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Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Mario Tennis Original Soundtrack Album Title: Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Enterbrain
Catalog No.: FMCN-1001
Release Date: September 21, 2000
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Motoi Sakuraba's original music is often described as working infinitely better in the game that accompanies rather than on a stand-alone basis, and, when the score is listened to on its own, a fair proportion of the music can be described as 'nothing special', with such music receiving neither acclaim for its memorable melodies nor its musical creativity. The latter instalments to the Tales series are the most unfortunate examples of this, as are some of his earlier soundtracks with Shinji Tamura. It is tempting to categorise Sakuraba's least known post-Wolfteam game soundtrack, the Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack, in the same field as latter additions to the Tales series; the soundtrack does, after all, feature a lot of uninspiring music and suffers greatly from its inconsistency.

However, though not necessarily good, the Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack is also completely different from all his other works and this is principally due to the fact it is a Mario game. Only two other albums give a taste of Sakuraba's role in the Mario series, one being the Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks, which featured a melodramatic and perhaps inappropriate rendition of the "Super Mario Bros." theme that led many misinformed people to say Sakuraba should never work on the Mario series, despite only hearing 0.1% of the music he has composed for Mario-related franchises! The other was Mario Sports CD The Best, a rare but fantastic promotional album dedicated to his works on Mario Power Tennis and Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. Neither CD really exemplifies the key feature behind Sakuraba's early work on the Mario Sports series, however.

This is quite unfortunate, as Sakuraba has actually composed for no less than nine games for the Mario Sports series — Mario Golf 64 (N64), Mario Golf (GBC), Mario Tennis 64 (N64), Mario Tennis (GBC), Mobile Golf (GBC), Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GC), Mario Golf: Advance Tour (GBA), Mario Power Tennis (GC), and Mario Tennis: Power Tour (GBA). From a purely historical perspective, the Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack therefore gives a firm taste of Sakuraba's work on behalf of the earlier games to the series. What it shows above all else is a fascinating cross-over between the standard light-hearted compositions familiar with the series with Sakuraba's classic rock style, also featuring some reprises of Koji Kondo's work along the way. As a result, the soundtrack fits the game appropriately and features a distinct sound that could be recognised from a mile away, even if it isn't the pinnacle of musical refinement.


The "Opening - Entrance" theme is 41 seconds long and rather blaring, but a perfect representation of the distinct sound that allows both Sakuraba's and the Mario series' presence to be felt straightaway. Building from some suspended synth notes, it blooms into a light-hearted fanfare led by brass and accompanied by the composer's standard drum work and power chords. No Koji Kondo work is integrated per se, but its stripped down musical features are rather similar to those used in the more triumphant themes in 1991's Super Mario World album, except with a touch of light rock added. "Opening - Wario, Waluigi Enter the Scene" and "Opening - Koopa Enters the Scene" have a similar effect, but both succeed in being more melodic and have an appropriate 'pantomine villain' feeling, the latter featuring a brief yet convincing reprise of "Koopa's Theme" from the Super Mario 64 Original Soundtrack. Following this, a couple more brief cinematic cues feature; don't be misled into thinking "Mario Tennis 64" is anything special, despite its name, as it is just an 18 seconds long introductory fanfare. The first fully developed piece of music featured is "Menu," the standard type of composition on the soundtrack, used on the title screen, which features a catchy melody, standard four-bar phrasing, a brief and predictable development section, and lots of light rock-based accompaniment. The melodies may get some listeners whistling along, but the track's rock-jazz-cheese fusion will put most off and become annoying. "Status" is another muddled composition with lots of quirk yet no substance, again suffering from its repetitive and hackneyed beats. Fortunately, "Tournament," used when the gamer is in the tournament selection theme, is a classic through and through. With vibrating accompaniment, decent chord progressions, lots of development, and a really fun melody, it never grows boring despite its constant reuse in the game. "Entrance ~VS Theme~ (Tournament)" also works nicely, with a little dissonance being added here and there to give a comical sense of impending doom, though it grows repetitive and doesn't last long.

After the inconsistent introduction, the soundtrack gains some credibility with its mostly appealing main tennis match themes. These themes have to endure a lot of reuse during gameplay, much like a standard RPG battle theme would do, and Sakuraba actually uses an approach here that could be associated with some of his lighter battle themes. "Tournament Round 1" has the quality needed to withstand a gamer listening to it on loop at least 80 times. Its pacing and loudness is ideal for giving the gameplay vivaciousness, while the darker sections add to its intensity and the fast-paced harmonies and rock organ solo from the 1:40 add a slight frenzied nature to the theme. Its utterly unforgettable melodies are what ensure it doesn't become generic, however, and this melody ranks as a classic alongside those featured in battle themes such as "The Incarnation of Devil" from the Star Ocean series. The sole disappointment in this track is that it doesn't transition back to the main melody at all well at the 1:57 mark and feels very rushed in these respects. "Tournament Round 2" takes a similar approach, though is surprisingly a little lighter overall, which doesn't serve to reflect the increase in intensity too well. It develops to become better and better, however, featuring lots of excellent instrumental solos along the way, and doesn't loop until the 2:10 mark. "Decisive Match" is a delightful mix of musical elements from the two previous themes with a great new melody and some additional pace to reflect the ultimacy of the situation. The two "Game Point - Break Point" themes are also quite strong tension-building themes, the second offering more melodic impact. "Tie Break," however, starts off surpisingly light, benefiting from a jazz-based melody and some well-articulated secondary motifs, though it briefly intensifies with a brief minor rendition of the "Decisive Match" theme that makes it a fairly multifaceted theme overall. "Game Result" is a disappointing finale to this set of themes, failing to be as original, developed, or energetic as the tracks that precede it, merely a neutral and sometimes irritating fusion theme like "Menu."

As all Mario soundtracks should, there are a large number of reprises of Kondo's works here, and, save for the one already mentioned, the rest are used for the special courts and fanfares. "Mario Brothers Court," widely considered by zombie gamers as the pinnacle of musical achievement on this album, is actually utterly vapid of any musical depth. It's simply Koji Kondo's original melody of the Super Mario Bros. main theme combined with a needlessly fast tempo and yet more infuriating drum beats. It's the antithesis of the earlier mentioned arrangement in the Famicom Anniversary album. The upbeat version of Super Mario 64's "Inside the Castle Walls," used in "Mario & Luigi Court," is likely to be a real fan's favourite, however. The light rock approach emphasises the daintiness of Kondo's original melodies wonderfully and it is one of those tracks that is good for whistling to. Another classic theme from this game used is "Koopa's Theme," which receives a much more comprehensive arrangement than that featured in "Opening - Koopa Enters the Scene." Those familiar with the Wario games and Donkey Kong Country will enjoy the tracks that are based around melodies from these games. Hearing a rendition of the jungle theme for "Donkey Kong Court" would have been considerably more fun, though, particularly if Sakuraba took the approach he used in his arrangement of the theme for Mario Sports CD The Best. Nonetheless, this array of tracks end strongly with a rendition of "Yoshi's Song" (and a totally underdeveloped version of the "Invincible Theme"). Last heard in bossanova form in Kazumi Todaka's Yoshi's Story Original Soundtrack, "Yoshi's Song" will win the hearts of fans. It's fun, peppy, and light-hearted all around, just like Baby Mario and Yoshi themselves.

The remaining themes are quite a mixed bag. Some are used for additional mini-games, such as the "Pakkun Challenge," "Ring Tournament," and "Special Game." These themes all do the job, but feel like the cut versions of the tournament themes, neither holding the same energy or melodic qualities. The ring shot themes are exceptions. "Ring Shot (Singles)" is a strong counterpoint to the "Tournament Round 1" theme that progressively integrates more and more organ passages, yielding magical results. "Ring Shot (Doubles)" is based around a classic rock chord progression that is used in certain Guilty Gear themes and "Decide in the Eyes" in the F-Zero Guitar Arrange. It's effective and is only subtly integrated, making its use even more inspiring. The two longest themes on the soundtrack, "Exhibition" and "Ending," are quite pleasant additions as well, though nothing special. All the material they feature is original, which adds to the diversity of the album, but makes them a little plain; having a recapitulation of previous melodies here and there in "Ending" would have been particularly good, as there are plenty of melodies worthy of such attention, notably "Tournament," the three tennis match themes, and, of course, some of the classic Kondo melodies. After this addition, the soundtrack ends with a series of fanfares, mostly dedicated to representing each of the playable characters' victories. They work within the game and it's quite cute how Sakuraba managed to create a different fanfare to match everyone's personality and even integrated some classic Kondo themes along the way. Still, it's unlikely listeners will find them inspiring on a stand-alone basis, as they're all too short, most not exceeding even 20 seconds in length, and Sakuraba used basically the same format throughout, except with different melodies. It's actually rather jarring hearing them all played one after each other due to the abruptness of the compositions.


This soundtrack fits the game perfectly. There's no doubt about it and not a single theme feels out of place or misused in these respects. Even the musical failures of the album — "Menu," "Status," "Game Result," Mario Brothers Court," and "Invincibility Theme" — could be described as functional successes, as each adds to the atmosphere of the game in a positive way and they don't feel plain or blaring at all until their in-game context is removed. Other points to Sakuraba's favour is the way the main gameplay themes remain continually interesting despite the horrific reliance upon them during the game. There's also a refreshing mix of old and new. His reprises of Kondo's old themes, with two exceptions, are likely to be a source of lots of fun, providing a warm glow to the album. The rock touch and addition of plenty of original melodies make it clear that this is Sakuraba's Mario approach, however, not Sakuraba copying somebody else, though the light-heartedness represents the Mario series just right and its greater action basis being ideal for the game's surprisingly frenzied tennis matches.

Not all is rosy, of course. About half the themes, discluding the fanfares, are nothing special, and there are also the five aforementioned stinkers. It often seems like a rushed effort, with the harmonies and drum beats often being deadly repetitive and in need of great revamps. It's more than clear that the music for the album wasn't intended to be an experimental array of colour like the Star Ocean soundtracks, but merely a standard accompaniment to gameplay. Thankfully, Sakuraba has progressed a lot since on the Mario Sports series, releasing Mario Sports CD The Best, which is likely to appeal more to the standard listener, even if it isn't an original score. If one is a hardcore Sakuraba fan, the Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack is well worth looking at eBay for it, though the aforementioned alternative album is more suited to standard listeners and is available at VGM World too.

Overall Score: 6/10