Kyle’s Favorite Video Game Battle Themes

This is what happens when life gets busy and you suddenly realize you have half an hour to put together a Friday post…

I don’t get many chances to mix the musical and gaming themes of this blog, but these are a few examples of how these worlds can collide in the best possible way. Game music is often ignored in favor of other things like graphics, story progression, and character development, but it plays a major role in establishing the atmosphere of a game, and serves as an emotional conduit for the game to affect how the player’s feelings and experience. Battle themes are a prime example of this: They have to convey both a sense of danger and urgency, and let the player know that what’s about to happen is serious business. The best ones can lodge in the listener’s mind for years afterward, and these are the ones that have stuck with me over the years.

Battle Against Nightmare (Kirby’s Adventure, 1993)

This thing left quite an impression back in the day. Kirby music up to this point was mostly light and bouncy, and even the regular boss theme didn’t feel terribly ominous in practice. Suddenly, you’re faced with this long, dark-sounding intro ending with Kirby’s warp star getting shot out of the sky, and then this Dracula-like thing appears on screen as this track kicks off, and you realize that things are about to get real. Tons of minor chords, a fast tempo driven hard by the percussion, the unsettling higher synth tones on the melody…I had no idea you could get this much tension out of an 8-bit track!

  • Fight Against An Armed Boss (Super Mario RPG, 1996)

It’s amazing how the use of one or two instruments can make or break a track like this. At first glance, this one doesn’t seem all that notable or catchy: The tempo isn’t terribly fast, and the bass and percussion lines is nothing to write home about. To me, this is all about the synthetic wind instruments: That dark clarinet melody was something I hadn’t heard before (and I really haven’t heard it much since), and it added a lot of texture and a real foreboding feel to the track. The horn stabs in the background are just okay at first, but then they switch places with the clarinet halfway through and give the track a much more darker feel than before (the clarinet’s low part here helps a lot too). I liked most of the SMRPG soundtrack, but this one stands out as my favorite.

  • Fighting (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)

As awesome as some of the orchestral tracks from Super Mario Odyssey are, I’d still rank this MIDI orchestral track above them. It’s a nice blend of a classic strings and horns with a modern, uptempo backbeat, and while it’s not a terribly ominous track, as a general battle theme the focus is less on the present moment and more on the fact that you have yet another obstacle that needs to be taken care of before you can proceed. There’s a lot of nervous, frenetic energy here, which drives home the pressure of navigating FFVII’s real-time battle system (being accustomed to turn-based RPGs like SMRPG made for a tricky transition), and the swells of the orchestra and the flute-esque solo really play with your emotions as you’re trying to figure out what commands to give before your enemies can act.

  • Hyper Zone 2 (Kirby’s Adventure 3, 1997)

This is the battle equivalent of Brad Paisley’s “Time Warp”: Tempo, tempo, and more tempo. Sure, it’s tone is a little unsettling, but its main goal is to generate so much sonic energy that it pushes you to your limit and rushes you into making a mistake. (After all, you’re trying to dodge a gigantic floating eyeball as this thing races through your head.) Keeping your emotions in check and making measured decisions while the music is telling you to gogogohurryhurrynownownow adds an extra level of difficulty to an already-tough boss battle. You’d be surprised how much easier this fight gets when you turn your volume down!

  • Battle! Zinnia (Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, 2013)

While this battle ended up being a cakewalk for me in Pokémon Omega Ruby (every monster I had seemed to be super-effective against dragons), it was the novelty of the instrumentation that stuck with me: I’d never noticed violins and accordions used in a Pokémon battle theme before, and I was impressed at how effectively they ratcheted up the tension and energy of the moment. The riffs themselves aren’t terribly complex, but they rely on the horns and drums behind to drive the tempo and instead an extra layer of texture that was missing from other battle themes in the game. Here’s hoping Zinnia makes a return to Pokémon in the future and brings her awesome theme with her!

  • Boss Battle (Miitopia, 2016)

I loved a lot of things about Miitopia, but its music stood out even among its many highlights. What impresses me the most about this track is that instead of being dark and scary like you’d expect, you get this bouncy, energetic track carried by synthetic instruments similar to the FF7 theme from before, and yet is still does enough to set the mood and reflect the seriousness of the situation. Much like Miitopia itself, it balances the absurdity and the gravity of the situation: Sure, you might be fighting giant hamburgers, but those hamburgers will rip you to pieces if you’re not on your game! It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it really revs you up for the fight. What more can you ask more?

These are my favorite themes, but I’ve probably left a bunch more good ones off the list. What are your favorite video game themes to listen to? Let me know in the comments!

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Song Review: Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins”

For what it is, it’s good. I kind of wish it was more than that, though.

Once upon a time, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert were the preeminent women in country music, defying the genre’s tomato allergy to score numerous hits and sell numerous albums. Today, however, Lambert has been mostly cycled off of radio playlists, and after “Cry Pretty” only made it to #9 on Billboard’s airplay chart, it was hard not to wonder if Underwood was about to get the same treatment. Underwood, however, doesn’t seem to be fazed in the slightest, as she and her team have taken the bold step of releasing “Love Wins” as the second single from her new Cry Pretty album. Songs calling for social change haven’t fared well on the airplay charts lately (“Female” peaked at #12, “Speak To A Girl” stalled out at #19, and “Dear Hate” barely made it inside the Top 30), but this idea is better executed and features more raw power than those tracks, and leaves a bigger impact as a result. While I wish the punch line was a lot stronger than “all we need in love,” there’s enough here to make people stop and think about what’s going on, and that’s a good start.

I’m actually really impressed by the production on this track, especially with how it shifts its tone to keep up with the writing. It’s one thing for the production to take a step back and let the song lead with the lyrics, but this song takes the idea to its logical extreme. It opens with some real drums, a mix of guitars (acoustic, electric, and eventually even a steel guitar), and even a mandolin, but when the verse starts these instruments just stop, leaving only some bass beats and quiet synth tones to back Underwood and making sure you couldn’t ignore the message even if you wanted to. The resulting atmosphere is cold and somber, reflecting the dark reality described within the lyrics. Then, as Underwood becomes defiantly optimistic on the choruses and bridge, the guitars and percussion rise up to match her intensity, adding to the power and positive energy of the moment and helping the listener share in that optimism. (The backing vocals on the second verse are also a nice touch that lend some extra weight to the verse’s delivery.) While I wish the mix had a bit more bass and a few more low-end tones to give it a stronger foundation (for lack of a better term, it feels kind of top-heavy as is), there’s enough here for the listener to get swept up in the message and the moment, and while they may not know exactly what they should do, at least they’re moved to do something.

Not every singer can be left on an island and asked to go it alone on the verses, but Underwood tops my list of artists that don’t need no stinkin’ instruments to make their point. (For reference, the list is Underwood, Brett Eldredge, Chris Stapleton, and maybe Drake White.) Whatever went wrong on “Cry Pretty” seems to have been corrected here, because this time around Underwood effortlessly generates her own energy and power instead of relying on the production, and the charisma and passion she brings to bear makes her feel incredibly earnest and authentic when discussing the subject matter. Her flow is a little off at times, but her delivery is strong enough overall that she not only forges a strong connection to her audience, she convinces them of the validity of her argument (even a cynical stick-in-the-mud like me can’t help but feel inspired). This is really where I wish she’d issued a more-concrete call to action beyond “love each other more,” because people totally would have followed her lead.

The lyrics are…well, they’re honestly a bit weak for my tastes. I like the specificity and poignancy of the opening scene (Reba McEntire tried something similar on “Back To God,” but failed spectacularly), the timely feel of the sentiment makes up for some of its stock imagery, and the whole thing tells a nice story and builds towards a solid climax on the bridge. The problem here, much like with Old Dominion’s “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” is that the narrator really doesn’t offer any answers besides being…more loving? This feels like a thoughts-and-prayers-style cop-out, one that offers people platitudes without making any progress towards resolving the real issues underlying the song (racism, gun violence, etc.). It’s heavily reliant on Underwood’s gravitas to sell people on the sentiment that things need to change, and while she succeeds in doing so, it doesn’t give listeners any ideas as to what they can do to make things better, which is something that a lot of people are yearning for right now. It’s a vague call to action, and while that’s a decent first step, I think the writers missed an opportunity to push for real social change.

“Love Wins” is an okay song that Carrie Underwood turns into a good song, but it just doesn’t go far enough to be a truly great song. Still, Underwood and her co-producer do a nice job using her vocal power to send a message and using well-orchestrated production to make sure the message gets through loud and clear. Even with its disappointing “moar love!” conclusion,  it’s the sort of statement song I’d like to hear more of on the radio, because in the end, I suppose you’ve got to start somewhere.

Rating: 8/10. Check this one out.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: September 16, 2018

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (5/10)
2. Dylan Scott, “Hooked” 0 (5/10)
3. Old Dominion, “Hotel Key” +1 (6/10)
4. Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma” 0 (5/10)
5. Florida Georgia Line, “Simple” +2 (7/10)
6. Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” +2 (7/10)
7. Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” +3 (8/10)
8. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
9. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
10. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
12. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
13. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
14. Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” 0 (5/10)
15. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
16. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
17. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
18. LANco, “Born To Love You” +1 (6/10)
19. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
20. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
21. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
22. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
23. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
24. Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” +2 (7/10)
25. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
26. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
27. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
28. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
29. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
30. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
31. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
32. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
33. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
34. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
35. Craig Campbell, “See You Try” -1 (4/10)
46. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
37. Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” +4 (9/10)
38. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
39. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
40. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
41. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
42. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
43. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
44. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
45. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
46. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
47. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
48. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
49. Darius Rucker ft. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Charles Kelley, “Straight To Hell” (5/10)
50. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +29
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -9
Overall Pulse +20
Change From Last Week -5 😦

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (17 songs)

Gone:

  • Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey” (recurrent)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (holds at #1, but lost its bullet)
  • Dylan Scott, “Hooked” (max-spin week is over, should fall hard this week)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” (down from #3 to #6)

In Real Trouble:

  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (holds at #33, but only gained thirteen spins and lost points this week, and just seemed to have stalled out)
  • Craig Campbell, “See You Try” (holds at #35, but lost its bullet this week and has reached the dreaded “still outside the Top 30 after 20 weeks” milestone)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (down from #37 to #38, lost its bullet, passed by two songs, and has generally looked pretty weak ever since the Pulse restarted)

In Some Trouble:

  • Too many to count! We’ll deal with these individually below.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” (up from #51 to #41)
  • Michael Ray, “The One Who Got Away” (up from #39 to #34)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Better Boat” (up from #41 to #36)
  • Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” (up from #36 to #32)
  • Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” (up from #47 to #43)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • LoCash, “Feels Like A Party”
  • Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You”
  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (7/10)
  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight”

Overall Thoughts: Who would’ve thought a chart this constipated would be this interesting?

I like to think of the country airplay charts as an escalator with no platform waiting at the top: Songs ride it slowly to the top without too many switches in order, and then immediately fall back to earth once they reach the top. Occasionally, however, a song decides it likes the view at the top and doesn’t want to leave, disrupting the usual order and causing a backup all the way down to the bottom. This, however, is an extreme version of such an event: Not only did Bryan decide to hang around an extra week at #1, but we’ve also got some stubborn recurrents and soon-to-be-recurrents (Rhett’s “Life Changes” and Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey”) falling off playlists slower than average. Toss in Scott’s failed max-spin week, and there is not a lot of room for other artists to maneuver right now.

So why is this interesting? Well, with so many songs clogging up the airwaves and clamoring for all the spins they can grab, the week becomes a stress test for everybody else on the chart: In an extremely hostile environment where spins are extremely scarce, what do you do? Does your track have the muscle and momentum to keep pressing on, or do you spend the week playing defense and trying to hold on to the gains you’ve already got? If you’re in the latter category, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions about your song’s future.

So who should start worrying?

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” #12 39 164

Overall, I think Brooks is still in a good spot: The song is still young (13 weeks on the chart), and while it fell one spot to #12, it’s got plenty of time to recover. Brooks himself, however, is not young, so you wonder if he’s connecting with the younger demographic that country radio is courting.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eric Church, “Desperate Man” #13 34 16

Church, on the other hand, needs to start worrying: This is the song’s second straight week of weak gains, and Church hasn’t been a consistent hitmaker for several years now (he’s only had two Top Fives out of five singles over the last three years). “Desperate Man” definitely had an experimental sound to it, and I’m not sure the experiment is succeeding.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” #14 89 119

Pearce is in a really tough spot: “Hide The Wine” has been going strong recently, gaining at least 650 points in the past three weeks, but it’s also aging (36 weeks on the charts), and we all know how hostile country radio is to female artists. I don’t think this song’s got a whole lot of juice left, and with Brown and Tenpenny looking strong behind it, I think it’ll be lucky to make the Top Ten.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” #17 -20 14
LANco, “Born To Love You” #18 45 97

These two tracks have basically moved in lockstep since I restarted the Pulse, and in truth they’ve barely moved at all:

Song 8/5 Position 9/16 Position
“Babe” #20 #17
“Born To Love You” #22 #18

It’s safe to say that this was not the reception either Sugarland or Swift expected from the radio, and even though it’s been on the charts a reasonable 22 weeks, the song already appears to be out of gas. It’ll gain a few more spots as the chart unclogs, but don’t expect this to get anywhere near No. 1.

I’m slightly more optimistic about LANco: They’ve still got a little bit of that “new artist” shine, and “Greatest Love Story” wasn’t the fastest climber back in its day either. Still, “Born To Love You” has been here almost 30 weeks now, and the climb isn’t going to get any easier from here on out. I think a Top Five peak around the 2018/2019 turn is their best-case scenario.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kip Moore, “Last Shot” #21 16 142

Can this song just go away already? It’s still outside the Top 20 after 33 weeks, and Bentley, Stapleton, and even Midland are slated to leave it in the dust soon. This garbage will be lucky to make the Top 15, and we’ll all be better off when it leaves.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” #24 2 -52

I’m not sure how to feel about Ballerini’s chances right now. Being at #24 after 25 weeks isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either, and her gains have been moderate to strong the last few weeks. (She’s also been one of the few female artists to earn consistent success in the face of the genre’s allergy to such acts.) I’m going to go with a glass-half-full outlook for now and say the song still has a chance at a high peak.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” #28 75 192

This dude’s so far ahead of schedule right now that even if he stalled at #28 for a while, he’d still have a pretty good shot at #1. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Tyler Rich, “The Difference” #30 -11 19

If I were Rich, I’d be really worried right now: He’s sitting on the very edge of the Top 30 after nineteen weeks, he’s had two straight weeks of sub-200-point gains, and he’s got a list of strong challengers coming up behind him (Dan + Shay, McCreery, Owen, and eventually Chesney and Urban). He’s best outlook is probably a peak between #5 and #10 after a 40+ week run, and that’s not how you want to start your mainstream career.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” #37 1 40

Those wild horses had better start running a little faster: Watson’s performance has been lackluster to awful for the last months or so, and at 17 weeks the track is pretty old to be sitting at #37. I know “Outta Style” took a long time to make it way up the charts too, but right now I’m thinking #25 is about the best Watson can aspire to.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” #39 28 136

At some point, you have to realize that the audience is just not that into you anymore. Atkins is barely inside the Top 40 after nineteen weeks, and he hasn’t gained more than 300 points since the Pulse restarted. It might make it inside the Top 35, but for all intents and purposes this song is DOA.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” #40 60 127
Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” #42 10 19

Pardi’s got nothing to worry about: He’s only four weeks into his run, and while “She Ain’t In It” underperformed, this is the fifth single from California Sunrise, so he can always go back to the studio and ride some new-album buzz back to the top. Eldredge may have had a worse week than Pardi, but he’s got a stronger track record and his last single at least cracked the Top 5, so I’d wager that he’ll be fine as well.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” #44 17 27
Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” #45 -1 -4
Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” #46 -24 -18
Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” #47 10 56
Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” #48 31 62
Darius Rucker et al., “Straight To Hell” #49 -33 -17
Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” #50 27 30

Everybody below Cody Johnson is officially on notice: Nobody gained over 70 points, three songs lost their bullets, and only Rucker has any sort of recent track record to lean on.

If I had to pick two artists to make it out of this mess alive, it would be Bradbery (only three weeks on chart, includes Rhett’s star power) and Rice (only two weeks on chart, seems to be making steady progress). Everybody else has been floundering at this end of the chart for a while, and will likely start sinking sooner rather than later.

To close on a high note: Old Dominion will grab No. 1 next week (they announced their max-spin intentions yesterday). How the rest of the chart lines up behind them is anybody’s guess.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen”

Move over, Sam Hunt—Thomas Rhett is coming for your crown.

With the surprising failure of “Downtown’s Dead” and Hunt’s subsequent disappearance from the radio,  Rhett has now officially assumed the role of the biggest star in country music (argue if you want, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean fans, but you’re wrong). He and his team have made all the right moves since 2013: Throw out the bizarre decision to release “Vacation” as a single, and Rhett has scored an incredible eleven No. 1 singles in the last five years. It’s the sort of track record that lets you break establish norms like “Thou shalt release no more than four singles from an album,” and that’s exactly what Rhett is doing with “Sixteen,” the fifth single from his Life Changes album. To be honest, I’m surprised this one hadn’t been released sooner, as it’s a clever use of recent genre tropes and trends (youthful nostalgia, Bro-Country leftovers) while mixing in enough perspective to acknowledge how shallow and ephemeral these ideas really are.

The production is exactly what you expect from a Thomas Rhett single: A modern pop-country sound, a tempered volume level that isn’t too in-your-face, and a moderate tempo paired with a decent groove that keeps the song moving. The song opens with an organ and an acoustic guitar, but quickly mixes in the track’s primary instruments: Some electric guitars to carry the melody, and a finger-snap percussion line to keep time. Beyond some real drums that jump in on the second verse, that’s pretty much all you get here, but it’s enough to set a bright, relaxed tone that complements the story without getting in its way. (There are some minor chords tossed in on the bridge, but they fit because they help convey the narrator’s frustration at constantly having to climb another metaphorical mountain to do what he wants.) Overall, it’s a light, breezy mix that tries not to call too much attention to itself, supporting the narrator as they tell their story.

Rhett has never been a powerhouse vocalist, but he’s a competent artist with an earnest delivery and a knack for making a track feel personal and truthful even when it’s not (“Marry Me,” anyone?). By this measure, “Sixteen” is a perfect track for him: It doesn’t stretch his range or test his flow, and it gives him plenty of space to bring his charisma to bear and establish a connection with the listener. While Rhett isn’t a terribly old singer, he’s old enough (and he has enough Bro-Country material in his early discography) that he can claim some credibility on the subject, and his willingness to be open and honest with his audience in the past (“Die A Happy Man,” “Life Changes”) gives him a extra layer of authenticity that many other artists can’t claim. In other words, it’s a perfect pairing of song and singer, and the narrator’s role just feels like a natural fit.

The writing here performs a complex balancing act between novelty, experience, perspective, and level of detail, and it manages these things surprisingly well. On the surface, the song is a run-of-the-mill trip down memory lane involving topics that have been discussed to death in the past (driving, drinking, general coming of age). We’ve sort of been here before, so what makes this track work so well?

  • By focusing on longstanding early-life rites of passage, the song feels universally applicable, and thus is able to resonate with a larger audience. Nearly everyone can recall going through the driver licensing process or counting the days until they would be able to make their own decisions, so the song is able to tap into that shared experience and trigger the listener’s memories from those days of yore.
  • Despite the broad topical brush, the song provides a nice amount of detail in its verse vignettes. The listener is really able to imagine the father offering advice from the passenger seat or the constant chatter about post-high-school plans, and thanks to the universal applicability to the topic, that can easily fill in any gaps in the song with their own experience.
  • Finally, the narrator adds a dollop of perspective at the end of the song by looking back at these early milestones and laughing at how shortsighted and superficial they were in their younger days. Most songs feel overly celebratory of these topics (especially drinking), but “Sixteen” rightly points out that there’s a lot more to life than just being able to drive and drink. Instead of being laser-focused on what you can’t do, the song suggests taking a moment to look around appreciate the present, and realize that the grass is plenty green on your side of the fence.

Toss is Rhett’s salesmanship and a suitable sound, and you’ve got yourself a song that is both enjoyable and thoughtful.

Overall, “Sixteen” is yet another solid offering from Thomas Rhett, with a nice balance of writing, production, and vocals that goes down easy and appeals to as broad an audience as possible. It’s certainly better than any fifth album single has any right to be, and frankly, with “Drink A Little Beer” and “Grave” still in Valory Music’s pocket, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this album go six singles deep once “Sixteen” has had its run. Either way, we’d better get used to seeing Rhett at the top of the genre, because I’ve got a feeling he’ll be there for a while.

Rating: 7/10. Five reviews, and this dude still hasn’t scored lower than a six. Jake Owen, I hope you’re taking notes.

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #10: Un-Nessie-cary Roughness

Thanks goodness Ed Hochuli doesn’t referee Pokémon matches, because the Phili Six would have been tossed out of the League long before I made it to Cyrus.

When we last left Ophilia, she was standing on the doorstep of history, with only the Elite Four and Champion between victory for her and Nuzlocke redemption for me. This challenge, however, could not be taken lightly: All five Trainers had to be challenged back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, with no chance to replace any fallen monsters in between the bouts. The levels of the opponents would slowly increase every round, and while I recalled the levels from the LeafGreen challenge weren’t quite as high as those from Red, they still weren’t far from that Lv. 65 peak that had been burned into my brain twenty years ago.

The stakes were high, but the path was clear. It was time to fish or cut bait, and unfortunately it was patriarch of the team that got cut.

Goodbye Earl

Remembering the good times.

If you look closely at episode #9, you’ll notice that Earl is never mentioned during the battle sequences—in fact, he isn’t mentioned at all until the very end of the journal. The sad truth is that over the last few sessions, Earl’s role had grown smaller and smaller as other Pokémon stepped into the limelight. While I criticized Will earlier for being too much of a specialist (and I’ve got some more choice words for him later), Earl wound up being too much of a generalist, and while a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” can be useful, as time went on all of the things he could do wound up being done better by someone else.

To some extent, Earl’s body wound up betraying him: His typing made him a risky play against a lot of common types, and his moveset was out of step with the G3 landscape (Megahorn, for example, never seemed to be useful). Giving him Strength and Earthquake made him a great cave explorer, but the more I looked at him versus the Elite Four, the more it seemed he just didn’t have a role to play.

Cutting Earl from the Phili Six was a hard decision, so I didn’t make it. I decided that history overruled utility, and that after all he had done, he deserved a spot in the Pokémon Hall of Fame, even if his best days were behind him. He was our guy until the end.

And then it happened: While grinding in Victory Road, despite being at full health and holding a nearly ten-level advantage over his opponent, Earl was unceremoniously one-shotted by a Marowak’s Bonemerang. (I was riding in a car at the time and thus do not have a picture of the fatal blow, but perhaps it’s better this way. We should all remember Earl as he was, not as he died.)

It turns out that the Sacred Flame was as attached to Earl as I was. Within five minutes, the sky grew dark and the clouds unleashed a fury of wind and rain on the land, declaring that such a vile act would not go unanswered. As the storm raged on, a voice began echoing through my mind, and while I don’t recall its exact words, its meaning was clear: The Sacred Flame wanted in on the action, and it was waiting on Mt. Ember.

Operation Firebird, Take #2

If you’d like to see nude women, let me introduce you to my Hypno and Lapras…

I returned to One Island and made my way up Kindle Road, an area I had mostly ignored during my previous trip with Bill because I hadn’t yet settled on how to apply the Pokémon capture rules to this area. I found and caught a Ponyta along the way, but that wasn’t my prime target. My job was simple: Get to Mt. Ember, make liberal use of my Max Repels as I climbed to the peak, and wait for the Sacred Flame to arrive.

Of course, the Flame was already waiting for me when it arrived, and had taking the form of a bright, burning, majestic bird…

You wanted to see me about something?

The conversation was brief:

Bird: I am the Guardian of the First Flame, sent to this world to make right was has gone wrong. Come, let us engage in a glorious battle to judge the wor—*gets sucked into Master Ball*

Me: We don’t have time for monologues. *picks up ball* I think I’ll call you ‘Pontiac.’

I was admittedly not impressed with Pontiac’s full moveset (Endure? Fire Spin? Really?), but it had Flamethrower, and with its impressive Spec. Attack, that was all it needed. I took it for a test drive out on Route 15, and wow:

With literal firepower like this on my side, I felt unstoppable…but I knew better. There was still a lot of work to be done.

The Road To Perdition Beantown

As it turned out, my employer decided to ship me out to the slightly-above-average city of Boston for much of the week. That meant a lot of time sitting around on planes, trains, and automobiles, which meant lots of time for Ask-Ketchum-approved special training sessions.

The regimen was a two-part program:

  • Victory Road was a great place to hang out and level up, but only if you had a quick way of dealing with powerful Rock-types. Luna, Will, and Nessie did most of their work here.
  • From the motorcycle gang on Route 16 to the Snorlax on Route 12 (with a little detour through the Power Plant), southern mainland Kanto had smorgasbord of Trainers looking for their own chances for revenge. With a little help from the VS Seeker, Osborne, Reggie, and Pontiac were more than willing to oblige.

After about eight hours of crossing both Kanto and the United States, I arrived home with a fearsome and formidable squad, with five monsters at Lv. 63 and one (The Hammer, of course!) at Lv. 64.

Miracle Drugs

Three months from now, Ophilia will be sitting in that same seat talking about steroids in Pokémon. (Image from SI)

Of course, while I was happy with my team comp, I was less satisfied with some of their stats and movesets. Luckily, unlike in most professional sports, there are no rules against performance enhancers in Pokémon, and I’d built up quite a collection of goodies during my travels.

Among the Rare Candies, Technical Machines, and stat boosters I deployed, two monsters stand out:

Apparently TMs, like HeadOn, are applied directly to the forehead.
  • Pontiac: I turned the Sacred Flame into an Inspector Gadget-like freak of nature, feeding it several Calciums, teaching it Aerial Ace and Fire Blast to go along with Flamethrower, and tossing a Rare Candy at it for good measure.
  • Nessie: As good as Pontiac was, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to use it against Lorelei, as most of the Pokémon I recalled on her team were at least half-Water. However, my trip through the Power Plant had turned up a TM for Thunder, a super-powerful Electric attack with terrible accuracy…unless Rain Dance was active, in which case it was 100% accurate. I was already planning to use a weather-control strategy with Nessie, so giving her Thunder (combined with her natural resistances to Water and Ice moves) made her the go-to monster against Lorelei. (She also got a Rare Candy, because why not?)

When the dust finally settled, this is the picture that emerged:

There was nothing more to say. I picked up a boatload of healing supplies at the Pokémon League shop, paid my respects to the spectators, and walked through the door to face my destiny.

Round #1: The Thunder Rolls

With the new and improved Nessie leading off, the plan was simple: Make it rain, call down the lightning, and cut through Lorelei’s team as quick as possible. Easy enough, right?

And then the battle started…and Lorelei opts to use the same darn strategy, using her opening Dewgong to make it hail. Because Nessie is faster, the hail overrides the rain and I’m back at square one. Just wonderful…

Dewgong couldn’t touch Nessie with its attacks, however, so sneaking by it was a matter of gaming the AI: Use Rain Dance while it’s hailing, then drop Thunder before Dewgong can make it hail again. Unfortunately, Dewgong was pretty buff itself (and Lorelei was unafraid to drop Hyper Potions early), so it took nearly all of my Rain Dances to land enough Thunders to knock the creature out.

Once Dewgong fell, the dominoes finally began to topple, as both Cloyster and Slowbro were dropped in one hit. At this point, I began to worry that the rain would stop, and I only had one PP left for the move. Applying Snorlax to a problem, however, is never a bad move, and so I switched to Reggie to Body Slam Jynx and Hyper Beam Lorelei’s Lapras into submission.

One down, four to go.

Round #2: Flipping The Bird

Bruno came at me with a mixture of Fighting- and Rock-type Pokémon, but I noticed that the order of Lorelei’s Pokémon was the same as in Pokémon Red, and correctly guessed that Onix would be the first monster on the battlefield. Nessie was there to greet him with a Surf, putting Bruno on his heels early.

Hitmonchan was next, and one Osborne Drill Peck later, it was history. Bruno then threw me a curveball in the form of Machamp, but I decided to meet fire with fire and unleash Pontiac on the poor four-armed monstrosity. Two Aerial Aces did the trick, and one more Osborne Drill Peck clobbered the Hitmonlee that followed.

This is where things got concerning: I decided to let Will handle the last Onix, but for the first time he failed to come through in the clutch and one-shot the rock snake with Earthquake. The Onix responded with a STAB Earthquake of his own, and for a moment I thought Will was history. Amazingly, Will’s health bar didn’t even turn yellow, and Bruno’s use of a Hyper Potion gave Will the opening he needed to pull off a Mud-Slap/Earthquake combo for the win.

Will got lucky. Bruno, not so much.

Will made it through this round, but his power failure was a sign of bad things to come.

Round #3: I See Dead Pokémon

Next on the docket was Agatha, a Ghost/Poison-type master who was dealt a pretty rotten hand by the G1 gods: The Gastly-to-Gengar line is the only Ghost one in the game, and its marriage to the Poison type meant that the one thing it could conceivably counter (Psychic types) was also super-effectiv against it. That was my angle going in: Confident that Gengars didn’t learn Shadow Ball, Luna would lead off and look for a clean sweep using her Psychic attack.

The first Gengar posed no threat and went down in a single shot. The Golbat that came out next, however, caused some trouble by using Confuse Ray, which in turn caused Luna to damage herself three turns in a row before taking the bat out of the air. “The Hammer” bounced back to one-shot the Haunter that followed, but her health was low enough that I decided to explore other options for the rest of the match.

I gave Will another shot at redemption against Agatha’s Arbok, but he again needed two shots to knock it out, making the matchup more tense than it should have been. With the final Gengar, I decided to brute force the problem and sent out Pontiac, who leveled the specter with a single Fire Blast.

Lady, I already knew that. 🙂

Were were over halfway home now, but things hadn’t quite gone according to plan, which made me a little nervous about the next battle…

Round #4: Icing The Competition

…which turned out to be the easiest one of the five.

The play here was simple: Nessie now, Nessie later, and Nessie forever. She had the Ice to handle the dragons, the Water to deal with the Aerodactyls, and the Thunder to shock the Gyarados.

The only nervous moment was when I opened when Thunder against Gyarados immediately, taking a chance on its 70% accuracy. The move connected, however, and the ball kept rolling from there. Nessie laughed off a Rock Blast to wash away Aerodactyl, and then punched out both Dragonairs and the Dragonite was a single Ice Beam apiece. It was an even more dominating performance than Reggie’s conquering of the Saffron Gym, and made Nessie the leader in the clubhouse for the Conn Smythe trophy.

Please direct all credit in the direction of the Lapras. She was killing it out there!

I broke out a final round of healing items (and made history by using an Ether for the first time in any Pokémon game to refill Nessie’s Rain Dance), and walked through the final door. I had one last score to settle.

Round #5: One Last Bloodbath

There are no words left to say. Do what you must, and I shall do the same.

Cyrus was his usual egotistical self when I met him in the final room, but there was nothing left to discuss. I knew exactly what I had to do, exactly what was coming, and exactly how I planned to deal with it. We just had to roll out the ball and get started.

I decided to introduce Cyrus to the Sacred Flame early, and brought Pontiac out to face his Pidgeot. One Flamethrower wasn’t quite enough to KO it, but  after Cyrus countered with a Sand-Attack and a Full Restore, Pontiac yawned and Aerial Aced it to death.

Gyarados was next, and while I brought Nessie in to face it, I decided not to tempt fate with Thunder again rather than lead off with Rain Dance (despite the fact that I had plenty of them). This time it came back to bit me: It took three shots to land one blow, and Gyarados knocked Nessie down to 50% health in the meantime. This turned out to be a pivotal moment later on, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

Nessie stuck around just long enough to one-shot Rhydon into oblivion, and then gave way to Osborne when Exeggutor stepped into the ring. After waffling between Fly and Drill Peck for a few seconds, I chose the latter, which wasn’t quite enough to bring the Grass-type down. It responded with a successful Sleep Powder, forcing me to switch back to Pontiac to take it down with Flamethrower.

Alakazam was next, and it was here that Will failed me for the last time: Despite cleaning the Psychic-type’s clock several times in the past, Earthquake one again didn’t have enough mustard to knock it out this time, and its use of Reflect and Recover completely nullified my Dugtrio’s ability to deal damage. Reggie had to step in, and while he did the job, he shot himself in the foot in the process by paralyzing Alakazam with Body Slam, which was promptly returned to Reggie via Alakazam’s Sychronize ability.

Charizard was now the only thing standing in our way, but fighting the rest of Cyrus’s team had taken its toll. Nessie’s health was just low enough to make me question whether she could withstand a full-force Flamethrower to set up Rain Dance, and Reggie’s paralysis made him a risky play as well. I decided to meet fire with fire instead, and sent Pontiac out to take out the dreaded fire lizard.

Unfortunately, this was the point in the movie where the benevolent omnipresent force says to the protagonist, “I have done all I can; you must do the rest.” In the biggest surprise of the battle, Charizard completely overpowered Moltres, using Slashes and Fire Blasts to bring the bird to its knees. This couldn’t be happening again, could it?

My remedy now, just as it was then, was to send out Will to remove Charizard’s last few HP points with Slash. Unfortunately, Cyrus countered with another Full Restore, rendering the strategy moot. I had always pulled Will out of situations like this in the past, but this time a mixture of frustration and disappointment made me leave him in to Slash away futilely until he gave up the ghost. Will had not lived up to his side of any bargain since entering the Pokémon League, and unlike Earl, I was not sad to see him go.

I picked up the phone and made one last call to the bullpen. Technically I had four options left, but three weren’t really options at all: Osborne was asleep, Reggie couldn’t move, and Nessie looked a little pale after tangling with Gyarados.

Option four…was The Hammer. It was the only option I needed.

Charizard was gassed by this point, and it offered only a meek Aerial Ace as if to concede defeat. One last Psychic, and it was over.

Game, set, match.

At long last, the ghosts of Suzy, Earl, Bram, Oscar, Benjamin, Reed, and Ultra Necrozma were put to rest. Ophilia and I were Nuzlocke champions.

And that’s the way it is.

Awards

As the confetti falls and the championship hats and shirts are passed around, it’s time to tally up the votes and hand out some awards to the notable performers during this Nuzlocke run.

First, the playoff MVP: To the surprise of no one, it’s Nessie the Lapras.

She set the table against Lorelei, she ran the table against Lance, she pitched in against Bruno, and the reason she didn’t see action against Charizard was because she’d already knocked out two other monsters! I searched for a suitable Water-type for a looooong time, and I’m glad I stopped to talk to that random Silph Co. employee back in Saffron City.

But that was an easy one. What about the MVP of the entire run? Here’s how I would rank them:

  • #5: Reggie the Snorlax. His performance at the Saffron Gym alone nets him a nomination, but he performed admirably whenever he was called upon. Honestly, his problem was that I didn’t call on him enough, as his Normal typing meant I kept overlooking him in favor of a more-favorable matchup.
  • #4: Suzy the Bulbasaur. She was the unquestioned leader of the Poison Posse until her demise in Saffron, but her placement here goes far beyond her battle prowess. Her Leech Seed/Sleep Powder combination meant she was an excellent choice for capture battles, no matter how big the level difference was. (Two of the Pokémon she caught with still with me in the final battle!) I had a 100% success rate in normal capture battles (i.e., anything outside the Safari Zone), and Suzy was a big reason why.
  • #3: Cyrus’s Charizard. Let’s give some credit where credit is due: I lost nine Pokémon during this Nuzlocke run, and six of them were to this bozo. No one else on Cyrus’s team came close to causing as much damage and creating so much fear as this blasted fire lizard, and for that I must tip my cap to it.
  • #2: Nessie the Lapras. Her incredible playoff run was not an aberration. From the moment Nessie joined the squad, she was a force to be reckoned with, playing major roles in every Gym, rival, and League battle she participated in. She also took over Suzy’s role as the primary Pokémon catcher, and managed to maintain our incredible success rate! Her biggest impact, however, is that I will never, never, never scoff at Rain Dance ever again.

And now, the envelope please…

  • #1: “The Hammer,” Luna the Hypno. Good Pokémon have one nickname, but only the greatest ones have two. (Had Kevin Harvick not already laid claim to the nickname, I probably would have called her “The Closer” too.)From about the Game Corner onwards, it seemed like every time I needed a big defensive stand or to drive the final nail into some poor Trainer’s coffin, Luna was the one to do it. She was a credible matchup against dang near every freaking monster in the game, and “use Psychic until it dies” was way more effective than it had any right to be. Reggie and Nessie may have had more bulk, Osborne and Pontiac may have had more punch, and Earl and Will may have had more seniority, but for my money, “The Hammer” was the one Pokémon to rule them all.

Tune in next week when we…wait, I guess there isn’t a “next week” anymore. With my eighteenth Pokémon journey in the books and Ophilia returning to her Sacred Flame pilgrimage, I don’t have anything to post on Mondays anymore!

Then again…there is that copy of Pokémon X I haven’t got around to playing yet…

My Reactions To The 9/13 Nintendo Direct

Days like this are when I wonder if I’m capable of feeling excitement anymore.

Yesterday, Nintendo dropped a long-awaited Direct to explain its plans for the rest of the year and fill in its game lineup for 2019. Going through it evoked a roller coaster of emotions, and honestly, on the whole I was not really impressed with what I saw. I’m happy to see the 3DS continue to get some love, but while some of the Switch announcements were interesting, most of them were not (and the Switch Online stuff just made me angry). All in all, I feel like 2018 is a bit of a down year for Nintendo’s flagship console, and I don’t see a lot of evidence suggesting that will change until next year.

My thoughts on individual games are as follows:

  • Luigi’s Mansion 3: Thank goodness they put this game on the Nintendo Switch. My main complaint with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon was that it felt cramped on the 3DS and required longer play sessions that didn’t fit the ‘play anywhere anytime’ mentality of a portable console. Granted, the Switch is portable as well, but it at least gives players the options to play on larger screens and dedicate more time to each level.
  • Kirby’s Epic Extra Yarn: Kirby’s no stranger to the Nintendo 3DS, so this should fit a lot better on the system than Luigi’s Mansion. This feels like a Nintendo port done right: It’s not a Wii U game (so it’s been a while and the game is not readily available anymore), it’s a different experience from other recent games (no robots or hearts), and it’s got a fair bit of extra stuff thrown in (new abilities, Devilish Mode, minigames with other characters). I’m in favor of this.
  • Mario + Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: This, on the other hand, feels like a port done less right. The whole “Bowser’s Minions” gameplay has never impressed me, and beyond that the game has nothing more than updated visuals to sell it. I was lukewarm on this game the first time around, and I’m not planning to revisit it.
  • Luigi’s Mansion: I’m not thrilled that this is a 3DS game after my experience with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, and the new co-op modes and amiibo compatibility don’t impress me much. Still, I enjoyed Dark Moon a lot more than M+L Bowser’s Inside Story, so I’m more willing to take a shot at this game.
  • Yo-Kai Watch Blasters + Moon Rabbit Squad: The Yo-Kai series is basically a 3DS stalwart at this point, and while I’ve never tried it out myself (I tend to stick with Pokémon), it looks like a interesting combination of role-playing and strategy. The Moon Rabbit update sounds sort of like a Pokémon Yellow-type game that expands the original story, but it’s hard to get a sense of how much it adds just from the trailer. Still, as a free update it’s worth taking a peek at if you decide to buy the original.
  • Splatoon 2 Version 4: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the trailer here. It was vague, it didn’t make good use of its time, and it forced people to go to the official Tumblr page to actually learn what was in the update (and even then, it doesn’t have all the details: What about the new map they showed off?) Most of the changes concern Splatfest tweaks and special 10x and 100x battles, none of which excite me all that much. I’ll take any sort of new gear that I can get, but otherwise I thought this was kind of a dud.
  • Mega Man 11: I’ve never actually played a Mega Man game, but this looks like a nice marraige of classic gameplay with some new twists (sort of like Sonic Mania, although I hope it’s a lot better than that game). I probably won’t bite on it, but I know plenty of Mega Man fans who will.
  • Mario Tennis Aces Version 2: Honestly, I’d mostly forgotten about this game, and as neat as some of the new characters look, I’m still not interested in it. (Co-op mode didn’t look all that exciting either). This title’s shaping up to be the ARMS of 2018.
  • Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle: This is targeted towards a small niche, but the people in said niche get a lot for their money: Seven classic beat-’em-up games (including two never before seen on home consoles), with both four-player and online functionality (let’s hope you don’t have to pay for the online stuff, though). With all these retro games, the Switch is well on its way to being “the one console to rule them all.”
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe: Really Nintendo? You decided to port this game to the Switch? This feels like something that should have been used to bolster the 3DS lineup instead. Adding Nabbit and Toadette/Peachette (?) is not nearly enough to interest me in re-playing this one.
  • Katamari Damacy Reroll: Umm…I have no idea what to say about this one. I’m sure fans of the series will enjoy it, but just rolling things around doesn’t sound that interesting to me.
  • Nintendo Switch Online Service: *sigh* I’ve ranted quite a bit about how arbitrary and unnecessary this service is, but I’ve been holding my tongue recently because I’ve been waiting for more information about exactly what’s included. Well, we finally got a definitive answer (as well as a 9/18 launch date), and I can say with full confidence that the Switch’s online service is one of the most boneheaded, irritating decisions Nintendo could have ever made.Yes, I’m aware that other consoles charge a lot more for similar service, but given that the Switch has enjoyed free online service for 18 months now, it just feels like Nintendo is charging for the privilege just because they can, which is really infuriating to me. I’m unmoved by the NES online functionality and game selection, cloud saving doesn’t work for the game I really care about (and it’s not like Nintendo’s done a great job of preventing cheating up to now anyway), Nintendo’s online app is basically an inferior version of Skype or Discord (and even game-specific stuff like SplatNet hasn’t impressed me much), and who knows how special the special offers will really be?

    Will I buy it? Well, my Switch is basically a brick without it, so yes, I will kowtow to Nintendo’s demands. They’ll make a lot of money, sure, but the cost to their reputation makes this a net loss in my book.

  • Switch NES Controllers: I’m sure these are a bit more comfortable to use than the regular Joy-Cons, but $60 is flat-out highway robbery. If I have to pay for online service, I am not paying for this junk.
  • Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!: So HMs and Ride Pokémon are replaced by Secret Techniques, and you can customize your partner Pokémon’s hairstyle? That’s…nice, I guess. I’m still not completely sold on this game, but at least the Switch bundle will satisfy consumers who were waiting for a Pokémon title before jumping on the Switch train.
  • Diablo III Eternal Collection: It’s another big third-party get for the Big N, but five years after its release on other consoles, I’m not sure there are a lot of people who will care enough to buy this. It looks good enough on the console, and you can dress up as Ganandorf if you want, but much like with Skyrim, it’s more interesting as a symbol of Nintendo’s third-party support than as a game.
  • Super Mario Party: I was intrigued by SMP‘s early reveals, and this trailer did nothing to dampen that enthusiasm. After some of the recent Mario Party disasters, this one looks like a whole bunch a classic (and occasionally rage-inducing) fun. This might be the late-2018 game I’m most interested in.
  • Town: Terrible working title aside, this looks like a game with some potential. I’m a sucker for most any sort of RPGs, but I need to see a bit more of the battle system and how the town can possibly contain an entire story within it before I can say much more about the game. Still, Game Freak’s got my attention for the moment, and that’s about all you can ask from an early reveal trailer.
  • Cities Skylines: So it’s basically a scaled-up SimCity? I’m sure there some audience for this game, but I’m not part of it.
  • Daemon X Machina: Wasn’t this the crazy robot game that kicked off the last Direct? Augmenting both your human and your robot is an unexpected twist, but honestly, without the flashy explosions and heart-pounding music of the past trailer, this game doesn’t have a lot of energy behind it. I’m probably going to pass on this one.
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World: Hey, the game’s coming after all! It’s bit over a year since we last saw this game in action, and the work put in since that time is really noticeable. The game does a lot more to play with your perspective now, flipping stages every which way to continue challenging the player. The visuals are nice, the usual collectables are everywhere, and the same lighthearted platforming from Yoshi’s Woolly World is still present.This game may be worth the wait after all!
  • Asmodee Tabletop Collection: I’m not much of a tabletop gamer anymore, but this three-pack (with more to come!) looks like a reasonable and fun way to experience these games. Robert Ian Shepard of Adventure Rules is the most active tabletop player I know, so I’m curious to hear his perspective on these titles.
  • Civilization VI: Oh man, I haven’t played Civilization in a really long time, but but I always enjoyed the earlier versions of it, so I’m sorely tempted to try this out in November. It looks like classic Civ, but I’ll need a little more information before I truly take the plunge.
  • Starlink Battle For Atlas: I really don’t know what this game is all about, but from the trailer it seems like a straightforward run-of-the-mill Star Fox game, complete with all the characters you know and love/hate. (I’m still the Wolf portion excited some people, but it was just kind of “meh” for me.) The Wikipedia page mentioned forming alliances and building a crew to defeat “the Forgotten Legion,” so I’d like to see more of the non-Star Fix gameplay before jumping to conclusions.
  • The World Ends With You: We’ve already gotten most of the information about this game, but hearing that there would also be some new content was was heartening, if not terribly exciting. I’m sure TWEWY fans are hyped for that, but I’m not really moved.
  • Xenoblades Chronicles 2 Torna ~ The Golden Country: So this is a prequel to XC2? Again, it looks like more of the same stuff I saw from the main game, so while fans will enjoy it, I’ll probably pass.
  • Rapid-Fire Montage of Games: Some of the games that got shoehorned into this piece surprised me (this is all the FIFA or NBA2K got?). I know time was starting to become an issue here, but the sports gamer in me would have liked to see more of some of these titles.
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition: I remember playing this on the Gamecube years ago and not really being impressed by it. The remastered version looks good and adds some new stuff, but I’m not terribly interested in revisiting this story.
  • Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD: Um…what exactly is this supposed to be? The graphics from the original are so downgraded that it looks like an entirely different game, to the point where they aren’t even appealing. I know we’ll never get the full version of other consoles, but can’t it at least be a small upgrade over the smartphone edition?
  • World of Final Fantasy Maxima: The “Avatar Change” functionality made me wonder if this was a glorified Final Fantasy Heroes, but there actually seems to be a full story behind it. I like the art style a bit better than XV Pocket, but I’m not intrigued enough to dig into the game further.
  • Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Everybuddy!: This looks like a ripoff of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, so if you’re into that sort of thing that’s fine, but I won’t remember this thing exists by the time the Direct is over.
  • More Final Fantasy: Okay, I’m tired of breaking these out into separate sections. Even Final Fantasy VII doesn’t move me anymore. Could we move on please?
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Bundle: To be honest, I like the look of the Pikachu/Eevee bundle better. If this thing doesn’t come with a Gamecube-style controller, I don’t see why anyone would buy it.
  • Isabelle in Smash: This one was spoiled for me before I saw it, but even if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been terribly excited. In fact, my reaction would have been “Man, I’d rather have Animal Crossing on the Switch.”
  • Animal Crossing on Switch: Oh hey, it’s finally coming! It’s nothing more than a logo and a release year right now (and I still wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a Pocket Camp expansion), but Nintendo has set the Internet on fire with less (remember the Metroid Prime 4 logo?).

So…yeah. That Direct happened, and while I managed to stay awake for the whole thing, I’m not sure it was really worth it. I might take a chance on Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, but the online service might be the only Switch item I buy for the rest of the year (full disclosure: I pre-ordered the Octoling amiibos a while ago). Smash Bros., Pokémon Let’s Go, and even Super Mario Party just don’t push me over the ‘buy’ ledge yet, and Yoshi and Animal Crossing are still a long ways away.

Nintendo will probably have a good and prosperous rest of  the year, but I will likely stick with games that are already released rather than investing in new ones.

Song Review: LoCash, “Feels Like A Party”

Apparently LoCash is unaware of the definition of insanity.

Bro-Country has been officially dead for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped some of the acts it spawned from trying to recapture its magic. Chief among these offenders is the former LoCash Cowboys, who tried going back to this well earlier this year with “Don’t Get Better Than That.” Nobody else, however, was interested in traveling back in time with the duo, and the song peaked at a laughable #44 on Billboard’s airplay chart and wound up at #4 on my “worst songs of 2018 so far” list. Most artists (even acts like Florida Georgia Line) would take this as a sign that the Bro-Country ship has finally sailed, and adapt their sound to the genre’s changing climate. Instead, LoCash has decided to double down on the faded trend, releasing “Feels Like A Party” as their latest single. The song is as mindless, shallow, and unoriginal as you’d expect, and while it would probably have been a massive hit a few years ago, there’s no place left in country music for this garbage in 2018.

The production opens with some swampy synths and a dobro, bringing to mind FGL’s “Smooth.” However, it quickly pivots to a slicker sound, bringing in the usual electric guitars, a mix of real and synthetic percussion, some organ chords, some background “hey!” shouts, and even a few horn stabs to drive home the party vibe. Honestly, this thing sounds like every other Bro-Country song I’ve ever heard (all it’s missing is a token banjo), with its deliberate tempo, bright tones, and carefree atmosphere, and while the horns are an interesting touch, they aren’t used enough to distinguish the song from its peers. The mix certainly captures the party spirit of the lyrics, but it feels like empty sonic calories, and doesn’t have a whole lot of energy or groove behind it. Bottom line: It’s generic, it’s uninteresting, and it’s already been done a hundred times before.

Now, let’s revisit my assessment of Chris Lucas and Preston Brust’s performance from “Don’t Get Better Than That”:

There’s nothing even remotely unique or compelling about the duo, and the song would sound the exact same if it were performed by a replacement-level Bro-Country singer (in fact, it might sound better). The track barely tests the singer’s range or flow, the pair’s harmonies are run-of-the-mill and unimpressive, and neither singer has the charisma to elevate the song beyond ‘bros singing a superfluous party song,’ even when the lyrics leave them an opening or two. In short, this performance is forgettable at best, and it’s best for all involved if we forget it.

Nearly everything I said then still applies now: Instead of bringing something new or unexpected to the table, Chris Lucas comes across as just another generic Bro, and Brust’s part could have been done by any random dude without anyone noticing a difference. The song demands little of the pair’s range and flow, and is completely reliant on the act’s ability to pass along the party vibes to the audience, and LoCash just doesn’t get the job done.

The only difference I see between this single and the previous one is that the lyrics don’t offer any opportunities for the pair to elevate the song even if they could. Frankly, the writing couldn’t be more unoriginal or brainless if they tried:

It feels like a party
It feels like a damn good time to me
A bunch of country girls and back road boys
All here to drink and sing
So go on pour me something cold
Cause we ain’t bout to leave
It feels like a party
It feels like a party to me

Every Bro-Country trope is well represented here: The booze, the trucks, the “country girls and back road boys,” the party-all-night attitude, and even the objectifying language (“If it tastes like a party, shakes like a party”? Really?). Even by Bro standards, however, this song stands out as vague: There are no name drops of liquor brands or old-school artists, no description of the venue besides being a parking lot, no mention of movement beyond the “shakes like a party” line…forget being “the party to end all parties,” this gathering doesn’t sound like much of a party at all.

Just like its predecessor, “Feels Like A Party” feels like a song that has no reason for existing. The production is bland and predictable, LoCash contributes nothing beyond “bros being bros,” and the writing is so vapid and fuzzy the song might as well have scrapped them entirely. LoCash might think that they can recapture their old magic and bring Bro-Country back into style, but they’re beating a dead horse, and their country career will likely be buried with it.

Turn out the lights Locash, the party’s over.

Rating: 3/10. Keep your distance from this junk.