I Stand On My Soapbox is a series of editorials that cover more specific topics in the games industry and community. These articles are a little more extreme than normal editorials published here, and could just degenerate to outright ranting. Have fun and enjoy the show!
Ah Donkey Kong Country 3. Many consider this game the Super Mario Bros. 2 of the Donkey Kong Country series, the sort of outcast that not many people remember. I mean, it came off the heels of Donkey Kong Country 2, and was released the same year the N64 came out. Like its following and fan reaction, its soundtrack was met with… okay ratings. While there were some memorable tunes from this entry in the series, it was obvious that some was… missing. Maybe its because Eveline Fischer did most of the composing and not David Wise (no offense to Fischer). Maybe it’s the relatively new setting for the Kongs.Years later, facing audio issues for the GBA, Nintendo saw this and brought back David Wise to redo the entire soundtrack of DKC3 for its GBA release. And then… a fanbase split ensues!
Before I state my point about how I feel about the soundtracks, let’s set the stage here. Besides having stellar graphics at the time and some rather pulse-pounding platforming segments, many remember Donkey Kong Country for having a memorable soundtrack. Once it succeeded, Rare followed up with Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It upped the ante with more crazy stages, a new way to traverse the stage with Dixie’s hovering, and some new animal buddies. The musical genius of David Wise once again prevailed with a soundtrack that, arguably, surpassed the first game’s. With songs like Stickerbrush Symphony, Mining Melancholy, and Forest interlude, DKC2‘s soundtrack would be etched into the annals of videogame music history. Its follow-up, DKC3: Dixie’s Double Trouble, would find itself in a tough spot when meeting expectations set by the previous games.
Starting with the SNES version’s soundtrack, the music was a bit more aware of the setting of this entry than the previous. What do I mean by that? Well, when you listen to the soundtracks of DKC 1 and 2, it feels like Wise would compose a rough of a song first, then see the setting, then incorporate themes of the setting into the song (like the hammers of Mining Melancholy). Then there are songs that, composition wise, are completely detached from the stages they play in. For instance, without prior knowledge, you could never tell that Stickerbrush Symphony is played in a stage full of brambles. But you see, it sort of works. Wise would do his own thing, adding stage theme elements if he wanted, and it still worked. But for DKC3, it feels like here, the composer, Eveline Fischer, wanted to make the songs perfectly match the themes of the stages. It worked, but there were some that just felt dull, and in a sense seemed like the songs tried too hard to match.
Then there’s the GBA version. Here, Wise takes full control of the soundtrack. If you’re wondering why Wise had to change the soundtrack, it was because of the GBA’s audio capabilities (or lack thereof when compared to the SNES). The original SNES soundtrack had a lot of low notes, something that does not really transfer well to the GBA. In many cases, those low notes carried the main melodies of the songs. So because of this, there are now two Mill Fevers and two Rockface Rumbles. However, the complete change seems to have ruffled a few gamers’ feathers as they feel Wise should’ve just left the songs alone (which would not be feasible as I just said), or stating that the SNES version was better. Well I’m here to say this: Both soundtracks equal eachother out. Both versions, admittedly, had lackluster soundtracks when compared to DKC1 and 2. But the two versions help each other out. Some songs in the SNES version were weak, but in the GBA version they were awesome. Same goes for good songs in the SNES version having lamer versions in the GBA.
Let’s compare the two soundtracks.
Stilt Village is the first song you’ll hear for the stages. Right off the bat, you can tell that this is a rather goofy sounding song. This may not seem like a bad song since this plays on the pier stages. But this might change once you hear the GBA version. The only fault of this song is that it takes a while to really start since the beginning is just the sound of waves. But once it starts, you really start to get a feel of how the Northern Kremisphere is: it’s a largely unknown world, and it’s much different from the jungles the Kongs are used to. Some say the GBA version only fits in Stormy Seas, but from a grander standpoint, the GBA version fits the game’s theme as a whole. So point goes to the GBA version.
This theme is played on the waterfall levels. The SNES has this feeling of height, as much of the level sees you climbing higher while waterfalls rush behind you. The song is more subdued as this is one of the more dangerous levels to play. They’re like Kannon’s Klaim with how vast the stages are and how one misstep will send you plummeting to the bottom of the level. The GBA version brings in that disconnect flair that Wise has. The song is more upbeat. The high piano notes seem to celebrate the beauty of a waterfall, compared to the composition of the SNES version which emphasizes the danger of waterfalls. Personally, I prefer the GBA version.
This song is certain to split the fanbase. Played on the mill stages, the SNES version makes playing through the abandoned mills feel like sneaking through it, or just how quiet the mills are, save for the bees and the mice running about. The GBA version though changes the mood of the mills almost entirely, making sound like its active. Admittedly, I like the GBA version a bit more since it has more energy. Some may disagree and I can see why since the mills themselves are, like I said, rather quiet. Some also say that it sound like music that would play in a factory stage. For this, it’s a draw.
Played in the tree levels, the SNES version of this song really empasizes the new environment that the Kongs are in. It screams that is not the jungles that the Kongs are from, but a forest with many tall trees. The GBA version… oh man. Some may like the rather chpper nature of the song, that is, until you hit Ripsaw Rage. It does not fit at all. This is a major blunder for the GBA version of this song as Ripsaw Rage was a very memorable stage and one that probably haunts gamers to this day with its rhythmic moves and the sound the saw makes. So a definite point to the SNES version.
Once again, the SNES version of this theme plays on the general newness of this land and the unsettling nature the North portrays. Remember, Aquatic Ambiance emphasized the serenity of the Ocean. Lockjaw’s Saga, played on DKC2’s water levels, was more about the ship taking on water and both sea creature and Kremling are ready to fight to their last breath. With DKC3, it’s back to basics with being in the ocean, but treading on new territory. The GBA version is basically a remix of Aquatic Ambiance, which makes sense as it’s back to basics like I said before. Now there really isn’t much to say about this song as its Aquatic Ambiance! It’s a really good song. So here, it’s really a matter of preference. Let’s call this a draw, shall we?
This is played on any stage where you’ll be moving fast. The SNES version has a constant rhythmic thumping that plays very well with the fast-paced action on screen. The GBA version slower paced than the SNES version. While it’s okay on its own, it’s just a bit to slow for the fast stages. Point to the SNES version.
Considered by many as one of the more climactic moments in the game, the cliff stages have the Kongs climbing a mountain, reaching heights that are rivaled by the Bramble stages in DKC2. The SNES version of Rockface Rumble is sort of the Stickerbrush Symphony of DKC3 as many vgm afficionados remember this game for this song (though others would liken it to Mining Melancholy, and rightfully so). The combination of heavy drum beats and the rather epic feel of the song complements the mountain setting. The GBA version has a more country, Sweet Home Alabama twang to it, and is more lighthearted than the SNES version. Though not very noticeable, some elements of the SNES version are carried over, but are changed enough that that it sounds new. Now again this is a matter of preference and I really like both songs. The GBA version could probably do without the airy sounds before looping, but overall both songs are good. You can’t go wrong with either song. Draw.
Being DKC3‘s proverbial fire levels, the Factory stages in this game are more brooding and much more threatening than DKC1’s Factory stages. It’s not quite the dance party that was Fear Factory, but Nuts and Bolts solidified these stages as a very terrifying place to be in. The GBA version plays a bit more with the factory setting by having more mechanical sounds act as the beat. It kinda treads on dance party status with that funky bass and synth, but it seems to fit well for some. Personally, I prefer the SNES version. While like like a little funk in my music, I remember the DKC3 Factory Stages as something of a death factory, and they were rather difficult. So point to the SNES version.
The Riverbank stages were rather new for the DKC series. Unlike the swamps in DKC2, you can swim in the river. These stages were relatively calm and mixed both land and water play. The song itself, while fast paced, is as calm as the stage itself. The GBA version is somewhat of a mixed bag. Here, the song plays depending on where you are in the stage. If you’re on land, all you get it is the rhythmic drum beats and nature sounds. But if you’re in the river, you actually get to hear the song. And man what a song! It’s a very beautiful song that could very well have been the Water World theme. Here’s the problem though, you only stay in the water for such a long time, and most of the time, you can’t be in there (Lighting Lookout and that bastard fish that bites you). It’s hard to make a call here since the SNES version is consistent throughout while the GBA’s in-water version is leagues better than the SNES version, but doesn’t play all the time. *sigh* The SNES wins, but by a very close margin.
Not seen since DKC1, the Kongs finally return to snowy mountains. Frosty Frolics on the SNES has both a crystalline and snowy feel to it. The levels themselves are not that threatening (certainly not as much as the first game’s snow levels), but it fits the northern theme that the game was going for. The GBA though… um… what happened? Now, I respect Wise, he’s a very good composer, but let’s keep the Yodeling and Pokemon town sounding theme out of this game, huh. Now, I get that some people would say that this fits being that the snow levels might be an interpretation of the Swiss Alps, but…no. The Yodeling really kills it for me. Points to the SNES version.
The pipe stages are somewhat unique. They feel like they came out of nowhere, but it makes sense considering these stages are near the more industrial parts of the Northern Kremisphere. The levels are more claustrophobic than the the other levels in the game and are more puzzle based. The SNES version plays on the contemplative part of the stages and really fits well with the low-g stage of the pipe levels. The GBA version plays on more the setting of the pipes than the puzzles they present. Since the pipe levels are close to the factory stages, this version makes sense with its mechanical instumentation. While it might not fit the low-g stage, it was only one stage. The rest go really well with the GBA version. So Point to the GBA version.
I’ll be leaving the rest of the songs out since this’ll make the article longer than it should. But you see what I mean here. The soundtracks help each other out. If there’s a song that isn’t that great on the SNES, the GBA version might be better, and vice versa. Both soundtrack were not great, but together are awesome. While this definitely won’t shut people up about which soundtrack is better, I figured I should present a new standpoint in the debate over which soundtrack was better.