How David Wise Saved Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

By Robert Ward . February 25, 2014 . 5:02pm

I was nearly taken aback by Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s delightfully vivid color palette (see above) and swanky, whimsical tone. “What is this!?” I spat. “A Donkey Kong Country game should bring about some sense of scope. It should promote tension, isolation, even fear! After all, these apes are completely alone on their Isla—!”

 

And that’s when it hit me: they’re not on their Island. In fact, when Tropical Freeze begins, the Kong family is nowhere near their Island.

 

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze isn’t about working your way through the curiosities nestled in the nooks and K. Rannies of DK Island. It won’t ask you to save a captive Kong from crocodilian evil doers, either. No, instead, it’s all about making your way home. The juxtaposition of arctic-born “Snowmads” and rain-forest raised Kongs on environments like burning savannahs and Bavarian mountains would surely lack synergy if every aspect of the game did not devote itself entirely to this worldview. However, the one element that I believe holds together all of the seemingly fragile aesthetic choices of Tropical Freeze is the music that accompanies Donkey Kong’s latest (and likely Cranky Kong’s last) adventure, written by returning composer David Wise, who has been with the series since its conception on the Super Nintendo.

 

A thick air of tension hung around DK Island in the original Donkey Kong Country for Super Nintendo. Its soundtrack was beautifully simple, often incorporating natural elements like dripping water or echoes to keep you firmly rooted in the reality of its grungy world.  The music of Diddy’s Kong Quest set a distinctively sinister and mysterious tone for Crocodile Isle, home of the Kremlings, while Double Trouble was…well, Canada. Sure, Brother’s Bear wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it still managed to make substantial contributions to the overall feeling of the world it belonged too (I reiterate: Canada).

 

That’s especially true when you compare it side by side with, say, Stilt Village, one of the game’s earliest stages. Still, in Double Trouble, the awe inspiring scope of the Northern Kremisphere is conveyed through a partnership between exploration and music that only a few games manage to foster.

 

Tropical Freeze is one of them, and it helped save the game from feeling thematically inconsistent.

 

The beauty of a David Wise composition is itsinnate ability to seamlessly stitch together your senses. What you see and feel is eerily embodied in his melodies. What makes an Enchanted Riverbank so enchanting? David Wise (…and Eveline Fischer Novakovic).  What makes a Fear Factory so fearful? David Wise. What makes Scorch ‘N’ Torch so…Scorch ‘N’ Torch-y?! David. Wise. The man is the master of his trade.

 

Though I was hesitant to accept the seemingly out-of-place Kenyan choir ushering in the game’s vast Bright Savannah area (which seemed, at first, to be a dress-rehearsal for the first scene of Disney’s The Lion King), the theme of the game dawned on me, and It wasn’t long before I realized that everything the bloom-lighting touched was Wise’s kingdom. The music is so good that the trees dance.

 

The essence of Autumn Heights’ visual theme is so perfectly captured by its accompanying score that at any moment, I was expecting Donkey Kong to whip out a pint of his favorite dunkelweizen and start a game of hammerschlagen with Cranky and company (which might actually be a more interesting and challenging alternative to the game’s strictly traditional “collect the bananas” bonus stages).

 

Donkey Kong Country Returns was a blast, but in several ways, it felt unbearably close to its source material. It tried to draw in new fans with its contemporary presentation and newfound lightheartedness, but at the same time endeavored to accommodate the Old Guard by offering Kenji Yamamoto’s take on classic Donkey Kong Country tunes (which are phenomenal, by the way).

 

DKCR had an identity crisis—it was trying desperately to be something new by firmly embracing its legacy. The Tiki-Tak Tribe couldn’t hold a candle to the Kremlings, though, who were at the very least biologically complimentary (reptiles vs. mammals) antagonists, and wound up feeling oddly out-of-place even for a game chalk-full of palm tree covered beaches and other tropical motifs. The music simply told us what the title did: that Donkey Kong Country had indeed returned.

 

Tropical Freeze almost suffered the same fate.

 

The startup screen greets you with an island choir singing Donkey Kong’s name, the title screen proper prefaces your adventure with a beach-themed tune suitable for any tropical vacation, and the very first stage in the Lost Mangrove area uses saxophones about as liberally as Super Mario 3D World or Paper Mario: Sticker Star (both of which, by the way, have outstanding soundtracks). At first, the game seems disparagingly focused on emphasizing the “tropical” part of “Tropical Freeze,” and then you get to Big Top Bob, the first boss of Tropical Freeze.

 

Hark! Do my ears deceive me? Is that the electric guitar from Double Trouble’s Nuts and Bolts and Rockface Rumble?! The Bright Savannah area showcases the range of Wise’s talent. He makes use of several instruments you just don’t hear in modern video game music, from accordions to jaw harps to didgeridoos (DIGERIDOOS!) and wood flutes. Not every track is a masterpiece, but they all work together to create a consistent, believable world that the aesthetic style sometimes works against.

 

All said and done, Wise almost single-handedly sets the tone for the entirety of Tropical Freeze. Getting him to come back and compose (mostly) original arrangements for the game’s soundtrack is exactly what the Donkey Kong Country successor needed to keep itself together.

 

Tropical Freeze brought to mind a new variant of an age old question: what came first, the music, or the stage? I’ll save that one for next time. Look out for more coverage of the game on Siliconera.


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  • riceisnice

    Stickerbrush Symphony remix was nice. But the flute thingie seemed like it was playing it’s own song.

  • Shippoyasha

    While I fell in love with Donkey Kong Country Returns, the soundtrack for that game was nowhere near as iconic as David Wise composed DKCs. Very fun game but I kept wanting David Wise back.

    Last year had the amazing Metal Gear Revengeance soundtrack and this year, Tropical Freeze is a yet another early year ‘best gaming OST’ candidate.

    I especially love how the soundtrack has unexpected sense of melancholy and soothing qualities to it much like the legendary DKC2 soundtrack.

    • Robgoro

      Very well put! He also nailed this fitting sense of whimsy in tunes like Jib Jig, which kept the world from becoming too caught up in serious tones. :)

  • Robgoro

    Whoops! It looks like I miffed a couple of the links:

    Rockface Rumble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qntu2QvHQRE

    Nuts N’ Bolts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rd0QpuvKTI

  • NimbusStev

    I almost teared up listening to Scorch N Torch for the first time. David Wise’s music just makes me so happy! The rest of the game could be absolute garbage, I will buy a Wii U and this game solely based on this soundtrack alone!

  • Earthjolly

    Thats really the only thing I like about this game, the music, other than that its just another platformer.

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      Do you even like platformers?

      • Earthjolly

        Yes I do, Rayman Legends and Puppeteer are the latest ones I’ve played

        • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

          I see. Puppeteer is nice, Personally If you asked me what the culmination of a momentum based challenge platformer is I’d give you DKCTF

          Rayman Legends is quite different.

          I really like the feel and cohesiveness of DKCTF’s world too

          And is it me or do most reviews these days sound like they were written by hipsters trying their damnest to be clever?

          • Earthjolly

            Yes donkey kong might be harder, I just find Puppeteer and Legends better in every department except music and difficulty.

            They have more charm and prettier Art Style, but thats just me. DKCTF feels too much like the Wii game to me.

          • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

            Really? The level design’s pretty difffernet

    • Robgoro

      Then its at least worth buying for the soundtrack! ;)

    • http://forums.rpgmakerweb.com/index.php?/topic/25050-farm-mapping-contest/#entry239430 Chaos17

      Are kidding me ?! The level design is also awesome. Not a lot games can do the same (only Nintendo?).

      • Earthjolly

        Puppeteer, Rayman Origins and Legends etc.

        • Hinz

          No, just no. The level design is very near of perfection and have the construction have the base of original Country game. Rayman Origins make near the same, but the OST is weak. Rayman Legends is a automatic game with musical stages and some weak stages constructions. The Nintendo have more experience with plataform games and your firsts are trained to look all details.
          Rayman Origins is awesome and Legends too, but for me, Legends change so much the essence. The Origins have more feeling of classic platform 2D Rayman, but the OST is weak for me.

    • Lalum

      Another good platformer.

  • Gigahedgehog

    Erm. Eveline Fischer composed Stilt Village, Northern Kermisphere, Enchanted Riverbank, Nuts and Bolts, and Rockface Rumble. David Wise had very little to do with both DKC1 and DKC3′s OST. He only completely composed DKC2. He did compose Fear Factory and Brother’s Bear, though.

    • Grape Monet

      Wise did half the soundtrack of DKC1, including the iconic DK Island Swing. He only did a few tracks on the SNES DKC3, but he did the entire soundtrack to the GBA version by himself.

      • Robgoro

        Ah! I can see how that message comes off in this piece, Gigahedgehog, but I don’t think I credit Wise with being specifically responsible for Stilt Village, Northern Kremisphere, Enchanted River Bank, Nuts ‘N Bolts, or Rockface Rumble – merely that he takes elements from those to create the same kind of atmospheric feeling around Tropical Freeze’s several Islands.

    • mario54671

      “Had very little to do with DKC1″ my ass.

      He wrote MOST OF THE MUSIC in that soundtrack. Eveline Fischer wrote I’d say less than 30% of the soundtrack, Robin Beanland composed one track, and the rest was David Wise. *headdesk*

      But you’re right about DKC3. He wrote only about 6-7 tracks.

      • Gigahedgehog

        You’re right, I had the artists flipped for the first game.

  • idrawrobots

    I must say that I haven’t really noticed the music except when it was harkening back to the Original DKC.

  • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

    I have to say DKCTF is one of the best 2D platformers I’ve ever played.

    The level design, the physics,the bombastically dynamci stage designs and the challenge coalesce into on of the most enjoyable platformers that I’ve ever played.
    Also it really really hits the notes of my fondness for speedrunnning so bloody well. I love going and watching the speedrun replays on the leaderboards , it really does help you appreciate how tightly Retro designed this game.
    DKCR has nothing on this game, Nothing.

    Hah, Im not even big on platformers, but this game was seriously fun.

    Look at this guy go, that momentum XD

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm5Pq_y7hfI

  • Göran Isacson

    … DKC 3 took place in Canada.

    I have NO idea how that eluded me until now, but holy hell IT TOTALLY DOES. Man I want to visit Canada now.

    At any rate, neat little article on how music really brings all the visual themes together, and also makes the game feel like more than JUST a nostalgic retread of old. Now I’m just curious what the actual GAME’S like, but I get a feeling we’ll get there.

  • Guest

    This article was really interesting and made want to get the game!

    Soundtracks are really one of the parts I enjoy the most in games, you know when a music piece did its job when you listen it again and it take you back to the moment you first heard it but at the same time it conveys all the emotions and feelings you had then… It’s one of the most powerful resources in video-games, and it’s good seeing designers giving a good use.

  • Frankie

    The music in DKTF is great, but it is still an all around good game too. It sounds like the writer did not even enjoy the actual gameplay that much.

    • Robgoro

      The gameplay impressions article is going up this weekend, don’t worry. ;)

  • subsamuel01

    Hopefully sales pick up for this game, one of the best 2D platformers and a fun co-op game. If the console itself wasn’t struggling the game would have done a lot better.

  • DempseyRoll

    this was totally awesome to have david wise come back and do the soundtrack. it was just beautiful.! i hope they make the ost for this.

  • Lamerusha Lat

    David Wise’s master touch makes every game perfect.

  • JaidynReiman

    I STILL NEED DKCTF! DAMNIT! Its definitely my goal once I get a Wii U. “Buy Tropical Freeze, Buy Tropical Freeze, BUY ****ing Tropical Freeze!”

    As a huge DKC fan, I’m admittedly STILL disappointed by the lack of Kremlings, but the return of DKC has got me pumped, I certainly hope Nintendo finds someone else to continue the DKC games again. Don’t leave us hanging for another 10 years without a new proper DK game! Every few years is fine, though.

    And yes, the return of David Wise is epic as well. I’d love to see him come back and do a few more remixes for Smash Bros., and perhaps future DKC games.

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