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Super Mario: A New Type of Game Music

Dr Kenny McAlpine explores the music of Super Mario Brothers.

Super Mario Bros. was the game that defined the NES. It looked great, it was fun to play, and it had a catchy soundtrack that managed to capture the qualities of the gameplay.

In this video, we’ll examine Koji Kondo’s soundtrack and discuss how it defined a new form of video game music.

Kondo’s real innovation was in defining the formal grammar and style of a new form of media music, the interactive game underscore. Below, I’ve provided links to Koji Kondo’s music from Super Mario Bros, both as a complete mix, and as individual component tracks in isolation. What I’d like you to do is download these and listen.

There are several things that I’d like you to consider. How does the music work as music? Does it work outside of the context of the game? You’ll notice that there’s not really very much music, no more than 3 minutes in total. Does it seem to become repetitive or worse still, irritating? What does that tell you about how effectively Kondo worked musically? What tricks did he use to get the most out of the limited musical space that he had to play with? Finally, how does the music integrate with the game, and what does that tell you about Kondo’s understanding of gaming as a medium?

I’d like you to post responses to some or all of these questions to the comments section.

Super Mario Soundtrack

You can download all of Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. soundtrack here.

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