Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Critical Case Of Murder - Episode 1 - The Scissor Sister

So, even though I haven't had much time to post on this blog as much,. I've been routinely updating things on The Critical Android YouTube channel. 

Not long ago, I recorded a podcast episode about true crime as part of a series called: A Critical Case of Murder. I recorded it with my friend Teresa from Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, for some odd reason that I can't figure out, the episode isn't watchable on YouTube in Ireland.

This is frustrating for two reasons:

1) The guest of the episode can't listen to it in her own country
2) The murder case involved in the episode took place in Ireland. Kinda would be nice if the country involved in the case could hear it.

So, with those two things in mind, I've posted the video here to the blog so that people can actually listen to it. It's just a picture and audio; so you know, a podcast you don't have to actually "watch" to enjoy. Hopefully you'll enjoy it regardless though, it was a lot of fun recording it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Critical Quick Review - Zootopia

Film: Zootopia
Year: 2016
Starring: Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
Directed by: Byron Howard & Rich Moore

Quick Plot: Ginnifer Goodwin plays the voice of young bunny, Judy Hopps. Judy is fearless, determined, and filled with a strong sense of justice. She dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fears of her parents and the fact that no rabbit has ever become an officer. Despite all this, she succeeds in becoming an officer in the famed city of Zootopia. Zootopia is a massive, environment spanning city where all animals live together in harmony despite the differences of the past where predators hunted prey. Judy is in for a rude awakening though when she finds out that not only is she looked down upon by her fellow officers, but is also quickly taken advantage of by con-artist fox, Nick Wilde, played by Jason Bateman. Nothing will deter Judy from achieving her dreams though, even if she has to put up with discrimination and Nick's antics to do it.

What Works: The voice acting - Most of the voice work is done by Goodwin and Bateman and both are phenomenal. Goodwin is effervescent, delightful, and upbeat without being sickeningly cheerful. Meanwhile, Bateman is just the right mix of charming, sly, and smarmy. Again, considering most of the voice work is done between these two, it's vitally important that they engage the audience; which they do.

The comedy - Zootopia, like most modern Disney films, is fun for kids and often hysterical for adults. There are a number of references from animal biology to Breaking Bad for adults to catch. It's not as consistently comical as say, some Pixar films, but it's still good for more than a few laughs.

The animation -  This should probably come as no surprise, but the computer animation on this film is spectacular. The faces of the characters are marvelously expressive and the fine details on the fur are exquisite.  One of the trailers for the film was noteworthy for showing sloths working at the DMV. The big punchline of the scene is reliant upon the facial expression of one of the characters; if not for how incredible the animation is, this joke wouldn't have landed so well.

The message - Zootopia is a film that's largely about discrimination. I'll avoid going into detail so as to prevent spoiling anything, but the predator prey relationship and the history of it is at play throughout the film. Given the racial climate in the United States in 2016, it's an incredibly timely message for people to have presented to them.

What Doesn't Work: The message - Despite it being a timely message, it is a little ham-fisted; that is to say that the writers tend to hit you over the head with it too much.

The plot - It's predictable. I figured out who the villain was pretty easily into the film, despite the film trying to surprise with it. Additionally there's a scene, part way through the film in which the characters reach a conclusion about the situation they're in that doesn't seem nearly as informed a judgment as they should be capable of.

Is It Worth Your Time: Yes. Whether you're teenager, adult with kids, or adult without kids, Zootopia is a great amount of fun. Also, if you happen to be a Shakira fan, or ardent fan of sloths, you're in for an extra special treat. Go enjoy it!

Critical Score: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Just A Quick Update

I'll make this fairly brief so as not to take up too much of your time:

You may have noticed a decrease in the frequency of posting lately: if so, good for you for paying attention and I for one, appreciate that dedication! There's a reason for why that's the case though.

Lately I've been very involved with a number of projects, some of which I can talk about, others that I can't. One that I can discuss and reiterate is my podcasts on The Critical Android YouTube channel.

Yeah, it doesn't have a flashy name in the link yet since I don't have enough subscribers at the moment, but there's new podcasts being uploaded all the time about a variety of subjects. They are specifically made to be listened to without having to watch the screen, so if you're in the middle of doing something and need some background noise, they're perfect for that.

Also, I'm not too great with the whole video editing thing for the most part, sooooooo until I really get that part down outside of recording game footage, this is what you'll get. But I'm also looking for topics that you want to hear about, so please take the time to suggest things!

I'm also working on a couple of novels that I'm plugging away at, which have also taken up a good chunk of time to write. As you can imagine, this can be quite time consuming, but I was advised once by a very talented and successful professional author and journalist, that one of the most important things a writer can do is finish what he writes. So it's with that in mind too that I keep trying to plug away at these larger projects.

My sincerest thanks to any of you reading this, and it would thrill me to no end if you could like, subscribe, and comment on my YouTube videos. Only if you honestly like them though. I don't want to cultivate a pack of subscribers who are just padding my numbers, I want to make a community for people to really engage each other on things they like. I want people to share ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes about everything from the common to niche interests.

Thank you again everyone, and please keep reading and listening!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Open Letter To Nickelodeon - Regarding Legends of the Hidden Temple

Dear Nickelodeon,

You didn't have a hard task in front of you. Time, the internet, corniness/cheesiness and a rather original concept all combined to make and maintain a large fandom for a game show that hadn't aired an original episode since 1995 and has only been in shown in sporadic reruns since. I speak of course, of Legends of the Hidden Temple.

The announcement was made at the start of March, 2016, that a TV movie would be made, inspired by Legends of the Hidden Temple, and starring one of your network's 14 year old child stars. I can only help but wonder how you possibly thought this was a good idea. There are so many things wrong with this decision that even as I'm writing this, I'm wracking my brain for a place to start with trying to tell you just how far off you are.

First of all, you do know who the Legends of the Hidden Temple demographic is, right? It's the present day 20 - 30 year olds who were old enough to watch the game show when it ran, and wish that they could've been on it. What does casting a 14 year old do for this audience? Nothing. All it does is make the movie appealing to a pre-teen to young teen group who have no attachment to the source material. So I really have no idea here what you're trying to accomplish by making this be a movie.

Now I'll admit, I enjoy watching reruns of the game show and watching the kids run through the temple. Why? Because a lot of the time the kids are terrible at it, and it's fun watching them fail spectacularly. Now that may sound mean, but it is also exciting to see one of the teams squeak out a victory right as time expires. That's the fun of the unscripted drama that is the game show; you don't know what's going to happen, and the competition can be engaging whether it's between adults, or kids.

This doesn't translate to a television movie in any way. It takes away the competitive element that crates legitimate drama, and substitutes in a scripted drama that's not going to be exciting to watch. And I'm sure you're going to say something to the extent of, "Oh well our writers and directors are going to make an exciting movie," but you're not. It's just going to be a typical made for TV movie that plays up to certain cliches and tropes that we've all seen before and isn't going to do anything revolutionary. Let's face it, you're not exactly Pixar making Inside Out to capture the imagination of kids and adults.

So again, who are you trying to serve with this film? Are you trying to play to the kids who don't know what Legends of the Hidden Temple stands for, or the adults who have no interest in watching a made for TV movie starring a 14 year old girl and being only tangentially related to a beloved property from their childhood?

Whose idea was it to make a game show into a TV Movie anyway? Why didn't you just bring the game show back? You do realize why we watched the show as kids, right? The show created a game that we felt like we could potentially be on that looked like amazing fun. We saw a temple that kids were running through that we know actually existed. It's not like this was a film set made to represent a fictional concept; this was an actual set made for kids to actually run through and compete in. It didn't matter if we could realistically go on the show or not, the fact was that it was even remotely possible, and that in itself is exciting.

And why do we continue to watch the show long after its over, through the eyes of an adult? It's not just the nostalgia of it, it's how ridiculously bad yet awesome the show still is. It's paradoxical in a way; Legends of the Hidden Temple is actually very creative in how its structured, but also so terrible in its execution. Take for example the Steps of Knowledge round of the game. Most of the game show is a physical competition, but here we have an informational, knowledge based round that makes the game as a whole, more varied. That's great! But the "legend" aspect of things is so comically terrible. The "legends" on which the questions are based take so many liberties with history that it's laughable. Dee Bradley Baker is a tremendously talented voice actor, and was great as Olmec, but hearing him switch between voices on the fly to tell these stories is so corny, especially with the script he was given. Good concept, laughably bad execution, ultimately endearing.

Speaking of endearing, can we talk about the host, Kirk Fogg for a moment? Kirk was very likable but good lord could he stumble over his words like a drunk in a sand trap. If you listen to Kirk's commentary on the temple runs, it's abysmal. Here's a drinking game: take a shot every time Kirk misstates the name of one of the rooms in the temple: you will not make it past the first minute of the temple run; you just won't. Still, with all this, there's some sort of charismatic charm about Kirk that I can't deny.

See Nickelodeon, all you had to do was bring back the things that made Legends of the Hidden Temple work. Bring it back as a game show, bring back Kirk Fogg as a host, recreate the temple and the set, keep the rule set the same, and cast either kids or adults in the show. That's the great part about game shows, whether it's kids or adults playing, if you have an interesting format, it can still be fun to watch. Additionally, because of the property itself, adults are going to watch it anyway because it's more of what they liked to begin with.

Maybe you thought that reinventing Legends of the Hidden Temple would help bring parents and children together. Well, it could've done that as a game show, but thanks to the reasons I mentioned above, you've effectively isolated the potential adult demographic. I sincerely hoped you would've been smart enough to know how to handle your intellectual properties, but apparently I was wrong. People want the Legends of the Hidden Temple that we know we like, not the one that you think we should like. You might think it's clever to make a reference to "The Shrine of the Silver Monkey" in your movie and it will make the adult audience laugh, but that's missing the point. We don't want a reference to it, we want the actual shrine. We want the actual monkey. And more than anything, we want to see a bunch of people trying to put the damn thing together and win a trip to Space Camp for doing it. Well, for doing it ,grabbing the episode's artifact and making it back out of the temple in time; but we'll settle for the monkey.

The Critical Android

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Critical Quick Review - Deadpool

Film: Deadpool
Year: 2016
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein
Directed by: Tim Miller

Quick Plot: Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a mercenary with an incredibly caustic and crude sense of humor. He falls in love with a woman named Vanessa but their happy relationship hits a rock when Wade develops late stage cancer. He leaves Vanessa and agrees to undergo an experimental procedure run by Francis, otherwise known as "Ajax." Francis' experiments attempt to unlock mutant genes in people and cause them to develop super powers. The experiments drastically scar Wade's body and push his mind into even crazier territory than where it was before. Now with incredible regenerative healing abilities, super human strength and agility, an ability to be aware that he's in a movie, and using the moniker, Deadpool; Wade aims to find Francis, get him to restore his appearance, and reunite with Vanessa.

What works: The humor - It's a damn funny movie but not quite as crude as the advertising campaign portrayed it to be; which is good, since that was REALLY over the top. It also takes full advantage of its R-rating in order to hit hard and fast with jokes that strongly fit with the perverse nature of the character.

The action - Very violent with the gore played up for laughs instead of blood lust. Once again that R-rating comes in handy

Ryan Reynolds - He's perfect in the role. He nails the irreverent comedy, ludicrous nature of the character, and the film's legitimately heartfelt love story.

The heart - Surprisingly, the movie actually does have a warm heart underneath everything and it compels you to really want to see Deadpool get back with Vanessa.

What Doesn't Work: The origin story - The film alternates between Deadpool's current quest to find Francis and his past of meeting Vanessa and undergoing the experiments that made him into who he is. While both sequences are strong, the movie opens with a bang and then dives into the past for a good chunk of time only to bring us back to the present, then back to the past for even longer. It feels like some material could've been cut from this origin story section of the movie in order to tighten up the pacing, maintain the brilliantly funny situations that Deadpool gets into, and shorten the run time a bit.

The main villain - Francis isn't so much an interesting villain; the interesting part is watching Deadpool want to kill him,

Is It Worth Your Time: Yes, by all means yes. If you enjoy action/comedy with intentionally over the top elements, this is a great movie. It also works as a wonderful send-up of the typical comic book hero story by not giving Deadpool all the heroic traits you'd expect out of a superhero; something Deadpool himself is gleefully aware of. And if you're tired of the typical Marvel film, (whether it be by Marvel Studios or in this case, 21st Century Fox), Deadpool will provide enough joy and subversion to make it fresh.

Critical Score: 8.5 out of 10

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lost Songs From Soundtracks - El Dorado

The Song: "El Dorado"
The Artist: Elton John
The Movie: The Road To El Dorado

It's not really so much that this song is forgotten so much as the movie and soundtrack itself are. The Road To Eldorado was heavily touted for its re-teaming of Elton John and Tim Rice who had previously worked on The Lion King and struck gold with two hit singles on the Billboard chart and two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

Even though they got the team back together, the soundtrack wasn't successful at all and neither was the film. One of the songs from the soundtrack, fittingly titled, "El Dorado" is actually quite good, but it's obviously not on the level of "Circle of Life" or the Oscar winning, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." Despite this, "El Dorado" is still a pretty fun song with a great vocal from Elton.

It's lyric tells the mythical tale of the city of El Dorado and the history that leads to its relevance to the film's plot. The arrangement is peppier than its Lion King brethren by being more upbeat and peppy. Elton belts out the notes in his baritone croon and is accompanied by a lush, warm arrangement that sports horns, snappy drum fills, and a fairly light keyboard backing.

I can't necessarily recommend the movie or the rest of the soundtrack for that matter, but "El Dorado" itself is a nice little take away from this box office effort.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Terrible Songs That I Like - I'm Henry VIII I Am - Herman's Hermits

What The Song Is - A Billboard number one pop hit from 1965 by one of the original "British invasion" groups, Herman's Hermits. It's a bouncy little number with a nonsensical lyric about a man named Henry, wed to a widow who has apparently only been married to other men named Henry.

Why It's Terrible - "Second verse, same as the first." This iconic line sums up the song's writing for the second verse is literally the same as the first; and those are the entire lyrics of the song. It's a gimmicky novelty of a song, based around one joke about Henry VIII being the eighth man named Henry married to this woman in the song. The joke is so central to the track's existence that the only way for the song to actually last long enough to be a commercially viable piece was to repeat it three times in total to fill up the run time.

Why I Still Like It - Despite the song being a joke, I actually find it funny, charming, and catchy. The verse is memorable, fun to sing, and is propelled by a rather brisk rhythm section and a simple but fun guitar riff and solo. It's also just under two minutes long so it by no means overstays its welcome.

Final Notes: "I'm Henry VIII I am" is a ridiculously inane song that's stupid fun with an emphasis on both of those things. Having one verse repeated three times is indeed stupid, but it's a fun verse to hear and sing. It could easily be a much worse piece than it is but the arrangement actually has some merit to it and stays fun for repeated listens. It also will get stuck in your head for hours if not days at a time.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Neglected Hits - Summer - War

For many, War may easily be one of the best bands they've never really heard of. Now granted, almost everyone has heard their hit, #7 Billboard Chart hit "Low Rider," but that's where things start and end for casual fans, aside from maybe "Why Can't We Be Friends." Other more dedicated listeners could point out their first hit with Eric Burden, "Spill the Wine." and their highest charting success, "The Cisco Kid."

Surprisingly enough, War did have another hit song that charted just as successfully as "Low Rider" but isn't played nearly as much; that being the melodic, low-key jam entitled "Summer."

Released in 1976, "Summer" is one of those songs that was specifically recorded for a greatest hits record, and become a successful hit on its own. Somewhere inside my mind there's a specific article about songs that fit that category, but for now we'll just focus on this one. 

Like many of War's other songs, the funk vibe is certainly there, especially in the percussion track, but the pacing is certainly not as aggressive as the bass heavy "Low Rider." There's still a horn section and snappy drums, but the vocal is higher and smoother than on their other hits. The atmosphere though is beautifully mellow and relaxed; kinda like summer itself.

I've heard this song exactly once in my life on a radio, and in this case it was the in-house radio of an Uno's Pizza Restaurant. As I recall, the song was far better than my meal. But let's leave that as more a testament to the strength of this song than the quality of the pizza. Anyway, go check out War's "Summer;" it may not be as fitting in the middle of February as it is at the time of writing this, but it's still pretty great. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lost Songs From Soundtracks - Spirits In The Material World

The Song: "Spirits In The Material World"
The Artist: Pato Banton featuring Sting
The Movie: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

To answer your first question, yes, this is a cover of The Police song, hence why Sting pops up singing backing vocals here. Pato Banton is a British reggae singer, and when you consider and realize that The Police were often a reggae band at heart, suddenly this doesn't seem like much of a stretch for a cover song.

One of the reasons the original version of "Spirits..." has a pronounced keyboard melody is that it was attempting to give a poppier sound to what is essentially an almost pure reggae track. Pato Banton amplifies the reggae aspects of the piece and mixes them with some '90s R&B textures, courtesy of producer Trevor Horn. 

I definitely won't go so far as to say that this is better than The Police version, it is however an interesting interpretation of the song, potentially truer to the song's roots than The Police were able to achieve at the time. Additionally, the song is more atmospheric timeless than the original, which with its keyboard and vocal effects, sounds dated.

There's a good chance I'll be revisiting this soundtrack at another point to discuss another song from it, but for now, you can enjoy this piece. And if the spirit moves you, you can also check out the original, Police version from their album, Ghost In The Machine:

Well, that cover art is actually from the greatest hits, and it's on that album know what, here's the cover art from Ghost In The Machine:

Isn't that great? Best use of red LED's ever. Though if your alarm clock ever displays that, I'd get out of the house.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Great Video Game Music - Love's Vagrant - Bravely Default

I've written before about how stellar the music output on the Nintendo DS is, but the 3DS goes even further than that, especially when a game takes full advantage of the hand-held system's power. Japanese role playing games or RPG's, are frequently known for having impressive soundtracks and Bravely Default is no exception to that unwritten rule.

All the music for this game was composed by the Japanese artist, Revo, a man who also fronts the bands Sound Horizon and Linked Horizon. Both groups are known for lush, symphonic arrangements with rock or progressive rock elements. Linked Horizon is credit with working on the soundtrack for the game which could easily account for music such as this:

This piece is entitled "Love's Vagrant" and is the special battle theme for one of the game's characters, Ringabel. The music plays during any point in time that you activate his special abilities in battle and his overall strength is increased during the course of the song. 

The first thing you hear is a burst of strings and drums that segue into an energetic theme led by an accordion of all instruments. This energetic segment continues into a mellower middle where the majority of the instrumentation outside of the concertina is reduced, allowing the bellowing instrument to take the lead. After this the song goes back into the previous, boisterous sound to close things out. 

It's a short, lively piece, very befitting it's use in the game. It's not often you get to hear an accordion used effectively in modern music, let alone a video game, but the entire reason the song works so well and is so memorable is because of the instrument. Naturally, the strings and rhythm help with this too, but the distinct sound of the accordion is special unto itself. The song itself is actually an edited down version of a full, vocalized piece that you can hear in a live setting here:

The entire soundtrack comes strongly recommended due to its symphonic rock sound, but "Love's Vagrant" is a wonderful selection from it. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Great Songs You Probably Don't Know - Valentine's Day Edition

Oh Valentine's Day, you glorious holiday that tortures couples with desperately trying to express affection, extol each others virtues, and wallow in heartache if you're alone and single. But whether you have someone in your life or not, there's still some great Valentine's Day related music you can listen to, and I've got two rocking songs for you to enjoy.

First up is a Nils Lofgren piece from the 1991 album, Silver Lining. Featuring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, Nils presents the song, "Valentine." The track starts with soft, atmospheric keyboards that lead up to Nils' snarling lead guitar. That's where the song''s true power is, in Lofgren's talent for channeling emotion through his distinct guitar tone.

Lyrically the song is a bit on the nose; Lofgren isn't much of a poet, but there's genuine sentiment in his words that are magnified by the way he plays guitar. Springsteen's vocals during the chorus are a welcome addition considering how talented a backing vocalist The Boss is when he takes up that role. When Nils goes into his solos though, the supremely serene sound is something to behold.

The other track I have for you is from a movie called Not Fade Away directed by David Chase. The soundtrack had a great deal of input from Steven Van Zandt of The E-Street Band who also wrote this song that Chase ended up using. The movie involves a fictional band called The Twylight Zones, with "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" being their signature song.

The track has Van Zandt's style all over it, complete with jangling guitars, straightforward, powerful lyrics, and Gary Tallant and Max Weinburg from the E-Street Band on bass and drums respectively. The band's vocalist sounds a bit like Bob Dylan but with a harder edge and not as coarse or gruff. The lyric takes glimpses at a relationship over the course of several holidays, seeing if it will last until Valentine's Day. It's a wonderfully written song and a nice little tribute to relationships. 

So there you have it; one soft and tender rocker and another brisk, harder one; good for listening on Valentine's Day, or after the day has come and gone for the year. The fact that they share a Springsteen connection is just a coincidence. ...Or is it.......?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Great Video Game Music - The Color Of The Summer Sky - Secret Of Mana

Secret Of Mana is frequently regarded as one of the strongest games to be released for the Super Nintendo. It was lauded then, as it is now, for its fantastic world, action based combat, colorful graphics, and fantastic music. Even though the SNES wasn't technically suited for producing high quality, orchestral music, the sounds it could produce were stellar for 1993.

Composer Hiroki Kikuta put a tremendous amount of work into not only the composition of the music itself, but also into finding ways to convert it to a computerized, "MIDI" format (as is known for this kind of digitized music) that was as close to the sound he envisioned as possible. Even though there was only so much he could do with the technology at hand, the fruits of labor are shown on tracks like The Color of the Summer Sky:

Even though it's a relatively short loop of music, it accomplishes a lot in that time. The overall tone is very happy and serene, as made evident by the ascending keyboard chords and happy chimes. The brisk tempo is highlighted by a percussion track dominated by a pleasantly powerful snare drum that punches through the arrangement. 

In game, this song plays whenever you're in a friendly town. Considering these areas are places of respite and sanctuary, this happier music is perfectly suited for the time and place. And while the entirety of the soundtrack is spectacular, none of it reaches the levels of happiness that this track embodies. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Pop Goes The Artist - Journey - Of A Lifetime

Many people seem to forget or never knew that Steve Perry was not a founding member of the band Journey. Not only wasn't he a founding member, but he wasn't even present on the band's first three albums. Journey formed as a spin off of Santana, when two of his backing musicians; keyboardist and vocalist Greg Rollie and guitarist Neal Schon wanted to branch out and do their own thing. They recruited some members of the psychedelic rock band, Frumious Bandersnatch and formed the group Journey in 1975.

Steve Perry's joining the group in 1978 marked a shift in direction towards a much more radio friendly "pop" sound, but before that, Journey was actually a progressive rock band, crafting instrumentals in addition to Rollie sung pieces. One of the Rollie sung tracks is, "Of A Lifetime," the opening number of their self-titled debut.

Schon opens the song with a quiet, snarling guitar riff that gradually grows louder and louder until it meets up with the rhythm section and becomes the main melody of the track. Rollie's vocals are rough and unpolished, but the real point of the song is the instrumentation. Schon leads the band through soft verses, escalating choruses, and instrumental sections that are rife with energetic performances from the entire band. 

"Of A Lifetime" isn't the same kind of sing-along Journey piece that you might expect from the band's later period; this is more similar to prog-rock music from Camel or some pre-Phil Collins led Genesis. It's interesting to hear how heavily the band's sound changed with the introduction of Perry, and if you like this style, well there's three albums of this material that have long gone forgotten by mainstream music fans.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lost Songs from Soundtracks - Friday Night's A Great Night For Football

The Song: "Friday Night's A Great Night For Football."
The Artist: Bill Medley
The Movie: The Last Boy Scout

Where to start with this little oddity? The Last Boy Scout is a kind of buddy cop film, except the two protagonists aren't exactly buddies, and neither of them are cops. It's written by Shane Black, who also wrote Lethal Weapon. It is quite similar to it in many respects, i.e the tone, atmosphere, comedy, character relationships, etc .

One thing it does have that Lethal Weapon doesn't is this amazingly bad theme song, sung by Bill Medley. By "theme song" I'm not referring to the movie itself, but the in-movie telecast of Friday Night Football. Like it's real life counterpart, Monday Night Football, the program has an over the top rock number to introduce itself. 

Sung by Bill Medley (one half of The Righteous Brothers) the song is "Friday Night's A Great Night For Football" and is just as corny and bombastic as the Hank Williams Jr. "All My Rowdy Friends" that opened Monday Night Football for years. 

It figuratively beats you over the head with guitars, horns, keyboards, ham-fisted lyrics, female backing vocalists, and absolutely no substance what-so-ever. By no means is it a well-written song, but it's really not meant to be either; it's intended to be the overly dramatic, excessive anthem that you'd hear in front of a sporting event. 

Incidentally, Friday night is actually a terrible night for football. Friday's are routinely one of the lowest ratings nights for television across all types of programs. That's why there's the term, "Friday Night Death Slot" where shows that can't hold up much longer get slotted to burn off whatever episodes they have left. 

But now you can listen to the track in all of its terrible glory! Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Great Songs You Probably Don't Know - Ashes The Rain And I - James Gang

Oh Joe Walsh, you formerly drunken wild man you. You gave us such memorable songs as "Life's Been Good" where you tell us; "My Maserati does 185, I lost my license, now I don't drive." Then you gave us "Ordinary Average Guy" where you sing, "And every Saturday we work in the yard, pick up the dog doo, hope that it's hard." Yet you also gave us:

"Sometimes I sit and I stare at the rain
Isn't rain filled with sorrow?
Wonder if I'll see my home again
Will it be dry tomorrow?
Time passes softly and I'm a day older
But still I'm living days gone by
Ashes to ashes the rain's turning colder
Finding tomorrow the ashes, the rain, and I."

Now if you had told me Joe Walsh wrote that, I wouldn't have believed you, I would've instantly gone to the album that lyric is from and checked the liner notes. Sure enough though, Walsh did indeed write that.

The lyric is from the 1970 song, "Ashes, The Rain, And I" from his second album in his band the James Gang. That album, James Gang Rides Again is also home to the far more well known track, "Funk #49" which incidentally leads off the album while "Ashes, The Rain, And I" closes it.

It's a five minute song with the above listed lyrics being the only vocal part of the song, taking up all of thirty seconds. The remainder of the song is entirely instrumental, and not in the rocking, guitar-centric kind of way. There is some fairly simple acoustic guitar work, but a vast majority of the instrumentation is a huge, sweeping, symphonic string arrangement.

Interestingly enough, at 3:33 the strings form a refrain that would later be used in the Fatboy Slim song, "Right Here, Right Now."

"Ashes, The Rain, And I" is far from the typical Joe Walsh fare that he's known for in almost every way. It doesn't rock, but it does show off his skills as a writer and lyricist; two things that often get overlooked when listening to his music. At the very least it's a welcome change from hearing "Rocky Mountain Way" for the 3,000th time.

Son of a Glitch! Why You Should Watch A + Start!

As long as there have been mechanical devices, there have been bugs and glitches to work out of them. Back in the time of World War II, the UK's Royal Air Force popularized the idea of "gremlins" being responsible for the mysterious mechanical woes that would befall their aircraft. English author Roald Dahl helped spread this idea in his writing. Even Looney Tunes aka Merrie Melodies featured a gremlin antagonizing Bugs Bunny and attempting to sabotage aircraft munitions.

Today, in 2016, the idea of a glitch or a bug is more commonly used in respect to computers and electronic software. By no means is this a recent change in connotation though, glitches were rampant in video games from the days of the Atari, arcade cabinets, NES, Famicom, and upwards.

Most gamers probably didn't realize this until the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters but the arcade classic Donkey Kong has a major programming oversight that effectively makes the game unwinnable after the 22nd stage. Due to a bug, the timer on that stage gives the player less than seven seconds, making the level impossible to win; most players never got skilled enough to make it that far though. The same can be said for the legendary game Pac-Man and a "kill screen" that comes up on the 256th level. The game's 8-bit coding system for the levels only accounts for 255 levels, being that 255 is the highest number programmable in binary using 8 digits.

Again, most players probably weren't going to reach the 256th board anyway, so the effect this had on the game was negligible, it's not like it was going to seriously prevent the general population from playing and enjoying the game. The same could not be said however as technology developed and games grew more and more complex. The more elements a game has to it, the more things that could possibly go wrong, such is the nature of the beast. If you want to tie it back to the mechanical gremlin, just think of it is the more moving parts something has, the more possible it is for something to break and stop the machine from working.

The 1985 classic, Super Mario Bros. is home to the legendary "minus world" glitch. The minus world was a constantly looping water level that a player could access by phasing through a wall at the end of stage 1-2. Because you're not supposed to be able to pass through a solid object to the other side, the warp pipe there hasn't fully loaded yet, and therefore doesn't bring you to the appropriate place if you go down it.

As games have grown increasingly complex, so too have the glitches. If there's any company that knows first hand about this concept, it's Bethesda, the makers of The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 amongst others. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyim became infamous immediately after its release for the staggering number of glitches that were left in its code for commercial release.

Of particular note was the game's potential to damage PlayStation 3 consoles. According to various sources, the PS3 has 512 MB of ram that are divided up into 2 blocks of 256MB's each. One block is set aside for system memory, the other for graphics memory. This 512mb is the same as the Xbox 360, but because the PS3's is partitioned off like that, it's not as flexible as the Xbox's. The end result of this was that the longer you played Skyrim, the bigger the size of your save file became until the PS3 system just couldn't handle it anymore, causing the game to lag and then crash. The crash was so hard though that the only way to get the system back to the main menu was by doing a "hard reset" and completely powering off the system. Repeatedly doing this could damage the PS3's hard drive and result in having a system that's unable to boot up properly.

Then there's perhaps the most noteworthy buggy, glitchy game in recent history, the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight. While the console version for PS4 and Xbox One was handled by developer Rocksteady, the PC version was handled by IronGalaxy Studios and it turned out to be an absolute mess. The framerate of the game would stutter, jump, and get incredibly choppy, audio would drop out, and anything that required precision control would be impossible because of all this.

The game was so bug filled that publisher WB Games ultimately offered refunds to people since not even the patches they released for the game could fix the problems.

That's the present state of gaming at the time of this writing, a time of bugs, patches, and rushing games out to market. Game developers have seemingly taken the stance that quality assurance can be an ongoing process thanks to the internet and releasing downloadable patches. Meanwhile in between updates, consumers are left with games that have bugs and glitches that can cause crashes, graphical problems, frame rate issues, audio bugs, save data corruption, unwinnable quests, online server disruption; the list goes on.

All of this is a far cry from the days of the nigh unattainable kill screen, the minus world, and the so many other little bugs and quirks left in a game's code. It seems like there was a time where glitches could be fun, interesting, non-destructive, and even downright helpful. Oh if only there was some one and some program that could help show us the softer side of glitches.

This is Andy from the YouTube channel, "A + Start."

He founded the channel back in February of 2013 as a Let's Play channel, with his first game being Streets of Rage 2. Looking back at it from the time of this writing, it's funny to see how a channel that has over 300,000 subscribers started off with videos that have views that number under 100. It was a sluggish start until he hit a chord with audiences with his "Son of a Glitch" segment, that has now become the bread and butter of his channel.

Each "Son of a Glitch" episode takes a look at a single game and scours it for glitches that range from the quirky graphical, all the way to game breaking. Many of the titles featured are from the retro days of gaming, but not all of them; Fallout 4 for example was showcased not long after its release, though because of the nature of companies patching releases after launch, Andy had to stipulate that not all of these glitches may be present in the days that follow the episode.

The two things that make "Son of a Glitch" so entertaining are Andy himself, and how he presents the glitches to his audience. There's no getting around the fact that Andy is one gleeful "son of a glitch." If you watch the old episodes, his tone isn't quite as cheerful, but as the series goes along, you can hear him find a groove and the tone of his voice is one of child like joy at presenting these games and their bugs.

This happiness extends to the bugs themselves given that Andy has a good deal of reverence for them. Whereas glitches today can be annoying, frustrating, and destructive, Andy focuses on ones that are interesting, entertaining, and more often than not, helpful. In one of his Questions & Answers videos, he states that what drew him into game glitches was the idea of, and watching speedrunners.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, "Speedrunners" are a very talented group of gamers that aim to complete games as fast as possible, often by any means necessary. Glitches can be a huge part of a successful speedrun as the runners view them as exploits that can help them complete games faster. Sometimes these glitches are mild things like preventing a text box from popping up and saving a few seconds on a time, to game devastating breaks that can help someone get to the end credits of a game within mere minutes of starting it.

"Son of a Glitch" isn't necessarily a speedrunning strategy channel, even though Andy does feature tricks that can help you complete things much faster, like the course skipping tips on his Mario Kart videos The show is actually a kind of celebration of mistakes in a wholly unique way. Glitches can be like hidden treasures deep within a game's code; they aren't always obvious and sometimes can take a ridiculous amount of setup to uncover; but therein lays the fun and challenge of them. Finding a glitch often forces you to think of things the programmers never anticipated and then watching what results when or if the game notices what you've done.

I had the opportunity to ask Andy a few questions about Son of a Glitch and his interest in these wonderful little errors of programming. Now, Andy's done a wonderful series of Q&A's on his channel that you can watch, all three of which give a lot more background as to his talents, interests, and the video making process. I strongly recommend you watch those when you get the chance. I tried to avoid retreating the same ground and here's what we had the chance to discuss:

CRITICAL ANDROID: You've said that watching speed runners is what got you into studying glitches. What game did you see speed run that REALLY drew you into the art of it, so to say?

ANDY: Ocarina of Time was the first speed run I ever saw, in about 2009. It was very different then but eventually the (speed)run would become as broken as it is now.

CA: Have glitches turned any bad games you’ve played into enjoyable ones that you like to revisit? If so, what comes to mind?

ANDY: In my opinion, as a general rule, glitches only enhance a games longevity and replay value if they help speed run a game faster. An example of a fun speed game but terrible casual game is Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.

CA: What game have you broken the hardest through glitches?

ANDY: That would probably be Uncharted: Drakes fortune.
(Editors Note: I've included one of Andy's videos on Uncharted below)

CA: As much as you love glitches, have you ever encountered one in casual play that ruined a game for you?

ANDY: Honestly, not really, none that I can think of, but I've performed somewhere in the region of 400 glitches in the past 2 years, it's hard to remember what was on purpose and what 'just happened' in a play through.

CA:  Do you think the current trend of releasing buggy games only to be patched later is a good thing for the interesting glitches it creates; or dangerous territory for developers and publishers to be wading into?

ANDY: For me it's awesome, a "triple a" game riddled with glitches is funnier than an indie game full of them. You expect quality from say, Bethesda or Konami, and when that isn't the case, it cracks me up more so. But for the consumer, we expect better in the industry, people pay a lot of money for an experience, and glitches kinda take you out of the experience. In the same vein, games are much more complicated, especially in a sand box, open world game. So many variables, it's impossible to cover every detail in the programming, so mistakes will be inevitable. ____________________________________________________________________________

That attitude is what makes Son of a Glitch so refreshingly entertaining. In almost any other creative medium, like music, film, theater, etc. mistakes can get creators raked over the coals; not so on A + Start. Andy shows how mistakes can be a form of art unto themselves and that there is a joyful beauty tucked away inside of imperfection. "Glitch" doesn't have to be a dirty word, even in today's gaming landscape. Glitches will always exist as a representation of the fact that we are not perfect ourselves. How dull would life be if everything ran without a hitch? How dull would gaming be if everything ran without a glitch?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Critical Review - Mike Tyson's Punch-Out

Game: Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Year: 1987

Though it sounds like a fairly conventional boxing game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is deceptively clever in its gameplay. Punch-Out!! is less about aggressive fighting and almost entirely about strategic countering, twitch reflexes, and to an extent, puzzle solving. This is one of the reasons why the game has endured as long as it has and still feels fun to come back to 25 years after its release.

You play as Little Mac, the up and coming scrapper of a fighter, looking to make it to the top of the Championship heap. In order to get there, you have to face a wide array of colorful characters, each with their own distinct personalities and attack patterns. Little Mac lives up to his name as his opponents loom over him like an 8-Bit retelling of David and Goliath. There’s actually a great degree of purpose behind this. Our viewpoint of the arena is from behind and above Mac, allowing us to see the opponent in all of his glory. It’s necessary for the competing sprites to be so large since all of their animations are what we use to counter attack. If Mac were as large as his opponent, his sprite would block these and destroy the game’s sense of strategy. Additionally, the opponents are fun and comical, we wouldn’t want to miss out on them anyway.

Mac is able to dodge to the left and right, block, and throw left and right punches to the head and body. All of these moves are done with extremely accurate controls; when you’re knocked out (and you will be) you won’t be able to blame the game's programming. Being aggressive and throwing punches will get you virtually nowhere in Punch-Out, not only will these attacks be blocked, but Mac’s heart meter will deplete. If it gets down to zero, Mac turns pink and is only able to dodge until he recovers. The way to victory is watching the way your opponent telegraphs his moves and then dodging and countering at the right time.

The challenge of the game comes not just from reflexively dodging and countering, but from figuring out which moments are best to attack and which are best to dodge. For example, Von Kaiser will blink before he punches; you could dodge the punch and land a combination of shots to the face, or you could punch him while he blinks and get a power star that allows you to perform a super uppercut. Every opponent has their own set of tells, unique special attacks, and moments to take advantage of.

Due to the nature of the emphasis on countering and memorizing movements, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! requires a great deal of patience to succeed at. The first few fights are easy enough to get through, but the difficulty curve ramps up after that and really starts pushing you to figure out strategy. Sometimes, the only way to win is to lose repeatedly until you really understand your opponent. This can be a frustrating feeling, especially in later fights where the slightest lapse in reflex or wrong move can quickly come back to bite you. 
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is a challenging, rewarding game to play, but it's not necessarily a fun one depending on your style of play. The puzzle elements are not a common feature in sports games and the only way to win is to box the way the computer wants you to, not so much how you want to. But if you really want to put your reflexes to the test and try to take out the game's infamous final boss, Mike Tyson, this is the game to do it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Great Songs You Probably Don't Know - The Bitterest Pill - The Jam

To any Jam fans, I apologize for not including the whole title of the song in the title of this blog. The actual name of the track is, "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow).

Meanwhile, for those of you who have never heard of The Jam, it's probably because you're not British. The Jam had a very successful run as a punk and new wave band from the late '70s into the early '80s. Their brand of punk had much more in common with The Clash than say, The Sex Pistols. The Jam tended to be more consistently poppy, fun, and less socially conscious in their music as opposed to The Clash and far more tuneful than The Sex Pistols ever could've dreamed.

Similarly to how The Clash got a bit further away from the punk sound in their later years, so too did The Jam. One of the best products of this expansion in sound is this 1982 single; "The Bitterest Pill."

What opens with jangling guitars and snappy drums, soon gives way to lead singer and songwriter Paul Weller's surprisingly emotional vocals. As the first chorus approaches we get a hint of strings, a sounds that becomes increasingly prevalent as the chorus closes. Vocal harmonies start to come in during the second verse and by the time we get to the chorus again, everything comes in all at once. Sweeping strings, female backing vocals, and Weller himself giving it all he's got, singing wonderfully. 

UK audiences were very receptive to the piece, pushing it all the way to number 2 on their music charts; here in the U.S. though...didn't even show up anywhere. This song is about as far away from punk as you can get, but even then it doesn't completely lose some of its edge thanks mostly to the rhythm section.

While I wouldn't say this is a good entry point for people to understand The Jam's typical sound, it is an incredible listen and a piece that any self-respecting music fan needs to hear.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Critical Cast - Episode 2 - The Top 10 Worst Third Installments In Film

Good news Critical Cast fans...meaning myself and the people I've recorded with...there's a brand new episode of The Critical Cast available and this time it's not broken up into parts; there's one full hour long episode for your listening pleasure.

My friend Bryan Howell and I review film franchises that have really lackluster third installments, at least compared to the two films that preceded them. Now, we did limit this only to movies we'd seen, so this isn't going to be a definitive list by any means, just the opinions of two movie fans who like to discuss opinions and have fun.

We sincerely hope you enjoy it and look forward to any comments and suggestions you have!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Fine Bros. And Innovation

Have you ever seen one of the highly popular and professionally produced "react" videos on YouTube? Particularly ones that say, "Elders React to..." or "Teenagers react to...?" If you have, then odds are those videos were made by a channel called The Fine Bros. They've made a name for themselves over the years in making these kinds of videos that showcase people watching or playing things that aren't in their typical wheelhouse of entertainment.

Well the Fine Bros. made major news recently by announcing that they would be making a "React World" where other YouTube content creators could license some of their assets and format in order to make videos using their style, in exchange for some of the revenue these videos generate.

These seems all well intentioned considering they had already trademarked terms like, "Elders react." So if you wanted to make your own "Elders react" video, you couldn't use that phrase unless you licensed the concept from The Fine Bros. You could do something similar and not call it "Elders react" and presumably be okay, you just couldn't copy the Fine Bros. "format," whatever that's defined as.

This situation escalated though when it was discovered that The Fine Bros were trademarking the word "react." Does that mean you can't use the word "react" in your video without being subject to possible trademark violations? Perhaps. The Fine Bros have stated they don't want other people's videos taken down because of this, but it's already happened to some. This isn't the work of people who are just trying to protect their own product; this is an attempt to corner and control the market.

Let's say you're The Fine Bros and you're getting irritated and upset that other content creators are being successful in making content that's similar to yours. What are your options at this point to stop it from happening? If you're asking yourself this question, you're already doing it wrong. The question is not, "How do I stop people from making videos similar to mine?" the question instead is, "What can I do to make my videos and channel fresh and exciting so people prefer to watch my videos over my competition?"

Competition is a wonderful tool for encouraging creativity and variety if it's allowed to operate fairly. You shouldn't be allowed to trademark something as common or vaguely defined as a "react video" and you shouldn't be trying to stop others from making them. What you should be doing is trying to make YOUR react videos better and more distinct than others. Trademarks won't protect you; people will find away around them. The best protection is to take your product, look at the competition, and use it as a tool to shape and improve what you're making.

This also happens to be the problem with the very idea of licensing assets from The Fine Bros. if you wanted to be part of their "React World." Don't follow their format, make your own! Don't use their format, invent a better one. Don't piggyback on the success of others only to become a clone of them. Find the part of you that can bring something different and interesting to the world and make THAT your asset. Don't allow yourself to become something generic; it won't last, and neither will The Fine Bros. if they don't choose innovation over stifling competition.

Why I Started The Critical Android

When you were growing up; or if you're not grown up and just a young'un reading this, do you remember the joy that you'd feel when you were able to share things you loved with people who also loved them? Do you remember talking about cartoons with kids your own age? Did you listen to the same bands as your friends and rock out and sing along to the same songs? Did you go to the movies together and enjoy the same laughs and thrills?

Odds are that you probably did at some point and to some extent. I know I did, though it wasn't a common occurrence for me. My tastes always skewed older when it came to cartoons, music, and television. When it came to video games, I was also on the cutting edge of them; my parents were very good about getting me the latest and greatest in NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 games; up until the point I could purchase games for myself.

Even there though I was in the minority with tastes that didn't sync-up with my friends. I could whip through games with ease and ultimately engrossed myself in details that meant very little to people I knew. I distinctly remember the game Secret of Mana and the hours upon hours I whittled away at that game, gaining experience levels, exploring the world, and becoming enamored with the story. A similar thing happened when Super Mario RPG came out and I was falling in love with the turn-based battle mechanics. Many of the friends I had couldn't understand the extreme enthusiasm I had for this game; how it gripped me, how it thrilled me.

I lived in the minutia of things; I'd pick up on details and tuck them away in my mind. I would retain character names, strategies, story elements, and be able to rattle them off from memory to anyone who was willing to listen. In hindsight, I'm guessing I was an incredibly obnoxious nerd. Really though, I was just a passionate kid without an outlet to share my enthusiasm.

The town I grew up in was very small, very rural. It wasn't easy for me to find like-minded individuals, though there were some; just not many. You know how some people are so obsessed with sports that they can rattle off statistics and player names with ease? I was like that except with anything that wasn't sports; though I actually did know more than a fair amount about the NFL, NASCAR, and boxing. Most of those things came from the influence of my father. He didn't share my interests in anything really, but we could watch those three sports together, as well as corny action movies.

But really, it was difficult to find people to bond with in such a small town. Things grew even worse outside of video games when I was trying to find people who enjoyed the same television shows and music as I did. For example, I would watch reruns of Quincy M.E. on A&E, old episodes of Carson Comedy Classics on the Family Channel, Get Smart episodes on Nick-at-Nite; etc. Now, I also watched the typical kids fare at the time, Ren & Stimpy, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Pokemon (when it debuted in 1998 here in the states) Batman: The Animated Series, and so on. It was fun getting to share my love of those things with people, but no one I knew other than my father could talk to me about Johnny Carson.

College helped out considerably by moving me into an area that had a more diverse array of people with varied interests. There I could find other students who shared my obsessive love of media. One of the reasons I joined the radio program and made a successful show on the station was because I wanted to share my love of music with people. I found out from listening to the radio stations in my home town that they were never going to play the variety of music that I wanted to hear. Knowing that I couldn't change the way corporate controlled radio operates, I decided I'd just have to do it myself and started playing songs from artists that didn't get a lot of radio play, or songs that didn't get the notoriety they should've.

After college came and went, I moved back to my home town, failed at finding a job in radio, and all of my college contacts were physically distant from me. There were times where I'd stumble across a song that thrilled me, watched an episode of a show that ensnared me, or saw a movie that enthralled me, and there wasn't anyone around to really talk to about it.

Finally I decided that enough was enough. If I'm going to be living in an area that is devoid of varied interests, I'd reach out to the internet and send my thoughts out that way. These posts I write about video game music, television shows, obscure songs, and so on; I'm writing them because I really enjoy these things and want to share them with others. I don't necessarily expect you to like them too by any means, but maybe if I keep writing about different things, I'll find something that you reading this, personally enjoy. Maybe then it will lead to you finding more things that can make you as happy as they've made me.

The Critical Android is meant to be a hub of sorts for myself to share a variety of interests with the world and hope that I can provide you with that sense of like-mindedness that I had hoped to find growing up. You may not like everything that i talk about; maybe you can't fathom why someone would like NASCAR for instance, but the channel's not going to be devoted solely to that; just like it won't be devoted solely to game music or '80s rock, or episodes of Frasier. There's going to be a lot of content coming down the road and I want your support, help, advice, and suggestions. I want to know what you like; I want to know what you want to talk about. I want to try and awaken that joy you find when you come across someone who likes some of the things that you do and can really explore it with you.

That's The Critical Android in a....well, a rather large nutshell. Thanks for reading though. Hope to hear from you soon.

Critical Review - Blast Corps

Game: Blast Corps
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year: 1997

Rare’s legendary run of Nintendo 64 titles included such well-remembered classics as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 (if you like an insane amount of collectibles that is) and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Tucked away in that expanse of games is 1997’s Blast Corps. Trying to define the type of game that Blast Corps represents is somewhat of a challenge. The plot actually gives a better indication of it than a summary of the game play could; a large transporter truck carrying two nuclear warheads to a safe zone, experiences a radiation leak. The leak causes the drivers to bail out, leaving the transport on an auto-pilot to the safe zone. However, said auto-pilot does not take into account any buildings or obstacles in the way, and given the unstable nature of the warheads, any collision the vehicle suffers would detonate the twin nukes. So what’s a government to do but call in Blast Corps; a demolition team with the talent and equipment to level buildings in seconds.

As it turns out, clearing a path for a nuclear warhead transport isn’t as easy as it sounds. The early levels of the game are straightforward as you pilot construction vehicles and mechs straight into and through anything that is generously marked as an obstruction. Not all vehicles are created equal. The Ramdozer (a bulldozer with a more aggressive name) can clear a path just by naturally driving along, the Ballista motorcycle uses missile pick-ups that you’ll fire into buildings, and then there’s the Backlash. The Backlash is the terribly impractical, hell spawn of a dump truck with an armored rear end. In order to destroy buildings with it you actually need to power slide and spin the back end into your intended target. Of course, they have you drive this monstrosity in some of the worst possible levels, just to make the game more difficult.

And boy is Blast Corps difficult. Not at first mind you, no, no. At first it’s easy, and the only difficulty comes from the occasionally frustrating camera angles and how this can sometimes cause your steering to be a bit wonky. Then you start encountering buildings that can only be destroyed by pushing a crate of TNT into them. Then you realize how hard it is to control pushing those crates. Next thing you know you have to load one of those crates onto a train, or crane, or barge to get it somewhere else in a matter of seconds. Suddenly you realize you’re playing a puzzle game and wanton destruction is no longer on the menu.

The odd/interesting/frustrating part of Blast Corps is how frequently and drastically the game deviates from its destruction based premise. Beyond the puzzle based areas are levels that have you driving cars for the sole purpose of completing hot laps around a track, an odd Pac-Man inspired stage that has you lighting up RDU’s (Radiation Dispersal Units, aka little lights you run over on the ground) before some colored bulldozers make contact with you, and Orion Plaza. Here you pilot the Ramdozer on top of a giant pool table, pushing TNT crates into the pockets. Very little of it makes sense within the context of the game, but then again, it’s not supposed to. Let’s face it; once you base a level on top of a giant pool table, you’re not exactly pushing for realism.

There’s also a heavy focus on exploration. After you clear one of the warhead stages, the level remains as you left it; the truck has moved on and any buildings you destroyed in order to clear the path, are still destroyed. You’re given the option to qualify for a gold medal on the level by going back through it and finding all the RDU’s, rescuing all the survivors, destroying all the buildings, and finding all the satellite uplinks. Some of the levels are surprisingly large and require you to travel on foot and transition between different vehicles to get at everything. It helps that graphically, Blast Corps is a good looking N64 game and the music is memorable and catchy; so at least you’ll be kept engaged while trying to find some frustratingly hidden objects.

Blast Corps has an awful lot of content but a lot of it is walled off behind progress gates that you need to be legitimately skillful to pass through. Aside from the exploration runs you make through a level, everything has a time limit that you are graded by and awarded medals based off of. If you want to unlock everything the game has to offer, you need to get gold on all the levels, side-missions included. The task is not impossible, but it will put your skills to the test and at times prove to be more frustrating than fun.

Still, when you’re not driving the Backlash, Blast Corps is an undeniably compelling game. The basic premise is entirely engaging and as long as you know what to expect when the genre curve balls come flying at you, you won’t be disappointed that you’re not rampaging through a city. This is carnage for the thinking man, a phrase not many games can successfully attribute to themselves. Is it any wonder this was made by Rare around the time of their creative zenith?

Rating 8.5 out of 10

Great Songs You Probably Don't Know - Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded - Warren Zevon

It's notoriously hard to hear a Warren Zevon song on the radio dial outside of "Werewolves of London." That's a same too considering how much wonderful music he released, especially on his first few albums. His 1976 self-titled debut didn't land any hits for him, but Linda Ronstadt did cover several of his songs and turned "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me" into a top 40 Billboard chart hit. 

One song she didn't cover, and seemingly few people have, is another cut from that self-titled Zevon record, "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded."

It's a fairly simple Zevon song, propelled by piano and simple guitar chords, but the arrangement grows more complicated during the chorus, Zevon recruits J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne to sing harmony vocals at this point, and David Lindley contributes fiddle too. It has a bit of a country rock tone to it because of said fiddle, and some of the guitar licks; but there's still a firm rock edge to it.

Eagles could be country/rock, but when Zevon does the genre he packs it full of bite; more so than Frey and Henley did (even though they both contribute to this album too). Zevon presents the character of the song as an unsavory gambler; someone who probably would be a corrupting influence. As the song goes along, we hear that though the family of a girl begs and pleads with their daughter not to marry Zevon's character, she couldn't be persuaded otherwise.

This little ditty is a sorely underappreciated Zevon gem, and unless you know his albums well enough, you probably aren't aware of it. Here's your chance to dig in and enjoy. 

Great Video Game Music - Zone J - Chip 'N' Dale Rescue Rangers

There are few things like a good NES chip tune to evoke nostalgia and get the toe-tapping. As I mentioned in a previous entry in this series about Mega Man 8's "Frost Man Theme," the Mega Man games are exceptional for producing great, quality, 8-bit music. This wasn't just limited to the blue bomber however, Capcom put a good deal of work into the music of their other games and franchises too.

Back in the late '80s and early to mid '90s, Capcom was the company of choice for Disney to let make games from their intellectual properties. This partnership resulted in a number of classics, including DuckTales, The Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse, Aladdin, Goof Troop, and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers. All of them had some memorable music, and in the case of Rescue Rangers some of the songs are unmistakably Capcom.

This track, "Zone J" plays very late into the game and sounds like it easily could've been ripped right from a Mega Man title. Considering the composer, Harumi Fujita, also composed some music for Mega Man 3 this shouldn't be much of a surprise.

The song itself is interesting for a number of reasons; one of them being the change-ups it throws to the listener. The opening is uniquely sparse, with just the solitary notes being played before sliding into a slinking kind of groove. This gives way to a more upbeat section that truly sounds like the best song that never made it into a Mega Man title. 

It's not a terribly long piece, but it doesn't have to be either; the loop has enough variety in it to where each repetition sounds fresh.

That's some good chip tune. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pop Goes The Artist - Jon Anderson - Owner of A Lonely Heart

If the name Jon Anderson doesn't ring a bell for you, it's alright; you may only know him as the lead singer from Yes. Well, the former lead singer that is to say, but he's still the one you hear on every Yes song played on the radio. Prior to his departure due to illness in 2008 (and then the band just moving on without him) Anderson's only other time away from the group was during the Drama album period from 1980 to about 1982. It was at this point that the band was brought back together and scored a massive hit with the song, "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

"Owner of a Lonely Heart" was actually the work of the band's guitarist and other vocalist at the time, Trevor Rabin. Anderson may have sung the lead vocal on it, but it's not his work. For some reason though, in 1998, he re-recorded it for an odd compilation album called, Yes, Friends and Relatives. The results of it are...unique.

Somehow Anderson managed to change a classic rock standard into a dance/pop song; something even more insane when you consider Anderson's solo career is so far away from this kind of material, it's doubtful he even knows that dance music is. But here it is, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" with all the production you'd need for a '90s dance mix.

I'll stick to the original, but at least you know have documentation of this...oddity in the Yes canon. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Critical Cast - Top 10 Worst Episodes of Frasier - Part 4 (Final)

And finally Erik and I wrap up our discussion of the Top 10 worst Frasier episodes of all time. So if you really wanted to know what episodes to avoid like the plagues; this is your guide.

My thanks to Erik for helping contribute to this, and for an upcoming episode about the best Frasier ever was.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Terrible Songs That I Like - Dancing On The Ceiling - Lionel Richie

What The Song Is - The title track from Lionel Richie's 1986 hit album. It peaked at number 2 on the American Billboard Charts. It's largely driven by keyboards and a danceable beat. It's firmly entrenched in the '80s pop genre and was accompanied by a music video that was also a huge byproduct of the mid '80s culture. And yes, it did feature Lionel Richie dancing on a ceiling.

Why It's Terrible -  "Oh what a feeling, when we're dancing on the ceiling." There's the chorus. The verses just consist of Richie commenting on how it looks like people are having a good time, having a ball, and how this somehow has either physically or figuratively led to people dancing on the ceiling. And apparently that produces quite a feeling. It's terribly inane and stupid. The rhymes are painfully obvious, corny, and have little to no thought put into them.

Why I Still Like It - I'll be damned if the keyboard chord progression doesn't hook me in. There's something about it, especially during the chorus that draws me right in. The lyric that it supports might be stupid as all hell but the arrangement is surprisingly solid; especially if you like this kind of '80s pop. When the song goes into its final repetitions of the chorus, the keyboards and bass are brought even more to the forefront of the mix, solidifying many of the songs hooks and giving the track a kind of a build, even if it's not a true build up. The 12" extended version of the song makes this even better by drawing out this closing section even more, letting that accentuated bass thump away for even longer.

Final Notes; I've never been a big fan of Lionel Richie; not with The Commodores and certainly not solo. But despite my distaste for his music, I can not and will not deny when a song legitimately grabs my attention....even when it's as terrible as "Dancing On The Ceiling." ...Which I've been listening to on a loop while writing this.