Evolution of Music in the Super Mario Series

todayMarch 4, 2019 82 1

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By Leighton Gambles
Music Journalist

Imagine this: You sit down on the couch after coming home from a long day at school. You boot up the NES and hear a familiar old sound. It’s the catchy tune of the theme of Super Mario Bros. It’s no secret that the original Super Mario Bros. was in the childhoods and the hearts of millions of people all around the globe, and that is partially due to its unforgettable music. Nearly anyone can listen to the opening melody of the main theme and immediately recognize it as what it is: a classic. It would be difficult to create music that lives up to the simple, yet genius music of the first game, but Nintendo has not only met expectations, but has far exceeded them time and time again with each new installment of the series.

Super Mario Bros. was a new beginning and a start to one of the most classic and iconic series in video games. People all around the globe turned on their NES and listened to the new sounds of this new video game that no one knew was going to go as far as it has. The limitations of video game consoles in the age of the NES resulted in limitations for the music composers at the time as well. The music that would be heard was usually simple yet utilized the hardware to the full extent that the composer was able and willing to. Super Mario Bros. was no exception.

The main theme has only a short few layers of instrumentation, yet each layer is used to compliment the central feel and atmosphere of the theme and the game as a whole. The melody presented is simple and clean. It doesn’t go crazy with the range or rhythm, and because of its simplicity, it is easily recognizable amidst an entire sea of video game themes. The Super Mario Bros. music composer, Koji Kondo, made his mark in this series opener.

Super Mario World (SMW) is a title in the series that is nearly as influential as the very first. In the game itself, the diversity in levels, enemies, and world already far exceeds that of the original Super Mario Bros., and the music in SMW also reflects that range in style. While Super Mario Bros. had only four different world themes, the soundtrack for SMW contains many more, with each varying greatly from the last. This title’s soundtrack defined a push in a direction that Nintendo carries comfortably and is a direction that not every gaming company was entirely comfortable with at the time.

One of Nintendo’s first fully 3D Super Mario games was Super Mario 64. The brand new hardware of the Nintendo 64 allowed for a higher quality video game and the music was at the forefront of this revolution of new gaming. We suddenly heard bigger, grander ideas in the music. The instrumentation began to become orchestral and composers were allowed to add more and more layers to their projects. Koji Kondo began to take advantage of this and added trumpets, bowed strings, plucked strings, and sound effects to his compositions, which are all things that we have not really heard in previous installments of the series. At this point, we really begin to see what direction Nintendo may be planning to head into in future installments.

Now it’s time to sail across the stars into what many believe to be an absolutely integral part of the Super Mario series. Nintendo yet again crafted a video game that defined the childhoods of an entire generation. This game is the interstellar Super Mario Galaxy. Another 3D title in the series, it took some inspiration from Super Mario 64. The ideas of going to different worlds was something from the 64 days, but Super Mario Galaxy took that idea and ran with it. The massive ideas of the game are reflected in its amazingly stellar soundtrack. Koji Kondo clearly wanted to create a certain atmosphere for each level that whoever played the game would remember for a lifetime. While the goal of the Super Mario 64 soundtrack was to emulate an orchestra, Super Mario Galaxy truly succeeded in the grand orchestral and live instrumental sound that they were wanting in their previous games.

Super Mario Odyssey. A game as big as its name. The word odyssey is not in the title for no reason. Once again, Nintendo wanted their players to traverse a wide variety of worlds and listen to an even wider variety of music. From jazz, to surfer music, to orchestral fanfares, the soundtrack for Super Mario Odyssey is by far the most diverse and wide-reaching of the entire series. Just when you think, ‘how can Nintendo’s music possibly get any better,’ they go and release the soundtrack for Odyssey. The music for Super Mario Odyssey is what the entire series has so far been building up to, and it most certainly does not disappoint.

With a series as iconic as Super Mario, I cannot picture it going anywhere anytime soon. But that leaves a burning question: Where is the music going to go from here? As the current trajectory of Koji Kondo’s amazing work has been headed, it’s difficult to imagine it going anywhere but up from here. So, in the words of the famous Italian plumber, “Let’s-a Go!”

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