Welcome back! This is the second (and last) part of a two-part review. Last time around, I put down some of my thoughts on the first half (or so) of the SNES Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. If you want to catch up, here’s the link.
To listen to each track mentioned, use the YouTube playlist below.
In this installment, I’ll finish up the rest of the soundtrack and give my final rating. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s move on to the second half of DK Jamz. I know you’re as excited as I am to jump back in, so let’s go!
“Mine Cart Madness”
I think this song does a great job underscoring the frantic tension already present in the mine cart levels — if you’ve ever played, for example, “Mine Cart Carnage”, you’ll know exactly the tension I mean. It doesn’t overshadow the gameplay, which is nice, because it would be pretty hard to focus on jumping mine carts on rails otherwise.
“Life in the Mines”
Another tune that’s pretty low-key, “Life in the Mines” is a more chilled-out song for mostly slower-paced levels (at least, compared to “Mine Cart Madness”). It’s a much more meandering melody for the first thirty seconds or so, then focuses in with some pan pipes. It’s not unpleasant to listen to by any means, but doesn’t really stand out for me.
“Voices of the Temple”
This one’s a little more driving than “Life in the Mines”, but only a little. It’s pretty atmospheric, featuring a lot of plucked strings and wind instruments. It plays during levels like “Millstone Mayhem”, which are sort of reminiscent of King Louie’s temple ruins from The Jungle Book (more accurately, the 1967 animated Disney film). Those pan pipes are really starting to show up a lot…
Back to the more melodic tunes. It’s got some piano, some strings, some flute, and…maybe xylophone? This song gets you through the forest floor levels, and while the “frenzy” part of the title might be a bit hyperbolic, this is definitely a pleasant background ditty to help you trek through hordes of wasps, vultures, and reptiles. The driving beat helps keep the pace too.
Moving up to the higher, interconnected areas of the jungle, “Treetop Rock” plays during tree house-style stages. This one nicely balances a great bass line with some higher melodies. If you listen closely, you can catch — you guessed it — more pan pipes in the background. The tune goes into a sort of melancholy interlude before cranking back into a more urgent variation on the main melody, finally looping back into the beginning again. It’s bouncy, like the tire trampolines scattered throughout these levels.
Now here’s a departure from some of the other, more atmospheric tracks. Playing during transport between worlds (at Funky’s Flights, an airline of sorts), “Funky’s Fugue” comes right at you with — and I might catch some weird looks, but go with me here — a guitar riff almost reminiscent of the one from “Cotton Eye Joe” (not the fiddle, the guitar underneath it). It’s definitely got a strong techno vibe to it, and when I was a kid, the people yelling “Aww yeah!” every so often were…oddly satisfying. It was (and is) so catchy, I used to sit and listen to two or three good loops of this track before moving on to the next level.
See? Told you it sounds like Rednex!
This might be a contender for one of the most atmosphere-evoking pieces of the score. Any semblance of melody is very bare-bones, but the sound effects really create a feeling of loneliness and mystery. The accompanying levels aren’t overly complex either, but the enemies you encounter in them are quick and often seem to come out of nowhere. It kind of puts you on edge, seemingly without trying too hard.
Like the previous level, the immersiveness of this track is really impressive. It’s bleak, but it adds so much to the blizzard levels in which it plays. A little over a minute in, the melody gets urgent and dissonant, almost like warning sirens. Near two minutes, a harp comes in and plays a short, hopeful little tune; but when the track loops back on itself, it’s back to the (awesome) snowstorm.
“Ice Cave Chant”
Unsurprisingly, you’ll encounter this one in the ice cave levels. It’s a lot more melodic and catchy than the previous two tracks, which is likely a welcome break at this point. Lots of strings and what sounds like a glockenspiel here, which make for a nice change of pace that helps vary the song selections. I found the title interesting, mainly because there doesn’t appear to be any chanting; it’s no less pleasant to listen to, though.
Full disclosure here: this is my favorite song on the entire soundtrack, and the levels that accompany it are probably my favorites too. It’s got an industrial vibe without feeling too heavy, and even throws in some horn stings at the end, before it loops back. It’s a great tune with a driving beat and some wicked xylophone harmonies (bet that’s a new one!). The factory levels feature a lot of oil drums and steel kegs, the sound effects for which fit nicely in with this song’s rhythm.
This one will throw you for a loop. It starts out as a jaunty pirate tune, with a little flute and accordion duet…then, about twenty seconds in, it fades completely into the theme for the final boss. King K. Rool’s stage is simple, but this song builds tension through a fast tempo and a hearty bass line and builds up to a bigger, better melody, which starts at about 1 minute, 15 seconds. “Gang-Plank Galleon” definitely works well with the pressure of fighting the last boss in the game (and the villain who stole your banana hoard!).
“The Credits Concerto”
Well, we’ve made it to the end of the game. “The Credits Concerto” is an airy, synth-heavy tune that makes you feel as if the weight of thousands of bananas has been lifted off your chest (and back into the cave where they belong). To be honest, it’s a really nice finish to the game, like whipped cream on top of a slice of pie.
I’ve carried these tunes with me since Donkey Kong Country‘s release in 1994. I grew up with this generation of Kongs, and still love to play this game and listen to each track. In an attempt to avoid reviewing it exclusively through the nostalgia lens, however, I will say this: there were a few tracks that didn’t really stand out, namely “Life in the Mines”, “Candy’s Love Song”, and “Voices of the Temple”. They’re not necessarily bad, and there are a plethora of other great songs here, so I’m giving Donkey Kong Country‘s soundtrack a final rating of 9 bananas out of 10.