Grant Kirkhope Talks Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope
Few characters scare creatives quite like Super Mario.
Even Grant Kirkhope, who wrote themes now synonymous with Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle – felt the pressure returning for Ubisoft’s sequel, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope.
“We were all afraid of breaking anything because it’s Nintendo,” Kirkhope told 9news.com.au.
“It’s Mario for god’s sake, so we’re all super scared not to break it.”
The video game, which comes out October 20, has already been released in the wild.
And as preview embargoes lift, Kirkhope’s nerves are put to rest by critics.
“Everyone I spoke to today said they felt like it was a step up from the last game and that’s, that’s what we want to hear,” said explained the composer.
“You think you’ve written a great piece of music but I don’t really know until someone else tells me it’s good… (but) everyone kind of spotted this little little more magic.”
“I feel like this game was more difficult than the first game, but it was better for him.”
“The team just knocked it out of the park.”
According to game director Kirkhope, Davide Soliani deserves most of the credit.
“Davide is the emotional Italian. He was always crying, all the time,” laughs Kirkhope.
“He was super keen to make sure this game was head and shoulders above the last one, wasn’t he?
“In all areas; animation, programming, you know, everything. Artwork, music, sound effects, everything.
“He was really aware of pushing this on everyone.
“We’re all tearing our hair out going, ‘Oh my God,’ you know what can we do next? ‘Cause he was like, ‘No, that’s not right. Can- do you do it again?” But it made him better in the end.
“A lot of people said in the first game, you can really feel the passion and I think it’s not something you can manufacture.”
“The team must feel it. It must be in your heart.”
Unlike the original game, which surprised the world in 2017 when it was revealed for the Nintendo Switch, Kirkhope didn’t have to do the heavy lifting alone in Sparks of Hope.
Acclaimed composers Gareth Coker (Halo: Infinite, Ori and the Will of the Wisps) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG) also composed the music for the sequel.
“When they first announced I was like, is this gonna work?” Kirkhope admits.
“But it really worked fantastically.
“Everyone I spoke to said the soundtrack was really cohesive and you always worry that the three composers weren’t cohesive. But it worked so well. I can’t complain.
“I really think it’s the best music of my career and I don’t say that lightly.
“Nobody else would think that but me.”
That enthusiasm was written all over Kirkhope’s face when I asked him what his favorite piece of music was in the game.
“There’s a Bowser battle in the game later and Roma, the audio director said, ‘How about we do it like the Rocky movies, it sounds, kind of like The Mandalorian? And I was like, wow, that sounds like a great idea.
“So I really lent myself to this crazy thing, and there’s the big horns and it’s kind of Rocky V, you know, it just sounds good for battle and it’s one of the tracks that we recorded in Japan which turned out fantastic.
“I put a lot of effort into it and Davide cried when he heard that one.
“It’s always a good scorer when Davide cries.
“He cried less this game than in the last game, so I guess he’s gotten used to me a bit now.”
Despite a thirst to learn from the greats like John Williams, Kirkhope, who rose to fame while working for Rare during the N64 era, humbly describes himself as a “one-trick pony”.
As proud as he is of his work, Kirkhope says it doesn’t matter if a player notices the effort he and the team have put into Sparks of Hope, as long as players are having fun with it now – or 30 years from now like the present-day TikTok stars who breathed new life into the music he wrote for GoldenEye’s break screen.
“I was the grandfather of trap music and I don’t know what trap music is,” laughs Kirkhope.
“Who would have thought? Even Banjo Kazooie, when I wrote this, I never would have thought we would be talking about this 20 years later.
“You think six weeks if you’re lucky. Six months if you’re lucky!
“Rare was such a special company back then that we were all firing on all cylinders back then. Everyone was and it permeates again.
“The Stamper brothers who ran the place, they were great people to work with and – much like Davide – that passion pervades the rest of you, you can’t escape it.
“Have fun with it, have fun with Rabbids and all that and that’s good for me.”