“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!


pixelchips “Behind the Scenes”: Valley of Repose (Holiday Song #2)

Hi again! Hope you’re all doing well.

This is part two for my holiday video game music series. Today’s arrangement is the Valley of Repose, from Pikmin 2. Have a listen to my remix over here.

Why did I choose to make a weird orchestral and hip-hop beat blend? I was mainly inspired by the beat from the Nintendo Land version, and I wanted to take that idea and run with it. I liked how that version had an almost mechanical, clockwork like sound – the steady beat is like the ticking of a clock, and all of the melodies and counter-melodies interlock to make a really energetic whole. It’s a nice contrast to the original song’s slow, relaxing tempo; and is much more well-suited for a more frantic party game like Nintendo Land.

For my remix, I really wanted to keep that steady, pulsing energy; a feeling that really meshes with the tactical, strategic nature of the Pikmin games. The bell-like lead is actually a layer of many instruments: a celesta, glockenspiel, music box, a couple synths, and a soft staccato on a flute. I made the bass a lot deeper and “thicker” than the original by adding a double bass ensemble and a subtle tuba. For the accompanying glissando and harmony, I used a filtered piano rather than a harp for a more “mechanical” sound, if you know what I mean.

The beat was difficult for me, as it’s something I’ve never really tried before. I started with a steady snare/clap on every beat for a clock ticking effect, and an 808 sort of kick every two beats to maintain that pulsing rhythm. I thought the reverse cymbal crash added a pretty cool effect. And of course, the jingling sleigh-bells echo throughout the entire piece.

The whole song goes through three cycles: the regular version, the version that plays when pikmin are at work, and the version that plays when fighting an enemy. The “at work” version simply adds some more layers to the song, such as a tremolo harmony on the violins and a very soft atmospheric synth. The “fighting” version sees an orchestral percussion ensemble (timpani, snare drum) join the regular beat for that epic battling sound. I also put some jittery, echoey chiptune bleeps in the background to create the frantic feeling of being attacked.

I hope I achieved the effects I wanted to. It’s an experiment for me; the genre is out of my comfort zone so I was a little nervous about uploading. Hopefully the song is interesting or enjoyable to some!

pixelchips “Behind the Scenes”: Snowman (Holiday Song #1)

Hey! Happy holidays.

Over on my SoundCloud page I am doing a fun little series of video game covers for the holiday season. I am uploading a new winter-themed video game cover each day until Christmas Eve. For the first of five songs, I chose “Snowman”, from Mother. You can take a listen here.

I tried to stay pretty faithful to the original at the start, though the tempo is more similar to the EarthBound version. I drew inspiration from both the original and the EarthBound version, as well as the Brawl remix, when coming up with my arrangement. In terms of instrumentation, I went for a light orchestral sound: a soft flute, a female choir, accompaniment on the harp, and a bass guitar. I made sure to emphasize the electric bass, as the bassline tends to be very prominent in many EarthBound songs. The melody is decorated with tubular bells and light pizzicatto strings to create that Christmas carol feel.

Then, the steady, echoey sleighbells come in, and the violin joins the flute for the melody line. As the song builds up, accompanied by glissando on the harp, I used a few subtle synths in the background to really give it that EarthBound vibe.

Then, the beat kicks in. I chose to leave the beat out during the first verse so it would be sort of a “surprise” element for the listeners; something to mix it up. An introductory lick on the toms leads into the steady beat. I opted for a more contemporary rock or pop-style drumkit rather than orchestral percussion simply because I thought it sounded better. I’m not super confident when it comes to making beats, but I tried my best to create a beat that would “carry” the rest of the song, and to give it a little more energy.

Halfway through the song, I decided to transition into the melody of Winters White! I figured it would be appropriate to mash up these two wintry EarthBound songs a bit, and plus it’s a nice callback to my Christmas cover from last year. I reworked Winters White into 6:8 time to stay consistent with Snowman, and I kept the instrument and general composition similar in style so the song would flow.

Overall, I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I’m really enjoying Kontakt 5 and it’s amazing factory library; I think the instruments sound so nice!

Let’s see how this goes…

Hi! It’s pixelchips. This is my new blog.

I was a little hesitant about making a blog, but it’s been an idea on my mind for quite a while now. I figured, hey, why not try it out – if it works, it works.

Basically, I plan to use this blog for a few things:
1) “Behind the scenes” of my music: I always put overly-long descriptions on my SoundCloud songs detailing my thoughts about the original track, my approach with my arrangement, stuff like that. To save my SoundCloud listeners the walls of text, I will be posting the longer descriptive stuff here. Maybe it will be interesting to some people? I’m not sure. If not, oh well  🙂
2) “Shout-outs” to other creators in the video game music community and “featured tunes” that I really enjoy: I’ve always wanted some way to “curate” the video game covers, remixes, and orchestrations that really stand out to me, so I figured I could feature some tracks I like here. I will of course be posting links to their SoundCloud pages, YouTube channels, et cetera; so you will be able to check out other musicians that are much better than myself!  😉
3) Opinions and critiques on things relating to video game music: Maybe I’ll review some video game OSTs. Maybe I’ll critique and comment on the music of games I really love and examine why some soundtracks are so effective, and perhaps I’ll even go into a little bit of music theory? One idea I’ve been itching to do is to go through my favourite arrangements in the Super Smash Bros games and critically analyze them – I might even start that little series pretty soon.
4) General thoughts and ramblings: Basically, if anything comes to mind that relates to video game music, or games and music in general, I may or may not post some opinions and ideas on this blog. Maybe. Who knows, I’m still not entirely certain of the direction to take yet.

So, this is a bit of an experiment on my part, so please bear with me. Let’s hope this blog turns out at least somewhat interesting!