It’s time for another video game reflection! I’ve been enjoying my 3DS lately, and I’m making my way through a number of games. Zelda is always on recommendation lists, and usually for good reason. This one’s no different… well… except that it’s very different. In great ways. You’ll see. The Zelda franchise has enough praise already, and I can hardly make a contribution to the conversation. Let it be known anyway: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a good reason to buy a 3DS. The basic idea hasn’t changed: you take the role of a green-clad hero (usually named Link). Some kind of crap happens in a kingdom (usually called Hyrule). You’re tasked to find a sword, get other magical or mythical tools, destroy a bunch of low-level baddies, then work your way up to vanquish the head evil. The appeal in most modern Zeldas isn’t the combat or the story, but the journey and the puzzle-solving in dungeons along the way. You’ll need to figure out how to open doors (by switches, or through finding keys), and you’ll have to discover the best ways to defeat enemy characters. What makes Link Between Worlds so special? The game knows that you already know the formula. In that way, it’s rewarding to the Zelda veteran (which is almost anyone owning a Nintendo system, after all). And accordingly, Nintendo decides to turn things a bit sideways. Continue reading
Look, it’s a second game review/reflection! Yes, I know this game came out in 2011. No, I don’t care. I only just played it and I loved the heck out of it. Here’s what I thought about this platformer.
2D Mario games, at their best, are tight platformers. These games are built on careful level design, striking a balance between fun and frustration. Control and mechanics are essential: the response and weight of Mario’s leaps must be precise to keep the immersion (unnatural though it may be). 3D Mario games translate these concepts by adding freedom and exploration to the mix. Though 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy may have central hubs, individual levels leave room to wander and reach goals by a player-selected path. Both styles are among my favorite in all of videogames. In Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo decided to blend two directions into one delightful whole.
This seems an odd task, as we’ve just defined 3D Mario as an evolution of the 2D. By playing 3D Land we see just how far apart things have been, and how pleasantly everything meshes together.
If you’re already versed in 3D Mario, consider the “secret” levels in Sunshine, the pure platform challenges without the waterpack. That’s the central idea here: you’re in a 3D space, you have freedom of depth. You are restricted to move “forward” in the way the game wants, albeit with all three dimensions available for your problem-solving pleasure.
I’ve never really done video game reviews before. Recently I got a 3DS and now I have a huge back-catalog of (supposedly) fantastic games to catch up on. I figured I might drop a review or reflection from time to time, switch it up from the music and hockey things for fun. Here’s my first one on the latest Animal Crossing, originally released in the US in 2013.
If you’re familiar with Animal Crossing, here’s the big takeaway: New Leaf is the same premise, only you’ve been given more control over the town’s direction and the pacing is perfect for a handheld system. If you’re new to the series, that sentence made no sense at all. Let’s try to explain what’s going on.
In essence, Nintendo was right to call the first Animal Crossing a “communication game,” and it’s a label that sticks in the latest version. You’re an adorable human character placed in a vibrant village inhabited by friendly anthropomorphic animals. You’ll wander past a river, around a beach, and between plenty of trees.
The goals of this game are similar to those in The Sims. That is to say, there really aren’t set benchmarks. You can earn in-game currency by participating in various subgames (using a simple fishing and bug-catching mechanic and then selling those at the in-game store). You can use that money to buy decorations for your house, to upgrade said house, or to improve the town in some way.
But all that “earning” isn’t the soul of Animal Crossing. Instead, it’s the interactions with the inhabitants where you’ll find the core of it all. You get a chance to “befriend” the residents by chatting with them, sending them gifts, helping them with errands, playing games. That’s the communication aspect. The rewards? Witty text in conversations, return gifts, even the knowledge that you’ve convinced someone to stay in (or move to) your town. Continue reading
Let’s get this out of the way: Reflektor is easily the worst thing Arcade Fire have done. It’s a conclusion that runs counter to the crushing hype, the immense buildup, the crazed fanaticism that has surrounded the impending release of the band’s fourth proper album. And, honestly, there aren’t many groups that deserve such attention more than Arcade Fire. Their first three records are all brilliant, easy to categorize as Great Albums. The group’s apex was their beloved and emotional debut Funeral, but the subsequent releases nearly reach the same dizzying heights.
To date, the Arcade Fire experience has often been about Big Moments. From the start of Funeral, their songs have been packed with dramatic crescendos, pretty strings, driving rhythms, and obvious plays on the listener’s emotions. Luckily for us, the game plan always worked. “Wake Up” was a a U2-sized anthem and it was impossible to keep from falling in love. Neon Bible’s “Keep the Car Running” played like a wiser version of the band, giving a darker, deeper sound. Even the concept-oriented The Suburbs ensured that the message and the music were linked, be it in the flourishes of “Rococo” or the Blondie-homage “Sprawl II.”
On Reflektor, there’s just something missing, something that doesn’t feel up to par for Arcade Fire. The sound and the statements don’t align perfectly, the ferocity and the emotional heft are missing. The problems start with the album’s length. Like too many double albums, the cliched bloat rears its ugly head. The opening song and title track “Reflektor” is a pleasant-enough Talking Heads-type jam, but it carries on for over 7 minutes. There just isn’t enough here to keep your full attention; an abbreviated version would accomplish the same thing without the threat of stagnation. It’s good, but just not focused.
I am consistently amazed by the prevalence of crud guitar rock. Commercials, and particularly sporting events (especially my beloved hockey) often seem to revert to a crunchy, derivative rock sound when attempting to build a brand soundtrack. It’s a shame, really, when such high-energy rock is at their fingers and, for hockey, very Canadian. Yes, Japandroids (those responsible for last year’s Album of the Year) are the perfect tonic to the listless parts of their genre. Exciting, explosive, and anthemic songs can all be found in the band’s catalog so I thoroughly anticipated their arrival in Columbus to bring their sound to the live setting. Luckily, very little of the entire night disappointed.
On a perfect (essentially) summer night, two relative giants in the world of indie rock descended on Columbus and put on a fantastic show that only left me wanting more. Coming off their fourth and second albums in 2012, Tuesday saw Grizzly Bear and The xx co-headline with outstanding performances of their best material.
As a disclaimer, Grizzly Bear are one of my favorite bands and I though it a shame that they didn’t headline this show. Thankfully, their music managed to shine brightly. The last time I saw Grizzly Bear live, they were the opener for Radiohead on the In Rainbows tour in Camden, NJ. This was pre-Veckatimest and the band seemed nervous, almost shocked at the call to play for the World’s Greatest Band. Tuesday, Grizzly Bear seemed at ease, even amused with themselves.
Songs were bombastic and energetic, taking on the kind of urgency that the live setting provides. The newest pieces from Shields were dense and pleasing, while the earlier material was well-polished without losing any weight or sincerity. Between songs, the band was light and jovial. Stage banter was playful, offering remarks about riding on swings, “keeping it real,” and eating Jeni’s ice cream. The highlights were their best songs, “Knife,” “Two Weeks,” and particularly astounding “While You Wait for the Others.” It’s hard not to get washed away in the echoing guitar as the song finishes and it was the true high point of the evening.
I hope you’ll grant me this indulgence. As far as I can recall, I’ve never done a movie review. But this will be more of a reflection than anything. And this is a film at the end of its cinema run anyway. Perhaps music or hockey later this week.
As I left the movies this evening, I didn’t pause. Habitually, I would have pulled out my phone, checked text messages, looked at Twitter, all before even leaving the single theater… but I didn’t. I just wandered toward the exit. But my mind was still on the screen behind. Somehow, this convoluted film had managed to connect in a way that Inception had done most recently; Cloud Atlas had left me in awe.
But to open, let me be fair: I can understand Cloud Atlas‘ status on Rotten Tomatoes, I can see why many were left disenchanted by the film. In fact, Cloud Atlas might not be for you. The movie is certainly bloated, and some elements of 3 hour play time are unnecessary or otherwise inefficient. One the movie’s six intertwined stories doesn’t carry the emotional heft of the others. Hell, the very concept might come across as too pretentious if you don’t buy in early.
But for me, what was there was breathtaking, visually, aurally, and from the performances of the actors. And arguably the most important element, the philosophic component… well, we’ll get there in a moment.
There’s the potential for a bit of Dirty Projectors overload on the blog over the next few days. We’ve got an album review today and I’ll have a concert recap from their Columbus show (tonight at the Wexner Center) up sometime tomorrow. But embrace the overload: Swing Lo Magellan is worth it.
Dirty Projectors can be tough to follow, it’s true. Their song structures don’t like to conform to what your already-trained ear is accustomed to hearing. Their lyrics have been at least slightly abstract in the past, and they’ve been sung by the idiosyncratic (and seemingly divisive) voice of David Longstreth. Heck, the band have been just plain unlistenable at times (some of their earliest stuff is really hard to sit through, even after multiple tries). Abstraction can be a real pain that way.
Luckily, growth and exploration have led the band into calmer waters. Their 2007 album Rise Above comes across as pretentious on paper (trying to remember and re-interpret a Black Flag album. Yes, really.) but warmer production, prettier singing, and more rational song structures make the result fairly satisfying. Still, this only hinted at the exceptional album to come in the form of Bitte Orca. Dirty Projectors’ 2009 release kept the band in the nebulous indie genre but nudged against other styles. Highlighted by the highly-praised single “Stillness is the Move,” the record explored different rhythmic styles, had more expressive guitars, and even sat at the same table as modern-day R&B. But above all else, the music was clearer and the songs more accessible. That doesn’t mean the compositions were simple (the turns on “Useful Chamber” are quite jarring), but they were satisfying in a way that prior efforts were not.
So it was with great anticipation that follow-up record Swing Lo Magellan came out this week. Thankfully, the band has kept up both their idiosyncratic style and their recent push toward accessible music. But what makes this record so much more enjoyable isn’t just the songwriting (although that is certainly worthwhile, but more on that later), it’s the emotion and humanity that exude from nearly every song. That may raise an eyebrow (and honestly sounds a bit silly in a vacuum), but the tracks are easier to latch onto and stick with thanks to the very personal works of Longstreth.
Last time we heard from Best Coast, they were operating in a very lo-fi place. It’s plausible that this was equal parts intentional and a function of their low-profile status at the time. Crazy For You was a feisty and satisfying pop record that recalled jangle rock and the noise of My Bloody Valentine (although that may have simply been the production style). Songs were generally bright, but singer Bethany Cosentino sounded restrained and held in by the style of the record.
That all gets blown open with the spectacular sophomore release, The Only Place. Instead of dealing in the lo-fi MBV-esque regime, Best Coast sounds warm, bright, and almost alt-country. It’s a shocking switch, made even more dramatic with the titular semi-tourism song “The Only Place” as the opening track. But here’s the thing: it works. “The Only Place” is a leading candidate for Song of the Year at this point, with its high energy, strong guitars and exceptional vocals. That last point is something you notice through the whole album: Cosentino has transformed from a satisfying-yet-unremarkable singer to an excellent vocalist. The change in production style lends her freedom to explore vocally and it’s instantly rewarding.
The White Stripes have been officially disbanded for over a year now, but fans of their sound are in luck: the newest White Stripes album was just released this Tuesday in the form of Blunderbuss by Jack White. Surely that’s over-simplifying things, right? Both fortunately and unfortunately, it’s not.
First the good news: Jack White’s songwriting and guitar playing powers remain mostly intact for his first solo record. Distinctive guitar parts help to differentiate songs and lends strong personality to every non-piano piece. Slightly less than half of the record operates in some kind of guitar mode and those parts are easy to recall: the harsh (and satisfying) attack of “Sixteen Saltines,” the acoustic flow on “Love Interruption,” the bluesy swagger of “I’m Shakin'” It’s nice to see that White’s always-infectious guitar licks are as essential as ever and most fans of guitar rock will be quick to latch onto these tracks.