I recently finally got to sit down and play through the entirety of Super Mario Galaxy. I haven't really read any professional game reviews about it, but personally, I LOVED this game. Everything including the level design, the completely beautiful construction of the Comet Observatory as the galaxy map, the occasionally excruciating Prankster Comet challenges, Luigi's complete adorableness...and especially the music. I am addicted. It is now officially my dream to perform this music in an orchestra someday. I was surprised to learn that most of the music was not composed by Koji Kondo, but by composer Mahito Yokota. Not only are some of the tracks BEYOND EPIC (Melty Molten Galaxy, Gusty Garden, Bowser Battle), but there are also some throwbacks to old themes from earlier Mario games (Toy Time Galaxy, Nostalgia 1), as well as some really soft, moving tracks that reflected the sweet, sentimental aspects of the plot (Bunnies, Sad Story). I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't beaten it yet, but this was a pretty deep Mario game; it had a lot of references to the circle of life, life after death, etc. And this from a franchise that started out as, in the words of my friend Mallory, “A plumber who jumps down pipes.” :-P Mario, you have a-certainly a-come a long way.
Which brings me to the point of this article! So, while I was getting some arranging work done for a few clients this week, I put on some Super Mario Galaxy tracks to listen to, which inspired me to randomly asked on Facebook, “What are everyone's favorite tracks from this game?” Most of the votes were for Gusty Garden, which I think turned out to be kind of the iconic Galaxy theme. And one of my friends, in addition to his vote, sent me the link to this completely awesome interview with the music and sound design team of Super Mario Galaxy. This is, by far, one of the coolest articles I've ever read on video game music. It interviews the composers and sound designer of the game and really digs into how they tried to make this game unique, but still retain the “Essence of Mario.” It's such a great, in-depth look at not only the music of Super Mario Galaxy, but the entire Mario series as a whole. I'm not going to paraphase the entire article here, you just need to stop and read it right now LOL—but I will say that I practically fell out of my chair when I read the section where Yokota talks about his original conception for the game. He mentions at one point that he had always thought Mario games had a lot of—I kid you not--Latin influences.
I couldn't believe it!! I mean, this blog is just a collection of my own ideas and takes on music in video games. I try not to be a “reviewer,” I don't want to judge a soundtrack as being “good” or “bad,” I just want to talk about the music itself, the different techniques composers use to construct their pieces, and what I personally hear when I listen to the music. So it was a really special moment for me to know that such a renowned, talented composer such as Mahito Yokota heard the same Latin influences in Mario music as I did—and that we were both kind of backwards in the way we were thinking! While Yokota and I both heard some pretty distinct Latinesque influences (sometimes as simple as just bongos and steel drums), Kondo states in the Iwata interview that he was never actually conscious of his Latin tendency. It was something that kind of popped out from time to time, but only when it suited the game.
Let's quickly return to my post from a few weeks ago: Why did Latin music suit Super Mario Kart so well? I think it had to do with the rhythmic qualities to Latin music. It gets your feet tapping, makes you feel like moving; basically, it excites you. And I think a racing game needs exciting music to make it work. I'm sure there are examples out there of racing or driving games with calmer music that disproves this theory, but if we're talking about Super Mario Kart, a game in which you are desperately trying to trip up your opponents with banana peels and blast them off the track with a well-timed lightning bolt. I think it calls for some pretty heart-pumping musical action. So Latin music worked perfectly for that game, and many of the following Mario Kart and Mario Party games.
But when Yokota wrote 28 tracks of Latin space music and Kondo rejected them, it was like a slap in the face. He was pretty upset. There are a plethora of Mario games in which samba rhythms and steel drums worked just fine, why wouldn't it work for Super Mario Galaxy? That's when Kondo showed Yokota the light: he had it backwards. Yokota was trying to copy the “Mario sound,” when really, he should have been writing music that suited the game. In truth, there is no exact formula for a Mario sound; Mario is made up of many sounds and styles and genres, Latin is just one of them. And to try to copy any of the preceding Mario games would be a mistake, because there is no Mario game like Super Mario Galaxy. It's not Mario in a go-kart, Mario in a doctor's coat or even Super Mario 64. This is freaking Super Mario Blasting Through Space, and therefore a full-fledged symphony orchestra and scary Bowser choir is in order. Once this fact was realized, Yokota and Kondo really came together and were able to create such an amazing, epic, orchestral, unique soundtrack for Super Mario Galaxy.
Check out this other, fairly recent interview with Kondo, where he talks more about his work with the Mario series as a whole, and his own personal musical influences. Very cool and informative as well! Lastly, enjoy this week's arrangements from Super Mario Galaxy: Bunnies, Power Star, Sad Story and Space Junk Galaxy! More on the way!
Video game music was what got me composing as a kid, and I learned the basics of composition from transcribing my favorite VGM pieces. These are my thoughts and discoveries about various game compositions as I transcribe and study them. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts/ideas as well!