Rainbow Road, the final course of the Special Cup in the various iterations of Super Mario Kart, is a notorious pain in the ass. Nothing throws off a fun afternoon playing video games with your friends like someone insisting you take a 20-minute tour of the vibrantly colored space track filled with Thwomps, Chain Chomps, and bullshit turns with no railings. Perhaps the one redeeming quality of this monster of a course is the music, which, despite having changed dramatically over the years, has managed to stay eternally funky.
The latest installment of 8-bit Music Theory takes a look at how the music of Rainbow Road has evolved from the simple two-chord vamp used in the Super Nintendo version to Mario Kart 8’s much more complex, electric-guitar-infused orchestration. The analysis can be a bit heady for non-music-theory-types, but it’s interesting to see how early motifs are quoted again and again in later versions. For example, the opening to Rainbow Road in Mario Kart Wii uses a funky, arpeggiated bass line that’s clearly calling back to the original Super Nintendo game, but the chord changes subvert our expectations by descending, giving it a slightly darker tone.
Regardless of which version you prefer (though we can all agree the Mario Kart 64 version is the best), the music of Rainbow Road is consistently catchy as hell. Which is good, because you spend a lot of time listening to it while you repeatedly fall off the edge of the track and try to resist throwing your controller at the wall.
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