Kirby's Dream Collection Compilation Soundtrack :: Review by Julius Acero
Nintendo is once again celebrating the anniversary of one of its most popular series, this time the Kirby series, which has just turned 20 years old. Yes, Nintendo has gotten into a pretty good habit of releasing special games and retro compilations, along with promotional soundtracks, to celebrate their individual series' histories, and Kirby is no exception. Being one of the most beloved, innovative, and child-friendly game series out there, Kirby has garnered a pretty large following out there. Fans are sure to enjoy the newly released Kirby's 20th Anniversary Dream Collection, which features six classic Kirby games, a full in-game museum/timeline of all the Kirby titles, bonus full-length episodes of the Kirby anime, a special collectible booklet, and finally a compilation soundtrack CD. Now, The Kirby series has never shied away from releasing special compilation soundtracks, although this is the first to be released outside of Japan. With 45 tracks and just over an hour of music, how does this celebratory CD stack up?
There are three slight presentational issues overall with this collection. First, in terms of presentation, while Nintendo did a wonderful job in squeezing as many songs in this track list as they could, almost none of them loop, meaning that the first half of the CD goes by incredibly fast, which is shame, because Kirby's music has always had catchy, bouncy melodies that deserve a second listen. However, it is understandable, since Nintendo and HAL Laboratory tried their best to cover tracks from each game. Secondly, the included booklet, which includes the track listing makes note that the original audio may contain low levels of residual noise. Due to the fact that we're covering music from each Nintendo system, there is a sort of discombobulating feeling when listening to the soundtrack from start to finish. The Game Boy Advance game's audio takes a massive hit especially. Finally, almost all these tracks have been made available in other, more complete soundtracks, but this is a minor quibble, since this is the first time a Kirby soundtrack gets an international release.
With that out of the way, we go onto the music. We begin with two tracks from the original Kirby game, the Game Boy's Kirby's Dream Land, which introduces us to the bounciness of the series, albeit in a very fast, quick pace. Composed by series' mainstay Jun Ishikawa, "Green Greens" is especially memorable, not only being the first stage in the first game, but also becoming the main theme for the whole series. Moving onward to Kirby's only NES game, Kirby's Adventure, the audio shifts quite a bit in quality. But the first stage's theme, "Vegetable Valley" by Hirokazu Ando, manages to convey the same energy that "Green Greens" did for the original. Meanwhile, the theme for "Grape Garden" is the first that takes it down a notch, being more relaxed, while still having a Kirby-esque beat.
Next up, we have a single track from Kirby's Dream Course, a rather obscure golf game that featured Kirby's debut on the SNES. "Iceberg Ocean" also has a laid back style, though conveying an air of both mystery and triumph, being the last course in the game though it is not quite as memorable as the last couple tracks. Returning to the Game Boy one last time, we have two themes from Kirby's Dream Land 2, "Coo's Theme", a flying theme for one of Kirby's companions in that game, and the final boss theme, "Real Dark Matter". Both are very short and quite dramatic, although also repetitive.
Three tracks have been presented for the fan-favorite Kirby Super Star, the first being "Get Up and Go-urmet!" This theme, originally composed for the Gourmet Race mini-game, would become one of the long-standing Kirby themes, appearing several times in the Super Smash Bros. series, and becoming the basis for the lovely Fountain of Dreams battle theme later on in Kirby's history. It is, once again, jubilant, catchy, and somewhat silly taken in its original context. "Havoc aboard the Halberd" on the other hand, is quite the opposite, being chaotic and pulse-pounding, as Kirby battles his way to a final showdown against Meta-Knight. The theme even contains a brief statement of the "Green Greens" theme, showing some thematic progression in the Kirby series. Finally, we also have the final boss theme from Kirby Super Star, "Meddlesome Marx", a very high paced and dramatic theme, which is one of the best boss themes out there for the series. It also contains slight musical references back to "Green Greens". Unfortunately, the excellently composed "Credits" isn't included in this soundtrack, which is a shame as its possibly the best credits theme in the series.
Tracks 11 and 12 are dedicated to Kirby's Dream Land 3, a game that possessed a very unique graphical art-style, but was never quite as well received as Kirby Super Star. Musically though, the musical quality right on par. "Ripple Field: Ocean Waves" is a good example of the beach/ocean themed levels in the Kirby series, which have always possessed a sweet, tropical sound to them. "The Last Iceberg" however, is the exact opposite, being a wild, mysterious, almost electrical themed sound quality that is quite unlike anything we've heard so far on the album. It works, being a fun, energy-filled song to listen to. It's too bad that the first stage theme didn't make it on the album, as it had a sweetly vibrant theme that fit the overall atmosphere of the game, and would become a recurring theme in the series.
Kirby managed to have a solo Nintendo 64 game in the form of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, which although not the most popular game in the series, managed to successfully transition Kirby into the third dimension. With the first stage's theme, "Planet Popstar", Ishikawa returns us into the classic Kirby mood, having a bouncy, flute/whistle based melody, although it has a weirdly faster paced bridge towards the end of the song. "Studying the Factory", on the other hand, is one of the more mechanical sounding themes in Kirby's history, consisting of car-starting sound effects mixed in the background of its melody, which even contains a snyth-choir resounding in the background. The end of the theme, with the sound a resounding low-keyed piano strike is... different to say the least. With that, we segue into the final boss theme, "02 Battle", a dramatic, moody, and minor based theme for the frightening battle against 02, one of the most memorably freaky, if not, slightly traumatizing, characters of the Kirby universe. The theme works incredibly well, fitting right up there with "Meddlesome Marx" in terms of quality. Overall however, the game's music doesn't quite hold up, at least in terms of melody, to the other games we've seen on this list.
This may be why Nintendo decided to return to the past with our next game, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, a Game Boy Advance remake of Kirby's Adventure. It's great to hear the theme for "Rainbow Resort" presented here, as it's one of the most memorable from both games, possessing a sweet, yet slightly mystifying theme. Next, we have "Tower of Midbosses", which ia actually a remake of King Dedede's final boss theme from the original Kirby's Dream Land. It's also great to hear this theme present on the album, being another fun, recurring song in the Kirby series, and overall a great boss theme. However, as mentioned before, the residual noise levels on the Gameboy's audio are very apparent, leading to lesser quality in sound mixing, despite better composition.
Funnily enough, next we jump to the better sound quality, with Kirby's GameCube debut, and sadly the only GameCube game in Kirby's history, Kirby Airride. "Fantasy Meadows" by Shogo Sakai is a great theme introducing us to Kirby's only racing game. Although it doesn't possess the bouncy quality of most Kirby games, and instead goes for a medieval compositional style, it's a wonderfully styled piece including some thematic elements present in the game. Next up, we have the "Fountain of Dreams" theme, which is... actually very disappointing. Don't get me wrong, the track is one of the best Kirby themes out there, and was even orchestrated for Super Smash Bros. Melee, sounding as grandiose and as wonderful as ever. But it's a shame that HAL decided not to use that version of the theme in Kirby Airride. Instead it took the exact same piece and midified it, placing it in a lower audio quality. It just doesn't sound as good, and is no way the best way to present this, otherwise, amazing piece. Moving on we have the "City" theme from the City Trial mode of the game, sounding brazen and strangely moving. Though not the best theme from the game, it is very well composed, and has a dramatic orchestral edge to it. There are countless other themes I would have loved to seen included here, such as the Nebula Belt theme, the City Trial theme, or heck, even Checker Knights, which featured music from the Japanese version of the Kirby Anime! However I digress...
Dropping back down to Gameboy Advance audio quality, we have two pieces of music from Kirby & The Amazing Mirror, the "Forest/Nature Area" theme and the "Boss Battle Theme" from said game. The former has a cute, marching style theme, while returning to Kirby's signature style, and has a quite a different musical style from what we've heard so far, though it definitely sounds like Kirby. This track was even featured in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, in its original form strangely enough. The boss theme is crazy and chaotic, and features an interesting bridge section, seeming to be based in bass and drum music. It's a bit unsatisfying overall, especially given its repetition in that game, and considering how better tracks could have been fit here. Thankfully, the game did have a Club Nintendo soundtrack release, albeit only in Japan.
The series' debut on the DS, Kirby Canvas Curse, was an absolutely brilliant game that utilized the touch screen mechanics to its full extent. Strangely, Jun Ishikawa and Tadashi Ikegami decided to reuse many Kirby tracks and pace it in a digital, almost techno style for the whole game. "Tiny Town" is actually an original piece that follows in this style's vein, and it strangely works, definitely delivering on that Kirby upbeatness, while in a new way. It's a very calming piece that's immediately followed by a more rollicking theme, "Canvas Canyon", a remake of another Kirby theme from Kirby's Adventure, with both mystery and high-energy. Lastly, we conclude this last section with "Drawcia Sorceress", which is the first half of the final boss of Canvas Curse. This is an extreme departure from the norm of Kirby boss fights, being entirely an organ based theme, with the digital electronic sounds coming in halfway through to supply the beat to the song. It works well, though once again, there could have been other selections included here. The title has unfortunately not been given an official soundtrack release, despite its unique style.
The next of four DS games on the list, Kirby Squeak Squad introduced some new abilities to the Kirby series, along with the new group of titular characters. "Prism Plains" once again contains that classic Kirby attitude, along with an interesting and cute section that uses what sounds like a fast-paced banjo. "Vocal Volcano" on the other hand is percussive and jazz based, which definitely fits the mood of a Volcano, despite its short length. "Squeak Squad Appears!", the theme for the Squeak Squad, is also a jazzy, fast tune, which features several variations on its theme, and what appears to be mouse-based sound effects. The escalation of this theme also works quite well as a boss theme. This track was also remixed and featured in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Kirby Super Star Ultra was the third DS game released for the Kirby series, and was a fully-fledged remake of Kirby Super Star, though it contained enough additional content to warrant a full new release. Thus a lot of the music from that game was redone, and actually made available in a Japanese Club Nintendo promotional soundtrack. However, here we're getting only the new music featured in the game. "The Masked King" is actually a remix of King Dedede's final boss theme, sounding more aggressive and faster-paced than the already fast paced song. It goes by too quickly, leading into "Helper's Rest", a calming and soothing theme that, although restful, somehow reminds me of one of the town theme from Final Fantasy... suffice to say it's good. The last track here, "The Greatest Warrior in the Galaxy", gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's a very powerful boss theme, and excellent for Meta-Knight's final challenge in the game. And while I enjoy it personally, I will be the first to admit that it doesn't have a melody and is instead is only composed of a harsh "metal" rhythm, that although works in context, is weaker, and way too chaotic compared to the other themes here. Once again, no credits theme was presented from Kirby Super Star, which is quite a shame for this compilation.
The next game on this list, Kirby's Epic Yarn, one of the two Wii games for the Kirby series, is one I have not gotten to play yet, but after seeing the game in action and listening to the following lovely melodies I actually really want to try it out. The score emphasizes piano and whistle based instruments, which works especially well in tandem with its gorgeous and unique art/yarn style. "Fountain Gardens" is a sweet, spritely theme, featuring a synth orchestra, and was actually the debut's trailer theme. "Green Greens: Epic Yarn" is a return to form, featuring Kirby's main theme redone for piano, and it works better than almost any other rendition I've heard. It's absolutely lovely, and totally fits Kirby's style, even better than the original music. "Butter Building", originally a theme from a stage with the same name from Kirby's Adventure, is even better! Building from the original composition and using this jazzy piano/bass rhythmic style, it works in a way that no other track in this soundtrack compilation has done so far.
From there, we return one final time to the DS, for Kirby Mass Attack, which featured not one Kirby, or even four, but... ten tiny Kirbys, controlled via the touch screen. Another contribution to the series by Shogo Sakai, "Meadow Breeze" is an interesting track, featuring a full on western styled song, featuring guitar and accordion based synths. Interesting, and definitely a departure in the soundtrack. "Kirby Conflict" on the other hand, is focused on battle, once again playing with a different, rock-focused, musical style. "Piggy Enemy" is also different, going for a "bigger/badder" type of boss music, focusing on drums... and what appear to be pig noises near the end of the song. The final boss theme of the title, "Down to One", is a major departure from the norm, going into a dramatic version of the "Green Greens" theme, and could easily be classified as an ending theme almost. It works really well, though not as dramatic or captivating as the previous final boss themes we've heard.
We finally arrive at the final game thus far released in the Kirby series, Kirby's Return to Dream Land, which as the title suggests, is a return to form, being a Kirby 3-D side-scroller platformer exclusively for the Wii. With Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando returning to the hotseat, all the tracks follow the classic Kirby style and mood, while incorporate a surprisingly great sounding midi orchestra. "Cookie Country" most definitely establishes the new main theme for the game, which sounds great. "Bring on the Super Ability", on the other hand, incorporates phrases from "Green Greens" and sounds triumphal as Kirby displays his full power. However, this isn't enough to prepare listeners for what comes next. When I first listened to "C-R-O-W-N-E-D", I was legitimately caught off guard, and had to double back and listen again to it. It is the best sounding final boss theme so far, and that's not to say anything negative of its predecessors. But the way this track utilizes an amazing violin based rhythm, with a shotgun sounding percussion along with combining the "Cookie Country", "Bring on the Super Ability", and "Green Greens" theme is absolutely amazing, and winds up making it one of the highlights of the album. This section of music ends with the moving and touching, "Returning to Dream Land" credits music, which especially great as it recollects all the different themes from the game. A full soundtrack release is currently available, though unfortunately once again only through the Japanese Club Nintendo only.
However, the soundtrack hasn't ended quite yet. HAL Laboratory decided to arrange three special tracks for this compilation's release. Unfortunately, the first of these three, "Electro Kirby" is easily the worst track on this compilation, and that's saying a lot considering its pristine sound quality. Its composition is absolutely horrendous, and although it mixes several of the themes we've heard so far on the album, it just fails to make them sound better than their original versions, and instead, with an electrical loop it just sounds obnoxious.
Thankfully, the next two tracks are not only saving graces, but the main highlights of the compilation. "Gourmet Race to Green Greens: Chamber Music" is completely self-explanatory, and sounds amazing. It's a small medley going through the arranged versions of these two themes, and using a sweet sincere chamber musical style fits the Kirby series well. As a bonus, a music video showing the song performed live in the HAL Laboratory studios is actually included on the game disc, a fantastic touch by both Nintendo and the developer. It's not as rich as say, the orchestral music released for The Legend of Zelda last year, but it works fine with Kirby. Lastly, "Dream a New Dream for Tomorrow" incorporates several of the ending themes from the three Kirby's Dream Land titles into an unabashedly sweet and relaxed piano and flute based medley, ending the CD in a touching and appropriate way that's sure to resonate with any Kirby fan.
The Kirby series has consistently boasted upbeat and melodic music, while offering plenty of diversity and surprises over the years. HAL Laboratory's sound team, under the lead of Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando, have certainly ensured the series' music is worth celebrating. This soundtrack may have some presentational issues here and there and does not include all the best tracks from the Kirby series. Nevertheless, it is still a great compilation CD, and an overall step up from the Super Mario 25th Anniversary set that also included a CD with only 25 minutes of music. Nintendo is really starting to develop with its soundtrack releases, so here's to more of them. And here's to Kirby: to many more years in this much loved franchise.
Overall Score: 8/10