Review Summary: This nostalgic soundtrack is nothing short of a landmark for video gaming music.Background Information:
This soundtrack was actually composed by a three-way collaboration consisting of David Wise, Robin Beanland, and Eveline Fischer (now Eveline Novakovic). David Wise was the sole member of the Rare’s music team up until this point. He is also the only member of the three still on Rare’s staff (to my knowleadge). Rare is a British video game company credited with the production of many big games such as the Donkey Kong series and Goldeneye. I know little of the other two composers, although I do know Robin Beanland went on to help create the outstanding soundtrack for the Nintendo 64 game Jet Force Gemini.
Before the gaming world was ruled by “massively multiplayer online role playing games” and “first person shooters”, video games took on a much simpler role. They often involved plumbers, hedgehogs, or apes doing nothing more than moving and jumping from side to side. Trace back to 94’ and you will recall a groundbreaking game for the Super Nintendo called Donkey Kong Country. As a four year old my time was spent between DKC and Super Mario World. But even to today, I still remember enjoying DKC more than anything else. And that was for one simple reason: The game’s superb soundtrack.
The soundtrack does an amazing job of accompanying the levels. Most of the tracks make extensive use of mallets and the pan flute to give it that world like feel. The underwater levels which use the track “Aquatic Ambience” feature very subtle but comforting keyboards while the factory levels use the track “Fear Factory” which is driven by a heavy synth pattern. I’m sure many people remember playing through that snow level for the first time and hearing that ferocious piano lick kick in just as the blizzard takes full effect. The music also uses many environmental sound effects to help make the levels feel more real. A trait that Dave Wise would become known for by the time Donkey Kong’s sequel came out. For example in “Cave Dweller’s Concert” you hear drops of water hitting the ground as you might if you were actually in a cave. Although you probably wouldn’t hear that.
As you listen to the album you will notice that many of the songs start off upbeat and then go off into some spacey ambient interlude. The technique is worked to near perfection on the game and it's the most important aspect of making this music what it is. This style is used in the first level’s song, “DK Island Swing”. The song begins with very percussive jungle (not “jungle”) like beat and then goes off into a very floaty and dark interlude. The whole soundtrack seems to be influenced a great deal by Tangerine Dream. In fact the main melody to the track “The Credits Concerto” sounds eerily similar the song Melrose by TD.
If there’s one problem to the album, it’s the same problem that plagues many other game soundtracks of that time and that’s the poor sound quality. The fact that it’s done completely electronically gives the game a fairly unrealistic sound compared to today’s music. Although I think it did a good job for 94’ it’s unlikely that you will fool anybody into thinking this isn’t from a game. Like I said it still was a big improvement over many of the previous games though. Too bad they didn’t put as much time into the sound quality as the do now with games. Personally I think the fact that it’s not perfectly done helps give the music some charm. Although I assume many people won’t. Another think I should mention is that the songs used for the Kong family (Kranky's theme, etc.) naturally take on a happier, less mature tone and therefore aren't as enjoyable to listen to outside of the game.
The truly astounding about this album is that I can so easily listen to it at anytime. It contains very soothing and atmospheric tracks and some very upbeat songs as well. It’s a very versatile album. It’s a great album to listen to while doing homework too. Any album that I can enjoy no matter the mood is a great album, and the fact that it come from a SNES game is all the more remarkable.