As always, a friendly reminder that this post WILL contain spoilers (see what I did there)
This is gonna be a Paper Mario length post.
You read that correctly. For today and the next two days, I will be covering Paper Mario, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and Super Paper Mario. It’s a list of games that contain so many songs that I really like, I just had to give each of them their own separate day. So let’s start off with talking about the original Paper Mario on N64.
I remember Paper Mario being talked about in Nintendo Power as “Super Mario RPG 2”. Since I loved the first SMRPG, obviously my brother and I were looking forward to it. I can’t remember exactly when they switched over to calling it Paper Mario and adding the paper aesthetic, but no matter the change, I was going to buy it. It was a RPG with timed attacking/blocking like it’s spiritual predecessor, but most of the similarities ended there. Instead of Squaresoft developing, it was Intelligent Systems that was in the driver’s seat with Nintendo publishing. So the battles were less about relatively random numbers and instead could be broken down very clearly.
Even someone like me, who’s pretty much the worst-of-all-time at math, could understand that an enemy would hit Mario for X damage, every single time, and Mario would hit for Y. You could do these calculations when you got into a fight, figuring out how to spread the damage correctly and how to take the least amount of damage. The combat made me feel smart and like I was actively engaging in the battle.
On the story side of things, Paper Mario is about Mario rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser again. This time, Bowser has the Star Rod, which he can use to make himself unbeatable. Mario has to gather the Star Spirits who were imprisoned by Bowser in order to have the power to break through the magic of the Star Rod. While Mario is of course the main hero of the story, at the end of basically every chapter, you play as Peach who sneaks around the now floating Mushroom Kingdom castle. This plays a key role in aiding Mario, as every time she sneaks around, she learns of a new place where a Star Spirit is being hidden so her new ally Twink (a Star Kid) can deliver the news to Mario. So Mario travels across the Mushroom Kingdom to stop Bowser and save the day, meeting lots of crazy characters along the way.
The composer to thank for this awesome soundtrack is Yuka Tsujiyoko, with classic Mario songs arranged by Koji Kondo to add some familiarity. In general, it’s sort of a comedic game, with plenty of tongue in cheek moments and the music is there to match it. Out of the three games, it by far has the lightest story and most humorous villains, so I’m not really surprised that the soundtrack is pleasant. That’s not to say that it’s lacking in great fight music either, because you can bet anything there are going to be plenty of boss battle themes on this list. Anywho, let’s get this list started, hm?
When I think of the main title theme of Paper Mario, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Welcome one and all, and enjoy the show!” Without any hint to the gameplay, I definitely felt like I want to play it anyway. It’s like the title theme is introducing you to the concept of Paper Mario, letting you know that fun is the primary focus of this game, leaving complex narratives and gameplay difficulty to other games. Definitely a great start to what is an even greater game.
Gates of Goomba Castle
My favorite part of this theme is how it starts with the serious-sounding drum roll and then immediately gets all goofy. It perfectly reflects the dunderheaded Goomba King that presents himself as your first boss of the game (impossible to beat Bowser notwithstanding). The song is pretty much dead on, making him seem like a clumsy oaf who talks too much and can’t figure out exactly when to keep his mouth shut. The way the Goomba King tries to seem like a tough guy with his minions when he clearly isn’t is way too endearing!
Koopa Bros. Fortress
The first dungeon of the game is a huge fortress run by the Koopa Bros., a group of five ninja-turtle wannabes. The music to the fortress doesn’t stand out a whole lot, and it’s a remix of the Super Mario Bros. 3 castle theme. Either way, the rooms are tremendously large in comparison to the people and things inside of it, so the song has a kind of empty vibe. It’s almost like the sound is carrying around a big room causing to to appear less pronounced. There isn’t much in the way of melody as it’s mostly propagated by the bass anyway.
Attack of the Koopa Bros.
Like many of the boss battle themes in the game, Attack of the Koopa Bros. is full of high energy. Clearly, you shouldn’t take the Koopa Bros. lightly because they will attack multiple times and can kill you if you’re not paying attention. Once you understand that, this fight becomes more enjoyable because it’s about fighting these Koopas who think they’re the hottest thing under the sun. It’s a fun song for a fight that is very clear Mario had won from the very beginning. It’s a remix of the Hammer Bros. music from Mario 3 mixed with that Ninja Turtles surfer vibe.
I get a hilarious mental image with this song; I imagine a cartoon character sneaking and tiptoeing through the forest. There’s a cartoon monster following behind them mimicking their every step, and then every so often, they stop to look around twice and continue going. It’s a fun and creepy theme, but not very complex beyond that. It’s this kind of music that spooks rather than scares you!
Gusty Gulch Adventure
You have to love that guitar solo in the beginning. Oh yeah. Even though Gusty Gulch isn’t a huge map, the sweet Flamenco (I think that’s right) music that plays in it certainly catches the ear. It makes you feel as if you’re a lone wanderer going on an adventure that has no destination. It’s great that it makes you think that, so you’ll enjoy it and forget that your destination is only about four screens away. The care that they put into the music of such a relatively short zone is awesome.
The Castle Crumbles
Tubba Blubba is a huge invincible Clubba (rhyme unintended) that was made invincible by Bowser through unknown means. Where he was once bullied and scared by the neighboring Boos, after his newfound strength he began consuming them instead. In order to find his weakness, you sneak into his castle and go into his room where he just laid down for a nap. You open up his treasure chest to reveal a talking key who blabs the location of Tubba Blubba’s weakness. However when he realizes that you’re enemies, he does the one thing you were hoping to avoid the most: he wakes Tubba Blubba up.
Then this song plays as you are chased by a giant monster through the castle, with Tubba Blubba destroying it in his wake. All I could think through this chase sequence was, “oh god oh god oh god.” Hey, I didn’t want to get eaten, alright? I mean, it’s not a grim song, but it definitely makes you feel as if you don’t want to get caught. The music doesn’t take itself seriously at points. In fact, it sounds more comedic than serious. All of that is fine and dandy until you reach Tubba Blubba’s weakness.
Though this is the song for the battle with Tubba Blubba himself, it’s more recognizable within the other substantially longer battle. You see, Tubba’s weakness is his heart, which (if the song is any indication) is a 1920s mobster. The song is definitely evident of an enemy who is smarter than he appears, though in a humorous moment, he at least warns you his ultimate attack is coming. This is probably (in my opinion) one of the catchiest songs on the soundtrack, or maybe I just love 1920s music in general.
After a swift ass-kicking, the heart bails real fast and goes back into Tubba Blubba, because that’s a… good idea? Once he has his heart back, Tubba Blubba is now mortal and is pathetically easy to defeat. So the Boos are released from his stomach and they continue to scare him forever more. Ahh bullying, I can’t imagine why Tubba Blubba had such hard feelings in the first place.
Shy Guy’s Toy Box
Well, if they wanted me to think of a bunch of toy soldiers running around all crazy with no real discernible goal, they got it. Instead of toy soldiers, we have a bunch of hyperactive and twitchy Shy Guys. If it weren’t for the fact that they were coming out and messing with stuff in Toad Town, and if they didn’t have a Star Spirit, I probably wouldn’t have ever attacked them. Even with the items that they steal from Toad Town, they just kind of run around the toy box holding them up. It’s a devil-may-care kind of attitude from these Shy Guys, but they have to be getting their instructions from somewhere or else I doubt they could organize any other way. So at the back lines of the shy guy army, they are commanded by one General Guy.
Although he is the General of the Shy Guys, General Guy isn’t all too stable either. He drives around in his comical looking toy tank and orders his Shy Guys to take up crazy positions in order to battle Mario. His style is less zany than the Shy Guys are normally, and you can definitely hear that in the music. When it starts, it has that military-style flair, crafted with the intention of keeping people in-step. After that, it just kind of spirals out of control, and sense of intimidation (of which I assure you was very little to begin with) vanishes. It’s a fun tune, especially after battling with an invincible monster and his heart.
Welcome to Yoshi’s Village
This is just a great nostalgic tune because it’s a remix of the theme to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. I didn’t have the main theme on that list (hindsight), but I do enjoy when these callbacks happen in Mario games. Not a lot to say about this song, but on missing the opportunity in the post for the original game, I figure I would give it a shout out here.
Raphael The Raven
When you work through the treacherous jungle and climb up the huge tree and meet Raphael Raven, you, or at least I, expected a boss fight. After all, he was a boss in Yoshi’s Island, so it was to be expected that we’d fight him again. His theme starts with a mystical kind of sound because he is an ancient and wise being according to the Yoshi chief. Then the main and super-funky part of the song comes in and he suddenly seems like just a regular guy. His solution to get you into the volcano is to use a zipline, and he has a system of pulleys to get from the top and bottom of the tree he lives on. I’d like to think from this music, if you said something mean about Raphael and apologized to him, he would just say, “Hey man. Don’t worry about it. It’s just words. Don’t stress yourself.”
Lava Piranha Attack/Go Mario Go!
Although the song I linked to was just Go Mario Go!, I assure you that this song contains both phases of the Lava Piranha fight. This song epitomizes the battle in the volcano, with the huge piranha plant who is coming straight out from the magma. He’s a pretty easy fight, and when he flails and drops back into the lava, you think you have it all wrapped up. Mario and his partner celebrate until Go Mario Go! starts at 0:59 and Lava Piranha now has a fiery aura around him. This is the boss that I remember dying the most to, and Go Mario Go! shows that even if you beat him once, there’s more where that came from.
Huffin and Puffin
This is the boss battle theme of Huff N. Puff, the evil dark cloud that terrorizes Flower Fields with… clouds. They need sunlight, alright? What do you want from me here? Despite how much that seemed like a joke, the battle with Huff N. Puff is no joke at all. He has tons of ways to hit you really hard, and can even regain health if you don’t destroy the Tuff Puffs that come out of him when he gets hit. Look. I understand this all sounds adorable, but just trust me that it’s tough. The music gives off that otherworldly feeling like he doesn’t even belong in a world filled with flower people. I feel like there’s a South Asian influence from this song, but I don’t have nearly enough of an idea about that stuff to substantiate the claim, so it’s just a feeling.
Crystal Palace Crawl
As the final dungeon before the assault on Bowser’s Keep, the Crystal Palace is a place of illusion and deceit. In the palace, you can’t trust your eyes for a second and have to think outside the box. The music is more about the palace itself instead of what goes on in it. It makes it seem like an ancient place that has remained motionless and unaffected by time. The puzzles haven’t been solved because there is no reason to go there. All that makes it a perfect sort of place to hide the last Star Spirit, although that also puts one of the most enigmatic bosses as the gatekeeper.
The Crystal King has no face besides eyes that sit under his crown of ice. The music fades in and out like sound reflecting from the icy walls of the area you’re in. I can’t honestly say he’s a difficult boss, but his music is certainly the most memorable thing about him. That’s not a put-down, per say. It’s just that with no prior knowledge of his existence, it’s tough to form any kind of opinion of him. The way the songs starts is how you can tell that Bowser trusts the Crystal King with the Star Spirit and that you’re in for a fight.
You’ve broken into Bowser’s castle, fought up to Peach’s castle, and confronted Bowser himself. After revealing that you have the Star Beam, which can get rid of his invincibility and beat him down a little, Bowser hightails it out of there. You confront him again on the roof, but he reveals that it was a trap. The platform you’re on powers up the effects of the Star Rod many times over, so Bowser uses it again.
When you get into the battle this music begins, alerting you well of the situation. You can’t do anything to him. The star beam does nothing, and he does huge damage. You do what you can to stay alive, but from the very pro-Bowser music, you can tell that nothing is really going to do the trick. So you just flail around a bit until Peach and Twink fight against Kammy Koopa. Peach focuses her hope into Twink, who defeats Kammy and goes, with the added power of Peach, to improve your Star Beam and transform it into the Peach Beam.
King of the Koopas
While the song is still telling of the inherent danger and power of Bowser, the melody picks up and it feels like you have a fighting chance this time. With the power of the Peach Beam, you can break through the improved Star Rod power and bring Bowser down. It’s definitely a theme that resonates with Bowser more than Mario, so it’s kind of a last hurrah for him. However, there’s no time to feel empathy for Bowser because the Mushroom Kingdom is at stake here.
With the power of Peach and the Star Spirits behind you, Bowser is soon defeated and the castle is returned to its rightful spot in the kingdom. Peach invites Mario and Luigi back to the castle for another party (the first one got crashed by Bowser at the beginning of the game). This time, like Super Mario RPG before it, there is a parade lead by Luigi!
Well, that was a doozy of a post and there are two more to go after this one in the three day Paper Mario Extravaganza. As if it wasn’t evident, I like a lot of the songs from Paper Mario, and it only gets better on the second day when we take a look at Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for Gamecube.
Until then, feel free to comment below on songs from Paper Mario that you really liked that I may or may not have mentioned or just on the post itself. Either way, I’ll see you tomorrow for the 2nd day of…
The Paper Mario Extravaganza!