To celebrate the upcoming release of our 106th 33 1/3 on Super Mario Bros., we’re pleased to bring you the second installment of Koji Kondo week by author Andrew Schartmann!
Although Koji Kondo has given many interviews about his approach to video game music, he’s been relatively vague about his influences. We often read about his fondness for Deep Purple and ragtime, both of which are audible in his music, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exact moments where these influences shine through like nowhere else—that is until today.
In a recent interview, Kondo revealed some of his favorite 8-bit music: the main theme from Dragon Quest (1986) and the soundtrack to an old Namco game called Mappy (1983). With this new information, I went searching for specific moments in Kondo’s work that draw upon these newly identified sources. The Dragon Quest soundtrack calls immediately to mind The Legend of Zelda (1986)—Kondo’s other well-known masterpiece—but given that Zelda was released first, any direct influence of Dragon Quest on Kondo’s 1986 score is implausible. Mappy, however, is a different story.
Released in 1983, the game is accompanied by a lively score that draws on some of the same ragtime tropes of which Kondo is so fond—so much so that even a cursory listening to the Mappy soundtrack brings Kondo’s patented Mario style to mind. To what extent, however, did Kondo draw on this self-acknowledged influence? We may never know for certain, but there’s a passage in the Super Mario Bros. 2 “Overworld Theme” that makes me think Kondo was Mappy-happy when he composed the tune. Here’s the evidence:
Listen first to the “Stage Theme” from Mappy, and give it a moment to sink it. Once you’ve done that, turn your attention to the passage beginning at 0:12 of the Super Mario Bros. 2 “Overworld Theme.”
Mappy, Stage Theme
Super Mario Bros. 2, Overworld Theme
In my view, the passages are strikingly similar—too similar to be a mere coincidence. That’s not to say Kondo consciously copied the “Stage Theme” from Mappy when writing his Super Mario Bros. 2 soundtrack, but the sound was surely in his ear.
One can only hope that Kondo reveals more about these specific influences as Nintendo prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Super Mario Bros. franchise. Given the company’s Wonka-like secrecy, however, I’m not holding my breath.
– Andrew Schartmann