Song Review: Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine”

When the sound and the writing mesh well within a song, the result can be magical. When they don’t? You get a confusing song like “Hide The Wine.”

After several false starts and one well-received guest appearance with the Josh Abbott Band, Carly Pearce finally found success on the radio, as “Every Little Thing” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s airplay chart and persuaded Big Machine Records to release her debut album Every Little Thing back in October. Now, much like with Midland’s “Make A Little,” BML decided to switch gears from sad to sultry by releasing “Hide The Wine” as Pearce’s second single. The problem here is that despite the producers’ best efforts, “Hide The Wine” is not meant to be a sexy song, and trying to make it sound like one just makes the song feel confusing instead of cohesive.

The production here attempts to fuse together traditional and modern instrumentation to create a countrified sex jam, but the pieces fit together too awkwardly to make it happen. The song opens with a prominent drum machine and sleazy-sounding electric guitar to establish a swampy-yet-sultry mood (which is further accentuated by a slower tempo), and these remain the primary instruments even as others (dobros, mandolins, real drums, and even a piano providing some bass accents) are mixed in to bolster the track’s country credentials. The drum machine, however, doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the mix, and the minor chords that pop up create a foreboding vibe that leaves the listener confused as to how they should feel about the track. These would be a concern if the writing synced well with the sound; when it doesn’t, you’ve got a major problem on your hands.

So let’s examine the writing for a moment:

Better hide the wine/And get it gone
Oh I better hide every one of them records that turn me on
Turn up the lights/And kill the mood
Oh ’cause baby I just don’t trust myself with you
I better hide the wine

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like a narrator who is looking for a sexual tryst with an old flame—it sounds like someone who is working really hard to avoid one! The verses indicate that it wouldn’t take much to rekindle this relationship, so the narrator wants to “hide the wine” and everything else that might cause a reaction. It’s not particularly witty or clever, but it has its moments (the “Two Buck Chuck” phrase was kind of amusing) and never offends my sensibilities. The problem is that it’s completely orthogonal to the atmosphere the production is trying to set, and the song’s message is lost as a result: Does the narrator really want to avoid rekindling this relationship, or is the song meant to be tongue-in-cheek? Are the lyrics or the production the authoritative voice? Are the minor chords a mood-killer, or the only trustworthy part of the mix? The song provides no answers, and while contradictory tracks can still be enjoyable (Thomas Rhett’s “Crash And Burn,” for example), this one falls short of even that.

If you’re looking for Pearce to break this tie, you’re out of luck: Her delivery leans slightly towards the production’s point of view, but for the most part she seems as conflicted as the rest of the track. This issue is compounded by the fact that the song is not a great fit for her voice: Her range is constrained to her mid-to-lower register (thus robbing her of the vocal power she displayed on “Every Little Thing”) and her flow on the talk-singing portions of the verses is awkward and choppy. As a result, she isn’t as believable as she was on her debut single, and the song is much less interesting or understandable as a result.

I really don’t know what to make of “Hide The Wine,” as the conflicting visions of the writers and producers leave the song a confusing, obfuscated mess. I wouldn’t call it a bad song, but I wouldn’t call it much of anything else either, aside from a sophomore slump that I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear.

Rating: 5/10. It’s radio filler—nothing more, nothing less.

Advertisements

Song Review: Florida Georgia Line ft. Bebe Rexha Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Meant To Be”

Okay, I’m confused: If a singer is billed as the primary artist on a track, shouldn’t they have a bigger part than the featured artist?

Bebe Rexha is ostensibly a solo pop artist, but ever since her mainstream debut in 2014, her biggest successes have been collaborations with other artists (“Hey Mama” with David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and Afrojack, “Me, Myself, and I” with G-Eazy). Now, however, she has decided to dip her toes into the country pool, teaming up with Florida Georgia Line for her latest single “Meant To Be.” It’s a bizarrely-constructed track that inexplicably gives FGL far more mic time than Rexha herself, and while it’s not the flaming pile of garbage you might expect from a pop artist that’s “gone country,” it’s still a long way from being any good.

The production is surprisingly sparse here, with a spacious piano handling the melody and a simple drum machine on percussion duty. (The only other instrument is something that sounds like a cross between an electric and steel guitar that adds a few notes during the chorus.) The mix starts out decent enough, as the producers heavily restrain the drums and let the piano establish a mellow, relaxed atmosphere that fits the tone of the writing well. The problem is that drums slowly grow in prominence and complexity as the song goes along (especially during the choruses), injecting unnecessary noise into the track and completely ruining the piano’s mood. Had the producers left the drums well enough alone, the song would feel more cohesive and consistent, but instead it feels confusing, and leaves me pretty ambivalent about the whole thing.

The vocal arrangement furthers the listener’s confusion by switching the roles of the participating artists. When I listen to a Bebe Rexha song, I expect Rexha to play a primary role in the song from the outset. What I don’t expect to hear is Tyler Hubbard of FGL opening the song and doing the lion’s share of the singing, with Rexha’s role limited to the second verse and some choral harmonies. (Then again, I suppose it could be worse for Rexha: She could have gotten Brian Kelley’s barely-audible job.) Both Hubbard and Rexha actually sound decent here—the track fits the singers’ ranges well, the slow tempo doesn’t strain their flow, and the pair even shows off some surprising vocal chemistry (although why Rexha’s harmony vocals are louder than Hubbard’s melody ones is beyond me). It’s a tolerable arrangement, but it’s also a misleading one.

The lyrics try to tell the tale of a man trying to convince a woman to live in the moment and stay with him for as long as the mood is right, but the writing is too lazy, repetitive, and superficial sounding to make his case. For one thing, the verses seem to be working at cross-purposes: The woman has been hurt in the past and seems to be looking for real love, and the guy’s just like “Who cares about love? Let’s just chill and see what happens,” as if he’s looking for an excuse to have cheap foreplay with no commitment. Once you get beyond the verses, the song devolves into saying “it’ll be” a zillion times, save for a “maybe we ____” bridge that is completely devoid of wit or substance. The whole thing comes off as sleazy rather than convincing, and feels like two-thirds of a song that gets stretched to cover an entire track. Did it really take four writers to put this drivel together?

Overall, “Meant To Be” is a mess of halfhearted writing, ill-fitting production, and backwards vocal credits. If Bebe Rexha really wants to cross over into country music, her team needs to a) find a better song, and b) actually let her take the lead on it. As it is, the only thing this song is “meant to be” is ignored.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Kyle’s Top 5 Games of 2017

2017 hasn’t been a great year for a lot of things, but it’s been a banner year in gaming, especially when it comes to Nintendo. The company went all in on their new Switch console, and while the system had a lot of potential, no one really expected to blow up the way it did. The console is now the fastest-selling console in Nintendo history, and is projected to sell 14 million units in its first year (in comparison, the Wii U only sold 13.5 million units during its entire lifespan).

A console is no good if there are no games to play on it, however, and after the Wii U failed to take off, Nintendo took that lesson to heart and put together an incredible first-year lineup for the Switch, including some titles that will likely go down as some of the best of all-time, not just the best of 2017. Unlike the last several years, Nintendo brought their best to the party this year, and the gaming community is better for it.

But I’ve filibustered long enough—let’s get to the list already! Without further ado, here are my top five games of 2017:

(Note: Only games that I actually played this year are eligible for this list. In other words, I owe an apology to Pokémon Ultra Sun.)

#5: Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

The fact that perhaps the most critically-acclaimed Mario game of all-time just barely made this list is a testament to the quantity and quality of games this year. Recent Mario games leading up to Odyssey were perfectly playable, but felt a bit uninspired (especially the New Super Mario Bros. series), to the point where Super Mario Maker, a game in which users built their own levels, was by far the best of the bunch.

Super Mario Odyssey, however, was anything but uninspired. The developers returned to the open-world, exploratory style of Super Mario 64, expanded the levels to sizes previously unimaginable in Mario games, and tossed in the fresh-and-fantastic “capture” mechanic to enhance Mario’s abilities without the need for power-ups. The graphics are superb, the controls are tight and responsive, and the player has the ability to play the game however they wanted—you can follow the story path or just wander around for a while. Oh, and Mario has a bunch of cool and/or weird costumes he can wear, because sometimes you don’t need a reason to add something awesome.

So what’s this game doing down here at #5? As crazy as it sounds, Odyssey is here because it could have pushed the envelope so much further. The story is the same old princess-kidnapping tale we’ve known for decades, and the worlds feel a bit empty in spots, as if they were just expanded for the sake of expansion. In a way, Odyssey is a victim of Nintendo’s success, as they set an obscenely-high bar for open-world games in…

Ugh, is this really the only BotW snapshot I have?

#4: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Wii U/Switch)

Whereas Super Mario Odyssey harkened back to the franchise’s N64 heyday, Breath of the Wild calls all the way back to the game’s NES roots, allowing the player to progress through the game’s dungeons and puzzles in any order they choose (or even skipping them entirely and taking on the final boss right away!). Nintendo has been dangling this game as a carrot for gamers for several years ago, and despite years of waiting and sky-high expectations, Breath of the Wild delivers on all counts.

Hyrule has never been this big or looked this spectacular before (even the Wii U version looks amazing!), and the sheer geographical variation (paired with Link’s climbing ability and paraglider) means there’s always somewhere to go and something to do. The story is much more engaging than Super Mario Odyssey, aided by the well-produced cutscenes and exceptional voice acting. It’s a much harder game than usual, and the game forgoes most of the typical handholding and tutorials in favor of letting the player learn through discovery and trial-and-error. Above all, I was most impressed by the puzzle design: Nearly all of them (and there are a lot of them) felt intuitive and logical, and moments of complete confusion were few and far between.

The game is not without its shortcomings: The weapon durability mechanic just lead me to hoard weapons and avoid combat whenever possible, and fighting enemies didn’t have the payoff it should have. (Its status as a highly-anticipated single-player title also hurts its ranking, perhaps unfairly, by limiting its replay value and surprise factor.) Overall, however, Breath of the Wild is a fun, immersive title that deserves a spot on this list.

#3: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Nintendo Switch)

When word of this game started leaking out, the reaction was mostly repulsion: Rabbids? With Mario? How could this possibly be any good? As an RPG fan, however, I held out hope that this would be at least be an interesting take on the Mario franchise. What we got, however, was an XCOM-style tactical RPG with outstanding character design, and a game that was so immersive that it was the only game this year that I played to 100% completion.

This game does a lot of things right, but its biggest achievement is taking generic, aggravating, one-trick characters like the Rabbids, and infusing them with enough personality and depth that they become likeable, even amusing! (The team at Ubisoft also does a nice job fleshing out Luigi and Peach as characters, making Mario feel a bit flat and boring in comparison.) Here, the player character Rabbids feel unique and useful, to the point where the “no more than two Mario characters in a party” restriction feels unnecessary. You’d be crazy not to use the Rabbids!

The game was sold as a very difficult one, but my experience was that this concern was overblown, as the game gives you more than enough tools (attacks, movements, special moves) to get the job done. Furthermore, the dash attacks, special effects, and team jump ability lets you chain attacks together for devastating effect, and leads the player to spend several minutes plotting out their strategy before they even start to move! Not even Breath of the Wild’s many puzzles makes you think as much as Kingdom Battle, and it’s beyond satisfying when a plan comes together A-Team style.

The game isn’t without its warts: The beauty of the overworld masks the fact that there isn’t a lot of exploration allowed, and the between-battle puzzles are a far cry from those in Breath of the Wild. (Also, unless you want to fork out more money for the DLC, there isn’t a whole lot of replay value here.) Still, what is here is excellent, and Kingdom Battle is easily the best gaming surprise of 2017.

#2: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch)

The surprise isn’t that Splatoon 2 is this high on my list. It’s that Splatoon 2 isn’t higher.

I loved the original Splatoon game, and Splatoon 2 delivers a very similar experience: The unique battle modes, the special weapon classes (rollers, buckets, etc.), the character customization, the Miiverse-esque community, the commitment to ongoing content rollouts, and so on. The result was a colorful, engaging take on the shooter genre with infinite replay value.

Had Splatoon 2 just been Splatoon DX, that probably would have been enough to make this list. What truly pushed the game this high were the additions, both structurally (hey, you can finally change gear without leaving a lobby!) and in terms of game modes (Salmon Run is incredible, and even the single-player mode has more replay value thanks to the variation of new hero weapons). Splatoon’s key to success has always been more Splatoon, and the game has delivered this in spades.

So what kept Splatoon 2 from being #1? The problem is the game’s reliance on the Internet: When I had a consistent, unlimited network connection, this game was incredible and I spent untold hours playing Turf Wars. When I lost that connection, however, the game lost a lot of its appeal, simply because I couldn’t play it the way I wanted to. Even with the expanded single-player content, there just isn’t a lot to do here if you don’t have a reliable network access point. Additionally, Splatoon 2 doesn’t have Nintendo’s undivided attention like the original game did, leading to fewer community events like Splatfests.

Splatoon 2 is still an awesome, awesome game, and with any luck I’ll eventually be able to re-establish my network and rejoin the Splatoon community. Its Internet reliance, however, opened the door for a plucky little game from the Switch’s older brother to swoop in and claim the title for my favorite game of 2017.

#1: Miitopia (Nintendo 3DS)

Yes, the game basically plays itself. Yes, the battles can be incredibly repetitive. Yes, the story (while longer than you might expect) is boilerplate and not terribly deep. And yes, it’s on the other Nintendo handheld, one that appears to be in the twilight of its life.

Simply put, Miitopia tops my list because it is the customizable, character-driven RPG that I’ve been looking for since I finished playing the Baldur’s Gate series. It’s a fresh take on the classic fantasy adventure trope, and it positively oozes with Nintendo’s customary charm and polish.

The game is equal parts traditional and progressive, with a wide variety of class choices (warrior, mage, pop star, cat, etc.), a set of personality options that can affect your battle strategy, and a relationship system that can lead to crazy combo attacks when the mood is right. The story makes up for its unoriginality by continuously expanding its world in defiance of the player’s expectations, and the random missions of the Traveler’s Hub give the game a surprising amount of post-game content and replay value. The game isn’t in the same visual class as the other games on this list, but the environments are lively and colorful, and the 3DS has enough horsepower to make everything look great.

The big draw, however, are the Miis themselves, and the game’s Mii Central functionality lets you access the limitless creativity of the 3DS user base. You want to cross over Kirby, Spiderman, and Gravity Falls? There are Miis for that. You want to take on the Dark Lord with Ariel from The Little Mermaid and the cast of GameXplain? Go for it! (You may have to make your own Derrick and Ash Miis, though.) The amount of cool Mii designs I’ve seen while playing this game has been mind-blowing, to the point where I really wished they hadn’t been minimized for the Switch.

Despite some strange design choices (why can’t I control my entire party?), this is the game that’s been getting the most screen time lately, simply because it’s a better fit for my lifestyle and gaming habits. It may not for everyone, but it was definitely the game for me.

Break it down, gang. You earned it.

On the whole, though, 2017 was an incredible year for gaming, with Nintendo’s push to make the Switch a success translating into a historic year of success. 2018 can’t possibly match this success, but I’m excited to see them try.

Song Review: Cam, “Diane”

Just when you think your year-end lists are set in stone…

Camaran Ochs, known professionally as “Cam,” has been kicking around Nashville for the better part of a decade, and while she scored a breakthrough hit in 2015 with the excellent “Burning House,” she wasn’t able to capitalize on her momentum (her followup single “Mayday” didn’t crack the Top 30), and ended up fading back into obscurity. She’s back with a vengeance, however, with her new single “Diane,” an old-school cheating confrontation track (and response to Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene”) that puts an intriguing new spin on an classic country topic.

The first (and probably biggest) surprise here is the producers’ approach to the song’s production. Cheating is generally treated as a somber, serious topic in country songs, with slower tempos, darker tones, and a cry-into-your-beer vibe. “Diane,” however, opens with a rousing acapella version of the chorus, and then unleashes an uptempo, brightly-toned, acoustic-guitar-driven mix that just crackles with nervous energy. A real drum set and electric guitar eventually jump in to add some atmosphere and intensity, and the bridge solo ups the ante even further with a barroom piano and string section. It’s a bold sound choice, but it works by maintaining a constant sense of tension and mixing in short bursts of minor chords that give you the sense that the bright, cheery mix is just a veneer over the darkness bubbling underneath. Parton’s “Jolene” might have been the inspiration for this song, but you get the sense that the narrator has Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” in the back of her mind, and is desperately trying to keep things cordial and nonviolent. Overall, the mix here is not what you expect, and that’s a very good thing.

We already knew Cam was a talented singer from “Burning House,” and the range, tone, and earnestness from that track are still present here. What we didn’t get from that song, however, was a sense of Cam’s sheer vocal power, as it wasn’t necessary for a lovelorn ballad. For “Diane,” on the other hand, Cam removes the governor and delivers a forceful, charismatic performance that feels smooth and effortless. While her flow isn’t perfect by any means (she has a tendency to hold near-closing notes a bit too long, forcing her to quickly cram in the rest of the line), she completely owns the narrator’s role while showing the world that she’s got a power voice on the level of Carrie Underwood if she needs it.

The song itself is a bit of a twist on the classic cheating trope, as most tracks tackle the subject from the point of view of the remorseful cheater, and tracks that covering the first meeting of the wronged spouse and the “third party” tend to contain sorrowful pleading (“Jolene”) or implied violence (“Fist City,” or even Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs”). “Diane,” in comparison, is an other-woman-centered song that appears to be well aware of its history, and thus the narrator tries to forge a connection with the spouse (“I gave him my heart to break/Now I know he broke yours first,” “How could we be such fools,” etc.) and not-so-subtly deflect blame to the cheater (“I would have noticed a gold wedding band,” “You’re only cheating yourself/Choosing him over the truth”). It’s an interesting balance that makes the listener question whether the narrator is really an innocent victim or a fully-aware participant that’s just trying to save themselves from spousal wrath. Otherwise, the song is fairly straightforward, features some solid hooks, and is generally pleasant (and even fun) to listen to.

Overall, “Diane” is exactly the kind of comeback song Cam needs to get her career back on track. It meshes well with today’s radio climate, tells an old story in a refreshing way, and highlights her talents as both a singer and songwriter. While her label has an annoying habit of releasing her material in December, I expect this song to stand out amidst the usual holiday retreads and make a big splash in 2018.

Rating: 8/10. Go check this one out.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Up Down”

“Up Down” is a fitting title for this song, because that what’s my eyelids do as I fight to stay awake while listening to it.

Back when I reviewed Morgan Wallen’s debut single “The Way I Talk,” I labeled him an “FGL knockoff” that needed to a) differentiate himself from other artists, and b) find more interesting material to sing about. Instead, Wallen went in basically the worst direction he could have: He brought Florida Georgia Line in as a featured artist (hammering home just how unoriginal Wallen’s sound is), and he chose “Up Down,” a generic Bro-Country track devoid of any reasons for a listener to pay attention, as his next single. The result is as boring and forgettable is you’d expect.

The production checks most of the usual Bro boxes: A methodical tempo, a swampy acoustic guitar on the verses, a hard-rocking electric guitar on the choruses, a Skynyrd-esque electric axe for flavor on the breaks, a token banjo plodding along in the background, and a prominent, hard-driving drum set keeping time. (The only surprise is that there don’t seem to be any drum machines or any other synthetic elements floating around here.) Basically, this thing sounds like every other Bro-Country song you’ve ever heard, from the party-hardy vibe to the rehashed instrumentation, and it does nothing to stand out from the crowd. Bro-Country went out of style a while ago, and all this song does is remind me why it happened.

In a world without Florida Georgia Line, Wallen might be able to pass himself off as a credible vocalist, as my description of him as “a decent singer with some decent range and decent flow” from my last review still stands. FGL does exist, however, and while it’s one thing for Wallen to sound similar to Tyler Hubbard, it’s another thing entirely for him to share the mic with Hubbard and demonstrate this fact. Seriously, the best way to tell whether Wallen or Hubbard is singing is to listen for Brian Kelley’s harmony on Hubbard’s lines. (Speaking of harmony, FGL’s low harmony on the choruses is completely overpowered by Wallen’s melody, to the point where it’s barely noticeable.) Worse still, the minute differences between Wallen and Hubbard all break in Hubbard’s favor, as Wallen sounds rougher and more washed-out in comparison (especially in his upper range). If you’re getting shown up by another artist on your own darn song, maybe they weren’t a great choice to include in the first place.

The writing, much like the production, is a collection of basic Bro tropes tossed into a blender: Drinking, driving, partying in unusual locations, leering at women, name-dropping other songs, etc. (That “Free Bird five minutes deep” really confused me for a while. I heard “Free Bird, Five Minutes…” and thought there was a Lorrie Morgan reference there.) The only good thing I can say about the lyrics is that the writers found some kinda-sorta interesting ways to tie in the “up down” phrase (fishing bobbers, sunburns, etc.)—otherwise, there’s nothing here you haven’t heard a hundred times before (aside from that “BFE” acronym drop, which I could have lived without.) It’s a lazy, uninspired piece that plows the same barren ground as everyone else.

Overall, “Up Down” is a forgettable track that missed its window of opportunity by at least five years. In a world where Bro-Country has come and gone and even Florida Georgia Line is struggling to stay relevant (after 13 consecutive Top 3 hits, “Smooth” hit a roadblock at #14), being an off-brand FGL soundalike like Morgan Wallen and leaning on boilerplate production and writing is not a recipe for success. There’s a reason the Bro-Country trend faded, and Wallen gives us no good reason to revisit it.

Rating: 4/10. You’ve already heard this song. Why listen to it again?

Should You Give The Gift Of Nintendo This Year?

Cabbage Patch Kids, Furbies, Tickle Me Elmo…and the Nintendo Switch?

2017 has been a banner year for Nintendo, and they’re looking to top it off with a Switch-driven holiday bonanza. Bolstered by AAA titles like Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, the Switch is a hot item that every kid wants to receive this season. Assuming you can find one, however, the console’s $300 retail price will make you question whether the Switch is really worth the cost. You might also notice the cheaper 2DS and 3DS packages nearby, and wonder whether the gamer on your list would settle for that instead. Oh, and there’s the question of what games to get as well. What’s a concerned consumer to do?

These questions are a bit more complicated than they seem on the surface, so let’s address each one in order:

  • Is the Switch a worthwhile gift? First, let’s look at the console’s full price equation:

Total Switch Cost (in $) = 300 + 60g + 20i + a, where
g = the number of games you buy,
i = the number of years you pay for online services, and
a = the cost of any accessories you buy (extra controllers, etc.)

That’s a nasty-looking equation, but we can trim it down a bit:

  • The switch comes with two Joy-Cons that can serve as controllers, so if you don’t any more controllers than that, you can avoid Nintendo’s exorbitant controller costs ($70 for a Pro Controller, $80 for an extra Joy-Con pair).
  • A charging Joy-Con grip will run you $30, but in my experience it’s unnecessary: The controllers have pretty decent battery life on their own, and they charge when attached to the Switch anyway. The same goes for special Joy-Con charging docks: They might be handy, but they’re extraneous.
  • You could get by without a Switch carrying case, but I wouldn’t recommend it given how exposed the Switch screen is in portable mode. A case for a handheld Switch (I got one for $20) is a worthwhile investment. (You can also get a $40 case that’ll carry the entire Switch setup, but unless you’re carrying your dock around all the time, it’s not worth it.)
  • Starting sometime in 2018, Nintendo will begin charging for its online services ($4 for a month, $8 for three months, or $20 for a year). I’m still skeptical that it’s a worthwhile investment, however, and depending on the games you buy, you can get by without said services and still enjoy your Switch.

What all this means is that you could completely eliminate the i and a terms from your cost equation (which would also limit how big your g term would grow, as some games are basically useless without the internet). For cost-conscious Switch buyers, a plausible package could include:

  • The Switch
  • Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey (g = 2)
  • No online services or extra accessories

Total Cost: 300 + 60(2) + 20(0) + 0 = $420 (plus whatever sales tax you have to pay)

Of course, $420 is still a hard price to swallow, and it’s still just an initial investment. The good news, however, is that the Switch’s long-term prospects look bright:

  • As a brand-new console, you can expect Nintendo to support it with some serious content for the next few years. Even without online services, new KirbyYoshi, and eventually Super Smash Bros. titles will be feasible purchases.
  • As a console with some serious buzz, you can expect a fair bit of support from third-party and indie publishers as well. SnipperclipsStardew Valley, and other highly-acclaimed titles are already available for the console, and you can bet on more arriving in the future.

Based on all this, I would argue that yes, the Switch is a worthwhile holiday gift for the gamer on your list.

“Sure Kyle,” I hear you say, “but I don’t exactly have $420 sitting between the cushions of my couchIsn’t there a cheaper option?”

Thanks for the perfect segway, anonymous voice! Let’s continue…

  • Is the 2DS/3DS a worthwhile gift? The cost equation is much nicer here:

Total 2DS/3DS cost (in $) = C + 40g + a, where
C = the cost of the console,
g = the number of games you buy, and
a = the cost of any accessories you buy

So how low can we go here?

  • A new Nintendo 3DS XL will set you back $200, but there’s really no reason to buy one anymore: The 3D functionality wound up as a failed gimmick, and most recent games don’t support the feature anyway. Instead, you can save a whopping $120 by getting the basic Nintendo 2DS (and get either New Super Mario Bros. 2 or Mario Kart 7 as a free bonus!). If you prefer the screen protection and improved “carryability” of a clamshell console, you can also go with the New Nintendo 2DS XL at $150, but the basic 2DS is pretty durable in its own right.
  • To be honest, I’ve never seen the need for any buying any accessories for my 3DS. (I use the original box as a carrying case.)
  • As far as I can tell, there aren’t any plans to charge for 2DS/3DS online services.
  • New 3DS games are $40, but a number of great older titles have been reduced to $30 and $20!

Basically, you can put together a great 3DS starter pack for less than the cost of a single Switch. Consider the following:

  • Nintendo 2DS + Mario Kart 7 bundle ($80)
  • Super Mario 3D Land ($30)
  • Pokemon Ultra Sun (or Ultra Moon) ($40)
  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf ($20)
  • Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS ($40)
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions ($40)
  • Miitopia ($40)

That’s a 3DS and seven games for $290, less than the cost of a Switch! (Feel free to switch in a Fire Emblem, Kirby, Minecraft, or Luigi’s Mansion title as desired.) From a short-term value perspective, the 3DS is a great buy.

Long term, however, the 3DS’s future is shaky: The only upcoming games with any buzz at all are Kirby Battle Royale and Shovel Knight: House of Cards, and whether or not the 3DS will even be supported through all of 2018 is still an open question. (A lot of people want the 3DS to die so that Nintendo can focus on the Switch, a viewpoint that I completely disagree with.) If you’re going to invest in a 3DS, you’re going to have to mine its (excellent) past rather than rely on its future.

Given the past and pedigree of the Nintendo 3DS line, I think that yes, it’s a great option for a gaming gift. However…

  • Is the 3DS a suitable Switch substitute? This one is tricky: The Switch is the shiny new bauble that everyone is lusting over, and the 3DS is just not going to replace the Switch in a heart of a child. If you’re considering getting someone a 3DS in place of a Switch, you’re going to need to ask yourself some tough questions about the recipient:
    • How set is the recipient’s heart on the Switch? Did they specifically name it (or some of its games) on their Christmas list? If so, they probably aren’t going to be impressed by the 3DS’s game lineup.
    • Is the recipient old/responsible enough to take care of the more-fragile Switch? If not, buying a Switch in December might lead to buying a replacement in February.
    • What sort of games does the recipient like to play? Depending on the answer, the 3DS may offer a more-interesting lineup (especially if the recipient is an RPG fan).
    • Is the recipient a Pokémon fan? The Switch might be cool, but it’ll be a while before everyones’ favorite collectable monsters make their debut on it. For Pokémaniacs, the 3DS means instant gratification.

Bottom Line: There 3DS won’t ever replace the Switch, but it’s a strong system in its own right, and if it has to replace the Switch on your shopping list, the recipient may learn to appreciate it in the long run.

Overall, a Nintendo system is worth considering for the gamers in your life, and the company has an option that can fit almost any budget. For everyone else…well, I’ll have some song suggestions for you in a few weeks. 😉

(Overdue) Song Review: Garth Brooks, “Ask Me How I Know”

All right Garth, you win: I’ll review your darn single.

When “Ask Me How I Know” was released back in March, Brooks’s antiquated “I determine how you listen to my songs” policy meant the track was nowhere to be found on the Internet, and I couldn’t find a full copy of the song to listen to for a review. At the time, I decided to punt on the song and ignore it, assuming that it wouldn’t make enough of a dent on the airplay charts to make a difference: His previous single “Baby, Let’s Lay Down And Dance” only made it to #15, and aging artists usually only get one chance at a last-gasp resurgence (think Randy Travis’s “Three Wooden Crosses”). To mix a few phrases, I thought Brooks’s golden goose was cooked.

It turns out, however, that when you’re Garth freaking Brooks, the normal rules of engagement don’t apply. After eight months of steady climbing, the song seems to be playing every time I turn on the radio, and it’s poised to reach No. #1 next week. It’s gotten to the point where my year-end song rankings would be incomplete without this track, so I finally bit the bullet and gave the song a fair shake. Ironically, what I found was a thought-provoking tune written specifically for people like me, and while it’s not peak Garth, it’s not bad.

The production here starts small, opening with an acoustic guitar and slowly mixing a rock-edged electric guitar and quiet drum set during the first verse. The minute the chorus hits, however, the song tries to morph into a full-fledged power ballad, amping up the electric guitar and tossing in a full string section (a choir eventually jumps in on the bridge) to increase its energy level. This attempt is only partially successful, however, as the production’s volume doesn’t increase enough to emerge from the shadow of the vocals. As a result, the guitars and drums feel a bit muted even during the choruses, and lack the intensity they needs to leave a meaningful impression on the listener. It’s a decent mix as it is, and its darker tones complement the serious tone of the writing, but it squanders its potential and ends up a step short of being great.

Vocally, Brooks reminds me of a late-career Greg Maddux: He’s lost several ticks off of his fastball, but he’s still got enough skill left to be effective. The man who effortlessly flew through the rapid-fire lyrics of “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up)” sounds a bit stilted on the faster portions of the chorus here, and his voice gets a bit raspy on the lower-ranged portions of the verses. (Some of the blame here falls on the song, as it doesn’t fit his voice as well as “Baby, Let’s Lay Down And Dance” did.) Thankfully, Brooks’s voice retains enough of his classic tone to make him sound halfway decent, and he does an excellent job assuming the narrator’s role and making the song believable. His voice isn’t quite what it once was, but his charisma and earnestness have resisted the ravages of time, and on a song like this, that’s enough to get the job done.

The lyrics here are words of warning from a wizened, world-weary narrator, meant to alert the independent, hard-headed souls walking the same path that they will push away the ones they love and wind up with nothing but heartache and loneliness. I’ve noted in several prior reviews that I was not in the song’s targeted demographic, but in this case the writers couldn’t have targeted me any better if they tried. As such, I found that the writing was accurate in describing its intended audience and thought-provoking with its prophecies, as it makes the listener wonder just how much stock to put in the tale. However, I also felt that the song was a bit presumptuous in trying to apply a one-size-fits-all formula to every single person in this position, and makes its listeners more defensive than anything else(the song seems to anticipate this with its second verse: “Go on and shake your head/Tell me that I’m wrong…”). Additionally, if you’re not part of the song’s targeted demographic, the message holds no power at all and you’re got no reason to pay attention besides Brooks himself. For me, though, it’s nice to listen to a song that challenges your assumptions and make you think once in a while, and the writing here definitely achieves this goal.

“Ask Me How I Know” isn’t an emphatic declaration that Garth Brooks is back, and frankly, I wouldn’t even rank it among his top ten (or even twenty) singles. What it is, however, is a solid track by a solid performer, and amidst a sea of vapid singles from artists who couldn’t touch Brooks’s legacy with a ten-foot pole, you could do a lot worse than this.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a spin or two (if you can find it) and see what you think.