To put it mildly, gaming can be a very divisive medium amongst its fans. Every single gamer out there generally has strong-set and different opinions on any number of topics, from which development companies deserve scorn to which games should be held up as classics. However, despite all the varying opinions, there are a few things that the vast majority of gamers appear to agree on. For example, most agree that the subject for today’s article, Super Mario 64, is one of the most important landmarks in gaming and a true classic in every sense of the word. With such a reputation, it’s only natural that the music would be equally classic, and it most certainly is.
In a certain sense, it almost seems unnecessary to talk about the music for Super Mario 64. Thanks to the game’s position in gaming history, it’s practically an assured fact that everyone who has picked up a controller before knows most of these tracks by heart. However, there’s more to the soundtrack of Super Mario 64 than the game the songs played throughout. The songs would have been forgotten relatively quickly if they were an unimpressive collection, but they have endured because the opposite is true.
The most common theme throughout the soundtrack is energy and cheer; a motif that perfectly reflects the game in question. I’ve always considered the main Mario series to be one of the “happiest” series of games out there, and one of the best things about any Mario game is when that happiness is spread to the player. All Mario games have this quality, but the soundtrack to Super Mario 64 is one of the best examples of the idea. Songs such as “Cool, Cool Mountain” and “Slider” use light and lively instrumentation to make sure the player feels good as they go through a given stage, and that feeling is one of the main reasons the soundtrack has endured in popular consciousness as long as it has.
Of course, that’s not to say that every song in the soundtrack is completely happy-go-lucky. On the contrary, there are more than a few tracks that attempt to unnerve or intimidate the player when the events of the game call for it. This can most easily be seen with the multiple themes used for events and levels associated with Bowser. “Bowser’s Road,” shown above, has a constant intimidating buildup throughout that creates apprehension as to the eventual showdown with Bowser at the end of any level where the song plays. Similarly, “Bowser’s Theme” and “Ultimate Bowser” get across the intimidation and danger of Bowser very well, through a harsh remix of a classic Bowser theme and a very well-used organ respectively. Despite the game being generally happy, the soundtrack still changes when necessary and performs very admirably.
Another important portion of the soundtrack is occupied by the little jingles that play for various small events across the game, from collecting a star to solving a basic puzzle. Despite their short length, the jingles are a very important aspect of the overall experience, as they signal success on the part of the player, be it a small victory on the way to the goal or actually collecting the power star at the end of a level. Each jingle is almost like a mini-reward to the player, and that positive feedback works in the game’s favor by granting that clear signal that something has been accomplished. Every single one is a very appealing sound that sticks in the mind quickly and effectively.
Although Super Mario 64 may be a relatively short soundtrack, especially considering the number of jingles on the track listing, there are still some definite standouts to be mentioned. “Staff Roll,” the credits theme for the game, is a nice, calming tune that seems to mix together many of the other songs on the soundtrack as a very appropriate ending to the overall package. I also absolutely love “Metallic Mario,” the theme that plays whenever Mario puts on the Metal Cap. It’s such a great remix of the classic Invincibility Star theme from older Mario games and has a great beat even when not considering the callback inherent to the song. As I’m sure you were all expecting though, probably my favorite track is the much-lauded water level theme, “Dire, Dire Docks,” shown above. It has such a soothing tone to it that perfectly fits the rather slow nature of water levels in Super Mario 64 and perfect instrumentation to get that tone across.
Super Mario 64 has often been credited as the best video game ever made, and while I can’t personally agree with that sentiment, no one can deny the impact the game had. The soundtrack, in a similar sense, is fondly remembered as one of the most classic soundtracks in all of gaming, and it’s not hard to see why. Every song fits its situation well and provides a solid tune to appreciate as the game is being played. While, much like the game itself, I can’t say I find it to be one of the absolute best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, it is certainly substantial and strong in everything it does. Plus, I don’t think anyone can deny feeling a rush of nostalgia hearing Peach’s Castle theme.
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.