In an age when even the most obscure subculture is within easy reach, a passion for music can become tinged with one-upmanship. "Have you heard these Levantine recordings from 1906?" "S'OK. I'm more into this Tuareg reimagining of Purple Rain."

The feverish cratedigging is compounded with the trend for luxurious vinyl releases, to the point where your mantelpiece can end up stuffed with cloth-bound 10-LP boxes of even the most marginal synth-botherer, and your kids are asking why you can't afford their uni fees.

Now, a new frontier is opening up for the fetishists: videogame soundtracks. These are being brought out of hiding, lovingly remastered, pressed on to vinyl, and packaged with all the foil-blocked majesty of the finest LP reissues. Once, the videogame soundtrack occupied a stratum of cultural respectability alongside Hornby train sets, war re-enactments and scale models of manga schoolgirl characters – a slightly weird object for completists and inveterate nerds. Now, they're making a bid to be treated as high art.

"People assume this music was tacked on and there's no effort – but what the composers achieved with the hardware is phenomenal," says Jamie Crook, founder of the all-vinyl videogame soundtrack label, Data Discs. "They're awesome records in their own right [but] only a small percentage of them; the vast majority are quite generic. But some are just … wow. And they were reaching millions and millions of people in their living rooms, for hours and hours on end – these Japanese composers probably reached more people with their music than anyone at any other time in history."

His first release is 1991's Streets of Rage, the sideways-scrolling Sega Genesis beat-'em-up. "It would have been the first dance record anyone heard when they were a kid – they didn't realise it at the time, but when it's on rotation in your living room for months on end, it buries itself in your subconscious," says Crook. "And years later you realise: 'Wow, I was listening to a weird house record every day, repeatedly, when I was seven or eight.'"

The music is indeed awesome: gorgeously thin tones imitating Chicago house pianos, Europop synths and hip-hop breakbeats. Its composer, Yuzo Koshiro, says his biggest influences were stadium-ambient troupe Engima and jam-pumpers Technotronic, and that he was deliberately facing west.

"Sega's releases were hit after hit in the US and UK, so my objective was to appeal to those two countries," he says. "I knew that the Japanese audience at the time wouldn't relate, which they didn't, but I pursued what I did regardless – I suspect that my hopes and struggles were reflected in the sound."

For Streets of Rage 3, he went further, creating a programme that self-composed the music as the game was played. "My primary influence then was hard techno, which was extremely popular. I wanted to create as unique a sound as possible – something extraordinary – and I felt that it was critical to create an automated composing programme." Its fans include today's electronic production elite, such as Flying Lotus, Just Blaze and Fatima al-Qadiri.

Equally good, but even more primitive, is the fiendishly difficult 1991 NES game Battletoads, whose soundtrack is getting a vinyl pressing this month from LA company iam8bit. It's a menacing collection of tracks built from next to nothing.

Battletoads – the vinyl

Battletoads – the vinyl

"The NES was like a glorified doorbell," says Battletoads' composer David Wise. "There were three musical channels, plus a noise channel. You really were going back down to the basic waveforms to get sounds – it was very technical and very difficult."

Wise would compose by trial and error, inputting code and playing it back to see what it would sound like. "I listened to a lot of Van Halen at the time, Vince Clark, Howard Jones, Depeche Mode, Europe … all of those were mixed in."

"You could hear the ambition behind it," says Jon M Gibson, co-head of iam8bit. "It seems like with Battletoads, they cared a little more." Marco Guardia, a sound engineer at videogame soundtrack label Brave Wave, similarly reveres the Battletoads era. "It was abstracted from anything that you could think of as real instruments – it's the purest and most interesting videogame sound to me," he says.

But why would you stick it on in your living room or headphones, without playing the game? "There's definitely a nostalgic quality, and nostalgia is a powerful, magical force that can overtake you, but then, there are also people who simply love and appreciate the music on its own," Gibson says.

"It's much like a great vacation – you get memories from games. Dungeons, bosses – there are these musical themes that stick in your head. You crave that sensation again, and while you could replay the game, the music can bring it back to life – even if you're sitting in your office."

Crook, however, is more resistant to wallowing in the past – "the danger is that it's typecast as some nostalgia-based hipster thing" – while Wise doesn't understand it at all. "It was part of the game – why would you want to take it out of the game and listen to it on its own?" he wonders. "I can understand why someone would want to do it. Me, I just hear all the things I would change – it's not a relaxing thing to listen back to it. It's always unfinished, really." And Guardia admits that even diehard fans draw the line at some point: "You probably wouldn't listen to a Game Over melody of a character dying, over and over again."

For Brave Wave, vinyl reissues are a way of glorifying the often-forgotten composers.

"You grow up thinking they're living well, and then find out a lot of them have quit," says the company's co-director Mohammad Taher, who has a particular fondness for Takashi Tateishi, composer for the Megaman series. "The Megaman 2 soundtrack is a whole universe – it's one of the most remixed soundtracks in gaming. But when Tateishi moved from [game producers] Capcom to Konami, he didn't mention it because he was ashamed of it. That just blows my mind. It's a different environment to composing in the west – it just felt like a job to them."

Brave Wave's first reissue is Street Fighter II's soundtrack, composed by Yoko Shimomura. "It's incredibly catchy," continues Taher. "I always chose the character who had the best music: Ryu. When you fight against him and you hear his music, it's just amazing. You're fighting near a shrine, and the music tries to be a little bit sad – it just works for me." The disc will feature each of the two slightly different soundtracks composed for it. "On messageboards online, you find there's lots of heated debate about which one is better."

Analogue digital … the Street Fighter 2 vinyl re-release

Analogue digital … the Street Fighter 2 vinyl re-release

With the advent of the Playstation in 1994 and N64 in 1996, games consoles evolved, and the art of videogame composition changed. Digital recordings and orchestras were increasingly used underneath the gameplay, just as in cinema. "Videogame soundtracks have lost some of their original appeal, some of their uniqueness," says Guardia, who says today's best work is found in the burgeoning indie scene, rather than on franchises such as Call of Duty. "Today, the big productions are so detailed, not much is left to the imagination – before, you had to take a certain feeling or vibe in the game, and translate that into music, to pronounce or underline it."

Others take a more generous view – Crook is reissuing the orchestral soundtrack to Dreamcast classic Shenmue, while Gibson is doing vinyl editions of soundtracks to N64 games, as well as newer games, such as Journey.

"You can smell that era of change in the game industry," he says of the music for N64 shooter Perfect Dark. "You can see an evolution, and it's neat to distil that down into the music, and trace those eras and trends. We hope when people have fallout shelters and the apocalypse comes, they will take these vinyls with them. Future societies will find the Battletoads vinyl and think that was what our culture was. They will revere anthropomorphised toads for ever more. It'll be an interesting future society."

Battletoads, Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark are out now on iam8bit. Streets of Rage, Shenmue and Shinobi III are available to pre-order now from Data Discs. Street Fighter II will be released by Brave Wave later this year.