An Ode to shoe0nhead

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lowercase letters because a e s t h e t i c.

some history:

i first discovered shoe upon reading an encyclopedia dramatica article on boxxy, with whom shoe has been compared to heavily upon establishing herself within the internet world. (there is no longer any connection to shoe on boxxy’s article.) at that point she only had a few youtube videos up, the latest (from what i recall) being “the social justice league vs. gamers.” “oppression olympics,” which would become her rise to internet stardom, along with the aforementioned video, were poignant among the then rise of the gamergate controversy, which caused an internet shitstorm decrying journalist corruption on one side and misogyny on the other. seeing as i was passionately for the side of journalistic reform, it was nice to have someone to latch onto to reaffirm my own opinion, as the only place that did otherwise (from my list of follows at the time) was the aforementioned encyclopedia dramatica (but its hard to take them seriously in most cases). Continue reading “An Ode to shoe0nhead”

An Ode to Vinesauce

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For those unaware: no, that is not the 1-Up Mushroom.

This is the Vinesauce mushroom, the icon for a team of video game streamers since somewhere back in 2012. Founded by a lone jabroni by the name of Vinny, it eventually took off with the rise of Twitch as a collective online pastime. Of course, Vinesauce isn’t just a team of video game streamers. The group is most notable for their variety of game-breaking shenanigans, corruptions, and highlighting of fan-made games which, inadvertent or not, capitalized on the meme-y nature of online interactions. Vinesauce, as a whole, is more of a collection of normal people trying to make ends meet, surrounded by fans wanting to see shit hit the ceiling.

While some members have come and gone, the current team consists of its founder, Vinny; Joel, Mentaljen, Rev, KY, Limes, Imakuni, Direboar, Potato (or Darren), Hootey, and Fred. Some are more popular with viewers than others (some garner three to six-thousand viewers a night while most others barely top a thousand), but all play a part in making the Vinesauce community what it is—a friendly, albeit obnoxiously chaotic collection of dedicated fans. This becomes more prominent once a year, during the annual Vinesauce Charity Stream.

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Depending on the individual streamer, the selection of games vary dramatically, as every streamer is interested in different things and have their own schedules to adhere to. Vinny, Fred, Direboar, and Limes tend to stream most days in the week, while the rest are prone to sporadic absences. Aside from Vinny, who tries to keep a balance of serious and non-serious games, the rest of the aforementioned named are pretty apt to sticking with one game, usually serious, from beginning to end. Debatably, this type of streaming is likely why they aren’t as prominently known, but their dedication to their schedules and their personalities are the tools which help them succeed. Those who have yet to be mentioned in this paragraph are those who stream only semi-often (or rarely), with Joel being the one singled out for his tendency to create new memes with every stream (some of which are featured on channels such as SiIvaGunner).

Description overload out of the way, my personal experience with Vinesauce dates back to early 2014(?) when my brother introduced me to a certain video. Marathoning a number of related videos later, I was officially “onboard” the Vinesauce hype train. At that time, I was only aware of Vinny and Joel, completely unaware of the collection of other streamers which stream under the Vinesauce name. When I finally found out that it was more than just two people, and that they had their own functioning website dedicated to them, I was quick to peruse the merchandise.

I have experience with every single streamer on the site, but to absurdly different degrees. Vinny is far and away the streamer I watch most often, even now when my schedule is much tighter than before, while I’ve only spent a single stream with MentalJen, Rev, and KY; none of those lasted more than ten minutes or so. This isn’t to say I don’t like the streamers themselves, but their selection of games and infrequent streaming isn’t of huge interest to invest my time into. Some streamers can carry through an uninteresting game through character alone (Joel, Hootey, Imakuni), although the perfect blend of interesting games and enthusiasm is what makes for an effective and immersive streaming experience. Vinny is normally very good at this, as well as Joel and Limes. Frequency is the issue at hand for every streamer, too, as like any aspect of life, people can have off days.

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Vinesauce is also to thank for a variety of different purchases—and to some extent, revival of interest—of video games in my lifetime. I first learned of Axiom Verge during a Vinny stream. I bought Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 on a whim after seeing Joel fuck it up on-stream. Similarly with Fred and Megaman & Bass (except he was just losing a lot). These are but a few examples after years of watching the Vinesauce team. Who would have thought that all one needed to regain their interest in video games was to see one having fun with video games? And the creativity (and memeness) that goes into a variety of fan-made projects is so tempting to do for myself (except I have no motivation or time). It would make sense that my favorite streams of all time were both from Vinny, playing Sonic Dreams Collection and the Super Mario Bros. X Contest.

Yet the memeness of the team isn’t necessarily the only enjoyable aspect. The manner at which streamers continue through a game one at a time can be gratifying in and of itself, to be able to experience the journey with them. I recall being bored one night sometime in 2015, when I saw Darren streaming Dragon Quest VIII(?). I popped in there and spent the next few hours talking with members of the chat, with the occasional comment to Darren, and watching as he ground for experience and struggled with some casino game. To this day, it was one of the most enjoyable streams I’ve ever been a part of, simply because the chat was quiet (which is a rare feat, let me tell you!), the content was interesting, Darren was charming, and I felt I was part of the collective experience. That sort of ultimate immersiveness is what I live for when watching someone stream. It’s always fun to watch someone react wildly to crazy things onscreen, but it’s the little things, like a streamer acknowledging your question/comment, the passive lethargy of video game intake, and being able to be a part of the streaming process without being lost in the sea of “LOL’s” after a funny incident that lead to truly memorable pastimes. I really enjoyed Vinny’s recent playthrough of Final Fantasy VII and Darren’s playthrough of Final Fantasy IX because of this.

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Due to my former job requiring me to turn in early, I didn’t end up watching many streams during the latter part of 2016 and early parts of 2017. For a time, I thought my interest in watching the members stream live had passed, that was until just a couple weeks ago, when Vinny and Imakuni joined forces to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which was such a wonderful stream that I’m kicking myself for not being able to watch the entire thing. Their chemistry was fantastic, and Imakuni’s knowledge of the franchise compared to Vinny’s complete ignorance was such a treat to watch play out as the stages continued. Once again, my interest in the Vinesauce brand was reignited with the aid of a single stream; how mystifying that it can happen that way. As a side note, I would absolutely recommend one watch the highlight video of their collaboration.

I don’t watch many people stream, at least not anymore, but Vinesauce has been a constant in the last three to four years of my life. Should I be privileged with riches beyond my imagination, I would gladly support every member without a second thought. The team has brought such a wide array of fond memories that I feel almost indebted to them, yet I do not have the means to compensate them. All I can do is continue to watch, share, and write giant “Ode” posts such as this one, singing praise and sharing personal stories. Vinesauce means a lot to me, not just because it pertains to a major interest of mine, but because the people who inhabit it seem like good people capable of good things. For that alone, I would recommend it to any fan of video games in general.

An Ode to Chester Bennington

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On July 20th, 2017, lead singer Chester Bennington of Linkin Park was found in a private location with a noose around his neck. The news hit the internet immediately, and it didn’t take long before Twitter was abuzz. I recall browsing the world wide web when my sister ran down, phone in hand, simply saying, “Y’see this? This is not okay.” Chester Bennington; Born: March 20th, 1976. Died: July 20th, 2017. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing, then took another moment to remember that Google isn’t Wikipedia, where anyone can edit it. After hearing my brother utter a “Holy shit,” it finally hit me that the voice that had been embedded into my soul since childhood was gone.

I won’t pretend like I knew Bennington personally, or knew him outside of his music. I didn’t follow him through interviews, on social media, or make any effort to humanize the voice that sang the songs that gave me constant entertainment. He was simply Chester Bennington, lead vocalist of Linkin Park and abundant internet meme. Still, knowing how large a part Linkin Park was to me as a child, I couldn’t help but be saddened not just for him and his family, but for myself and my family and anyone else who was impacted by their music. It also inspired me to write this post, though this is the least I could do.

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Linkin Park was the first band I ever really “got into.” The first band whose albums I would blast on repeat and want to know more about outside of individual singles. I recall as a kid only being interested in what played on the radio, never making any effort to explore more of an individual person or group’s work, but Linkin Park was a different scenario. The moment Minutes to Midnight released, I was begging my mother for it. I hadn’t asked my mother for anything but video games up to that point… possibly ever. Well, candy perhaps, but that’s a short-term luxury. While a so-called musical renaissance for me didn’t really flourish until my addiction to Guitar Hero years later, Linkin Park remains a testament to my first musical crush of sorts.

The love wouldn’t last, as upon hearing the first single from A Thousand SunsThe Catalyst, I found myself coming down to Earth. What was this? It’s so… electronic.So artificial. Where was the “rock”? Where was the traditional instrumentation? The band was heading in a direction I wasn’t fond of, and after getting the album and listening to its entirety, I was disappointed. Linkin Park was no longer the band I loved. It changed. I didn’t. I didn’t want to accept change and I didn’t for years. I’ve made peace with it since then, and while I’m not huge on that particular album, there are a few songs (sure enough, that don’t feature a lot of electronica) that not only sound good, but take advantage of Bennington’s voice. Still, it set the precedent for my eventual indifference to Linkin Park’s newer music. I’ve only heard one track from The Hunting Party.

In hindsight, accepting Linkin Park’s desire to experiment with new sound was something I wasn’t mature enough to handle. Now, I find that desire respectable, even if their output no longer interested me. I’m sure Bennington had a hand in some of that creative direction, though perhaps it caused some dismay seeing as he had a side-band and filled in for Stone Temple Pilots for a couple years.

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I recall the day Bennington hung himself, I read in a Yahoo! article that he dealt with drug/alcohol addiction and was sexually abused as a child. It made me recall Vincent Van Gogh and his perilous life of having to balance his desire to paint and the tragedy of supporting himself through it. It’s almost a sad truth to accept that tragedy and creativity make an emotionally-riveting pair. To know and understand the lyrics that typically accompany Linkin Park tracks, it almost comes as no surprise that Bennington was carrying a lot of emotional baggage. He likely put his soul into his work, and not to speculate, but that may have mounted even more pressure on him to establish himself. It rings eerily familiar of another popular lead vocalist that committed suicide twenty-three-years before, and I’m sure many others.

And so I say to thee, cherish what life you have and make the best of any situation. If you ever have the darkness that clouds your judgment, please go and talk to someone about it. Get help. There is certainly much that life has to offer (even if it doesn’t seem like it) and the experiences that follow. And to any who would be affected by this, know that I feel the same. A great mind and voice was lost, and a part of my childhood died, as well. I’ve been listening to Linkin Park nearly non-stop since it happened.

Rest in peace.

An Ode to Yoshi

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This is a somewhat odd subject to write about, as as strange as it sounds, Yoshi was kind of my identity for a while in my early video game experiences.

Let me explain, Yoshi is a character I related to a lot when I was young. As someone who’s fond of reptiles and the like, his design immediately stuck out. His character is almost never in the limelight, always sitting in the second chair to other more prominent characters such as Mario. I’m the type of person who enjoys being second-in-command; not having to take on all the responsibilities alone, but being confident enough and power hungry to be able to lead on a sparse basis. Yoshi, as Mario’s sidekick, had this similar, strangely psychological connection with me. I can’t help but love the character, despite typically being the world’s best sacrificial character.

What’s most notable within my experience with this green dinosaur is how often I would play as him in Mario spin-off games. If I’m playing Mario Party (particularly the older versions), Mario Golf, or Mario Kart, Yoshi was my character. Always. I played through the game as Yoshi and Yoshi alone. He was my guy.

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I recall playing Mario Party 4, going through the “Story Mode” of the game, getting gifts for Yoshi’s house after defeating each party host in specific, unique mini-games. That meant so much to me, thinking I was getting a more in-depth look at Yoshi’s personality and priorities. I don’t remember anything he got now, but back then, it was my duty as Yoshi’s human counterpart to give him the best little house possible. It remains my favorite Story Mode-esque feature in a Mario Party game to this day.

When Yoshi does get a main series game, it’s always packed with colorful, almost serene artistic exaggeration. There’s a good atmosphere whenever he’s involved, though the easy choice for the best example of this is in Yoshi’s Island. That game is a fantastic example of what Yoshi can do in center stage. Much like the rare occasion where I take charge, Yoshi splendidly holds his own compared to greats such as Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. I really need to replay Yoshi’s Island. Real soon.

Not too long of a post this time, as there’s not much one can say about a single side-character that doesn’t receive a lot of attention towards his development. He, like most others from the Mario series, serves his role to the best of his abilities. That’s all one can really ask for with Mario characters, until the day comes when Mario becomes an RPG. Hehehe… Oh, wait…

An Ode to Super Mario World

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It’s intriguing to me that it’s taken me this long to look at one of the games that made up my very early childhood. Comprised of this, each Donkey Kong CountryMega Man 7, and Super Ghouls & Ghosts (with various others), my first experience with the world of video games came in the form of the Super Nintendo, with Super Mario World heading the charge.

One of the first questions that comes to mind when looking back at this game is how it’s held up, if the game has become dated with time, seeing as it was released over twenty-five years ago. The most dated thing that can be applied to the game is its presentation, which all things considered, is excusable due to limited hardware. I don’t mean its spritework, by the way, which is fantastic to this day. I’m referring to narrative presentation, the sort of linear perspective of level-to-level, world-to-world process that would be somewhat dull to new age players. Looking at gameplay alone, the game is polished, innovative, and a shining example of Nintendo in their prime.

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Nostalgic gauges pumping their pistons within my inner mind go into a systematic overload whenever the colorful images or catchy tunes of Super Mario World invade my imagination. A wave of happiness overtakes my usual resolve and reminds me of a time when video games were my reason to get up everyday, looking forward to getting further and further into the colorful crusade. It was my first taste of the Italian plumber and his Goomba-stomping adventures through the worlds that embody or surround the Mushroom Kingdom. Better this than Mario Is Missing!, I’d say.

As a kid, I would never get past the third area in the game, the Vanilla Dome, as I would lose the motivation to trudge through the rising difficulty with the game. Something about the levels involving flying Cheep-Cheeps always got to me. I’ve beaten this game before as a small child, I know I have. The brazen image of Bowser flying off and Princess Peach floating gently to the roof below her is a moment I will never forget. Remembering the joy I felt as I screamed to whoever would listen that I finally beat the game. Thinking about it logically, I likely hopped onto my father’s file and just went through the final castle until I could figure out how to beat Bowser. That, or I used the Star World to my advantage and warped all the way to the final world. Nice of the game to let the player exploit it like that.

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Something that wasn’t as noticeable to me as a kid when playing it now is how slippery Mario handles as a character. Controls are tight to some extent, but Mario is human, and he needs time to steady himself. The biggest difference between this and the original Super Mario Bros. is that Mario looks like a normal human being. The butter underneath his signature brown shoes is just as prevalent here as in games prior. While annoying, it’s nice that a player has to take his somewhat wobbly movement into consideration when timing jumps, running, and platforming. The emphasis of making the game a tad more challenging makes the platforming all the more rewarding for elite players, who dedicate themselves to things such as speedrunning. Extra stipulations to various levels also give a nice spin to the variety of possibilities within.

For me, Super Mario World was an excellent platform into the world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise. I would absolutely recommend anyone (roughly six people on Earth) who hasn’t played any Mario games to start with this title, as its the perfect creation of accessibility and challenge that Nintendo used to master effortlessly with their games. It still looks great, it still plays great, and if one can overlook the incredibly limited fashion of linearity, it can provide a lasting impression, one that’s touched millions of people worldwide. Regarded as a timeless classic by many gaming veterans, Super Mario World is one of many games from Nintendo’s heyday that made them the gaming empire they are today.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of SaikyoMog.)

An Ode to The Original Star Wars Trilogy

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Genuine question: how many thought of John Williams’s score upon seeing the title of this post?

Like many others, I grew up with a heavy dose of Star Wars in my life. Even before the release of Episode I back in 1999, I had spent the first six years of my life being exposed to all things Star Wars, as my father was a huge fan of it. (My mother, as well!) I don’t remember a lot from my experience with the original trilogy as a kid, but Star Wars as a whole shaped up to be one of the most engrossing and exciting film franchises of my lifetime. I remember individual scenes, such as Luke’s descent into Dagobah, The AT-AT attack, the Death Star trench run, and more, but never smoothed seemly into a complete package back then. I was more enamored with the cool action and special effects. Weren’t we all?

With a recent rewatch, my fondness for Star Wars began with a bit of a tumble. A New Hope was actually fairly average in most respects, though I enjoyed the intrigue of things to come and the subtle character quirks through interaction with others. It wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back that I was able to rekindle that passion for the franchise. The scenes held more weight, the characters had pizzazz, and it all felt like a bigger-than-life adventure. A truly captivating movie experience. While not quite as good, Return of the Jedi still had a lot of what made Empire so dazzling to watch. Though it also had a number of things that would foreshadow the state of the franchise for when George Lucas decided to develop the prequel trilogy. The Ewoks, in hindsight, were kind of a stupid plot device. Nothing more than glorified teddy bears.

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Even after the rewatch, I still love all of these films. A New Hope somewhat leveled my expectations, which surprised me, as it’s typically more beloved than Return of the Jedi. There’s this sense of walking on eggshells in the first film that I don’t really like. It was definitely within those introductory stages that made everything feel little more than “Getting to the good part.” Not to mention, everything felt clumsily pieced together as if one were directing the scenes to occur one-by-one straight off of a storyboard. This may not have been such a problem had the characters been charismatic. Only few characters felt as though they shined in the spotlight, but given some props, they tried their best. The most disappointing character was Darth Vader, who played like a second dog to a mightier hound in the grand scheme of things. One could use the argument that he always has been a la Emperor Palpatine, but in A New Hope, he takes orders from a mere senior representative. Hardly the figure someone as destructive as Darth Vader should be taking orders from. This feels even more silly when in Empire Strikes Back, the first scene featuring him has him giving orders to troops in a triumphant tone and getting the plot moving. “He does so in A New Hope, as well,” you may say. My response would be to compare the tone and the mood of each scene and see how menacing Darth Vader seems in both of them.

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Of course, these are purely the negatives. A New Hope gets a passing grade despite the flaws as a means of being entertaining with its sequence of events and characters. While not as free as they could, Luke, Han, and Leia all showcase their signature bravado whenever given the chance. With signature lines such as “Aren’t you a little short to be a Stormtrooper?” to “Use the force, Luke,” it paints a picture of who these people are and what they’ve been through, along with how their influence changes those around them—Luke particularly, as the young and rising Jedi. Young Skywalker has the least personality of the bunch, but in the role as observer and “fish out of water,” he doesn’t necessarily need to have much. His role, such as the entire film, is a symbol of things to come, leading to bigger and more grander events that will shape the galaxy. And this presence, with which the movie coats itself with with every change of setting, makes the movie not only devoid of dullness, but amorously  foreboding.

This aura of bigger things pays off tremendously with The Empire Strikes Back. Things move along and the Rebel Alliance has set up a defensive against the Empire’s rebuttal. Immediately, the audience is shown something new—a distant planet full of danger. The scenes swap back and forth between good and evil, developing a story that provides insight on both sides, giving more emphasis on character than story, though the narrative progresses smoothly enough. The enthusiasm needed to care for the things happening to the characters, something that required work in the first film, is beautifully handled. Mixed with the now dark and serious transition of the story, showing the power the Empire is capable of, makes for an unpredictable outcome with every new scenario. It’s far more entertaining, far more insightful, and far more within the reach of its unreachable grasp. The only real problem? The scenes still feel a little clumsy, the characters a little one-dimensional, despite how nice it all feels at first glance.

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It all accumulates into the final film in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Debatably, this is the most problem-filled film, with the entire Empire being defeated by a bunch of primitive teddy bears and Jabba’s Palace being… not that important at all, outside of saving Han Solo. Despite the questionable decisions, the last film harbors some of the most emotionally satisfying scenes in the entire franchise. Luke facing off against Darth Vader for the final time. Luke’s final visit with Yoda. Leia is told of her relation to Luke. Star Wars decided to let it all out, with fantastic results. I would describe the fight scene between Luke and Vader as my favorite scene in the entire trilogy. So fulfilling after building up from the very first movie, and the fulfilling of destinies described from the prior film makes every fan of prophecies incredibly satisfied. Characters still have their charm from Empire, if only they had a story to really develop upon more of it. Luke and Vader are the big subject here, with everyone else in the background. It retains that fun and fantasy epic that the series is known for, just at a lesser expense. With teddy bears.

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It has the charm, the fantasy, and the heart to remain strong even now. The emphasis on story, character, and subtle development of both makes for a surprisingly emotional ride. I was quite surprised by how emotionally respondent I was to the film, as many would say that the series is more pragmatically satisfying than anything else. There’s a genuine spirit of adventure, and the bond between characters shows through without warning. One roots for these characters, and stay for the immersive plot developments. Despite its unnaturally futuristic setting and identity, Star Wars is a more human endeavor than anything else, showing that no matter how out-of-reality a movie can be, it’s the aspect of humanity that carries the legacy forward.

The rating for these titles and all others can be found on my IMDb account.

An Ode to Game & Sound

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Once upon a time, I didn’t use Twitter that much. Some two years or so ago, I made the dedicated effort to start using it, seeing as I abandoned it after creating it upon realizing that talking to celebrities is harder than originally expected. A couple months into my Twitter renaissance, I suddenly got a follow from an account titled “Game & Sound,” which I originally took for some Nintendo fan account. Checking out their profile, I found out that it’s actually a user who uploads (primarily) rock-themed covers of (primarily) Nintendo titles. The prospect was intriguing, but covers of Nintendo music are hardly revolutionary. His Youtube channel was fairly barren, with only six or so videos to his name, but a cover of Super Mario 64‘s “Dire Dire Docks” caught my eye.

I clicked, listened, and strangely found myself subscribed.

The moral of the story here is that if your work is good, then you will receive attention. Following thousands of people on Twitter (I am one of 5,755 people he follows) also helps. I’m a prime example.

My oxygen-bereaving humor aside, Game & Sound is a channel that has been going relatively steady for the last two years, uploading covers of songs ranging from Sonic the Hedgehog to Chrono Trigger to Castlevania, along with a large number of Nintendo classics. While not every cover is a modern masterpiece, there are a good number of his tracks that could challenge the original tune in terms of quality. My particular favorites include the aforementioned “Dire Dire Docks,” Super Mario Galaxy‘s “To the Gateway,” Sonic 3‘s “Angel Island Zone,” among others. Game & Sounds’s means of instrumentation include his signature guitar, drums, and a number of electronic doo-dads and beep-bops, bringing a 16-bit flair to an otherwise rockin’ atmosphere.

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When I first subscribed to Game & Sound, I don’t think he even cracked 500 subscribers. Fast forward and now he’s sitting at a comfortable 5,166, with a lot more to come as long as he keeps up his craft. I believe he deserves far more attention than what he’s received, as his covers have an oozing tingling to them that one can’t help but find professional. Not only that, but his covers aren’t the simple “Take track. Cover 100% the same.” Game & Sound adds his own touch to the track that not only gives him his own identity, but doesn’t take away from the essence of the music he’s covering. In rare cases, it even enhances the track’s original energy. I believe he’s most effective when covering soft, emotionally-resonant tracks. There’s something about the tuning of his guitar that really adds a somber tone to those whimsical, otherworldly tracks.

Take note, however, that if you’re going to go above and beyond when analyzing his music, there’s one thing that’s become something of familiar territory for Game & Sound. The cover begins slowly, building up momentum, then hits its peak as the chorus arrives. After relaying a few times, a near-silent middle phase—where he typically experiments with other instruments in the tune of the track’s outer layers—will unfold, up until the point where it returns to the energized chorus as the video fades to black. Perhaps one could credit this to his own identity, but this is something I find a little too repetitive to be enjoyed in more than a few videos. Game & Sound has done this in more than a few videos.

Nitpicking and praise combined, Game & Sound deserves numerous amounts of credit for the work that he puts into his covers. His videos typically come out once every week or so, spanning anywhere from two to five minutes. With the way they sound, the quirky video overlays, and the (for the most part) consistency at which he puts them out, one has to wonder where he finds all the time. I’m not one to complain of this, however, as his music has been replayed in my Youtube history ever since I first subscribed to his channel. His video listing has a number of classic tracks covered with an execution that rivals the original. If you fancy yourself a Nintendo music connoisseur, Game & Sound is well worth checking out. Even if not, his music will at least tickle the fancy of any fan of music outside of the mainstream spectrum.

For all those interested, I will provide a link to his channel. Please consider subscribing if you like what you hear! I’m sure he’ll appreciate the support. And thank you, as always, for reading.

An Ode to the Donkey Kong Country Series

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A quick disclaimer: Country Returns and Tropical Freeze will not be involved in this ode because, frankly, I feel they don’t have the same pizzazz to them that the original trilogy had.

For those who have read a good majority of my criticisms and thoughts, one would be familiar of the impact video games have had on my life. This ode in particular covers a certain series, a trilogy of fast-paced, action-platformers, that takes the honor of being the first game(s) I have ever played. Donkey Kong Country was within my hands before I turned four, and would continue to be in my hands for the rest of my life. Before I decided to write this, I went back and played through all three Country‘s to convince myself of how decidedly brilliant the games were to the cynical hare that I’ve become. To my own fervor, the games did not disappoint.

That is not to say, however, that the games are among the best Nintendo has ever made—oh, no. Donkey Kong Country in particular is a rather meager entry in the line-up, settling for the foundation of something great that Country 2 would embellish a year later. It’s almost like a work in progress; one can see the inner workings of Country and what it allows its sequels to do to improve the game upon itself. The game is still fun on its own and has a variety of different themes to later levels that make the game more crafty, though doesn’t incorporate enough of the little details to set it apart. The bosses are tremendously easy, some levels are over in a flash, Donkey Kong and Diddy are technically together, but can’t interact with one another; the bonuses have very little meaning, and I always found the soundtrack to be a tad lackluster. A few great tracks included with many more uninspired tracks doesn’t make a soundtrack great. All of these things drag Country down to be the weakest in the series. How ironic that the only game in the series where one plays as the titular character and it turns out to be the worst of the bunch.

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The game that everyone fondly remembers, the one that kicked the series into high-gear, the masterpiece proclaimed by Nintendo enthusiasts and otherwise, is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. You did read that correctly, it is actually called Diddy’s Kong Quest, not Diddy Kong’s Quest. Because that would make sense. Despite the funky name, the game, as I alluded to earlier, takes everything that the original did correctly and nuked it up to maximum overdrive. The characters have more personality, the end of each stage rewards the player with a prize should they correctly time it, the Kongs can use each other to uncover secrets and progress more smoothly, and the music, the stages, and the overall atmosphere of the game does wonders on the soul of any gaming fanatic. There are very few flaws that Country 2 has to its name—flaws that may purely be subjective to the player’s tastes. There seems to be an energy to Country 2 that the original didn’t. It has this polish to it, this attention to detail and the desire to make as great of a game as humanly possible, that guarantees a load of fun for whoever picks it up.

It’s funny to think about the days when I found Country 2 to be my least favorite of the three. Country 3 had a nostalgic stake in my heart that couldn’t be moved, and the original actually had you play as Donkey Kong, so I felt it was better because of that fact. I was clearly deranged, because now Country 2 is easily my favorite. It’s really no competition. Perhaps it was knowing that Country 2 was everyone’s favorite that made me want to not have it be my favorite to spite them. I can be quite the hipster sometimes.

Yes, yes. The shiny game that has a firm grasp on my memory banks as the most time-consuming game of my very young childhood. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! is, one, a mouthful, and two, an interesting sequel to a universally-acclaimed masterpiece of game design. With such great success, how would Nintendo and Rare follow up on it? Well, they decided to continue the trend of Donkey Kong not being playable, as well as not having Diddy being playable. This time, we have Dixie Kong and… Kiddy Kong. Kiddy Kong, from what I’ve gathered on online message boards, comment sections, and various videos concerning the game, is not the most popular Kong in the family. Putting it bluntly, he’s hated for being a one-and-done addition to the series, appearing in zero games in the Donkey Kong series since. Why not just put in Donkey Kong to pair with Dixie to go save Diddy? I don’t know. The world doesn’t know. I’m not sure Nintendo or Rare even knows. Twenty years later, I’m not sure anyone even cares anymore. Well, perhaps still those old enough to remember hearing the news for the first time.

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Odd character choices aside, Country 3 had quite the effect on me as the game I consciously remember playing many years ago. It was my first “real” taste of Donkey Kong Country and I instantly fell in love with the intricacy, the bright colors of the first world, and the catchy music pounding against my eardrums. To this day, the entire soundtrack to the first world of this game gets me into a nostalgic state of giddiness. It was such a wonderful start to my gaming experience that I almost felt spoiled without feeling anything but happiness. But that was then. This is now. And now, the game has become somewhat of a disappointment for my already sky-high expectations.

What could Rare possibly do to make this game better than the second? Forget making it just as good or paying homage, this is when video game designers wanted to exceed the quality set by games prior. What Rare thought was appropriate for such a challenge was to make every level as one-dimensional as possible. By this, I mean that every level has a sort of “theme” to it, a shtick that sets it apart from the level prior. At first, this isn’t really that big a deal, but signs show as early as the first world that things are a little out of whack. In Country 2, each world had levels that coincided with the environment it was placed in, with a few different settings to change up the monotony. In Country 3, it almost seems like of the five levels in each world, only two or three of them really match the territory, while the others simply change directions for the sake of being different. There’s this lack of consistency that bothers me. It isn’t too much of a factor, but compared to its predecessor, it stands out more than it probably should.

On top of this overload of creativity, if you wish to call it so, is the design of the levels themselves. A majority of them are pretty fun, with a lot of different distinctions from what the player would expect after playing the previous two games. However, some levels, especially in later worlds, are more frustratingly tough than eagerly challenging. Country 2 had very few of these levels, and were usually reserved for the last world. Country 3 has them peppered past world three or so, with an overload of them in the last world. The lightning strike level can go fuck itself. The reverse controls water level can go fuck itself. And the “kremlings with shields that knock you into bottomless pits” level can go fuck itself. Hard. It leaves a stain of frustration and fatigue that inevitably arises whenever one goes into the later worlds of the game. Not only that, but I found myself just wanting to clumsily speed through the level to beat it, bonuses and secrets be damned. It doesn’t do a game good when I never want to go back to a level after such a horrible handicap.

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The “git gud kid” factor aside, Country 3 has a lot of charm and a lot of fun behind every stage. I only wish it had more consistency and perhaps didn’t try so hard to make levels as “out there” as possible. I really enjoyed the hub world (but not controlling the boat) aspect the game brought to the series, as well as Swanky’s Sideshow, even if the mode is relatively pointless. The number of bear characters inside their houses wanting specific items to trade for secrets and banana birds and what-not was fun as a kid, though I don’t care for it now. It feels thrown in. I don’t know. The secrets to find in the hub world make it really fun to explore, too. I’ve always enjoyed hub worlds in games (a la Sonic Adventure and Custom Robo), and Country 3 incorporates it wonderfully. Overall, the game isn’t as memorably good as Country 2, nor is it as fun, but it’s still much better than the first and still a good game overall.

The series overall is a treat to play through, and doing so should only take about ten hours of total playtime, depending on how good of a player you are. Not only would I recommend playing every game in the series, but I would also recommend playing them in order. The first is one everyone should start with, so to not become disappointed with the lack of functionalities available in the games after. The jump to the second game becomes all the more alleviating with all those noteworthy functions becoming available. And the third, well, it tries to throw everything at you, so best to be prepared by challenging yourself with Country 2. This series is precious to me, and will remain as one of my favorite video game series of all time. I wouldn’t go as far as to say its among the greatest video game series of all time—only that it is an immensely satisfying thrill to complete level after level with all those goodies left to find to satisfy your gaming pride.

The ratings for these titles and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

An Ode to “Weird Al” Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic at arrivals for BAD TEACHER Premiere, The Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, NY June 20, 2011. Photo By: Desiree Nava

Have you ever seen the Transformers animated movie back in the ’80s? The one with Saturday morning cartoon-like animation and the occasional swear word? Do you remember the soundtrack to that film? I do. Aside from Stan Bush’s The Touch, the other song that stuck out from the bunch was Weird Al Yankovic’s Dare To Be Stupid. Which, in hindsight, was a really odd choice for an action-oriented robo-series such as Transformers. I watched Transformers when I was about five or six years-old, and that was the first time I had ever heard a song sung by the infamous Weird Al. It wouldn’t be the last.

Over the course of my life, Weird Al’s name would pop up sporadically in random places. My music classes in elementary school featured a few songs of his. MySpace had his song White & Nerdy playing on just about every person’s profile. Random Youtube browsing had me stumble upon a few more of his songs that I had heard in other places. It seems that Weird Al has creeped up on my life enough times for me to be convinced that he’s stalking me, instead of thinking rationally that he’s quite popular and his influence simply spreads due to his talent as a writer and musician. But I wouldn’t think rationally until the beginning of my teenage years.

Listening to Weird Al’s songs, I really enjoy the range he has with his voice. His normal voice sounds very zany and nasally, insinuating the parody that his music intends. But he has a tendency to surprise me with the way his voice reflects perfectly with the tone of the song (which, admittedly, is typically silly). He can scream, he can rap, he can sing in all sorts of tones. Am I the only one who thinks the incorporation of sound effects in his songs are kinda charming?

Many people who are familiar with Weird Al’s music knows that he tries very hard to be funny. His songs are silly (usually kid-friendly), with breaking expectations as his main tool of choice. Who else do you know that will create ten-minute-plus songs about being stuck in Drive-Thrus and a random day in Albuquerque? Gangsta Paradise becomes Amish Paradise, Beat It becomes Eat It, Another One Bites The Dust becomes Another One Rides The Bus. Making songs about trivial things as if they have any importance at all is how Weird Al plays the game. A game he probably cheats at all the time.

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From Weird Al’s “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” video.

Some of my favorites among his tracks include Trapped In The Drive-ThruThe Alternative PolkaAlbuquerque, The Night Santa Went CrazyWhite & Nerdy, and The Saga Begins. Not a huge fan of Smells Like Nirvana. Thought he played the joke out too long for that one. And that’s kind of the essence of parody: taking a common complaint, flaw, or cliché from a subject and turning it on its head. Weird Al has a tendency to perform this flawlessly, but not always. His use of parody has a keen sense of humor and flair that makes his songs all the more enjoyable, even if his voice can come across as too stark for some.

I think I can relate to Weird Al to some degree because parody remains one of my favorite genres in, well, anything. Comedy, music, movies, video games; all of these things and more I’ll immediately gravitate to as long as there’s a promise of parody to some degree. Even anime/manga tend to have a soft spot within me so long as they’re silly and making fun of others. Maybe I’m just conceited. Maybe. I’ve always been fond of the ways people can parody various things, and Weird Al has been the standard for parodying songs since the ’80s.

A bit short for a post, but there isn’t much more I could say about a guy’s music aside from speaking of the guy himself. And I don’t know the guy. All I know is that he makes some pretty good music. Some of that is borrowed from other classic titles, but I’m willing to excuse it for the sake of parody (and comedy). Mr. Yankovic is still going at the age of 56, and I, for one, am willing to hear what he has to say until he hangs up the accordion for good. And so should you. He’s pretty good.

An Ode to The Room

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Everyone should experience this movie at least once in their lifetime. If not for a lesson in how to make or critique a movie, then as a two-hour trip into the realm of a man so bizarrely out of touch with reality that his movie tiptoes along the fields of absurdity, painted in the coat of trivial, daily life. The Room is a visual re-imagining of a mental fanfiction conceived by a self-absorbed man whose past remains a mystery to all but himself.

This man is Tommy Wiseau, the star, director, writer, producer, and all around fun-loving guy featured in his own main attraction. Back in the early 2000’s, he hatched an idea to make his own movie because why not? The Room became a reality in 2003, but it wasn’t until the rise of Youtube and other video-streaming websites that the movie became as infamous as it is today.

The Room came into my life via The Nostalgia Critic, who did a review of the film back in 2010. It was, by far, my favorite review the Critic had ever done, but whether that was because of the Critic himself or the movie he was reviewing is a mystery to me to this day… a mystery I don’t care to solve. In any case, some years later, my mother managed to obtain a physical copy of the movie, and the family sat and watched it together immediately soon afterwards. Needless to say, we all became much closer by movie’s end. Even to this day, we reference various movie quotes to one another. The Room has that obscene power.

The movie is about Tommy Wiseau as Johnny… Wiseau, maybe. Last names don’t exist here. He lives in a beautiful apartment in beautiful San Francisco (probably) with a beautiful girlfriend surrounded by beautiful friends with a well-paying job and respect from everyone he meets. However, things go a little haywire when his beautiful girlfriend, Lisa, begins to have an affair with Johnny’s beautiful best friend, Mark. This one event snowballs into a catastrophe waiting to happen as deceit and paranoia begin to weigh heavily on Johnny’s beautiful mind. At least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening, but the movie tends to break its own tone every once in a while.

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The tone is the least of its problems, however. Anyone who already knows exactly what this movie is is aware that The Room is considered one of the pioneers of the “so bad, it’s good” movie genre. Along with titles like Troll 2Birdemic, and anything by Neil Breen, The Room is famous entirely for its atrocious writing, simplistic (and nonsensical) plot arcs, eternally flat characters, and acting so putrid that one can’t help but guffaw at the lack of any effort. It somehow manages to conceive a world that contradicts itself after every other scene, yet resembles the outlines of a story enough that it actually works as a standard film. It’s not a movie that is intentionally trying to be goofy, weird, bad, and random. This is a serious film; directed, written, produced, and starring a man who put every ounce of himself to make this movie the best he could possibly make it. Someway, somehow, he managed to make the film charming in its incompetence, leaving viewers to wonder if The Room really was the best movie they’ve ever seen… comedy-wise, anyway.

I have seen this film a multitude of times, and it never grows old for me. I’ve seen other movies that were “so bad, it’s good,” but The Room was the film that introduced me to the genre, and what a great introduction it was. Ever since, I’ve seen a large rise in movies wanting to emulate that sort of magic that makes movies of this genre so enjoyable, but not many of them succeed the way The Room does. I think the key component into making a film like this one work is that someone has to believe it’s real, that it’s serious, or that it’s what others (or themselves) want to see in an actual movie. You cannot properly replicate the feeling of missing the irony so hard that it ends up driving you off a cliff without you noticing without honestly feeling that way. People want to parody or draw inspiration from these kinds of films, but the way I see it, those who are aware that their movies are “so bad, it’s good” will never obtain the levels of absurd hilarity and nirvana of those who don’t have a clue. Much like athletes or child prodigies, being able to produce a movie like The Room successfully is a gift. It’s not something that can be fully replicated by hard work or motivation. One can damn well try, but will likely never hold a candle to those trying to lighten up a darkened room with their smiles.

It’s a movie I cherish deeply, and has inspired me to do my best in every way without fearing failure. Because I know, deep down, that I will never become the one responsible for creating the best worst movie of all time.