Donkey Kong 64 Official Soundtrack
Donkey Kong 64 Official Soundtrack
Nintendo of America
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Many Nintendo 64 gamers spent countless hours playing Donkey Kong 64 around the turn of the century. The game was a significant departure for the series since it offered expansive 3D levels similar to Banjo-Kazooie instead of the 2D platforming of the Donkey Kong Country series. The composers Grant Kirkhope and Eveline Novakovic ensured that the series’ characteristic melodiousness and diversity was kept alive. However, they also carefully adapted to the new gameplay by offering multiple variations of each level theme that varied according to the environment. It was a challenge to select the tonne of tracks from the original score into a single one disc soundtrack release. The Donkey Kong 64 Official Soundtrack and Donkey Kong 64 Soundtrack CD were two commercial releases featuring identical music that attempted to achieve this.
The soundtrack is opened by the infamous “DK Rap”. Opinions were initially mixed about this track, some finding it a fun accompaniment to the title screen and yet more people finding it an abomination to rap music. One good thing about the rap is how each verse is dedicated to one of the five characters of the game and even features accompaniment by each of their instruments. This works amusingly with the visuals and helps to establish their personalities from the outset. However, the lyrics are so cringe-worthy ten years on with lines such as “He’s finally back to kick some tail” even winning dubious awards. Many will want to skip this one, although revisiting it is bound to bring back strong memories. Subsequently the relaxing flute-based theme for “DK Island” nicely establishes a worldly feel for the game. The other iconic theme on the soundtrack is the enjoyable arrangement of the Donkey Kong Country main theme for the “Jungle Japes” level. A synthesized big band provides a jazzy take on the melody while boisterous percussion and animal sound effects bring the jungle to life.
The various worlds for the game are each portrayed by a fitting and memorable theme. “Angry Aztec”, for example, features intricately shaped melodies and distinctive instrumentation stereotypical of ancient civilizations and accessible to people of all ages. “Frantic Factory” meanwhile gives a sinister image of clockwork toys coming alive with a focus on tuned percussion, metronomic features, and pseudo-horror passages. However, it’s definitely “Creepy Castle” that contains the most horror parodies with its organ backing and haunting laughs, though Kirkhope’s characteristic light-hearted lyricism remains as prominent as ever. “Gloomy Galleon” deviates a little by predominantly focusing on the miserable ambient sections at the start of the piece, although there are more colourful and nautical passages later on. Other additions include a Banjo-Kazooie influenced dance to portray “Fungi Forest” during the daytime and a beautiful depiction of the “Crystal Caves” with pizzicato strings and tuned percussion. In the game, each theme is arranged multiple times in simple ways to represent the changing environments, though the soundtrack appropriately focuses on just the original theme.
The rest of the soundtrack features the various action and event themes from the game. The boss themes featured for the Angry Aztec, Gloomy Galleon, and Fungi Forest tend to be fast-paced orchestral variations on the level themes. They can be generic on a stand-alone basis, though they’re very effective in the game and occasionally showcase orchestral brilliance during their development. Most of the other themes expected from the game are also present, such as racing mine cart track, the jazz-influenced Candy’s tune, or the unforgettable jingles to portray Cranky and Funky. The cheesy themes to represent the antagonist King K. Rool’s mad experiments are not present on this particular release. However, the final dungeon theme “Hideout Helm” fortunately made it and is a surprisingly compelling action track, reminiscent of Kirkhope’s work on Perfect Dark. The composer blends influences from movie soundtracks and RPG last dungeon themes to create a slow-building percussive work eventually featuring even some unresolved dabs of the “DK Island”. Perhaps disappointingly, the reasonable final boss and ending themes were also discluded from this release. Perhaps only so much could fit on one CD.
The Donkey Kong 64 soundtrack was certainly a good effort within the game. The various levels were portrayed with appropriate and catchy themes, though also sustained extended gameplay due to the interactive arrangements, while the boss and character themes were also convincing in context. On a stand-alone level, the melodic charms and intricate developments of the level themes still comes across despite the absence of the interactive feature. The rest of the soundtrack feels supplementary but is enjoyable enough. Despite a few absences, the Donkey Kong 64 Official Soundtrack and Donkey Kong 64 Soundtrack CD are the best presented soundtrack releases for the game and should bring back a lot of good memories for those who played the game. They’re both now difficult to buy new, but are readily available second hand.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.