Ever since Super Mario Galaxy, Mario music has really pushed the frontier of what game music can be at its best. In my mind, the music from Super Mario Galaxy was on par, no, better than most film music! Mahito Yokota composed a distinctive soundtrack that expertly enhanced the gameplay, while at the same time perfectly working as music in its own right. Super Mario Galaxy 2 continued this tradition and The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword is possibly the best game soundtrack ever composed. So; when I sat down to listen to Super Mario 3D World, it was with the expectation of another beautifully performed, expertly recorded and wonderfully composed soundtrack that I have come to expect from Yokota. And to an extent, I was not disappointed.
However, when I started listening to the music, I was initially disappointed. I can tell that the track list follows the appearance of the in-game music, and as a result, the first 2 tracks are short, simple and not very inspiring. The music really gets going with “Super Bell Hill,” track 3, with what will be the main theme of the game, and sets the Big Band/Jazz/Electronic style of the music that is a slight departure from the fully orchestral Super Mario Galaxy. I’m not too sure about the main theme myself. It’s rehashed endlessly throughout the game, and I feel it’s not strong enough to warrant the level of attention it gets. However, the track is pleasant and upbeat, and it is nice to listen to. “Cave” is a cool remix of the “Underground Theme” from the original Super Mario Bros game and I love it when the live brass comes in at the drop, 0:51.
“Switch Scramble Circus” is decidedly different in terms of style, being fully orchestrated rather than using the big band. At first I thought it was going to be annoying mini game music, of which there is far too much in this soundtrack, but quickly moves onto a pleasant and intricate style about halfway though. And it is this aspect, of the music eventually finding its own interesting voice that is characteristic of a lot of the better tracks in this album. Too often I thought to myself “this is very similar to Super Mario Galaxy” to then be surprised at the unusual direction the music takes. This cannot be said of “Mystery House Melee” though! Let me say this now: I hate mini game music, and as I said before, there is a lot of it in this album. This is partly due to the frustrating gameplay of these sections, but also due to the style of music. Discordant, fast and usually employing increasing tempo to try and ramp up the tension; it’s awful! Mahito Yokota has used this type of music from Super Mario Galaxy onwards and he should be stopped, via legal means if necessary.
Moving on then! “Shifty Boo Mansion” is very good ghost music. The violin/oboe melody is suitably hunting with a sense of melancholy as well. “Captain Toad Goes Forth!” . . . all toad music should also be banned along with the mini game music: Enough said. With “Athletic,” we finally see some real innovation and some really amazing music that’s unique to this game. This track is fully live, dispensing with the electronic percussion and squeaky synths, and it’s much better for it. I admit, I have a soft spot for big band and jazz music, but it’s just very refreshing for this style of music to be employed so well in a game. “Fuzzy Time Mine” is similar to Athletic in instrumentation, but with a more urgent feel, rather than being upbeat. I presume this is chase music or mini game music (I have not played the game by the way) and this is an example of mini game music being done well, not just annoying!
“Highway Showdown” is a major departure from the other tracks, with electric guitars and a decidedly rockier feel. Again, I have not yet played the game, so I assume this is related to Bowser, and if so, it works very well. I love the live brass and sax background, and this theme comes back throughout the album. “The Bullet Bill Express” is another fully orchestral track that starts out a bit dull, but again, eventually picks up and moves away from the Super Mario Galaxy feel at 0:50.
I absolutely love the fast paced percussion of “Road to The Great Tower,” which sounds like its being played by an octopus. The second “Battle on the Great Tower” track is much more interesting than the first, and has a real epic feel to it, although I find it jarring when it moves from a techno beat to fully orchestral, but it manages to pull it off. I have to briefly mention “Meowser’s Last Stand,” as it reminded me so much of the wonderfully melodic “Credit Music” for Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES, stylistically at least. And after the short finale music, we are at the end of CD 1.
I have mixed feelings about the second CD. There are some amazing tracks that I personally would have put on the first disc, condemning all the mini game music to the deepest depths of hell to make room. To me it feels like there is a lot of filler on this CD, and as a result of that, I will be skipping a lot of tracks here. We start off with “Staff Roll” which, for me, is the best track of the whole album. It’s so full of life and the pure joy of live game music. It’s a real treat, fully employing big band/jazz style of the game has made its own. I literally can’t think of anything better. “To the Sprixie Kingdom” is cut scene music, and has no real rhythm or style, and perfectly exemplifies the filler aspect of the second CD. “Mount Must Dash” is an almost identical but higher quality version of “Mario Circuit” from Super Mario Kart. It’s nice, but I would have sold my own grandmother for a live big band version of it!
“Snowball Park” is the type of happy clappy music that I normally find annoying, but this track is performed so incredibly well by the orchestra, and is so witty and intricate, that I couldn’t help enjoying it: Another one of the best tracks I think. I’m not sure where “Hands-On Hall” comes in the game, but it’s uncharacteristically Japanese in style, specifically compared to the samba/jazzy/orchestral style of all previous Mario games to date. It’s an okay track, but noteworthy only for its unusualness. “Sunshine Seaside ~ Underwater” is a lovely samba style rehash of the main theme that is perfectly listenable. “Lucky House” is a remix of the Super Mario Bros. 2 character selection menu and, again, screams to be orchestrated for big band. But we can’t have it all I suppose.
“Plunging Falls” is a wonderful remix of the “Slide Theme” from Super Mario 64 and is just amazing! I love the tin flute/harmonica melody with guitar accompaniment: A perfect homage, and indeed, improvement on the original. “World Mushroom ~ Flower” is a really nice techno piece with live brass/sax, and works really well. “Champion’s Road” is a slightly changed version of “Windy Garden” from Super Mario Galaxy. I really love the original, and there is a nice sax solo at 0.57 in this version. It’s also one of the few tracks that lasts longer than 2 minutes, which is nice. The final track, “Theme of Super Mario 3D World” is, as you would expect, the Main Theme and I presume it was played in the credits. Again, it’s nice, but nothing we haven’t already herd several times already.
So in conclusion . . . I like this soundtrack. I really think that more than half of the tracks could have been removed, and I am disappointed that most of the good music usually only lasts 2 minutes or less. However, there are several exemplary elements to the music that, once again, make Mahito Yokota’s soundtracks worth buying. The amazing performance by the Mario 3D Big Band is literally stunning in its perfection; the recording quality is up there with the best orchestras in the world, and the compositions themselves are uniquely, and superbly, Super Mario, mixing nostalgia with a refreshing jazz style. Just skip over the mini game/toad music, for your sanity’s sake!Tags: Big Band, Jazz, Koji Kondo, Mahito Yokota, Mario 3D World Big Band, Orchestra, Super Mario 3D World, VGM, Videogame music