As a Disney fan who has been meaning to go to Walt Disney World for much of her adult life, I must confess that I will likely set foot in Universal Studios first. Sure, Disney might be the most magical place on earth, but does it have a Bowser meet and greet? I THINK NOT.
While Super Nintendo World won't be a reality stateside until 2021 at the earliest, Super Nintendo World is opening at Universal Studios Japan this summer, just in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. To celebrate and promote the park, Nintendo and Universal Studios released a trailer of sorts in mid-January alongside a press release.
This trailer is fantastic for two reasons. The first is that it features people snatched from their everyday lives by Warp Pipes into a perfectly choreographed CGI-assisted rendering of the park. The second is that it features a song written by Galantis featuring Charli XCX, blending my love of the Swedish electropop duo with my love for Nintendo.
Nintendo is no stranger to using original music for marketing purposes, from awkward white teenagers rapping to promote The Legend of Zelda to creating a theme song for Super Mario Odyssey, the jazzy "Jump Up, Super Star!" But this is the first time I've seen Nintendo reach out to a mainstream musical act, and the results are delightful.
The press release accompanying the video goes into more detail about what the park will be like. Guests will be given the watch — er, Power-Up Band — and the park will be gamified, allowing guests to collect coins and other items for completing certain tasks, as well as team up to take on Boss Battles. I love this concept—I get to punch a Question Block? Sign me up—but I still have so many questions. The Mario Kart ride and the Yoshi's Adventures ride are confirmed, but will there be other rides? What kind of themed food opportunities will there be? How am I supposed to be best buds with Bowser if I have to fight him? All of these questions will have to wait until the summer. But my ravenous curiosity has been awakened, and, to slake it, we're going to go deep on "Born to Play." Who knows? Maybe it contains some hidden messages about what's to come.
"Born to Play'' takes its major sample from the iconic 1985 Super Marios Bros. overworld theme, "The Ground Theme." The first seven notes of this song (ba da da da da da DA) scream, in equal measure, video games, Mario, and nostalgia. "The Ground Theme" has been reused and rearranged endlessly both through the series' history and as a shorthand for the series itself. The song's calypso and Latin vibes are purposeful. According to composer Koji Kondo, wider chord intervals sounded better on the Famicom, so he gravitated toward musical styles that used them. He was also influenced by his love of Japanese fusion, especially the accessible rhythm of artists like T-SQUARE and Sadao Watanabe. I'd definitely recommend looking up T-SQUARE'S "Sister Marian" if you want to really open your mind and then go down a Japanese fusion rabbit hole, not necessarily in that order.
This is actually not the first time "The Ground Theme" has been used as a basis for an officially licensed Nintendo song with lyrics. In 1985, listeners of Takao Komine's show on the radio program All Night Nippon could write in with their own lyrics to "The Ground Theme." The winning entry became 1986's "Go! Go! Mario!" It's essentially "The Ground Theme" with cute, straightforward lyrics about Mario's adventures. "Go! Go! Mario!" was released on vinyl and inspired some All Night Nippon tie-in versions of Super Mario Bros (featuring sprites replaced by Japanese celebrities).
"The Ground theme" was also the basis for two songs in the 1989 live-action The Super Mario Super-Show. The show's theme song, "Plumber Rap," boasts that viewers will be "hooked on the brothers," while "Do the Mario" is an attempt at turning the song into a dance craze. I, uh, I don't recommend looking these up, unless you want to stare unblinkingly into the middle distance for a few hours, as I did after witnessing "Do the Mario."
After an explosive appeal to our video game lizard brain ("GOOD NOISE! FUN!"), "Born to Play" transitions us first to the electropop stylings of Galantis and then to the pop vocals of Charlie XCX.
I wanna burn like fire tonight, Charlie XCX tells us. Fire is a common theme in the Mario games, be it as a stage hazard (see Super Mario Sunshine's Corona Mountain) or as an enemy (Fires, also known as fireballs, first appeared in the original Donkey Kong). However, this is most likely a reference to a Fire Flower, a power-up that grants the player the ability to shoot fireballs and palette-swaps Mario to white and red (instead of blue and red). In the music video, guests to the park have Mario Hats that change colors to match Fire Mario when they gain the ability to shoot fireballs. (I ... would be curious to see how this is implemented in the park.) Fire Flowers first appeared in Super Mario Bros. and are such a staple of Mario's move set that his special move in the Super Smash Bros. series has always been a fireball.
I feel my heartbeat jumping twice is a clear reference to Mario's famous ability to jump. Mario wasn't always Mario Mario; in the original Donkey Kong, he was Jumpman, simply because he jumped to clear the hurdles Donkey Kong threw at him. Canonically, the ability to jump goes hand in hand with being Mario, even though Luigi can jump higher than he can. "Twice" refers to Mario's ability to double jump—jumping once in order to get more height on the second jump—introduced in Super Mario 64 as "Continuous Jump." Double jumping is technically possible in Mario games previous to 1996 through glitches and other means, but the technique wasn't considered foundational to gameplay.
I'm floating up like red balloons is a little more obscure reference. Balloons appear as items in Super Mario Galaxy 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Paper Mario: Color Splash, and tend to turn up more in the spinoff franchises, like Super Princess Peach. It could also be a reference to Balloon World, a minigame added to Super Mario Odyssey through DLC. However, I like to think that it's a reference to Balloon Battle, a battle mode that has appeared in every Mario Kart game since the original Super Mario Kart. Funnily enough, the Yoshi games use balloons for items, so this reference refers to both of the confirmed rides in the park.
I'm captured by the feeling refers to the mechanic at the heart of Super Mario Odyssey, which teams Mario up with Cappy, a Bonneter — basically, a spirit shaped like a hat that can turn into other hats. (Video games!) Oh, and he can possess other sentient beings and items by Mario hurling him at them and "capturing" them, allowing Mario to possess and control everything from statues to Yoshi. Due to its critical acclaim, popularity, and status as the most recent mainline game, Super Mario Odyssey will probably have a major influence on the park.
Mario busts in with a hearty "here we go!" Until "Born to Play" drops on anything resembling a music service (HINT HINT let me do cardio to this), I can't confirm whether the coin collect sound, as well as the warp pipe sounds earlier in the music video, are meant to be part of the song or only diegetic to the narrative. But knowing Galantis' work, this sound clip is definitely in the song's mix. Mario's been voiced by Charles Martinet since 1990. Martinet was instrumental in taking Mario's speaking voice — as heard in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, if you ignored my previous warning — from gruff New Yorker to a lighter, friendlier tone. Martinet is certainly capable of gruff, however. He also voices Wario and Waluigi.
While I'd love to imagine that Martinet rolled into the studio to deliver the perfect line read while Galantis waited with bated breath, this "here we go!" is pretty obviously sampled from Nintendo's big ol' soundboard of "noises Mario makes." It is a soundboard the size of a luxury sedan.
Like a super star refers to the Super Star, an item that turns the player invincible for a short period of time. (They should not be confused with Power Stars, the collectible necessary to unlock further levels in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2.) It first appeared in Super Mario Bros. and has become a staple of the series. It's even become a staple of other series, appearing as a power-up in the Mario Kart series and in the Super Smash Bros. series. However, it could also be a deep-cut reference to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, an excellent 2003 role-playing game for the Gameboy Advance. It's not, but the text of the song does not directly contradict me, so technically, I'm not wrong.
Power up and go! As a last reference before the chorus repeats itself, this is pretty basic. Anything that gives you a special ability in video games is usually referred to as a power-up. The Super Mushroom has become one of the most iconic power-ups in gaming and pop culture history, often standing in as the iconography for the logo when Mario won't do. It's also a sly reference to the Power-Up Bands visitors will use while visiting the park, which will come in Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad, and Yoshi flavors. I'm already having visions of the limited-edition Power-Up Bands … Rosalina … Dry Bowser … Waluigi …
The song finishes up with a weirdly moving reprise of "The Ground Theme" (that might just be me) and a reprise of the chorus. It's as light as it is catchy. I keep catching myself putting the trailer on repeat so I can hear it again and indulge in both nostalgia and anticipation. The same kind of nostalgia and anticipation, in fact, that I anticipate feeling when I finally set foot in Super Nintendo World.