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Music Analysis from the Smash Bros. Direct

Thanks to PushDustIn and Cart Boy for edits.

There was a lot of focus on music during the recent Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct. And while Sakurai covered a wealth of material from how My Music functions to the game’s potential application as a music player, I’d like to go further in-depth and see what else we can find. I’m also going to be separating these all into spoilers for ease of reading, with my final conclusions at the end. To be frank, there’s quite a bit of data.

The total number of songs:

The biggest thing from the Direct, audio wise, is the number of songs in My Music. It’s officially “over” 800, with tracks excluded from My Music (such as, I imagine, victory themes or music only performed by side characters) bringing the game to an approximate 900 pieces of music. Let’s compare this to the number from the previous iterations:

  • Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64 had 9 pieces of music for its stages, discounting music tracks exclusive to the single player modes.
  • Melee had 44, also discounting single player modes or fanfare, a sizable increase of 35.
  • Brawl’s introduction of My Music led to it having an official track list of 258. The increase from the last game was 214.
    • However, this number comes from My Music; this ignores excluded tracks like the K.K. Slider songs, which would bring the total to 313 (I won’t compare this number to Melee’s, though, as it excludes music from the latter).
  • The number of tracks in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U is listed as 507. This comes from the Final Video Presentation; it includes all tracks exclusive to either version and, like Brawl’s 258 number, ignores things like victory themes. Using that lower number as comparison, the increase from the last game was 249.
  • If we use 800 as the exact number (even though it explicitly isn’t), the increase from these games to Ultimate will be at least over 293. And, again, that discounts a number of pieces from both iterations of Smash for 3DS & Wii U My Music does not count.

This shows that on the whole, Ultimate is adding a number of tracks at a reasonably consistent level with previous iterations of the series since the introduction of My Music; adding in quite a few more tracks than Smash for 3DS & Wii U did, which itself added quite a few more than Brawl did. It’s also said that the music put together can run for twenty-eight hours without any looping, though it’s hard to compare that with fan-made playlists of previous soundtracks. Even if every track from the previous game returns (which is not likely, going by every prior sequel in the series), that’s still almost three hundred new pieces of music.

Individual series’ music:

Next, let’s look at the most technical of details: the number of songs for certain series shown in My Music (we’ll save Castlevania for later). While it may not be the final tally for each series, it might be good to treat it that way for now.

  • Metroid: 25.
    • This is an increase of 8 over its track listing in Wii U (17). That was an increase of 7 from Brawl (10).
  • Yoshi’s Island: 14.
    • This is an increase of 2 over its track listing in Wii U (12). That was an increase of 6 from Brawl (6 is assuming you count both versions of “Obstacle Course” as separate).
  • Kirby: 39.
    • This is an increase of 8 over its track listing in Wii U (31). That was an increase of 19 from Brawl (12). Note that the Wii U number does not include the original music from Kirby’s Dream Land used in Dream Land GB; that might account for a good portion of those eight tracks.
  • Star Fox: 17.
    • This is an increase of 3 over its track listing in Wii U (14). That was an increase over 4 from Brawl (10).
  • Wii Fit: 10.
    • This is an increase of 4 over its track listing in Wii U (6).
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: 20.
    • This is an increase of 8 over its track listing in Wii U (14). That was an increase of 2 from Brawl (12), though Sonic lost many of its tracks from Brawl.
  • Pac-Man: 13.
    • This is an increase of 10 over its track listing in Wii U (3). It is possible, though unlikely, that Ultimate has simply incorporated the seven unrelated Namco tracks under the Pac-Man umbrella, meaning there would be an increase of only 3. However, “Galaga Medley” uses a generic music icon, strongly suggesting the Namco tracks will be in the “Other” category.
  • Street Fighter: 36.
    • This is an extreme increase of 30 over its track listing in Wii U (6). Given how all six of the latter were divided into versions of Ryu and Ken’s themes, it is not unlikely the number partially comes from having multiple variations of themes. If the same holds true and every song has three arrangements, that would be exactly enough to represent all twelve themes of Street Fighter II Turbo.
  • “Other”: 97.
    • This is an increase of 32 over the number of unaffiliated music in Wii U (65). That was an increase of 36 over the number in Brawl (29).
  • Game & Watch, Final Fantasy, and Bayonetta: 2, 2, and 11, respectively. Notably, none of these series have their total increased. While we might get some Bayonetta tracks replacing ones in Wii U, it’s very likely that all three series have the same tracks as before – including, notoriously, Final Fantasy.

In addition, the Splatoon stage Moray Towers has twenty-three tracks. This should not be taken as the exact number of Splatoon songs in the game; it could also have unrelated music that would go to the “Other” section. However, this is a good indicator that the series will have around twenty tracks, rather remarkable for a new franchise. For comparison, in Smash for 3DS & Wii UXenoblade and Punch-Out!! had eight and five songs, respectively.

Beyond that, how each returning franchise has increased is surprisingly small, though this is under the assumption that all of the music from Smash for 3DS & Wii U has been retained; there will almost certainly have been music tracks cut from the last game, as has been the case with every Smash sequel. Metroid has eight, befitting its jumping from two to four characters, and while I would strongly advise not extrapolating that to suggest Kirby and Sonic will be getting another fighter, those are franchises with a fair bit of importance to Smash. Yoshi’s Island getting only two new tracks is surprisingly small, even given how small the Yoshi’s Island sub-series has typically been in Smash; even Wii Fit has a greater jump.

Again, it’s far from impossible that part of why these jumps are so small is that some of the music has been replaced. I’m not expecting that to have happened in large enough amounts to be particularly noticeable, but the possibility is there. It’s also possible this is not the final count of songs in the game, and that there are hidden music tracks that had not been unlocked for the build of the game used for the Direct. Personally, though, I would be distrustful of that, regardless of whether or not music is going to remain hidden or unlockable. If Final Fantasy had more than two pieces of music in the game, you’d expect at least some of them to be on the stage from the start.

As for one additional note regarding the Sound Test, you can see in two Mario series symbols on the Sound Test. The second is almost certainly for Mario Kart, which for some reason has had its own section since it was introduced to the Smash series in Brawl.

Specific new tracks:

Let’s also look at new tracks (again, with Castlevania excluded). I’m not going to be going over the returning ones beyond what I collected in my Direct writeup (or the ones we learned about from the E3 Direct); I’d like to focus on what we’re getting that’s new. All come from the Direct itself, though we’ve since gotten to listen to longer versions of two of them thanks to additional footage or music added to the site. And, of course, any of these may just be used for this Direct and not actually used in-game, though I feel comfortable assuming they all will.

What I find most interesting on here are the two pieces we got from Capcom. Assuming there isn’t an accompanying Monster Hunter character (or stage), “Rathalos” is very odd as third party music to me, even more than the Namco arcade themes, because of the monster’s new position as both an Assist Trophy and boss – it makes me wonder where it might actually play, if it is actually being used in the game. And “Central Highway” is the first musical representation from Mega Man X, and both it and Zero’s debut as an Assist Trophy indicates there’s going to be a broadening of the scope in how Mega Man is represented.

Beyond that, this list consists mostly of popular, well liked songs, particularly ones from modern games. Given how little we know by this point it’s hard to say how much that’ll hold up – Sakurai has typically represented lesser known tunes as well, and that’ll likely be the case here, too – but the development team is clearly putting that element first when it comes to promotion. However, you can definitely see some surprises popping up. Certainly the idea of Tri Force having two tracks and Federation Force having any is unexpected.

Castlevania:

As for Castlevania, the series is certainly getting the deluxe treatment, and it’s a good idea for us to respond in kind (also, I wrote about three pages and hours worth of material on Castlevania’s tracks before GameXplain beat us to it with a far more digestible video, and damned if I’m not going to salvage the work I did). The series has thirty-four tracks in this game; that’s exactly as many as The Legend of Zelda had in Smash for Wii U if you count DLC, exactly as many as all Ultimate’s music for the Yoshi’s Island and Sonic the Hedgehog series combined. Given the series’ storied history of famous game music, it’s entirely deserved.

For those less familiar with Castlevania, two things about its music are important to know. First, many of its tracks are incredibly famous and popular in the field of game music. The second is related to that: as a series, it has reused and remixed its songs constantly, retaining the same titles for later games. This means it’s more than possible Sakurai will simply take one preexisting arrangement he likes for any track, as there is a surplus of quality tracks and arrangements – he already has, as some of the music played in the Direct comes directly from other Castlevania games. Those that we know are remixed we’ll mention, but as of now it’s entirely possible that any of these may or may not be remixes.

In terms of musical representation, I think it might be good to look at it through individual games, from most to least songs. In addition, I will be counting both medleys as two songs each, because I’m more interested in seeing how the Castlevania songs have been used here. Finally, I will be counting the game from where the song first appeared, even in the cases the songs are remixes of those pieces from later games. I’m more interested in seeing where the team is looking for inspiration the most extensively, especially since Sakurai himself organized the listing to highlight when each track first debuted:

“Bloody Tears / Monster Dance” can be found on the official Smash Bros. website, the Smash-original “Vampire Killer” remix plays in Simon’s showcase in the Direct, and the remix of “Divine Bloodlines” plays in Richter’s. As previously stated, several of these are coming in as remixes from later games. The second “Vampire Killer” comes from Castlevania Judgment (and I think the same is the case with “Dracula’s Castle,” though it’s hard for me to be sure), the second “Simon Belmont Theme” almost certainly comes from Castlevania: the Arcade, and “Nothing to Lose” appears to be from Harmony of Despair. They are not likely the only ones in the list like that, so do not be surprised if you hear others (personally, I suspect “Go! Getsu Fuma” will just be its Harmony arrangement, for instance).

The games with the most representation are all expected, other than Portrait of Ruin, which presumably got three pieces solely on the basis of it just having a great score. Castlevania was the first game, Symphony of the Night is debatably the most influential in the series, Dracula’s Curse is one of the best NES games of all time and the subject of a Netflix animated series (though there’s no way that part matters), Rondo of Blood is the game Richter’s from…Sakurai and his music team definitely know what’s what with Castlevania. Genre-wise, this is a rather incredible representation of the series’ history. You’ve got more of an influence on the “classic-vania” action games from where Simon and Richter came, but there’s also a lot of representation of the Metroidvanias, as well. And it’s noteworthy that the vast majority of representation comes from games on Nintendo systems, with Rondo and Symphony being the big standouts from other platforms (other than Harmony of Despair, just due to its having so many remixes of classic pieces).

Smash is also drawing from a wide variety of sources. You have introductory level music (“Vampire Killer,” “Beginning”), boss fights (“Nothing to Lose,” “Ripped Silence”), themes from more unique spaces (“Slash,” “Hail from the Past”), and just good pieces in general (“Iron Blue Intention,” “Lament of Innocence”), representing a wide range of the series and a similarly wide range of tones. It goes alongside how the picks have come from so many different games. Even less used or remixed pieces like “Dance of Gold” or “Ruined Castle Corridor” are very well liked, and that Haunted Castle and Castlevania: the Arcade have musical tracks is genuinely shocking.

It cannot be overstated that this is very much a “best case scenario” for Castlevania, going far beyond what any of us could have reasonably expected in terms of both number and choice of song. We could probably debate whether, say, “Crash of the Dark Night” is a better Dawn of Sorrow choice than “The Pinnacle,” or why songs like “Riddle” or “Wandering Ghosts” or “Tower of Dolls” hadn’t been chosen, or whether Sakurai should have spent any time at all on the 3D games, or whether he should have but for Lords of Shadow instead. But that’s splitting hairs. It’s very clear Sakurai has a serious investment in representing the history of Castlevania in a way that’s gone beyond what we’ve seen from other guest series. And the mammoth amount of music might be the most clear example of this.

Overall, the music – or at least this sampling we currently have – shows a clear, albeit slow, evolution from the musical focus in the previous games. We’re continuing to get fan favorite tracks and remixes of prior Smash songs, but they’re being mixed with tracks players likely could not expect, like music from Metroid Prime: Federation Force or Castlevania: the Arcade. The Donkey Kong track “Gangplank Galleon” – which was first revealed in the Direct, then had its second part added to the official site’s music page – shows this rather well. It starts out as a more energetic, traditional remix of the stage, like the one used in Brawl, before bringing out a mariachi band with rap lyrics overlaid. ACE (who’ve made Smash remixes in the past) created something surprising and entirely distinct, and its positive reception is decent confirmation of the value in going into different places like this.

Despite the smaller number of songs, I think the sampling we’ve gotten provides an even better example of what we’re getting than the last Direct. There’s a better sense of how music is being looked at, and now we’ve got a good idea of just how much new content we’re getting. Even if there are no musical cuts, we’ll have close to 300 new pieces of music. That’s a hard amount to process. And unlike the more “normal” remixes from Smash for 3DS & Wii U, a number of them feel more unique and of their own. So at least right now, the musical direction for Ultimate seems very positive.

7 comments
  1. The Star Fox Medley is most likely Melee’s Corneria theme, renamed to more accurately reflect what it is. “Venom” was also renamed

    Pedro on August 19 |
  2. The “Star Fox Medley” is most likely Melee’s Corneria theme, renamed to more accurately reflect what it is. “Venom” was also renamed

    Pedro on August 19 |
  3. I’m pretty sure the 31 number for Kirby includes the GB attacks.

    Mr Nintendo on August 19 |
  4. I personally believe that that “Star Fox Medley” is probably the Corneria theme from Melee, since it was actually a collection of various themes from the original SNES Star Fox. The reason as for why it was renamed might have to do with the fact that, since the songs are not tied to specific stages any more, they may want to name each song more properly according to the original context (since rather infamously, none of the music in Melee’s Corneria theme played on the actual Corneria stage in Star Fox). Just a thought.

    RBM95 (@1995RBM) on August 19 |
  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if the extreme increase in Street Fighter music was due to them adding a second SF rep (most likely an echo)

    Link on August 19 |
  6. Thank you for reminding me about the Breath of the Wild 2017 Trailer song.

    Eric Martinelli Villarosa on August 21 |
  7. Still disappointed they wont include Game & Watch Gallery songs, are they not really considered an option to represent G&W music?

    A on September 9 |