As a part of Nintendo Life VGM Fest, a season of music-focused interviews and features celebrating the video game audio in all its forms, we're assembling a bunch of playlists featuring some of our very favourite tunes. We've looked at the funky/groovy end of the spectrum, and we've also looked at the tracks we queue up when we want to chill the beans right down.
Today, we're looking at a specific series — the Super Mario series — and we've picked ten of our absolute favourite tunes from the Mushroom Kingdom. With just ten tracks on our playlist, it's inevitable that some good'uns will have fallen by the wayside (and even some indisputable classics — earworms like the original World 1-1 and Jump Up, Super Star! are obviously great, but we've had our fill of those for... ooo, maybe a lifetime or two).
We're sure you'll let us know which ones we've overlooked in the comments, but as a group compilation taking suggestions from the whole team here at NL Towers, we're quite pleased with the tight and varied setlist we've come up with.
So, may we present to you — in no particular order (because how could we possibly?) — ten of the very finest musical accompaniments to a Mushroom Kingdom sojourn you could ever hope to hear...
Staff key: Gavin Lane (GL), Kate Gray (KG), Ryan Craddock (RC)
Steam Gardens (Super Mario Odyssey, 2017)
Composer(s): Naoto Kubo, Shiho Fujii, Koji Kondo
The beauty of this piece is that it feels nothing like any other music from any other Mario game (and therefore stands out as something fresh and exciting) and still manages to capture the irreverent spirit of the level itself. It sounds like something you'd find in a chase scene from a '60s spy movie, but instead you've got Mario bouncing around an odd arrangement of floating construction zone pieces, encroaching foliage, and cog-filled robot dudes. Oh, and a T-Rex wandering around in the bowels of the level, natch. GL
Hear it in: Super Mario Odyssey
World 1 Map (Super Mario Bros. 3, 1988)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
We could have gone with practically any track from this game, but the jaunty tune from the World 1 Map screen is right up there with the Mario music we've listened to most in our lives. You know the score — you're just about to dive into World 1-1 (which we've also got a huge soft spot for) and get called away to eat dinner or something, and when you return there's Mario and all the animal and plant life of the Mushroom Kingdom bopping along in time to the beat just as you left them. What a tune! What a game!
Once you've listened to that, just leave that ol' video up there a-playin'. Marvellous. GL
Hear it in: Super Mario Bros. 3
Ground Theme (Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic / Super Mario Bros. 2, 1987/8)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
As any over-caffeinated, over-enthusiastic fan will trip over themselves to tell you, this brilliant theme was originally written for Famicom Disk System game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic before being retooled when that game become Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West. The version used in Mario's game is extended compared to the original, but it's one one of the jauntiest ditties in the plumber's catalogue. GL
Hear it in: Super Mario Bros. 2
Main Theme (Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, 2004)
Composer: Yoshito Hirano / Yuka Tsujiyoko / Saki Haruyama
It's REALLY hard to pick the best song from TTYD — there's the Rogueport theme, the Glitz Pit, the music for the Excess Express chapter, and the little ditty that plays while you're riding the Cheep Cheep blimp... it's all so good! But what better track to represent the brilliance of Thousand-Year Door than... the title theme itself? It's a stirring call to adventure that we often just leave running in the background. KG
Hear it in: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Peach's Castle (Super Mario 64, 1996)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
If we had to pin down the reason why this theme is so iconic, we'd hazard a guess that it's the way in which it contrasts with the silent Castle (play) Grounds that Mario arrives in at the very start of the game. You're given as much time as you like to 'whoop' and 'yippee' around outside the castle with nothing but the tweeting of birds and the footsteps and echoes of the plumber's exertions to listen to. The moment you step inside the castle, though, this regal melody accompanies you on the adventure. It's gallery music, essentially, and it's your companion as you discover the many delights hanging on Peach's walls. GL
Muda Kingdom (Super Mario Land, 1989)
Composer(s): Hirokazu Tanaka
Probably not the tune you'd expect to see included here from the first Game Boy Super Mario game (the tune used in the first world, Birabuto Kingdom, is certainly more well-known and celebrated), but Hip Tanaka's theme for World 2 — Muda Kingdom — is one of the most pleasant tunes on the system; a comparatively slow and resigned accompaniment as you battle through a short and sweet adventure. GL
Hear it in: Super Mario Land
Dire, Dire Docks (Super Mario 64, 1996)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
We've already featured this in our Chill Music From Video Games - Relaxing Playlist, but it's such a choon that we couldn't help but bring it back here. Mario 64 has plenty of fantastic tunes, but something about this one takes us back immediately to that precious time when the 64-bit era was in its infancy and everything about this game in particular filled you with excitement and wonder for where games would take you in the future. GL
Hear it in: Super Mario 64
Delfino Plaza (Super Mario Sunshine, 2002)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo / Shinobu Tanaka
No matter what you think about the game proper, we have yet to find a person on the planet who doesn't love the Delfino Plaza tune. Perhaps the fact that it set the mood so beautifully actually contributed to the disappointment at Sunshine's relative lack of polish and occasional design flaws when compared to the mainline Marios it's sandwiched between.
Yes, that's right — this piece of music is too good and should have set expectations appropriately by being worse. GL
Gusty Garden Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy, 2007)
Composer(s): Mahito Yokota / Koji Kondo
We're pretty sure we'd be boycotted if we didn't include Gusty Garden Galaxy, everyone's favourite magical, soaring, and absolutely gorgeous track from Super Mario Galaxy. Listen, we're not saying the previous Mario soundtracks aren't good, but SMG raised the bar all the way to space with its orchestral score, and Gusty Garden Galaxy is the best of the best. It's just perfection. KG
Square Timber / Puzzle Plank Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy 2, 2010)
Composer(s): Mahito Yokota / Ryo Nagamatsu / Koji Kondo
We'll be honest, we don't have particularly strong memories of playing through Puzzle Plank Galaxy (the world in which this delightful piece of music appears), but the track itself is such a bop that we felt it deserved a place on the list. Playing Super Mario Galaxy 2's soundtrack and reaching this little number is always fun – we challenge anyone to listen to the section between 28 and 44 seconds in and not feel jolly inside. RC
Hear it in: Super Mario Galaxy 2
That's Team NL's personal top 10, but what about yours? Let us know your favourite Super Mario tracks and have us holding our heads in our hands in dismay having forgotten some golden ditty that defined our childhood.
Be sure check out the other Nintendo Life VGM Fest articles in our season of music-focused interviews and features.