Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let's Listen: Transitions

at 6:00 PM
Game music sets the mood, puts you in the right mindset. On rare occasions, one piece will transition into another. The effect lends dynamism. Rather than experiencing two disconnected situations with two different themes, you're shifted from one state to another by the transition.

Super Spy Hunter - Levels 1 and 4

To get a good idea of the transition here, you can start listening at 1:13. Super Spy Hunter music is, as ever, pretty badass, with a deep bass and chill lead melody. For excitement, they're accompanied by a driving drum beat and dashes of high pitched squares.

You can hear the transition start at 1:34 in the percussion. Not only is this the exciting channel in the tune, but as a source of rhythm, it's what keeps everything going. When the drum track changes and the melody remains (until 1:39), it's like the rug is pulled out from under you. That said, it still plays nicely with the old melody.

The drums are the bit that change, so they draw your attention, and it makes sense that they get a solo part from 1:39 to 1:44. That bare portion of soundtrack matches the insecure feeling at the height of your car's jump: you're suspended in midair, and somehow you're safe. Somehow.

Your new melody comes in at 1:44 when you can spot the road below you, and you get the direction that gameplay is taking. From here on out, you're jumping from one bit of highway to the next, weaving through enemy fire all the while. You'll need focus to manage this feat, so the music pares it back, focusing more on the cool end of things. You won't find the twists and turns here that you did in the music for the first half of the stage.

You have two moods bridged by a moment of uncertainty. The drums keep you going while you scramble for a new melody.

You can listen to it without sound effects here.

Banjo-Kazooie - Gruntilda's Lair

Any good mansion is a character unto itself, and with a character comes a theme. There's a version of Gruntilda's Lair for every area in the game, and you can hear it transition a few times over the course of this video. Of particular note is the bit from 3:30 to 4:30, where you can hear it go from the regular theme to the Treasure Trove Cove version (3:46) and back (4:23).

No matter where you go in the Lair, you can always hum along with the melody. It's just that you'll get a different rhythm or instrumentation depending on where you are; the regular theme is lonely and creepy, while the Treasure Trove Cove version has all the sing-song bounciness of a pirate shanty. Rather than draping every setting in Grunty's witchy character, this approach takes the theme of Gruntilda's Lair and makes you think of a million different things with it--drunken singing pirates included.

It highlights both the cohesion and the disparity of the Lair construction.

Paper Mario Sticker Star - Gooper Blooper

Music begins at 0:17.

Gooper Blooper marks the climax of, or at least a pretty serious turning point in, Sticker Star. The game up to this point has built up its puzzles (granted, they're still Paper Mario puzzles), and you've just cleared a hefty brain teaser spanning multiple stages. From here on out, the game grows more and more action oriented.

As the battle progresses, Gooper Blooper becomes more agressive, marked by his clapping tentacles. At first his clapping tentacles are in the background (0:37), then the foreground (1:10), and then he uses all four available tentacles (1:43). When he starts slamming the ground (2:20), it's serious time. This is a transition worthy of consideration in itself: over time, the percussion strikes harder and more often, matching the growing tension of battle while Gooper Blooper's tactics become fiercer.

That slamming is a great touch that nails the concept. Slamming the ground not only demonstrates the power of Gooper Blooper's appendages, it also puts Mario in the uncomfortable situation of being surrounded by tentacles. Plus, the sound it makes--both for its bass and for its unconventionality as an instrument--is threatening in and of itself.

But the real transition comes when he gets a taste of his own medicine. At 3:00, Gooper Blooper feels the sting of his ink. Mario's been doing piddly damage so far, and this status effect lets him really lay it on Gooper Blooper. So, it's only fitting that the music switches to Mario's own theme. In a humorous gesture, Gooper Blooper keeps clapping along to it, as if he's cheering Mario on.

Admittedly, it's the thinnest of the transitions listed here. The melody and rhythm are uprooted, and the two portions are only related by their instrumentation and that clapping. The transition itself doesn't graduate from one theme to the next.

You can listen to it without sound effects here.

Skies of Arcadia's boss theme was a runner up for this spot. It changes depending upon your state in a boss battle. There's a normal theme, which then turns sour when you're low on health and optimistic when the boss is low on health.


  1. Skies of Arcadia actually does both #2 AND #3. Similar to Banjo Kazooie, the instrumentation of the world map music reflects the classical traditions of the cultures that inspired those areas (the Middle East, Japan, Africa, etc.).

    1. Btw I meant to put this here - the aforemention Skies world map theme.