Monday, December 31, 2012

Year In Review 2012: YOLO

For this new Year-In-Review special, I will be discussing the term "YOLO".  It's short for "You Only Live Once", and like I've said before, I both appreciate what it means and despair over how it was used.  But in 2012, it seems the universe pulled a YOLO on us, because all manner of strange stuff took place.  Reminisce with me:

  • First of all, the Mayan new year on 21 December was interpreted as the end of the world. ...Yeah, didn't happen, but it would explain why we all got the following out of the way!
  • Presidential elections and/or power handovers in Yemen, Russia, France, Venezuela, the USA, China, South Korea, and Japan.
  • After Hamas and Israel had a brief war with each other, the United Nations gave (the good part) of Palestine the next best thing to statehood.
  • North Korea finally managed to successfully launch a rocket.  May God have mercy on our souls.
  • The year's celebrity deaths include Etta James, Whitney Houston, Neil Armstrong, and Ravi Shankar.
  • A relative unknown from South Korea unseated Justin Bieber as the king of YouTube.
  • Austria's Felix Baumgartner was the first man to break the speed of sound without a vehicle, in a free-fall from 24 miles up in space.
  • The Twilight Saga went away with a bang.  May we forget about it forever from here on out.
  • Sadly, Mega Man Legends 3 still did still not come to be.  But after so much apparent disdain for the Blue Bomber, Capcom gave their blessing to a PC fan game, Street Fighter X Mega Man, to kick off the franchise's 25th anniversary.  May this lead to better times for Mega in 2013.
And last but least :-/, I branched off into video!  I still don't have many fans, but it's been a thrill doing this for my own fulfillment, and I will keep on through 2013 since, well, we're still around for it!  Sorry this retrospective was so short, but I shouldn't have waited until 10:30 PM to start writing I think "YOLO" encapsulates the spirit of the year perfectly.  Can't wait for 2013!  (Good, because I've only got 45 minutes to go as I finish this.)

This is IchigoRyu.

God bless America.  And everyone else.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10: Best Hit Songs of 2012

Previously on the SDP, I catalogued for you the top ten worst songs on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 for 2012, and now, here are the year's top ten best hit songs.  You'll have to bear with me here; if it's hard enough to explain what makes a song bad, then it's even harder to explain what makes a song good.  Plus, you know, there doesn't seem to be as many "good" songs doing well no the charts either.  But for you, [deep breath] I'll try.

10) "[nouns] In Paris" by Jay-Z & Kanye West
from Watch The Throne
Year-end position: #40

Jay-Z and Kanye West have become awfully close over the past few years (I'm pretty sure Ichigo ships them ^_^), their partnership culminating in the album Watch The Throne.  I bet no one could've predicted that its best-performing single would be the one with an unmentionable word in it.  But when you play the track, all its iconic moments make you wonder why you ever doubted it.  Like the do-it-yourself reference:
I'm psycho, liable to go Michael, take your pick
Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, game six
Or Jay-Z shoring himself up against any potential failures of his basketball team:
The Nets can go 0 for 82
And I look at you like that [noun]'s gravy
Or the clip from Blades of Glory at the end of Kanye's verse... yeah, you're gonna have to take my word for it.  Granted, not all the jokes are on the dignified side, particularly when Kanye is involved...
Prince William's ain't doing right if you ask me
Cause I was him, I would've
Married Kate and Ashley
...but arguably, that just makes it all the more fun to listen to.  It's not so much the technical prowess, but the x-factor of "[nouns] In Paris" that becomes its defining quality.

9) "Young, Wild, & Free" by Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Dogg feat. Bruno Mars
from Mac & Devin Go To High School [soundtrack]
Year-end position:  #33

Calvin Broadus has done some wacky things in the past year, not the least of which being converting to Rastafarianism and receiving a new name, Snoop Lion.  But amidst all this lunacy, he costarred with upstart rapper Wiz Khalifa in a stoner comedy movie called Mac & Devin Go To High School.  I assume the film's nothing to write home about -- seriously, they casted a 42-year-old as a high-school student -- but the leading single from the soundtrack puts the D-O-double-G back in his marijuana-fueled element. Wiz Khalifa joins in for the song as well, and despite being, how do I put it, flow-challenged from time to time, being in the presence of a living legend seems to have put him at the top of his game. Plus, we have Bruno Mars on the chorus, and although he's set the emotional bar lower than what he tried (and failed) to accomplish on songs like "Grenade" and "Lighters", there's no need to - he nails the fun and fancy-free atmosphere of the rest of the song.  After all, when you live like this, you're supposed to party! Remember: please toke responsibly.

8) "Gangnam Style" by PSY
from Psy 6 Part 1
Year-end position: #47

I imagine this song needs no introduction at this point.  After all, I've said everything I need to say in my original review of this song.  Long story short, I'm amazed that PSY was able to incorporate the social trends of his neighbourhood into his lyrics.  One wonders what could come next.  Perhaps a country song like Taylor Swift's "Love Song", but about a blue-stater and a red-stater?  And now that I think about it, the Taliban in all their mysoginistic glory could fit in with 90% of today's rappers.  (I'm not sure whom that zinger was targeted at.)  Back to this song, even if you as a listener can't understand the Korean lyrics without some form of paratext, that doesn't change the fact that they're about what they are, and that's how I grade songs.  P.S. 1 billion views FTW!!

7) "So Good" by B.o.B. & Ryan Tedder
from Strange Clouds
Year-end position: #80

B.o.B. is nothing if not a ladies' man, a rarity in the rap game if I may say so myself. He established this tradition in "Nothin’ On You", his first single, and his clean streak continues with "So Good". The song mixes pick-up lines with references to fine art and tourist destinations the world over. Are some of these lines corny? Perhaps, depending on your patience, but I appreciate him making references to the likes of Michaelangelo and George Gershwin instead of... whatever the kids reference these days, and in terms of perceived lameness, this is nowhere near Lil' Wayne or Pitbull fare. Speaking of which, his goal seems to be not simply sex, but true dating and adventure. The sentiments of this song may not reach the poignance of "Nothin' On You", but trust me, they're close.

6) "Burn It Down" by Linkin Park
from Living Things
Year-end position: #100

It's a shame that Linkin Park have been one of the few true rock bands to have hits over the past decade, especially since Maroon 5 sold out with their latest album, and Nickelback is... well, Nickelback.  And whilst Linkin Park are more known for over-the-top songs like "Crawling" and "One Step Closer", which have been hijacked in the name of joking about the emo culture, "Burn It Down" manages to capture strong emotions without descending into the same silliness.  By my money, the strongest parts are Mike Shinoda's rap bridges, with lines like:
I played soldier, you played king
And struck me down when I kissed that ring
You lost that right, to hold that crown
I built you up but you let me down
Quite the forceful revenge fantasy, eh? I mean, it makes Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know" seem well-adjusted. I'm just gonna move on before Chris Brown gets any ideas.

5) "Let's Go" by Calvin Harris & Ne-Yo
from 18 Months
Year-end position: #65

Based solely on the success of his charting singles like "Feel So Close" and Rihanna's "We Found Love", I had pegged Scottish DJ Calvin Harris as a poor man's David Guetta, which is a shame because he had put out some interesting material before hitting it big.  "Let's Go" lies somewhere in between; it's not as complex as his older works, but it's not as mind-numbingly-repetitive either.  And combined with Ne-Yo's vocals and lyrics, this song will make you want to take an adventure of your own.  It's like a musical version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, although hopefully with less rapey grabbing, Haruhi.
Hey, it's now or never
Tomorrow's good, tonight is better
Sure, those two lines contradict each other, but each on their own gives you a good idea of what's at stake and why taking action now, whatever said action may be, is preferable.  Wait a minute, wasn't there that other song Ne-Yo was on, about having a good time tonight in case he were to die tomorrow?  Oh, yeah, it was "Give Me Everything".  Only this time they took Pitbull out of the equation, so, bonus.

4) "Adorn" by Miguel
from Kaleidoscope Dream
Year-end position: #97

A throwback to '90s R&B with a singer who looks like the male version of Janelle Monaé... what could possibly go wrong?  Well, Miguel could present himself as a sex-crazed psychopath, but thankfully that is not the case.  He's asking you to let his love adorn you -- if you don't want him to, that's okay.  And then there's the line "These fists / will always protect you".  Okay, gettin' a little possessive there, but still chivalrous, and hey, at least he didn't say he would die for his girlfriend.  Seriously, Bruno Mars, how is that helpful?  All in all, Miguel is refreshingly careful with his choice of words, but then again, the soft, wet, dreamy music should also tell you all you need to know about his intentions.

3) "Some Nights" by fun.
from Some Nights
Year-end position: #14

Public opinion states that the band fun. is the reincarnation of Queen.  And whilst their #1 hit "We Are Young" failed to leave that impression on me, as you may recall, their follow-up single serves as a better showcase for what they are capable of.  There are so many words to describe this song: adventurous, grand, inspirational... pretty much everything that made Queen's epic rockers great.  Shame about that precision F-strike in the middle.  And that weird auto-tune solo soon afterwards.  But apart from those foibles, fun. has not only redeemed themselves in my eyes, but proved that they are not a one-hit wonder, Gotye.  Speaking of which...

2) "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye feat. Kimbra
from Making Mirrors
Year-end position: #1

Some of my favourite music comes from the '80s, mainly British, post-New Wave scene.  These sounds are calming yet sophisticated, and just dated enough to serve as nostalgia fuel, as they were still in rotation when I was growing up.  I'm talking about acts like Sting, the Psychedelic Furs, Peter Gabriel, and of course, Genesis.  And it's no surprise that my favourite song of all time, "Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Collins, also qualifies for that sub-genre, and I shall have to explain myself sometime later.  But for now, "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Australia's Goyte represents the closest anyone's come to rekindling that magic since the Clinton administration.  Granted, not everything about this sound is perfect, since the vocals are mixed too quietly during the verses, but it also goes to showcase restraint on the part of the producer (Gotye himself), so it's not all bad.

Besides, this song wouldn't have placed as high as it did if it didn't succeed lyrically as well.  See, the problem with most of the bad breakup songs I've talked about is that they're one-sided, and they don't give us any insight into why the first-person party was dumped other than, "he or she found another partner".  Not so here: he whines specifically that his girlfriend out-and-out trolled him after claiming they could still be friends:
You didn't have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records
And then change your number
So... ouch.  Even better: a guest verse from New Zealand's Kimbra rebuts that he screwed her over... somehow, and made her believe that it was her fault.  Granted, I would've liked to learn what he did in the first place, but this is deeper in one line than most other songs I've tackled are in a whole verse.  In fact, combine that with the music, and this just might be my personal favourite song of 2012.  And yet...

1) "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele
from 21

Year-end position: #12

Our winning track for this year comes to us courtesy of Adele.  Now, I very nearly put "Rolling In The Deep" at the top of my personal best-of list last year, but for three things.  1) Lady Gaga decided to put on a normal appearance for once, 2) the line "But you played [my heart] to the beat" still doesn't feel right, and 3) I was prepared to give #1 to this next song, but alas, its single was released too late in 2011 to make it onto the year-end chart.  2012 was better for it, however; it spent two weeks at #1, so at long last it may take its rightful place as the best song that everyone listened to this year.  Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration... "Set Fire To The Rain".

In "Set Fire To The Rain", Adele sings about having started so low before the relationship in question, and having built  so much into it, only for it to crash down so spectacularly.  The end result is that, whether literally or figuratively, she's taking him down into the flames with her.  There is no forgiveness to be found here -- and when you understand just how much stock the Japanese put into that phrase, it really becomes something else.  In that regard, this song reminds me of "All Cried Out", a song originally put out by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam in 1985, and that version kinda sucked just a little.  But its 1997 cover by Allure and 112 captured such desperate emotions in a similar manner, and I think it might be the saddest song I've ever heard.  Back on point, there has been the odd critic here and there who chose to look down upon "Set Fire To The Rain"'s bombastic production, but I say sour grapes to that.  Would these emotions have been the same if they chose to go down the stripped-down "white girl with a piano" route?  I think not.

Wildcard) "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston
from The Bodyguard [soundtrack]
Year-end position: #1 in 1993

And finally, we end with a tribute to Whitney Houston, who died on 11 February 2012.  As is usual after the death of a recording artist, her songs got a renewed boost of publicity, but rarely has anything like this been seen before: one of her songs re-entered the charts.  "I Will Always Love You", from the soundtrack of her 1992 film The Bodyguard, peaked at #3 during a new run on the charts.  Not even Michael Jackson, who had a much bigger catalogue, got any songs into the top 20 after his death in 2009.  While it could contend with the others on this list, I'm not including it because A) it failed to make the year-end chart this year, and B) it was already the #1 song on record for 1993.  Not that I have any specific plans to do a best-of list for that year, but if I were to tackle it, it stands a good chance of showing up on that, too.

I've encountered breakup songs dealing with all different stages of the cycle of loss... except the final stage, acceptance.  In "I Will Always Love You", Whitney Houston and her opposite number are forced apart for whatever reason, but they have a mutual understanding, and she wishes him the best in all his future endeavours.  I haven't yet seen The Bodyguard, the film from which this movie originated, but if the song could get its point across so well without the paratext, then it only goes to show how well it stands the test of time.  And for that, Whitney Houston, we will always love you.  ...I'm not the only person to make that joke, I just know it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 10: Worst Hit Songs of 2012

Well my good peoples, another year its at its end -- without the world getting destroyed, I might add -- and with it comes another Year-End Hot 100 chart courtesy of Billboard.  The winner this year was "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye and Kimbra, and I will address that song in due time.  But for now, out of that set, I present to you my votes for the top ten worst songs of the year.

10) "Rack City" by Tyga
from Careless World: Rise of the Last King

Year-end Position: #45

Tyga is a young rapper out of the label Young Money, the house that Lil' Wayne built.  It also houses the likes of Drake and Nicki Minaj, so yeah, it's pretty much donimated the charts over the past few years.  As for Tyga, his verses on songs like "Bedrock" and "Deuces" did not leave a good impression on me, but his first solo hit, "Rack City", leaves even less of an impression.  Like we need another strip club anthem in the world, least of all one with a quiet, dingy beat that makes me want to take a shower afterwards.  Then again, with his monotone delivery, he could've been rapping about ways to solve the Syria crisis and he still couldn't make me care.  Seriously, who in the world would sound bored in a strip club of all places!?  ...This guy.

9) "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monaé

from Some Nights
Year-end position: #3

It pains me that a song from a genre I would like to be popular does so, but doesn't deserve its success.  Such is the story of "We Are Young" by fun., a Brooklyn-based band, which spent five weeks at #1.  So despite it being an alternative rock power ballad, not a genre I genrally associate with bad music, how could it have made so many mistakes?  Although the beat for the first verse is interesting, not even a minute in the tempo drops, never to recover.  There's a guest appearance from underground R&B singer Janelle Monaé, but her voice is mixed so quietly it's hard to even distinguish her from the over voices that were dubbed over her part.  And the verses clash with the chorus; is this an apology song or a live-like-there's-no-tomorrow song!?  Pick a side, we're at war.

8) "We Run The Night (Remix)" by Havana Brown feat. Pitbull
Non-album single
Year-end position: #90

The success Pitbull garnered in 2011 has spilled over into this year, but sadly, he hasn't learned anything that would make him a better artist.  Take this track, for example.  I featured it on my list of Pitbull's worst lyrics (NB: Thank you for making it my new most-read article).  But even if you were to take Pit out of the equation, this song still exemplifies much of what I hate about today's music.  The Australian DJ and vocalist Havana Brown repeats and stutters words in her lines in order to fill in blank space, and the beautiful trancelike choruses abruptly drop into a dirty, beepy hook.  I like to call this sort of thing a "dirty bit" in dubious honour of the Black Eyed Peas Song which kicked off this tradition.  Also, Pitbull.

7) "50 Ways To Say Goodbye" by Train
from California 37
Year-end position: #81

It appears I will never be done talking about Train, not as long as they keep putting out songs with idiotic metaphors.  "Drive By" may have been a bigger hit this year, but with his band's follow-up single "50 Ways To Say Goodbye", Pat Monahan and company have reached critical-mass in that regard.  The song is all about making excuses for what happened to his girlfriend after they broke up, such as:
She went down in an airplane
Fried getting suntanned
Fell in a cement mixer full of quicksand
She dried up in the desert
Drowned in a hot tub
Danced to death at an east side night club
You can tell he's clutching at straws here.  I mean, how are some of these things even plausible?  And these are not ways to say goodbye!  The title's a liar!  The music has a mariachi background to it, which I suppose makes it more exciting to listen to -- that is, until the awful lyrics take hold -- but it's just so random, you know?  And besides, isn't Train from San Francisco -- which has significantly less Mexican influence than places down south, like Los Angeles or San Diego?  Save yourself the trouble and just stick to the 50 ways to leave your lover.

6) "Boyfriend" 
by Justin Bieber

from Believe
Year-end position: #28

Since the last time I discussed Justin Bieber, my position on him has evolved to this: I don't so much hate him as I am afraid to like him.  But don't worry, he hasn't given me any cause to like him.  Like this song, "Boyfriend".  It starts with this off-key whistle in the background which would be creepy enough once or twice, but it never stops.  And then we have lines like this:
I got money in my hands
That I'd really like to blow
(swag, swag, swag) on you
Yes, that's right: he essentially paused the track to repeat the word "swag".  For those who remember the Mike Posner Paradox, allow me to present the Justin Bieber Corollary: If you feel you need to remind everyone you have swag, charisma, or some other quality, then you don't have said quality.  But it gets better: he rhymes that line with "fondue".  Say bye-bye to your swag, Biebs!  And finally, there's this gem in the second verse:
Girlfriend, girlfriend, you can be my girlfriend
You can be my girlfriend
Until the w-w-world ends
They way they used that stutter to fill time, you'd assume he was actually using the F-bomb at this point and you were hearing the radio edit.  But Bieber's image being what it is, there is no way that was the case.  So that's where you come in!  Now, I'm normally an anti-cursing crusader, but to all my listeners, I dare you to fill in the blanks so to speak.  Bonus points if you have any young, impressionable Bieber fans in the vicinity.  Because I'm a troll like that. >:-)

5) "Want U Back" by Cher Lloyd
from Sticks And Stones
Year-end position: #55

Despite all I've put him through, I can't stay mad at Justin Bieber because, judging only from the content of his lyrics, he sounds like a pretty nice guy.  The same cannot be said of Cher Lloyd, partly because, well, she's a she.  And partly because she comes off as a scumbag.  For the uninitiated, she made her debut on series 7 of The X-Factor UK, getting eliminated at 4th place.  She then went on to record "Swagger Jagger", which I might have mentioned before.  Yeah, it sucks on toast with a side order of blow, but even though debuted at #1 in her native Britain, it failed to chart in America, thank gob.  So now she's back with a vengeance, starring in the breakup song "Want U Back".  And having taken the role of the dumpee, as it were, she is not taking it well.
Remember all the things that you and I did first?
And now you're doing them with her?
She says that like, "You can't do that with her, you already did them with me!"  What are you, four years old?  Or how about this gem from the bridge:
I thought you'd still be mine
When I kissed you good-bye
And you might be with her
But I still loved you first
News flash: having a significant other before he/she takes on anyone else does not count for squat.  Remember the last time I complained about a lack of perspective after a breakup?  This is even worse.  And while we're on the subject of Justin Bieber, she's also doing the not-really cursing thing during the chorus.  If I haven't already made it abundantly clear, listening to this song hurts so much, you'd swear it was me making all those grunting noises in the background.

4) "The Motto (YOLO)" by Drake feat. Lil' Wayne & Tyga
from Take Care
Year-end position: #20

For those who haven't been on Twitter for the past twelve months, "YOLO" is an acronym for "You Only Live Once".  Sounds like a strong message, eh?  When we die, we lose all our chances of doing the things we've always wanted to.  Yeah, try telling that to all the wasteoid fans who've co-opted YOLO as an excuse to shirk responsibility and do all those crazy stunts that will foul up their lives forevermore.  We're all screwed.  But "The Motto" didn't make this list for that reason, but for being a boring, grimy, cliched piece of glam rap.  It's the same trap "Rack City" fell into, but at least that song didn't tease us with insight into any phenomenon!  Plus, that song didn't have Lil' Wayne on it.  Spouting out the same gross misogyny you've been giving us for the past few years is bad enough, but at least sound different from the droning flow provided to us by your co-stars!  Dangit man, I thought you changed!

3) "Back In Time" by Pitbull
from Men In Black 3 [soundtrack]
Year-end position: #62

You may remember that I wrote a review of this song when it came out.  Even though I was making videos at the time, I chose not to do one based on that, since it had been tackled by not one, but two high-profile video critics.  I think the three of us have covered all this songs' bases, but for those of you who have yet to check out either of them, I'd be happy to sum up.  Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a tie-in with a movie set in 1969, the song they sampled was over a decade too old, and Pitbull's lines overly rely on bragging and lame puns, with only last-minute references to the film it's supposed to be promoting.  Also, dubstep.

2) "Dance (A$$) (Remix)" by Big Sean feat. Nicki Minaj
Non-album single
Year-end position: #57

If you'll recall the 2011 worst-of list yet again, I listed this as one of the worst songs that didn't make the year-end chart.  But its momentum carried over into the beginning of 2012, and lo and behold, I'm talking about it here and now.  In case you haven't heard of it yet, the lines in the hook consist almost entirely of the word "ass" over and over.  Compare the hooks of the great booty james over time: going from "Baby Got Back" in 1992, to "Ms. New Booty" in 2006, to this, and it becomes just one example in an ever-growing mound of evidence which would seem to prove that humanity is locked on an ever-dumbening path.  The version which charted highest replaces one of Big Sean's verses with one by Nicki Minaj, thus providing a rather disheartening dichotomy.  Whereas Big Sean is allowed to brag about topics including his sexual prowess and material value, the majority of Nicki's lines revolve around how good of a desireable sex object she is, proving once again that we may never achieve gender equality in the rap game.  We're all screwed.  Oh, and the edited version isn't even trying:
And I want all of that
Dance, dance, dance, dance (etc.)
As one of the few people on Earth who still likes the swears scrubbed out of the songs I listen to, I'd admit that even this is going too far.

1) "Birthday Cake (Remix)" by Rihanna feat. Chris Brown
Non-album single
Year-end position: #79

After Chris Brown's assault of Rihanna in 2009, she had taken out a restraining order on him.  So, I would imagine that their parts on this song were recorded separately.  But just because they found a way to get Breezy and RiRi (gah, that hurts just to type) on a song together, doesn't mean they should've, because as bad as "Birthday Cake" is on its own, the context of its performers makes it even more disgusting.  It's merely a sex song, but when they let Chris Brown get away with lines like "Give it to her in the worst way", I can only think of one thing.  Not that Rihanna does anything to justify the work herself, either; you keep reminding us that "it's not even my birthday", but why is that important!?

Even better, this song sucks in two flavours!  There's the version from Rihanna's album Talk That Talk, which takes out Chris Brown's lines but is only 1:18, and the single-only version with Breezy present.  Evidently the full version is so bad, it's not even available on iTunes!  (At least I keep telling myself that's the reason.)  I've read a comment on YouTube which said that this is the song the viewer would like to get a lapdance to, but lemme tell ya, if they played this then, it would beat down the mood just like Chris Brown beats me at checkers.  And to Rihanna, I'm begging you, please revise the terms of your restraining order to preclude musical collaborations with Chris Brown.

Wildcard) "Beez In The Trap" by Nicki Minaj feat. 2 Chainz
from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

Fun Fact: This song was going to be my pick for #1, but it didn't make the year-end charts, and was thus ineligible.  But as despicable as the real #1 worst song was, I don't think I've ever heard a song that was so devoid of anything good -- at least one that didn't involve Soulja Boy Tell'Em, may his career burn in Hell.  Take for example the chorus:
[nouns] ain't [noun] and they ain't saying nothing
A hundred mother[verbers] couldn't tell me nothing
I beez in the trap, bee-beez in the trap
I beez in the trap, bee-beez in the trap
Let's see... excessive use of profanities (take my word for it), rhyming words with themselves, and the title phrase "beez in the trap" means nothing, either taken alone or in context.  To think that's only the hook -- and not a very "hooking" one at that.  Even on her other bad songs, Nicki Minaj manages an entertaining performance, presenting a persona on the verge on insanity.  Not so here -- she seems to have lost all interest in dissing her poorly-defined haters  I can say with zero hesitation that "Beez In The Trap" is Nicki Minaj's worst song -- rather shocking considering how many times she's set the bar in the past -- and I thank you, American listeners, for keeping it at bay.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top 10: Songs About the End of the World

On 21 December 2012, the Mesoamerican Long-Count Calendar will turn over to 13/0/0/0/0, the start of the 14th b'ak'tun, a cycle which lasts approximately 394 years in our Gregorian calendar.  Whilst the turnover of a period this long is cause enough for celebration, the Mayans placed more importance on this one in particular.  According to the Mayan creation myths, the gods had created three worlds previous to the one we live in now, and the last one existed for 14 b'ak'tun.  Truth be told, the details are still fuzzy to me, but if you haven't heard about it already, much hype has been placed on the world destroying itself on the day.  For what it's worth, the ancient Mayans have also calculated dates as far forward as the 48th century AD, and even the US government issued a statement stating there is no cause for alarm.  Neither do I consider myself a believer of such -- trust me, I've survived my share of armageddeon hoaxes back in the day -- but all the same, I thought I'd get in the spirit nonetheless by counting down the top ten songs dealing with the end of the world.  The songs below are ranked according to how much their lyrics deal with end times, and what emotions they evoke in the listener.  And for inclusion's sake, I'm counting songs about nuclear war, since we've treated that much the same way since the invention of the A-bomb.  So, ladies and gentlemen, let the final countdown begin.  (P.S. "The Final Countdown" is not going to appear on this list.  It's about a spacecraft launch, thank you very much.)

10) "1999" by Prince
from 1999 (1982)

The punchline ("Tonight we're going to party like it's 1999") may be dated, but this Prince classic puts a new spin on party songs.  As the last batch of doomsday predictions concerned the turnover from AD 1999 to 2000, he used it as a metaphor that the year 2000 is too late for whatever you wanted to do, so smoke 'em if you got 'em , pretty much.  Bonus points for the full album version; at the end, there's a child's voice saying, "Mommy, why does everybody have have a bomb?" twice before the track just cuts out.

9) "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by REM
from Document (1987)

I'll be honest, very little of this song's famous stream-of-consciousness lyrics have anything to do with the apocalypse.  Maybe the first lines suggest how it might happen: "That's great, it starts with an earthquake / birds, snakes, an aeroplane".  ...Wait a minute, did they just predict Snakes on a Plane?  Even if I'm wrong, with all the words Michael Stipe throws out at you, things sure seem chaotic, which would be an appropriate reaction  to this sort of bad news after all.  Also, think about the title: It's the end of the world as we know it.  This means that the planet Earth will still physically remain, but enough changes will come into your life to render it unrecogniseable.  This is not always a bad thing; for example in cultures such as that of the tarot cards, death represents not the end of existence, but the change from one soul to another, in that the latter entity carries on the former's wishes in his or her own way and I can't help feeling I've talked about this before

8) "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox Twenty
from Exile on Mainstream (2007)

Matchbox Twenty has never struck me as a very interesting band, but this song, a new track from their first complation, is one of their few songs which I can claim I like.  The instrumentation is exciting, in particular Paul Doucette's drum work, and the music video features a montage of mainly positive events from the second half of the 20th century, from the civil rights movement to the 2000 New Year's celebrations.  Even the Discovery Channel and others have co-opted it for promos.  However, the lyrics are about reminiscing on what we've accomplished, on a personal level and mankind as a whole, as a theoretical apocalypse is transpiring around us.  Isn't it ironic, don't you think.

7) "99 Luftballons / 99 Red Ballloons" by Nena
from 99 Luftballons (1983) / Nena (1984)

The German and English versions essentially tell the same tale, about 99 toy balloons being let into the air, but an unidentified nation mistakenly identifies them as an enemy aircraft, and an escalation to nuclear war ensues.  Underneath the new-wave veneer, this song reveals the readiness for war and heroics on both sides of the Iron Curtain, consequences be danged.  Fun Fact: The (German) lyrics were written by bandmember Carlo Karges, when he attended a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin.  He saw some balloons being released into the sky, where he thought they took the shape of some UFO, and wondered what would happen if they crossed over the Soviet-backed East Berlin.  Second Fun Fact: Whilst Nena's members wrote and recorded the song in 1982, a similar real-life event would also transpire.  On 26 September 1983, lieutenant Stanislav Petrov was in charge of the Soviet Union's radar network when their satellites reported five missile being launched from America.  However, Petrov made a snap decision that the reading was a false alarm, and indeed he was right.  Combine all that with the concurrent release of the film WarGames, and you'll have a perfect idea of how unstable the global society was back then.

6) "The End" by The Doors

from The Doors (1967)

Sometimes the simplest statements are the strongest.  With the title of this song being simply "The End", you know what to expect: everything that stands will be no more.  And the desolate composition featured on the verses only adds to the sense of hopelessness.  But with such a simple concept, the end of the world is but one way to interpret "The End".  For example, Jim Morrison wrote it about breaking up with his girlfriend 1, so, the end of a relationship.  Or, in a 1981 interview with Creem Magazine, he gave this explanation on the lyrics, particularly the words "my only friend, the End":
"Sometimes the pain is too much to examine, or even tolerate….That doesn't make it evil, though – or necessarily dangerous. But people fear death even more than pain. It's strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah – I guess it is a friend..." 2
5) "2 Minutes to Midnight" by Iron Maiden
from Powerslave (1984)

On lists like these, one song that has been a popular choice is "Run To The Hills" by Iron Maiden, but I won't be putting it on mine.  As it turns out, that song is about the ravaging of aboriginal American tribes by European settlers.  But they did put out another song, 1984's "2 Minutes to Midnight", which fits the bill.  The song's title is a reference to the "Doomsday Clock", a concept maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and uses a value of time, up to midnight, to represent how soon humanity is to destroying itself through nuclear war or what have you.  The year Iron Maiden wrote and recorded the song, the clock was set to 11:57 PM (3 minutes to midnight), its latest setting since the 50s.  (As of December 2012, the clock stands at 11:55 PM.)

4) "Skyfall" by Adele
Non-album single (2012)

Bet you didn't think a James Bond theme song would find a way on here, but then again you underestimate how much of a James Bond fan I am.  Actually, you underestimate its potential.  The eponymous theme from Skyfall injects doom and bravado into the usual soulful elegance of the Shirley Bassey-type songs that are so heavily associated with this stuff.  The song works on its own, as well; the word "Skyfall" is not only used in relation to events in the film, but as part of the phrase "let the sky fall".  James Bond is definitely the kind of man who would face this danger head-on, and fight to get out of it alive.  If you don't believe me, I think I've brought this one up before.

3) "Russians" by Sting
from The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)

A lot of these songs came from the 1980s, eh?  Welp, that may have a little do with the flare-up of the Cold War.  In this song, Sting cautions against concepts such as mutually-assured destruction and the divisive actions of not only the Soviet Union but the United States.  So what could prevent war?  The belief that the "Russians love their children too", that it would be against their interest to virtually destroy the world, as there would not be any more world for their progeny to grow up in.  Sting explained the inspiration for linking the danger of nuclear policy with the innocence of children in a 2010 interview for Britain's Daily Express:

"I had a friend at university who invented a way to steal the satellite signal from Russian TV. We'd have a few beers and climb this tiny staircase to watch Russian television... At that time of night we'd only get children's Russian television, like their 'Sesame Street'. I was impressed with the care and attention they gave to their children's programmes. I regret our current enemies [See also: al-Qaeda, North Korea. -ed.] haven't got the same ethics." 3
The song also samples a melody from the Lieutenant Kijé suite by Sergei Prokofiev, which enhances the song not only culturally, but with a spooky, foreboding atmosphere.  In other words, the perfect musical image of a Russian villain.

2) "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash
from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

And now for another phenomenon related to armageddeon: the second coming of the messiah.  In Christianity, it is believed that when the Jesus Christ comes down to Earth one last time, He will judge all souls and send the good ones up to Heaven with him for eternity.  Such is the backdrop of one of Johnny Cash's final songs, "The Man Comes Around".  Through the use of half-spoken lyrics, stripped-down instrumentation, and plenty of Biblical references in the lyrics, the Lord's Son is portrayed as a man who's kicking butt and taking names -- almost literally.  Don't let his country label fool you, because Johnny Cash is bad@$$.

1) "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" by Ultravox
from Lament (1984)

If you knew the end was here, how would you spend your final moment?  Such is the question posed by Ultravox in what I'm assuming is their only American hit, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes".  The protagonist comes home to his wife, they "drink to forget the coming storm", and more or less embrace under the covers as their doom comes in the form of... a guitar solo.  Huh.  Well, in the music video, it's a nuclear plant explosion, so close enough.  ...Hey wait a minute!  That's not how meltdowns are supposed to work!  Okay, so some things are best left to your imagination, but the over-the-top passion with which Midge Ure sings about it makes it work.  And remember: you only get one chance to make a last impression.

There's really more good songs about this subject than I could list, which is why they started one on Wikipedia.  I've seen songs like "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden, "Red Skies" by The Fixx, "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones, and "All Along The Watchtower" by Bob Dylan (or Jimi Hendrix if you are so inclined).  Come to think of it, there are a lot of good songs on there!  (Then again, said list also contains "Give Me Everything" by Pitbull and company, so forget about it.)  Even though I left many of them out because their lyrics or emotions didn't have enough to do with end times, I still urge you to check them out on your own time.  And I do believe you'll have plenty of time to do so, but if not, remember...

You are the resistance.

1 Farley, Robert (25 September 2005). "Doors: Mary and Jim to the end". St. Petersburg Times. [link] Retrieved 19 December 2012.

2 James, Lizze (1981). "Jim Morrison: Ten Years Gone". Creem Magazine. [link] Retrieved November 8, 2012.

3 "Sting's Russians was inspired by illegal satellite viewings". The Daily Express. 15 July 2010. [link] Retrieved 18 December 2012.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top 10: Best Sonic the Hedgehog Games

Previously on the SDP, I listed my votes for the ten worst Sonic the Hedgehog games.  But I wouldn't have been a fan of the franchise in the first place if it didn't include something providing actual entertainment value, and I'm proud to say that there are enough good Sonic titles to fill yet another top-ten list.

10) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episodes 1 & 2
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2010-2012

Look, how many times do I have to tell you people?  I.  Liked.  Sonic.  4.  I don't care what you think about the physics; after all the feature cruft that previous games were stuffed with, you've got to appreciate the back-to-basics approach that Sonic Team and Dimps took with these downloadable-only titles.  Whilst the story picks up from Sonic & Knuckles, assuming there is a story at all, in gameplay terms, Sonic 4 goes back to square one, featuring only the abilities from the first (for Episode 1) and second (for Episode 2) games.  To be honest, Episode 2 is bearing most of the responsibility for its place on this list.  In addition to the Chaos Emeralds, each act packs three Red Rings for you to find (see Sonic Colors), and the inclusion of Tails means the addition of two-player support, both local and online.  And regardless of whether you thought the physics changes brought on by Episode 2 made it better, it's comforting to know that Sega at least listens to the popular opinion of fans.  In other news, Capcom will never be that cool.  Previously reviewed here.

9) Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 1991

You've got to love the one that started it all.  The first Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Sega Genesis was a unique and well-executed platformer that still holds up to this day.  Creativity is omnipresent in the level designs, with trappings like loops and springs which, by my estimation, would've been impossible to program on anything that came before the Genesis.  I'd be lying if I said it's not an acquired taste for modern gamers, what with the Spin Dash not being present until Sonic 2.  Plus say what you want about the role speed should play in the newer games, but some of the levels here, such as the Marble and Labyrinth Zones, are just not fun.  May that still not detract from the fact that Sonic Team knocked it out of the part their first time at bat.

8) Sonic Triple Trouble
Platform: Sega Game Gear, Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Aspect
Release: 1994

I'll admit, I didn't have a Sega Genesis growing up, but I did have a Game Gear, and it was the handheld Sonic games for that platform which gave me the bulk of my experience with it.  And whilst my personal favourite was 1993's Sonic Chaos, I'll give credit to its follow-up, Sonic Triple Trouble for being better technically.  The graphics are the most detailed of the 8-bit era, and the gameplay of both Sonic and Tails has been fleshed out, with many abilities and power-ups for both.  Previously reviewed here.

7) Sonic CD
Platform: Sega CD, etc.

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 1993

If there's any reason to own a Sega CD, this might be it.  Sonic CD finds ways to wow us in ways the Genesis could only dream of, like the set of visually-stunning levels.  But wait -- with Sonic's new time-travel abilities, past and future versions of each act are also available for you to explore!  Do you have the diligence to hunt down the Badnik generators in each Past world?  No?  Don't worry, you can still collect the Chaos Emeralds Time Stones as before and still get the good ending.  Oh, I can't forget about the Special Stages, in which Sonic runs through a flat proto-3D world, like in F-Zero.  But more importantly than anything else, it is a well-coded action game, the likes of which were hard to come by on the Sega CD.  So why isn't it higher on this list?  The execution of the time-travel system leaves a bit to be desired, as the shifting of platforms and such between time periods creates some awkward level layouts, and the method of time-travel itself is inconvenient.  As such, perhaps its relative obscurity may have magnified its standing in fans' eyes, but don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly solid adventure.  With its recent ports on PSN, XBox Live, and iOS, you have even fewer reasons not to give it a try.  And one less reason to waste your money on a Sega CD. ^^;

6) Sonic Rush
Platform: Nintendo DS

Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2005

Whilst Sonic had little luck on the console front during much of the 2000s, the handheld scene was much nicer to the blue blur.  Hot on the heels of the Sonic Advance trilogy, Sonic Team and Dimps teamed up once again to bring us Sonic Rush for the DS.  The only playable characters this time around are Sonic and newcomer Blaze the Cat, the bad@$$ defender of an alternate universe.  As both have their own sets of levels for each of the Zones, there are essentially two games in one here.  Don't worry, Sonic and Blaze play the same as each other, and in fact both have bestowed upon them a new boost ability.  Fast, damaging to enemies, and limited by a refillable meter, this is a natural addition to the series' formula on par with the Spin Dash from Sonic 2.

5) Sonic Advance 3
Platform: Game Boy Advance

Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2004

Marking Sonic's debut on a non-Sega platform, the Sonic Advance trilogy was consistently solid, but I'm picking the third game as the best of the bunch.  Perhaps to tie-in with Sonic Heroes (which I almost put on this list, if you can believe it), Sonic Advance 3 has you picking not only one of five characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and Cream) to play as, but a partner character who tags along behind your first choice.  The team you choose determines the special abilities at your disposal, for an optional yet welcome bit of depth.  And don't worry, they're not tethered to you like in Knuckles Chaotix.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1992

This is it - the video game which defined the Sega Genesis for me in the few opportunities I could play one when I was a lad.  And judging by its status as one of the best-selling Genesis titles of all time (selling around 6 million units worldwide), I'm not alone.  The level layouts are more inventive than the first game, yet not overly long like in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  Too bad things started dulling out by the time you hit Metropolis Zone.  But barring that sludgy dreck of a world, the settings are memorable and fun (the Chemical Plant and Casino Night zones say hi), Masato Nakamura's music is even better, and Sonic's new standing Spin Dash makes getting up those pesky slopes a breeze.  Plus, didn't you ever think that the pseudo-3D Special Stages, where you collected rings in a twisting half-pipe, were the coolest thing ever?

3) Sonic Colors
Platform: Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2010

As if I haven't made it clear by now, Sonic has gone about most of the 2000s on some sort of drugged-up stupor the likes of which would shame Lindsay Lohan.  But late in the decade, he received some rehab from an unlikely source - his old rival, Nintendo's Mario.  It took a little while after they showed up together in games like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but the Jumpman's influence finally showed through in 2010's Sonic Colors.  First and foremost is the game's so-called gimmick.  Rather than something that creates an entirely separate gameplay experience, like what Adventure and Unleashed thrust upon us, this game's use of power-ups called Wisps is well-integrated into one gameplay format.  These colour-coded aliens can be used to transform Sonic into a laser beam, a drill, a sticky buzz-saw, a rocket, and more.  Whilst there are occasions where the use of Wisps is mandatory to continue, most of the time they're just tools to reach bonus collectibles with, so at least they're not shoving this new concept in our faces.

In lieu of relying on HD visuals, something the Wii is incapable of, Colors's worlds amaze through all the colourful and original sights they packed in -- this is set in a space-bourne amusement park, after all.  You thought you've seen enough underwater and Asian-themed levels to last you a lifetime?  Well, imagine them smashed into one.  By all other standards thus far, Sonic Colors is a massive game, with seven zones and six acts in each. Apart from trying to achieve high grades, diligent players can collect the five Red Rings in each zone and unlock Special Stages.  To be honest, Sonic Colors shines brightest in the context of what the franchise has had to deal with leading up to its release; the physics engine is still a little too tight (similar to Sonic 4 Episode I).  But when counting all its good parts, I would compare Sonic Colors to the likes of Super Mario World on the SNES, which for the record is one of the best video games I've ever played.  That I can once again make that kind of comparison proves once and for all that Sonic the Hedgehog is back and better than ever.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 / Sonic & Knuckles
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1994

I admit, I'm cheating a little by putting Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles together in one entry.  As a matter of fact, if I kept them separate, both of them would have ranked somewhere under Sonic 2 at best.  This may be a personal quibble, but the levels in both are a little long for my liking.  Each individual title has only 12 acts (compare that to 18 levels for the first game), but most of them can take up to five minutes to complete.  But I put them together for two reasons: 1) to make room for more games, and 2) they were conceived as one entity.  When you plug Sonic 3 into Sonic & Knuckles's lock-in bay, you're treated to a massive quest, at least for a 4th-generation platformer.  Depending on the game(s) you plug in, you get to tackle your quest as Sonic, Tails (who finally gets flight as a player-controlled ability), or Knuckles.

1) Sonic Generations
Platforms: PlayStation 3, XBox 360
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2011

After the unqualified disaster was Sonic the Hedgehog's 15th anniversary, I am pleased to report that his 20th birthday was far more fulfilling, thanks to Sonic Generations.  This game serves more or less as a greatest-hits version of the franchise, as it features original levels set in zones taken from across the Genesis, Dreamcast, and modern eras.  Whilst some fans would potentially balk at the mere inclusion of settings from the likes of the 2006 SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, it's not like they copied everything about those games.  (And quite frankly, their choice of Crisis City makes for an awesome level.)  Each has one act each for Classic Sonic, a completely 2-1/2D affair with all the abilities from Sonic 2, and one for Modern Sonic, alternating between 2D and 3D segments much as in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors.  It seems short at first, but each zone also boasts a set of shorter challenges really boosting the replay value for those who stick around for it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 10: Worst Sonic the Hedgehog Games

For many years, I've had a huge affinity for Sonic the Hedgehog.  Seriously, this guy was like the Mickey Mouse of my generation.  (Ironically, designer Yuji Naka used vintage cartoons as an inspiration for creating him.  And they were both rabbits at some point.)  Yet for as much of a fan as I am, I'm not blind to some of the franchise's... lesser moments.  I'll not argue over when this "dork age" started, as I'm sure you all have your own interpretations, but there's definitely been a trend in poor quality going on.  In fact, there have been enough bad Sonic games for me to fill an entire Top Ten list of.  Why Top Ten?  Because when you do top eleven or nine lists often enough, it becomes its own cliche.  And I hate cliches.  So, let's not waste any time!  (Sonic would've wanted it this way.)

10) Sonic Blast
Platform: Sega Game Gear
Developer: Aspect
Release: 1996

We start our list with an entry which isn't so much bad on its own as it is bad compared to everything that came before it.  Sonic Blast (not to be confused with Sonic 3D Blast) is the last of five Sonic platformers for the Game Gear, and whilst it does distinguish itself by co-starring Knuckles as a playable character, the too-tight collision detection, languid sense of speed, and a graphics engine which wasn't exactly suited to its console make it the weakest of the bunch.  Previously reviewed here.

9) Sonic 3D Blast
Platforms: Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release: 1996

Looking back, it's amazing how little it takes to impress you as a kid.  Playing this first game in toy stores was a wow-inducing experience, due in large part to the art style which uses 3D-CG models rendered as 2D sprites.  So, bonus points for this game showing up when 3D graphics were starting to take off.  However, sooner or later you have to wake up and smell the coffee, and on later playthroughs I couldn't take my mind off the loose controls and the gameplay structure which requires you to perform scavenger hunts to move on.

8) Sonic Labyrinth
Platform: Sega Game Gear
Developer: Minato Giken
Release: 1995

Does everybody have a mental picture of #9?  Good, now imagine that on the Game Gear... only Sonic can't run.  Because of a contrivance plot point, Sonic went and had his shoes replaced with a pair that slowed him down, but for his Spin Dash.  That means if you want any decent mobility to scoot around the confusingly-designed stages, you'll have to deal with an unintuitive mechanic and all the infuriating sound effects that go along with it.  Previously reviewed here.

7) Shadow the Hedgehog 
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, XBox

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2005

A Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff that has the use of guns, mild profanities, and vehicles, all based on the living-on-life-support Sonic Adventure engine.  This is gonna suck, innit.  If there were any good concepts to be taken from this clusterfail, it would be the different missions you can undertake to influence your path throughout the story.  But they had to ruin that, too: you also build up separate Hero and Dark scores based on whih enemies you take out, and if you clear a mission for one side, your score for the other side gets subtracted from your total.  Kinda hard to focus on that when everyone's gunning for you.  (Protip: The GameCube version is less awful.)

6) Sonic and the Black Knight
Platform: Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2009

Before Sonic Team got their act together (pun?) with the one-two punch of Sonic 4: Episode I and Sonic Colors, they were still in the business of tacking lame ideas onto their products.  Enter Sonic and the Black Knight, the second entry in the Storybook spin-off series, and thankfully it looks to be the last.  In this story which transplants our furry friends into the legends of King Arthur, Sonic uses a sword - a talking sword no less.  I wouldn't mind so much, but it's the sluggish controls and short campaign that do this game in - not its other crazy ideas.

5) Knuckles Chaotix
Platform: Sega 32X
Release: 1995

No wonder the 32X bombed.  The expansion console never got a true Sonic title, and the franchise's sole offering was a torrent of poor ideas.  Knuckles Chaotix stars not Sonic but Knuckles the Echidna, joined by the Chaotix, a cast of generally unendearing supporting characters.  (Except maybe Espio the ninja chameleon.  Because... ninja.)  But you'll have to deal with them, as during gameplay, both characters you choose are linked by an elastic "ring tether" at all times.  Having this thrust upon you, combined with the generally-uncooperative AI of your partner, renders precision platforming (as in commonplace tasks like running up a quarterpipe) nigh impossible.  As an intended showcase for the 32X's abilities, Knuckles Chaotix is visually all up-in-your-face with fluorescent bright colours and zooming effects, but without fun gameplay backing it up, it falls flat on its face.

4) Sonic R
Platform: Sega Saturn
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release: 1997

The Saturn was another infamous Sega flop (at least in America and Europe), which was also underrepresented by the Blue Blur.  There was Sonic Jam, a rerelease of the Genesis trilogy, a port of Sonic 3D Blast, and Sonic X-Treme which... got cancelled.  (I know that feel.)  That makes Sonic R the only original Sonic game on the Saturn, and being not a traditional platformer but a racing game, that's not a good sign.  Actually, since most of the characters run on foot, Sonic R is more of a cross between a platformer and a racer, so there are (once again) some good ideas to be had.  But (once again) all hopes of entertainment are dashed by the touchy controls which will bounce you all over the overly-complicated track and into one of the many branching paths, and by the inane, bouncy vocal-pop songs.  For the record, the controls are less awful if you're using the analog stock on the 3D Pad (the one NiGHTS Into Dreams made famous), but if you have to buy an alternate controller just to make a game playable, then you're gonna have a bad time.

3) Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis
Platform: Game Boy Advance

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2006

As if it wasn't enough that Sega had to ruin Sonic's 15th anniversary with that other infamous reboot, they also dumped upon us Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, a remake of the original 1991 title for the Game Boy Advance.  The low frame-rate does an incredible disservice to the GBA's potential, the chintzy sound quality does an incredible disservice to Masato Nakamura's incredible compositions, and the physics glitches (to which I have previously alluded) do an incredible disservice to everyone else.  In fact, it was so bad, that a fan re-made the first levels of the game in GBA rom form and did a much, much better job.

2) Sonic Spinball
Platform: Sega Game Gear

Developer: Polygames / Sega interActive
Release: 1994

My beef with pinball video games is that they sheperd you to knock your ball into specific locations, even though you're using a control mechanism based partly on luck.  Either that or I need to practise harder...  Whilst Sonic Spinball, a 1993 spin-off for the Genesis, fell victim to this inherent pitfall, it otherwise functioned perfectly well.  The same cannot be said about its Game Gear port, which suffers from muddled, unresponsive controls, and a broken physics engine -- and that's just the pinball segments.  On the rare occasions where you must traverse on foot, such as the mandatory bonus stages, these problems are exacerbated to the umpteenth degree.  Previously reviewed here.

1) Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform: PlayStation 3, XBox 360
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2006

I wasn't going to put this at number one.  Going after easy targets isn't my style.  Enough has been said about this title already, is it not so?  But no, I have decided that this attempted reboot deserves its place as the best of the worst Sonic has to offer.  It's not just the constantly glitching, lifeless physics engine (Seriously Havok, you were in Half-Life 2; how could you mess this one up?), or the unendearing character models and animations (They gave Dr. Eggman full human proportions.  Scream and run.), or the unforgivably inefficient loading times, or the non-functioning new mechanics built onto the already non-functioning Sonic Adventure engine (That's very North Korean of you, Sega.) that do this game in.  It's the way all these problems combine to form the perfect clusterfail.

And now for a long-lost feature which I call the Wildcard Entry, which I haven't officially used since this guy.  Basically, it's something I would've included on the list, but had to disqualify for whatever reason.  So, after what we've been through, what could have taken the dubious honours this time around?

Wildcard) Sonic Free Riders
Platform: XBox 360
Release: 2010

The reason this is on this list is because of Angry Joe's review, in which he deemed the game literally unplayable, due in large part to the mandatory use of the Kinect camera.  If his experiences are anything to go by, neither the game nor the Kinect reads your body movements properly, rendering the entire game -- right down to the menus! -- completely unplayable.  So why is this merely a wildcard entry and not on the list proper?  Well, I don't own an XBox 360 nor a Kinect, and have no interest in pursuing either within the immediate future, so I can't legally quantify something I've never played.  But if the game really is as non-functioning as I have led to believe, then I would have no choice to place it at number one.  As it stands, I'll merely stick this with a "results may vary" disclamer and one of those "I'm watching you" eye-pointing poses.  In the meantime, I suggest you stick around and watch out for the top 10 best Sonic the Hedgehog games, next time on the SDP.