There’s something I really dig about Donkey Kong Country Returns’ soundtrack. Aside from having many original new compositions by the talented Kenji Yamamoto, it reinvents and rearranges the original DKC’s soundtrack quite well, and in two ways. The original tracks are all back under “Returns” names, like DK Island Swing Returns or Fear Factory Returns. However, these same tracks get redone several ways over in different directions. This way you don’t piss off the purists and you get to explore the basic motifs and melodies in different ways. Having your cake and eating it too and all.
There’s one exception to this, and that’s Aquatic Ambience, where Aquatic Ambience Returns is a very loose interpretation of the original track. It’s taken a lot of flack for not being a more faithful mix, like the other Returns tracks. I’m not sure why Kenji did this – it just makes his moves with the other tracks more obvious. Definitely a curious decision.
One track that’s improved the most in my opinion is Life in the Mines. I preferred DKC2’s mines track to DKC1’s, but this new arrangement makes me a believer. I think it’s because Kenji took the original Mine track, which is a bit open and airy for an enclosed space like a mine, and blended it with elements of Stickerbrush Symphony. It also has a new bridge section before the repeat which breaks up a bit of the original’s monotony, giving the track more of an epic feel.
I was a doubter because Dave Wise wasn’t doing the music himself, but Kenji got the essence of what made the original music great and managed to improve it – no small feat. I heard that Dave was a consultant on the music side of things, which helped placate me a bit, and I have a feeling he’d be happy with these new arrangements of his classic tunes.