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Mario Sports CD The Best :: Review by Chris

Mario Sports CD The Best Album Title: Mario Sports CD The Best
Record Label: Nintendo Japan
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: November 1, 2004
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


Motoi Sakuraba's contributions to the Mario Sports series are the most ignored and underrated of all his modern works. This is unfortunate, as Sakuraba has actually composed for no less than eight games for the Mario Sports series — Mario Golf 64 (N64), Mario Golf (GBC), Mario Tennis 64 (N64), Mario Tennis (GBC), Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GC), Mario Golf: Advance Tour (GBA), Mario Power Tennis (GC), and Mario Tennis: Power Tour (GBA). Only two albums have been released dedicated to the series — the somewhat dubious Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack and the more recent Mario Sports CD The Best. The latter, to be reviewed here, is a promotional item that features arrangements of music from Mario Power Tennis and Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, perhaps his most popular scores to the series. Mario Sports CD The Best is a small album in that it features only 19 tracks from both games, including just seven themes from the Mario Golf game. The arrangements aren't especially extravagant either, with most tracks only receiving remastering and some subtle changes. Nonetheless, while this is the case, it doesn't affect the album much from a stand-alone perspective.


An immediate taster of Sakuraba's approach to the Mario Sports series is seen in "Opening" from Mario Power Tennis, which is developed to become over 5 minutes in length and features many contrasting sections. It seems very erratic at first, with the introduction feeling abrupt, oddly transitioning between action-based, ominous, and more carefree sections seemingly carelessly. However, this fitted the cinematic opening of the game perfectly and Sakuraba chose not to make many changes for its reuse in this score. Fortunately, the merit in this piece is the way each of the three sections is later explored in considerable detail in subsequent sections of the arrangement, as further metamorphoses occur as major stylistic transitions occur. Eventually, all three dissimilar sections gradually assimilate together in the latter half, leading to a clever and eventually uplifting conclusion. The listener is left to think 'What the heck was that?', but they're not dissatisfied, merely baffled at one of the most varied, enticing, and whimsical arrangements on the disc. Indeed, it's already becoming apparent that this score is superior to Mario Tennis 64's in terms of drama and development.

The main gameplay themes for Mario Power Tennis will bring back many memories of Mario Tennis 64's score to those who are familiar. People will immediately draw parallels between Power Tennis' "World Open Final & Menu" and 64's "Tournament Round 1," as each share considerable melodic flair, slightly brash brass use, light rock harmonies, and witty development sections. Sakuraba's usage of the original material from Mario Power Tennis is interesting here, as he cuts the most rock-based section of the World Open Final theme short in favour of integrating a whole new melody used in the menu screen, but it works, giving the composition more melodic diversity and conciseness overall. "Gimmick Masters Final" theme is another complex brass-led work that is based around the same light action basis as the three tournament match themes in the Mario Tennis 64 score. It is remastered to boast a cleaner sound here from the original, though its melody remains quite jagged, making it one of the less accessible additions to the album; though effective for gameplay, a more outwardly enjoyable theme would have been better in its place. The most recommended tournament themes is "Tournament 1st & 2nd Round," where Sakuraba's electric guitar mastery and ability to create effective solos shines against the typical brass use that usually characterises themes with similar in-game purposes. Those familiar with the two themes it is based on will have fun seeing how cleverly they are interweaved.

The reprises of classic melodies from Nintendo-related franchises are done incredibly well in this score. While "Mario Brothers Gimmick Court ~ Mario Classic Court" isn't exactly sophisticated, it isn't supposed to be, intended to bring gamers back to the days of Koji Kondo's classic NES scores. It's a very pleasant mix that will make almost all those from the NES days smile with its catchy melody and old-school synth. Another classic melody that features is Dave Wise's Donkey Kong Country jungle theme in "Donkey Gimmick Court ~ Donkey Jungle Court," perhaps the most enjoyable reprise on the album, with a saxophone playing the main melody in aggressive and jazzy fashion before playing several improvised passages, all the time backed up by a funky bass lines and tribal drums. It's captivating and unusual, a considerable improvement on the version used in Mario Power Tennis itself due to a live saxophonist being used and the integration of the improvisation. More awkward is the reuse of "Inside the Castle Walls" from Super Mario 64 in "Peach's Castle Special Course ~ Paint Tennis," which seems to lose its characteristic lightness in places with inappropriate brass-led renditions of the theme, and, worse still, the inappropriate combination of strings and xylophone leading the melody. Nonetheless, though over-the-top at times, some sections work wonderfully and the drum use is ideal for representing the score's action basis.

Reflecting the development of certain Nintendo franchises, a lot of reprises of more modern themes also feature, to greater overall success. The GameCube's Luigi's Mansion gets a look-in with "Luigi's Mansion Main Theme Gimmick ~ Luigi's Mansion Court," sounding excellent and much better than the version used in Mario Power Tennis thanks to powerful orchestration and the use of real voices; the whole contrast of the loud low-pitched brass instruments and quiet high-pitched tuned percussion instruments is very well done and creates the ideal distinction between light and dark you would expect from a theme coming from such a game. Super Mario Sunshine is also the basis of three themes. Predictably, the Delfino Plaza theme is integrated somewhere, Dolpic Town Gimmick Court ~ Dolpic Town Court to be precise, and sounds fresher than ever thanks to the usage of a live acoustic guitar performances, while Sakuraba takes the chance to integrate a little more jazz on the album with "Riko Harbour Gimmick Court ~ Bossgesso Court," a straightforward and highly enjoyable arrangement for big band, again with solid performances all round. Less expected is the reuse of the final battle music in "Koopa's Theme Gimmick Court ~ Koopa Castle Court," relatively unmemorable because of the brevity of the sequence it was used in rather than anything Kondo did wrong. Still, Sakuraba's arrangement brings out the true darkness of its epic melodies and ensures the theme has more rhythmical impetus than ever, a pleasant change from endless reprises of the Super Mario 64 Koopa theme that featured in earlier Mario Sports soundtracks.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour reflects a lighter and more relaxing side to Sakuraba's Mario Sports contributions overall. Despite this, the initial theme integrated from that game, "Awards Ceremony," could easily pass off as a boisterous tournament theme for a Mario Tennis game. It's with "Stroke ~ Mahre Beach" that a change becomes evident, an immediate emphasis being placed on laid-back rhythms, tropical drums, and sleak electric piano lines, this change of style confirmed well and truly by the subsequent "Menu," which sounds like it has come straight from Jamaica, and "Title Screen," which features more interplay between steel drums and Tijuana brass. The two tournament themes also see a massive change in style from the tennis tournament themes, though are largely a variation on the same central American styles featured in the previous tracks around a light action framework. Unfortunately, the score's structure ultimately means it feels like it is split into three halves — tennis gameplay themes, all those classic reprises, and some laid-back tunes to finish — though the stylistic contrast is otherwise welcome and the golf themes are very well done, particularly where solos are integrated. Much balance can't really be expected from a promotional soundtrack, after all.


Mario Sports CD The Best is worthy of a purchase for most fans of Motoi Sakuraba and the Mario Sports series. This album is not perfect, suffering from a limited selection of tracks, featuring a couple of disappointing reprises, including examples of less than appetitising synth from Masaaki Uno, and lacking the overall dramatic arch that would characterise any non-promotional Motoi Sakuraba score. Yet, it's fun, creative, and generally consistent, featuring a considerable number of peaks and the appearance of a number of memorable melodies, boosted by some excellent live performances in places. It easily being the most effective musical representation of the Mario Sports series available, excluding certain hard-to-find game rips of course. At just over $13 at VGM World with a reduced shipping fee available, anybody with a little spare money should seriously consider purchasing this album for a fine, albeit brief and limited, experience.

Overall Score: 7/10