Daft Punk – Homework

To France, House is like a religion. It has been nurtured, loved and celebrated for many years now, and keeps its own unique edge strong. Many artists were there at the beginning, but none stuck quite like Thomas Bangalter and Guy De-Homem Christo. Not yet masked, they pioneered a fresh, sample led funky style that made significant waves around the world. Both continued to be major players on their own between Le Knight Club and Stardust, but Daft Punk are the name that everybody knows. It all started with some Homework.

In its opening, Daftendirekt, it shuffles you into the club, with a muffled sample that eventually gives away to clarity and a signature beat. The voice urges you to embrace the funk; the slowly layering electronics thrusting you further and further into the centre of the dancefloor. The blueprint is fully formed within the first 2 minutes of the record. The footprint of the sound is unmistakably French; unmistakably Daft Punk.

Continuing forward, it frames Homework as a radio broadcast on WDPK, apparently offering “the sounds of tommorrow”. In hindsight, that prophecy was bang on. Swiftly you are once again thrown out of the club, this time waiting to enter some kind of illegal dance. Once you curve the cops, you are treated to thumping basslines that shake your feet, and a 909-line that forces you to move them. The Revolution of the 909 is here to whisk you away to the epicentre of house.

The signature piece, as it were, brings Da Funk in a huge way. A growling synth groove coupled with the thump of the kick drum recalls electro floorfillers, while still peppered with meticulous control and precision.

Tracks like Phoenix suggest engineering for DJs, starting and ending with a basic beat for the all important mix. This isn’t ordinary dance music though, with every little detail being infectious to the core, digging right into your bones to make them move. High Fidelity and Burnin’ both exhibit catchy hooks, be they vocal or synth, and draw you straight into their world.

Fresh is the moment of respite on the record; the sound of the morning after. Lying on a sun-kissed beach, looking out to the sea, waves crashing on the shore. Oh, and some random guy shredding behind you. Even with the wailing guitar, Fresh washes your palate, preparing you for fresh nights on the town.

Daft Punk are also out to challenge you, with lengthy, draining opuses like Rollin’ & Scratchin’ and Rock’n Roll. Both are very similar, in that they build slowly to a really quite abrasive crescendo, the lead becoming more distorted, strained and tortured. And yet, it demands you get up off your chair once more. Just be warned it can be a bit too much for some.

Even vocal talents are showcased, albeit through heavy filters and vocoders. Oh Yeah and Teachers both act somewhat like chants, with Teachers especially posing like the rantings of a demented MC, determined to shoutout everyone he loves.

One of the other highlights is something I find hard to describe. Indo Silver Club has this… wobble. This bending, meandering synth line that just worms its way into your head and camps out for days. It’s just adorable.

Few albums are so iconic of a time and a place. French House in the mid 90s is perfectly encapsulated in Homework, and still inspires new and exciting artists to pick up the electro groove.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

Music is a truly powerful medium. It can artificially ‘fix’ your emotional state with a beat and a melody. It can fit any occasion. As such, finding a whole album that just lifts you up is like golddust. With that, we come to Merriweather Post Pavillion. If ever something was constructed to make you feel good about throwing your hands up in the air and shouting from the hills, this is it. With precious little effort, a smile is surgically plastered to your face.

Animal Collective have long been divisive and experimental. From their beginnings, freeform, avant-garde nonsense was the name of the game. But with popularity, they slowly calmed down, and distilled further and further. In the end, MPP is practically a pop record. It’s been a long road, but with this, the key to bringing the universe on board was found. It may upset long time “I was there before it was cool” fans, but no-one needs to care about them. Much like the album’s cover, it is but an optical (auditory?) illusion; the complexity and creativity still lives, but it funnels into open air and blue skies.

Opener In The Flowers simply sets the scene. A restrained, patient intro serves only as a way to make the explosion beyond the verse that much more potent. Some delicate, harmonious vocals slowly but surely pick up pace and volume, much like the silence before an announcement in a talent show; then BAM, pounding drums and glistening synths winch you out of your chair, demanding you move to the rhythm or die. This trend is repeated right across the album, such as in breakout hit My Girls.

Voices are used as a weapon throughout. Two and three part harmonies pepper the record, filling out tone to sumptous levels. It borders on Beach Boys sensibilites at times, and comparisons have been rife for a long time now. It is these vocals that serve most as an identity, always positive and innocent, shooing away the darker thoughts the Collective are usually capable of. This is a safe place.

Tracks like Always Frightened evoke a jungle; sonic textures that conjure tropical birds, blistering sunlight and primal instincts flow within. As it calls out “Are you also frightened?”, it assures you not to be. You’re in a strange place, for sure, but you should feel comfortable and embrace it.

Daily Routine furthers the tribal qualities, becoming a powerful chant for a cause we can all believe in. The cause for staying in bed just a little longer. Such a simplistic, child-like request, but one I’m sure anyone can relate to. It’s not often upbeat, either, which is disconcerting for such an unrelentingly cheerful space. Taste and No More Running could be argued to crawl along, but instead they build an atmosphere. Providing time to relax and breathe, they shine and glimmer in the summer sunset, winding down after a busy day.

Not one to peter out, the closer Brothersport is by far the highlight, grooving its way into the stratosphere with catchy vocal hooks, racing drums and bright, evocative synths. It gets lost in itself in the middle, a cacophony of wails and beeps, until it once again crashes down to earth, lays the foundations once more only to explode quickly afterwards.

Animal Collective are a tribe from the tropics in Merriweather, determined to show you that their crazy world is blissful and unique. They certainly succeeded.

Musical Round Up, 2013 so far

Felt like writing about some of the great things I’ve heard so far this year. Youtube links where possible as usual. I’m slowly giving in to pretentious desire. It’s a lot of fun to write this way.

Grouper: One woman multi-instrumentalist Liz Harris has mastered the art of creating a wide-open, empty space. While also at home making distorted, synth-based drone, where she really shines is with an acoustic guitar and her soft, restrained vocals. It sounds distant, due mainly to layers of reverb, as Grouper tries to obfuscate her sound, never desiring clarity; she would much rather hide away in the muddiness. In tracks like Towers, from her latest work The Man Who Died In His Boat, this shines through.

Foals: Once a frenetic, uncontrolled Math Rock band, Foals have calmed down considerably through their next few albums, with Holy Fire showing a wider range of skills from the quintet. The lead single Inhaler feels more like a stadium-aimed rock song, with heavy riffs and some catchy vocal hooks. They also continue into dance-rock territories with tracks like My Number. Thankfully, they also show that their youthful energy was not totally lost via Providence, an altogether more chaotic and exciting track that evokes their original stuff, albeit with more focus.

Local Natives: Feeling like a successor to The National is appropriate, given that Aaron Dessner from that band was quite heavily involved in their newest album, Hummingbird. Showing off vocal harmonies, shimmering indie guitar leads and engaging percussion patterns which occasionally give way to way to quiet, considered moments of emotion. Colombia serves the quiet best, with the focus being on some powerful, affecting vocal strains, questioning “Am I giving enough?”. At least in that moment, they are.

BT: A prolific producer of electronic music for sure, BT usually finds himself at the forefront of whatever it is he tries next. If The Stars Are Eternal Then So Are You And I proves to be no exception. Expanding on previous more ambient works Transeau has produced, this album offers comtemplative music, built for stargazing and otherwise watching the world flow by. In essence, they are more soundscape than music. That’s not to say these tracks are boring and unchanging, though, with 13 Angels On My Broken Windowsill eventually building to BT’s first foray into the world of dubstep, while of course keeping his restraint and production mastery at the forefront. As the song shifts ever louder, ever more uplifting, it actually feels like a natural place to end up.

The Joy Formidable: Touring with the Foo Fighters tells you where they aim to end up: Filling stadiums, arenas and hearts. To do that requires some level of bombast, and in Wolf’s Law they have proven they are capable, while also showcasing a more delicate side. The album is packed with meaty, explosive riffs, as well as occasional string accompaniment just to play towards that populous rock-god image a little more (though it is not always successful). Along with that, though, go some more controlled, patient moments, as well as full-blown acoustics in Silent Treatment. The Hurdle offers a little of everything, and ends with a bang.

Tim Exile – Family Galaxy: Probably the most accomplished piece of drum and bass I’ve ever heard, and for 3 minutes it’s not even that. Tim Exile has an uncanny knack for switching rhythms seamlessly in a single phrase or two, and it puts a smile on my face every single time. When the drums finally burst out at 3 minutes in, a floorfiller is born from the vaguely disturbing chaos before it. That said, the edge of malice in the tone of the track never quite leaves.

Deadelus – Slowercase d: Really just needed to point out the sheer audacity of slowing down one of your own tracks, adding some atmospheric vocals then rereleasing it into the wild. Beyond all that, it completely works, and the world slows down with the track. The best part? The original track’s name was Trouble With A Capital D.

High Contrast – The Road Goes On Forever: You may recognise this song as the theme tune to 2012 Olympics coverage. High Constant, a drum and bass outfit, seem like an odd choice for such a role, but when hearing the song, it all makes sense. The track is full to the brim with uplifting, inspiring energy, which lines up perfectly with what the Olympics signify.

That’s about it for now.

 

 

Music type things of 2012 (and a dash of Christmas music)

Just a heads up, there may be some feature creep, by which I mean not all this will necessarily be from 2012, but I will have discovered it this year.

Given that they are my quote unquote favourite band, I would be remiss to not first mention Animal Collective’s new work this year. It started with Honeycomb/Gotham, a glorious double-A side full of that energy and kook, reintroducing actual instruments to their sound. Then came Centipede Hz, an intriguing album to say the least, but not for the greatest of reasons. I don’t mean to suggest it’s bad, but there are more than a few points where it falls flat, as if some of the inspiration (or hard drugs) were missing. There are tracks like Applesauce that flow well, and carry you along at their pace, but others feel like they go against the grain in a way that makes them unappealing.

Kid 606 has been a big fixture in my listening habits this year, and for such a prolific man, it’s taken quite a while. Always a man looking to dip his hands in new genre pots, this year has seen one of my favourite directions from him yet; a sort of blissed-out, relaxed sound, while still offering melody and interest. In parts, the textures of the synths read like shoegaze-y guitars, imploring that you stare into space. In others, they try to give a more ambient sound some bombast. It rarely pans out, but it doesn’t hurt to try. These tracks are some of the best from this year.

Pogo is someone most have probably heard of by now, thanks to his clever remixes of films and themes, mainly for Disney. However, I only recently learned that A) this is not the only stuff he has out and B) there are imitators, not all of them bad. Some I discovered were D!tto and MrSimon. Both are great in their own way, the former offering gorgeous chords to relax to, and the latter showing off great lyrical flow and timing. There’s also this great track which breaks out into sumptuous horn leads and well placed vocal stings.

Lord Huron has been on my radar for a while, but finally released his breakthrough album this year. Invoking images of wild jungles and the lonesome sea with a hint of folk, Ghost On The Shore is one of my very favourite tracks of this year, of a man wanting to be buried where he will be remembered, at home, on the lake.

Tame Impala has been one of the darlings of the music critics with their latest album, and I’m certainly feeling it too. Kind of like baby’s first psych, they inject a hearty dose of pop into the bending lead guitars and walls of effect pedals.   The enthusiasm wrapped up in it all is infectious. Even when stripped back to a piano and a drawl, the energy remains. It generally brings a light, airy atmosphere which lets you trip out, should you possess the appropriate hallucinogenics. It fully embraces the late 60s, and may fool a lot of people into thinking it wasn’t made in 2012 at all. Here’s a few examples.

Lone has carved his own niche in what was a pretty crowded market for a while. Compared endlessly and unfavourably to Boards Of Canada, which seems unfair to me, as it doesn’t sound like his intention to me. Instead, I hear dreamlike pads and synths cut by loud beats, with mainly breathing space in the middle. While I should really talk about his 2012 album, Galaxy Garden, I’m instead covering him as a whole, and think this bests describes his sound.

Grizzly Bear are one of my favourite indie bands of the last few years. Usually delicate, sometimes haunting, occasionally majestic, there is certain emotion in what they do, and Shields was no exception; in fact, it proved the rule more than ever. Relying on rickety grand pianos, acoustic guitars and some lyrics. While there are explosions and upbeat trips, folksy riffs and jangly indie pop, what Grizzly Bear arguably do best is quiet. Breathing space that gives time to reflect, offering extra impact to the crescendos when they arrive. Sun In Your Eyes is a perfect example of this, and one of my favourite songs of the year.

Kwes, a new member of the formidable Warp label, released an EP recently, with that same London charm of the likes of James Blake, but with warmer composition in general, striving for intelligent, synth-led pop music. In the main, it achieves that, with some moments of meandering sounds just enjoying the journey, and some controlled, verse and chorus hip-hop inspired pop. lgoyh shows it all off.

Young Wonder do a similar thing, switching between instrumental compositions with a tight structure and radio-hungry beats with a female lead. Here’s Orange.

And now, some christmas cheer. Here’s what fits in my limited selection of tolerable christmas tunes:

Beach Boys – We Three Kings Of Orient Are - A strange but wonderful take on the famous christmas song.

Ochre – Jingle Bells - A chipped reimagining of the classic.

Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick – I like the Beach Boys, shut up.

Carol Of The Bells – Definitely my favourite Christmas song, power of a choir I guess.

Steeleye Span – Gaudete - A strange one to become a staple of Christmas albums, but still there it is.

Low – Silent Night – A solemn slowcore take.

The Dragon Gave A Loud Scream ~In Holy Night~ – From my gaming Christmas tradition, Christmas NiGHTS.

Have a good one.

 

Retro/Grade.

[I am now writing for www.push-start.co.uk, this is the draft version of this review. I will update this with a link to the post, and you may notice some extra verbosity here.]

 

Retro/Grade is a PSN title which is essentially a rhythm game, but tries to offer something new, which it achieves to various degrees.

The concept is that you are Rick Rocket, who has just saved the world. Except that by doing so, you have caused a rift in the space/time continuum and now time is flowing backwards. To correct space/time, you must now complete your mission in reverse by unshooting your bullets and re-dodging enemy attacks. The layout and setting all suggest a hortizontal scrolling shoot em up, but they are just the window dressing for this unique rhythm adventure.

The first thing you’ll notice are the outlandish, bright visuals. It certainly packs a punch in this regard, and feels very much like a euro-shmup in style. These visuals really help set the tone, but can occasionally get in the way. Everything is so explosive in colour that it can occasionally become hard to concentrate on just the lanes without them either blending into the background or missing something coming at you in the other direction.

The basic mechanics are simply that of Rock Band, where notes fly towards you in colour-coded lanes and you press them in time with the music. There are even notes you have to hold (although they can now move lanes) and the Overdrive mechanic, called Overthruster here.  The similarities swiftly end there, though, as Retro/Grade throws a few extra mechanics into the mix. There are various hazards along the way which help spice up the gameplay, including bullets you have previously dodged, missiles you have fired that have to tapped in rapid succession, mechanical devices from bosses and black holes you have to pull yourself out of. Enemy bullets come from the left, unlike the notes and other obstacles, so you have to always be aware of the entire screen, which adds an extra element of difficulty to proceedings.

Each time you get hit or miss a bullet space/time takes a hit, and if you get hit too much, time stops and the game is over. However, you have at your disposal a Retro Rocket. This is a rewind button which, as you’re already going backwards, makes time go forwards so you can correct mistakes that killed you, which you may need to do on the tougher levels. It resets your streak multiplier though, so it’s use for score attacking is not a replacement for just not making mistakes in the first place. As far as scores go, your aim is to undo the stage’s base score and make it as little as possible, the lower the better. You can also collect powerups which give you such things as score bonuses, multiplier bonuses, Overthruster and Retro Fuel for your rewind. Equally some enemy bullets have powerdowns, such as a score penalty.

The game also offers two different ways to play. If you were looking for a reason to pull out your plastic guitar, this might be the game you’ve been waiting for, as it has a guitar mode, where you move lanes by pressing the frets (the lanes are colour-coded for this reason) and shoot by strumming. The controller layout feels simpler, and uses up/down to move lanes, with X shooting. It seems to just be a matter of personal preference, though, and neither system feels like a handicap.

The game’s modes are Campaign and Challenge. Campaign mode is a standard affair where you go through the game’s 10 stages at any of the 6 difficulty levels. The first, Beginner, has only 2 lanes. Casual and Mediumcore have 3, Pro and Tough 4, and Extreme has 5. The amount of lanes make the game progressively harder, as do the stages, albeit with some camera angle issues in some stages that make the focal point too strongly on the right and make it easy to miss obstacles on the left. Rick conveniently went for his hardest challenge first, so the difficulty curve is correct.

Each stage in the 10 will introduce a new kind of obstacle, so that not all the ones previously mentioned will come at you at once. It eases you in well, and then halfway in becomes a real challenge. Extreme is clearly for the most dedicated rhythm gamers and will also involve the occasional shmup reflexes to dodge the enemy’s bullet patterns obstructing your way to the notes, whereas Beginner is a simple way to introduce you to the game’s core concepts. I feel like Pro and Tough set the perfect balance of difficulty and high scoring, but there’s a skill level for everyone here. Most levels will have a dodging section, and unfortunately they tend to drag. Somehow, when you’re just playing one handed, it’s not as engaging. When a track gets into its flow, though, it can become quite exhilirating in the mad rush to get to your bullets and avoid the enemy’s, all while trying to maximise your score with clever use of rewinds and Overthrust. Once you’re in the zone, the result is really quite satisfying, as all good experiences should be.

Challenge mode works in a tree-like structure where you go through a set of preset challenges with some forks in the road. Progressing through these challenges grants unlock such as art galleries, new ships and access to the music tracks in a special DJ mode, where you can mix them together. Unfortunately, the system forces you to play really easy challenges at the start, which can drag, as well as most of them being fairly uninteresting modifiers to the original levels (play without powerups, slowed down etc)

It’s important to note the music in a rhythm game, of course. You’ll be pleased to know it’s rather good. Made by Skyler McGothlin, it’s full of spacey synths as is appropriate and it makes sure to utilise varied melodies in order to create interesting note paths as well as some cooled down parts to allow for dodging sections. You can give it a listen here: http://www.retrogradegame.com/music/

Retro/Grade clearly set out to add a plausible context to an otherwise simplistic genre, and pulled it off pretty well. Their tweaks to the basic formula make a more in depth and engaging experience. There’s a serious issue of longevity though. 10 tracks is just not enough, even if you have different difficulties to complete them in. It may be the kind of game you buy as a few hours’ distraction, then; if that’s what you want, this is a good choice.

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Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013: Black Magic

Now definitely a yearly thing, the 3rd in the Duels series is the best, and I’d like to explain why.

 

It comes down to one thing, really; the construction of the decks. As this is a very limited format of Magic The Gathering (a card game where you can, to some extent, combine any cards together using the right base of energy to play those cards, known as mana) where only the pre-constructed piles of 100 cards are available to mould into 60 card (or more) decks, it’s important that these decks are balanced and complementary. Within reason, each year’s game has achieved this, but in this year’s version, the decks are just better.

The decks in past games have been pared down and restrained, given that the games are intended as a learning tool and a gateway drug. The evidence of them being gateway drugs is easily noticeable through promos to get real cards. I buy these games for exactly the opposite reason. I can’t afford real magic cards if I wanted to build a deck I’d be truly happy with, so instead I buy these games to scratch the itch. I’d say as a learning tool these do that pretty effectively, easing you in with simple strategies and plain cards because going into more complex mechanics.

From 2011 to 2012, they added some more complex cards, but not so many that it would confuse those players still pretty new to the game. In 2012, they added quite a few more and by doing so made more powerful decks with more versatility and playability. Some of these decks might cope in real competitive play, even. They’re still not that good though due to only offering you 1 of your best cards when you’d run the maximum 4 you’re allowed.

There’s some single player value, here, as each deck has to be unlocked through the campaign mode. This includes normal matches, “Encounters” where you play against a very specific deck, usually made up of a collection of the same card, and puzzles which are meant for stronger Magic tacticians. Each deck starts with a base 60 cards. Whenever you win a match with a deck, you earn a new card for that deck. You can take out and other card to replace it with the new card, or just put it on top of them, as long as you never try to go below 60. However, there’s also the option to buy the whole deck for 80 MSP/$1, which is perfect for the people who bought the game for the multiplayer. There are 10 decks with more to come in DLC.

Multiplayer, of course, is the big crux of this package, being a competitive game. With ranked and casual play, there’s a level for everyone, and every game archetype is represented online. Aggressive beatdowns from the Goblins or White Tokens decks are complemented by the Mill and Control strategies offered by the blue decks, with various strategies in between. Competition varies wildly, with players who are using the base 60 almost doomed to fail compared to a person with a well built 60-card decks from all of their options. They are also likely to beat those who play with all of the cards available to them, as these people are less likely to draw their actual good cards.

If you’ve ever been interested in trading card games, this is the best place to start and get up to speed with some complexity. It’s also available on a ridiculous amount of platforms, so you’re bound to find the one for you.

 

Saturn Collection: Fighters Megamix

Sega AM2 revolutionised the fighting game genre by introducing 3D fighting in Virtua Fighter. They then went on to refine this to the masterpiece that is Virtua Fighter 2, undoubtedly one of the Saturn’s best games. During this time, they also made Fighting Vipers, a game featuring breakable armour and fenced stages. Then they apparently had no ideas left, and we got the glorious result of mashing the two games together.

Fighters Megamix offers gameplay in the style of both games, with the full roster from each appearing. The main difference between Virtua Fighter mode and Fighting Vipers mode is the ability to air tech in FV mode. It also features a cast of characters from other Sega games, and is a pit of obscurity in that respect. After all, who could forget Rent-A-Hero (basically unknown in the West), Janet from Virtua Cop 2, Siba from a completely scrapped game, and Bean and Bark from Sonic The Fighters (a game only known by most people as part of the Sonic Gems collection)?

Yep, You can fight as Hornet from Daytona.

The main single player mode are sets of themed courses to fight against, along with the character you unlock from it on the end. With categories ranging from Bosses, Girls, Cheap characters and just simple game series, there was a decent playtime to be had with them. Completing them all also unlocks my favourite part of Megamix: Hyper mode. In this mode, all moves are cancellable into each other at any time, leaving you the opportunity to make ridiculous combos. To ‘balance’ this somewhat (it wasn’t meant for serious play anyway, I’m sure. Frankly, I don’t think any of the game is), damage output is dialled way down.

It could also be called Virtua Fighter 2.5, as various moves that were due to be added for Virtua Fighter 3 were also added to the VF2 characters in this version, giving a sneak peek into what they had to look forward to. Unfortunately, Virtua Fighter 3 wasn’t that good, but that’s another story. There was also a preview of the character Aoi thanks to Janet from Virtua Cop 2, as they simply gave her Aoi’s moveset (and an unblockable gun, which made Janet broken).

Graphically it stands up okay, but there is some texture flicker and pop-in due to how much they were pushing the chips with the game. Musically, it has remastered versions of the Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2 themes, and is therefore excellent.

Jak And Daxter: Naughty Dog, where did all the character platformers go?

Starting with Crash Bandicoot all the way back at the PlayStation’s launch, Naughty Dog established themselves as a developer of challenging 3D interpretation of classic 16-bit character Platformers.

When the transition came to the PS2, Naughty Dog had done their tenure for Crash Bandicoot and created a new character called Jak, a moody silent protagonist type, and his friend Daxter, who got turned into a nondescript furry animal and as such gained a whole wiseguy shtick. The first game came out in Christmas 2001 to some critical acclaim.

It starts as a quest to change Daxter back into a human, and ends, as most videogames do, in a quest to save the world from the lurkers and Gol, the sage of Dark Eco. Eco is a form of energy in the world which comes in various colours which offer different attributes to Jak, except Dark Eco which kills him. The sage’s plan is to flood the world using the silos of Dark Eco found around the world, and has kidnapped the sages of the other kinds of Eco.

Jak has a fairly standard set of tools at his disposal. He can punch, spin (surely just an homage to Crash), double jump and hang on ledges. This simple set of tools is augmented by the Zoomer vehicle which is used in certain levels and to get from hub to hub, as well as a bird creature which you ride that has a long jump and is required for some sections. You can also collect various types of Ico which enhance you; Blue activates objects and lets you run faster, Yellow lets you shoot fireballs, Green give you a hit point back (you have 3 hits per life), and Red makes your attacks stronger.

 

The game is essentially a collection of hub worlds, each being identified by a different sage’s hut. In each hub world there are several ‘levels’, although you can move seamlessly from one to another, as they are simply built into the hub worlds. The routine is to collect enough Power Cells, which are basically a MacGuffin in the style of Mario’s Stars,  to overcome an obstacle to gain access to the next hub world where you will do the same thing again. You can backtrack to previous hub worlds by using the portals in each sage’s hut. The worlds go through all the motions you would expect of a platformer; from beach to swamp, futuristic building to forest, volcanic structure to ice world with a few others in between. That is not to say they are not well designed, though, and all offer a solid platforming experience with some challenging sequences of jumps, exploration and minigames.

As you might expect, it’s not necessary to find every Power Cell to advance in the game, but realistically it’s a pretty easy game to 100%: most tasks are fairly straightforward and collectibles aren’t exactly hidden away all that often, but that’s not to say you wouldn’t have fun finding everything.

Graphically it holds up fairly well, especially with the HD polish of the version I most recently played. The character designs are interesting and the environments are usually well developed. The cutscenes and story content is mainly lame humour but can draw a chuckle occasionally and is certainly not irritatingly bad. It is unfortunate that they are never skippable, though. Musically I found it fairly generic, in all honesty, with everything fitting the atmosphere of the area it was playing in, but not really stretching to much melody or uniqueness. The one notable expection is the sound that plays when you get a Power Cell, which reminds me of this THX sound.

Overall, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially in the HD Collection for PS3 which gives you all of the original trilogy. The rest of the series, however, is weaker than this, slowly thinning itself out with gimmicks, which is a shame.

Music Roundup: 2012ish.

Haven’t done this in a while, thought I should keep track of what I’ve been listening to I’m sorry if there’s overlap from my last stuff.   First Aid Kit, the kids famous for that cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, had a new album at the start of the year and it’s good, simple folk, and their vocal range and harmony is still the star of the show, as it deserves to be. Here is the title track.

LITE fit solidly under the ‘math rock’ label, and produce increasingly Battles-like sounds, which as far as bands to emulate goes, I am perfectly happy with. From Tokyo, they’re not afraid to experiment with tempo and texture. This is circle from their latest.

Nosaj Thing is basically just a standard american electronic hip-hop producer. No lyrics, which is preferable, and some interesting mellow and mystical sounds. Fog has an eerie quality to it, with ghostly vocal samples and a simple driving hook.

NZCA/Lines made a bit of splash, with me at least, with his minimal pop/rnb hybrid works, soft synths and soft vocals combining to make delicate but captivating songs. There is some occasional punch too. Moonlit Car Chase is an example of the side of this album I liked. P.S: It’s very 80s.

I just want to mention this one Don Ellis song called Turkish Bath, because it will make you laugh the first time you hear it. Skip to around the 1 minute mark if you just want to be amused by the…instrument that appears. But consider listening to it more than once, it soon sounds normal, and then right.

Dinowalrus have been one of my big hits of the year, with their faux-stadium airy synth sound, blending in standard rock instruments and some interesting vocal hooks. There is some U2-esque riffs in here, like if The Edge suddenly became competent. Just give Phone Home From The Edge a chance, it feels perfect for summer should the sun actually come.

Grimes is someone who had been on and off my radar for a while, but she finally sealed her place as one of the good ones with Visions, her newest LP. Her voice is very twee and childish, often in contrast to the synth and beat underpinning it. Visions feels a lot less out there than her other stuff, but I think that serves it well in the long run. Being accessible is not such a bad thing, especially if the charm and strangeness is still there. Genesis displays all of this.

Sega Rally 2006 is a thing I barely knew existed, but now I’m glad I did because it has a great Sega buttrock soundtrack. I use the term buttrock endearingly, as I have loved it ever since the Dreamcast era began. Names such as Jun Senuoue, Hideki Naganuma and Naofumi Hataya show up on this soundtrack.

Animal Collective released a thing! It is a double A side, Honeycomb/Gotham. Both tracks are great; Honeycomb with it’s fast flowing lyrics and sounds most similar to the Feels album, Gotham with a more natural sounding feel, complete with bongos and wind-swirling. I love Animal Collective, you should know that by now. Give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen?

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is a UK producer making clever, danceable tunes which still border on the strange.  With James Blake-like vocals, except not trying too hard, most of the lyrics are just texture. Anyone who watches too much TV will probably recognise Garden.

The Invisible are, on the surface, just a rock band, but as they are signed to Ninja Tune, it is clear that is not all there is to them. A london band, they make more delicate, simplified rock, with lyrics delivered in a haunted, echoed tone and atmospheric riffs, at least on the album Rispah, which they released this year. It also shows their versatility, with a more straightforward sound on their first LP. ‘The writing’s on the wall’.

I’m done for now, maybe I’ll add more soon. I have no idea how music critics do it, it’s so hard to just write about something like music.