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New Super Mario Bros. Wii – “Castle” (Shiho Fujii, Ryo Nagamatsu)

March 1, 2010

I’ve been playing a bit of New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009) lately and have become enamored with the “Castle” theme from the game. While there are a good many songs in the soundtrack, I was really only impressed with a small number of them, and here, I think they grow on you the more of the game you play (I can’t recall being impressed very much when I’d first heard the music back in November).

New Super Mario Bros Wii – “Castle” (Shiho Fujii, Ryo Nagamatsu)

“Castle” begins with a short drum intro (about three seconds), then kicks into the main loop. The first section has heavy use of the organ, giving a deep sense of dramatics and evil. 20 seconds in, the strings kick in with the organ reduced to emphasis on the notes. Both the strings and organ gain greater force in the second section at 0:35, the organ playing long whole notes as support. When the next section begins at 0:50, the two instruments play a more or less equal role in melody, strings controlling the main part, but the organ playing a quick sequence of rising and falling notes. In the final section (1:05), the intensity takes a break, strings gaining a creepy tone, with chimes used as emphasis. And then the loop begins again at 1:10. Meanwhile, the drums are giving a constant, driving rhythm.

The strings are what really holds the piece together, but it is the long whole notes that make up the main theme that make this song memorable: they imprint themselves in your head (particularly if you play the levels dozens of times) and are coupled with emphasis from the other instruments.

If we are to consider Koji Kondo’s style of the music replicating the movement of characters within the game space, then the organs and strings present danger and caution as well as the intricate, mechanical motions of platforms, bubbling of lava, Dry Bones troopas, and traps within the castle. There are sections where waiting is important as well as fast movement and skilled timing of jumps, and the narrowing and widening of passages fits well with the rising and falling of the melody. I suspect the composers have been trained by Koji Kondo to follow in his footsteps.

The New Super Mario Bros. Wii soundtrack was composed by Shiho Fujii (Wii Fit, Animal Crossing: City Folk) and Ryo Nagamatsu (Mario Kart Wii, Wii Sports Resort). While the main theme was based off Asuka Ota and Hajime Wakai’s work from New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, the castle theme is original. However, it follows very closely with the style of the castles from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, heavy on the organ and strings as well as that driving march. Incidentally, it also feels a bit like the “Krook’s March (Chain Link Chamber)” from Donkey Kong Country 2.

Though the music seems memorable more because the game is good and thus songs are played more (exceptions being the desert theme and bonus theme songs), what New Super Mario Bros. Wii does best is with level design. The levels are very well constructed and each is based around a central theme or gameplay mechanic. There are levels based on platforms that steadily move upward, spelunking in an underground lake, and water bubbles suspended in air. Each level has its own theme, and so no two levels ever feel like they are treading old ground. And I think at the root, this goes back to the philosophy behind the first Super Mario Bros. game: if the game had not been good, the music would not have been memorable. Replay and time spent listening to the song I think is a large part of this, but as I hope the “Castle” theme demonstrates, these songs can also be pretty memorable on their own, though in many cases, our fondest attachments may be related to the experiences we have within the game space they represent.

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