(Part of a continuing series spotlighting an individual piece of music from a video game.)
Games of Happiness
Game: Yoshi’s Story (1998)
Composer: Kazumi Totaka
The name Kazumi Totaka has a bit of notoriety attached to it, and it’s no wonder—the man hides secret melodies within games’ sound files, provides the odd cartoon grunts and gibberish of the Yoshi species, and has a guitar-playing vagabond dog modeled after his likeness. If there was ever a time to use the descriptor “zany,” now would be it. That said, I totally respect Totaka as a composer and sound designer, because his work is always original and refreshing, and not afraid to push an average listener out of their comfort zone. His scores are both catchy and anti-melodic, jaunty and arrhythmic, and usually all of these simultaneously. One gets a hint of his style in titles like Animal Crossing—the default town theme on the bulletin board contains a random note as part of its melody, for example—and even Mario Paint has a little irreverence to it, shamelessly dropping cat meows and baby “goo-goos” into a sophisticated (at the time) music editor. I don’t know the extent of Totaka’s input into the design of that music editor, of course, but it sure seems like a suggestion that he would make, doesn’t it? There’s always a little “kink” in his work, some aural element that you have to compute, always succeeding at keeping you in the game during any given moment, observing and processing.
I think Totaka’s score for Yoshi’s Story strikes a perfect balance between the weird and whimsical things we expect from him as a composer, while also proving to be one of the most charming collections of song variants ever in a video game. The game itself has some design issues that disappointed critics, especially after many thought they were getting a sequel to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. It’s a tad too short and a bit too simple, perhaps even shallow in its gameplay. Regardless, the music is daring—each track is an arrangement of a principal melody, done in a different style depending on the theme of the level and its particular tasks (perhaps influenced by Koji Kondo and his work on Super Mario World ). Here’s the example I selected:
This piece exemplifies all of the personal flourishes of Totaka that make his music so great: A delightfully upbeat melodic line filled out by a vaudevillian-jazz inspired chord progression, fluctuating tempos, and slightly off-center instrumentation and sound effect embellishments that seem to actually be working against the composition (phones, teledata packets, Game Boys). The brilliant thing is that they aren’t, of course. Everything is meant to invoke a certain timbre, as varied and interesting as the visual textures that define the look of Yoshi’s Story. It’s coarse and tactile. I love it.
Yoshi’s Story is available on Virtual Console if you’re curious about the rest of the score and never played the game. It’s a great example of a Nintendo composer doing things his way, even if they may be categorized as a little eccentric.
Posted by Kurt Shulenberger on April 16th, 2010 :: Filed under Posts
Tags :: Animal Crossing, Kazumi Totaka, Koji Kondo, Mario Paint, Music, Nintendo, Nintendo 64, SNES, Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, VGM of the Week, Yoshi's Story
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.