Super Mario World shipped with the SNES and I'm sure we got it as part of the release pack. As best I can remember, we got this for Christmas when my parents had finished adding on a bonus room with stereo and space for my brother and I to play games out of the living room. I've played SMW many times through both as a kid and as an adult. I bought it for the Wii a few years ago and played it completely through, which I'm not ever sure I'd done before. Still, though, with all this playing, I learned this from my study of it-- notably, the fact that you can hear the original Super Mario Bros music on Star Road. Cool musical easter egg.
Now on to the music...
Unity of musical themesI always watch a longplay of the games I study in addition to listening and analyzing their soundtracks and usually embed the longplay as I think it's generally best to hear the game audio in the context of the game. However, in this case, I was so intrigued by realizing that Super Mario World has a musical theme throughout it, I made a video to explore that musical theme and its uses in the game. Ta da!
Koji Kondo is such a mastermind and genius, no? I couldn't find anything where he specifically comments on his work with Super Mario World, but here's a great interview where he talks about composing for games and his history in the game audio industry.
LayeringLayering is a really important part of game audio. In short, I'd define it as the addition of sound/music to reflect a change in gameplay state. It's much more clear to hear than it is to read about; plus, it just so happens that the classic example I show of layering to my game audio class is from Super Mario World.
The layering in this game involves Yoshi. When you jump on Yoshi, an additional audio channel activates and drums are added to the musical mix. If you jump off Yoshi, the drumming stops. This is different from getting a star where the current music is completely usurped for the invincibility theme. In the case of jumping on Yoshi, another layer is simply added into the musical mix (hence the name, layering). Yoshi layering is possible in all of the levels where you can take Yoshi: Overworld, Athletic, Underworld, and Water world. You can't take Yoshi into castles or ghost houses, so there's no layering possible there. Note as well: one themes always has Yoshi drumming sounds, even though Yoshi isn't present: the bonus levels/switch worlds.
Soundtrack notesTwo things really stand out to me about this soundtrack. One is that it seems to be very much in the key of C major, as do all the Super Mario games before it. Much of the game is spent in C, but also G and F. The very end of the game is fascinating with its "truck driver modulation" up a half step for the last sections. Overall, with the way ending theme here goes through different feels, double time vs slow, and building voices on the repeat of various sections, it feels very much to me like the finale to a musical.
Secondly, the Castle music stands out to me as a bit schizophrenic compared with the rest of the tracks. The first section, in F minor, which uses the SMW theme, is 103 BPM. It doesn't repeat in the loop. The second section, in C minor, is 126 BPM and is the only section of the piece that repeats. I wondered, considering that these were different keys and tempos, if these were at one point two separate track ideas that were combined into the same track.
The game has 17 minutes of music. Interestingly, not so much beyond the amount of the last NES games! Here are my detailed notes. These notes were compiled using this soundtrack.
-Title screen: 41.5 sec. G major. Intro (2) A B C. Regular, simple, classical form.
-Castle Clear: 12.5 sec. C major. I-IV-iv-I-ii-V. Ends on V to emphasize the "keep going" feel.
-Yoshi's Island: 10 sec. C major. Short loop. Gives tonic after the "Castle clear music."
-Overworld: 41 sec. F major. Intro (3) A B (4) A' (4) C (4)
-Underworld: 43 sec. F major (bit of minor thrown in). Intro vamp (4) A B (4). Intro vamp is shortened to 2 bars when it loops. Shares thematic similarities with the Overworld music, both A and B sections, particularly B is obvious.
-Course clear: 7 sec. F major. Short I-V7/IV-IV-iv-V6/4-V-I progression.
-Donut Plains/Chocolate Island: 13 sec. C major. Short, regular, simple, classical loop.
-Bonus level: 33 sec. F major. Related to Overworld, in both A and particularly B section. Intro (2+4) A B(4) A. Second 4 of intro repeat with the loop.
-Bonus level clear: 3 sec loop that plays on the end of the Bonus level music giving a cadence in F.
-Switch: 2.5 sec oscillation between C major and Db major. Speeds up during the switch, which lasts 12.5 sec.
-Athletic: 36 sec. C major. Intro (1+8) A B A' Ragtime, stride piano feel. Related to Overworld, A and B. First bar (fanfare) doesn't repeat in the loop.
-Invincibility: 3 sec. Same D min7 C maj 7 loop as earlier games. Drum beat.
-Castle: 107 sec. F minor--> C minor. Intro (1+Vamp 4) A A' (10) B (new vamp) B' B'' (12). Only the B sections repeat in the loop. Uses the overworld motive mainly in the F minor section, but also more subtly in the C minor section. Were these two different pieces??? F minor section 103 BPM, C minor section 126 BPM.
-Castle boss: 52 sec. C major. C major- Db major oscillation or F minor to F# major oscillation. Form: Intro 1+ Vamp (4) A (8) Vamp + obligato (4) A(8) First intro bar doesn't repeat in the loop.
-Castle clear: 8 sec. F major. Based on overworld theme.
-Egg rescued: 4 sec. C major. Ends on a half cadence. Leads to Castle clear.
-Underwater: 49 sec. F major. Intro (2+4) A A' B A''(4). 6/8. Based on overworld theme.
-Ghost house: 47 sec. 89 sec. B minor--> A minor--> G minor. Intro vamp (2+8) A(6) A'(6) A''(6). Incomplete in the soundtrack linked version, hence the new link.
-Vanilla Dome: 21. 5 sec. D major? Feels as if it teeters between major and minor mode because of the motion to bIII. Intro (2) A.
-Forest of Illusion: 15 sec. G major. I hear this in G because of the Eb-D motion toward the end of the loop. Thus the loop doesn't start on topic.
-Boswer's Castle: 11 sec. Tritones. Chromatic. Short, simple loop.
-Star Road: 11 sec. Short loop. Same D min7 C maj7 vamp as the "invincibility music," but with an added rhythmic element. Fascinating that the rhythmic loop takes the same time as the star's invincibility in the first SMB game. Almost as long as the invincibility in this game (15 sec)
-Special Zone: 14 sec loop. C major/ D minor, same as star music... then, after clearing all the worlds, then the music changes after 2 loops and plays SMB overworld theme A B and C over a similar vamp. (87 sec loop). Awesome use of previous material. Musical easter egg!
-Life Lost: 3 sec. C major.
-Game over: 5 sec. F major. Nice use of extended harmonies! Jazzy!
-Bowser: 75 sec. E? Lots of tritones. I hear this as an E home base. Intro (accelerates)- Vamp(A)-Vamp+Melody(A')-B
-Rescue Princess: 16 sec. D-->G major. Big build up of a V-I.
-End game: 4:10. C major--> Db major. Synced with onscreen action. Builds, rather than simple repeats. Only A''' and A'''' repeat exactly as they are, and crescendo both times. FORM: Vamp (2) A A'(countermelody, voice change) B A'' (added voice) A''' A'''' Tag (4) A(slow 4 pause while Yoshi's hatch+4) A (double time feel) A' (dt) B(dt) B(dt, voice change) A(dt) A (dt bars 7-8 slow) A''' A'''' (10, 9-10 repeat two measures, key change) A'''' (in Db) Tag (4 in Db, with ending). Could reduce maybe 30 sec for repeated music.