Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No.2: ~Magnus's Theme~ (Kid Icarus: Uprising)

Magnus's Theme

Origin: Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS, 2012)
Composer: Yuzo Koshiro
Plays in: Chapters 2 and 18 of Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Status: Original Composition/Orchestrated

Analysis: Kid Icarus: Uprising becomes a year old this Saturday! My, how time flies. Seems just like yesterday Masahiro Sakurai was sharing info on the game through Twitter...

What's Kid Icarus: Uprising, you ask? Why, it's only the best game of 2012! Hyperbole? Perhaps, but it's not every day you encounter a game where you can gleefully pull the menu buttons with a stylus or get acquainted with a protagonist with a penchant for floor ice cream. That it's not only a revival of the 1987 NES game Kid Icarus but also helmed by Kirby/Smash Bros. Masahiro Sakurai only sweetens the deal, particularly in the case of the latter since he has the amazing tradition of cramming as much shit as possible in his works (of which occasionally includes pictures of his cat).

Ah, but if I love it so much, why was there no review? Well, there was the whole absence thing, and uh...yeah. But no time like the present! Rest assured, my love of the game knows no bounds. While unfortunately I haven't been able to invest into its absurdly deep weapon/multiplayer system as much as I'd like, lord knows how many times I've replayed the story mode chapters and still laughed at the (wonderfully absurd!) dialogue. That, or the amount of idols I've collected. Or the powers I earned. Or how many achievements I still have to crack. Or just...lord, just about everything

Especially the music.

Good god, the music.

Scream your criticisms at the game all you want, whether it be about the controls or how the dialogue wasn't your cup of tea, but the quality of the soundtrack stood far and above just about everything else released last year. While Sakurai opted out of an overly serious storyline to properly channel the original game's tongue-in-cheek tone, the score complimented the chaotic on-screen action with a sweeping epic orchestra that, like Kirby, is flexible enough to transition from Fantasy/Renaissance influences to pervasive touches of Celtic and Sci-Fi. Why, I loved it so much I even bought the official soundtrack with all it's lovely insert artwork.

So which one is my favorite of the bunch? Obviously, the one I picked! Our first character theme for the column, Magnus's Theme plays only twice in the game, first appearing when main hero/angel Pit storms Dark Lord Gaol's castle and finds that a sole human has breached through the castle's defenses: Magnus, the strongest human warrior in the world. A side character who lends an occasional helping hand to Pit, he opposes the Underworld Army as a way both to make end's meet and seek vengeance for the loss of a loved one. The theme trumpets its way back much later in the game, when Magnus reappears in a time where the balance of gods and goddesses have gone awry, and he assists a stupefied Pit in making his first steps to setting things right.

The description above makes it clear what the theme represents: A celebration of triumph and heroics, with adventure and tragedy laced throughout. Magnus is not the most elaborated character within the game, but his theme fills in the blanks. We can grasp that the character has amassed a collection of legendary achievements under his belt, forging friendships with unforgettable companions.Underneath his fame and rugged exterior, however, lies the tragic past that serves as his reason to fight.

I firmly believe that, without a doubt, some of the best examples of game music are the kind that grant you empowerment. It's not just the songs that promfoe that feeling; rather, it's their accompaniment of moments of actual triumph or when in control of an overwhelming power. It's there when you're taking down the larger-than-life colossi in Shadow of the Colossus. It's there when you don the Wing Cap in Super Mario 64. It's there throughout the entirety of Gusty Garden Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy. It's there with Magnus's Theme as well, though it has more to do with the song's second appearance (the exact context of which I shall not spoil). It's no coincidence that times like these are synonymous with the most memorable moments in gaming, and only through the masterful combination of music and gameplay can it be executed.

And it works outside of the game, too! Try putting this song on your iPod, go for a jog in the woods when you have some alone time, and watch the magic happen. Typically, empowerment game music focuses on one subject, but Magnus's Theme is unique in that it segues through the defining characteristics of what constitutes the character it represents: Achievement, fame, companionship, tragedy, and rising up in the midst of all these factors to overcome what impedes our way.

When applied to the journeys and hardships of the listener, it provides for an inspiring parallel.

Honestly, I'm surprised I love it so much given that, unlike everyone else, I'm not that crazy about Yuzo Koshiro's compositions. While the tracks I've previewed from Actraiser and Streets of Rage (games I have, unfortunately, yet to play) sound rather lovely, I've deduced that the eardrum-raking torture that is Beyond Oasis's score is the primary reason why I refuse to go back and play it. That, and it took me quite some time to appreciate what he was trying to accomplish with the Norfair arrangement in Super Smash Bros. Brawl

All that aside, Koshiro contributed some astounding tracks for Kid Icarus: Uprising (the game's soundtrack was a collaboration of several composers, of which included the likes of Motoi Sakuraba and Yasunori Mitsuda). Putting Magnus's Theme away for the moment, the other songs he provide more depictions of Greek fantasy and Sci-Fi bombast, and it's hard to pick a second favorite. Be sure to check out the Viridi Menu, pretty much everything from the Wrath of the Reset Bomb chapter, and the themes for The Aurum and Pyhhron.

Kid Icarus: Uprising's soundtrack is an extraordinary accomplishment in orchestration and arrangement, and it's sad that the negative stigma regarding the game's controls have downplayed interest in both the game's music and Uprising itself (as is the sad case following pretty much every Sakurai game post-Smash Bros. Melee). The game isn't perfect: The story, while remaining wholly entertaining for what it is, has a habit of getting distracted in world-building instead of building up to its main directives and leaves certain factors to languish (namely regarding the actions of the game's true villain and, unfortunately, Magnus himself), and I guess there must some problems with the controls if people's hands are getting cramped. Strip away all, however, and you have a wonderful game bursting with character and a delicious soundtrack.

I mean, really. The second time Magnus's Theme appears is just about one of the best things ever.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 1~ Introduction, Dreams of a Young Child, and Honoring Memory

Once, ten years ago, maybe eleven, I was a dreamer.

I dreamed of the sunbaked Japanese countryside, unmarred by the absence of mankind. What was alien to a diminutive explorer revealed a natural beauty of wildlife and the unknown. Despite the imposing time limit placed upon me, the bliss I felt rendered it a minor triviality. Frivolous, adorable creatures of unfamiliar origin accompanied me into gorgeous forests and lakes, the dangers and horrors of survival peppered with languid pleasures (that is, drinking nectar) and the satisfaction of hard work. It was abnormality and love combined in a dreamy package.

I dreamed of the Amazon rainforest, resting majestically below the inter-dimensional battleground. I'd abandon the melee and dive into euphoria. Upon landfall, I'd sprint. Faster and faster, I'd keep going, feeling the adrenaline invading my senses and coursing through my veins. Everything I'd ever done was meant for this moment, this solitary marathon within the mysterious jungle. The faster I went, the more I witnessed and absorbed what was around me. Beautiful rivers and streams were scattered across the landscape, the twisting limbs of gigantic trees paved the roads, and there I was perched on the cliff, overlooking it all.

I dreamed of a world that wasn't quite mine, but was made just for me. I was instantly crafted into a young hero, chosen to save the world from an alien threat. I also had psychic powers. And fought evil hippies. The police force thought that kicked ass so they challenged me to a fight. Can you also believe Mr. T was in there? I also bought the world's greatest ruler. There's an evil, sentient piece of barf that grants life to zombies. That fat bully living next door suddenly became an antagonist. My traveling party consisted of my girlfriend, some nerd who used bazookas, and The Karate Kid. It was simultaneously hysterical and awesome at the same time. It was so natural to me, and that's why I was the boy in the red cap.

It was beautiful too, though. The musty scent of yesteryear fills every corner. People on online message boards chuckle and shake their heads at the numerous Beatles references and wistfully sigh about how wonderful it is to wear that red cap. You're in forth grade and everyone else your age is totally absorbed into Xbox and sports and trashy live-action TV, yet here you are engaging in something well beyond your years. You're comprehending nostalgia at such a young age. It's there when you're visiting the preschool talking to your girlfriend's mother, and the music's trumpeting as she's joyfully discussing how wonderful her daughter is. It's there when the nerd wakes up in the middle of the night as his boarding school, walking past a clique of fellow students discussing the fabled lake monster much like those guys online. It's there when you're riding the bicycle, it's there when you come across the tiny house south of the second town. It's there when you visit home and your mom feeds you cookies, the slightest of choirs playing as you scoot up to bed. I was still the boy in the red cap, but I was an observer, too.

What about you? What did you dream of? What were you doing ten years ago, maybe eleven? Were you young, or were you getting up in your years? What was happening in your life? Was life hardened by the realities of the adult world, or was it easy and carefree? Whatever the circumstances, did you dream? What did you dream of?

What was your definition of dreaming? What do you define it as now?

One can be quick to point out that such a question has absolutely nothing to do with video games, and they'd probably be right. But for me, it meant everything. Unbeknownst to everyone who knew me, I became a romantic at the age of ten. This secret had been fostered under my curious watch into something that resembled obsession, and it rapidly began to engulf my heart with a warm, intoxicating bliss.

Fun is something that you experience, something that pervades your brain with giddiness and swells up in your cheekbones. You're screaming and you're laughing, having a wild time. This feeling was different.  I still remember the way it feels. You're quiet and composed, absorbing the impossible transpiring in front of you. Your eyes glaze over as the feeling courses through your veins, relaxing your muscles. Your grip on the controller fades away as you're spirited away into your new favorite playground. It is always warm, yet always awes through the repeated surges of rapture assaulting your heart. It can take seconds. It can take minutes. It's never too long. Then you're there. The release of a blissful sigh signals your arrival. Where you end up, be it a lovely forest or endless oceans or the bluest of skies, doesn't matter. You're at paradise. Suddenly, gaming was tangible.

Maybe it didn't seem that way to those who watched me play games. It probably didn't. Maybe those who know me don't believe me. They're probably shouting at their monitors, "Anthony, what the hell? You're spouting bullshit and you know it! I remember you being a hyper, crazy-ass kid who raved about zombie men and there's no way this mystical mumbo jumbo happened to you" They're half-right; I was that kid too, after all. Maybe they didn't look close enough. They'd would've needed to look at my eyes. Half-lidded, cavernous in depth. Filled with adoration, induced into a hypnosis only applicable to small children.

Funny I mention "small children", since these reveries kept me captive. When you mature, things change. The reveries grow more rusty, refuse to be conjured up as easily. You feel something slipping, sense something's crumbling around you, but you can't grasp it. Then you slip.You're suddenly thrusted from an idyllic world into one where all the world's horrors make themselves known to you, having been previously been masked by the joys of childhood. As these repeatedly batter your heart, you're gradually hardened into the mold of an adult, the core essence of childhood pleasures gone forever as you're expected to conform to the never-ending work chain of the adult world.

Maybe this didn't happen to you. Some people don't go through this process at all,  transitioning into their teenage years as they shrug off their past self without a hitch. Not me. I perceived nearly every form of "joining the crowd", so to speak, as a violation of what I had once held sacred. I didn't want to grow up and conform; I wanted to be me. I wanted to satisfy my own goals, what actually interested me. I saw no point in chasing after girls who babbled on endlessly in the hallways, and I did not see the appeal of abusing substances that the D.A.R.E officers warned me a hundred times over not to use. I did not want to be the thick-headed jock, not concerned with his grades and only focused on what I perceived to be a mindless sport. I did not want to be the tattooed bearded chain-smoker out with his girlfriend, parked god knows where in his trashy car while whispering cheap sweet nothings into her ear.

Maybe I'm just stereotyping. Yet whenever I attempted to mingle, my ten-year old consciousness would  yank me back, saying "This isn't your place." Maybe he was right. By the time high school rolled around, I'd completely lost any sense of proper social interaction and pretty much did/said whatever I wanted. Acting upon my insecurities, I took the only fraction of my personality accepted by my peers--that is, my buffoonish sense of humor--and watched as it bled into my psyche. With my reputation ruined by everyone dismissing me as an autistic goofball, I slinked back in my bubble and tried, in vain, to put the pieces back together.

Being a teenager was hell, but I'm not completely fucking stupid anymore and I'm no longer under the impression that I'm some hotshot who's too good for anyone either. If anything, I'm still that little kid. I'm twenty-one years old now, and I'm still that same person. I'm an incredibly picky eater. I'm not interested in politics. Religion is hard for me to grasp. Dating both confuses and scares me. Talking to people is difficult. I value being alone. I'm as far removed from reality as you can get. Well, maybe not, but by social standards, I'm kinda a failure. And yet here's the kicker: despite all that, people still love me. People think I'm funny, that I'm a terrific writer and I possess insight well beyond my years. People like me.

Does that mean it's okay to be like this? I dunno, clearly there's more important things for a young adult to do then play Nintendo and read Japanese comic books, but what can I do? I'm solitary, but I'm still bubbly and full of life. I don't have too many friends, but they're all people I trust and people who respect me. I can't achieve the full level of reverie as I did when I was a boy, but I can still grasp some of it. And for a world-weary college student who feels like he's lived forever, I'm okay with that.

I was taught by a jubilant, slightly overweight plumber to endure the hardships of life with laughter and joy in every step. I followed the example of pre-teen boys setting out on adventures to collect monsters to cherish what I have around me. I learned from young boys and men garbed in green to face my fears. And I was reminded from children wielding psychic powers that it's okay to be different. Maybe in the grand scheme of things video games don't accomplish anything, but they've taught me how to live. A slightly warped sense of living, mind you, but one where I can properly distinguish from good and bad, make responsible choices on my own, and how to properly appreciate life.

It should be no surprise, then, that a pink puffball with a hungry appetite taught me how to dream.


In the snowy euphoria of December 2001, I came across Kirby's Adventure during an age of Nickelodeon, Super Smash Bros. Melee and online sprite comics. It was love at first sight. The NES title crafted a perfect balance for young children; levels were quick and breezy, but imposing bosses stood in the way with erratic attack patterns. The presence of Kirby's Copy Ability, in which he swallows enemies whole and steals their powers, introduced a huge variety of abilities to fool around with and were immensely fun to pull off. Whole levels were constructed entirely around his arsenal of powers. The flexible soundtrack was often presented in that jolly, bouncy tone Kirby would never be caught dead without, yet occasionally dipped into the dreamy hypnosis I had grown to adore.

What was truly amazing about my then-newfound love for the series was that I never once struggled with the possibility that maybe I was too old for it. The Gamecube launch was where the condescending "Nintendo is kiddie" label was at its most venomous, and it was a concept I struggled comprehending as I scanned various online message boards. Upon retrospect, I never saw Kirby cited as a reason for Nintendo's downfall into the preschool crowd, which is amazing considering that the series' cast, which includes gumballs and hamsters and penguins, spend their time prancing around in what's essentially the video game version of the Candy Land board game.

Some feel Kirby games are too shallow, too skewed towards the younger audience. There's no heart-stopping precision of jumps as found in Mario, or the gradual absorption of the fictional world that snares Zelda fans. The games are not about you becoming a badass, as is the objective in Metroid. No meticulous raising of monsters or troops like Pokemon or Fire Emblem.

What is the appeal, then? It can all be answered with a simple question: Do you like sweets?

Of course you do, don't try to hide it. The greatest strength of Kirby lies in its unabashed identity as a full-blown sugar rush. Upon being assaulted with rainbows of colors and cheery music, the player is immediately forced, often with the barest of introductions, into bare-bone levels with one sole objective: To eat everything in sight. You see, Kirby doles out his method of justice through his voracious appetite, and all agents of evil must be swallowed to quell his hunger. The first game, Kirby's Dream Land for the Game Boy, presents this odd mechanic in its most basic form. The majority of the game is spent simply swallowing bad guys and spitting projectiles, occasionally with random helpings of superspicy curry and ear-splitting microphones.

 It wasn't until Kirby's Adventure's release a year later on the NES where the series discovered its staple formula: Instead of simply devouring his foes, Kirby "copies" their powers and can wreak havoc with them at will. He can blow fire, wield a sword, conjure up beams and lasers, protrude spikes, and even turn into a UFO. This unique ability gradually evolves throughout the series' progress, ranging from the producers simply producing new powers (German Suplexes) to the puffball wearing appropriate 'costumes" for each ability (An Indiana Jones styled hat for the Whip) to even combining powers (Kirby 64's idea for Spark and Ice? Turn into a fridge).

It goes without saying the games know how addictive this is, and rightfully structure their levels as to appeal to his hunger, serving as testing grounds for his new toys. It's a far cry from the fast-paced adventures of Super Mario and Donkey Kong Country, which both forcefully grab the player's full attention through well-timed jumps, time limits, and devious enemy placements. Kirby wants to get to know the player. He wants to introduce himself to the young child who's never once picked up the controller, the hardened teenage gaming veteran who desires a challenge, and the father who's willing to humor his son by playing his silly video games. He wants you to take your time. Or maybe, I dunno, blaze through the whole thing. Whatever's good for you is good enough for him.

 Creator Masahiro Sakurai's decision to implement Kirby's transformation ability into Kirby's Adventure granted the series an identity, what with the character's round shape and transformative prowess rendering him instantly malleable; this way, he's able to fit into practically any genre of gaming without trouble. However, what ultimately saved the series is the way it appeals to everyone. Super Mario and Donkey Kong can't afford much room for such a design outside of a cheat button, yet Kirby is different. The games are deceptively simple, with the main campaigns offering little resistance thanks to a collection of abusable superpowers. Strip away Kirby's candy coating, though, and there's a host of challenges to be found. Hidden switches and rewards tucked away in hidden corners, rage-inducing extra challenges and time trials not meant for the weak of heart, and a more difficult version of the main adventure. With the addictive nature of his transformations in tow, Kirby games naturally pave the way for replayability. Critics appreciate the wealth of content and innovation, long-time fans get their annual sugar rush, and kids eat it all up.

Kirby games are fun to play. This much is obvious, but what's wonderful about the games is that they recall us to a much simpler time. In an industry full of ambitious graphical engines, fabricated worlds of sprawling size, and interactive motion control, we still have room for something that just wants to be our friend. I'll never forget that moment when I was playing through 2011's Return to Dream Land and realized that, holy shit, I'm essentially playing a game made in 1996. And it still kicks ass! I'm a grown man about to reach his 20s and I'm still being charmed by an adorable pink puff and some fat penguin and a stubby masked guy who is a badass despite being nearly all head. To me, a Kirby game is that one time of the year where I can just kick any responsibilities to the curb and just be a kid again.

Then there was the euphoria.

I still remember. I remember the starry luminous skies of the Rainbow Resort in Kirby's Adventure eliciting memories of when I was very young, strapped in the car's backseat as I stared in silent wonder at the luminous neon lights passing by. I remember watching the credits from Kirby Super Star, envisioning myself as a young boy who completed the game upon it's release back in 1996. The powerful music was embracing him in a dreamy reverie as he observed the blue sky outside his window, becoming lost in those roaming clouds. I remember the soundtrack to Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, sighing in bliss as I drowned out the outside world and stepped into the dream world made just for me. I remember being in amazement at the crayon-drawn realm of Kirby's Dream Land 3. The Tolkein-inspired fantasies of Kirby Air Ride. The rainbow constellations in the night skies of Kirby Super Star. All of it made me sigh.

I remember.

Kirby was something special for me as a child. I always point to Smash Bros. Melee and Earthbound as being the ultimate gaming cornerstones of my youth, but this was different. I wasn't playing Kirby games just have to have fun with them: I was playing them to feel. Actually, on second thought, Earthbound was kinda the same thing, but Kirby represented the heart of my newfound reveries. What exactly was it, though? I could point to many ideas such as a premature awakening, but I don't want to come off as pretentious; in fact, it was constructed of a rather innocent fabric. Often I imagined adventures within the reveries that featured the source's characters, of whom typically spent their time engaging in Spongebob/Dragon Ball-esque antics. Nonetheless, they were rendered beautiful by that tinge of wistful airiness that I had dubbed "nostalgia."

This nostalgia took on many forms, but always remain centered on that feeling. Yet how does a child induce it? Play a video game that focuses on the fantastic, the impossible. It doesn't matter whether the landscape is presented with 8-bit graphics or 3D technology; as long as it produces a dreamy, abstract sense of place, or illustrates a silent, isolated quality, and even if it produces the slightest scent of yesteryear, you're there.I f the music is of an orchestral celebration or a reflective lullaby, you'll have icing on the cake. It can be maintained for as long as you want, though it's incredibly easy to be absorbed for hours. And depending on how far you're willing to take your imagination, those are all only the tip of the iceberg.

Kirby had this in spades. Whether it was Dream Land 3's mysterious island home in Ripple Fields, the trumpeting of the Fountain of Dreams theme, or the soothing save huts in Kirby Super Star surrounded by field of sparkling crystals, I was there. I treasured all of it more than the rain forest, the Japanese countryside, and the cozy American towns I may have once traversed. Kirby games have the advantage of immediately grabbing the player in a sugar-happy state of mind, and I was always instantly transported into their embrace. I was always in awe, always doozy, always enraptured. For a fictional world by the name of Dream Land, it was aptly suitable. You can be there. Kirby can be there. His friends will be there. And he will always smile.

Within a month after discovering his NES title, I was his biggest fan. Right then, all the pieces fell into place. An upcoming Kirby for the Game Boy Advance title slated for release that year ended up being a remake of Kirby's Adventure, an unannounced factor that I caught on to before most. The anime cartoon that had begun airing the year before was making its way to American shores, which was to be accompanied by an intense marketing blitz for the character that never came to fruition. Melee's representation of the franchise continued to serve as dream-come-true outlet thanks to its status as a Nintendo all-star crossover (AND DAT MUSIC). It was an age of Gamecube and Super Fudge and webcomics and games in the basement and everything else I took for granted. It was an age where even if I felt oppressed I could always count on the smile of a pink puffball to take me anywhere.

More than ten years after all that, he's still smiling for me. Last fall came with the arrival of Kirby's Dream Collection, a special Wii package meant to celebrate twenty years of Kirby. Six beloved classic Kirby games are included. A dreamy arrangement of the Bubbly Clouds stage theme plays in the main menu. There is an in-game timeline of his history. Challenge stages based on the ones in Return to Dream Land. A booklet full of development sketches and information for every Kirby game released.

Ten years later. It's too much of a coincidence to be true.

I don't really sigh so much anymore. As I grew older, it's faded with the loss of childhood. But I can still feel the nostalgia trumpeting ever so slightly within. Sometimes it's strong, other times it's weak. It never quite reaches the level it did back then, what with the loss of innocence and all. But I still enjoy things, and I can still laugh, and I appreciate what I have around me. So long as I have all that, I'm okay.

I still play Kirby games. No matter how much the meaning of his smile changes with time, I never feel too old. Throughout the fall and well into winter, I played through just about every main Kirby game. The reveries came and went, literal ghosts of their former selves that stopped by and said hi. They never stayed for too long, but that was alright, too. The fact that they came is proof enough for me that I went through wasn't a dream. It really happened.

I'd like to do something to commemorate all that.

Beginning this month, I'll be kicking off the Ten Years of Kirby column, where I will be discussing every mainline Kirby game at length, as well as the Kirby Air Ride racing Gamecube title and the Kirby of the Stars/Right Back at Ya! cartoon. Whether it be the enticing reveries now long gone, nostalgic qualities that still resonate, or how the games still hold up in sheer fun, it will all boil down to a comprehensive collection that will include the following:

-Youtube videos featuring the series' best music abound!
-A healthy mixture of embarrassing and touching memories abound.
-A 50/50 perspective on both the Japanese/American versions of the cartoon show.
-How much I fucking love that Nightmare in Dream Land commercial. 
-How Kirby Air Ride, despite it's low marks by critics, is actually pretty much the greatest thing ever.
-Actually, on second thought, maybe Kirby Super Star is a little better. NEVER TO BE TOPPED.
-The one Kirby game that, until recently, I never actually liked much.
-...and the one that, upon replaying recently, was sorta a failure.
-And, of course, Angry Kirby.

For reference, this entirety of the column will include:

Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy, 1992)
Kirby's Adventure (NES, 1993)
Kirby's Dream Land 2 (Game Boy, 1995)
Kirby Super Star (Super Nintendo, 1996. May or may not be delayed for dramatic effect)
Kirby's Dream Land 3 (Super Nintendo, 1997)
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
Kirby of the Stars/Right Back at Ya! (TV, 2001/2002)
Kirby Air Ride (Gamecube, 2003)
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror (Game Boy Advance, 2004)
Kirby: Canvas Curse (DS, 2005)
Kirby: Squeak Squad (DS, 2006)
Kirby Super Star Ultra (DS, 2008. May or may not also be delayed for dramatic effect)
Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii, 2011)
Kirby Mass Attack (DS, 2011)
Kirby's Return to Dream Land (Wii, 2011)

My goodness, I'll be quite busy this year.

In any case: to any ten year olds out there that happen to be reading this: If I anything I said in this post identified with you, this whole thing dedicated to you. Yeah, you. I know who you are. Don't worry, you're not alone.

Yikes! Late again. Well, hey, five days is better than seven. I'm slowly getting there. Remember: baby steps.

See you soon!

Friday, March 8, 2013


Ah, the days where I forget to take my daily anxiety pills! Always kicks in when I just realize I've head's spinning. I'll make this one quick.

A bit late with this post, but I only wanted to clear up a couple o' things. First up, you may've noticed I changed the Music Wednesday column into a biweekly one (that is, every two weeks). This wasn't intentional; the week after I announced it was chock-full of papers and mid-terms so obviously I had to take priorities and kick the column's debut to the curb for a little bit. When that whole mess was over, I took more time to think the feature over and I quickly realized that a biweekly format would allow more time to be divided between the blog's different features. That, and I don't want to run out of material too quickly. (wouldn't want to resort to Mario Party 3 board music now, would we?). So, yeah, music fun every two weeks. I may also experiment with the structure I have for music posts, but it shouldn't be anything drastic.

So what's up besides that? Well, the year-long Kirby Retrospective is about to get underway. Due to certain technical difficulties (read: my computer with all the awesome images on it is still at my dorm), it 's debut will be around no later than Sunday night. Seriously psyched for this!

See you then!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No.1: ~Aquatic Ambiance~ (Donkey Kong Country)

Aquatic Ambience

Origin: Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994)
Composer: David Wise
Plays in: Donkey Kong Country's four water levels: Coral Capers, Clam City, Croctopus Chase, and Poison Pond.
Status: Original Composition/Beloved Masterpiece

Analysis: I've said before that video games were once "just another toy" to me, which held true many years back. By this, I mean that my five-year old self wasn't in a rush to reach the Forest of Illusion in Super Mario World; rather, I'd tinker around with the first couple of levels or so--maybe dive for a bit into Mario's Fun with Letters and Street Fighter II--and then be on my way to force-feed peanuts into my Sesame Street stuffed animals. Having once dwelled in the playroom, the Super Nintendo was distinguished as being no different than the stack of cardboard blocks in the corner or my collection of Berenstain Bear books.

Donkey Kong Country wasn't any special exception. Sure, my imagination with it went as wild as the child's mind could take it ("Mommy, does Donkey Kong live near Mario?" "Yes, dear."), and the lure of platforming monkeys isn't something so easily ignored, but was it what elevated my status to nerdom? No, that would be the N64's job. Donkey Kong and his family were just another host of cartoonish figures to be toyed around with for the day, not meant to spawn any actual meaning for me. Just a plaything, nothing more and nothing less.

Then you had the water music.

A vague memory still lingers of me, maybe five or seven, playing through the Coral Capers level and--save for the thumbs rested on the buttons--being rendered utterly still. I'm playing the game, but there's also that music. It's different, maybe a little haunting, yet kinda...beautiful? Whatever it was, it was something that entranced me. Like with every other game, I wasn't in a rush to reach the level, but it instilled an emotion I never felt before in a game.

Aquatic Ambiance still has that effect on me today. From a more adult perspective, it's inclusion is absurd. It has no purpose being in a game about two stupid primates beating up a gang of crocodiles just to get some bananas back, and yet Donkey Kong Country is all the better for it. When applied to the actual context of the game, what with being constructed with pre-rendered 3D graphics meant to capture a realistic jungle setting, the song successfully mingles with its atmospheric siblings DK Island Swing, Cave Dweller Concert, Northern Hemispheres, and the like.

Ah, but Aquatic Ambiance! That it's constantly singled out as being the best of the bunch is no secret. It was the first song David Wise composed for the game and holds the title of his favorite tune. It's the most popular song for fans to remix and publish for the world to see on OCRemix and Youtube. Shigeru Miyamoto demanded that the game's soundtrack be brought back for the Wii revival Donkey Kong Country Returns, but we all knew deep down he was just referring to Aquatic Ambiance. Orchestras, freaking orchestras, always focus on the piece in their Donkey Kong Country segments. It's beloved by game music fans the world over. But why?

At the end of the day, taste is taste, but the hypnotic beauty of Aquatic Ambiance makes it stand out from the rest. While its brethren take their time in setting up the stage, this one immediately embraces the player into a watery rapture and doesn't let go, sinking them into its euphoric depths. The other songs induce moments of danger, triumph, and isolation, yet Aquatic Ambiance is meditative throughout. A melancholic meditation, perhaps, but a calming one, too, nonetheless (push aside the thought that, again, we're discussing a game starring a gorilla. He's not the one meditating underwater. Actually, wait, scratch that, that's pretty fucking amazing).

And that's what's part of the secret (the calming effect, I mean). What's amazing is how the level design compliments the song: Donkey Kong's adventures above ground are cutthroat and precise, but the water levels bring the intensity down a notch and relax the player with dreamy music and calm direction. Sure, there's danger afoot, what with the pearl-spewing clams and crazy stalker octopuses hanging around, but the music makes it so they don't matter. It holds you tighter, saying "It'll be alright. And even if it won't, you'll get another shot if you die." Think about it this way: Whoever died in one of the water levels? It's always the mine-cart/ice mountain/factory crap that makes players scream in rage, yet no one pins the blame on the water levels. The funny thing is they're not even that great; I mean, remember how pissed off everybody was when the Donkey Kong Country Returns staff said they didn't want any underwater levels in the game because they'd distract from its exciting atmosphere? I guarantee you that no one actually gave a damn about whether or not Donkey Kong wanted to go for a swim; everyone was just secretly worried that this meant Aquatic Ambiance wasn't going to come back. I mean, don't gamers usually hate water levels or something? Donkey Kong Country fans are a feisty bunch (then again, when you're fed stuff like Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast, I don't really blame them).

But hey, it ended up being in the original game anyway, so there!

So since Aquatic Ambiance takes on a meditative state does it mean that, upon being introduced to its sound, gamers just zen out and reflect on life and the universe? Perhaps, it depends on who you are. Me? Typically, when I get absorbed into game music like this I envision myself exploring a more visualized replica of the level's environment and bask in its glory (Kirby games work wonders for this), but the water stages in which Aquatic Ambiance is featured tend to have really bland backgrounds so this isn't the case here. Aquatic Ambiance is rich enough to enjoy on a surface level, which is how I usually first approach it when I'm in the mood for a listen.

On a deeper level, what's really nice about Aquatic Ambiance is that it's a flexible meditation. It's both beautiful and melancholic, and I'm free to choose which direction to think in. On the more positive, thought-provoking side, you have the powerful awe of the ocean floor with the mysteries lying within. On the route the majority of the internet likes to take, a nostalgic sense of loss is laced throughout. The inaccessibility of childhood's magic, the simpler days of gaming, the disappearance of what we took for granted, and people who've come and gone.

That, and Michael. Readers may recall that after my older brother passed away three years ago, I forged this tribute that happened to feature Aquatic Ambiance. Other than the main theme from Mother 3, I couldn't think of a better song to embed. I used to watch Michael play, witnessing firsthand at just how much better he was at me, and I strived to be like that. Specific related memories regarding Donkey Kong Country and Aquatic Ambiance don't really exist, but the song struck a chord to the memory of a brother who grew more distant with each passing year.

If you dig deep enough into the actual page for the embedded video, you'll discover the previous bearer of the top rated comment: Me. Two months after his death, I wrote a quick comment about how whenever I was in mourning, I'd turn on Aquatic Ambiance and let the melancholy seep away. I was flooded with replies, and I was just sitting there absorbing the fact that total strangers on freaking Youtube were granting me well wishes and condolences. Like any Youtube comment section, it wasn't unusual for my post to receive deviant replies (special props to the guy who, after noting my usage of "up there", sent me a link implying my brother was burning in hell), but the whole experience left a warm mark on me. It's nice how video game music, of all things, connects people.

Does Aquatic Ambiance serve the same purpose two and a half years later? Kinda, but I've found I've unconsciously diverted Michael from the song. It's not as if I've outworn its use as a stress reliever, but the subject of a sibling's death is one I don't really want to mesh with Donkey Kong. Michael himself isn't a subject I solely dwell upon; rather, it's the functioning memories of a time when he was still himself that render his spirit alive. If anything, I've found that Masashi Hamazu's piano arrangement of Aquatic Ambiance for the German concert Symphonic Legends works wonders for the this. Don't blame me if you shed a tear.

And, for the heck of it, I'll throw in the Orchestral Game Concert's rendition as well. Wait for the minute mark.

Aquatic Ambiance still induces that trance-like effect on me. It's always wonderful when water music goes for that calming effect in games, but I've yet to find another track that emulates its level of hypnotic effect. Only Super Mario 64's Dire, Dire Docks comes close, which takes a different path anyway so I dunno if it's fair to compare the two (now in terms of best water music? Tough call). It's weird how much I heap praise on the song, since I probably wouldn't pick select Donkey Kong Country for a Top 25 Games list or even a Top 50 (love the game, but it's rather barebones these days), but that's the wonder of retro gaming for you. I'll always remember this as the first video game song I ever loved.

You rule, David Wise.

Final Reflection: I'm still kind of pissed they chose Stickerbrush Symphony to arrange for Super Smash Bros. Brawl over this, but considering how Michiko Naruke's arrangement ended up being far superior to the original, I guess it's not a big deal. No way they can overlook this for SSB4.


And thus concludes my first installment of the music column!

See you tomorrow for a brief update.