Posts Tagged ‘Kenji Yamamoto’


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 ?


Metroid Prime 2 – “Torvus Bog” (arr. Metroid Metal)

October 16, 2010

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes has often been considered one of the black sheep in the series (no pun intended). A coupling of onerously long levels with forced backtracking through the dull environments of Dark Aether made for a game that, while featuring a strong atmosphere of decay and despair, lacked in the polished gameplay the series was known for. The game’s soundtrack was also mostly miss, with plenty of dull, atmospheric minimalist pieces for the Dark World and droning or whining pieces for Light Aether. However, some of these tracks, particularly “Torvus Bog“, have become favorites among mixers. The best of these is “Torvus Bog” by Metroid Metal.

Metroid Prime 2 – “Torvus Bog” (arr. Metroid Metal)

I have to say I am a sucker for Metroid Metal music – but that’s ok, considering their work is very good, in some places serving almost superior to the original. “Torvus Bog” is one of these cases; Grant Henry took Kenji Yamamoto’s original piece and picked up the tempo for a more active song with wailing, melancholic guitars that brood the vibes of the swamp (and again, it is this atmosphere that draws me so much to this arrange). Whereas the original piece contained atmosphere for the rain, swamp water, sloshing ground, and muck of the bog, the Metroid Metal rendition is energetic, forceful, immediately dumping you straight into the swamp. The drums keep time, sticks like a ticking clock, and the guitars sing their long notes that ooze through the speakers, immersing the space between in a melodic soup that seems to stretch beyond the boundaries of the walls. There’s a nice break at 2:44 and again at 3:19 of mostly new material that’s thematically linked to the rest of the song, the bass serving progressive four-note base. After this, the track presses onward with the final refrain, mournful wails on the guitar that build to an epic, drum-filled finale. This is awesome stuff and one of my favorite tracks that Metroid Metal has done.

DarkeSword (Shariq Ansari) has also made a notable “Torvus Bog” mix, “Torvus Clockwork“, which integrates the Submerged Temple theme with the Bog (and halfway through waterlike piano arrange of the “Main Theme”). There is an excellent layering of the different themes, supported by the ever-present industrial pounding and slurred hiss of the percussion. Definitely worth checking out, but doesn’t possess the sheer emotion I find behind Metroid Metal’s version.

Actually, there’s another awesome metal mix too, this time by Vangough (Clay Winthrow). “Torvus Bog” here is actually an arrange of both the “Title Theme” and “Torvus Bog” in one epic 7-minute song. Vangough is an expert guitarsman in the making, and mixes his work with pianos and synth choir. The melody of “Torvus Bog” is carried mainly by a whistling synth that sounds just like the one out of the game. As such, this arrange is more faithful to the original, retaining the haze and dampness of the original, but always supported by that epic guitar. I actually place it second to Metroid Metal’s version, though nothing to the detriment of Vangough’s work. The album is $10, and it’s a nice selection of some popular and rarely-heard themes. (Sorry man, I still owe you an album review, but I been helluva busy!).


Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – “Title Theme” (Kenji Yamamoto)

September 7, 2010

Because I like Metroid so much, here’s an encore piece, the “Title Theme” from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2008). An exceptionally epic piece, the theme sports a somber male choir supported by high sopranos to create a dynamic range that sounds almost lyrical. The choir is in turn supported by a sweeping drum like the crashing of ocean waves (0:29) and rattling snare taps that sound straight out from Terminator (0:50). This burst of emotion is accompanied by the flaming planet displayed on the title screen pictured below. This combination hits the heart and mind in all the right places, providing a somber memorial full of sadness, desperation, and the hope of forgiveness. The track builds to a climax at 1:08, breaking into strings dully thrumming the final notes of the original Metroid theme, a prelude through the depths of space. The track loops at 1:26. It is a truly sweeping prelude to the series finale that really demonstrates Kenji Yamamoto’s finest work.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – “Title Theme” (Kenji Yamamoto)

Metroid Metal produced an outstanding arrangement of the “Title Theme” that incorporated “Bryyo” as well. The piece opens with high-pitched guitar ambience, a slow fade like the sunrise before exploding into the opening section of the main theme at 1:41. Brooding, minor-key guitars emphasize the sadness and melancholy of the song, a theme that permeates the entire game. There’s a nice acoustic break and solo here at 3:30 that provides time for reflection and has some interesting guitar echoes at 4:30 that sound a bit like StarCraft. The track then transitions into the heavy bass of Bryyo with its heavy, tribal beat and exotic twang. At just over seven minutes, “Theme/Bryyo” is mighty epic. It saw a rework on Metroid Metal’s recently-released EP Expansion Pack with better recording quality, but minus the acoustic section.


Metroid Prime 2 – Echoes – “Title Theme” (Kenji Yamamoto)

September 3, 2010

In 2002, Metroid returned to the world of gaming with Metroid Prime, the debut title by Retro Studios. A master work for a company’s first game, Metroid Prime redefined not only the first-person genre but also brought the musical score of the series down a new path of electronica and X-Files-style whistling. The tracks are in some cases hit or miss, but the game’s sequel, Metroid Prime 2 – Echoes (2004), contained a title theme that solidified many of the traits found in the first game’s score while providing an emotional impact that has moved some fans to tears.

Metroid Prime 2 – Echoes – “Title Theme” (Kenji Yamamoto)

The “Title Theme” opens with atmospheric chirps and warbles before moving to the famous whistling notes of the Metroid Prime series main theme. 28 seconds in, a guitar is added, and from there, the track becomes even more brooding and introspective, its somber choir reciting the ballad of the echoes of a lost golden age.  The combination of whistling and choir builds to a crescendo at 1:53 before quickly fading again into atmosphere.

For all intents and purposes, the loop ends at about 2:00. However, for this version of the song from the Metroid Prime Trilogy music gallery, the ending has been modified for a longer fade and atmosphere. It’s actually quite fortunate that the Trilogy offered a remastered track as Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 had a horrible audio system that implemented clicks, pops, and reverbs into the music, producing unclean audio. For the Trilogy sound gallery, at least a few tracks were remastered to prevent these issues. Note that the clicks and pops had nothing to do with the composition but were instead a result of the audio engine. One game audio expert, Prime Blue, has managed to produce clean rips of Metroid Prime. He is currently finishing work on a clean rip of Metroid Prime 2, which will have all the audio errors fixed.


Super Metroid – “Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” (Kenji Yamamoto)

September 1, 2010

A second favorite Metroid song is the “Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” theme from Super Metroid. This track plays in Ridley’s hideout, deep beneath the surface of Zebes in the fiery depths of Norfair. Lower Norfair is boiling hot, with heat waves rising in the background amongst the cracked and burning statues of the Chozo. Why they decided to build a civilization down here is anyone’s guess, but it’s just a comfortable day for Ridley, the fire dragon that lives at its heart. “Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” takes on this feel of oppressive heat, but also the mystical lore of the warrior Chozo training for battle within the inferno. The war horn trumpets are oppressive, as is the booming beat of the drums and a choir that recalls “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. One of the final areas of the game, the theme also contains a hint of the last steps on the road to revenge – Samus has tracked down the Baby Metroid that was stolen by Ridley from the Space Colony to the dragon’s lair and has come to reclaim it.

Super Metroid – “Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” (Kenji Yamamoto)

This emotional impact is absent from Metroid Prime‘s “Lava Caves,” the volcanic underbelly of Tallon IV. “Lava Caves” is a remix of “Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” which was both a pleasant surprise for long-time Metroid fans and also something of a disappointment. The midi score simply lacks the booming, brooding impact of the original. Wooden sticks, muted trumpets, and cymbal crashes dominate this piece. Another arrangement of this version found its way into Metroid Prime Pinball.

“Norfair – Ancient Ruins Area” has seen its fair share of remixes from fans, too. Some outstanding notables are Adhesive Boy’s “Braving the Flames” from Relics of the Chozo with its choral line that seems to have been lifted from Ocarina of Time and industrial beat. Of course, Metroid Metal’s “Lower Norfair” mix is also pretty good, and as usual, the Varia Suite version is even better. Another excellent mix is Enki’s “Stygian Depths” from VGMix 1.0, which has sadly not gotten as much coverage as it should have. This orchestral medley is quite excellent, though I admit the introduction of Lower Norfair’s drums is a bit loud.


Super Metroid – “Theme of Super Metroid” (Kenji Yamamoto)

August 31, 2010

To celebrate the launch of Metroid: Other M, I’m running a week of Metroid remixes! First up is a perennial favorite, the “Theme of Super Metroid.” This amazing piece plays into the intro to the game when Samus narrates the story so far. The combination of pounding drums, heroic trumpet, and creepy choir sets the atmosphere perfectly for a series full of terrible monsters, epic battles underground, and biotech intrigue.  It really illustrates how much of a badass galactic warrior Samus is. Pay special attention to the drums at 0:44 and again at 1:40 – this section drops the accompanying instrumentation and relies solely on these pounding drums. You will definitely want to crank the subwoofer, as even from 1994, Super Metroid is one of the boomiest games out there. It was tracks like this which made Kenji Yamamoto famous and the official composer for the series up until Metroid: Other M.

Super Metroid – “Theme of Super Metroid” (Kenji Yamamoto)

The “Theme of Super Metroid” has appeared in more than a few games in the series, showing up in Metroid Prime 2 and 3 as well as a shortened version in Metroid: Other M. However, the arranges are where the track really shines, particularly Yoshiyuki and Masumi Ito’s “Theme of Super Metroid” arrange from Super Metroid “Sound in Action” (1994). The theme has a great trance element to it, with a synth bass that sounds like Batman, a synth choir, and dramatic strings instead of trumpets. And of course the drums are fantastic as well. Original material at the 2:10 mark with the choir fits perfectly with the rest of the theme, and the metal bars used for percussion fulfill the doomsday prophecy of the Metroids. Don’t forget the great echoing water drops at the 1:00 mark, too. Because the track is so awesome, it’s included here in FLAC format.

For another take, there’s Metroid Metal’s rock rendition. The “Prelude/Theme” played on guitars is wicked-cool. It’s got a smooth transition from the “Prelude” section to the “Theme” and in lieu of a choir, there are some high guitar whines; guitar also sounds perfect for the trumpet section. There’s an excellent combination of guitar and drumwork at 2:28, making it my favorite part of the song. Metroid Metal made an even better arrange on Varia Suite, which you can pick up for $8 from Bandcamp or Silent Uproar.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Becket007’s orchestral remix that sounds like it’s out of Robocop or Total Recall and Sam Dillard’s “Metroid Overture” which includes “The Destruction of the Space Colony,” the game’s title theme. Becket007’s arrange also includes this, but he ends it with the Mother Brain theme.


Punch-Out!! – Little Mac’s Confession (Rem. Game Over)

November 21, 2009

Here’s a great mix of the “Main Theme” from Punch-Out!! performed by Game Over. This is also the first track here with lyrics.

Nintendo Metal – “Little Mac’s Confession” (Game Over)

This is a 128kbps version of the track from Nintendo Metal (2002) that they uploaded to OverClocked ReMix. The original tune is from Punch-Out!! on the NES (1987) and arcade (1984). It was composed by Yukio Kaneoka, Akito Nakatsuka, and our familiar friend, Kenji Yamamoto. These guys did an excellent job of creating a really catchy melody. The track does an excellent job of capturing the glorified excitement of a good, clean boxing match. Give him the uppercut! The uppercut!!

Punch-Out!! is well known for its puzzle fighting gameplay and the cartoon character designs, which still have powerful emotional impact compared with a lot of the stuff made today. Read the rest of this entry ?


Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Metroid “Brinstar” (Kenji Yamamoto)

November 20, 2009

So as this is later than midnight where I am now, I technically missed my deadline, but it came from a great purpose (going to Child’s Play downtown, a charity event for donating games and money to needy children). As a result, I picked a track that I know very well and has been sitting on the backburner for awhile. Even though Metroid is my favorite game series out there, I’ve been patiently waiting for a good time to share some music from it. Now is better than any, so I give you the “Brinstar” theme from Metroid as played in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Actually, this is really the “Main Theme” theme in Brawl because for some odd reason the guys who named the soundtrack decided it would be a good idea to completely change the music titles from what they’ve been called for the past 20 years.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Metroid “Brinstar” (Kenji Yamamoto)

There are some really good renditions of “Brinstar”, but this is my favorite version (the mix from Metroid Metal – Varia Suite is a good second place winner and merely lacks the speed and energy I enjoy in Yamamoto’s mix). “Main Theme” is really energetic and the march-like nature perfectly captures the feel of boldly exploring the upper regions of Planet Zebes; this area is quite tame compared with the depths of the planet, and so the track is much more light and positive than later tracks. The high, quick notes of the second section of the song do a great job of replicating the feel of Samus’s spin jumps and the underlying drumbeat captures the rhythm of Samus’s footsteps. The Brawl version also has a great break into an 8-bit NES square wave section (complete with ‘game pause’ sfx). And, of course, the frills and accentuations on some of the guitar notes just go to show that Samus is a badass. Also, fantastic recording quality on the guitar.

Metroid (Famicom/NES, 1986) was originally composed by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka. Read the rest of this entry ?