Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 14 ~Rickety Rails~ (Donkey Kong Country Returns)

OriginDonkey Kong Country/Donkey Kong Country Returns
Plays In: World 5 levels, most notably Rickety Rails
Status: Arrangement (Mine Cart Madness by David Wise)
Arranger: Kenji Yamamoto

For whatever weaknesses Donkey Kong Country Returns had in its original tracks (barring the RocketBarrel Theme and the Tiki Theme), it more than made up for it by its superb takes on David Wise's score for the original Donkey Kong Country. Headed by Kenji Yamamoto (of Super Metroid/Metroid Prime fame), his arrangements can go from either simple renditions of certain classics (such as the DK Island Swing opener) to radically different directions (the tropical take on Aquatic Ambiance). I'd dare say some of these arrangements surpass the already incredible original soundtrack--most notably the catchy Treetop Bop and the rockin' Life in the Mines, both of which came across as a little too subdued in their initial appearance.

While I'm not sure if it's my exact favorite of the bunch, the Rickety Rails arrangement of Mine Cart Madness stands out to me. For one thing, I firmly the believe that Returns' Cave world is by far and away the funnest, most spectacular display of concept inspiration and art direction in the entire game. Predominantly featuring mine cart levels, Returns takes what was a staple trope from the original Country, revises it with outrageous twists and repeatedly lobs them at the player. My jaw wouldn't stop dropping at the danger constantly imposed on Donkey Kong, as the mine cart tracks were endlessly bombed, shattered by crystal formations and even served as a mode of transporation by themselves. The latter has to be seen to be believed.

And more often than not, this arrangement is playing. It's as every bit as dangerous and frantic as Mine Cart Madness, and is obviously a perfect fit for its accompanying levels. These levels are, of course, every bit as tough as their SNES predecessors, and it adds the right amount of tension and fear as the player narrowly dodges one obstacle after another. Me, I'm personally no fan of having to duck under the spikes in the crystal level, as I'm always in constant fear of mistiming my popping out of the cart. Rickety Rails is the embodiment of that fear, that by-the-second precision and excitement that my poor heart endures with every one of these damn mine cart levels.

What I really do adore about Returns'  arrangements is that some of the more faithful renditions briefly take their own spin midway through the song, adding some sort of...I'd like to say mysterious air around the song. It's right there in the Fear Factory arrangement and there's a touch of it here as well when the song loops at 1:42, although I'm more a fan of the post-ride segment at 3:52. In what I swear is something swapped straight out of The Lion King, there's this kick-ass choir that's more in line with the atmospheric tone of the original DKC, of which emphasizes the isolated, dangerous nature of the cavern. Very cool.

I've often noticed complaints of Returns lacking in that aforementioned atmosphere, and I'd like to think it strikes a fine balance between that and cartoony visuals. The way moments like the post-ride segment and the design of the underground mole town mesh together is really a thing of beauty, and I'm always brought back to details like the abandoned tree houses in Donkey Kong Country. Haunting beauty alongside harebrained monkey antics...who'd thought?

Final Thoughts:...and that's not even getting into the musical masterpiece that's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze! Agh!

Alright, back to work on Kirby!

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