It’s Monday, and that means the only original ideas in my head involve trying to leash together all the neighborhood stray cats, hook them to a sled, and see how far I can get before I need to get checked for ringworms. Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly a font of imagination at the start of the week, so I’m just gonna dig out one of my old features and tart that baby up until it’s good enough for a new blog post. K? Great.
For those of you who missed the first one, “Scoreclash” is my hideously-named feature where some jackass pits two similar games’ soundtracks against each other in a battle of epic proportions. Well, American Gladiator proportions at least. The first one. Not the reboot. Ugh. NBC, you can bring back beloved childhood franchises all you want, but I still remember that “The Cape” was a thing. A thing you did.
Ahem. Sorry. This week, its:
These are not only two of my favorite games of all time, but they represent two of the greatest soundtracks in the last decade (movies and TV included). The music in these games alone is enough reason to stop using your Wii to prop up the busted leg of the Beddinge or Vladsglorb or Sluffendabben or whatever you bought at Ikea and actually play interactive media on it.
A Little Background
Super Mario Galaxy:
Released in 2007, Super Mario Galaxy was the first Mario game for the Wii, and featured the title character traveling across the universe, hopping across a vast variety of miniature planets and traversing gravity-bending obstacles on his quest to save the worst monarch ever from yet another kidnapping. Because apparently Shigeru Miyamoto looked at the fact that he had created a series based around an Italian plumber exploring a land filled with mushrooms and turtle-soldiers and he felt it wasn’t crazy enough, so the hell with it. Put that noise in SPACE. Anyway, it was awesome.
Super Mario Galaxy 2:
Oh Nintendo, you lovable rapscallion! There you go releasing yet another game that looks suspiciously like the one right before it. Maybe it’s the similar name, or the fact that this game also features the title character traveling across the universe, hopping across a vast variety of miniature planets and traversing gravity-bending obstacles on his quest to save his easily-abducted girlfriend from yet another kidnapping, but something leads me to believe this might be a lot like the first one. And in a lot of ways it was, but the sheer amount of new ideas on display in this sequel was amazing. In a single level of SMG 2 you’d see as many new and interesting game mechanics as in entire other games, and that’s after the first SMG broke a ton of new ground on its own.
You should, like, go play these. You know, if you haven’t yet. Even if you’re not a gamer yourself, I encourage you to at least stumble around the first level on your nephew’s Wii, just to listen to the music that accompanies your mad, spastic thrashings. Both games have amazing, rich orchestral scores, but which one was more amazing and richerer? I’ll be comparing these titles in three categories: variety, originality, and by how well the music fits into the Mario franchise.
*in what is probably an offensive Italian accent* “Okey dokey! Let’s-a go!”
One of the hallmarks of a great soundtrack is if the music is able to sustain a consistent tone or atmosphere, but do so in a number of unique ways (see this craziness for a great example). Even game music that sticks to a specific genre will often explore multiple areas of that style to avoid becoming stale-Grim Fandango’s soundtrack had an excellent jazz aesthetic, but it utilized Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz, combo pieces, big band and more to make sure the listener always had something new to look forward to.
SMG: Super Mario Galaxy’s lead composer Mahito Yokota knows what he’s doing. There were a lot of orchestral textures used in this game, especially high-register stuff (like bells and flutes) to add to the cosmic theme. There’s also a heavy emphasis on sweeping, and often rapid, string lines, to add to the sense of motion and agility that Mario games are known for. This stuff is present throughout the whole soundtrack, and you can hear all of it in the game’s main theme:
But Mahito was careful not to let the stuff above be the music’s only characteristics: “In order not to make the scores just like ordinary orchestra music, I paid attention to the combination of electric musical instruments and live audio, and listened to various kinds of music from that genre.” Thus, you sometimes hear electronic tracks rather than orchestral ones, or a mixture of both, and the style for every world you visit is easily distinguishable from the ones you’ve seen before.
SMG 2: The sequel took the same strong atmosphere of the first game, and built on it. You not only get the string and woodwind-focused pieces of the first game, but now there is a much heavier emphasis on brass, which adds a more epic quality to much of the SMG 2’s score. It’s an expansion you can hear easily when comparing the main theme of this game with that of it’s prequel above.
Not only does the scope of the whole soundtrack in Super Mario Galaxy 2 dwarf the original, but even within single tracks, there’s more variety to be found. The theme above moves from epic heroism to quiet contemplation to soaring melodic lines in the span of a few minutes, showcasing several distinct ideas in one short 2 minutes composition; ideas which are then further explored in other parts of the soundtrack.
VICTOR: Super Mario Galaxy 2. I don’t know what the Japanese laws are pertaining to abducting a prominent video game composer and forcing him to write you overtures while you make pancakes, but I’ll find out. Lenient, I bet.
How about something we haven’t seen before?
SMG: The original Super Mario Galaxy was the first Mario game in the franchise to feature fully orchestral tracks, and immediately took the franchise’s music to a new standard. In addition, the themes that it did recycle from old Mario titles (mainly the music you hear when using power ups) sounded much fuller and more energetic than in previous entries.
SMG 2: Not much new ground broken here. Don’t get me wrong, both soundtracks are amazing, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 didn’t have quite the impact that the first one did. It still carried sweeping orchestral themes and a bevy of wider takes on the typical Mario level themes (fire, water, desert, etc.), but while it might have had a greater scope than the original, it didn’t necessarily do anything profoundly new. It’d be like if they made a sequel to the Labyrinth. Are David Bowie’s psychotic eyebrows and giant glittery package still intimidating? Oh, hell yes. But as much so as in the first movie? Not really, because you’ve seen them before.
Victor: Super Mario Galaxy.
Mario games have always had a distinctive quality to their sound and music, one so unique that it has been influencing the industry for decades. How do the Galaxy games stack up?
SMG: In addition to the adventurous and epic nature of the full-orchestral tracks, much of the music here is light, whimsical, and energetic; everything a Mario soundtrack should be. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Mario game without the plumber’s familiar theme. Here, however, the composer’s upped the tempo a bit and put an electronic spin on things:
SMG 2: Again, the sequel does everything the first game did, and expands on it. The colorful tone of this soundtrack is perfectly at home against a backdrop of homicidal venus fly traps and adorable suicide bombers. But it ties even more heavily in with the rest of the Mario franchise by reusing music from one of the most popular games in the series, Super Mario 64. Yokota and his team took the theme from an early level in that game, transposed it up a whole step, and transformed it into an energetic big band number. It’s a easily one of the best tunes on the soundtrack.
If you were a kid like I was back in the mid 90’s when Mario 64 was new, it easily transports you back to a time when you didn’t have worries, or responsibilities, and could take joy in the little things. Isn’t that what Mario games are all about? That, and possibly some weird subtext about Italians doing psychotropic drugs, but mostly the first thing?
Victor: SMG 2.
Which means, with a score of 2 to 1:
Super Mario Galaxy 2, a winner is you!
And by winner of course, I mean that some guy the audio team has never heard of deemed the music they did on this game a little more awesome than the music they did for the first game, which was also awesome, just, like, not quite as awesome as the other one. The second one. The one that won. I assume Nintendo will be inviting me to Japan any day now to give a keynote address, so if you’ll excuse me I have note cards to start filling out and prescrption delusional psychosis medicine to continue to ignore.
As usual, your comments are like Target-brand black coffee and Reese’s Puffs, in that they’re not capable of supporting me physically in any way, but I must consume them daily to live. If you want to weigh in on my decision or voice your concerns about the ratio of time spent on this post VS how much it matters to anyone anywhere, let me know!