In simpler times there were great melodies driving the music composition of games. When you’re limited to a handful of sound channels it really tests composers to make a piece that fits the game they are working on and is memorable. It also has to survive repeated listens, as many games were short and had only a handful of tracks. Today we look at one of the best Western composers for one of the best European game development companies. David Wise was Rare Ltd’s house composer from 1985 to 2009, and his work stands out like the company he worked for.
His first handful of years were spent with Nintendo’s juggernaut Entertainment System. Rare’s philosophy at this time was to make as many games as they possibly could, and some stand out as great titles for the system, while others are quite smelly. The first games with Wise’s compositions came out in a year or two after his hire, and they were Slalom and Wizards & Warriors. One of the best racing games on the system carries Wise’s compositions, R.C. Pro-Am!.
I like to call Slalom ‘Downhill Butt Simulator’.
The following year saw double the number of Wise compositions, showing that he most likely was not sitting around for the first couple years of his existence at the company. The rest of the year’s work featured game show adaptations in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Rare’s own video board game Anticipation rounds out 1988.
1989 was a big year for Mr. Wise, and includes almost too many games to list, as does the following year. The Sesame Street games are well known for their high quality digitized voices, which sound almost too good for the NES. Wise helped with those, starting with Sesame Street ABC. It includes such beloved classics as Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Hollywood Squares, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and WWF Wrestlemania. In seriousness though there were great games or ports that Mr. Wise composed or rearranged, those include Marble Madness, Cobra Triangle, Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. Finally, push your periscopes up and look across the horizon for the best and most valuable game ever made. Silent Service.
The decade changed but the NES still reigned supreme. As a result of this David Wise still had plenty of projects to work on. 1990 was the biggest year yet, with many classics, as well as the first foray onto the Game Boy. The game show adaptations continued with Double Dare being a new challenger. Rare must have had a monopoly on these game show adaptations. On top of these he got to work on some original Rare titles such as Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Super Glove Ball, Time Lord, and Pin*Bot for the NES, with Wizards & Warriors Chapter X: The Fortress of Fear and The Amazing Spider-Man on Game Boy. There were some arcade ports and movie adaptations as well including Captain Skyhawk, NARC, Cabal, Arch Rivals, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Battletoads was the next big and well remembered Rare title that Wise composed the music on. You can thank him for that groovy pause music as well as everything else in the original NES release and the mostly unrelated Game Boy release as well. Sesame Street ABC & 123 released in 1991 alongside the aforementioned Battletoads, Beetlejuice, and super R.C. Pro-Am.
The next year saw Rare stretching its arms onto the up and coming Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, with Championship Pro-Am. They did not completely abandon the Nintendo systems, but did not have him move forward to the new Super Nintendo yet. On the NES there was R.C. Pro-Am II, Wizards & Warriors III, and the port of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Battletoad mania would start in 1993.
Since the original release of Battletoads the series had proven quite popular, so Rare had the first Battletoads ported onto the Genesis and Game Gear. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon marked the move onto the SNES. The latter also saw releases on the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World is a proper Game Boy port of the first Battletoads that also released this year. Other than Battletoads Mr. Wise also arranged the 16 bit port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll for the Genesis, as well as X The Ball for the Arcade.
The next year may well be the year that solidified Mr. Wise as a truly great composer, as his music got to grace one of the most beloved video games of all times, not just of the 16 bit era, but ever. This was also the year that saw a severe decrease in output from our composer, almost being entirely limited to the series spawned by this game. You may be asking what game I’m getting to. Donkey. Kong. Country. There was also Monster Max and the arcade port of Battletoads, but 1994 was the year of Kong.
For the better part of the next decade Mr. Wise was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country series, so his early output of many games in a year decreased to one or two a year until his departure from Rare. Both of the followup games to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES were composed by Mr. Wise, but his contributions diminished with each game. The first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy features some Wise compositions. Diddy Kong Racing on N64 was the lone game he composed for on the Big N’s system.
There was a three year lull between Diddy Kong Racing and his next game, which was the Game Boy Color port of the first Donkey Kong Country. After that he moved onto his lone Gamecube game, Star Fox Adventures. A couple Game Boy Advance games followed, Its Mr. Pants and Donkey Kong Country 3. Next was the DS games Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. By this point Rare had been sold by Nintendo to Microsoft. He only worked on one Xbox 360 game before his departure from Rare, War World. After this he went freelance with his own studio, composing the iOS game Sorcery! Retro Studios brought him back to the land of Nintendo earlier this year to return to his most famous series. The Wii U needed help and David Wise delivered with the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. His most recent game is Tengami for iOS and the Wii U.