Monday, February 8, 2016

Film Review: When Marnie Was There vs. Inside Out

When Marnie Was There
  • Publisher: Toho (JP), GKIDS / Universal (NA)
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release: 19 July 2014 (JP), 22 May 2015 (NA)
  • Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • Producers: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Toshio Suzuki
  • Writers: Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Inside Out
  • Publisher: Disney
  • Studio: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
  • Genre: Comedy / Drama
  • Release: 19 June 2015
  • Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
  • Producer: Jonas Rivera
  • Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley



Welp, another year, another Academy Awards ceremony.  And you know what that means: they're gonna give the Best Animated Feature award to the Disney/Pixar behemoth.  It happened to Frozen over The Wind Rises, it happened to Big Hero 6 over The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, and odds are it'll happen again.  I've been preparing for the worst, especially since the "big one" of 2015, Pixar's Inside Out, is going up against When Marnie Was There, the last feature film Studio Ghibli may ever make.  In a past article, I told you how I saw Marnie in theatres, despite its limited release, and enjoyed it.  Well, in the interest of voting with my wallet, I refused to do the same for Inside Out, even when they gave it an encore run for Labor Day. Eventually I rented the movie and, I'm ashamed to say it... it was awesome.  But then I realised something: both Marnie and Inside Out tackle the same basic story in different ways.  Marnie focuses on the characters themselves, whereas Inside Out focuses on what's going on inside the main character's mind, with her personified emotions.  So, I thought, now would be the best time to do another joint review on the two movies.  That way, I can pre-empt the Academy more substantially than just a joke at the end of my last article.

In When Marnie Was There, our central character is Anna "no, not that one" Sasaki (EN: Hayley Steinfeld, JP: Sara Takatsuki), a twelve-year-old girl living in Hokkaido, who is shy but loves drawing.  When she suffers an athsma attack, her foster parents send her to live out to a seaside village with her aunt and uncle.  While exploring her new surroundings, she comes across a dilapidated mansion, and in the window, a blonde girl of her age named Marnie (EN: Kiernan Shipka, JP: Kasumi Arimura).  Over the next few nights, she starts spending time with Marnie, building their freindship and uncovering the mysteries behind Marnie's life, as well as her own.

So yeah, Marnie sticks rather closely to the Ghibli playbook.  But, as it turns out, this movie was based on a novel of the same name, written by the British author Joan G. Robinson in 1967.  Studio Ghibli has adopted Western literature before; Howl's Moving Castle and The Secret World of Arietty (a.k.a. The Borrowers) spring to mind.  The central plot device of Marnie, if there is one, is figuring out what the deal is with its titular character.  Is she a real girl?  Is she a ghost?  Is she a figment of Anna's imagination?  Is this the real life?  Is this just fantasy?  Without wishing to spoil, the way they explain all of this in the final act is kind of rushed.  I mean, Anna doesn't even start her investigation into Marnie's past until halfway through the movie!
The feels that Marnie generates are weapons-grade.
But what the film lacks in a good overarcing plot, it makes up for in the individual moments that comprise the plot.  When I was watching, I found myself lost in the emotions of the main characters: joy when they're playing together, sadness when they're sharing their darkest secrets, and bittersweet resignation when it's time for Anna to leave.  (Sort of like Ghibli themselves.)  To put it another way, this is what I wished Frozen was like when reviewed it: it focuses solely on its two main characters and how they develop together.  And I have to give a shout-out to the foley artist, because the sound effects in this movie are amazing.  For some reason, I don't normally notice this sort of thing, but when certain scenes go on without music and even dialog, you have to notice them.  And from the waves lapping at the creaking wood of a rowboat, the sound effects do even more to build upon the ambience of some scenes.

Having re-watched When Marnie Was There, I seem to have enjoyed it less than I did at first.  If it wanted to have the mystery of Marnie be its driving plot thread, they should have spaced out its developments more evenly across the film, rather than bunch them all up near the end.  And some of Anna's behaviours are downright bizarre, although I suppose they do illustrate the gaping void in her mental state that only Marnie can fill.  In conclusion, is it Studio Ghibli's best effort?  Probably not, although they have set the bar so phenomenally high for themselves in the past, mind you.  If you don't mind not having a strong plot to hook you from one scene to the next, and can get by on the scenes themselves, I would still recommend When Marnie Was There.

Meanwhile, in Inside Out, our central character is Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias), an eleven-year-old girl living in Minnesota, who is goofy but honest, and loves hockey.  The difference here is that much of the movie is, in fact, portrayed from the point of view of personified emotions living in her head.  In order of introduction, they are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black).  These emotions control Riley's actions at the appropriate moments, generating memories tied to those emotions.  But then, everything changes when when her family moves to San Francisco.  Due to a series of unfortunate events, Joy and Sadness get stranded together outside their headquarters and must venture back somehow.

The world of Riley's psyche is nothing short of a joy to behold.  Functions of the brain are illustrated in inventive ways, such as the formation of memories, ideas, personality traits, and dreams.  A highlight is when Joy and Sadness wander into a section of Riley's mind where new general ideas abstracted from specific ones.  In the movie, this means that Joy and Sadness are devolved into low-polygon and eventually 2D forms as they try to escape.  Sure, nothing comes about from it in practice and it is never brought up again (making it the movie's "Big Lipped Alligator Moment"), but the process they go through shows great research of psychology on the part of the writers.  I mean, as far as I know about psychology.  We also get to see glimpses of similar mental setups of different characters here and there, each tailored to their own personality.
Inside Out's settings look like they came
straight from the mind of Willy Wonka -- almost literally.
What Inside Out has over Marnie is how it manages to create suspence to hook the viewer in.  For example, in Riley's head there exist five "personality islands", depicting her interests and personality traits.  Over the course of her mental breakdown, the island crumble into the bottomless pit below.  We are told that whatever falls down there, i.e. memories that are no longer needed, can never return.  But later on in the story, Joy falls down there herself, where said pit is decidedly non-bottomless, and of course she comes back out of it.  And of course she does it with the help of someone who sacrifices himself to let her escape.  So, it would seem that Inside Out isn't above employing the odd sappy cliche here and there, albeit rarely.  Although I will give them credit for actually showing her eventual mode of egress falling into the pit earlier on.  Let that be but one example of Pixar's attention to detail.

While I'm nitpicking, isn't it a bit lopsided for Riley to have one "positive" emotion, namely Joy, and four "negative" ones, especially when the one Joy gets stuck with, Sadness, has a bad habit of converting memories to sad ones by touching them?  To the film's credit, and without wishing to spoil, they do address this.  Speaking of the emotions, one of the most important things to keep in mind when assembling a cast of voice actors is for each actor to sound distinct from one another.  I'm proud to say that this is another of Inside Out's strengths.  Amy Poehler was perfectly cast as Joy, although I did love her on Saturday Night Live to begin with.  The other emotion characters also manage to bring their titular personality traits through by their voice alone.

My prejudices against CG animation being what they are, "pleasantly surprised" doesn't begin to describe my experience with Inside Out.  Mind you, Marnie managed to get those emotions across to the viewer without needing to personify them.  But if you ask me, Inside Out had the better story, and getting to witness such creative sights along the way was a bonus.  There are a few stupid or silly moments to nitpick, but they are rare and don't represent the film as a whole.  All things considered, I would recommend both films for different reasons.  If you want straight-up, weapons-grade feels, try out When Marnie Was There.  If you want a gripping story to go with those feels, go with Inside Out.  It's a big world out there, certainly big enough for both of them.
When Marnie Was There
Positives:
+ Individual scenes are packed with emotion.
+ Deals with a number of complex themes.
+ Brilliant sound-effect work.
Negatives:
- For less patient viewers, it lacks a suspenceful hook.
- Retreads more than a few story tropes covered by past Ghibli films.
- The rushed conclusion.

Acting: 4 out of 5
Writing: 3 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Audiovisual: 5 out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)
Inside Out
Positives:
+ Well-researched and creative interpretations of the brain's functions.
+ Terriffic voice-acting that complements each character's personality.
Negatives:
- It has a few minor plot holes.

Acting: 5 out of 5
Writing: 4 out of 5
Design: 5 out of 5
Audiovisual: 5 out of 5
The Call: 95% (A)


In the end, I may not like to admit it, but not only do I think Inside Out is the better movie, I probably wouldn't lose sleep if it won the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  But that's not the whole story.  There's this thing called the Annie Awards, which has been going on since 1972, and honours animation in movies, television, and even video games.  Ghibli's movies have been nominated for the Annie's Best Animated Feature awards several times over, and just like in the Oscars, failed to actually win.

But this time around, for the 43rd Annie Awards held on 6 February 2016, they added a new category: "Best Animated Feature - Independent", and I'm glad they did.  This means that films with lower profiles but bigger hearts don't have to compete against our mainstream monstrosities.  Not that such "mainstream monstrosities" can't also have heart, as we learned in this article.  But the important thing is that now, for once, the underdogs have a more level playing field.

Oh, and for the record, the winner of the independent award was the Brazilian feature Boy and the World.  It looks great, but given the fate of Studio Ghibli, I can't help but feel a little disappointed...  Studio Ghibli may be dead, or just in a coma depending on whim you talk to, but another door to the wider world of animation is opening to us.  Let's keep opening more doors, shall we?

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Friday, January 29, 2016

SDP Music Awards 2015 (Part 2)

Previously on the SDP, I kicked off the inaugural SDP Music Awards, leaving only two categories aside for a second post: the Worst Song and Best Song of 2015.  As explained earlier, I did this setup instead of my usual top-tens to explore some alternate options for evaluating the year's audio output, and to hopefully cut down on the writing I'd have to do (which sort of backfired).  But as I was compiling nominees for the worst and best lists below, I found myself adding more and more until I hit ten for each, at which point I decided to myself, "You know what?  Let's just do top tens anyway!"  And thus I ranked them all up from 10 to 1 with a little description for each, although shorter than usual because like I said, I tried to do less work with this.  As a reminder, all entries must have made it onto the Billboard year-end Hot 100 Songs chart for 2015, and songs which appeared on said chart for previous years are disqualified.  So, sorry Ed Sheeran, it's great that "Don't" made a return appearance on their list, but I already got around to praising it this time last year.  With that out of the way, let's get the SDP Music Awards wrapped up and over with.

Worst Song


10) "Post to Be" by Omarion, Jhene Aiko, and Chris Brown (#24)
First of all, it's "supposed to be", not "post to be".  Second, Chris Brown.  Third, produced by DJ Mustard.  Fourth, the line "eat her [noun] like groceries".  Enough said.

9) "Hit the Quan" by iLoveMemphis (#83)
This iLoveMemphis guy, whomever he is, sounds like a yowling maniac, and repeatedly fails to keep the beat while rapping.  Although to be fair, I don't think any rapper or singer could have salvaged this dumb material.  If nothing else, at least it's only the second-worst dance-rap song on list!

8) "Marvin Gaye" by Charlie Puth & Meghan Trainor (#75)
Charlie, just invoking the name of Marvin Gaye without adopting any of his musical stylings will not rub his greatness off on you.  Instead, it just leaves you with the dorkiest and un-sexiest sex song since "Afternoon Delight".  As for Meghan Trainor, this only cemented her status as an emotionally disconnected dork only your mom could love.

7) "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town (#63)
Little Big Town made a song about a lesbian romance!  ...Not really.  For example, "I want to taste her lips / Yeah, 'cause they taste like you".  The fact that country radio stations turned their back on this song, when it wasn't really all that racy, speaks volumes about their conservative society, but this song's so boring and toothless anyway, so I'll take any excuse!

6) "No Type" by Rae Sremmurd (#70)
The boys of Rae Sremmurd are quick to boast they have no type in women, only to immediately contradict themselves by adding, "bad [noun]es is the only thing that I like".  And the rest of the song has nothing to do with that statement whatsoever.  The only reason this isn't higher is because they also made "No Flex Zone", which I missed last year but is somehow even worse.

5) "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor (#74)
Much has been made about how this song self-imposes a domestic role for women, and they're not wrong, but to be honest, it doesn't have an uplifting message for men either, and Meghan comes across as nothing short of catty and demanding.  Bottom line, this song was a mistake for her image.

4) "Ayo" by Chris Brown & Tyga (#86)
I already railed on "Ayo" in the "Most Generic Rap/R&B Song".  The jist of that spiel was that Chris Brown is one of the least likable figures in all of music.

3) "Worth It" by Fifth Harmony & Kid Ink (#23)
Combining the horn riff from Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty", an barebones beat a la DJ Mustard, a hook consisting of a single repeated line, and a rap verse from Kid Ink which he ever so slyly copies verbatim later in the song, "Worth It" is not.

2) "Only" by Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil' Wayne, and Chris Brown (#51)

Between the disgusting lyrical content, the creepy four-note beat, and half the performers, the song reminds me most of is Weezy's own "Love Me" (no), which as you may recall clinched my bottom spot a couple of years ago.  And while "Only" didn't leave me feeling quite so unclean, it did so more than any other song this year.  Except perhaps...

1) "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" by Silentó (#8)
Holy crow, did I finally manage to do a bottom-ten list without putting Lil' Wayne and/or Chris Brown at the "top" spot!?  This calls for a celebration!  How about a dance party?  Wait, DJ, don't put on "Watch Me"!  FUUUU--

Out of all the nominees, this is the only one which I could not get through all the way. I mean it, literally, I could never bring myself to finish listening to this song. And it's not a long one either; it clocks in at a shade over three minutes.  See, as I described when awarding Silentó my Worst New Artist "award", "Watch Me parentheses Whip slash Nae-Nae end parentheses" consists entirely of him asking you to watch him do the Whip.  And the Nae-Nae.  And all manner of other dance steps that people have been using in Vine videos and such that have until now totally passed me by.  He ya jerk, don't you know that ignorance is bliss?  I usually drop out when he brings up the Superman from Soulja Boy Tell'Em's "Crank That", which as I recall, was a previous title holder for "Worst Song of All Time".  Well, that throne is now occupied by... "Love Me" (no) by Lil' Wayne.  I just... I still can't get over that song!  But "Watch Me" is still really freaking terrible, so much that I had to christen it the worst song of 2015.

Best Song

10) "Honey, I'm Good" by Andy Grammer (#25)
"Honey, I'm Good" is a folksy, hokey, but charming song about a man who's in a relationship and denies the advances of another girl, which is a message I can get behind.  I don't mean to be a Moral Orel or anything, but in the midst of all these other songs about stealing YOUR girlfriend, dang it, somebody has to take a stand against that [noun]!

9) "Time of Our Lives" by Pitbull & Ne-Yo (#39)
Pitbull has finally learned that if you're stuck with a painfully limited palette of topics to rap about, you might as well be genre-savvy about one of them.  Having Ne-Yo and a euro-house groove on hand help this song's standing as well.


8) "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd (#12)
The Weeknd managed to channel none short of Michael Jackson for one of the most engaging musical performances of 2015.

7) "Love Me Like You Do" by Ellie Goulding (#13)
Between Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, which "Love Me Like You Do" comes from, what is it with horrible romance movies having such great soundtracks?  Maybe it's just my tastes, but I was attracted to "Love Me Like You Do" for its epic pop sound that I thought we had lost after Phil Collins retired from music.  As was also the case with...

6) "Take Me to Church" by Hozier (#14)
I know I nominated this for Most Boring Song, but the quiet parts of "Take Me to Church" manage to accentuate the louder parts, already powerful with their cathedral-like echoes, even more.  Hozier knows how to build an atmosphere with music.

5) "Style" by Taylor Swift (#29)
After so many years of dissing ex-flames with the power of hindsight, Taylor Swift finally switches it up and presents the romance of a relationship in medias res.  It was also the first single from her 1989 album which even remotely sounded like it belonged in the year the album was named after.

4) "Downtown" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz (#84)
Somewhere between "Thrift Shop" and "White Walls" in its subject matter, Macklemore wrote a song that made going out on a moped sound awesome, and the chorus of golden-age rappers adds some well-deserved vintage street cred.

3) "Hello" by Adele (#35)
A heartfelt, if inconsistently passive-aggressive, reunion song that even manages to serve as a sequel to her breakup singles from her 21 album.  And unlike Sam Smith's works, it actually builds up its slow start over the course of the song. into something that's not short of grand.

2) "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars (#1)
Mark Ronson's '80s-funk production and Bruno Mars's Morris Day-slash-James Brown delivery make "Uptown Funk" one of the most positively unique songs of the year -- or the past few years, even.

1) "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk The Moon (#6)
Whereas picking the "winner" for the worst song of 2015 was a cinch, settling on a best song was considerably harder.  For much of the year, I was torn between "Uptown Funk" and "Shut Up and Dance".  "Hello" made a strong case for itself later on, however its slow start may turn off some listeners (myself excluded, thankfully), and Adele sort of wavers on whether she truly wants to make up with the guy she's calling, or whether she just wants to flaunt their breakup in his face.

So, going back to my original dilemma, "Shut Up and Dance" won out in the end.  It and "Uptown Funk" had a lot of the same things going for them.  They were packed full of bouncy energy which allowed me to give them many, many repeated listens.  But in the end, the deciding factor was their lyrical focus.  "Uptown Funk" was all about Bruno Mars esentially boasting about his swag.  Of course he could still back up his claims, but there was a little more to "Shut Up and Dance", which recounts a dance-floor date with some Manic Pixie Dream Girl, with just enough detail to make it feel real.  Basically it's like "Best Song Ever" by One Direction, only not made by One Direction, so bonus.  Like I said, this was a tough decision, and all of the songs in this top-ten deserve mounds of credit, but only because I have to pick just one to rise above them all, I pick "Shut Up and Dance" as the best song of 2015.  Don't like it?  Shut up.   ...And dance!

And finally, the winner of the award for Best Animated Movie is When Marnie Was There by Studio Ghibli.  I know that doesn't have anything to do with music; I just wanted to pre-empt the Academy before they blindly give it to Inside Out or some [noun].

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

SDP Music Awards 2015 (Part 1)

Ladies and gentlemen, 2015 has rolled out and 2016 has rolled in, and as always, I'm here to celebrate the occasion with one foot in the past.  Specifically, a run-down of the past year's popular music.  Now, normally I've done so with a pair of top-ten lists, but this time around I'm going about it differently.  Partly I'm doing this to save on a little work, but I also got to thinking that maybe sticking to a ten-best and ten-worst list doesn't provide the most appropriate description of what the year's soundscape was like.  In order to qualify, all nominees must have placed on Billboard's Year-end Hot 100 Songs list for 2015, unless otherwise noted.  Each song's ranking on said chart will be noted within parentheses, after the title and artist.  And there are no rules as to the number of nominees I can put within a category, because I just couldn't stop myself picking them out.  Some have as few as three, other have as many as ten.  Deal with it.

Worst Sample or Interpolation
Looking at the top 100 songs this year, I’m surprised that there weren't a lot of songs that used samples.  But there were a few examples of how to do sampling right, and how to do it wrong.  A good sample does something new with the old track to create a different sound altogether, whereas a bad sample fails to do so, and just reminds of the original song instead.  Or worse, the old song clashes with the new one, either in sound or in meaning.  These songs, obviously, fall into the "bad" camp.

- "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy (#43): "Tom’s Diner" by Suzanne Vega
- "Somebody" by Natalie La Rose & Jeremih (#41): "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston
- "Uma Thurman" by Fall Out Boy (#60): Theme from The Munsters

The winner: "Uma Thurman" by Fall Out Boy
I had assumed Fall Out Boy were going for a Pulp Fiction vibe for this song, as evicenced from the surf-rock sound of its sample, and from the title named after one of the actors in that film.  But the thing is, they didn't use any music from Pulp Fiction in their sample.  They used the theme song from The Munsters instead.  Why?  I mean, it sounds similar to "Misirlou", from Pulp Fiction's opening titles, so why not just use that?  Is it because the Black Eyed Peas beat them to it ten years ago?  You do know more than one artist can sample the same song, right?  And the recording quality of their sample is a bit off compared to the live instrumentation of the rest of the song, so they might as well have just re-recorded it themselves!  As it stands, the Munsters theme still keeps "Uma Thurman" fun to listen to for a while, but it still clashes with what they were trying to accomplish.

Also, if I had done a category for the Best Sample or Interpolation, the winner would be "G.D.F.R." by Flo Rida, Sage the Gemini, and Lookas (#32), which sampled “Low Rider” by War.  As I said before when I reviewed "G.D.F.R.", it takes a part of the song not many people could identify as easily as the hook, and really makes the sample its own.  Ah, but then again, all that work was done by Lookas for his own song, which Flo Rida sampled instead of the original "Low Rider", so it probably wouldn't deserve the award anyway...  Lucky it wasn't running against anything, then.

Worst Lyric
Music, and by extention sampling, is only half of the songmaking process.  Chances are, your song's going to need lyrics to sing to, and let's face it, not everyone can manage their A-game all the time.  So with those facts set up, now would be a good time to segue into the worst lyrics of 2015.

- "Blessings" by Big Sean & Drake (#88): "I done lost homies who been with me since Ed, Edd / And Eddy, who flip like confetti"
- "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor (#74): "I'll be sleeping on the left side of the bed / Open the door for me and you might get some… kisses"
- "Downtown" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz (#84): "I'm so low, my scrotum's almost dragging on the concrete"
- "Good For You" by Selena Gomez & A$AP Rocky (#27): "And syncopate my skin to your heart beating"
- "Jealous" by Nick Jonas (#39): "It's my right to be hellish / I still get jealous"
- "Marvin Gaye" by Charlie Puth & Meghan Trainor" (#75): "Let's Marvin Gaye and get it on"
- "No Type" by Rae Sremmurd (#70): "I ain't got no type / bad [noun]es is the only thing I like"
- "Uma Thurman" by Fall Out Boy (#60): "The blood, the blood, the blood of the lamb / It's worth two lions, but here I am"

The "winner": "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor
What could be wrong with this little joke of a couplet?  First, let's address the fact that Meghan's attempt at a joke resulted in these two lines not rhyming.  Second, it's quite obvious that she meant to say she'd give "head" to her "dear future husband".  It's too late to start censoring yourself now, Trainor; your first single had the "s"-word!  And it isn't like this was censored for the radio edit or anything, because I could understand that.  No, this is the real, original version of the song!  Third, based all the demands she piles on the listener over the course of the song, if I actually were her dear future husband, I'd expect a lot more than... kisses in return!  (Take that as you will.)  Come to think of it, I'm surprised she didn't write "Marvin Gaye" as well, because the line I nominated from that song fits right in with her sense of humour -- or lack thereof.

I'd also like to award my Wildcard slot for this category to the entire third verse of "Truffle Butter" by Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Lil' Wayne.  It would have been cheating for me to have given the real award to a whole verse instead of any specific line, but dang it, this song was enough to ruin its entire song for me!  See, the first two verses (done by Nicki Minaj and Drake respectively) are alright in a generic rap sort of way, and the beat is minimalistic, but not in a boring way (a la DJ Mustard).  Then... Lil' Wayne happens.  Every time I listen to this guy, I come out feeling like I need to scrub myself.  A few lines in, he mentions "Truffle butter on your [noun]", and his sexual descriptions only get dirtier from there.  And the pitched-up voice he does from that line on does not help matters.  Sure, he does wrap up his part with some well-deserved switch-ups in his vocal rhythm, but by then it's too little and too late to change my opinion on his contribution to this song.

Most Boring Song
There some songs out there which make me instinctively change the channel whenever they pop up on the radio.  It's not because they're bad, mind you.  Often they have something going for them in terms of lyrics or themes.  It's just that they do nothing to engage me musically.  After all, when what you're doing is called "listening to music", the music itself is nine-tenths of the law.  And in that regard, these songs are downright felonies.

- "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten (#20)
- "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town (#63)
- "Lay Me Down" by Sam Smith (#81)
- "Like I’m Gonna Lose You" by Meghan Trainor & John Legend (#76)
- "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth (#3)
- "Take Me To Church" by Hozier (#14)
- "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran (#2)

The winner: "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town
The sub-genre of country music that seems to get the most crossover success is the downtempo adult-alternative lite ballad style, and "Girl Crush" is in the deep end of that.  Musically it sounds like a slow dance at a school prom for narcoleptics, not helped by the droning vocal melody.  Surpringly, "Girl Crush" also sets up the intrigue of a lesbian infatuation, in a usually conservative genre.  Oh, but of course the manage to knock her down, though.   The female singer's only verbally dolling this other girl up because -- get this -- she reminds her of her own man!  For example the line, "I want to taste her lips / Yeah, 'cause they taste like you".  This was still enough for some people to protest their local country radio stations for "promoting a gay agenda", which of course wasn't really the case.1  But while that ignorance speaks volumes about their conservative society, this song is so boring and toothless anyway, so I'll take any excuse to pull it off the turntable!

My Wildcard entry for this category is "Writing's On the Wall" by Sam Smith.  The theme from the latest James Bond film, Spectre, seems to be going for the same kind of slow-burning style of Adele's theme from Skyfall, but fails miserably.  There's no denying that the guy has range and even a little bit of power to his vocals, but so often he wastes his talents on these boring songs with nothing much going on musically.  It's like they took an orchestral piece from the soundtrack, slapped Sam's vocals on top, and just shipped it out the door.  It has a few good lyrical themes, so I can't bring myself to be too hard on it, but it's not something I'd listen to outside of the film it was made for.

Most Generic Rap/R&B Song
I have to admit, I don't like the direction mainstream rap is going these days.  All that drug-dealing, strip club-frequenting, product-placement-enforced luxury, having sex with YOUR girlfriend, and butchering of the English language, all irrespective of whether or not they actually lived in the ghettos where that sort of thing would be acceptable and/or desirable.  And no, it's NOT because I'm racist, but instead, it's because I know African-Americans are capable of so much more than what their (predominantly white?) producers have arbitrarily decided is easier to sell to us all.  So let's improve an entire race by symbolically sacrificing those who would drag it down.  NOTE: In addition to the Hot 100, nominees were also selected from the 2015 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts.

- "Ayo" by Chris Brown & Tyga (#86)
- "Hit the Quan" by iLoveMemphis (#83, Rap #18)
- "Nasty Freestyle" by T-Wayne (#50, R&B/Hip-Hop #15)
- "No Type" by Rae Sremmurd (#70, R&B/Hip-Hop #25)
- "Post to Be" by Omarion, Chris Brown, and Jhené Aiko (#24, R&B/Hip-Hop #9)
- "Throw Sum Mo" by Rae Sremmurd, Nicki Minaj, & Young Thug (Rap #21)
- "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap (#4, R&B/Hip-Hop #2)

The winner: "No Type" by Rae Sremmurd
The name "Rae Sremmurd" apparently means "Ear Drummers" spelled backward, and man is that an unfitting name for this juvenile rap duo.  "I don't got no type", the chorus of their song goes, immediately followed by, "Bad [noun]es is the only thing that I like".  Okay... casual misogyny aside, I thought you said you didn't have any specific taste in women, and now you're telling me that you do have a taste, and it's bad [noun]es?  I guess that is a wide enough category of females, given the phrase's over-use in hip-hop.  Whatever, what else is the song about?  "Chop the top off a Porsche / That's a headless horse"...  "Extendo long as an extension cord"...  "Blowing on the kush / 'Till I'm out of sight"... "I don't check the price / All I do is swipe"...  Yup, just as I thought: absolutely nothing.

Oh, and if you were curious as to what I thought was the worst song out of this category, I'd pick "Ayo" by Chris Brown and Tyga.  Sure, they breeze through all the cliches I listed at the top of this segment in this song, but they did manage to inject some personality into it all.  Namely, the personality of being douchebags.  Breezy, and to a lesser extent Tyga, have this smug cockiness about themselves which just manage to get at me.  How bad is it? When I watched the music video for this song, I flipped it the double-bird -- before the song itself even started.  Oh yeah, and Tyga can't rhyme to save his life.  I thought that was the first rule of rapping.

Most Generic Country Song
In an effort to divert any accusations of racism the previous category might have brought upon me, allow me to employ the same scrutiny to a genre whose production and consumer base are dominated by white people.  Now, sadly, Miranda Lambert's "Something Bad" from last year did not completely warm me up to country music, but I guess it was worth it if I managed to let the following songs slip me by.  But let's see if we can identify a pattern and pin down the epitome of that trend, shall we?  NOTE: In addition to the Hot 100, nominees were also selected from the 2015 Hot Country Songs chart.

- "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" by Tyler Farr (Country #30)
- "Ain’t Worth the Whiskey" by Cole Swindell (Country #34)
- "Drinking Class" by Lee Brice (Country #15)
- "Homegrown" by Zac Brown Band (Country #7)
- "House Party" by Sam Hunt (#85, Country #2)
- "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16" by Keith Urban (Country #9)
- "Kick the Dust Up" by Luke Bryan (#87, Country #4)
- "Sun Daze" by Florida Georgia Line (Country #35)

The winner: "Kick the Dust Up" by Luke Bryan
Surprisingly, "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16" did not clinch this award despite the title.  But at least some of that phrase's rural spirit exists in the real winner "Kick the Dust Up".  This is a song about driving trucks and other farm vehicles around as if they were luxury cars they were willing to get dirty, and lining up at a bar with everclear liquor in hand.  In other words, it's got both the work life and party life most commonly exemplified by country music covered.

By the way, my pick for the actual worst song from this list is "Sun Daze" by Florida Georgia Line.  See, I like to call FGL "the LMFAO of country music" for being two buffoons that caricature the public image of their genre with zero self-awareness.  At least "Kick the Dust Up" mentioned the kind of stuff these people do for a living -- you know, when they need to make the money needed to keep partying!  Oh, and the grating drawl of their voices doesn't help their image either.

Most Generic EDM Song
And now we move on to a most-generic category for a genre I actually like.  The thing about EDM, electronic dance music, this year was that it basically split into two sects.  On the one hand, we have your traditional trance-based EDM, from guys like Calvin Harris and Avicii.  And on the other hand, we have the newer "trap music" style, which is generally slower and louder.  One of trap's biggest, and arguably best, hits was last year's "Turn Down For What" by DJ Snake, and despite his numerous appearances throughout 2015, it became abundantly clear that he could never duplicate that song's magic, which in all honesty had more to do with the presence of the "king of crunk", Lil' Jon.  But by gum, the old school isn't going down without a fight.  NOTE: In addition to the Hot 100, nominees were also selected from the 2015 Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart.

- "Get Low" by Dillon Francis & DJ Snake (Dance/Electronic #28)
- "Heroes" by Alesso & Tove Lo (Dance/Electronic #12)
- "How Deep Is Your Love" by Calvin Harris & Disciples (#100, Dance/Electronic #9)
- "I Want You To Know" by Zedd & Selena Gomez (Dance/Electronic #10)
- "Prayer in C" by Lillywood & Robin Schulz (Dance/Electronic #7)
- "SummerThing!" by Afrojack & Mike Taylor (Dance/Electronic #32)
- "You Know You Like It" by DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge (#59, Dance/Electronic #4)

The winner: "I Want You To Know" by Zedd & Selena Gomez
Despite what I said about DJ Snake and other trap EDM this year, the "winner" of this category belongs to the old-school camp, such as it is "old-school".  Personally, I blame "I Want You To Know"'s blandness on its actual singer, Selena Gomez, who has the least personality out of all our current pop princesses.  If you look at the other singers Zedd has worked with in the past -- Foxes, Hayley Williams, even Ariana Grande -- they've all been able to "break free" of the typical EDM production.  But Selena's voice is so generic that she could have been replaced with anyone else and the feel of the song would have been the same.  Not that Zedd's production fill in any of the blanks, either; it sounds just like any other modern vocal-trance song.

And finally, my pick for the actual worst song from this list is "SummerThing!" by Afrojack and Mike Taylor.  That may seem strange at first, because it starts off really well.  The beat for the verses combines a sprightly acoustic guitar riff with a funky drum beat, and Mike Taylor's singing is soulful, in a discount Aloe Blacc kind of way  Then, Afrojack just HAD to bring in a bass-drop segment that sounds NOTHING like the rest of the song!  I ought to sue him, because I could get whiplash from that transition, or lack thereof!

Biggest Guilty Pleasure
What defines a guilty pleasure?  According to Wikipedia, "A guilty pleasure is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard."  You'll notice the term not used in that description is "a bad song".  You won't see much overlap between these nominees and those of the upcoming Worst Song category, because if a song managed, time and time again, to keep me tuned in despite myself, it must be doing something right.

- "Bad Blood (Remix)" by Taylor Swift & Kendrick Lamar (#15)
- "Dear Future Husband" by Meghan Trainor (#74)
- "G.D.F.R" by Flo Rida, Sage the Gemini, and Lookas (#32)
- "Hotline Bling" by Drake (#30)
- "Jealous" by Nick Jonas (#38)
- "Marvin Gaye" by Charlie Puth & Meghan Trainor (#74)
- "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap (#4)
- "Uma Thurman" by Fall Out Boy (#60)

The winner: "Uma Thurman" by Fall Out Boy
Oh, Fall Out Boy... as we say on TV Tropes, you are just so "adorkable".  Despite this song's previous nominations and/or wins for Worst Sample and Worst Lyric, its mistakes in those regards are still endearing.  Yeah, the Munsters theme sample doesn't fit into a song supposedly about an actress from Pulp Fiction, and virtually every line in the song makes zero sense whatsoever.  The end result is that I just cannot take this song seriously, but I never got the impression that was what Fall Out Boy were going for.  And now that we've established that, I am left free to enjoy this song's company as I please.

My Wildcard entry for this category is “[noun], I’m Madonna” by Madonna & Nicki Minaj.  Maybe it's because I find most dubstep unintentionally hilarious, and "[noun], I'm Madonna" takes just the right cues from dubstep to keep me laughing in spite of myself.  It's loud, obnoxious, in your face, and I just can't stay mad at it.

Surprisingly Best Song
There are quite a few artists out there who have never impressed me with their bodies of work, so I just write them off as stuff that's just not for me.  But every so often, the planets align or something, and I discover a song I end up liking, only to discover it was by one of those artists.  These are the songs which prove that hope springs eternal.  By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, this was the category that inspired me to do this award-show dealie instead of a traditional top-ten list.

- "Hey Mama" by David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, & Afrojack (#31)
- "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth (#3)
- "Style" by Taylor Swift (#29)
- "Time Of Our Lives" by Pitbull & Ne-Yo (#39)
- "Want To Want Me" by Jason Derulo (#17)
- "Where Are U Now" by Skrillex, Diplo, & Justin Bieber (#19)

The winner: "Want To Want Me" by Jason Derulo
"Time of Our Lives" was probably the best song out of the pack, and "Where Are U Now" demonstrated improvement for two artists, Justin Bieber and Skrillex.  But for the purposes of this category, the award has to go to Jason Derulo.  I've never liked the little twerp, especially last year when the double-whammy of "Talk Dirty" and "Wiggle" resulted in his worst showing since his unforgivable first single.  So you can imagine my surprise when he followed that up with something actually tolerable.  He seems to have traded in his ear-raping vocal flourishes in favour of a straight-up falsetto, and it works in a Prince sort of way.   This analogy is further served by the music and its 80s-funk synthy production.  And the lyrics are still kinda pervy, but at least he's not directing his lust towards you, the listener.  So through this song, Jason Derulo has finally found his niche: pretending to be other people.  (Bruno Mars says hi.)

Furthermore, if I had done a category for the surprisingly worst song, the "winner" would have been "FourFiveSeconds" by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney.  Let's see... I like McCartney, I like Kanye, and... I was willing to be positively surprised by Rihanna.  However, I was disappointed on all accounts.  Rihanna's voice is all squeaky and scratchy, almost as if she didn't have time to warm up her vocals before recording.  (Although at least she's restored the range she had before her years of constant singles wore her down.)  Sir McCartney just sticks to a low-key ukelele riff, and while I know he was never much of a shredder, is still kinda lame.  Kanye probably came out the best out of all three artists, but he just can't get across his emotions to the full when he's not rapping (his own songs).  Which is kind of a dealbreaker, because for a song that's supposed to be about losing one's temper, it just sounds quirky and not in the least bit angry.

Worst New Artist
One of the major categories at the Grammy awards is the "Best New Artist" category.  A running joke about the Grammys is that this award generally tends to spell doom for the careers of those who win it.  For proof, look at its lineup of such illustrious alumni as the Starland Vocal Band, Debby Boone, Men at Work, and Marc Cohn.  Plus, one such winner was Milli Vanilli who, as you know, got caught lip-syncing with performers who didn't even sing on the record, and as punishment had their award revoked.  So in the interest of riffing on them, I present in turn my award for the worst new artist of 2015.  if nothing else, consider it payback for all the love they gave Sam Smith last year.  NOTE: Nominees were selected from the 2015 Top New Artists chart.

- Charlie Puth (New Artists #7)
- Fetty Wap (New Artists #1)
- Rachel Platten (New Artists #6)
- Silentó (New Artists #4)
- T-Wayne (New Artists #9)

The "winner": Silentó
Silentó's debut hit this year was "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" a song, such as it is, which consists entirely of calls to do whatever stupid dance steps have been floating around middle-school dance parties and Vine videos over the past decade.  I mean, pretty much literally, that's all there is.  In interviews,  Silentó says that what he writes "just pops in my brain, and I just write the record before it go[es] away"2 , and it shows.  Silentó fails as a singer, he fails as a songwriter, and he fails as someone who shows even the slightest sliver of promise for a musical career.

I only have two categories left for these inaugural SDP Music Awards: Worst Song and Best Song.  Now, being the two biggest and most vague categories of this ceremony, I decided to add a little blurb to go with each of the nominees, explaining why they belong there.  And I even managed ten nominees for each category.  However, this article's gone on long enough already, so I've decided to split them off into their own post.  Until then, stay very cool, people!


1 Yahn, Emily.  "Why stations are pulling Little Big Town’s 'Girl Crush' - and what that says about country radio".  The Washington Post, 25 March 2015.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2015/03/25/why-stations-are-pulling-little-big-towns-girl-crush-from-the-airwaves-and-what-that-says-about-country-radio-today/

2 Jones, Kathryn E.  "Meet Silento, the 17-Year-Old Who Has the Nation Whipping and Nae-Nae-ing".  Vibe.  2 July 2015.  http://www.vibe.com/2015/07/silento-whip-nae-nae-interview/

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Indie-Cember 2: Undertale

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Freedom Fall, with which I noted similarities to Portal for its simple but deep gameplay, and its simple but deep storytelling.  Let's go for two.
Undertale
  • Publisher/Developer: tobyfox
  • Lead Designer: Toby Fox
  • Release: PC, 15 September 2015
  • Genre: Role-Playing
  • Players: 1
Violence in video games is one of those things we take for granted.  For most genres, there are conflicts between characters in the stories, and obstacles the player must overcome themselves.  And I'm not some stop-having-fun-guy who doesn't want anybody exposed to such fictional harmful acts.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have reviewed so many games over the years.  But every so often, you stop and think about this sort of thing.  We don't treat our real-world problems by blasting away at them or whatever -- at least I hope we don't -- so is there some way this could work in a game?  To answer that question, developer and composer Toby Fox has blessed us with Undertale.  Undertale bills itself as "The Friendly RPG Where Nobody Has To Die".  Let's see how that turned out.

You play as a gender-neutral child who one day fell down a hole and into a world of monsters.  There are all kinds of monsters to be found here: some will just want to talk to you, or even help you, but most would rather fight you instead.  It is within these random encounters that we see our "combat" system, which is unique among turn-based RPGs.  You attack by pressing a button in time with a meter, and you avoid damage by taking control of a heart icon and dodging white objects, as in a bullet-hell shoot-em-up game.  Just as there are many varieties of creatures you'll face off against, there are even more types of projectiles you'll have to steer yourself clear of.
You must dodge random objects to defend yourself.
Already this "combat" system should interest you more than the average RPG.  But I said "combat" in quotes because you are never forced to fight your enemies.  Instead, you can use various other commands to interact with your enemies in other ways.  Each enemy has their own pattern of actions to be employed against them, when triggered, lets you spare them instead.  Sparing your enemies rewards you with money but not experience points, and as such you won't be able to level up and increase your health if you do so.  As such, killing your foes and not killing them provide two different experiences of the same story.

If you want this game to surprise you as much as possible, please disregard the rest of this paragraph.  There are also separate endings based on whether you've killed all, some, or none of the monsters you encounter.  I'm not too keen on this in theory, since it boils down to a binary moral choice system.  I would   And I must warn you, that attempting a "genocide" play-through may leave you with some unsettling moments.  For example, early on in the game, a goat-mother thing named Toriel takes you in, gives you a room of your own, and even leaves a slice of pie out for you.  It's a warm and fuzzy feeling, I tell you what.  But then when you try to leave, she becomes a boss fight, and killing her just because I was attempting the "genocide" run made me feel like an awful person.  Besides, if you only stick to fighting, you won't get the full taste of the "battle" system, so at least Undertale manages to persuade you to stick to the virtuous path by gameplay mechanics alone.
The game has a quirky sense of humour.
Fortunately, Undertale isn't completely downbeat in tone, as there is plenty of comedy to be had.  Much of it relies on misdirection, on setting up a scenario one way and then surprising you with an unexpected outcome.  For example, there are plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied in-between battles and text boxes, but the game has a bad habit of setting up some of the more intricate puzzles, only to change its mind and either solve them for you or make them ridiculously easy.  Anticlimactic, yes, but I suppose it's part of the humour.  I'm reminded of the Earthbound (or Mother, if you are so inclined) games because of their shared quirky nature.

This connection also extends to the graphical style of Undertale, which has a simplistic approach to it, hovering somewhere in the realm of 8-bit.  As I've said time and time again, I can live with simplistic artwork, as too much detail to the visuals would distract game designers from other, more important things they could be working on.  I wish the soundtrack would make up its mind as to whether it wants to be completely chiptune-based or not, although the songs themselves are properly ambient and/or melodic at the appropriate moments.  Also, Undertale isn't terribly long, as I finished my first play-through in two to three hours.  But it didn't feel that short, as it gave me enough distinct settings to feel like a grand journey.  Besides, as much as I like JRPGs on an aesthetic level, I can't seem to get into them anymore for how tortuously padded and drawn-out they can get.  So in the end, I would describe Undertale as the RPGs for people who hate RPGs, but really I'd recommend it to everyone just to show the potential of what video games can be and do.

Positives:
+ Innovative "battle" system.
+ Many funny and bitersweet moments.
+ Not long, but just the right length for an RPG.
Negatives:
- The fight/act "battle" system is a moral-choice structure in disguise.

Control: 5 out of 5
Design: 5 out of 5
Writing: 5 out of 5
Audiovisual: 4 out of 5
The Call: 95% (A)

So, it appears we've reached the end of Indie-Cember 2.  Sorry I didn't manage to get out all the reviews I wanted.  Apparently the holidays make me less productive than I anticipated beforehand.  No seriously, most of my SDP-related productivity was working to update my old James Bond reviews for YouTube.  But as for the stuff I didn't get to during Indie-Cember 2, I was thinking, why should I confine them to just one month out of the year?  I have my desires and fears for the game industry, so why not bring these smaller titles to your attention throughout the rest of the year?  After all, as I like to say, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.  In other words,

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indie-Cember 2: Freedom Planet

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Freedom Fall, a 2D platform with an innovative form of storytelling and the word "freedom" in the title.  Let's go for two.
Freedom Planet
  • Publisher/Developer: Galaxy Trail
  • Lead Designer: Stephen "Strife" DiDuro
  • Release:
    • PC, 21 July 2014
    • Wii U, 1 October 2015
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
But before I get to Freedom Planet, let's talk about fan-games.  A lot of the great series of old have had people make their own installments of them.  Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and Sonic the Hedgehog are some of the big names with even bigger fan-game libraries.  Even I used to dabble in the stuff back in the day, although nothing I've worked on survives to this day.  If you need examples of fan-games, some of the big-name ones are Street Fighter X Mega Man, and Super Mario Bros. Crossover, so apparently the more intellectual properties you can roll into your project, the the better it becomes.  The reason I diverted your attention with this intro is because our current subject, Freedom Planet, started life as a Sonic fan-game, but replaced the "licence" with original characters and setting, and evolved from there, and was all the better for it.

Freedom Planet offers three characters to play as: Lilac, a purple water dragon, Carol, a green wildcat, and (unlocked after the second level) Milla, a white basset hound.  It turns out that these characters started life as drawings by Ziyo Ling, a Chinese deviantART user, who gave permission for the team at Galaxy Trail to user her "fursonae".  Each of them have their own slightly unique styles of play.  Lilac and Carol have a faster flow to their experiences, although never quite as fast as the real Sonic, since instead of just jumping into enemies to clear them, you have to use dedicated attacks instead.  Milla is the odd dog out, since her system of defence revolves around generating green globby blocks to serve as shields and attacks.  Other than that, Freedom Planet plays just like any other 2D Sonic: you run around rampy, loopy paths, jump off platforms and springs, pick up rings crystal shards for extra lives, and break TV monitors larger crystals for various flavours of shields.  I should note that even though the game purports to have a lives system, if you do run out and continue, you just return to the last checkpoint with your progress otherwise intact, so they needn't have bothered.
Instead of jumping into enemies, you must use one of several attacks to clear them.
Freedom Planet also hearkens back to the 16-bit era by not having any story to speak of -- if you so choose.  See, when you start up a game, you get to choose between "Classic" and "Adventure" mode, the only difference being that Adventure Mode inserts additional cutscenes in between each level, all of which are done in the same art engine as the rest of the game.  And let me tell you -- unless you absolutely want to know what is going on, stick to Classic Mode, for the following reasons.  1) These cutscenes are way too long for this type of game; some can reach five minutes in length.  2) The writing is hokey as all get-out, often falling back on snarky joking for the heroes and dastardly boasting for the villains.  3) The voice acting is hit-or-miss.  Some actors seem to have had more fun with their performances than others.  Still other characters' sound quality is all muffled and lo-fi; I'm singling out Torque in that aspect.  And 4) This could have all been done without the traditional notions of cutscenes.

To help explain myself, take a look at what passed for cutscenes in, say, Sonic the Hedgehog 3.  That game had zero voice acting, and not even any text boxes at all, but got its story across purely through the characters' actions.  It was clear how Knuckles was stealing your Chaos Emeralds, or dropping you down a trap door, and you didn't need any quips from Sonic or Tails to punctuate those moments.  Freedom Planet does this as well, even in Classic Mode, and if you ask me, this is the best storytelling method this game has to offer.  Why couldn't they have just stuck to that?  So yeah, the story's there if you want to check it out, but you don't have to -- and that's the important part.
The game world has a heavy Chinese influence,
almost like a modern-day Legend of Korra.
But voices aside, Freedom Planet is a joy to look at and listen to.  The environments are colourful, just shy of Knuckles Chaotix's epileptic palette, and bear a clear Chinese influence.  There are levels ranging from bamboo groves and crystal caves to a giant shopping mall and a fleet of airships.  It's like if the world from The Legend of Korra existed in the present day and got taken over by furries.  Graphical performance is also top-notch for what it tries to do; sprites speed about the place and rotate smoothly when running over hills and through loops.  The controls are alright, although there's a little too much forward momentum when trying to make precision jumps or spring-bounces, and some of the attacks feel unnecessary.  The soundtrack, composed by Leila "Woofle" Wilson, is also a knockout.  The melodies are emotive and, given time, catchy, and the sounds selected to portray those melodies match the setting of the level they're presented in.  Of course, the graphics and music have always been the most consistently good things about Sonic the Hedgehog, even after the "golden age", so it's nice that Freedom Planet takes that approach to heart, if nothing else (not that it doesn't do anything else).

Freedom Planet does for Sega Genesis games (read: Sonic the Hedgehog) what Shovel Knight did for the NES (read: Mega Man).  (I probably should have reviewed Shovel Knight first, but oh well.  It's great.  Take my word for it.)  It picks up where Sonic Team left off after they discovered 3D and everything went to pot.  But most importantly, it doesn't steal all of Sonic's trappings, but instead creates a new world with both new and familiar mechanics.  Moving to a new IP was a wise move on Galaxy Trail's part indeed.  But even if it were a new Sonic game, it would still be a thumpin' good one.  Just be sure to stick to skip all those cutscenes, okay?

Positives:
+ Tight, fast-paced gameplay.
+ Multiple characters with distinct play styles.
+ Gorgeous artwork and music.
Negatives:
- The voice-acting quality is inconsistent, but mostly poor.
- The story bits are too long -- good thing you can skip them!

Controls: 4 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Writing: 3 out of 5
Audiovisual: 5 out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)

1 GalaxyTrail (August 12, 2012). "The Evolution of Freedom Planet". ModDB. http://www.moddb.com/games/freedom-planet/features/the-evolution-of-freedom-planet