Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Music Review: Another Day In Paradise

"Another Day In Paradise"
  • Artist: Phil Collins
  • Album: ...But Seriously
  • Release: 9 October 1989
  • Genre: Rock (Soft rock)
  • Label: Atlantic / Virgin
  • Writer: Phil Collins
  • Producers: Phil Collins, Hugh Padgham
Previously on the SDP, I let slip that my favourite song of all time was "Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Collins, and I teased that I might do a full review of it someday.  Welp, since today is my birthday, I thought I'd tackle it today!  I mean, what better day to write a more personal article, something where I can share with you my perspective on the world?  And if you don't like it, shut up and read another article.  Everyone else, let's begin!

I'll be honest with you, this isn't the sort of song that easily lends itself to the type of reviews I specialise in.  I guess the best I can do is start off the way I always do: with looking at the lyrics.

She calls out to the man on the street
"Sir can you help me?
It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep.
Is there somewhere you can tell me?"
So, it's a song about homelessness.  Alright, that is a serious problem, even in the first world.  Heck, North Korea and the like would gladly take the opportunity to remind us that these problems are rampant in the US and its allies, gleefully ignoring the fact that such conditions are even more widespread in their own country - and to an even worse extent!  ...But I digress.
He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there
And here's the problem.  The man whom the homeless woman is pleading to doesn't care, or acts like he doesn't care about her plight.  You have to admit, this sort of thing happens all the time; we tend not to give much aid, physical or otherwise, to the needy because it wouldn't be convenient to us in the short term.  Now, I'm not going to make any statements saying you shouldn't give change to the homeless on a regular basis, but I'm just trying to see it from as many points of view as possible.
Oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise
Here's where the song starts to get a little... preachy.  The chorus tells us that this is not a one-off occurrence, but takes place every day in the cities we live in.  The same cities in which our lives are so good.  ...Right?  My point is, I think this song is trying to guilt-trip the listener into taking action to help the needy, a crime Collins has been guilty of before.  Fun Fact: David Crosby (a.k.a. Melissa Etheridge's baby daddy) provides backing vocals on later repetitions of the chorus.
She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she's been crying
She's got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can't walk but she's trying
I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a glimmer of hope in the second verse.  She has the willpower and determination to keep trying to walk, no matter how badly her blisters are acting up and preventing her from doing so.  That's so anime of you! ^_^
You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she's been there
Probably been moved on from every place
Cause she didn't fit in there
And whatever hope is built up within the second verse is trashed by the third.  So all things considered, my opinion on the lyrics is... two-sided.  On the one hand, I will give genuine credit to Collins, for writing about the plight of the homeless.  Seriously, bear in mind that there are many, many worse topics to base a song around.  On the other hand, I don't entirely appreciate the way he goes about it.  The modus operandi this time around seems to be Glurge, a device defined by TVTropes as "A story or message that is intended to be heartwarming or inspiring, but instead comes off as cloying and heavy-handed".  Bear in mind that Collins himself has handled this subject matter much more subtly, in the Genesis single "Man On The Corner".  But if I didn't know better, I'd say this song is trying to make you feel guilty by telling you that tragedy can take place in the settings we take for granted in our gifted lives.

So why do I not only not feel guilty when listening to this song, but continually take great pleasure in doing so?  It's gotta be the music.  Many parts of the song use these synth-keyboard bells layered on top of an acoustic guitar track, effectively giving us two melodies at once.  Combine that with the echoing drum sound Collins is famous for, and it's just a beautiful sound.  Striking this balance between electronic and live instrumentation is something nobody seems to bother doing anymore, and I guess that's part of what attracts me to whatever sub-genre this is from: it has a creative edge without being over-produced.  This single won the award for Record of the Year at the 1991 Grammys, and I agree whole-heartedly.  (With that in mind, I might even forgive them for the time they nominated Soulja Boy Tell'em, may his career burn in Hell.)  Whilst my decision to call it my favourite song of all time is largely a personal preference, I wouldn't put it past you if you get turned on to it as well.

Lyrics: 3 out of 5
Music: 5 out of 5
Performance: 5 out of 5
The Call: 4 out of 5 (B)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Game Review: Jet Force Gemini

Jet Force Gemini
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Rare
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1999
  • Genre: 3D Action
  • Players: 1-4
  • Save: Battery, 6 file
You guys all know of the video game developer Rare, right? These guys date back to the gaming computers of the 1980s, but their heyday of 1994-2001 was one of the most-loved periods of not just their history, but gaming in general. As a "second-party" developer for Nintendo, they gave us classics like Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Goldeneye, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, and Conker's Bad Fur Day. And then... they got bought out by Microsoft, bound to their XBox and later XBox 360, and they haven't been the same since. As far as I'm concerned, their mediocrity since then was merely coincidental, but I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about one of the games that came out of their golden age, but slipped through the cracks of public consciousness. ...Actually, I've already done that, so let's do it again! Here's Jet Force Gemini.

JFG is, in story terms, a space opera, starring a young man Juno, his sister Vela, and their dog Lupus. (Shut up, House.) Yes, I said a dog. Who wears his guns strapped to his back. How can you not love that? A distress call takes them to the forest planet Endor Goldwood, which has been besieged by an army of insect-like alien Drones, led behind the scenes by the aptly-named Mizar. (Like "miser", get it?) Upon landing, they encounter a shaman named... Jeff, who represents his bear-like race called the Ewoks Tribals, and pleads for their rescue. And how will our troika manage that? By blowing [noun] up.
Lupus, with back-mounted gun and secret upgrade.
The structure is laid out a little something like this. You start out with only Juno as a playable character. Mid-way through his story, you rescue Vela, and mid-way through her story, you find Lupus. Each character is restricted to a path of four levels each until they all meet at Mizar's Palace. Beat the boss here, and then the game really opens up. Not only do each of the characters get to travel to all the unlocked planets, but they also get a secret upgrade (read: a jetpack) to explore places they couldn't before. But there's a reason for this: at this stage in the game, you're tasked with not one, but two collection quests. First, Mizar has sent an asteroid at Earth (Michael Bay says hi), so you have to collect parts to repair an old spaceship in the hopes of intercepting it. Second, in order to get one of these pieces, you have to explore all the levels and rescue all the Tribals within. The trick is not only finding them, but keeping them alive; Tribals can be killed by your fire and the enemies' fire alike. True, dead Tribals do come back if you retry the level, so you can never truly fail this task, but it just kinda weighs heavily on your conscience, ya know?

JFG is, in gameplay terms, a third-person shooter. Despite being an early example of the genre, the only older example I can think of being Mega Man Legends (P.S. Legends 3 is still not a thing. Yet.), JFG boasts a few features which make the experience nothing short of fun. While it's true that most shooter games work best with two Control Sticks, they found a way to compensate for this. An alternate "advanced" control scheme moves the jump and duck functions from A/B to C-Up/C-Down, but by holding R to aim, you can move around by pressing the C-buttons. Moving whilst aiming? What sorcery is this!? Seriously, if you've played older shooters on the N64, the learning curve should come naturally.

The arsenal of weapons you can pick up on your journey is a tad heavily-focused on explosives. For example, there are two rocket launchers, both with a twist: the Homing Missile launcher, and the Tri-Rocket Launcher. More bizarre items include thrown weapons like the multi-explosion Cluster Bombs, the homing and retrievable Shurikens, and... Fish Food. However, most of your work will be done with the Machine Gun, which is fully-automatic but inaccurate. Early on in the game, you can also rescue the flying robot named... Floyd. Quite a bunch of anticlimactic names we've got here. But anyway, Floyd can play bonus flying missions -- hard-as-nails ones at tha,t due to the tight time limits and low-friction physics -- and a second player can join in a campaign, controlling his laser guns. If you're thinking of the "1 1/2-player" co-op of Super Mario Galaxy, you've got the idea.
Maybe the Shocker's not the best idea for a boss fight...
By mixing elements from shooters and fantasy platformers alike, with that light touch of British humour that Rare has provided in their other mascot-led titles, Jet Force Gemini is one of the most unique titles to grace the Nintendo 64. It's true that the frame rate frequently goes on the chopping block, despite -- or rather because of -- the many coloured dynamic lighting effects, and the movement physics are a bit on the slippery side. And I may have been spoiled by modern shooters in this regard, but I'm a bit bugged by the targeting reticle resetting to the centre of the screen, especially since the N64's Control Stick is stiffer than others. But for a game which lasts 8 to 10 hours, you're sure to make everlasting memories and have great fun throughout the whole thing.

+ Original characters, environments, and weapons.
+ Smooth controls, especially with the "Advanced" setup.
+ An ambitious graphics engine with lots of pretty lighting effects.

- Too much of an emphasis on collection quests, especially near the end.
- The ambitious graphics engine tends to chug quite a bit.

Control: 4 Tribals out of 5
Design: 4 Tribals out of 5
Graphics: 4 Tribals out of 5
Audio: 4 Tribals out of 5
Value: 4 Tribals out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)