Your Favourite Album Now Sounds Straight Out Of Super Mario 64

Lately, I’ve found myself in a mood where I just want to listen to my favourite comfort albums. The albums I never get tired of, the ones where every track is a winner, and the ones that, when I first listened to them, created this out-of-body experience where I was never the same again.

Being a millennial, most of these albums come from bands like Nirvana, Weezer – think anything that played a lot on MTV or Kerrang in the early 00s. And while I could easily go to Spotify, find the Blue Album, and have a good time, I could also listen to the entire 41-minute and 34-second album as if it was something out of Super Mario 64. And I did.

Weezer’s Blue Album, Nirvana’s In Utero, and even the Beatles Revolver album – any classic album you can think of, probably now has a version online where instead of Kurt Cobain’s gritty vocals, or Ringo Starr’s bouncy drum beats, you hear the sounds that was used to make up the soundtrack for Super Mario 64.

One of my favourite YouTubers whos been releasing a steady onslaught of these alternative takes on well-known albums is *“Something Is Real’. I first discovered their videos when their version of Nirvana’s Nevermind appeared in my recommended feed. Instantly, I was intrigued, not only by the title of the video but because they went through the effort of creating a parody of the famous album cover. Instead of featuring a baby underwater trying to catch an American dollar on a fishing hook, it’s one of the penguins from the ‘Cool Cool Mountain’ stage, swimming towards a star on a fishing hook, the main collectible from Super Mario 64.

The various re-imaginings of the album and single covers found on Something Is Real’s videos make me wish they had an online store. I can’t emphasise enough how much I want a T-shirt with the cover of In Utero, but with Princess Peach.

Something Is Real even went through the effort to use the font for the stages in Super Mario 64. (Credit: Something Is Real’s YouTube Channel.)

Reading the comments on these types of videos is an utter treat too, with people often leaving comments with their alternative song name ideas. Instead of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, YouTube user gameboyzap suggests ‘Smells Like Hazy Maze.’ Or there’s my favourite, ‘In Big Boos’, which would of course be ‘In Bloom.’

It’s not just the sound font to Super Mario 64 that you can find being used on Something Is Real’s YouTube Channel. Have you ever wanted to hear how The White Stripes Seven Nation Army would sound if it was in GoldenEye 007 on the N64?

Well, now you can!

And this version even contains a recreation of the ‘once you see it you cannot unsee it’s funny smile on the box art for the game.

What’s a sound font?

A sound font is basically a file format that contains a collection of samples of musical instruments. The actual definition can get a bit complicated, and even my years of studying and gaining a music degree are failing me in being able to describe exactly how they work. But before powerful PC’s were as accessible as they are today, the playback of MIDI files was dependent on the specs of the PC being used. This meant that what may sound amazing on your PC, would sound horrible on someone else’s. Soundfonts were a way to rectify that, as they contained a collection of wav files of digital instruments, that would sound the same on any PC that you played them back on.

The Super Mario 64 sound font contains a collection of samples of digital instruments that were used at the time of the OST being composed by Koji Kondo. If you grew up with the game, there will be specific sounds within the sound font that you can probably hear isolated on its own, and still, you’ll associate with the game. The use of this sound font can be a grey area, however, when it comes to copyright and legal issues. I couldn’t find who owns the original samples, but if you were ever to use it, or one from another game, it’d be best to always err on the side of caution. Especially when it comes to Nintendo’s track record.

Although there’s no official way to see who started the trend of using the Super Mario 64 sound font, its usage can be traced back to PablosCorner who uploaded the sound font originally in 2017 on Super Mario World Central.

Since 2021, there’s been an updated version of the sound font which contains higher-quality samples, including some instruments that were used for the Nintendo DS version of the game.

A Cruel Angel’s Thesis

The sound font used in Super Mario 64 was found in other games too, most notably in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1999), a game version of the iconic mecha anime series of the same name. This discovery is particularly brilliant, as although Evangelion contains a lot of over-used and silly tropes found in anime in the late 90s, it’s typically seen as a very serious series. That seriousness is completely thrown out the window when you hear the famous anime opening with the Super Mario 64 sound font.

That pan-flute type sound you may associate with the Super Mario 64 menu music is carrying the main melody of the song, and I can’t help but laugh every time I hear this version of the track. I wonder what it must have been like to play this game on release and hear this version of the soundtrack, especially if you were a big fan of both the Super Mario game series and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The best meme?

The trend of using the Super Mario 64 sound font to recreate famous albums has become a bit of a meme, since the beginning of the trend in 2019. It even has its own ‘Know Your Meme’ page. And while memes occasionally have a point where their usage starts to dwindle, this is one I hope never dies.

My favourite memes and internet jokes are always the ones that involve some sort of creativity. There was the Sailor Moon meme where artists re-drew a still from the Sailor Moon 90s anime series in their own style, and it’s something I never get tired of seeing on my Twitter timeline. The Super Mario 64 sound font meme is similar, in that people have to either painstakingly recreate entire albums on the appropriate software, or take existing MIDI files and apply the appropriate sounds to each instrument. Either way, that involves some form of creativity and understanding of the process of making music, and as someone with a music background, I’m here for it.

Next time you’re on YouTube search for one of your favourite album titles with ‘Super Mario 64 Sound Font’ alongside it and see what comes up. You can thank me later.

*If you want to find more work by Something Is Real, please check out their YouTube Channel, Patreon, or send them over a coffee.

This piece was originally submitted to my Substack newsletter, on the 13th of April, 2023.