Saturday, May 20, 2006

Summertime Entertainments

At this point, I would do well to explain my feelings regarding the "Wii." If you have not heard, this is what Nintendo is choosing to call their next-generation console. It's the most original of the names of the new consoles, but up against "Xbox 360" and "Playstation 3" that's not exactly saying much. The previous name for the system was "Revolution," which was inherently superior to "Wii" because 1) "Revolution" actually means something, 2) Even better, "Revolution" actually describes what Nintendo is trying to do with the system (ie, it will be a revolution in the gaming community because it's supposed to appeal to a population outside the traditional gamer), and 3) "Revolution" does not sound like the noise a 3-year-old makes when he's riding the Scrambler at a shady carnival that's just set up shop in the local strip mall parking lot.

I don't think "Wii" is disastrous. I don't think this hideous excuse for a name will hurt any sales--people who are interested in the system for its play content are still going to buy the system if it's called "Moose Crap" or "Damnation Straight to Hell" or "Tiananmen Square Tank Guy." That said, it's certainly not going to help sales. You're probably thinking that this is some artifact of the Japanese naming process. It's an interesting theory, but the fact is that "Wii" is not a phoneme that exists in the Japanese language. The reason for changing the name is ostensibly to avoid abbreviation (eg, GCN for the Gamecube, which stands for "GameCube: Nintendo" but might not be apparent to casual gamers) and localization (who the hell knows what "GameCube" comes out to be in German). "Wii" is "Wii" everywhere. Unless, of course, you're in Germany, where it's going to be pronounced "Vee."

And despite the amount of ridicule I choose to heap upon this system, I am still very interested in buying it. Playing old Nintendo games through the "virtual console"? New versions of Smash Brothers and Mario Kart (and presumably Mario Party) which you can play over a network? New controllers, but the ability to use the old ones for certain games? Sounds awesome. And at a price point at half that of the PS3... "Wii" or "Revolution" or "Tiananmen Square Tank Guy," I'm gonna buy it.

Review: Bound Together

The concept of the "remix" is one that in most cases I fail to understand. Let me get this straight. You want me to listen to a song, but instead of the version that I know and like, this version has a techno beat in the background and people muttering obtuse phrases on top of it? Huh?

The one case, however, that a remix actually makes sense, is for video game music. Most video game music has the underpinnings of enjoyable music, but it's too short and falls back on a loop of itself before it could be fully explored. Thus, the remix attempts to augment the good start of a song and add to it until it becomes listenable on its own. And this is generally successful, as seen in Overclocked Remix. Pieces like the Morrowind title, One-Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, and virtually everything from Chrono Trigger are reinterpreted and converted from what used to be background music into something that you would actually stick in your CD player or in your iPod on purpose.

And it was from a link off of Overclocked Remix that I came across Bound Together. This was a remix of Earthbound music, and not just a song or two, but an entire album worth. First, a word about Earthbound. This game, or Mother 2 as it's known in the context of the rest of the series in Japan, is probably my favorite video game ever. Humor, replayability, allusions and references, and--yes--room for philosophical speculation come together in an absolute gem of a roleplaying game. We're on the verge of Mother 3, a successor (if not a direct sequel) to Earthbound being released in America. The Earthbound fan community is one of the most loyal and faithful video game communities that I have ever interacted with. Therefore, given the legitimacy of video game music remixes, the appreciation (and near reverence) I have for Earthbound, and the past history and quality of Earthbound second-party content, it was without much trepidation that I downloaded Bound Together.

All in all, it's tough to give the compilation a wholly accurate review. It an immense accomplishment in places, nearly but not quite brilliant in some, and mediocre at best in others. Ultimately, Bound Together is most successful when it doesn't stray too far from the original Earthbound music. Some tracks, like "Sweet Dream Lullaby," "Paula Wanna Cracked Bat?," and "Zombie Lounge" (all of that makes a lot more sense if you've played Earthbound) are quite good because they are true reinterpretations of the Earthbound music, while a few other tracks whose names escape me are too much "techno beat in the background" and too little "song I know and like." One track, called "Da Black Market," especially stands out, as it's rap based on Earthbound. And it's not as bad as it sounds... in some of the verses. Some (the first and third, if I recall correctly) are actually quite cleverly written, some are unintelligible, and the last completely falls short when the topic of the rap becomes the cartridge. Two tips: if you're going to include lyrics in a remix, make sure they are understandable to whomever is listening, and if you run out of material, stop while you're not too far behind. The latter could really apply to the entire album... but if you're a fan of Earthbound, I definitely recommend checking this out, as it's certainly the most original and spirited take on the Earthbound material I've ever seen or heard. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one is up to you.

Review: Guild Wars

"You're a bit late here. That game has been out for a year." Of course I know that. But I only recently started playing it. To tell the truth, I've always wanted to get into an MMO. I screwed around on a friend's Everquest account back in the day, I played Ragnarok Online before its free beta run got closed... and that's about it. The monthly charge was the biggest turn-off: I didn't want to plop fifteen dollars a month for something that I might only play a little bit--or feel compelled to play it because I was paying so much. Guild Wars, though, doesn't charge anything to play besides buying the game itself. I'm not really sure why it took me so long to get into Guild Wars then, but I'm glad I did wait.

According to a friend of mine that has an extensive history with MMOs, which one you play doesn't matter nearly as much as whom you play with. Furthermore, Guild Wars isn't any significantly better or worse than any other MMO, ones for which you pay fifteen dollars a month included. Despite this, there seems to be a lot of elitism and rivalries among MMO players. Like when Final Fantasy XI came out, a lot of MMO devotees refused to play it because it wasn't a "real" MMO. And a friend of mine who plays FFXI says that a lot of people try out World of Warcraft, get bored with it, and "come back to eleven." Whatever. I'm just enjoying playing this game with my friends, and I'm enjoying even more the fact that I don't have to pay a monthly fee for it. Like other games, eventually I'll be bored with it, but that's the thing: I can simply stop when I'm bored with it. And pick it up later if I want to. Free of charge.

Currently listening: Greetings from Michigan, Sufjan Stevens


Gina said...

I read the semi-rant on the Wii. Honestly, I think most people care about the quality of the game system--what they call it isn't going to affect it either way, I don't think.

How do you pronounce it, anyway?

Matt Pavlovich said...

"Wii" is pronounced "Wee" unless (as previously mentioned) you're in Germany.

And I agree that the name really doesn't matter... although that doesn't mean it's a good name.

Anonymous said...

The sound a three year old makes while riding the scrambler at the shady carnival is not "weeeeeee!". It's probably something closer to "WAAAAAAAAAAAA!"