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Super Mario World – “Athletic BGM” (Koji Kondo)

May 25, 2010

Anyone who has played a lot of Super Mario World (1991) will recognize the music to it – particularly since the main theme was arranged for nearly every song in the game. That’s right, with Super Mario World, Koji Kondo did something that hadn’t quite been done in previous games: create a main theme and create a large variety of variations depending on the atmosphere of each level. Thus, the main theme plays in the regular overworld levels, it has a rocky, lava feel for the caves, intense action for the athletic, etc. All told, there are six variations on this theme. This technique would later be used for Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins and the above ground/underwater/high above/etc variations of level themes in Super Mario Sunshine and Banjo Kazooie. It was really quite influential – as well as memorable. Koji Kondo feels this creates a “multi-colored production” through the transformation of themes that also surprises the player and increases the enjoyment of the game.

Super Mario World – “Athletic BGM” (Koji Kondo)

“Athletic” happens to be my favorite rendition, but it’s a tough pick – each one has a great sound, but “Athletic” seems the happiest of them all. It’s a kind of ragtime piece with very quick action befitting of a complex platforming level. The midi pianos have a unique sound to them as well, not sounding quite like the pianos of later SNES games, and so having a Mario touch to them as a result.

The second half of this song is the ‘Yoshi’ variation, which adds a layer of bongo drums for Yoshi’s active movement. This not only gives the player an indication that he has gained a power-up but also emphasizes the movement of Yoshi – where movement and handling of the controls is something Kondo finds very important to Mario soundtracks. (This might be why Kondo has stayed away from orchestral music until lately, as he seems to feel that the rhythm of the music becomes that of the conductor rather than that of the game).

The “Athletic BGM” recently received an update in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Check out a recording of the song here!

Incidentally, Super Mario World seems to exemplify Koji Kondo’s philosophy, as told through his GDC 2008 lecture. Kondo noted that a good soundtrack treats each song as part of a whole and that the balance of each song is very important. Because each song in Super Mario World is a variation on the same theme, it ties the entire soundtrack together as a single piece while hearkening back to the classic Mario days when there simply wasn’t enough room to have a unique song for each type of level.

The Super Mario World soundtrack contained recordings of Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3 as well as a remix disc of music from Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros, and Super Mario Bros. 3 performed with a live jazz fusion band – the mixes are really quite excellent, creating a high quality soundtrack. However, while the soundtrack treats the songs to their own tracks, the recording is not as good as in Famicom Sound History Series “Mario the Music” (2004) which is probably the best way to get the soundtracks to the first three games. The other interesting thing is, the entire Super Mario World album – the soundtracks of the first four Super Mario Bros. games – were all released in a piano collection (1993) by the collective Beyer (Asako Niwa and Hitomi Shinozaki). In all, Nintendo did a very good job of emphasizing nostalgia with this release by putting everything together in one album.

Where remixes are concerned, OCR has a couple good ones, including the classical ‘Grand Valse Mario‘ by Bladiator, which is more fully developed than the Beyer album in scope of exploration and DJ Pretzel’s enjoyable “SwankyVegas“.

The most notable Super Mario World arrange album is Xoc’s SMW album (2005). This mixing master uses all assortment of instruments to create the album, giving each song a unique feel. Xoc has since remastered the album in “Goldinum Edition” (2007), which includes some new music as well. It’s a pretty amazing work, which really deserves a little more than this short paragraph.

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