Throughout the years, Mario has faced off with his nemesis, Bowser, countless times. And from the first time we dueled the spiky behemoth on a rickety bridge over lava, to the time when we booted him into a sun at the center of the galaxy, those epic battles are always accompanied by really, really freaking awesome background themes. The circumstances and motives behind these showdowns have shifted over the lifetime of the Mario series, and the music also changes to fit the situation, giving us everything from head-bangingly intense rock songs to grandiose orchestrated tracks worthy of a blockbuster movie.
However, throughout the long history of Bowser Battles, what music stood above the rest? In this article, I’ll be choosing what I believe to be the Top Five Bowser Battle Themes in the Mario series. So without further ado, here’s the list: Number 5 First and Second Bowser Battles: Super Mario 64
We didn’t really know what to expect when Super Mario 64 first was released. Could the perfect platforming formula that Nintendo had created translate to 3D? Well, if you still had any doubts by the time you reached the end of Koopa’s Road and saw Bowser in all his evil, polygonal glory, they were quickly dispelled. Bowser was back, and with a bitching rock theme too boot. It starts pretty simply with a very basic drum line that shifts to something more complex once the wailing lead guitar kicks in, and all the layers of the song just click together in a resounding, raw statement of Bowser’s intent to kick your pudgy plumber ass. In other words, this song takes the essence of many of the other tracks in this list and distills it down to the rawest components of a great Bowser battle theme.
Number 4 Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door (Spoilers ahead, but the game’s been out for over five years now, so if you haven’t beaten it by now, it’s really your own fault if the ending is now ruined.)
A lot of the music in Paper Mario 2 was incredible, but for a character that was relegated to comic relief for most of it, Bowser gets what is undeniably
one of the best battle themes. The game starts out with Princess Peach getting kidnapped…by a bad guy that isn’t
the King Koopa himself. A majorly pissed-off Bowser then treks across the world trying to kidnap her back, and failing miserably. However, when he decides to take his frustration out on your party in this battle late in the game, it comes at the worst possible moment. You’re in the Very Definitely Final Dungeon, and have just finished a lengthy and difficult fight with the leader of the evil organization that kidnapped Peach. And then Bowser quite literally drops through the ceiling and demands to fight you right then and there while the bad guy escapes with the princess to release a demon to destroy the world.
This song works for the battle so well, because of a weird combination of breakneck speed and sinister instrument effects that sound like one hell of an evil circus. It lets you know that even though Bowser was the butt of jokes through 90% of the game, right now he’s poses a very real threat not just to your party, but to the rest of the world
. It’s this frustration and sense of urgency that really makes the theme stand out.
Number 3 Final Bowser Battle: Super Mario 64
Once you defeat Bowser for the second time in Super Mario 64, you’re probably pretty confident about the final showdown with him at the end of the game. You’ve collected all the stars, unlocked everything in the castle, and are ready to defeat the spiky tyrant to get back your princess and eat that cake that you’ve been looking forward to!
And then you drop down the hole that leads to the final arena and wonder why the light’s gotten so weird…and hear the first terrifying chords of this song played on a pipe organ. Not so confident now, huh?
If there’s one way to make any song ridiculously epic, throw in a church organ. Ganondorf used it to great effect in Ocarina of Time
, and probably learned the trick from this battle. Like the regular Bowser battle theme in this game, the song is simple, with only the organ and no other instrumentation to distract from the legendary showdown occurring between two old and bitter foes.
Number 2 Bowser Battle: Super Mario Galaxy
After Super Mario 64, Bowser lost his credibility as a threat to most gamers, and was reduced to competing in Kart races, board games, and general comic relief. That all changed in Super Mario Galaxy. From the moment he swoops down and rips the Peach and her castle out from the ground and hijacks it into deep space, you know that this…means war
But it’s pretty hard to top a pipe organ in terms of epic battle themes, so what can the composers behind the Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack do to regain that sense of imposing power that we haven’t seen since the N64?
How about full orchestration, and an ominous choir in the background? Now we have a boss theme that seems more suitable for a Final Fantasy villain than an oversized turtle that hasn’t been threatening for nearly a decade
. This song lets the player know that Bowser is finally back with a vengeance, and while listening to this song play during the fight, I was cheering on his long-overdue return.
Number 1 Final Bowser Battle: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
It may seem impossible that there is a song out there that can possibly be a better battle theme than the one from Super Mario Galaxy. But really, it’s almost too easy
to make an epic battle theme when you have access to full orchestration and a real-life chorus. With the audio systems on the SNES, you have to focus more on actual song structure and less on sheer dramatic impact. And the final Bowser theme from Yoshi’s Island pulls it off perfectly
Like #5 on this list, it’s a straight-up rock ‘n roll song, but where the themes from Super Mario 64 work with simplicity, this song kicks all restraint to the curb and unleashes the furious power of sheer, unadulterated RAWK. The lead guitar shreds, then drums pound, and then when you think it can’t get even better, the rock organ
kicks in. Listen to the song in all its face-melting glory here, because there's really nothing more that I can say to describe it effectively:
(It doesn’t hurt that the actual battle itself is also one of the best in the Mario series.)