It’s that time of year, folks! Say what you will about snow and ice (like it or not), but you’ve got to admit, Nintendo’s had some excellent winter-themed music over the years. Being the first week of winter, what better time to explore it? Let’s dive right in!
Disclaimer: There are many, many tracks that fit in this category, but we’re only covering a select few this time around. Comment below if you feel we missed something important!
“Cool Cool Mountain” (Super Mario 64)
Immediately upbeat, this snappy tune brings some of the best of Koji Kondo’s compositions to Super Mario 64. Granted, he’s amassed a huge pile of excellent music, but this one’s always been a winter favorite. If you listen closely, it’s very similar to “Slider”, but with much less banjo and fiddle, and a lot more sleigh bell. It’s more easygoing than its frantic sibling, but in a good way. The atmosphere is much more inviting and less “GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SLIDE AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”
“Frappe Snowland” (Mario Kart 64)
Just as easy to tap your toes to, “Frappe Snowland” is chilled-out (pun intended) enough to still allow a player to focus on driving on ice tracks without being too terribly distracting. It’s not loud. it’s not overbearing. It doesn’t make you forget about the godforsaken ice physics nobody ever asked for in any game ever. It’s just a nice, simple song that helps you get through snowy levels, and that’s wonderful in and of itself.
“Chill Penguin” (Mega Man X)
Being the first Maverick many players face when starting a new playthrough of Mega Man X, Chill Penguin’s theme pairs an excellent melody with the futuristic rhythm section we’ve come to expect from the X series. It sets the scene for an early boss fight well. It doesn’t exactly conform to traditional “winter” music; there are no sleigh bells, but then again, Chill Penguin’s stage isn’t meant to evoke a happy, cozy feeling. There are more overt antagonistic forces at work in the level (and the game overall), and it shows in the tone.
“Jangle Bells” (Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!)
It should be noted that this track, under normal circumstances, does not appear during standard play. It can only be accessed by entering a special code at DKC 3’s sound test screen. It’s not hard to hear the similarities between “Jangle Bells” and pre-existing holiday tunes like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, but the comparisons are welcome. Once the cheat code is activated, not only will “Jangle Bells” play; bananas and in bonus levels will be replaced with presents and ornaments, thus making the festivity more complete. The song itself heavily features saxophones and tubular bells, which further push it into the winter/holiday style.
“Mountain Village” (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)
This track, much like the game whence it comes, is sort of a black sheep among its equals. It’s very simple, but even without its context, portrays loneliness and bleakness to a degree that truly enhances immersion. It’s a favorite not because of its festivity or happiness, but because it represents the other side of winter: the cold, unforgiving snow and wind and the initial futility of trying to resist them. It’s not unpleasant by any means…but as they say, variety is the spice of life!
“Ice Cave Chant” (Donkey Kong Country)
Touching on a game we covered earlier this year, we’ll keep this one brief. This one is another classic Rareware tune, composed by Eveline Fischer (not David Wise, who composed the majority of the other songs in the game). Its catchy melody only takes a few seconds to kick in after the strings intro, and it’s just a fun song to groove to.
“Freezeezy Mountain” (Banjo-Kazooie)
If there seems to be a pattern here, blame Rare. This one’s composed by Grant Kirkhope, and it doesn’t fail to amaze. The Nintendo 64 had some excellent platformers, and it only makes sense for the music to be just as good (if not better, in some cases) as the gameplay. Featuring a wide array of instruments (a horn section, flutes, and the nearly-compulsory sleigh bells), “Freezeezy Mountain” is laid-back at times, and sweepingly melodic at others. Its dynamics help create a wintry wonderland for Banjo the bear and his feathered friend Kazooie to play around in.
Overall, the ’90s were great for winter themes in Nintendo video games, and the accompanying tracks were no different. Happy holidays from Old School Gamer Magazine, and as always, stay tuned for more excellent old-school and retro gaming news and reviews!