The year was 1996 and Nintendo had just firmly put their foot down into the three-dimensional gaming era. Introducing their behemoth of polygonal glory was Super Mario 64, and from then on platform games were forever changed. Everyone’s favourite Italian plumber jumped, flew and “WAHOO”ed into the new dimension with carefully crafted excellence in all aspects of design. Inside we experience a slew of varying environments, colour, enemies and atmospheres, which were all perfectly captured by the musical genius of veteran Nintendo composer Koji Kondo.
For those who’ve played the game, this tune should be instantly recognisable and teleport your mind-holes back to the very first course of the game: Bob-omb Battlefield. It was here that we first met the pink bob-ombs and came face-to-face with a three-dimensional chomp, but most important of all was the horn intro to the tune which sets the upbeat tone and “Here we go!” attitude of the game. It also develops to a point of exhilaration at 0:39, capturing the moment of awe we all had pushing C-Up to get a full glimpse of the entire environment, and realising we had to scale that gigantic summit off in the distance.
Another great track can also be first heard in this same course, after a brass fanfare that kicks off the footrace with Koopa the Quick:
Here we have a very country-centric tune to get the heart pumping and ready for a good race to the top of Bob-omb Summit. This is the first taste the game gives us of varying musical styles blending a banjo, double-bass, keyboard, accordion, drumset and whistler to bring us the track “Slider.” If you listen carefully to the keyboard track you can hear a tricky combination of off-beat chordal stabs mixed with triplets that almost make the part sound out of time at some moments. But enough of the happy tunes — let’s get to the darker stuff.
In “Koopa’s Theme” we’re immediately presented with the menacing presence of Bowser once the drums kick in, but the shear weight of the King of all Koopas becomes more apparent with the synthesizers. The classic 80s rock feel is ever prevalent in the tune thanks to the kick drum falling on beats 1 and 3, with the snare hits on beats 2 and 4. This really brings out the sort of punkish “bad” attitude popular among young people in the 90s.
“Lethal Lava Land” is found in the course of the same name, but this tune is also used in the Shifting Sand Land. This track gives us a completely different style and culture of music focusing on a more foreign, Southern Asia sound. Personally, this tune reminds me more of Shifting Sand Land than Lethal Lava Land, but only because the backing tones give the prominent sitar melody a more desolate atmosphere.
And to round out today’s soundtrack, let’s finish up with the ending themes. In this video we have both “Ending Demo” and “Staff Roll”, giving the game a much deserved farewell and thank you. The latter track in particular (starting at 1:26) adds a satisfying sense of completion, with smoothly sweeping motifs, instrumentation and direction. At first we’re given an African-sounding intro with congas, but soon delve into a more pop-centric sound complete with orchestral instruments and drum kit. It’s a great amalgamation of instruments to really round the experience of once again saving the Princess.
Unfortunately, this soundtrack is quite the rarity, not seeing much of a release outside of Japan (or even in it, to be honest). Probably the best way to get your hands on it would be via eBay, but the easiest way to just experience the music is through YouTube. The tracks featured in today’s article are only a handful of the fantastic compositions available on the entire album, so do yourself a favour and jump to it!