As always, a friendly reminder that this post may contain spoilers.
I don’t actually remember how I played Yoshi’s Island as a kid. I do remember going to my dad’s office and getting to play in the meeting room with the projector they had there. I don’t think we owned it since I actually had to purchase it about 4-5 years ago (subjective use of the phrase “had to”). I do remember hours of fun with my older brother, as seems to be the case with me and most SNES and N64 games, and luckily I got to relive them. Even though I was young, I still knew a fantastic game when I played it (though trust me, I’ve got some nostalgia-goggles for some terrible games). I had for the longest time assumed that Yoshi’s Island was its own standalone game that spawned a series. Little did I know that it was actually a sequel to the acclaimed Super Mario World, which likely added to the popularity of the game.
Over time, Yoshi’s Island has only become more praised by gamers everywhere. I would go as far as to say that Super Mario World 2 defies the rose colored glasses of nostalgia to reveal that in fact, it’s exactly as awesome as you remember it.
Memories of levels like “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy” and “What’s Gusty Taste Like?” are matched only by boss battles with Raphael the Raven and Naval Piranha. But these moments wouldn’t be near as memorable if it weren’t for the score that accompanied them. In this non-RPG “Mario” game (it counts as a Mario game despite Mario not being the main character), the fantastic soundtrack can be attributed to the enormous talent of Koji Kondo. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that he created such memorable songs; he’s the creator of the iconic overworld theme to Legend of Zelda on the NES and is the father of World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. The melodies he composed enabled everyone to picture Mario not just from an image, but from an instantly recognized set of chords. The whole soundtrack actually comes out to a little over 36 minutes, which is much shorter than some of the soundtracks I’ve already talked about.
But that’s the mark of Koji Kondo: to make music that is instantly recognizable and catchy, music that can show up multiple times in different levels without being annoying. Yoshi’s Island takes its place amongst these great scores, so let’s have a look at the music that reminds me why Mario soundtracks are so consistently great.
Game Start & Flower Garden
(To get the full experience my recommendation is to listen to Game Start and then immediately follow with into Flower Garden)
My reasoning for having one lead into another is because this is always how I picture it in my head. Whenever I’m making a drum beat, somehow it always turns into Game Start, with the follow up being Flower Garden every single time. As the theme of the first stage, it is easy to see why it is the most memorable.
It has the general upbeat nature that is found in so many Mario games, and sounds like the start of an adventure. There’s no hint of adversity or struggle, which makes the level as a whole less intimidating. Normally this would be some kind of tool to lower your guard, but what you hear is what you get. The stage (1-1) is bright and cheery with flowers and a blue sky, so as long as Koji Kondo can translate the image into sound then we’re on the right path.
Athletic is actually a song that has showed up more than once across most if not all Mario games, and is usually unique to that specific game. So for this song in particular, we’re going to take a look at three Athletic themes, including:
Super Mario Bros. 3
…and Super Mario World
The Athletic theme usually keeps a quick tempo, and although Mario games usually promote progressing across the level, Athletic is meant to push that feeling to the extreme. If I’m not wrong, the Athletic from Super Mario Bros 3 has actually been remixed a few times because of sheer popularity. All three have that sort of ragtime style, with SMW focusing on the piano and Yoshi’s Island getting a Big Band feel.
Athletic is usually the one song that people take away from a Mario game more than any other. I think they’re all great, and figured it might be interesting to point out how deep the rabbit hole goes when it comes to Athletic and its part in the Mario soundtrack. After your done with this article, go on YouTube and check out all the different Athletic themes over the years, and see what Nintendo went for or how their sound design changed it.
This is the battle theme for the second boss of each world. Where the mid-point of the world had a castle and a mid-boss (with its own theme), there would be a fort and as it says in the title of the song: a Big Boss inhabiting it. The theme starts similarly to that of the mid-boss…
…but divulges, and instead of hitting that sort of comedic melody, it slowly builds the beat and gets faster until we get an adrenaline pumping theme instead. It’s good to differentiate the more serious encounters from the more lighthearted ones. Even if the mid-bosses weren’t technically lighthearted, the music gave you that breathing room to relax. Big Boss does not allow you that kind of space, and gets your full concentration instead. I like boss themes, and Koji Kondo does ‘em right… especially this next one…
Baby Bowser (or Big Bad Baby Bowser)
I love heavy metal final boss themes; if that wasn’t clear before, hopefully Big Bad Baby Bowser will make that sink in. Listen as I describe what this final boss meant to me: After you defeat regular Baby Bowser in a fight, Kamek comes in and makes him grow so huge that he breaks his castle. Soon, Yoshi and Baby Mario are standing on a stretch of cracked floor as debris falls from the sky. You see a figure in the distance, and you realize he’s starting to get closer. And as the theme gets your adrenaline going, you figure out that you have to throw giant eggs at the colossal Baby Bowser so that he doesn’t get close enough to completely destroy you.
I’ll be honest here… the final battle scared the hell out of me. My older brother is the one who beat him most of the time because I was too intimidated to fight back. The stress of the fight got to me as Baby Bowser stomped towards me and I struggled to aim and arc my egg shots correctly. It’s not easy to translate to someone who hasn’t played it, but hitting him with the eggs didn’t feel like it was helping at all. He just kept coming closer and closer, and I couldn’t handle the pressure. Now I can hold my own, but back then this fight was all I could think about in the game. This song is perfect for a giant monster who has taken center stage. There’s no real part of the song that relates to Yoshi or Mario because they’re one player in the grand scheme of the fight. When I was younger, the music made me feel that Baby Bowser wasn’t coming at Yoshi, but instead at me. That’s what great music can do for your imagination. We got an awesome final boss theme out of it, so whether Koji Kondo meant for it to happen or not, yay for childhood trauma!
So I ended up having more to say about Yoshi’s Island than I initially thought I would. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to translate my feelings into words, so hopefully it came across how much I love this soundtrack and my history with it. Koji Kondo makes art, and Nintendo made the best decision when they hired him in 1984. We can only thank Nintendo for doing so.
I advocate posting on the blog and letting me know your favorite songs that I might have missed, or what you thought of the post itself. Tell your friends, your friend’s friends, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
WAAAH! WAAH! WAAAH! WAAH! WAAAH! (I then let the Baby Bowser’s Minions have him).