Mario is a versatile video game character. In his long career in the digital world, Mario raced go-karts, fought adversaries in hand-to-hand combat and even got kidnapped to teach kids about geography.
Yet Nintendo's plumber extraordinaire may have inadvertently been a trailblazer in the realm of video game music-making.
When Nintendo released Mario Paint back in the early 1990s, it was effectively a way for kids to draw Nintendo characters. It was also a way for the company to disseminate a mouse created for the Super Nintendo system. Mario Paint also included what seemed to be a rudimentary composing mechanism, which swapped musical notes for images of Nintendo characters. At the time the game was released, the composer was aimed at providing a soundtrack to animated shorts.
Like a lot of old video games, some ingenious people created a downloadable version of the Mario Paint composer. And over the last few years, immensely talented folks have used the program to compose covers of very popular songs.
True, Mario Paint's composer isn't as powerful as, say, the tools Harmonix provides to people who utilize its Rock Band Network. Heck, it's not even in the same ballpark as the create-your-own-song feature embedded in recent Guitar Hero games.
But Mario Paint compositions have become something of a cottage industry on YouTube. For instance, an ingenious composer created this version of "Over and Over" by Nelly and Tim McGraw:
And this rendition of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" has over 172,000 views on YouTube:
Somebody even managed to create a delightful version of "Still Alive," the Jonathan Coulton song that plays when somebody beats Portal:
There are some seemingly obvious theories about why people would go about the trouble of creating songs on Mario Paint. For one thing, the game was fairly popular in the 1990s and seems to hit twenty-somethings in the face with a big dose of nostalgia.
Whatever the rationale, showing off on Mario Paint is part of a proud "modding" subculture within music gaming. For years, people with programming skills uploaded custom Guitar Hero songs to YouTube. That tradition has continued with the Rock Band Network, as a number of people have uploaded videos of songs that may never be release in the Rock Band universe.
And while it's impressive to see what "Knights of Cydonia" would look like in the unlikely event it makes it to Rock Band 3, it's downright mind-boggling what people can do using icons of magic mushrooms and Shy Guys.
Just look what one fan did with Dragonforce's "Through the Fire and Flames," which has amassed a staggering 5.6 million views:
Truly staggering stuff for what's for all intents and purposes a Microsoft Paint clone.