What Does Music Feel Like to You?:
(This is an archived article from July 18, 2019. Some things are updated to reflect the current state of the ULTRA.) If you browse video game music, it’s sure to come up. The music from one of the rather difficult levels in Donkey Kong Country 2, which I will say as DKC2 from here. It will pop up. The elements that I’ve spoken of from Donkey Kong Country 1 are in its sequel and they’re still absolutely fantastic. The disparity between the two playable characters and what they can do is even greater, the bonus levels (and levels themselves) more organized, and the graphics even cleaner.
But I’m not going to talk about any of those. I’m just going to talk about music and how music defines what itself looks like.
If you’d like, do a little experiment with me. Choose a game where you know the music well and you know the game well. I don’t want to ruin a new game with this. Then choose a song from another game and play that instead of the default background music. Does it sound weird? More importantly, does it change how you approach and feel the level? You already know what the level is like, but changes everything. I feel like that is what DKC2’s music does for the game and in a very good way too.
DKC2’s levels are vibrant, beautiful, and very well designed, but Rare, and even more specifically, David Wise the composer, pushes this by going outside what we can see. It is clear what the level designers wanted us to feel and what the artists wanted us to play through.
We’re going to use the very first level, Pirate Panic takes place on a pirate ship. The enemies feel pirate-y. The ship very much so as well. However, what makes us feel most pirate-y is the music. I’ve provided a link below for the music. The beginning of the song does what a lot of good cinema does. It has establishing ambiance. You’ll see this in a lot of manga and anime films, especially in Studio Ghibli films. The camera will cut to a plant dripping water, or to a couple of rocks. Perhaps a busy street, but with the focal point being the environment, not anyone in particular. David Wise does this in the first level with the creaking of the ship. Then the music makes the pirate ship feel and look like the open sea. It is upbeat and ready to sail, very much like the players as they set out on the first level. The fairly high difficulty of the series hasn’t set in yet. The rocking of the ship continues and is actually really loud in the song. It makes the whole level feel like a living, breathing thing. I mean, the level is literally rocking up and down, and the music further emphasizes not only the feel, but also the look.
I’m really against spoilers. I’m sorry that I’m going to talk about one. I will separate the spoiler section with large dashes so it’s easily avoidable. This takes place about 40% into the game.
In Bramble Blast, which features David Wise’s Stickerbrush Symphony, the emphasis is on the vastness of the brush. It starts with a repeating set of notes and that set of notes is repeated throughout the song. The repeating and overlapping melody notes puts emphasis on the repeating and ever expanding brush that we see all throughout the stage. The whole stage even feels like you are wandering and almost aimless. The level is a maze. The repetition of notes and the reverberations of the melody take that visual and step it up in a way that cannot be done with only one of the senses.
It is this cohesion with music, visual, and level design that really brings DKC2 to the top of the series for me. It is the biggest reason Why I Love Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest is ranked at number 17 on the ULTRA. The ULTRA consists of all the alumni from the 12 games list.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time on Game Praisers!