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7 Classic Songs from the Nintendo 64

The Nintendo 64 may have had a smaller software library than previous Nintendo consoles, but it still had some quality titles. While the unfortunate lack of RPG’s compared to the SNES meant less legendary soundtracks (it’s tough to top Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6), the N64 featured a number of memorable tunes from other genres. With plenty to choose from, here are seven classic songs from the Nintendo 64.

 

Bob-Omb Battlefield (Super Mario 64)

 Super Mario music has generally featured light and catchy tunes in the past, giving players the perfect tunes to run and jump around with. Super Mario 64 has a number of notable pieces (Dire Dire Docks is a personal favorite), but the very first level introduces perhaps the most recognizable track in the game.

The trumpet is the prominent instrument on display here, but there are also some memorable “doots” from a synth. This tune is easy on the ears and plenty of fun to listen to, making it the perfect introduction for the levels still yet to come. It’s even featured in several other stages in the game as well.

 

Spiral Mountain (Banjo Kazooie)

 Grant Kirkhope delivers one of his most iconic and downright brilliant soundtracks with Banjo Kazooie. Spiral Mountain acts as the tutorial level of the game, giving players a chance to learn some of Banjo and Kazooie’s moves.

The song itself begins with an upbeat banjo riff, before bringing in a xylophone, drums, and later a flute. Much like other tracks in the game, Spiral Mountain uses a variety of sound effects, ranging from bird chirps, to buzzing bees (which kind of sound like an elephant). It’s the perfect jolly tune to start Banjo’s adventure, and helps set the tone for the rest of the game.

 

Hyrule Field (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

 “I can go anywhere!” That’s probably what most Ocarina of Time players felt when they stepped foot into Hyrule Field for the very first time. Sure, the area is mostly barren aside from surrounding towns and Lon Lon Ranch, but the adventurous feel is not lost.

The song evolves from a triumphant, march-like tone, to a fairly dramatic display of blaring trumpets. You’d almost expect a boss to show up in the middle of the field, though luckily the area is safe from enemies during the day (well, except for those giant peahats). The music of Hyrule Field makes Link, and the player, feel less like an outsider in an open-world, and more like a true adventurer.

 

Credits Theme (Super Smash Bros.)

 There’s nothing quite like finishing a game, only to be greeted with a celebratory ending theme. Considered one of the best multiplayer games on the console, Super Smash Bros. also has a simple, yet still entertaining singleplayer mode. Players are given the challenge of defeating each of the characters in the game, in addition to a few mini-games, such as “race to the finish” and “target test.”

The mode concludes with a battle against Master Hand (who is, quite literally, a giant hand.) The reward is a credits sequence with an excellent rendition of the game’s main theme. It almost sounds reminiscent of the opening to an 80’s animated sci-fi television series. The main melody was even referenced in later Smash titles, including an appearance in the Final Destination theme from Melee.

 

Rainbow Road (Mario Kart 64)

Whether it’s your favorite Mario Kart level or your worst nightmare, there’s no denying the impact that this classic song has had on players over the years. It really makes you feel like your racing on a giant rainbow in the sky. The stage may be the most difficult in the game, but the song really helps make the experience feel less stressful. There’s even a great guitar riff that plays the main medley during the second verse, which only adds to the epic scale of this final stage. Nothing says “welcome to Mario Kart” quite like the uplifting melody of Rainbow Road.

 

Opening Theme (Star Fox 64)

 While this song is mostly recognized from Super Smash Bros. nowadays, it serves as the grand introduction for Fox and his squad on the Nintendo 64. When it’s not featuring talking dinosaurs, the Star Fox series deals with a galactic war between space animals and a giant monkey head (were the dinosaurs really that out of the ordinary in Adventures?)

This opening theme gives players the adrenaline rush they need before flying into action, dodging asteroids and barrel rolling through enemy fire. Not to mention, seeing the main characters run with such quick, silly motions is always a blast.

 

The DK Rap (Donkey Kong 64)

 What? You thought I’d just forget the quintessential rap track of the 90’s? The DK rap has no doubt influenced countless artists throughout the twenty-first century (because who wouldn’t be inspired by this masterpiece?)

All jokes aside, it truly is one of the most recognizable songs from the Nintendo 64. The track was even given a remix in Super Smash Bros. Melee a few years later. Sure, it’s incredibly cheesy, but that’s part of the fun. Besides, the lyrics are actually quite accurate with the game, since they mention several key abilities that the Kong’s can learn.

How Super Metroid’s Ominous Soundtrack Creates Immersion

When Nintendo released the original Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1987, it introduced a new level of non-linearity to gaming. Players were thrown into an open world, not unlike the Legend of Zelda did prior, and left to figure out where to go to progress. Along with an eerie, minimalist soundtrack, Metroid truly made players feel alone in an alien world. With the limitations of the NES sound capabilities, tracks were often simple, yet had rather creepy melodies. From the ominous tone of Kraid’s Lair, to the mesmerizing, yet haunting notes of Tourian, Metroid’s soundtrack knew how to create a sense of loneliness in its world.

Though Samus would see another adventure on the Game Boy with Metroid II, the series really hit its stride in the 16-bit era. With the launch of the Super Nintendo in 1991, Metroid fans would have to wait an extra three years before the release of the third installment in the series, Super Metroid. Luckily, the wait was well worth it; Super Metroid is considered one of the finest Super Nintendo games of all time.

With enhanced 16bit visuals, improved controls, and new abilities (not to mention a map!), Super Metroid was a huge step up from its predecessors. Perhaps one of the most iconic aspects of the game is its soundtrack; not only were there far more tracks than the NES original, Super Metroid utilized the Super Nintendo’s sound capabilities in incredible ways. The result is an immersive, atmospheric masterpiece that leaves the player isolated on an alien planet.

Though Super Metroid is far from a horror game in terms of gameplay, its atmosphere is perhaps one of the darkest and loneliest on the Super Nintendo. From the moment the player begins their adventure, the opening segment doesn’t use any musical melodies prior to the encounter with Samus’s enemy, Ridley. An ominous beeping noise and single droning note are the only sounds accompanying Samus. Even when exploring Crateria, the first main area of the game, the music consists only of droning vocal samples, and a low backing drumbeat. It’s as if the vocals are coming from the alien life that lives on the planet, warning Samus to pack up her spare missiles and get out of their home.

One comparison that can be drawn to the Super Metroid soundtrack and atmosphere is the 1979 sci-fi horror film, Alien. With its droning notes and eerie sound effects, the music of Alien often builds tension with minimalism. Some tracks begin quiet with little instrumentation, before introducing brief, loud melodies that last only a few seconds. Sure, the same can be said about most horror movies, but Alien is already a big inspiration for the Metroid franchise. One of the film’s tracks, “The Lab,” in particular sounds like it could fit right at home in a Metroid game.

While Alien’s soundtrack does create tension, the film has its fair share of jump scares as well. The scariest scenes are often more frightening from the unexpected nature of the moment, rather than the Xenomorph itself. Similarly, Super Metroid is all about setting the right tone for horror; the music itself is often more frightening than the actual environment or situation. That’s not to say there aren’t some creepy enemies in the game, but the stress from the slow, lingering vocal samples and noises are what really drives the atmosphere. This lonesome, chilling tone continues for the duration of Samus’s journey.

The final level of Super Metroid, Tourian, brings the soundtrack full circle, and uses noise samples in place of an actual musical track. It consists of bubbling lava and a grumbling sound, not unlike a hungry stomach (what has Samus had to eat all this time anyway?) Much like the beginning of the game, the final segment relies heavily on in-game sound effects, including the occasional shrieks of the Metroids themselves. The result is a familiar atmosphere that reminds the player of the beginning of their adventure.

Even during the first phase of the battle with Mother Brain, there is still no music present until the last segment. It’s not until the true final encounter that a loud, dramatic track begins to play. The notes are shrill and piercing, with Mother Brain screeching at the player with every chance she gets. This is the perfect way to give the player a final send off; it begins with an ominous lack of music, drawing Samus further into the lair of Mother Brain. Then, just when her adventure seems to be finished, the boss rises up once again (after unexpectedly growing legs) and begins one final attack.

Hmm, this ending seems a bit familiar…remember the finale of Alien? Just when it seemed like Ripley was going to make an escape without having to worry about the Xenomorph, it appears unexpectedly, hiding in the same escape shuttle. In a similar sense, Mother Brain returns even after it seems like she is no longer a threat. Ok, so this comparison may be a bit of a stretch, but Super Metroid does evoke a similar feeling in its last battle. The adventure isn’t over until Samus makes it off the planet in one piece, and the player won’t feel safe until they are certain they have escaped. One final victory song plays, with a rendition of Samus’s theme. It marks a triumphant conclusion to a game that previously provided pure isolation and terror, and stands as one of gaming’s greatest finales.

 

 

Why we Do What we Do

We spent a lot of time at local conventions this summer. Our big event is AVGC, but we tabled at a good number of mini library cons, too. There are so many preparations for these events: From remembering the date (does it start at 11:00 or noon?), to packing the promo materials, to remembering what instrument I’m even playing in a set list I can’t remember. When your weekends are packed with volunteering and performances, you’re inclined to forget the bigger picture—that is, why we do this at all.

At one of the library conventions, there was a child—probably four years old—who would not stop hovering. We befriended his father, who humored the kid’s fascination with our instruments. We showed him the synthesizer; he received a personal demonstration of guitar chords. He stole my kazoo and shoved it into his mouth, which I didn’t ask to be returned. It was that kid, and moments like those, that remind us of the big picture. We adored it. We play this music because we enjoy it, but it’s not enough to feel it on our own. We share it with our fellow musicians, and we share it even more with those who listen. Including, maybe especially, hyperactive toddlers.

Most of us are not professional musicians. We moan that we’re imperfect. We botched a note on our solo, or missed our entrance after 34 measures of rests. While we work on these things and strive to improve our musicianship, what matters in the end is not that I accidentally played an F# after the key change, again. It’s looking to our audience and seeing them smiling, or dancing, or nodding in acknowledgement that this piece rocks. “Play Undertale!” they plead, for the seventh time. “What’s that?” the kid asks, pointing at the piccolo. And we play it, again. And we show them. And we love it.

Sometimes, social media is like shouting into the ether. Sometimes, no one approaches our table at a convention because they feel intimidated. But we keep on posting dumb things to Instagram, and we keep on jamming at our table. Because if we reach just one person, if one person laughs at our dumb photos or stops to listen to the seventh round of the Undertale theme, it’s worth it to see—or envision—the joy it brings them.

Why do we do this? Because we like it. But more importantly, because you like it. We may gripe about setting up chairs for a concert, and whine backstage because we just can’t play today. But when we get out there and see you, we’re glad the chair arrangement on stage is just right. And maybe we don’t sound so bad after all. You come to the library to seek out our table in a back corner, and you attend our concert in the ice and snow. You jam out with us, and you holler and applaud between songs. And when we’re breaking down a set or swabbing out our instruments afterward, we look at one another and say, “When’s the next one?”

MAGFest 2018: A Nerdy ol’ Time

Ah, the Music and Gaming Festival: Where hoards of nerds descend upon the national’s capital, along the picturesque shores of National Harbor. In the relief of exiting off the highway, one is greeted by the waters of the harbor and the glittering Ferris wheel that’s never open during the winter, anyway, but we like seeing it because it’s shiny. And best of all? The Gaylord Convention Center, where volunteers and panelists and performers eagerly await our arrival.

What other annual event would a gaming orchestra anticipate than one focused solely on music and gaming?

It was a balmy 8 degrees as we walked to the convention center without a jacket, because who wants to carry a jacket around all day? Once you obtain your weekend badge, though, you’re not bothered by silly little things like hypothermia. The schedule of events is intimidating: you huddle together with your con-going friends, checking off every panel and concert that looks cool, knowing there’s not enough time in the weekend to attend them all. (It’s the thought that counts.) But there are some panels you absolutely cannot miss, like the ones where MGSO founder Alyssa is one of the panelists. (Right? This is a priority for everyone, right?)

And these panels did not disappoint. Friday morning began bright and early(ish… at 10am) with “Being a Game Audio Designer,” and we were up again on Saturday to learn how to start a gamer orchestra. There are so many gamer music groups. Greetings to our friends in Seattle and upstate New York! I spent some time later chatting with a member of the Washington Metropolitan GSO, plotting ways for all our groups to get together somehow. Battle of the GSOs? MASSIVE JOINT PERFORMANCE? Look out, MAGFest 2019.


(Our good friends WMGSO)

And the concerts. One could easily spend the entire convention in the concert hall, watching back-to-back performers, for three days straight. Not only the WMGSO (who rocked the stage, in my humble opinion), but we also checked out the Triforce Quartet, the Videri String Quartet (a personal favorite from last year), and the Super Guitar Brothers, a list that I’m now noticing reveals my classical music bias. But if you want more, there’s more. Rock bands! Chiptune! So much chiptune. There’s an entire corner of the con center for chiptune. Mmm, chiptune…

While MGSO wasn’t on the “official” schedule of events, we still found time to jam. MAGFest encourages artists to randomly play in the hallways, and we claimed a tidy corner to show off. Kirby’s Gourmet Race was a local favorite, along with Korobeiniki (which might just be my favorite). And no MGSO performance is complete without a little Final Fantasy and Zelda action. If you saw us perform, hello again! I hope you enjoy this awkward photo of the back of your head.


(It’s us)

Short version: Please attend MAGFest. It’s fun, it’s nerdy, and I didn’t even talk about half of what’s there. (Computer museum! Arcade! Jam clinic!) If you’re whining about attending a convention in the middle of the winter, remember: D.C. is a whole lot worse in the summer. Also, all those other conventions don’t have music and gaming and more gamer orchestras than you ever knew existed. No, really. There are so many of us.