Where should I begin in this review of Super Mario World? Perhaps it might be best saying that it is not one of the game scores that I've been spoiled by. However, what really matters about it is how much of a treasure it is in its own way. The game was the first title to come out with the SNES. If the game was not such a tremendous success, and the SNES flopped with it, the era of videogame soundtracks we know today would never have been created.
This is a very "gamey" soundtrack, due to the way the music is not fully orchestrated, just whimsical, cutesy, and unsoothing. That's not a bad thing, though; a gentle symphony would have clashed horribly with this kind of game. However, there are some really cool, realistic sounding instrument samples within this score, including island steel drums, giving the music a Calypso feel (this is the same feel of most Super Mario soundtracks). What basically dominates this score is a whimsical, light-hearted theme which is fun to listen to when you're playing the game. But if you're not playing, it can get on your nerves after the first couple of seconds.
What makes this score enjoyable is the way that composer Koji Kondo takes his newly created theme and plays around with it. This is obviously noticeable in the later tracks, whether it is a fast waltz for the underwater stages, a low, cool, percussive beat for the underground stages, a scary (and I do mean *scary*) ambience for the Ghost Houses, or finally an organic symphony for the Castles. Here, we get to hear variations on the theme, some really experimental work from a composer who had, before this time, contributed to many catchy yet low-quality sounding NES soundtracks.
Another catcher that makes this score special is how Kondo uses themes from his previous Mario game scores and upgrades them to the next level. The "Invincible BGM" music is along for the ride, as is the famous Caribbean style Mario theme with some very cool steel drums.
As for the two boss battle themes, only one of them is remarkable, and that is "The Evil King Koopa". It starts off low and creepy, rises to a crescendo, and then rocks away. Repetitive the rhythm may be, but it is nevertheless impressive to hear a boss battle theme start out this way before jamming away.
Super Mario World is not without its problems. This is not the sort of game score that one would want to listen to when trying to relax, but then, that is hardly its purpose. There are a few irritating tracks that aren't exactly comfortable listening experiences. It's also not as spectacular or experimental as other SNES scores that followed, such as ActRaiser, Final Fantasy VI or Secret Of Mana, but then, a game like this would not demand such scores. Finally, as I said before, the sound qualtiy isn't all that full, despite some excellent samples of steel drums. If you're looking for something grand, you'd be best searching for one of the newer game soundtracks available.
If the original game music is too irritating for you, worry not, the first disc is truly a super treat. It contains five of the game's best songs arranged in a jazz/fusion style. The other six tracks are from - surprise! - Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3. All of them feature the original compositions, just beautifully arranged and performed to offer a dazzling musical experience that makes it so hard to believe that it comes from Mario. In fact, it may take you a while to realize that this is Mario music. (I had to listen more than one minute to recognize the songs beneath the swaying, jazzy instruments.) There are even a couple of medley tracks, notably tracks 4 and 6, whose melodies you will surely recognize.
As if this wasn't enough, how about this free gift: besides having all the OSVs (and sound effects) from Super Mario World, the second disc also contains *all* the OSVs and sound effects from Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3! Even in their low-quality sounding state, the songs are terrific, and they play an important part in terms of video game history. Some would complain that NES soundtracks are "bleepy" and too, well, gamey. These low-quality sounding soundtracks seemed to be the defining characteristics of these "old-generation" games, and the Mario music qualifies as part of that trend.
Only a few songs might seem new to some. Track 12 is a part of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack that never made it into the American release for some reason. Track 13, meanwhile, is from the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (which we know today as "The Lost Levels" from the SNES upgraded compilation Super Mario All-Stars). So don't be too surprised if these songs don't exactly sound like the ones you remember from the original game.
Overall, if you can ever find this CD set anywhere, I recommend that you do not - I repeat, do not - pass up the opportunity. Super Mario World is not just a classic. It is a legend.