A group of Super Mario World fans are currently remastering the SNES platformer’s soundtrack (h/t Chris Kohler) with high-quality versions of the original samples. But if you’re hoping for some grand, orchestral versions of tracks you’ve loved for decades, these really aren’t that.
It started with a fan combing through files from the so-called “Gigaleak,” a massive (and unofficial) dumping of Nintendo files that took the internet by storm last year. During his trawling he discovered the precise instrument names used in Super Mario Advance, which then allowed his friends to track down the exact synths Koji Kondo used when composing Super Mario World for the SNES. From there, it was simply a matter of recreating the SNES-compressed tracks with the original, lossless synths to create these “restored” tracks.
But these technically high-quality songs don’t quite live up to the classic SNES game’s. Take the “Forest of Illusion” theme, for example. Gone are the original’s soft tones, replaced with a cacophony of reverberating melodies that sounds more like someone went too hard on Fruity Loops effects than a comforting walk through some foggy woods.
The new “Swimming” track has the same problem. Being able to hear every single instrument clearly and perfectly makes for an overbearing soundscape that feels too crowded.
And don’t even get me started on the “Athletic” theme. It feels like a player piano version of an iconic track.
That said, we can’t blame these specific creators. They’re literally just plugging new instruments into old compositions and letting them rock, and on some level, I respect the desire to drag these songs (kicking and screaming though they may be) into the 21st century.
The problem is that these sounds were, I assume, largely chosen by legendary Super Mario World composer Koji Kondo because they sounded good at lower quality. These days, studios have Blu-ray discs and state-of-the-art soundcards, but development in 1991 was all about working around the restrictions of both limited memory and now-archaic audio technology. It’s why sprites from earlier eras don’t look as good on high-definition monitors as they did on CRT televisions: they were made with those disadvantages in mind.
These remastered Super Mario World tracks don’t work for the same reason I’d rather listen to a busker play an original song on an untuned acoustic guitar than an orchestra bang away at some top 40 hit on their expensive brass and woodwinds. The medium by which art is produced and portrayed is just as important as its technical fidelity. Sure, these “high-quality” and “lossless” samples might sound good on their own, but when combined on modern equipment, they lose all the heart and soul of the originals.
Still, if they’re your sort of thing, you can listen to a bunch of these remastered tracks here. It seems inevitable that someone’s going to plug them into a ROM of the original game, which should make for an… interesting experience.
Correction (02/05/21, 6:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this story misstated the nature of the sound files discovered in the Nintendo leaks. Kotaku regrets the error.