One thing a Mario game before 2007 wasn’t really known for was an emotionally stirring tune. This is not to say that there were no great songs; a lot of them were quite catchy, ones that memories were built upon. We can talk all day about the first Mario theme, which somehow little kids still know and recognize as a quintessential Mario song. The second Mario game in the states featured even more sophisticated melodies in its music, with interesting drum patterns and a soundalike stuttering guitar, mysteriously achieved with the very limited NES tech.
This became an expected part of the Mario experience. Songs that had the damned ability to stick in your head forever, songs that made you smile. Songs that became so well known and repeatedly listened to that they almost always faded into the background, with conversation between friends taking precedence.
In 1996, Nintendo had finally launched its 64-bit console a long time after the competing PlayStation, and along with it came Super Mario 64; arguably the birth of the true 3D platformer. (I once read an interesting article that said the genre could have gone way of either SM64 or the PSX Jumping Flash, a great little series in its own right.)
Players were suddenly immersed in an absolutely huge world. It masked its linearity with the concept of completing mostly required goals in almost any order the player wanted. It was something else.
Music was again status quo, what with Bob-Omb Battlefield‘s typically catchy melody among other music scattered across the beginning levels. Nothing profound, just mere Mario songs. Well, until you reached Jolly Roger Bay.
It at first sounded like any other Mario-esque water theme, maybe a bit more calm. Which completely changed when more careful listening was applied, however, and one began to realize that, woah… it was kinda beautiful. It flowed, it moved.
Suddenly Jolly Roger Bay seemed like serious business. It was serious in a more artful and emotional way, something you could not say about previous Mario levels and their accompanying music. It made you feel something.
That was just on the surface, literally.
By simply jumping into the water, strings were magically and simultaneously laid on top of the beautiful piano. This served to only deepen the relevance of the melody. It could now be the soundtrack to any serious moment; something beautiful or something sad. An awe-inspiring sunrise or a really shitty day. It was heart wrenching.
The severity of the dramatic heft is equal to something you’d hear in Final Fantasy VII or VIII (or the first Mario Galaxy). Surprisingly, “Dire Dire Docks” doesn’t become this overwrought portentous monolith in comparison with the more simplistic, yet stellar gameplay. It really enhances it.
There are a few songs in Galaxy that stir up as much beauty as this one does, but for years it seemed like an anomaly in the Mario canon. Especially when Super Mario Sunshine came and went with its catchy, nonchalant songs featuring fake ukulele.
The importance of “Dire Dire Docks” in my life has only increased, and has led to awkward moments where I drunkingly gush about the beauty of the song to other uninterested drunks at random parties.
It can be a dramatic magnum opus, or a relaxing and beautiful song that has an amazing calming effect. Depends on the day. Either way, it’s the best song in the Mario series.