Posts Tagged ‘Donkey Kong’

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Donkey Kong Country Returns (Kenji Yamamoto)

November 26, 2010

While I haven’t had a chance to play through Donkey Kong Country Returns yet (looking really forward to getting a copy though!), I did get a chance to listen to the soundtrack. My conclusion is that it’s pretty much a split: half the music is good, half is disappointing. First off, the instrument selection has greater variety than the original (which has a bass static to it due to lower bitrate) and seems to have come straight from swank jungle-themed lounges (so far straight-on) with a nice infusion of ethnic sounds (chanting, for instance).  However, the synthetic instruments just don’t seem to have the punch they did in the originals, and I think part of this comes from the synth lines and instrument library. I’ve heard some people say Nintendo’s instrument library is a little bit dated, and maybe this is an indication of that. Also, Kenji Yamamoto’s compositions are lacking in the environmental sounds that characterized the David Wise’s Donkey Kong Country soundtrack (a major sticking point in my view). Yet another disappointment is most of the soundtrack is arranges of pieces from the original Donkey Kong Country, giving the game the soundtrack of a complete reboot.

Donkey Kong Country Returns – “Jungle Groove” (Kenji Yamamoto)

It all comes down to the composition though, and this is where I’m split. Take the new rendition of “Jungle Groove”. Mr. Yamamoto’s rendition is a bit more intense and lacks the environmental sounds of the original. There are some fun additions here, such as the digeridoo, but the synth line seems a little out of place. I think the real trouble is pieces like “Jungle Groove” have a long and storied history, with plenty of other remixes and arranges to compare. In this regard, it’s difficult to outdo the best of the past 15 years, especially when the feel of the tracks has changed. Without so much comparison, they would probably stand higher as original compositions.

Still, there are some fantastic arranges here though that outdo the originals. Take “Fear Factory”, for instance: Read the rest of this entry ?

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Donkey Kong Country 2 – “Haunted Chase” (David Wise)

October 21, 2010

Here’s a good way to kick off the Halloween season: ghost pirates. Because ghosts just don’t get much cooler than ghost pirates, especially the Pirates of the Caribbean and Kremling kind. So here we have “Haunted Chase”, one of the more ‘meh’ tracks from Donkey Kong Country 2, only it’s not really that awful because it has great build with the trumpets blaring the game’s pirate theme. Of course, what we really have to ask is what is a mine cart doing in a haunted house anyway? I mean, I could see it in a mine, but did the Kremlings really bother to build a rollercoaster inside a haunted house? It doesn’t even look like he’s trying to catch those monkeys, more like give ’em a high five. He’s just chillaxin’ really. Needs a sword or something. Anyway, this track really needs some lovin’ and that comes through two arranges: “Assembly Line Apparitions” by Protricity and “This Chase is Haunted” by Prince of Darkness.

Donkey Kong Country 2 – “Haunted Chase” (David Wise)

Assembly Line Apparitions” is what you would call ‘industrial rock’ – moniker coming from the heavy percussion which resembles clanging machines. As one of Protricity’s earlier mixes, this one isn’t as well focused, but it does have some nice layering, particularly with trumpet, which has a nice solo past the two-minute mark and pirate piano, which produces a nice atmosphere of skeletal cutthroats sneaking through the mists and shadows. And what pirate mix would be complete without some rock guitars, particularly with a nice solo just past the halfway point. Sadly, the track – just like most of Protricity’s work – feels like it goes on way too long (about a minute or two’s worth). While Protricity is no stranger to the short mix, his early work really starts to cut it.

Much better focused is “This Chase is Haunted” by Prince of Darkness (aka Tony Dickinson) of Contra 4: Rocked ‘n Loaded fame. Dickinson runs live guitar mixes and has been a regular in Dwelling of Duels. He demonstrates his superb guitar work here with intense smack-you-in-the-face-with-an-axe shredding that serves no purpose other than to beat you senseless with guitar madness. The rapidly twittering synth and guitar lines stand in for the clacking wheels of the mine cart. Oh yeah, there’s also some crazy synth just past the two minute mark and don’t forget to check out the cymbal hits past one minute in. Sadly, the piece lacks the screaming pirate melody seen in “Assembly Line Apparitions”, opting for a more subtle mix – though there are some pirate guitar lines at 0:45 and 2:40. The title seems something of a reference to the vgm cover band This Place is Haunted.

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Donkey Kong Country – “Aquatic Ambiance” (David Wise)

August 7, 2010

“Aquatic Ambience” is quite possibly David Wise’s masterpiece from Donkey Kong Country (1993).  It is the only song from a Western composer to be featured in the venerable Game Music Concert series (played very emotionally with strings, clarinet, and harp) and is by far the most heavily-remixed tune from the game (and I have at least a half-dozen others from vgmix 2.0! Sadly, none of the ones I have are terribly interesting). “Beneath the Surface” from Kong in Concert (2004) is one of the best with smooth sax, drums, and piano. Monkey Kong’s “Dolphin Ride” is also worth a listen, with a nice transition from calm to smooth rock and back. Now I’ve already posted a joke version of this song (actually, it was created using a game code so this is the actual engine producing it), but this here’s the real deal.

Donkey Kong Country – “Aquatic Ambiance” (David Wise)

The underwater levels are some of the most gorgeous in the game, with beautiful water layering effects over the game’s then-cutting-edge prerendered sprites that put the SNES graphic chip to good use. The original version of the song has a more mysterious tune than most of the excellent remixes out there, with a liquid synth-line rather than piano that sounds almost vocal. A coupling of long, exotic guitar notes with strings supports a lazy melody, with a glowing, wave-like quality and a synth line that just seems to take you by the hand through those blue depths (actually, it also plays in the polluted waters outside the BP plant). The woodblock percussion is added at just the right place – a cross between water drops and sonar blips. I especially like how the piano fades out into the guitar. The instruments and style of this song really define what the Donkey Kong Country series is all about.

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Donkey Kong Country – “Theme” (David Wise)

July 17, 2010

The “Theme” to Donkey Kong Country, while not one of the most memorable game tunes of all time, deserves a listen due to its history (and it’s actually kind of fun). The track is an arrangement of the “Title BGM” to the NES Donkey Kong by Yukio Kaneoka (Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, F-Zero). Even if players were unfamiliar with the NES version, they would make clear connections with the 8-bit opening, the arcade-era I-beams, and the old, grizzled monkey representing the last generation. David Wise thus successfully connected the original Donkey Kong with Rare’s reimagining of the classic, arranging Kaneoka’s theme to match (what was then) hip.

Donkey Kong Country – “Theme” (David Wise)

In the intro, Cranky Kong (the big ape from the original Donkey Kong) is playing his music on an old record player when suddenly, his nephew, that poser, Donkey Kong, leaps from the top of the screen carrying a massive boom box that smashes Cranky’s world into smithereens. Diegetic and non-diegetic music cleverly mix because while the music appears to be coming from Cranky’s record player and Donkey Kong’s boom box, the music is simultaneously illustrating the events of the scene (we can’t really believe that a record player sounds like an NES, can we?).

Incidentally, this concept of record player as analogous with 8-bit sound was repeated in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia when players collect records containing 8-bit music from the original Castlevania. Toy Soldiers, on the other hand, for XBLA, uses audio filtering that sounds like the music really IS coming over an old record player or radio.

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Donkey Kong (Amiga) – “Bonus Stage” (Christian Blaha)

July 1, 2010

Admittedly, the background ‘music’ to the extra stage in Donkey Kong on the Amiga (1993) is pretty awful – let me just put that out up front. While the track follows the mix and DJ scene of the early 90s and integrates game sound effects with the beat (that crying is the Game Over SFX), it’s not really that interesting. In fact, most of the work of Chistian Blaha (aka The Fox) seems to be straight-up ports of existing songs (the soundtracks to Donkey Kong and Frantic Freddy/Fast Eddie). As a result, the song is really more important for its context rather than its composition.

Donkey Kong (Arcade) – “Bonus Stage” (Christian Blaha)

Back in 1993, a shareware company called Bignonia ported Donkey Kong from the Commodore 64 to the Amiga. The final product closely resembled the arcade original in terms of graphics and levels (it includes the elusive pie factory stage). While the game is missing the between-level “How High Can You Go?” screens, it did add an extra stage that seemed to make some decent use out of the game physics. It also included this mix track that in some ways prefigures Hirokazu Tanaka’s better version from Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Anyway, this video includes a full playthrough. This was pretty cool at the time because it was not until Donkey Kong 64 that it was possible to play the complete version of the arcade original on a home console. You see, there were many perks to owning an Amiga!

There is, however, one good original piece in the game, and that is the ‘cracktro’ screen that plays when the game loads. It creates a C64-esque chiptune aesthetic, which makes sense given the game’s context as a port. Nice bass feels a little Donkey Kong-esque.

Donkey Kong (Amiga) – “Cracktro” (Christian Blaha)

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Super Smash Bros. Brawl – “Donkey Kong” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

June 21, 2010

For Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008), Hip Tanaka produced what might be the ultimate Donkey Kong arcade mix: using two decades’ worth of honed composition and DJ mixing skills that can be seen as far back as Metroid (1986), Tanaka revisits his first major composition, the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game with a mix of old and new sounds. He seamlessly mixes, distorts, mangles, and remixes both music and sfx with modern synth lines and guitars to create a piece that sounds like a deteriorated but still functioning rom looks. All that was old is Hip again. While there is no distinct melody, Tanaka manages to string each section of the song together through tone and beat, ensuring the piece remains whole.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl – “Donkey Kong” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

Before composing the “Donkey Kong” mix, Tanaka had been keeping low-key. While it was thought that Mr. Tanaka was gone from music for good after becoming president of Creatures, Inc, he was only hiding, producing in 2003 “Saffron ’97” for the EXTRA concert (2007) and most recently mixing it up with Kyoto star DJ, Baiyon (Pixeljunk Eden).

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Donkey Kong Country – “Aquatic Ambience” (David Wise)

April 2, 2010

The most prestigious track from Donkey Kong Country, “Aquatic Ambience” captures the calm and serenity of underwater ocean currents in pristine coral reefs. The calming melody can help you drift off to sleep in warm ocean waves. “Aquatic Ambience” has been remixed dozens of times, but this original rendition by David Wise’s Monkey Choir is by far the best. This was the one song by an American composer that was picked for orchestration in the Game Music Concert series. But just how can those apes hold their breaths for so long?

Donkey Kong Country – Aquatic Amience (David Wise’s Monkey Choir)

David Wise’s work was previously featured in the impeccable “Jungle Groove“, the Donkey Kong Country main theme. Here is the full soundtrack for your listening pleasure. You will need to download an SPC Player for it if you haven’t already (I recommend Winamp on PC and Cog on Mac. Even though this is a blatant lie, Linux should have it as native support). This game is fun to play, but you can have more fun with this pro action replay code: 7E001011.