By Jonathan Carey, Chapter Member

The 1990s was a booming time for video games.  Home consoles such as Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, and the Neo Geo were all the rage The release of these popular consoles initiated one of the first console wars in the video game industry.  

To begin the war, Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System beat out the competition, selling 49.1 million units worldwide. Even though it’s been around since 1990, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) remains popular amongst retro gamers across the country.  Nintendo’s SNES games provided detailed graphics and notable music tracks from certain games.  Many video game musical composers pushed the boundaries of creating tracks that pulls players into a unique atmosphere, sending them into a world of excitement and adventure.  One notable composer currently working today is David Wise.

Composer David Wise playing the Saxophone

Composer David Wise playing the Saxophone

British video game composer David Wise was born on September 13th, 1967. He’s most known for his work with the video game company Rare. Before he worked his musical magic for video games, Wise played a variety of instruments at a young age.  From the piano to the trumpet, David Wise listened through various music pieces that sparked his interest in the music industry.  Wise’s interest in computer-generated music didn’t pitch in until he stared selling drums at a music shop.  Wise played around with a Yamaha CX5 computer that came into stock, hooking it up with several synthesizers and drum machines.  His best deal was demoing the music-making unit to the two brothers, Tim and Chris Stamper.  When Chris and Tim Stamper heard Wise’s demo compositions, they offered him a job at Rare.  That one sale paved the way for Wise’s video game composing career at Rare.  

During his early years with Rare, Wise was notable for composing soundtracks for the Donkey Kong Country series.  Each composed track synchronized the quintessential ambience players feel when venturing through the worlds.  From industrialized factories to frozen landscapes, Wise’s whimsical tracks pieced together the levels players ventured through while playing as Donkey Kong or Diddy.  One notable track that became a fan-favorite was Aquatic Ambience, a relaxing and mellow piece that works with the serenity of being underwater.  After his success with Donkey Kong Country, Wise composed more ambient soundtracks for the sequels Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

The Nintendo Game, Bamble Scramble.

The Nintendo Game, Bamble Scramble.

Grant Kirkhope, most famous for his work on N64 title Banjo-Kazooie

Grant Kirkhope, most famous for his work on N64 title Banjo-Kazooie

While composing video game soundtracks, Wise worked alongside with noted Rare composer, Grant Kirkhope, a notable British video game composer for Rare.  Kirkhope was most famous for video game compositions for the Nintendo 64 during the late 90s.  His first musical work was for Goldeneye 007, a first-person shooter title based on the film Goldeneye.  It was there that Grant Kirkhope was taught the basics on incorporating sound effects and music into the Nintendo 64.  Grant Kirkhope wrote soundtracks for notable N64 titles such as Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo-Tooie. Kirkhope eventually partnered with David Wise to release Donkey Kong remixes for OverClocked ReMix, a non-profit organization preserving and paying tribute to notorious video game music.  Last year, Kirkhope was signed into The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, a music talent agency located in Burbank, California.  The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency represents film/television composers as well as songwriters and music supervisors. Kirkhope was represented for his musical work on Banjo-Kazooie.

 Twenty years after Wise’s ambient work with Donkey Kong Country, he bounced back with Retro Studios to compose music for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.  Being released in February 21st, 2014, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze takes Donkey Kong and Diddy into six new worlds containing spiteful enemies aiming to take over Donkey Kong Island.  Wise was hired by Michael Kelbaugh, a former Rare employee who became CEO and President of Retro Studios.  Kelbaugh originally worked on the original DKC series and worked closely with the release of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.  Just like composing ambient, environmental soundtracks twenty years ago, Wise conjures up insightful and adventurous tunes that has gamers flocking towards the series.  Despite two decades of being absent, nothing has changed in terms of scoring musical composition.  In a recent article posted on, David Wise remarks, 

“I knew exactly what I was dealing with because Retro had previously made Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii; I knew thematically what to expect. Also, Retro Studios have a very similar work ethos to how we used to work at Rare and I think this shows in the quality of the finished game”

Different company, but similar tactics are used to draw out those naturalistic tunes flowing within the mind of David Wise.  Playing through the new title, gamers sense familiarity from past composed titles remixed from earlier Donkey Kong series.  Some remixed compositions include:

  • Scorch N Torch (Hot Head Bop, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest)
  • Twilight Terror (Stickerbrush Symphony, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest)
  • Irate Eight (Lockjaw’s Saga, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest)
  • Temple (DK Island Swing, Donkey Kong Country)
  • Frozen Frenzy (Fear Factory, Donkey Kong Country)
  • Frosty Fruits (In a Snowbound Land, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest)
  • Aquatic Ambience (Aquatic Ambience, Donkey Kong Country)

These are just a handful of remixed tracks featured within the game.  Going through the classic tracks, David Wise remixed the titles with various instruments to pay tribute towards their environmental ambience.  Gamers tuning into the background music feel a sense of adventure, courage, fear, curiosity, ambition, and joyfulness.  But the most important aspect that draws gamers flocking back to Nintendo is nostalgia.

Nintendo’s philosophy of utilizing nostalgia within their gaming content rakes up gaming audiences everywhere.  Both old-school and new gamers can play through hundreds of game titles from Nintendo, familiarized with the original characters within the game title.  Take the Mario Brothers series for instance.  Mario Brothers was released in 1983, the first platform game featuring Mario and Luigi in their first adventure.  Arcade gamers were reeled in to play as Mario or Luigi to defeat creatures popping out from the pipes.  Nintendo’s success with the Mario Brothers series came into play in 1985 with the release of Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Super Mario Brothers starred Mario and Luigi in their first platform-adventure game aimed at saving Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser.  Gamers who played the original platform-adventure know the underground theme by heart.  This dark and up-beat tune kicks in while Mario treks through underground caves, pushing off enemies that stand in the way.  19 Mario Brothers series later, that underground theme still kicks in while Mario or Luigi face perilous worlds with hordes of enemies standing in the way of saving Princess Peach.  Gamers are all too familiar with the dark underground theme kicking in, sending back that nostalgic feel in Nintendo’s titles.  The latest tuning for the underground theme can be heard in Super Mario 3D World, released for Nintendo Wii U in November 22, 2013.  

Nintendo logo

Nintendo logo

Almost 20 years have passed since Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  David Wise moved from selling drums at a local music shop to orchestrating one of the most timeless soundtracks within the video game industry.  After his work on the SNES titles, Wise worked his musical magic for the N64 title Diddy Kong Racing while working with Rare. Through his connecting with Rare and sheer talent, he made even more powerful connects that would take him where he wanted to be, utilizing nostalgia within the gaming titles brought Nintendo tremendous success from gamers of all ages.  Anyone playing through new Mario Brothers titles remembers familiar faces such as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Toad, and other character within the universe.  There is no telling of what catchy tunes David Wise will come up with in the future.  What is certain is that our ears will be tuned in by comforts of nostalgia, reminiscing of that difficult level we played through a hundred times to beat the game.


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