Compared with the lavish gaming soundtracks of today, why does the Super Mario Bros theme-tune stick in our minds?
This is the question asked by PBS's Game Show in this excellent feature on computer game soundtracks.
These days gaming is a multi million pound industry and that money has allowed companies to become more ambitious with their soundtracks. For Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar Games employed a whole host of musicians including Woody Jackson, Tangerine Dream, The Alchemist, Oh No, with even enough change left over to ask DJ Shadow to mix it.
It is a critically acclaimed piece of work and yet it still does not have the catchiness of the old 8 and 16 bit games. Realising this, musicians have frequently mined samples from these games, sometimes even performing covers of them.
So what is it about them?
Chief among the reasons is that, according Jon Irwin's book Super Mario Bros 2, the unique soundtrack came from an audio processor inside the NES itself and the composers had to write the music in code. That's rather different from today where the audio will be recorded and then mixed to the game.
According to Game Show, the composer Koji Kondo realised that the characters in the game moved in sync with the tempo of the NES's processor. So he in turn matched the soundtrack to the same tempo. Those famous sound effects were all in sync - some would last one beat, others would be 1/8th note long.
No doubt much of the attraction has to do with the nostalgia of our childhood and the repetition, but this is an interesting insight into game composing from a bygone age.