Video game soundtracks from the ‘90s and early 00s have been experiencing somewhat of a revival in the last few years, largely thanks to the DJ sets and mixes on YouTube showcasing the very best jungle, drum & bass, techno and house tunes that the video game world has to offer.
Whether it’s DJs such as Dedeco splicing beats from Bomberman Hero to create acid techno sets, Pizza Hotline’s Low Poly Breaks or the slick transitions of Rylan’s journey through Jungle music on the N64, the millions of views behind these mixes highlight the massive role this era of music played in influencing the music tastes of an entire generation, exposing them to genres they’d only have heard otherwise if they were lucky enough to climb onto someone’s shoulders and sneak into Fabric.
But for all of the talk about Wipeout, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Ape Escape being the bastions of club music in video games, there’s one video game that deserves far more attention for its eclectic soundtrack: 1080 Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64.
1080 Snowboarding is a special game for a lot of reasons. Released in 1998 at a time when extreme sports games were beginning to surge in popularity, 1080 Snowboarding proved that Nintendo can make a banging racing game regardless of which method of transportation it toys with, whether that’s jet skis, kart racers or F-Zero machines.
And while 1080 Snowboarding is by no means the first snowboarding game, it was leagues apart from the likes of Cool Boarders, Alpine Edge and Snowboard Kids. Not just for the meticulous effort that Giles Goddard and Colin Reed put into programming that made pulling off tricks and swooshing through the snow feel so smooth, but for the musical that Kenta Nagata pursued with the game’s soundtrack.
Nagata only started working for Nintendo in 1996, and to say he was thrown in at the deep end would be an understatement. His first project was Mario Kart 64, which he ended up composing 28 pieces of music for. An impressive feat, not just for the sheer quantity of music in the game, but because of the way it seamlessly jumps from jazz fusion licks to latin and samba swings without ever losing a sense of direction. Listen to that 11/8 groove from the winning results and tell me that’s not one of the coolest things you’ve heard in a video game.
This makes the soundtrack for 1080 Snowboarding somewhat of an anomaly in Nintendo’s musical output. Drum & bass and jungle aren’t genres that you’d associate with a composer that ended up writing some of the most iconic tracks in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, namely its title theme, ‘Dragon Roost Island’ and ‘The Great Sea’ theme. But 1080 Snowboarding is seeming with club bangers, and the end result is a soundtrack unlike anything ever written for a Nintendo game.
Don’t believe me? Just take a listen to the bass-heavy drops ‘Half Pipe’, ‘db’ or ‘Lost’ – the latter of which makes regular appearances in track lists for drum & bass video game music sets. Other highlights include the aptly-named ‘Dance!’ and ‘Call Me’, two acid techno tracks featuring some pretty risque vocal samples from sample libraries. This is the only Nintendo game where you’ll hear someone delightfully moan: ‘give it to me good, baby’.
The compression of these samples, along with the speed at which lines were delivered, proved problematic for the localisation team as it led to plenty of lyric misinterpretations. One stand-out example is a library sample that appears in the Japanese soundtrack version of the track, ‘This is a Test’, but this sample didn’t make it into the English versions of the game.
Jim Warner, who was responsible for Nintendo’s American localisation at the time, tells NME:
“The bridge [of the track] had to be changed twice because it had this voiceover where the man kept repeating what sounded like ‘homosexuality’. We had to change that, and the next version that came back sounded like ‘necessary violence’. So we had to change it again, and then it was just taken out completely in the third version.”
Of course, it’s not unusual for Nintendo’s composers to experiment with sample library CDs – the music for the temples in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time wouldn’t be the same without them. But it is unusual for Nintendo to combine risque samples with music genres you wouldn’t associate with its first-party titles. If you’re interested in learning more about these sample libraries, the folks at VGM Resources have identified the sound sources and sound libraries in the game, and put them together in a massive spreadsheet.
Alongside the floor fillers, there are plenty of unusual additions to the music in 1080 Snowboarding. Heavy metal tracks feature aplenty inbetween the drum & bass and jungle beats in the game, and most of them are pretty bad – not least for the distorted guitar sounds and poor-quality metal growls. This might be the attitude that some would expect from an era where youth culture was defined by baggy blue jeans, nu-metal and Spitfire skate shoes, but it feels out of place compared to the rest of the soundtrack.
As 1080 Snowboarding approaches its 25th anniversary at the end of this month, its soundtrack is worth checking out if you missed it the first time round, whether you’re a fan of club music or simply want to experience the most experimental soundtrack that a key Nintendo composer has ever produced.
Mat Ombler is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to NME.