Grant Kirkhope ‎- Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

4 out of 5

Label: iam8bit

Produced by: Dave Gardner (mastered by)

Mario: classic, bouncy gameplay.  While certainly challenging at points, especially during later parts of its many entries, also often an “entry level” game for a lot of players.

Rabbids: Somehow spun off into its own franchise-ish thing from the Rayman universe, often seen (at least, based on hott internet takes) as a shallow and annoying money-grab, taking a “cute” concept and stripping it of anything beyond marketability.

Mario + Rabbids: An oddball crossover video game that proved to be pretty good (surprisingly, I’d think, given my impression of how the latter in that “+” are perceived) and, given the cartoonish look of the two participating groups of characters, another dose of entry level fun.

…Only not so much.  Mario + Rabbids was positively received thanks to actually having a story, and also its gameplay depth.  It also, apparently, gets damned challenging.  But this mix of generalisms and assumptions giving way to something greater than supposed is an accurate reflection of my listening experience regarding the soundtrack for the game, composed by the great Grant Kirkhope.

Being a fan of Kirkhope, and with encouraging memories of his work with other brightly animated games, I was expecting – I haven’t played Mario + Rabbids – something equally impactful as soon as I put needle to wax of this iam8bit pressing of the music.  A jaunty score is certainly what I got, but I was initially left a little dispirited: this seemed more generic thanI would’ve hoped, more in line with other scores I’ve unfavorably compared to Grant’s work for following a line of predictability versus defining a theme that stands on its own while helping to define a game.  Things jumped out at me – elements that were surprisingly organic – and then as I got deeper into the score, I was amused by the operatic turn it took, including vocals which humorously outline the plight of a plumber.  A good sign was that by the end of the score, I felt like I was missing something; sides C and D felt so much stronger than A and B – more thematic, more evolved – I wondered if I could identify something holding the whole soundtrack together.

Indeed.

Side A of Mario + Rabbids is pretty basic, but I’d say it’s done purposefully so.  It’s a bright and shiny video game world, and Grant kicks it off that way, with hints of the flourish that will come later on.  Towards the end of the side, we also start to get notes of conflict: richer musical aspects which stand in contrast to the light and airy tunes we’ve been getting.  Side B allows for this to evolve into stunning works of action and excitement, giving over to the operatic moments mentioned, with the amusing “Phantom of the Bwahpera” tracks.  As the soundtrack continues – and presumably the gameplay and plot develop – sides C and D are now fully cinematic affairs, much more grandiose while not forgetting the bounciness to which the game is likely still rooted, and connecting those threads back to the beginning.  It’s a lot of fun, and comes into its own more and more as further spins allow those threads to become clearer.

Iam8bit’s packaging is pretty fun as well, with an actual “mustache” on the front cover and some perforated character sheets contained within, and the pressing – to my ears, anyway – sounds good.  The only issue I have is that some tracks are oddly faded out before their time, which happens on a lot of iam8bit releases.  I’m never sure who to blame for that, but if it’s the label, due to trying to time tracks to sides, it’s unfortunate that it disrupts the flow momentarily when some tracks are just getting going.

Otherwise, though, this is another great addition to Kirkhope’s library, even if it requires a top-down view to allow the score to be fully appreciated from start to finish.