Mario Kart 8′s Music Is More Integral To The Game Than Ever

By Robert Ward . May 26, 2014 . 3:30pm

For just over two decades, I’ve watched Nintendo’s relationship with music evolve.

 

Pokémon moved from simple and charming (but never the less iconic) tunes to dynamic ones that would completely alter the mood of an area based on whether it was day or night, winter or spring—or whether you were  standing still, or riding your bike to the next gym. Then you had the Mario franchise, where Bowser’s sinister presence has been evoked using creepy choruses, epic choirs, swanky electro-jazz, and downright badass electric guitar arrangements superimposed over claps of thunder.

 

A good friend of mine once told me that seeing the SQUARESOFT label stamped on the cover of a game was a promise of quality. It—once upon a time—told you that you were picking up something truly special. In a similar way, the Nintendo logo has become not just a promise that you’re buying a finely polished game, but that you’re likely getting an outstanding soundtrack to boot. Mario Kart 8 is an exemplification of this promise.

 

April’s Mario Kart 8-themed Nintendo Direct offered a glimpse inside the recording studio for the game’s soundtrack, showcasing the various talents they’d brought to the table to perform music largely arranged by Nintendo’s own Koji Kondo. Listen to the way Teppei Kawasaki’s bass solo ushers in the brass, listen to Takuo Yamamoto’s baritone sax pave the way for the alto. Listen to the trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and stringed instruments crescendo into the original Super Mario Kart theme!

 

I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, though, as not every track in the game is solely instrumental—not to the degree that Super Mario Galaxy is, at least. Nintendo takes great care in combining the nostalgic beeps and boops of synthesized music with its talented arsenal of artists. The digital accordions (?) of Sweet Sweet Canyon contribute just as much to the tunes’ playful vibe as its violin sections do; the flute in Thwomp Ruins’ theme knows when to give way to synthesized percussion, while Electrodome and Tick Tock Clock do away with instruments all together.

 

Yet, my favorite thing about Mario Kart 8’s soundtrack isn’t the music itself, but how the music is built into each of the game’s 32 race tracks. Naturally, some examples are stronger than others. Any Mario Kart fan worth his or her salt knows by now that, on the final lap, the music in any given course will pick up speed. Similarly, if you place 5th or lower, your victory theme sounds like a band of broken kazoos at a sad clown party. But that’s not the sort of implementation I’m talking about.

 

Two examples that spring to mind are the Star Cup’s Dolphin Shoals and the Special Cup’s Cloudtop Cruise. When you take off from behind the finish line at Dolphin Shoals, you’ll be treated to the mellow beat of a steel drum while you and your opponents race underwater. When you enter a caved area with pipes, the steel drum will fade out—but then you’ll burst through the water’s surface where, apparently, all of Mario Kart 8’s alto saxes have been roaming free. Return to the water again, and the saxes transition smoothly into steel drums.

 

Before you have time to get lost in the brass, you’ll hit Cloudtop Cruise. As you skirt along the clouds at the beginning of the level, you’ll be racing to a tune equal in tension to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, which will quickly die off and become a subtle melody that combines the grandeur of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s Sky Exploration theme with the elegance of Super Mario Galaxy’s Gusty Garden.

 

After you cross Bowser’s flotilla, you’ll be shot out of a canon into a cumulonimbus thunderhead. The course’s cheeriness gives way to all the dreariness that accompanies a thunder storm, and the course’s triumphant trumpets are replaced by an imposing electric guitar. As you glide out of the thunderhead, the music will return to its brass roots and lead into a beautiful rendition of Super Mario Galaxy’s Gusty Garden. Rather than just slapping a theme onto every course, Mario Kart 8 spoon feeds you its soundtrack, letting the player discover each and every one of its intricacies.

 

That’s just scratching the surface, too. Mario Kart 8 works environmental elements into its music as well. When you approach the mines of Shy Guy Falls, the chanting of the titular Shy Guys will match the rhythm of the song. Pirahna Plants will dance to the beat of Music Park’s theme, as well as the techno baseline of Electrodome. Hell, the music even changes depending on whether or not you’re in first or second!

 

I’ve tracked down the music of Mario Kart 8 online to try and find examples, but it’s just not the same. The music of Mario Kart 8 is comparable to that of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which I wrote about back in February), in that transitions are so seamlessly worked into the environments that it’s truly impossible to capture the dynamic nature of a single tune in just one video. It’s a sensory experience that you can only get if you play the game.

 

There are so many tracks I’ve neglected to mention in this write up, but if you plan on picking Mario Kart 8 up, you’ll get to experience it all for yourself. While you’re falling off the edge of Rainbow Road, remember to keep your ears perked up, because the soundtrack to Mario Kart 8 is something very, very special.

 

Food for Thought:

 

1. Although the Celtic-sounding violin and folk-y acoustic guitar of Moo Moo Meadows is a delight, when it speeds up, I can’t unhear the sound of Turkey gobbling. I don’t know how else to describe it, but…wait and see for yourselves.

 

2. Expect to be busy for a while if you want all of the obtainable upgrades and stamps. Earning three gold stars (that’d be getting 1st place in all four races of a Grand Prix) may have earned me the hidden characters and Gold Kart, but I’m still missing about 50 stamps and the Gold Tires/Glider.

 

3. You cannot play against AI online with your friends. You can, however, play split screen online, or set up tournaments to invite your friends to.


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  • Caribbean Brony

    Nintendo has really stepped their music game up as of late. Loving it thus far.

  • Byron Kerrison II

    Anyone know if ghe free game promotion applies to digital downloads? And the final price on eShop?

    Trying to decide to go physical or digital. Thanks.

  • Ramengeddon

    Just put in Kirby’s air ride music and I’ll be happy

    • SlickRoach

      Or better yet, just give us Kirby Air Ride 2 with online capabilities!!!

      • E.T.993

        Kirby Air Ride 2 online?City Trial online? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

  • pressstart

    Please don’t tell me that getting 3 stars in grand prix has hidden requirements like Mario Kart 7. It was annoying to get 2 stars because you didn’t do as good as they expect of you, even if you get 1st place in the entire circuit.

    • Robgoro

      Nope! You just have to get first place in all races. None of that “collect 10 coins” nonsense.

      • http://www.ihasnowebsitez.com Satonaka CP-Four

        I never played 7 in it’s entirety, but that sounds familiar… like DIddy Kong Racing familiar, and I rember it being pretty challenging there but not to the point of annoyance. Was it similar to that “Coin challenge” from that game?

  • T-X

    Wish Kirby and Diddy Kong coulda been secret characters. A Smash Bros Racer Pack DLC would be awesome.

    • ShawnOtakuSomething

      or they could be using that NFC figures for this

    • Kaihaku

      Please no. Let’s just keep it Mario Kart.

      • T-X

        With those figurines being released I don’t think that’s going to happen.

  • PreyMantis

    Just listen to this sax, for a moment:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MglyUUxX2tQ

    • http://www.ihasnowebsitez.com Satonaka CP-Four

      Oh damn, I play the sax(well used to, sort of… it’s a long story…), but anyways, this is heaven to me :)

    • Linhua

      … how saxual.

    • http://arumiinn.tumblr.com _Aliceeee_

      talk dirty to me…..

  • AuraGuyChris

    4 more days…4 more days…

  • pokeroi

    Split screen online? Does that mean I can play online races with a friend locally?

    • chocodino

      you could do that on mario kart wii [2 player on one console going online]

    • TempestTwin

      Yes you can, as they had that feature in Mario Kart Wii as well.

  • https://twitter.com/BinksFrost Binks5

    hmmm so saxy

  • Scott

    As nice as the music is, I was disappointed how generic the Mount Wario music was. It was a “Circuit” theme and not a “Mount” theme.

  • Frankie

    I really like that you give a review of the music and a separate one for the game.

  • leingod

    Nice to know it’s sounding good. To be honest, the only Mario Kart soundtrack that really captured me was the SNES one. Even if it was only bleeps and bloops.

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    game game should have came with a soundtrack

  • http://www.gamingenthusiast.net/ Alex Balderas

    “3. You cannot play against AI online with your friends.”

    Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems like a wrong statement to me. Last night I played online with friends (not splitscreen) and CPU at the same time. They were hard, and beat all of us a few times.
    Maybe the writer mean that you cannot join up online to play the GP cups, which is true.

  • Kaihaku

    I love how the music goes wooky after someone uses the stupid shrinking lightning bolt.

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