In Rainbow Roads

I love on4word‘s recreation of Radiohead’s In Rainbows using sound fonts from Super Mario 64, two important bits of media from different times in my life coming together:

It’s on Bandcamp too. Sure, the unexpected mashup concept feels a bit late ’00s–early ’10s—’Juicy x Intro‘, ‘A Stroke of Genie-us’, ‘This Charming Video Game‘ et al—but this is less mashup and more rearrangement; translation, if anything, the components of a single thing used to recreate another.

There are so many bits to pull out. Mario bonking his head at the beginning of ‘Weird Fishes’ made me laugh, and the merry go-round sounds from Big Boo’s Haunt in ‘Reckoner’ brought back long-repressed feelings of fearful confusion. If someone unfamiliar with either source material heard this version of ‘Videotape’, they might think it completely strange, but the juxtaposition works incredibly well for me.

I replayed Super Mario 64 in 2020 and, camera issues aside, I think it really holds up, which is remarkable for such a leap in gaming. The same is true for Ocarina of Time: the way Nintendo used these top-tier series to jump from 2D to (proper, immersive) 3D environments is something that can’t really be understood unless you were there at the time. The movement in 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey is sublime, but it was already great in 1996.

The received wisdom is that the game was designed around, with and for the N64 controller but, as developer Giles Goddard recalls, that wasn’t necessarily the case:

The first time [Shigeru] Miyamoto played with the controller, because he’s working most of the time on Mario 64, he would have seen Mario 64 with it. It wasn’t so much that controller dictated Mario 64, it was just that was the game he was working on. Mario was the way of testing it out. Probably more the other way around.

The actual movement of Mario came from the N64 controller, the way you move the central stick. There was a lot of thought about how the camera moved with the yellow buttons – I don’t think Miyamoto even liked them. I remember talking to him a couple of years ago, he said it’d have been better to have two D-pads, it would’ve been a better balance to have the same on the left and the right.

(One of Goddard’s claims to fame is that he programmed Mario’s iconic stretchy face that you can interact with at the start of Super Mario 64.)

Returning to the music of these games, the first 3D outings really emphasised the difference in scoring the Mario and Zelda series. From Gabe Durham’s book on Majora’s Mask:

In an “Iwata Asks” conversation, [Koji] Kondo describes the difference between composing for Mario and for Zelda. In a Mario game, you are controlling Mario, but Mario is not you. In a Zelda game, Link is you, and the music should help blur the line between the character and the player.

Nostalgia clearly plays a big part in all of this. If you’ve spent time in the past playing particular video game franchises from your past—Mario, Zelda, Sonic—then these soundtracks and effects evoke nostalgic thoughts of when you played the games. Ditto notable albums, such as In Rainbows‘ then-unique ‘pay what you want’ pricing.

The former is because players have complex social relationships with these protagonists. If you spend enough time with them, they almost feel like friends. Walking, running, jumping and fighting in their shoes for so long, and they may feel like extensions of yourself.

This is particularly true for the Legend of Zelda games, with their mute protagonist Link, who in many games you can name as yourself. Current Zelda series director Eiji Aonuma: “When a player is playing a Zelda game, my desire is for the player to truly become Link—that’s why we named him Link, so the player is linked to the game and to the experience.” Giving voice to Link would remove the player’s voice.

Coming full circle, the Zelda sounds themselves are just as applicable as Mario’s to being used in other contexts: on4word used OoT’s sound fonts to recreate Aphex Twin’s ‘Alberto Balsam’ (which always sounded a bit video gamey to me):



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