Cubed3's Top 20 Nintendo 64 Soundtracks - Part 4 (5-1)
5) Super Mario 64
It's no debate that Super Mario 64 was a truly revolutionary game, but what of its music? Sure, the soundtrack didn't have a dramatic effect on the remarkable gameplay, yet it most definitely helped weave even more wonderful memories. Having worked on the soundtracks for the Mario series since Super Mario Bros., Koji Kondo was again in the driving seat for Mario's jump to 3D. What better way to introduce everyone to Mario's new world than with a remix of the classic Mario theme? Remixes didn't dominate the game's score, though, as there was a heap of terrific original themes that seemed to fit each giant world perfectly.
The first stage, Bob-Omb Battlefield, held what was named as the Super Mario 64 Main Theme. This would prove to be one of the most memorable tracks in the series; absolutely fitting for the first level of an adventure. Just like that one famous tune from that 1985 NES platformer starring the plumber -- you know the one! Kondo-san proved his mesmerising talent in one of the most beautiful pieces to come out of video games with another memorable track. Dire, Dire Docks was played during water levels, with variations of the theme creeping in dynamically as the player guided Mario from land to water and into caves. It seemed to meld together with the ocean itself as the player was engrossed in swimming freely through these watery environments. Such a piece can often bring out many emotions in players, with fans having produced some gorgeous versions of their own.
King Bowser's treacherous obstacle courses that led up to a climactic battle hosted some fantastic music that put extra pressure on the player as they grew closer, whilst the battle themes against the boss itself were easily some of the best pieces of music in Super Mario 64. The final fight had an even greater aura about it as an organ-like theme of epic proportions belted in the background; a theme that complemented the king to a tee. Even after the game had ended, the magic didn't stop. Perhaps finishing one of the greatest gaming experiences ever contributed to the emotional aspect of the Staff Roll, but there was no denying the impact it could have on the player as the credits scrolled. Koji Kondo managed to do Super Mario 64's amazing gameplay justice in creating a soundtrack just as fantastic.
4) F-Zero X
Nintendo brought out the original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo long before Psygnosis' Wipeout and the Extreme-G games came into existence. It helped set up a fantastic futuristic racing genre that was gruelling, unforgiving, and extremely edgy. To fit the tone of this theme, composers Taro Bando and Hajime Wakai had to successfully craft a high-tempo soundtrack that matched the frenetic pacing perfectly...and they did so with great aplomb. This soundtrack is certainly reminiscent of Unirally and even TMNT Tournament Fighters on the SNES in places, with it containing really rousing, rock-themed anthems throughout. Whenever the adrenaline rush starts to subside, the drums and guitar work kick in once more and the race takes off, getting that heart rate up yet again, with the three stunning pieces: Endless Challenge, Dream Chaser, and Decide in the Eyes being superlative examples of how to engage gamers in the action. Listen and learn!
3) Lylat Wars
The soundtrack for Lylat Wars was composed by Koji Kondo, in collaboration with Hajime Wakai. This marked the first time Kondo worked with another composer since his work on Devil World, way back in 1984. This would be Wakai's first major composition work at Nintendo, as well. It was a collaboration that worked many wonders and between them, they crafted a sublime soundtrack that was fitting for even a high production sci-fi film.
The opening cut-scene thrusts you straight into the action and is accompanied by a powerful piece that captures the heroics of the Star Fox team, and this reverberated throughout the game. Kondo-san and Wakai-san composed the soundtrack that had a lot more variety to it than just those heroic compositions, though. Stand out tracks included Zoness, which featured a distressful sound; capturing the feeling of struggle -- a perfect accompaniment for that stage. There was also Sector X, a mysterious and empty sounding piece and again it fitted perfectly with the eerie environment of deep and unforgiving space. It was more than just an amazing selection of music; it was one that captured the emotions of the Star Fox team in the environments they explored, alongside their mission objectives and brilliantly paced story.
The sound team at Rare is indeed like no other, always attempting to make its tunes as varied as possible, using all manner of instruments that other groups would likely never even dream of touching. Trombones, banjos, whistles, flutes, accordions, Carribbean steel drums, and heavy usage of both the high and low end of the xylophone scale. The menagerie of musical styles makes for a really eclectic approach that surprisingly works amazingly well. As with the other Rare games included in Cubed3's list so far, Banjo-Kazooie is a primary example of how the mish-mash of sounds shows how confident the team was in its talent, and the final outcome is testament to the skills the composers possess. Who can argue with a team that can successfully fuse traditional music with various animal noises to great effect?
If you go down to the woods today you will indeed be in for a big surprise and Gruntilda's Lair (Primary Theme) follows this premise, starting off as a sort of happy-go-lucky children's style melody, except with an extremely dark twist to send chills down spines everywhere, especially as the track continues to its wispy section, filled with high-pitched xylophone beats with a wicked witch laugh in the background. An extremely clever piece of music with a wide range to make it the perfect backdrop for the game's wandering action.
In stark contrast to this is Click Clock Wood (Spring) - a perfect example of the way animal noises can be incorporated into a soundtrack without it sounding cheesy or completely out of place. This extremely light-hearted flute-led theme conveys a beautiful bright and breezy feel, with bird tweets, cricket chattering, and cockerel crows mixed in to add to the ambience and general feel of trundling through a busy forest landscape. In fact, this particular track is remade three more times to fit the remaining seasons of Summer, Autumn and Winter, taking the core theme and revamping it with different instruments and, yes you guessed it, more animal noises - bees buzzing and birds squawking in summer, owls hooting, frogs croaking and woodpeckers hammering away in Autumn, truly delightful! The winter iteration is of worthy of mention as well, thanks to its chill-to-the-bone icy tone, with winds blowing away in the background as plenty of light-toned xylophone plays over the top, with even some gentle bells ringing in places.
Moving on, how can Banjo-Kazooie be mentioned without its fantastic, tremendously upbeat Intro not being mentioned? Other than Rare's DK Rap for Donkey Kong 64, this song is one of the most inspired creations harmonica, violins, more banjos, xylophones, whistles, and accordions than you can shake a stick at. 'Song' may seem an odd label for a track in a videogame score, but considering the input from Banjo and Kazooie themselves, whilst not speaking in human tongue per se they certainly do add a vocal quality to the otherwise instrumental piece that simply cannot be overlooked.
Highlighting the range found within Banjo-Kazooie's soundtrack, Storage Locker takes on a murky slant. With its undulating theme running throughout, traipsing up and down the full range of the lower end of the xylophone, makes for a very toe-tapping tune, showing how simple is sometimes best. With the odd wooden tap and the haunting vibe that sneaks in from time-to-time, this understated track is yet another example of the ideal backing music for long stretches of exploration; enough substance to prevent it growing stale during the journey.
Finally, there is Attack of the Snippet Mutants, a highly invigorating track that is simply bursting with energy from start to finish, with lots of drips and drops littered over the lively piece. It seems to constantly change key to increase the tension before stripping away the running beat mid-way through to great effect, before bringing it back in full force to end this rollercoaster-ride of a track. Masterful execution.
Other tracks that did not quite make the final cut for this list, but are still impressive nonetheless, include the brilliant way one of the game's main themes, Spiral Mountain, was reworked as Spiral Mountain (Underwater) to give a watery feel, as well as the pastiche of quiz show themes for Grunty's Furnace Fun Quiz that appears towards the latter stages of Banjo and Kazooie's adventure, the maritime Outside the Salty Hippo, and the haunting Mad Monster Mansion (Interior). As for Down the Loggo Toilet, this faeces-filled piece, with its burping noises, dripping and bubbling sounds, definitely smells like a precursor to Conker's Bad Fur Day's Sloprano, which was mentioned in another of Cubed3's Top Soundtracks articles.