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LIKE: The music of Rare's David Wise

We pay tribute to the man behind some of Nintendo's most iconic tunes

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Delving Deeper

Donkey Kong Country sold over 9 million copies on the Super NES, making it the second best selling title on the system behind Nintendo's own Super Mario World. It was an incredible achievement for the fledging studio in Leicestershire, but for the inevitable follow-up the developer - and Wise - wanted to push the 16-bit console even harder.

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"I felt that with DKC-1, I had started something that I wanted to delve deeper into, and DKC-2 was the perfect vehicle," he explained. "We were also given a 10k float of extra sample memory per track - and that opened up many more possibilities to be explored."

Much of the composer's inspiration came from trying to surpass the limitations of the aging Super NES's memory, and to do this he had to be more creative with how he utilised his method of delving into waveform data.

Just as with Aquatic Ambience, David's experiments resulted in one of most ethereal and majestic game tunes of 1990s...

"This piece almost never made the game," he said of Stickerbush Symphony."It was originally composed as a follow up to Aquatic Ambience, however, there was no water level in DKC-2.

"I'm not really sure as to why it's a fan favourite, but I'm very pleased it still is."

"Fortunately, it was used for the Brambles. It seemed to fit and was a good juxtaposition to the difficulty in negotiating through such a hard stage of the game."

The track's beautifully woven layer of string and brass instruments and laidback, summer feel - at odds with the dead, spike-filled bramble of the level in which it features - make it a clear fan favourite with hundreds of remixes published to date - including Nintendo's own in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

"I'm not really sure as to why it's a fan favourite, but I'm very pleased it still is," Wise humbly recalled. "Perhaps because the level was so difficult, players had to listen through the music so many times?"

The Donkey Kong Country games cemented Rare's position as Nintendo's premier Western development studio, kick-starting a golden age throughout the 90s which saw countless classics debut on both the Super NES and the Nintendo 64.

So highly regarded is Wise's work on DKC that Shigeru Miyamoto himself is said to have instructed future series composers (such as Kenji Yamamoto on Donkey Kong Country Returns) to take "great care" updating his original score, rather than producing entirely new soundtracks. President Satoru Iwata too has claimed he still listens to the SNES tracks on his personal iPod.

David Wise recalls the healthy rivalry between the once-great partners of the 1990s, which saw the British developer trying outdo Japan not just in the gameplay stakes, but in audio too.

Wise's first N64 project was Diddy Kong Racing, a game with a soundtrack - although not nearly as highly regarded as his work on the DKC series - infectious enough to linger in the heads of those who played it right to this day.

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"Graeme Norgate produced all of the sound effects for Diddy Kong Racing, including recording Mr Stampers children for the infectious laughing at the very start of the game," he recalled.

"I've always admired the Mario Kart soundtracks, and yes, I wanted to pay homage to the talented composers at Nintendo by trying to make the OST even more fun than Mario kart, if that's at all possible?"

Although he only managed to meet his legendary Nintendo equivalent once during his 20+ years at Rare, David remains a huge fan of Nintendo's famous Mario composer.

"Whilst we were making DKC-1 we had many visitors from Nintendo," he said. "I have many fond memories from this time, but I think one of the most memorable was a visit from Nintendo's legendary game creator Shigeru Miyamoto.

"Since I first played Mario on the NES, I've been a huge fan of the legendary Nintendo composer Koji Kondo. The only time I managed to meet Koji Kondo was at the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco several years ago, where he was giving a speech about interactive game scores."

When I'm N64

Unshackled from the harsh memory constraints of the NES and Super NES, over the next decade David would ironically find his work constrained by the challenges of ever-changing technology.

After finishing Diddy Kong Racing in the N64's European launch year of 1997, David's next project wouldn't even release on the console. The ambitious Rare RPG Dinosaur Planet was announced at E3 2000 as a Zelda-esque adventure with huge, visually impressive worlds and fully voice-acted characters, all contained in the N64's biggest ever cartridge.

Set for release in January 2001, the title saw plenty of media and even music MP3s released into the public, yet following its E3 unveil Dinosaur Planet was never seen again.

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Under pressure from the arrival of the PlayStation 2 and the launch of its own new console, Nintendo eventually announced that the Rare RPG had been rebranded Starfox Adventures and moved to the upcoming Nintendo GameCube.

This stretched out David Wise's 4-year association with the project even further: "A lot of work went into converting the music that already existed on the N64 to the tools we had to work with on the Gamecube. Whilst this was technically challenging and incredibly time consuming, that's all part of the development process.

"While most of my time was spent creating content for Dinosaur Planet, there may also have been a certain amount given over to Gameboy Advance conversions. There would also have been a few prototypes that for numerous reasons, never made it to production."

Starfox Adventures turned out to be Rare's final console video game released under Nintendo.For many fans, it also acts a rather cruel tease of the kind of rousing, anthemic soundtracks Wise could have delivered in future adventure games, had the studio's strategy not changed so drastically in the years to come.

Rare was sold to Microsoft in 2002 for a fee in excess of $350m.

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