  • The danger/panic themes in the Syphon Filter series were usually faster remixes or Variable Mixes of the level themes, although sometimes completely different.
  • Golden Eye 1997 did this in Timed Mission or high-alert situations. Perfect Dark takes it even further with every stage's track having an alternate "X" version that plays when an alarm is triggered or you are at a mission critical point.
  • Many boss battle themes are sped-up remixes.
  • Star Trek: Bridge Commander has a very good version of this. The battle music comes in 3 distinct flavors, though it's still the same tune: Optimistic, Neutral, and Danger. The game keeps track of your shields, weapon status, and hull integrity compared to the enemy. So you can be at 100% health, but if you're facing half a dozen Romulan Warbirds, you get the Danger music.

Different tune is played altogether:

  • In Gauntlet (1985 video game), ominous music plays when a player's health is 200 or less.
  • Puyo Puyo uses a frantic recurring theme whenever your screen of Puyos is filling too close to the top. The edited Kirby's Avalanche variant borrows this tune for same gameplay scenario, while Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine uses another, even more hectic theme (which is in fact a remix of the original Puyo Puyo's final boss theme). Less advanced gamers were most likely completely screwed at this point in gameplay, so usually hearing this music basically informs "YOU LOST"!
  • Shadowgate plays a song when your torches are about to run out of light.
  • Whenever the Tall Man appears, a rather distressing piece of music will inform the player of how screwed they are.
  • Phantasy Star III changes the battle music depending on if you're doing well or poorly, and switches to a somewhat sinister-sounding theme if you're at a disadvantage
  • Wizards and Warriors has a different, more sinister song that starts playing when you're low on hit points.
  • Anarchy Online switches between different themes considering how well you are doing in combat.
  • In Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack, the "panic" theme varies depending on what stage you're playing on.
  • In the Metal Gear series, fitting music plays if you trigger an alert. The first Metal Gear Solid deserves special mention, as it provides one of the more (in)famous examples of this trope.
  • In Pokémon Trozei, as the screen fills up, dramatic music starts to play.
  • In most Pokémon games, hitting low health caused a constant, incessant beeping. In Pokémon Black and White, they actually turned the beeping into a new battle theme that plays at low health.
  • In Kirby Super Star Heavy Lobster's theme is pretty much despair in musical form.
  • In the original MSX version of Valis, the music turns ominous at low health.
  • The Söldner-X series plays a different, more frantic track when the player is below 25% health.
  • In the 3D Zelda games, a dissonant music piece segues in when enemies are nearby.
  • In X-Wing, the music switches to a more intense one when enemies arrive, and calms down when enemies are gone. This was dropped in the collector's edition, which played music from the CD (and only changed on victory/loss) instead of synthesizing it.
  • Total Annihilation was one of the first RTS games to implement this with CD music. However, the unpatched version always played the same battle track; later versions chose from a set of tracks instead.
  • When the music starts to change in F.E.A.R., you know something big and/or bad is about to happen.
  • Zok Zok Heroes, an obscure Japan-only Game Boy Color RPG, changes to a different battle theme when your hero is at critical HP.
  • In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, when Nemesis appears in the vicinity, "Feel The Tense" overrides the normal music.
  • The game show The Cube switches the music to a more intense track when the player has only one life left.
  • In the .hack GU Games, if you stay out in an outdoors area for too long, a Doppleganger will appear on the map. If it notices you nearby, it deliberately invokes Nightmare Fuel as it slowly and implacably walks towards you. The music will change from a generally calm and serene tune into something that can only be described as exceptionally scary and fear inducing. It also speeds up the closer it gets to you. Activating a Battle Zone in order to engage another monster will not stop it from following in after you.
  • Vega Strike has DJ Python module serving many playlists - which means both that background music will be more or less thematically appropriate for the sort of port at which you're docked, and that when you're about to fight, the ambient spaceflight soundtrack changes to something faster and less relaxing.

Nearing the End Music

  • Battletoads does it in several levels, including all the levels on a vehicle.
  • In Super Mario World, the music speeds up when fighting against the last phase of Bowser.
  • In the Mario Kart series, when you get to the final lap, the music speeds up (referencing the main Mario franchise's "hurry music" example above; the music sting that transitions between the normal and increased tempo is similar).
  • As an early example: In Asteroids, the blip blop gets faster as the number of asteroids decreases.
  • During the Wii Sports Resort Swordplay gauntlet, the music slowly adds more instrumentation when you get close to the end of the course.
  • Skies of Arcadia does this during boss battles.
  • Seth's stage music in Street Fighter IV becomes more urgent as the fight goes on.
  • During the final lap in races in Split Second, the background music will swell and become more tense. The effect is handled nicely as its crescendos happen after a bullet-time show-off of a wreck, which are usually triggered by the player.
  • Tetris DS uses the Death Mountain music for its Level 9 stage. As the player approaches Level 20, the music changes to a completely manic scherzo.
  • Boss music in An Untitled Story speeds up once the boss is down to 1 HP. All its bosses will have Turned Red by this point.
  • In the Ace Attorney series, as you wear the witnesses down in cross-examination, the music becomes more urgent and elaborate. This is actually a separate track on the soundtrack, the 'Allegro' version. In Investigations, a 'Presto' version is heard during the final testimony of any of the antagonists. And it is epic.
  • When you are on the Gym Leader's final Pokémon in Black and White, this remix of the main theme starts playing, practically screaming "You can do it! You're almost there! Victory is within your grasp!"
  • The latter two Sonic Advance games, as well as both Sonic Rush Series and Sonic Rush Adventure, have extra-tense remixes of the boss fight tunes for when the boss's health gets particularly low.
  • In F-Zero GX and AX, the music changes when you're on the final lap.
  • Donkey Kong Country, as a part of its very wide compendium of Nightmare Fuel, gives us this example of "don't think you'll get out of this place easily".
  • The Halo series usually intensifies the music towards the climax or end of a battle. For example, on the second and third levels of the first game, the "Brothers in Arms" music goes into its climax section when the Covenant bring in reinforcements. When you reach the toll plaza at the end of the bridge on Metropolis, rock drums and bass guitar are added to the Halo theme music, and when you go into the tunnel, the music quiets down. While riding the second gondola on Regret, the first part of "Leonidas" plays on a loop, then when you reach the end, it segues to the awesome climax of the piece, which loops until you defeat all the enemies. "Blow Me Away" also does this for the Mausoleum battle. In the second half of Tsavo Highway, the Halo theme changes to the "Rock Anthem for Saving The World" variation in the area with all the Choppers and Wraiths. The first and third installments both apply a Theme Music Power-Up during their final escape sequences.
    • Also in the first game's third level, the percussion of "Enough Dead Heroes" starts up as you get closer to the gravlift, and when the Hunters arrive, it goes to full instrumentation. Same with "Covenant Dance" during the cargo bay battle immediately after.
  • In Left 4 Dead, at the end of the finale level when you must make a dash for the rescue vehicle, the track Skin On Our Teeth will play as the Survivors rush towards their escape.
  • In Goemon's Great Adventure, the music becomes more tense as you further progress through a castle level.
  • On the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, everything but the drumbeat in the background music would almost drop out entirely on the million-dollar question, leaving only a tense, heartbeat-like "BOOM...BOOM-BOOM..." on a loop.
  • In Twisted Metal: Black and Head On, the battle music changes when you're down to one opponent.
  • The Think Music on the Japanese game show Time Shock (hear it here) starts becoming increasingly tense starting at 30 seconds left. Also qualifies as the Hurry Music variant, as the same music is used in the "12 Answers" rounds, where a single contestant has only one question with multiple answers and 60 seconds to rattle off as many of them as they can (up to a maximum of 12).
  • In a similar vein, on Late Night Liars, as your 43 seconds counted down (and, no, that's not a typo), the music sped up, eventually reaching a really frantic pace in the last four seconds or so.
  • And then there are the Nickelodeon game shows of the late 80s/early 90s, where in the Bonus Round, the music changes keys (going up) every few seconds. Finder's Keepers combined this with the Hurry Music variant, since the Room-to-Room Romp music moved to a "double time" feel in the last 30 seconds of the round.
  • In Perfect Cherry Blossom, once you got to the last phase of the Final Boss fight, a tenser remix of the Final Boss theme would play.
  • In Wario Land Shake It, the music picks up at some hard to judge point in the middle of the third boss battle. Then even later it speeds up again to the point the creepy circus music is going by at mach speed.