“My Music” – Analysis of a SMASHING Soundtrack: Kapp’n’s Song

Track: Kapp’n’s Song
Remixed in: Wii U/3DS
Game of Origin: Animal Crossing and Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Arrangement Supervisor: Shohei Tsuchiya
Prominent Instruments Used: Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Drum Kit, Brass Section, Vocals (Kapp’n’)

In the first post of this series, I analyzed my favourite arrangement from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Now, I’d like to take a look at my favourite new arrangement in Super Smash Bros for 3DS & Wii U: “Kapp’n’s Song”!

This remix draws from the various sea shanties that Kapp’n sings when ferrying the player character to and from the Island (known as Tortimer’s Island in New Leaf). They are simple songs sung by Kapp’n himself and accompanied by ukelele. The lyrics are often about Kapp’n’s life at sea, his poor luck with women, and other silly anecdotes.

Above: Kapp’n’s sea shanties are memorable for their humorous and often nonsensical lyrics

This arrangement is actually a combination of two of Kapp’n’s songs. The first is the tune from New Leaf, heard here. After this melody, the horns take over and play this version of Kapp’n’s song from the original Animal Crossing. You can hear Kapp’n’s regular speaking voice talking over top of this part – I think this is a reference to the fact that in New Leaf, Kapp’n stops mid-song to say a few things (you can hear that happen here). Then, in an really cool moment, the key changes and we return to the New Leaf Kapp’n’s song. At this point, the energy ramps up and the brass section goes full-blast. It’s really quite a treat to listen to.

This track really stands out to me for a number of reasons. The fact that the Smash developers chose to arrange this song was quite a pleasant surprise for me – I never would have guessed that Kapp’n’s song would get a full-out remix. The original song is just so simple, and isn’t really a video game song in the typical sense (ie: instead of being background music, it is an actual performance by a character in the game). It just personally struck me as an out-of-the-box, but also very creative, choice. I was quite excited when I first heard this remix in the background of the 4/8/2014 Super Smash Bros. Direct! Another reason it stands out is its genre. This song is arranged in a style that has not received much attention in Super Smash Bros.: ska! As it isn’t a typical genre for Smash, and may not be familiar to some, I’d like to briefly describe what “ska” is and look at the history of this genre. This will help us understand why this remix was created the way it is.

Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica around the 1950s. It is a precursor to later Jamaican popular genres such as Rocksteady and Reggae – it shares many rhythms, albeit at a faster pace, with the latter. It is primarily derived from a style of Jamaican folk music known as “mento”, as well as Caribbean calypso music, combined with influences from American jazz and R&B music (source). It has the “walking” bass of American jazz music and unique, punchy rhythms of other African-derived genres. Broadly speaking it is quick and upbeat, and is primarily characterized by it’s emphasis on the upbeat, or “off beat”. Without delving too deep into musical theory, this basically means that every other beat in the song is accented. This contrasts with most other musical genres which emphasize the first and third beats in a measure, or, the “on” beats. In ska music, the off beats are usually marked with a drum as well as a unique rhythm on the guitar known as the ska stroke, or “the skank“. This “choppy” style of strumming creates a bouncy and energetic feel, and is unique to ska as well as it’s musical descendants such as reggae.


Above: An example of a typical “skank” rhythm in which chords on the off-beat (beats 2 and 4) are accented. Source: Wikipedia

Typical ska bands feature guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and a prominent brass section. (source). Moreover, ska is often divided into three main periods, the first being the traditional Jamaican ska scene of the 50s and 60s (known as the “First Wave”), popular among the Jamaican “rudeboy” subculture (source). The “Second Wave” of ska saw a new variation known as “2 tone”, which became prominent during the genre’s revival in the 1970s. This style of ska became popular in Britain, and was infused with the punk-rock musical style and cultural attitude that was widespread in 70s Britain – this resulted in a genre characterized by more aggressive singing/playing, a faster tempo, and a more “electric” sound. Examples include popular UK groups such as The Specials or Madness. Third Wave Ska formed mainly in North America (particularly the United States) during the 1980s and 90s, and is often categorized as “ska punk”. Examples from this era include more modern groups such as Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish, and No Doubt.

There’s a lot more to be said about ska’s origins and cultural significance, but I’ll stop the music history lesson here. Where does “Kapp’n’s Song” come into this? Well, it displays many of the elements just discussed: it has a prominent brass section and the characteristic “skank” rhythm (listen closely to the rhythm guitar – there are sharp, punchy chords played on the upbeat). Stylistically it fits somewhere in the Second or Third Wave due to it’s high energy and slightly more punk-rock sound – it uses electric guitars and a rock drumkit, for example. Personally, I find ska fascinating as a genre, so I think it is pretty cool that Shohei Tsuchiya chose to take the arrangement in this direction. I think this genre was selected because it’s Jamaican origins, as well as it’s bright and upbeat sound, are thematically fitting for the tropical island that the original song is associated with. It’s also worth mentioning that Japan has it’s own sizable ska scene, called “j-ska“.

All in all, this is my favourite of the new batch of Smash arrangements because of how striking it is in so many ways. Experimenting with unique and atypical genres is something I’d love to see more of in Smash. That’s all for now folks! Hopefully it was an interesting read. For further reading on ska, check out some of the links I sourced throughout the post.

Advertisements

“My Music” – Analysis of a SMASHING Soundtrack: Route 209

Track: Route 209
Remixed in: Brawl
Game of Origin: Pokemon Diamond & Pearl Versions
Arrangement Supervisor: Shogo Sakai
Prominent Instruments Used: Piano, Drum Kit, Electric Bass, Trumpet, Strings, Synths

This is an arrangement of the track that accompanies the player’s travels through Route 209 during the daytime in Pokemon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. It’s probably my favourite arrangement from the Pokemon series in Smash.

Above: Route 209 of the Sinnoh Region

Right off the bat, the arrangement stays very true to the original song. Unlike the previous song I examined, the tempo was not altered to make it fit the speed of a high-energy brawl. This is likely because the song would sound unnatural at a faster pace: sometimes the musical appeal has to take priority over changing a song to make it “fit” a fighting game. Because of its relatively few compositional changes, Brawl‘s “Route 209” does not feel like a full out re-imagining or remix of the original tune – rather it is like a remaster with updated instrumentation. In my opinion, they did an excellent job with doing so: this arrangement of “Route 209” really brings the original tune to life.

Arrangement supervisor Shogo Sakai – known mainly for his work on Mother 3 – has been a veteran composer for the Super Smash Bros. series since Melee. He has worked on more arrangements than any other composer who has worked on the Smash series (source), and even collaborated with the legendary Nobuo Uematsu to create Brawl‘s epic Main Theme. His approach for this particular arrangement, despite it’s similarity to the source material, still manages to display his creativity and compositional skills. It maintains the original song’s uplifting feel and the lovely, soft piano melody, but if one listens with a close ear, there are in fact some neat differences that give this version its own unique flair.

The main difference is in the instrumentation. The original song leaned more toward an orchestral ensemble: for example, the original uses a concert harp and tubular bells, instruments which are not present in the Smash arrangement. The Smash remix, in contrast, leans more on the side of contemporary popular music. While not belonging to any specific genre in particular, it has elements from both rock and pop music. For example, this arrangement forgoes the harp for some soft, bubbly synths, which add quite a nice new flavour. Also, the brass section isn’t nearly as prominent in this version. Another notable departure from the orchestral style of the original lies in the percussion: the original tune had a march-like beat, which is very snare-heavy; with a strong pulsing bass drum, evenly interspersed cymbal crashes, and a steady “marching” rhythm. While there are hints of the marching percussion in the Smash arrangement, it mostly opts for a modern drum kit. It’s beat doesn’t hesitate to stray from the steady rhythm of the original, allowing for some really cool licks and rhythmic patterns in the drums (particularly the hi-hats and cymbals). This fits with the subtle but effective transition from the more rigid classical march-like orchestral feel to a more contemporary pop flavour.

I think this difference in style is exemplified most in the chorus. The original Route 209’s chorus was rather standard, or “vanilla” sounding – still a nice melody, of course, but doesn’t quite ramp up the energy from the rest of the song. It’s pleasant, but a bit understated, if you know what I mean. Brawl’s arrangement, however, adds such a delicious flavour, and really elevates the chorus to a whole new level. Listen to the piano accompaniment in particular: it adds a completely fresh pattern of chords that is very soulful (it almost reminds me of the piano accompaniment you might hear in a gospel or R&B song). It’s brief, but it changes the “vibe” so effectively, making it into something you could groove and dance to. The chorus stands out to me above everything else; it makes me smile every time!

To me, this arrangement shows that a major revamp is not always needed to make a great arrangement. While the Smash remixes that dramatically change the style or increase the speed/energy to feel more at home in a fighting game are always quite thrilling to hear, the more reserved arrangements such as “Route 209” are nonetheless welcomed additions to Smash‘s ever-expanding soundtrack. For a track that is nostalgic and emotionally significant to fans such as Route 209, perhaps all it needed was to be enhanced, rather than drastically altered.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy this sort of post and would like more of this content, drop a comment and let’s chat!

“My Music” – Analysis of a SMASHING Soundtrack: World Map (Pikmin 2)


Track: World Map (Pikmin 2)
Remixed in: Brawl
Game of Origin: Pikmin, Pikmin 2
Composition Supervisor: Hajime Wakai
Arrangement Supervisor: Yasunori Mitsuda
Prominent Instruments Used: Bagpipes, Flute, Acoustic Strings, Piano, Bass, Drums, Shaker

Its arrangement came together in a very smooth and lovely way.

-Masahiro Sakurai

Source: Smash Bros. DOJO!!; (1/9/2008)

I’ve been wanting to start a series where I “analyze” the arrangements in the Super Smash Bros. series. I’ve always loved Smash’s soundtrack: so much talent and love is poured into these remixes of beloved tunes, resulting in a score that is truly something to behold. In these posts, I will be examining some of my personal favourite arrangements – ones that stand out for their musical greatness, uniqueness, or nostalgia factor. I’m going to try to delve into why the composers might have approached the arrangement in that particular way: why they changed certain elements to make it more fitting for a fighting game, or how a genre switch or choice of instrument might reflect the series from which the song originates. Hopefully it will add a little insight to some of these awesome tracks.

To kick off this little series, I’d like to start with my definite favourite arrangement from Brawl – “World Map (Pikmin 2)”. The name of the piece is actually a bit misleading, as the majority of this song is the melody from the original Pikmin‘s map theme. The first 14 seconds are taken from the beginning of the map theme from Pikmin 2, but most of the arrangement is derived from the original game. These songs blend together quite well as both are in triple metre. Both have been sped up to create a more appropriate tempo for a fast-paced battle.

Before I delve into the analysis, let’s start with a brief breakdown of how the instrumentation and composition shifts throughout the piece:

0:00-0:14: We start with a statement of the World Map theme from Pikmin 2 on the bagpipes. Such a unique and unusual choice of instrument, yet it really works – but I’ll get into that shortly.
0:14: Now we transition into the melody from the original Pikmin‘s map theme. The flute is a natural choice to lead, it has a very charming, natural feel that suits the outdoorsy and fantastical environment of the Pikmin series.
0:29: The bagpipes return to accompany and harmonize with the flute’s melody. In my opinion, it flows really beautifully.
0:44: Soft strumming and pleasant strings emerge as the melody begins to “wind down”. The acoustic strumming in the background adds to the rustic and outdoorsy vibe.
0:57: The “winding down” leads into a lovely, soft statement of the main melody. The accompaniment becomes much more reserved, with some simple pizzicatto, toned-down percussion, and light strumming.
1:12: To transition back to the introductory melody, we hear a pensive rendition of the “Something Peculiar” motif from Pikmin 2. Light use of percussion, soft piano, and tremolo strings give it that “peculiar” feeling.

The composition was overseen by Hajime Wakai, who worked on the soundtrack for the Pikmin games. It’s also worth bringing up that the arrangement supervisor for this piece is Yasunori Mitsuda, a guest composer in Brawl and Wii U/3DS whose other arrangements include “Vs. Marx”“Forest/Nature Area”, and “Mii Plaza”. Mitsuda’s arrangement of the Pikmin World Map theme displays his compositional style in all of it’s glory. For a glimpse into Mitsuda’s own style, let’s look at some pieces from his most renowned work, Chrono Trigger. These games exemplify Mitsuda’s ability to charm readers with magical and whimsical pieces (see: Yearnings of the Wind), but also his ability to deliver rich, powerful music as well (see: Chrono’s Theme). Mitsuda’s musical richness comes in full force in the beginning of this arrangement  – the Pikmin 2 segment, with triumphant bagpipes, percussion, and strings – yet this track also shows his softer, wistful side in the second statement of the melody. Moreover, it’s interesting to note that Mitsuda himself has stated that he is influenced by Celtic music (source), which may shed some light on the unusual choice to use the highland pipes.

Personally, I think the bagpipes are a great choice for this arrangement. It creates such a great vibe that fits with the atmosphere of Pikmin. Beautiful, wistful, adventurous, mysterious – it’s just really lovely. Yes, it is a bit of a juxtaposition, but perhaps that is what makes it so appropriate to the Pikmin series. This is a bit speculative, but I feel like the instrumentation was chosen to reflect the nature of the Pikmin games and the worlds that Miyamoto created. In fact, Sakurai himself stated that this arrangement “conveys the remarkable Pikmin world” (source). For instance, the unconventional choice of instrument like the bagpipes reflects a sort of juxtaposition within the Pikmin games: such a tiny little hero and his tiny little army are juxtaposed against a massive world filled with massive threats. The contrast between the loud, imposing drone of the highland pipes and the soft whistling of the flute evokes this image. The percussion – shakers, as well as what sounds like some sort of bongo or conga – instills an “exotic” feeling, which fits Pikmin‘s narrative of exploring a foreign and unknown world.

The nature of the Pikmin games are also reflected in the structure of the piece as a whole. It fluctuates between being very rich with intense musical colour to being quite soft and beautiful. This really sums up Pikmin to me, a series that can be both very dangerous and daunting, yet very peaceful and enchanting at the same time. It could also be interpreted as a reflection of the Pikmin series’ cycles, such as the cycle between day and night. The song makes you feel like you are playing Pikmin, an experience which alternates between hard work and facing adversity – carrying treasures, strategically taking down foes, tearing down walls or building bridges – and simply pausing for a moment to step back and take in the beautiful scenery. It really creates an amazing feeling when listening to this song – in the words of Sakurai, “it’s nice”! (source)

All in all, I think this is an extremely effective arrangement. This post should give you a decent idea of what I want to do with these review/analysis posts. I’m not yet sure how frequently I will post these analyses; we’ll see how it goes. Either way, hopefully it’s been an interesting read for somebody out there!