Ah, Donkey Kong Country. Some of my fondest memories of the Super Nintendo involve this game. I find myself revisiting this game’s music at least twice a year, just to tap into that nostalgia from my formative years. From the first few notes of the opening Rareware fanfare to “Credits Concerto”, this game’s tunes pack a punch.
This will be a two-part review; there’s a lot to be said about this particular soundtrack, and most of the songs on it are worth mentioning. Part I will cover the first ten tracks (“Theme” through “Bad Boss Boogie”), and Part II will cover the remaining thirteen main songs (“Mine Cart Madness” through “Credits Concerto”). Disclaimer: a select few will be skipped, due to only being a “Game Over” melody or something similar. They’ll be kept in the playlist below for the sake of completeness, but won’t really be mentioned hereafter.
Released just in time for the holidays in November 1994, Donkey Kong Country is full of immersive tracks with natural sounds from a number of different environments, such as jungles, caverns, and underground mine shafts. Interspersed in the mix, you can find funky synthesizer riffs and driving percussion. It’s a combination that, for a game starring apes fighting reptiles over a stolen banana hoard, truly rocks.
The music for Donkey Kong Country was composed primarily by David Wise, with contributions from Robin Beanland and Eveline Fischer. Inspired by the work of Koji Kondo — the main composer of both the Mario and Zelda series — and ’80s rock and dance music, Wise’s then-freelance work on DKC impressed Rare so much, it landed him a full-time position with the company.
The soundtrack was officially released as DK Jamz, as a promotional item for retailers alongside the game’s release, then to the public in March of 1995.
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As soon as the game is turned on, a fanfare plays, accompanied by both the Rare(ware) and Nintendo logos. The music quickly transitions over to the game’s main theme, which is simply titled “Theme”. It’s a song that initially conjures a retro feel for the first seven bars, then shifts into heavy percussion and a synthesized guitar riff. It continues until the player selects a save file.
The game itself is split up into six main worlds of 5-6 levels, plus one more containing the final level; each one is accessible from one larger overworld. “Simian Segue”, a pleasant piano melody written by Eveline Fischer, plays during level select.
Once we get into the background music, the track playing depends on the environment of the level. We’ll go into them one by one, in their order on DK Jamz.
“DK Island Swing”
This song plays during the opening level of the game (Jungle Hijinxs), and then other jungle stages. It starts out with bare percussion (though on DK Jamz, it’s preceded by the Rare fanfare that plays at the beginning of the game), then builds with more rhythm and a bass line. A little piano sting sends it into a more upbeat, melodic section. This then transitions into a melancholy yet driving part that works well with scene changes, such as the nightfall at the end of Jungle Hijinxs. Finally, it loops back into the beginning percussion.
Cranky Kong, officially the DK of the original game (this iteration’s Donkey Kong being his grandson), has a pretty chill theme. It fittingly evokes a relaxing tropical atmosphere; Cranky has long since retired from the maiden-stealing, scaffolding-climbing work of his heyday. Featuring pan pipes and steel drums, this tune is reminiscent of something you might hear while poolside at a Caribbean resort. The track plays during visits to Cranky’s Cabin, a side location in each of the first six worlds where you can find hints (and, more often than not, a snarky comment from Cranky about how easy kids have it these days).
Not much to be said about this particular track, except that it’s mostly a more atmospheric, higher quality rehash of “DK Island Swing”. Don’t get me wrong, it might even be better than the former, but there’s just not much more to be explained. It does have some extra ape noises thrown in for good measure, too, which is pretty cool.
“Cave Dweller Concert”
I feel that “Cave Dweller Concert” is the first truly immersive track in the game. Echo effects and strategically-placed sounds of dripping water really make it feel authentic. Not only that, but the often-claustrophobic crawling sections juxtaposed with wider, more open cavern areas do a great job of simulating caves, and this tune only adds to that feeling.
“Bonus Room Blitz”
This jaunty tune plays during DKC’s bonus rooms (hence the name). It’s a little more fast-paced than a lot of the level themes, which helps evoke a “hey, I found something special!” kind of feeling. It’s not overly long, but that’s okay; neither are the bonus rooms. It’s good to hear every few minutes, to get that little shot of excitement when you find a hidden bonus room entrance.
Here’s the moneymaker. Ask anybody even a little familiar with the songs in this game about audio immersion, and I can almost guarantee this will be the track they mention. It’s an almost ethereal-sounding (and aptly named) tune that almost dips into bleakness from time to time, then hooks you back again when the melody starts back in. It’s peaceful, relaxing, and in a way, is reminiscent of floating in the water. In a word, it’s fantastic. Trust me, you’ll want the full experience when you watch the video below.
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“Candy’s Love Song”
One of the few songs in the game composed by Eveline Fischer, “Candy’s Love Song” plays in Candy Kong’s save areas (which, like Cranky’s Cabin, appear once per world). It kind of conjures an image of a swinging nightclub singer, if perhaps that singer were a shapely female ape. An odd image, to be sure, but at least you’ll only have to imagine it a few times in a playthrough.
“Bad Boss Boogie”
This percussion-heavy, guitar riff-driven piece really conveys the urgency and excitement of fighting the boss at the end of each world. It helps set up a frantic tempo for boss fights, particularly with the faster enemies. The hard-hitting drums and plucked strings under the guitar only assist in creating the frenzied pace.
Well, that’s it for Part I of Donkey Kong Country’s soundtrack review. The remaining tracks on DK Jamz will be covered in Part II, as will my final rating for the soundtrack as a whole. I won’t let on too much, but if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know where it’ll likely end up. Thanks for reading, and tune in for the next installment!