Monday, September 29, 2014

Music Review: All About That Bass vs. Anaconda

"All About That Bass"
  • Artist: Meghan Trainor
  • Album: Title [EP]
  • Genre: Pop
  • Label: Epic
  • Release: 2 June 2014
  • Writers: Kevin Kadish, Meghan Trainor
  • Producer: Kevin Kadish
  • Artist: Nicki Minaj
  • Album: The Pinkprint
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Label: Cash Money
  • Release: 4 August 2014
  • Writers: Nicki Minaj, Jamal Jones, James Strife, Jonathan Solone-Myvett, Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios, Anthony "Sir Mix-A-Lot" Ray
  • Producers: Polow da Don (Jamal Jones), The Internz (Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios)

[Video not safe for work - click to view]

The year was 1992, and our collective culture was nothing short of up-ended by the first rapper from Seattle to get a number-one hit.  That rapper was Sir Mix-A-Lot, and that hit was "Baby Got Back".  And with the success of said song, the very definition of beauty changed.  For the first time in recent history, it was considered cool to have a wider waist measurement.  Then again, that paradigm shift was intertwined with an element of female objectification.  Its greater message can best be summed up as, "Ladies, don't feel bad just because you don't fit the traditional, size-0 definition of female beauty.  You, too, can get laid!  Specifically by me."  So perhaps "Baby Got Back" was a little bit janusian (a word I just invented to describe something posessing two or more conflicting qualities, and a word which I expect to use a lot more often on this blog, so take notes) in its approach.  But I like to think it got hit with some bolt of mental lightning, or some other paranormal affair took place, because the spirit of that song has split up into a good and a bad side, and each side has inhabited the souls of two songs released in close proximity over this past summer.

In this corner, we have "All About That Bass", the debut single from the young singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor.  And in this corner, we have "Anaconda", the latest hit from a more established leading lady, rapper Nicki Minaj.  As both songs seem to posess the influence of "Baby Got Back" in some form or another, I saw fit to pit them up against one another.  One of the questions I will be asking is, how do these songs utilise the power bestowed upon them by "Baby Got Back"?  I'll start with "All About That Bass", and I'm happy to state up front that Meghan Trainor chose to take the message of that song, trim out the more sexualised parts, and re-package it for a younger crowd who may have insecurity about their body image.  And just as Sir Mix-A-Lot opened his song with a solid declaration we all know and respect, "All About That Bass" hits close to that mark as well:

I think it's pretty clear
I ain't no size 2
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
Meghan Trainor's body is not totally trim.  And yet she is happy, if not for it, then at least despite it.  So tell me, what other points do you wish to bring up?
I've seen those magazines
Them pictures Photoshopped
We know that [noun] ain't real
Come on now, make it stop
Why yes, Sir Mix-A-Lot also made reference to the tendency of popular media to present the skinny body type as what we ought to look like.  And kudos to miss Trainor for updating this accusation, by pointing out that said images are out-and-out faked.  But then again, she also has a tendency to get catty about the other faction:
I'm bringing booty back
Come on and tell them skinny [noun]s that
I wasn't aware that booty left in the first place.  The world has changed since 1992; it's true that the messages that spurred Sir Mix-A-Lot to write his plea for big-booty rights haven't left, but in the intervening time we've been exposed to so many booty jams that we've accepted the alternative just as well.  I suppose that when it comes to starting a revolution, one can't make a proverbial omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Even Sir Mix-A-Lot expressed displeasure with those whom he called "knock-kneed bimbos walking like hoes".  But by striking a blow for one demographic, you end up alienating another.  What about those girls who are underweight and on the verge of anorexia?  How do you think they'd react?
And no, I ain't no stick-figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into, then go ahead and move along
But at least this time, she's accounting for taste!  Fellas, if your taste in women precludes her body type, then you have obviously been corrupted by the system -- sorry, I meant to say, at least she recognises your demographic and is willing to give you an out.  Oh, silly me, I haven't discussed the chorus yet.  It's just one repeating line, which goes thusly:
I'm all about that bass
'Bout that bass, no treble
And get this -- during the chorus, the treble track does, indeed, drop out, leaving us with the bass!  Huh, get it?  Meh.  I approve of this song in principle, don't get me wrong, but for some reason it just didn't click with me to the point that I'd want to buy a copy.  Maybe miss Trainor's not dynamic enough of a singer, or her producer not interesting enough of a beat-maker.  Maybe I'm concerned at how she burns as many bridges as she builds.  Maybe it's because of the obesity crisis these days that I wonder how far a song like this might be interpreted by those who could seriously do to lose a few pounds purely for their health's sake.  Or maybe I'm just feeling a little jaded at the moment.  Regardless of whatever my misgivings are, I will support Meghan Trainor in the face of whatever controversies she may -- nay, will encounter as a result of "All About That Bass".  Because you know what the media is like these days.

Meanwhile, in terms of "Anaconda", I can guess the thoughts that crossed the mind of Nicki Minaj (or in actuality, the males controlling her life and image): "You know what's easier than making some positive, revolutionary statement about female sexuality?  Exploiting it!"  Now, "Anaconda" does indeed evoke "Baby Got Back", but in a more direct manner.  Namely, it samples the song's melody for much of the song, albeit with a smattering of random indistinct noise layered atop to ruin the track, as seems to be de rigeur with pop production these days.  And the chorus is just a sample of Sir Mix-A-Lot saying, "My anaconda don't want none if you ain't got buns, hon'".  So if I were to compare the hooks of these two songs, "All About That Bass" would take that category by default, solely by virtue of Meghan Trainor singing it for herself.  (To be fair, there's a second part to the chorus where Nicki speaks a different line from "Baby Got Back".)

So, is there any originality whatsoever withing "Anaconda"?  Of a kind, actually.  Each of the two verses are short stories about different men Nicki, or her character, has had sex with, so at least it's an idea beyond the typical bragadoccio.  For example:
Boy toy named Troy
Used to live in Detroit
Big-time dope dealer
He was getting some coin
Oh boy, placing drug dealers upon a high pedestal.  The more things change in the rap game, the more they stay the same, I see.
This dude named Michael
Used to ride motorcycles
[noun] bigger than a tower
I ain't talking 'bout Eiffel
Hey, wait a minute!  If you're not comparing mister Michael's meat-and-two-veg to something as awe-inspiringly big as the Eiffel Tower, than what, pray tell, are you comparing it to?  Then again, exaggerated metaphors and similies are part and parcel of the rap game, so for all I know, you might want us to have some even bigger tower in mind.  Which there are, mind you.  And besides, having a "disco stick" the exact size and shape as the Eiffel Tower would cause more problems than you'd be led on to believe.

Sorry for digressing, I was supposed to be talking about Nicki's sexual exploits.  With her being the song's protagonist, one would hope to learn a reason for her doing so.  Typically, the act of sex is depicted as being desired by the male more than the female, but with the focus being from the female's point of view, we finally get to learn what she wants out of it.  And that "it" is... getting the male to buy her fancy clothes and/or shoes.
Bought me Alexander McQueen
He was keeping me stylish
And when we done, I make him buy me Balmain
I'm on some dumb [noun]
You can say that again.  *sigh*  You had a chance to revolutionise this aspect of sexual relations, and you chose to blow it on shallow materialism.  Nicki, I am disappoint.  As am I equally disappointed in how she performs much of the song in her singsongy airheaded "rapping" ("Harajuku Barbie", I think she calls it), as opposed to straight-up singing or her more intense rapping style, which does show up in this song, but too little and too late.  And I am just as equally disappointed, perhaps even more so, in the lack of lyrical content present.  At the end of the second verse -- 1:44 into this 4:28 long song -- there are no more new parts to be found.  Just more repetitions of the bridges and chorus, and an unsettlingly long ad-lib section where Nicki throws about random shout-outs involving her [noun]s, their fat [noun]es, and/or the mother[verb]ing club in which they may be found.

You may think that Nicki Minaj is more qualified to stand up for big butts than Meghan Trainor, as evidenced by the single artwork which I decided to censor.  But she doesn't do anything with her role; instead she seems content to wallow about the female version of the common rap subjects.  Instead, this song may cause more harm than good, because even though a female is calling the shots when it comes to her sex life, in the end it's all about straight-up materialism.  And the music video is even worse in that regard, as virtually every dance move employed by Nicki and her entourage is distressingly dorsum-centric.  Attention everyone involved in the next rap music video: would it kill you to put some focus on a different body part for a change?  Listen, I'm not trying to be some "stop having fun" guy.  Not all songs need to change the course of history, "Anaconda" certainly has a right to exist in this world.  But for a scene in desperate need of an image change, this is just not the kind of song I was hoping for.

"All About That Bass":
Lyrics: 4 out of 5
Music: 4 out of 5
Performance: 4 out of 5
The Call: 4 out of 5 (B)
Lyrics: 1 out of 5
Music: 1 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Film Review: Meet the Spartans

Meet the Spartans
  • Publisher: 20th Century Fox
  • Studio: Regency / 3 in the Box
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release: 25 January 2008
  • Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Producers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, Peter Safran
  • Writers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Disaster Movie, an entry in the oeuvre of filmmakers Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, inasmuch as I can call them filmmakers, that is.  Their previous film, released earlier in 2008, was Meet the Spartans, and it attempted to mix up their formula by focusing on the plot of one particular movie as opposed to a few loosely connected ones, namely 300, the ancient-Greek-set, Frank-Miller-comic-based blockbuster from the year before.  And unsurprisingly, it sucked.  In fact, I've got so much bile to direct at this film, I cut down on the time I spent summarising its events in favour of analysing the specific parts that tick me off.

Our story stars a mister Leonidas (Sean McGuire), who trains from a young age to become a soldier, marries a miss Margo (Carmen Electra), and becomes the king of Sparta.  And he certainly didn't get that crown for his acting acumen, that's for sure.  Mr. McGuire puts on a Scottish accent in attempt to emulate Gerard Butler, who played the same character in the real 300, but it's so unevenly thick that it ends up feeling nothing like the real thing.  And don't get me started on Carmen Electra, who doubtless was casted based on sex appeal first and everything else second.  Which implies some unfortunate things about what producers think of their audiences, but that's a rant for another day.

With its open-quote protagonists close-quote established, Meet the Spartans takes on one of the more famous scenes from 300: the Pit of Death.  You know the drill: "This is madness", "This is Sparta", kick 'im in.  Apart from some gratuitous spittle added to the final line, it starts out relatively faithful to the original.  But then Leonidas gets carried away and kicks in some of the more punchable public figures of 2007, such as Britney Spears (Nicole Parker), American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar (Tony Yalda), and the judges from said show.  From first kick to last, this scene lasts for 160 seconds and 10 casualties, which makes me wonder: have these guys never heard of the "Rule of Three"?  As currently defined by TVTropes, the Rule of Three is "a pattern used in stories and jokes, where part of the story is told three times, with minor variations."  Let a pun or a gag run for more than three instances, and it runs the risk of getting old or unfunny in some other regard.

Also, I am hesitant to call this a parody of the original Pit of Death scene.  Sure, he may have kicked some unusual characters down there, but when you get right down to it, it's generally the same routine over and over.  Why not experiment with different types of strikes, or have someone fall down there accidentally?  Listen, I don't want bad things to go away; I want them to learn from their mistakes and come back better.  ...After having gone away to do so.  But one thing I would rather go away for good would be an earlier scene where Leonidas is "training" his son (Hunter Clary), and by open-quote training close-quote, I mean beating him up with a sequence of increasingly brutal moves.  Not only does he break the Rule of Three here as well, but this gag wasn't funny the first time around!  I mean, the poor little guy's half Leo's size!  Dude?  Not cool.  Just.  Not.  Cool.

Jumping back forward a bit, Leonidas assembles his army to sock it to the Persians, but only manages 13 soldiers as opposed to the 300 that the source material would have you believe.  Among them are a captain named... Captain (Kevin Sorbo), his son named... Sonio (Travis van Winkle), and a fat kid named Dilio (Jareb Dauplaise).  Not to mention, one of the Spartan councilmen is named Traitoro (Diedrich Bader), and if you guessed that he's going to double-cross the protagonists in some capacity, then you don't get any brownie points because it was just too obvious.  I can has originality plz?  ...Hey, wait a minute, what's the deal-io with Dilio?  (Apologies for that unfortunate bout of forced rhyming.)  In the opening scene, we see that Spartan babies who don't meet certain physical standards (for example, Shrek) get thrown to the wolves, literally.  Wouldn't Dilio have been pre-emptively weeded out as a baby?  Whatever, he's here to be everyone's punching bag and this movie's source of attempted fat jokes.  As in, "fat people love to eat a lot because... funny".  Ugh.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, real life contains fat people who are trying to rectify their situation instead?  I am reminded of a quote from the Simpsons episode "King Size Homer":
Homer Simpson: This may surprise you, but you can't buy me off with food. I'm sick of all your stereotypes and cheap jokes!  The overweight individuals in this country are just as smart and talented and hard working as everybody else. And they're going to make their voices heard!  All they need is a leader.
You go, Ho'.  And while I'm on the subject, in my review of Disaster Movie, I threw in a brief editorial about how I thought the Hollywood movie industry was still a bit racist and "gay-cist".  Whilst that is obiously not true of all American screenwriters and directors, I certainly get that impression with messrs. Seltzerberg, and Meet the Spartans is perhaps their worst movie of all in that regard.  What I mean by that is, because the Spartan characters in 300 all had ripped physiques and fought in a certain degree of undress, apparently messrs. Seltzerberg thought the logical extention of that should be to make them questionably homosexual.  Leo's married to Carmen Electra, so those accusations can only go so far -- but these guys travel long distances by skipping gaily, arms locked in rows of two, skinging Gloria Gaynor's hit "I Will Survive".  Back on the home front, the men greet each other with deep tongue-kisses where they'd give high-fives to the ladies.  And one of their (many) advert riffs, based on the Budweiser "Real Men of Genius" series, is all about them being closeted homosexuals.  I could maybe appreciate this sort of thing solely as a reversal of Hollywood's traditional pandering to the male gaze -- and there's no shortage of that, given the presence of Carmen Electra -- but that argument doesn't hold up because the men's ambiguously gay status is thrust upon them (no pun intended) solely for us to laugh at.  Well, the joke's on you bub -- even without the offensive context, it's just.  Not.  Funny.

Whatever.  The Spartans'... um, tactical maneuvering takes them to place called the Hot Gates, where they meet Paris Hilton (also Nicole Parker).  Here she is a hunchback, because... the character playing her role in the original 300 was himself a hunchback.  Huh, I don't usually answer those "because..." lines fully.  But if you haven't yet seen or read 300, you may be asking yourself why Paris Hilton is a hunchback.  And that would be a very good question.  Maybe it's because we're supposed to like seeing these famous wastes of space get taken down a peg.  That's a pretty dangerous assumption to make, I tell ya.  So then a Persian squad shows up and challenges the Spartans to a breakdance competition and a "Yo Mamma" battle, both of which the Spartans win.  Also, Dilio gets his eyes scratched out at some point.  As in, we see the background behind him where his eyes should be.  Umm... aren't we supposed to be seeing the insides of his eye sockets instead?  I mean, I'm kinda squeamish myself, but this is creepy in the wrong way.  Like, the wrong side of the uncanny valley creepy.  See it for yourself, if you dare.

Spooked?  I warned you this effect was just wrong.
Given the... quirky, pseudo-artsy style of Zack Snyder's film and Frank Miller's comic, you'd think that would provide fodder for some true parody moments, and believe it or not, Meet The Spartans does take up that offer every once in a while.  For example, there's what looks a sex scene between Leonidas and Queen Margo, until it is revealed that he was merely bench-pressing her.  During the climactic fight, Leonidas takes down a sequence of enemies in a sequence abruptly alternating between slow- and fast-motion, which parodies Zach Snyder's (the director of 300) egregious use of the same.  And you know how the real 300 used a lot of fake CGI sets?  Well, the Persian army in Meet the Spartans is buffed up by  CG-cloned soldiers projected on blue-screens behind the real ones.  And call me Shirley, but this is actually somewhat funny!  At least it would have been funny if the characters didn't devolve into an awkward conversation explaining the joke.  And besides, messrs. Seltzerberg, you lost the right to make fun of production values (or a lack thereof) when you decided that taping some green eyelids over the guy and throwing in a cheap chroma-key effect would suitably create the effect of him losing his eyes!

Whoo... I'm starting to get angry there.  For my final observation, I'd like to hurry it along... just like the film itself.  See, its total running time is given as 82 minutes*, but the opening credits start at the 64 minute mark, so by all accounts, that's when the film really ends.  And it shows -- the ending feels rushed.  For the capstone of the climactic skirmish, the Persian king Xerxes (Ken Davitian) merges with a car to become a Transformer robot.  And of course, they don't have the capability to actually show it transforming.  Oh, but he's got a video-screen in his chest that plays the "Leave Britney Alone" video!  Because... funny.  And how do our heroes vanquish their now-gargantuan foe?  They don't -- mister Xerxestron (his name, not mine) pulls the power cord out of some socket and shuts down, crushing the Spartans in the process.  And there was much rejoicing.  So after one more ending scene involving a blind commander Dilio and not-Lindsey Lohan, the credits begin in the form of the cast members taking turns singing "I Will Survive".  And it is with great pain that I admit this was the most fun I had watching this movie.  It's like the ending to a Broadway musical, which is probably what this movie should've been.  I mean, it's got the same budget, so no big leap, right?  A whole bunch of deleted scenes fill up the remaning time in between bouts of non-singing credits, after which you are now free to turn off your TV.  Sorry for making you wait.

*Refers to the theatrically-released version.  The unrated edition, which I did not account for in this review, runs for 86 minutes.

Among the entries of the Seltzerberg eouvre, Disaster Movie may suffer more blatant disregard for it source material (remember miss "Enchanted Princess"?), I think watching Meet the Spartans makes me feel worse.  So much of the commentary on celebrities and the LGBT community, whether stated outright or inferred by me, is just hateful.  And even if all that were not considered offensive, it takes the dubious crown for the most unfunny film classified as a comedy which I've ever witnessed (take that overly narrow description for what you will).  And the horribly fake acting and cheap production values serve as the nails in this coffin.  Or is it casket...  Regardless, make no mistake: watching this movie is like dining in Hell.

Acting: 1 out of 5
Writing: 0 out of 5
Technical: 1 out of 5
The Call: 15% (F)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

History of DDR: DanceDanceRevolution (2013)

So it's come to this, huh.  Not content with recycling the title "Dance Dance Revolution" for the 2010 PS3/X360/Wii release, or the 2001 PSone release based on 3rdMIX, or the first American/Asian arcade release based on 2ndMIX, Konami released a new arcade entry in their long-running dance simulation series, only to saddle it with the un-embellished title yet again.  It is what will heretofore be referred to as DDR 2013 (JP: 14 March 2013, AS: 28 March 2013), and yet again it is, sadly, exclusive to Asia.  Although I can say, for once, that I've played this game in person the last time I visited Japan, and I can tell you from my own experience that the game was... ...meh.  What complaints I do have regarding about DDR 2013 are the same complaints might levy at such franchises as Call of Duty or Madden NFL.  There's nothing mechanically wrong with DDR 2013, and if the new content doesn't entice you, there's still all that old material to fall back on.  But whatever concerns I've had with this series have not been addressed, and all in all, it does practically nothing to excite me as a consumer.  Oh well, maybe I'll go over the usual description routine and something will jump out at me.

Here's an idea of what the new cabinet design looks like.
Only five years and three games after their last cabinet redesign, Konami rolled out yet another machine design for DDR 2013.  This new machine is painted predominantly in white, which combined with the game's light pink/blue colour scheme, gives off a sort of pastel aesthetic.  Keeping in Konami's tradition of cutting costs, the USB ports for loading custom step charts AND STILL NOT USER PROFILES have been removed, although I doubt anyone was using them anyway, and the panels on the bottom no longer light up, which if nothing else useful to tell if something was wrong with the pads.  Although they did add storage bins at the bottom of the cabinet for you to stash your bags and stuff, and as a veteran arcade connoisseur, trust me, that is a good thing to have.  But all in all, what was the point of going through all that trouble?  Is there some ground-breaking new feature in DDR 2013 that signifies a new era of this venerable yet long-in-the-tooth franchise?

The 2ndMIX Mode from the last game has been removed, although all the songs from it are available in the main game mode from the get-go.  So has the Happy Mode from X2, but that was just some artificial limitation on the songs and difficulties available to the player, so no big loss on that one, I guess.  And so have all the course modes.  Okay, now that's a bad thing.  And they made it so the game won't even run unless the machine is connected to the Internet and set up for eAmusement.  Apparently it's all part of some scheme for properly sharing income between Konami and the arcade itself, but whatever it entails, it even further precludes the release of this game outside of Asia.  Even worse, when you get right down to it it's a form of copy-protection.  But there's an upside to this approach after all.  Because of the game's always-online nature, a new handful of songs gets uploaded to DDR 2013 machines every month or so.  One of these upgrades also changed the menu interface a bit, giving birth to the unofficially-titled "Dance Dance Revolution 2014".

Each player gets their own Groove Radar.  That's... something, I guess.
I'm officially going to break with tradition and not include a notable songs section.  For one, this game is new enough that I don't yet have a handle on what songs have stuck in the minds of the fandom.  And besides, to be honest, none of the new songs stood out to me.  There are no English-language pop licences, for example.  Perhaps because Konami knew they weren't going to sell DDR 2013, and X3 before it, outside of Asia, they felt they could get away with just licencing J-pop and such.  I could understand that argument, but even though this product was not intended for my personal consumption as an American, it's just disheartening to be left in the cold, so to speak, eh?  And besides, in this Internet age, the Japanese gamers this game was marketed to might also be a little more worldly in their musical tastes, so what's the point of such exclusion?  Then again, this series didn't even have Japanese-language songs until 5thMIX (not including side games), so there goes that theory.  Oh, I almost forgot: DDR 2013 does also feature "Caramelldansen (Speedycake Remix)", that Swedish song which spawned an Internet meme... back in 2007.  I suppose in five years we can expect "Gangnam Style" to show up in a new DDR game.  (Although given the current state of Japan-South Korea relations, that might not even happen.)  Seriously though, that fact serves as a fitting metaphor for how relevant Dance Dance Revolution is with the gaming scene at large.  In short: not much so anymore.

It's been over four years, but with this article, I've finally finished detailing the "core series" Dance Dance Revolution games.  There's just one more article to go, where I break down the mobile games.  Perhaps this is where is where DDR might finally manage some relevance in this evolving games industy?  Find out on the final installment of History of Dance Dance Revolution!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Music Review: Fancy

  • Artist: Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX
  • Album: The New Classic
  • Release: 17 February 2014
  • Label: Island
  • Genre: Hip-hop
  • Writers: Amethyst Kelly, Charlotte Aitchison, George Astasio, Jason Pebworth, Jon Shave, Kurtis McKenzie
  • ProducersThe Invisible Men, The Arcade

Enter Amethyst Amelia Kelly.  This young star was born in Australia, of all places, and has lived about the American South since the age of 16.  It is there that she started a career as the rapper Iggy Azalea, bubbling under the radar until her breakout earlier this year, with not one but two singles sitting back-to-back atop the Billboard Hot 100.  These are her own "Fancy", and Ariana Grande's "Problem".  I've chosen "Fancy" to review today, because while it may suffer some serious problems, I don't think it bad enough to grace my worst-of list this year.  Then again, I reviewed Katy Perry's "Roar" for the same reason, and it made that same list last year, so, we'll see what happens, I guess.

Not yet having been exposed to anything from Iggy Azalea's oeuvre from before her two aforementioned hits, I can say that she reminds me a lot of Nicki Minaj: a talented rapper who too often is saddled with sub-par material.  They both have their shining exceptions, true, but in the case of the former, "Fancy" is not one of them.  I'll start my review of this song by discussing the beat.  It sucks.  All it's got to it are a short loop of bass notes, synthetic hand-claps, and a bunch of guys shouting "hey!" on the off-beats.  If you read that description and immediately thought of "Rack City" by Tyga, then your're giving that song more acknowledgement than it deserves, but you'd be right.  However, you may be surprised to know that "Fancy" does not, in fact, share the producer of "Rack City".  Said producer is a mister DJ Mustard, and given both the mediocrity and quantity of his output, I'm saving my bile for when the year-end top-tens roll in.  In the meantime, let's poke around the lyrics.
First things first, I'm the realest
So, assuming this is the first you've heard of Iggy Azalea, the words with which she makes her first impression are, "I'm the realest".  Lady, I do appreciate your enthusiasm, but so many rappers have made such claims only to portray the same tired images, thus negating their point.  I guess the only thing I can do for know is kindly request of you to show me what ya got.
Drop this and let the whole world feel it
And I'm still in the murder business
Let me remind you readers: Iggy Azalea is a white girl born in Australia.  I don't think that would have been enough time for her to establish herself within the murder business, as she puts it.
I could hold you down, like I'm givin' lessons in physics
Physics, eh...?  Your guess is as good as mine.
You should want a bad [noun] like this
Drop it low and pick it up just like this
We should be, as a collective society, a bit over-acquainted with the concept of a "bad b!tch" by now.  But now we are dealt the ethical dillema of a woman willingly applying the phrase to herself, when she is not, strictly speaking, a literal prostitute.  You see what you've done to us, popular culture!?
Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris
High heels, somethin' worth a half a ticket on my wrist
Takin' all the liquor straight, never chase that
Blah-blah-blah, expensive liquor, blah-blah-blah luxury accessories.
Rooftop like we bringin' '88 back
My good lady, I do appreciate your interest in taking this poorly-defined party back to a simpler time, but this beat does nothing to evoke the late eighties.  Maybe you and Charli XCX are attempting to evoke the girl-power rap groups of the time like Salt-n-Pepa or... actually, that's the only one I can think of at the moment, but it's a stretch to make that connection.  Speaking of the other person...
I'm so fancy, you already know
I'm in the fast lane from L.A. to Tokyo
I'm so fancy, can't you taste this gold
Remember my name, 'bout to blow
The chorus is sung by British singer Charli XCX.  If you'll recall, she happened to have left a bad impression with her debut appearance on last year's "I Love It".  But even though Charli brings back much of her over-enthusiastic delivery for "Fancy", for some reason, I'm not bothered by it now the same way I was back then.  I don't know, I guess now that the music's not trying to compete with her vocals in the volume department, I'm not suffering the same sensory overload.  So I guess that's one good thing I can say about this song's production.  Plus, the lyrics aren't as psychotic as in "I Love It", but I'll address that later.

That "later" is not during the second verse, which I can summarise as such: "Blah-blah-blah spending money, blah-blah-blah haters."  Except at one point, Iggy calls her flow "retarded".  I know she's using with the positive connotation oddly bestowed upon such words as "bad" and "ill", but honey, don't sell yourself short.  Oh, and she spells her name at one point.  You know, just like every other rapper from back in the day.  As I have explained before, slavishly adhering to such cliches only serves to diminish one's individuality, and the degree to which I can take her seriously.  So let's skip ahead to the middle eight:
Trash the hotel
Let's get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good gettin' what I want
Yeah, keep on turnin' it up
Chandelier swingin', we don't give a [verb]
Film star, yeah I'm deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don't get to touch
And now for the "later" I teased you with.  Charli XCX sticks around for the middle eight, and this is where I see a glimmer of potential.  This part of the song involves the raucous off-stage life of a rock star, and is such the closest these lyrics ever get to embodying the idea of "Fancy".  Wouldn't this have been a better idea to base a song around?  It certainly would have been more different than the rest of the song, which reminds me: Blah-blah-blah I'm aweome, blah-blah-blah I imply the murder of haters.

So that was "Fancy"... I mean the song was called "Fancy", but it most certainly was not, itself, fancy.  The majority of the lyrical content is your typical, over-done rap fare, and the beat sucks.  Although I guess I know why DJ Mustard feels the need to slap his audio watermark onto the top of his tracks, now that other people are copying his technique.  We're all screwed.  But there are occasional bright moments in the lyrics, specifically Charli XCX's parts, that could have made for a better song if they had been expanded upon.  And even with what we got, Iggy's forceful flow and Charli's powerful singing stylings deserve to be witnessed.  But all the same, they deserve better material to be used upon.

Music: 1 out of 5
Lyrics: 2 out of 5
Performance: 5 out of 5
The Call: 3 out of 5 (C)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

History of DDR: X3 vs. 2ndMIX

Previously on the SDP, there was the 2010 DanceDanceRevolution.  And it sucked.  Well, inasmuch as a DDR game can suck.  But earlier from that same year, there was a new arcade edition, DanceDanceRevolution X2.  And it was good.  I assume.  As I've previously stated, I've never found a copy of that game, despite an international release.  But it would turn out that X2 was the last arcade DDR game, to date, to have been sold outside of Asia.  But it wasn't the end of the series, for a year and a half later, Konami released DanceDanceRevolution X3 vs. 2ndMIX (JP: 16 November 2011, AS: 16 December 2011).  I also have yet to play this edition in person, even during my latest trip to Japan back in March.  But even though Konami did not sell X3 in North America or Europe, they did release a new home game suspiciously similar to it: DanceDanceRevolution II for the Wii (NA: 11 October 2011, EU: 16 November 2011).  

X3 features a blue-and-white colour scheme, and many of the features from X2.  Two new features are exclusive to eAmusement/PASELI users: they can view both machine and eAmusement high scores on the music menu, and, similar to X2's Marathon Mode option, pay per song in Quick Play Mode.  As hinted at in its full title, X3 also includes an HD remake of Dance Dance Revolution 2ndMIX.  It is entered through a button prompt on X3's title screen, just like the 2ndMIX mode from 3rdMIX.  The songs from 2ndMIX Mode were eventually added to the main game in a later update.  As to why they chose this entry to remake, I'm curious.  Perhaps the first game had too little content, and the more popular 3rdMIX had too much content.  And yes, you still have to enter a hidden panel code for the Maniac level.

2ndMIX Mode's menu screen in DDR X3.
DDR II, meanwhile, shares with X3 some songs, UI elements, and of course the core gameplay, but in other ways differs from it as well as the Wii DDR games before it.  There are no alternate modes that use the Wii Remote, Nunchuck, or Balance Board, but they did bring back the Double mode from the core series.  Also, the majority of songs come in two flavours: the traditional 1-to-2-minute edits, and the full-length versions.  And this isn't like in 5thMIX or DDR X where only a scant handful of songs were long versions; this is done for all the licenced songs, and most of the Konami originals which weren't already in another game.  The unlock system also seems to have borrowed a page from the PS2 days.  Unstead of a separate single-player campaign, you unlock new content by playing in the free-play mode and earning points.  The "Replicant-D-Action" system also makes an appearance, but it's been simplified greatly from its appearance in X2.  All you have to do is clear any three songs, and the Replicant-D-Action folder will become available.  When you play any song therein, the folder disappears until you play another three songs, and so on.

Double mode in DDR II.  A mainstay for most of the series
finally makes its Wii debut.
DDR X3 features 515 songs, plus 30 songs in 2ndMIX Mode, and DDR II features 83 songs.  In X3, you've got your usual stable of J-pop licences and Konami originals, including ones from DDR 2010, seeing as how that game was never released in Japan (lucky buggers).  However I will admit that, apart from the boss songs, the "notable songs" section will be shorter this time around than the ones for previous games.  Not including the revivals for 2ndMIX mode, there are only six new licenced songs, all of them Japanese, and they culled most of the licences left over from X and X2, just to add insult to injury (or is it the other way around?).  And I've long sinced stopped keeping up-to-date with the other Bemani games -- which, I remind you, aren't made available outside of Asia -- so there's nothing in the selection of crossover songs that catch my eye.  But maybe it's just me; if you absolutely must have material from jubeat Copious or Reflec Beat Collette, then go nuts, I guess.

As for DDR II, I feel a little conflicted.  First, the bad news.  There are two --- count 'em, two -- Justin Bieber songs in DDR II.  And one by Miley Cyrus.  And one by Selena Gomez.  And one by Willow Smith -- you know, that "Whip My Hair" fellow.  And two songs with Bruno Mars, who isn't nearly as embarrassing, "The Lazy Song" notwithstanding.  Yeah, you can tell Konami of America courted the teen-pop crowd this time around.  But it's not like those are bad songs to dance to; not like those boring slow songs from the last game.  So now, the good news.  Since (the 2010) X2 was never given a proper home port, the Konami originals (mainly Bemani crossovers) that weren't already included for the (the 2009) X2 and Hottest Party 3 have been revived for DDR II, including such assumed classics as "smooooch", "Gold Rush", and "Mei".  Other notable songs include:
  • "Connect", as made famous by Claris.  (X3 only)  The theme song from the anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  For some reason, X3 uses a cover version of this song, as well as with...
  • "Heavy Rotation", as made famous by AKB48.  (X3 only) Why Konami would need someone to cover one of the biggest names in J-Pop, I couldn't tell ya.
  • "Say a Prayer" by Des-Row & Maxi Priest, and "Still Unbreakable" by Des-Row and Vanilla Ice.  (II only)  Unremarkable songs, but it's neat that they're collaborations between Bemani and non-Bemani artists.
Certain songs were made available later on for machines connected to the Internet, a form of DLC if you will, as tie-ins with certain events.
  • Daily Special: Added five songs from other Bemani games.  During the event, different ones were unlocked on each day of the week.
  • Append Travel: Added four songs from jubeat Copius Append, another Bemani music game.  Also let players earn Append Points to spend on items, however this feature expired in September 2012.
  • Konami Arcade Championship 2012: Added seven songs.  Five of them are remixes of Konami originals from 2ndMIX.
  • Tsugidoka!: Added four songs from other Bemani games.
  • Extra Tour: Gradually introduced the Evolved songs as selectable Extra Stages.
The new round of boss songs:
  • "Amalgamation" by Mystic Moon.  (X3 only)  A fairly high-speed (170 BPM) trance/techno song.  Originally the Extra Stage on X3; replaced by "Unbelievable (Sparky Remix)" in an update.
  • "Unbelievable (Sparky Remix)" by jun feat. Sarah Jane.  (X3 and II)  A happy-hardcore song in the vein of "Silver☆Dream" and "Kimono Princess".  Originally the Encore Extra Stage in X3; later replaced by "Nephilim Delta" and demoted to Extra Stage in an update.
  • "Nephilim Delta" by L.E.D-G.  (X3 only)  A darker-sounding gabba-techno song, its high-speed (220 BPM) eight-note runs play like an even more turned-up "Afronova" or "Arabiatta".
  • "Silver☆Dream" by jun.  (X3 only)  A revival from DDR Hottest Party 2.
Other boss songs:
  • X3 revived the "Tokyo Evolved", "Osaka Evolved", and "New York Evolved" series from DDR Hottest Party, Hottest Party 2, and New Moves/Hottest Party 4 respectively, as part of the "Extra Tour" update.
  • DDR II revived "deltaMAX" and "888" from Universe 3, and the other boss songs from X2.
  • "PARANOiA Revolution" by Climax of Maxx 360, and "Trip Machine Evolution" by DE-JAVU. (X3 only)  The latest remixes of these fan-favourite songs from the first game.  These are playable in 2ndMIX Mode, as Extra Stages, and certain nonstop courses.
  • "Love Is the Power (Re:Born)" by NM.  A remix of the end-credits songs from 2ndMIX.  It's not a particularly hard song (only level 10 on Expert), but when played as an Encore Extra Stage, you have to get all Perfect marks or better; so much as one Great kicks you out of the song.
  • "London Evolved" by TAG Underground. (X3 and II)  The new set of Evolved songs, bearing three variations, this one is more trance-like, specifically reminiscent of "Roppongi Evolved" from X2.
  • "Tohoku Evolved" by 2.1MB Underground. (X3 only)  Yet another Evolved song, specifically a remix of "London Evolved".  Technically there is only one version of "Tohoku Evolved", except that the last note is a randomised corner-jump.  This song breaks the DDR speed record, with a certain passage reaching a whopping 1020 BPM.  A tribute to the victims of the natural disasters which hit north-eastern Japan earlier in 2011, this version incorporates voice samples such as "Our thoughts and prayers are with you".
Come to think of it, "Tohoku Evolved" would have been a poignant send-off to the Dance Dance Revolution series.  Scratch that... it should have been the series' send-off.  We've got only two more entries to go on the History of Dance Dance Revolution.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Game Review: Shantae: Risky's Revenge

Shantae: Risky's Revenge
  • Publisher: WayForward
  • Developer: WayForward
  • Release:
    • Nintendo DS: 4 October 2010
    • iOS: 27 Oct 2011
    • PC: 15 July 2014
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save: 3 files
  • Rarity/Cost: DLC, US$10
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Shantae, a woefully under-promoted action-platformer for the Game Boy Color.  As part of my review of such, I speculated on the possible reasons its franchise didn't take off sooner.  But whichever was the case, it seemed ages before a sequel would be produced.  There were false starts here and there, such as a Game Boy Advance title which for all intents and purposes was naught more than an internal tech demo.  And developer WayForward has kept themselves busy ever since, making such cult-classics as Sigma Star Saga and Contra 4 (future review fodder...?).  But in this harsh, unforgiving industry, it's the publishers who hold all the power, and no one seemed to be chomping at the bit to give such an underperformer as Shantae a second chance.

But then as the seventh console generation bloomed into maturity, an alternate avenue appeared: self-publishing games via digital distribution became viable for home consoles and handhelds.  And it was through these channels that in 2010, our half-genie hero finally was bestowed upon her a sequel: Shantae: Risky's Revenge on the Nintendo DSi shop.  It was soon followed up by a port for iOS devices, and after further delays, a "director's cut" edition for PC, via the Steam store, no less.

The story of Risky's Revenge takes what I like to call the Mad-Libs approach to writing a sequel: use the same general concepts as its predecessor, switching about characters and/or objects as needed.  This time around, Shantae, the half-genie guardian of Scuttle Town, visits her uncle Mimic to witness a treasure he found on his off-screen exploits.  Such MacGuffin item, in the form of a magic lamp, is promptly stolen by lady pirate Risky Boots (hence the title).  She can't use it without three magic seals, so Shantae and Mimic come up with the bright idea of finding all the seals before Risky.  Good luck with that...  I may have been a bit cynical in describing the plot, but there are some genuinely moving moments here and there, such as when the mayor of Scuttle Town sells the town deed, and at numerous points when Shantae's half-blood heritage instill in her doubts vis-a-vis her ability to properly protect her home town.  There's some choice humour to be had as well; you owe it to yourself to speak with the NPCs about Scuttle Town every now and then.

The Squid Baron, one of a small handful of bosses to be fought.
As before, Shantae can learn belly-dance moves which will transform her in to different animals: a monkey (for climbing up walls), an elephant (for breaking rocks), and new for this game, a mermaid (for swimming underwater).  However, the dance mechanics have been simplified: instead of performing button sequences, all you do is hold the button and let go when Shantae switches to the desired pose.  While I should be thankful for not having to worry about invalidating my inputs by messing up the timing, I am somewhat disappointed at losing the creativity permitted by the old system.  Oh, and there are only three dungeons to the five from the first game, and one of them doesn't even have a boss to call its own.  The overall length is similar, still about 2-5 hours depending on whether or not you know what you're doing, but it still feels like they cheaped out for the sequel.  I should forgive this fault given the game's troubled history, so I'm going to let you off with a warning, WayForward.

The use of attack items is controlled by a magic meter.
Besides, not all the changes made for Risky's Revenge led to disappointment.  Attack items (Fireballs, Pike Balls, and Storm Puffs) are no longer consumables, but are instead limited by a magic meter.  I must say, this decision led me to using these items a bit more often, especially the quasi-shielding Pike Balls.  You can also buy a map early on in the game, which reveals the overworld areas for your reference.  There aren't any maps available for the dungeon levels, but still, even just an overworld map would've come in handy in the original game.  Oh, and the day-night cycle which plagued the original Shantae, and Castlevania II before that, has also been axed.  No more having to deal double damage every other couple of minutes?  Thank you very much!

One thing that WayForward didn't cheap out on, however, are the visuals.  The graphics in Risky's Revenge are roughly analogous to what the Super Nintendo could put out, and as with the first game, the animations are superb.  From the way Shantae's baggy trousers flutter in the wind while taking a long fall (with no falling damage), to the death animations of certain enemies, to the 2D jiggle physics, there are a lot of details to take in.  And composer Jake Kaufman once again hits it out of the park, combining Arabian-style melodies, modern beats, and retro-game aesthetics.  Sure, most of the songs appear to be re-tooled tracks from the original game, but it still works.

Come to think of it, one could apply that argument to the game at large.  A lot of this game's structure comes across as updated iterations of the first Shantae's components.  From the design of certain overworld and underworld setpieces, to the plot itself, as I previously described, it wouldn't have taken much more work for WayForward to have just made an updated re-release of the original game.  (Which was also my biggest problem with Sonic 4, if you recall.  Still good though.)  A little more originality would've helped the game, but make no mistake.  What we've got here is well-tuned, clever, and engaging.  Shantae: Risky's Revenge deserves to be bought, if only to shower a little extra attention on a deserving young franchise.  And judging by the upcoming one-two punch of Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, combined with the recent digital re-release of her hard-to-find debut title, she may just have a new lease on life.

Control: 5 out of 5
Design: 3 out of 5
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Audio: 5 out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Editorial: Mega Man Legends 3, 3 Years Later

The following is an open letter to all readers of the Facebook page "Get Me Off The Moon: 100,000 Strong for Bringing Back Mega Man Legends 3", and will be reposted there.

Dear friends, Servbots, Beckers, and other miscellaneous netizens,

As I started writing this, it has been three years to the day since Capcom took the inexplicable step of killing development of Mega Man Legends 3.  And let me tell you, my faith in humanity has never been the same since.  As far as I’m concerned, Capcom has joined the ranks of such Western-based publishers as EA, Activision, and King, who eschew creativity and good will in favour of short-term profits.  “Revive a unique series that’s lain dormant for over a decade?” they seem to say.  “That’s not what the people want!  You want us to rehash the same niche-interest versus-fighters and a former survival-horror series!”  And I’m thinking, that’s gotta stop.

To this very day, Capcom -- and when I bring them up, I am referring to their Japanese headquarters -- has not directly given a valid reason for their actions.  (And for the record, I choose not to count that Capcom Europe tweet.)  Until such rationale comes to light, I have no choice to blame Capcom’s ill will with Keiji Inafune.  And for the record, I do harbour some ill will of my own towards Inafune-sama; after all, if he hadn’t left the company so early, he might have been the insurance policy necessary to see Legends 3 to completion.  (But that would be like blaming the Jews for World War II.  The problem wasn’t that they existed, but that someone reacted poorly to them.)

But despite not yet having reached our ultimate goal of bringing Legends 3 back to the public, a lot has happened to our fandom among these past three years.  Our cause has brought together fans from all corners of the world.  (Seriously, we’ve got people from the likes of Malta and Bahrain.)  We have produced fan games galore, and even launched a model rocket in its honour.  A comic-book serial starring Mega Man has been launched -- and a thumpin’ good one, I’d vouch.  Mega Man himself has also been honoured with a playable crossover appearance in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. 4 games (so renamed because screw this business of recycled titles).  I myself have snuck countless references to our cause on my own blog, the Strawberry Dragon Project, which you are reading right now.  It would seem that Mega Man’s 25th anniversary was celebrated by literally -- OK, not really, I’ve become conscious about the overuse of the word “literally” these days -- virtually everybody except Capcom, who holds the keys to the licence itself.

Perhaps chief among all our accomplishments would be the successful kick-starting (in more ways than one) of Mighty No.9, a new IP bestowed upon us by no less than the co-creator of Mega Man himself, Keiji Inafune.  I don’t know about you, but having viewed this development in the context of what Legends 3 could -- nay, should -- have been, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with getting this in its place.  It’s like getting a consolation prize on a game show.  But when considering the big picture, the story of Mighty No.9 is, in essence, about a force for creative individuality (Inafune-sama) pitting himself against a giant bureaucratic entity (Capcom) and the souless stasis it enforces.  So yeah, I ended up backing it in the end, and I regret nothing.

But if anything brought closure to this matter, or at least the next best thing, it would be the news that not one, but two of the fangames are attempting to re-create what Legends 3 could have been.  One seeks to incorporate the story and some gameplay elements of the equally-cancelled Legends 3 Prologue into classic 2D Mega Man gameplay.  And one is a straight-up, full-3D reconstruction of the game.  Who knows how far that last one will get, but just announcing it with whatever progress they've made thus far is a heartwarming achievement in and of itself.  If you have not already done so, I invite you to watch their (currently Japanese-only) trailer, the intro of which really hits me in the feels.  But now I feel I am at a point where I can let this whole ordeal free from my soul.  I'm not going to un-Like the Facebook page or anything like that, perish the thought; it's more of an emotional thing, you know?

In conclusion, to those reading this letter, I offer two pieces of advice.  First, don’t obsess over this matter.  If you let this cause cloud over your mind, you’ll never think a happy thought again, and you’ll never get to enjoy life.  Even if it’s just another cause to obsess over, like how Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell masterpiece The Wind Rises got snubbed for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, simply because the jurors respected animation so little as a serious art form that they couldn’t be arsed to do their job properly.  ...Fat lot of good that did, then.  Of course, don’t forget about our cause completely; come back to it once every couple of months or so, and make a positive contribution.

And to that effect, my second advice is: know your enemy.  We need to direct our focus onto the top-level management of Capcom in Japan.  It’s all well and good to score interviews with Inafune-sama and other such people who wanted to make Legends 3, but I think it would have been even better to land an interview with Capcom’s CEO or somesuch.  That way, we’d be asking the right questions to the right people.  As I learned from the villain in a James Bond movie (brownie points for guessing which one), “the key to a good story is not who, or what, or when, but why.”  Only by knowing the “why” of all parties involved, and acting based on them, can we make true progress in the world.

Legends never die,

Kevin M.