While there are many recognizable themes throughout all of gaming, it’s difficult to think of a company responsible for more individual tracks than Nintendo. A fairly large amount of the themes in the general consciousness of gamers has been featured in their productions, from the ocarina tunes of Zelda to the classic “Level 1-1″ from the original Super Mario Bros. However, the overwhelming popularity of certain iconic themes doesn’t mean that the lesser-known tracks from the Nintendo library are any less impressive. One such example is our subject for today from the Mario & Luigi RPG series: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.
No matter which of the various Mario subseries is being considered, one thing remains consistent between all of them. All things Mario have an overall lighthearted tone to fit with the general impression of his games being simple fun. The music for Bowser’s Inside Story is no exception to that rule, as a great majority of the tunes have a cheery bounce to their instrumentation that perfectly conveys that basic idea, such as the theme for the hub of Toad Town. While still a simple melody, the theme manages to convey a sense of happy calm, even considering the bad situation the game presents for the Mushroom Kingdom.
However, that’s not to say all the themes have that happy tone. When necessary, the game can play some quite dramatic songs to fit the more intense moments that occur throughout Mario, Luigi, and Bowser’s journey. For example, whenever Bowser grows to a gigantic size to fight a mammoth enemy, the slow-paced “The Giant” plays to give the battle both a literal and figurative sense of weight in addition to using pieces of Bowser’s classic theme to tie the piece directly to the big lug. One of the most important attributes to any good soundtrack is the ability to change according to situation, and that is definitely done well here.
Another interesting part of the soundtrack is that how most area themes have two distinct, yet similar versions to them. In Bowser’s Inside Story, Bowser, due to some very odd circumstances, actually swallows Mario, Luigi, and many other characters in the beginning of the game. As such, a fair amount of Mario and Luigi’s time is spent inside Bowser while the Koopa explores the actual overworld. You can switch between controlling either of the parties in question and the music of any given area will instantly switch to fit whoever is in control.
Not only is the switch between themes seamless, but it grants the two separate situations a real sense of connectivity. When Bowser goes to explore Plack Beach, the Mario Bros. are still there too, even if they are in a … bit of a different situation. As such, instead of hearing the regular Plack Beach theme, the brothers get a more muted and underground-feeling version, as is the case with all the theme alterations. Although the themes are good on their own merits, those connections are what really make them stand out among the crowd.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of my favorite songs in the soundtrack before I finish up, as I usually do. For one, the regular Mario and Luigi boss theme differentiates itself for granting the battles a real sense of energy while still maintaining the cheerful demeanor inherit to the series. The song always pumped me up to fight against whatever the current enemy was. Another song I find myself drawn to is “The Wind is Blowing at Cavi Cape,” the theme for the first overworld area to be explored. I’m a sucker for a well-done whistle and the slower accentuations midway through the song grants the area an important feel even though it’s such a small section of the game. Finally, I love both the previously shown final boss theme and credits theme; the former for making the final battle seem like an epic battle with the world at stake and the latter for progressing through most of the area themes in a great callback to the journey the player just finished.
It’s really no surprise to me that I like the Bowser’s Inside Story soundtrack so much considering the composer at work, Yoko Shimomura. Having worked on some other very well-regarded games such as Street Fighter II and the entirety of the Kingdom Hearts series, I’ve always loved her work and that is certainly the case in this instance. If you’ve never given her work a listen, Bowser’s Inside Story is just as good a place to start as any. I guarantee that you’ll appreciate some great tracks and come out in a good mood as a bonus.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.