There’s no denying that Nintendo has one of the most incredible catalogs of game music, quite possibly ever. So choosing a single tune to call a “favorite” was no easy task. In the end, my choice here came down to one factor: Super Mario World marks the first time I can remember being affected by a game’s soundtrack. I suppose it helped that because I played Super Mario World so frequently over a number of years, its soundtrack simply became ingrained, but this is the game that made realize just how important music was to a game’s very fabric.
While the same might have been true in previous Mario Bros. games, Super Mario World’s soundtrack is essentially one song – one song with many different variations. (It’s a trend that continues in similar Nintendo games to this day, as I’m hearing the exact same thing going on in Yoshi’s Crafted World.) My personal pick for the top variation goes to the Underground theme, both with and without the famous “Yoshi bongos.”
Videos by YouTube user gbelair3.
What I really enjoy about this song is how it sits in stark contrast to the rest of the game’s bright soundtrack. The twangy melody resonates only slightly proud of the rolling, steel drum-like “baseline.” The addition of the bongos heightens the song a bit, but not to the point where the basic melody is overwhelmed. They add a nice, upbeat rhythm, one that I can only assume matches what it would be like to actually ride Yoshi.
While most of Super Mario World’s delightful variants are quite prevalent throughout the game, the Underground theme (mostly heard when you are…you guessed it…underground!) plays so serenely, almost to the point of being meditative. Underground is so very different from the game’s other theme variations, what with its pseudo-primal sound, that it really makes you feel like you’ve entered a very un-Mario-like place. A quiet, dark, gray place void of the colorful flora and fauna of the land, seas, and sky worlds. A place of respite (though not really) from the hyperactivity of the surface.
Super Mario World’s soundtrack remains a masterclass in sound design and musical composition. Simple though it may be – presenting various takes on a single theme – it provides a very necessary foundation to what could be seen as “just another Mario game.” Each theme variation paints the atmosphere of its individual level, stoking emotion, providing context. Sure, you could just stick Mario in a soundless level with a bunch of ghosts, or a big fortress, or a jungle of green and your brain would interpret each at face value. But when you add in the different themes, each level becomes something much more – a place to fear, a place to conquer, a place to explore. The Underground theme transports the game’s solemn “caves” into places to consider but not dwell. Mario (and Yoshi) have to keep on moving to get back into the light.
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