The Music of Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong IconWhen it was first released in 1994, the original Donkey Kong Country was noted for its eye-catching graphics. While they were groundbreaking for their time, what has really stuck with me over the years is the game’s soundtrack. Composed mainly by David Wise and Eveline Novakovic (credited as Eveline Fischer), the music from the original DKC trilogy is among my favorites of the 16-bit era. In fact, the DK Jamz album is the first video game soundtrack I ever bought. With David Wise having returned to score Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, I’ve decided to look back at some of my favorite music from the series.

Donkey Kong Country
(David Wise, Eveline Fischer, David Beanland)

The music in the original DKC was pretty impressive for the time, being very eclectic, ambient, and in some cases, far more complex than most console game music was up to that point. What’s most interesting, perhaps, is that its tone isn’t necessarily what you would expect for a game about Nintendo’s classic Donkey Kong character.

“Aquatic Ambiance” – Listening to this relaxing, iconic piece really takes me back to the glory days of the SNES. It’s really beautiful, and it’s a fan favorite for good reason. There are remakes of it in both DKC Returns and Tropical Freeze.

“Forest Frenzy”

This is one of those instances where I enjoyed replaying a level simply because I enjoyed the music so much. It really fit the forest theme of the stage. This track was also remade for DKC Returns.

“Ice Cave Chant” – The only bad thing about this track is that it plays in only one level of the entire series! Slip Slide Ride was the lone ice cave level in the original game, and thus “Ice Cave Chant” never appeared elsewhere. I don’t think it was ever remade for later games, either.

Diddy’s Kong Quest
(David Wise)

This is one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all-time, and it’s the reason I take notice whenever I see David Wise’s name attached to any game’s soundtrack. The score is eclectic, to say the least, being dramatic, funny, scary, silly, intense, or relaxing at different points. Somehow, it all works to form a cohesive experience.

“Lockjaw’s Saga” – The strong drums mixed with the desperate melody create a real sense of urgency in the enclosed swimming areas of Diddy’s Kong Quest. The addition sound effects give the music a very ambient feel, with the “sloshing” sound adding to the sense of claustrophobia. The track was remade for Tropical Freeze.

“Mining Melancholy”

Another very sound effects-based track perfectly befitting of the “mine” theme of the stage. It makes me imagine workers chipping away at the rock in some unseen location. I also love the spooky “ooh” part. Oddly enough, this is the one track from the game that was inexplicably missing from the official soundtrack album.

“Stickerbrush Symphony” – Ah, the legendary “Stickerbrush Symphony.” Possibly the most well-known track from the entire DKC series. Even David Wise, himself, once said it was the pinnacle of what he could achieve with the SNES’s sound chip. And he remade it not once, but twice for Tropical Freeze! Do yourself a favor and give the original listen!

“In A Snow-Bound Land” – Nearly as pretty as “Stickerbrush,” but with that wintry feeling from “Ice Cave Chant.” A very overlooked track from the game in my opinion, but there’s another great remake of it in Tropical Freeze.

Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!!
(Eveline Fischer, David Wise)

In contrast to DKC2, this game’s music is almost entirely composed by Eveline Fischer, with David Wise only contributing five tracks. Consequently, the music is much simpler, and unlike the grand production of the previous game, has an oddly subdued chiptune quality that almost sounds like it came from a TurboGrafx-16 game.

As it happens, David Wise recomposed most of the soundtrack for the Game Boy Advance port, but I’m unfamiliar with it, so I won’t including any tracks from that version here.

“Northern Kremisphere” – There’s an interesting quality about this overworld map theme that I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels minimalist, but yet conveys a sense of vastness, as if I’m standing on a mountaintop.

“Rockface Rumble”

It’s not too hard to figure out which tracks were composed by David Wise, as they stick out like sore thumbs. This one borrows the hook from “Mining Melancholy” to nice effect.

Donkey Kong Country Returns
(Minako Hamano, Masaru Tajima, Shinji Ushiroda, Daisuke Matsuoka)

DKC Returns is often criticized for having weaker music than other games in the series. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t have the strong melodies that characterize the series’ soundtracks. It does have some decent remixes, though.

“Mine Menace” – This is one track that stands out to me. It plays during the rocket barrel stages, and captures their chaotic, out-of-control feeling.

Tropical Freeze
(David Wise)

David Wise returns to the DKC series to compose a soundtrack befitting of its legacy. The complex, layered harmonies are back, as is the ambiance. In my opinion, this is some of Wise’s best work in years.

“Busted Bayou” – Playing through this level for the first time and hearing this music made me realize I was hearing a “true” DKC soundtrack. It’s amazing how much the music can add to a game’s overall experience.

“Scorch ‘N’ Torch” – To me, this sounds like a lost track from DKC2. It’s darker and moodier, and it perfectly fits the grasslands wildfire theme of the stage.

“Seashore War”

Another great example of how unexpected Wise’s music can be in the DKC series. This reminds me a little of his score for Star Fox Adventures, but better. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and one of the best tracks in the entire series.

But there’s so much more! It was really hard for me to narrow things down to just a few tracks for each game so as not to create a long, unwieldy list. But definitely explore more of these soundtracks on YouTube. Or better yet, just play the games, as that’s the ideal way to experience the music in my opinion.

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