VGM Entry 29: Mario’s many sequels
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
While the Genesis was just getting started, Nintendo developers were pumping out sequels. Super Mario Bros. 2, Final Fantasy II, Mega Man 2, Dragon Quest III, Super Mario Bros. 3… They were coming out right and left in 1988, and most of them were improvements over the originals.
The first thing you might ask is how Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 ended up being released in the same year. Well, they actually came out a mere two months apart. There is a bit more to this story though, and since Super Mario Bros. 2 has by far the best music among NES installments of the series, there should be time enough to tell it.
The first game to be titled “Super Mario Bros. 2” was released in Japan in March 1986. It seems to be readily downloadable today, but if you’re like me and don’t play games much these days you probably only ever encountered it on Super Mario All-Stars (1993) for the SNES, where it was titled The Lost Levels. As you might recall, it wasn’t particularly interesting; it was pretty much identical to the original, music and all, just with new level designs. This was not originally intended to be the case. A much more unique and creative game had been in development, but for whatever reason Nintendo’s market research lead them to believe that an expansion of the original would have greater commercial success. The project in development was passed off to Fuji Television Network and released as Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic in July 1987. Koji Kondo’s original work went along with the package, and much of what you are hearing now first appeared in Doki Doki Panic.
Nintendo sensed a different interest in the American consumer and went ahead with the original project. You may have heard at some point years back–I know I had–that the American Super Mario Bros. 2 was just some cheaply refurbished port of a non-series Japanese title, but this is not entirely correct. The projects were one and the same for much of the game’s development. In a very peculiar turn of events by early gaming standards, North America (and Europe) got the real Super Mario Bros. 2, and Japan got the ripoff. It took so long for the game to be released in its intended form, however, that it ended up launching in North America at pretty much the exact same time that Super Mario Bros. 3 came out in Japan.
Musically, Super Mario Bros. 2 improved on Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic by integrating peppier renditions of themes from the original Super Mario Bros. The music is also a lot more crisp, though that might be the consequence of differences between the Famicom and the NES. At any rate, it is probably my favorite early Koji Kondo soundtrack. The main theme remains, arguably unlike the original Mario Bros. theme, unconditionally pleasant. The limitations of the NES are a total non-factor here. I wish I could pinpoint what sort of style it is–I get some distant vibe of jazz and ragtime–but it either falls beyond my knowledge base or proceeds from nothing more than Koji Kondo’s incredible talent for writing instant classics. I mean, I never played Super Mario Bros. 2 back in the NES days, but it feels more nostalgic to me than the original Mario theme.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a little less interesting in my opinion, if only because its generally laid back pace and Latin/Caribbean beats just don’t feel quite in harmony with what was probably the fastest-moving of the NES Mario games. But Super Mario Bros. 3 was also the most diverse of these soundtracks, switching up its style as needed to suit a greater variety of level designs. In some instances, most notably “Level 2 Theme” (1:09), Konjo employs sounds more akin to his work in the prequel. “Hammer Brothers” (4:28) seems to be inspired by rock and roll, and the beat-laden revision of the original underworld theme, here amusingly titled “Super Mario Rap” (2:30), is undeniably cool.
I suppose Super Mario Bros. 3 can be justly regarded as the “best” NES-era Mario soundtrack, if nothing else for the shear variety of styles Konjo successfully employed. But it lacks any particular really stand-out tracks–the sort of incredibly catchy anthems for which he is best known.