The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Born This Way (Album Review)

It’s been a couple of weeks now, the year or so of hype has died down, and I’ve listened to it a fair few times, so it seems a good time as any to talk about the self declared “album of the decade” Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. First off, I’m reviewing the standard edition, not the special edition with an extra disc, or the extended edition with more tracks shoved in the middle for some reason. Whilst yes, I am a fan of her music, I think it’s just ridiculous that the record company feel they can cash in on the hype this album’s built up, rather than the artists vision of the record, especially when this same artists equivalent of a cash-in deluxe edition for her last album was almost an album in itself.

On the subject of hype, the whole enigma of Lady Gaga and her “crazy outfits” and sheer phenomena (it’s really hard to deny her as anything else) has made her so impossible to avoid that when she decided to start work on the follow up to The Fame, her evil record company made her blurt it out all over the place, so naturally the press were on it like flies to poop. FOR. A WHOLE. YEAR. That’s right. Gaga spends the best part of a year just hyping up her record with producers, record company executives and Elton John claiming it to be the greatest thing that will ever happen. By the time the title track came out, we’d had her posting the lyrics online, revealing the title cryptically and having Elton John claiming it as “the greatest gay anthem ever” so to be honest, it was a tad disappointing to get a song not dis-similar to Express Yourself with about as much subtlety as bashing your head against a brick wall that comes across (especially in the video, where she claims it as a “manifesto”) as a tad pretentious and I suddenly became a tad worried that maybe the hype had built her up to a giant fall,  this wasn’t helped by the frankly dire artwork, which just put me off buying a physical copy altogether and I became convinced and a bit worried that the album was going to be terrible (I’d write wouldn’t sell, but that’s clearly bollocks because it was bound to),  but thankfully I couldn’t be more wrong.

Born This Way is one of those rare albums that really grabs you on first listen, every track rightfully has a hook or style that separates it from another and whilst I think it gets a bit lost after a couple of listens, you’re still left with a fairly strong impression from it. Gaga is an artist who just bursts out of her shell here (or her…egg…yeah). She knows she’s this massive force and she’s going to just go for it, regardless of whether it works or not. When it works, it’s fist in the air epicness, as evidenced by opener Marry The Night. It’s full of energy and power, it’s sexy, mad and just awesome. However, when it fails, it’s easily more noticeable. Unicorn Highway isn’t awful per se, but it just feels like this big track that never really starts and Heavy Metal Lover is forgettable. For an album that’s been this anticipated, it’s a shame for it to come with a batch of filler tracks, which is one of the big problems with The Fame as well, I could have done without a whole batch of those tracks and it’s the same here. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t distract the album from its real highlights. Americano particularly is just this searingly multi-lingual burst of madness that’s basically the greatest Eurovision entry that never was, to the point where after it finished my reaction was exactly the same as to after watching Moldova’s entry earlier this year and that is a good thing.

Lyrically, the album threads some common themes together, the most obvious is the idea of self-acceptance evidenced obviously by the title track and then even better a couple of tracks later by Hair, which contains lyrics of empowerment that pretty much make the title track utterly redundant. There’s religious imagery and mentions of Jesus crammed down your throat considerably that kind of becomes a bit of a pain and takes you out of the music eventually, which is a really big shame, as is her insistence of doing that thing that young artists do where they try to get their name in the song somewhere. There is no need to say “gaga” in nearly every song on the album, we know who you are, we’ve bought your album, you don’t need to promote yourself anymore.

But all faults aside, I really do have to give credit to Gaga to actually have the balls to make an album like this. She’s not massively known for her albums, she’s known for wacky outfits and Pokerface, which I think completely overlooks her actual talent of making damn good pop music. Born This Way is mind-blowingly eclectic, there’s shades of both Human League and Crystal Castles in Government Hooker, Bruce Springsteen baiting epic Americana in Edge Of Glory (complete with The Boss’ resident Saxophonist, Clarence Clemons who recently passed away) that wouldn’t sound out of place at the end of big 80’s movie, and I’m a tad disappointed it’s being released as a single, because I believe it should be left as a special treat for those who listen right to the end because it sounds nothing like anything else on the album and on the subject of uniqueness; You and I sounds like Queen (the drum beat in the verse IS We Will Rock You and Brian May plays guitar on the track) meets Bon Jovi meets country and western and works insanely well and then Scheiße begins with what sounds like a U-Bahn safety announcement. It’s typically bizarre and nothing feels like it should work, but it so does.

So at this point, 1,000 words done and up to the conclusion stage and I genuinely only feel like I’ve scratched the surface of this record, which feels bizarre when you consider the sheer lack of subtlety on show. So I suppose in the end, does Born This Way live up to the hype? Well, sort of, there’s some disappointments in there and there’s about 4 tracks of filler, but the rest of the tracks certainly live up to any expectation and just scrapes past the quality over quantity. The bottom line is that Born This Way is surprisingly inspired. Gaga really didn’t need to completely go all out with her production, she could have just written 12 more Poker Face’s, (arguably a good chunk of The Fame was this, fade outs are lazy outros) but the fact she went out and made this album proves she really cares about her music more than she’s given credit for. Which is fantastic, because whilst The Fame was a good album, it wasn’t anything more than a shiny pop album and it’s here that Gaga proves she’s an enormous talent with a keen ear for hooks and melodies. She lacks inspiration lyrically, but makes up for it in sheer energy and creativity that this album is just a joy to listen to and will probably be the best pop album this year, and no amount of silly dresses and meat hats can change that.

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Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

I think there reaches a point where you watch shows that aren’t your demographic and wince a little bit because they’re just…awful. Even when looking at stuff from way back when you actually liked them can either blind you in nostalgia and not see how bad it really is, like the first Harry Potter movie…I’d best block comments now for the flaming this is going to get…But then Harry Potter isn’t Power Rangers.

Yes, that’s right, The Zero actually ENJOYS something…if you ignore my last review where I praised Mickey’s Speedway…And of all things, it’s. fucking. Power Rangers. Well, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers to be precise, Ninja Storm can go and die for all I care. I mean, you only need to listen to the theme song to get pumped up and kick some ass.

In case you grew up before or after the 90’s and have no fucking idea what I mean by Rangers of Power…that morph…and are…mighty (It is pretty self explanatory) I’ll explain to you in as little detail as possible because I only get paid by the guy who owns this site if I post a minimum of 500 words of actual review and I refuse to go over 1,000…for tax reasons.

The story of the Power Rangers is that Rita Repulsor, a woman who I’m convinced I saw in a porn once [That sounds vile – Bad Taste Ed] an evil empress of evil is freed from a space dumpster (trust me on this) and decides to take over the next planet she sees…guess which one that is…. So a dome headed robot and hologram face (I don’t remember names and I can’t be arsed to research) [Alpha 5 and Zordon, do some research next week or you’re fired – ED] decide to assemble a crack team of Marvel’s greatest heroes a bunch of 5 teenagers to defeat her…slowly… thankfully Zorgon gives them magical powers to transform into spandex clad warriors who can summon Zords based on mighty creatures (basically giant robots based Dinosaurs, Mammoths, Oprah etc…)

Obviously, the main reason I mention this is because this weeks game…is actually Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, I just felt like talking about Power Rangers…ha-ha only joking. We’re playing Might Morphin’ Power Rangers on the SNES. Now usually the first thing I comment on is the story, or lack of one as there tends to be with this sort of thing, but to be honest, I imagine the game just boils down the storyline to its core of “Power Rangers beat goons, beat bigger goons, fight Rita” and spread over 4 acts, like theatre, BUT WITH GOONS. I wish Shakespeare had goons in his plays…

After a title sequence that makes no sense if you’re not familiar with the show (Rita appears in the sky and the gang watch. At some point one of them obviously went… “that’s not right) you start at the character select screen, this is rather pointless as all the characters basically control the same and whilst their attacks differ in animation, their function is pretty much the same, the only slight difference is that in pink ranger form (I’m not even going into the stereotypes here) Kimberly has a projectile weapon, but it’s not that powerful, so…fuck it, I guess. I choose Billy all the time because Dunagrees are a good fashion choice and also if this game were bad, I could pretend I was playing a Mario game like Mario Is Missing or Hotel Mario or…wait…THOSE GAMES SUCK AS WELL…

…anyway, the main gameplay is…well, it’s a standard action game to be honest. Once you choose your characters, you run to the right punching and jump punching on palette swapped enemies to some truly fantastic music, occasionally you get a neat little bit of scenery like a park bench to throw at them, but they’re pretty uncommon. It’s brilliant the first time you do it, really good fun, but as the levels progress; it begins to get very repetitive. How repetitive? Very repetitive? Is this an inclination of how repetitive it is? Why yes, it’s very repetitive, so repetitive that [get on with it – ED]. There’s a huge amount of button bashing involved and at times the triggering of moves is off. Whilst it’s nice that if you time it right you can repeatedly kick a goon in the ghoulies, (which feels surprisingly empowering if you play as Kimberley. Not that I played as her or anything), and he can’t attack you back, they can do the same thing…with knives. It’s not pretty. The only other problems I found with this game is just how bad some of the jumping mechanics are. Yeah, whilst every awful 2D platformer I’ve played for your benefit has had sloppy mechanics, this just feels slow and un responsive when you have to jump between platforms leading to INSTA DROP!!! Also, the game never hints that you can wall jump, which makes the first instance you need it infuriating, so you don’t unleash your inner Samus by making sweet wall jumps, you unleash your rage like when you saw Other M’s cutscenes!

The game takes on 7 areas, with the first half has the kids in their normal clothes and is pretty cool, but things don’t pick up till halfway through the level when the boss shows up and promptly pisses off again, kind of saying. “I’m going to kill you now…oh shit, you’re one of those pesky kids…ciao” Also, why does the boss of level 2 carry a rake and an accordian as a weapon? That just made no sense…but then I’m spouting logic against a boss who’s an oversized garden gnome. Anyway,  so the second half of the level has you in Power ranger form where you take a bit less damage and your attacks have longer range. Oh and you can use a super bomb attack that obliterates everything that is awesome. Bruce Campbell awesome.

In the end what this game is…is AWESOME. Yeah, it’s a tad repetitive with the punching and the jumping, but there’s so much fast paced energy, with some amazing music, who really gives a crap. It’s just massively good fun.

Zelda: Ocarina Of Time 3D Silent Review

Notes On A Vlog 3: The Room, WiiU and Super Smash Bros.

Also, check out this updated version.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYLhsQkA%5D

Mickey’s Speedway USA

Hey, it’s been a while since I poked fun at Rareware hasn’t it? Nuts & Bolts was bad guys, really bad. So bad in fact…no, we’re not going to go there, mostly for the reason that it was released after my 2005 cut-off date. So with that in mind, shall we turn our attention to a different crap fest from the studio behind the Banjo the squirrel games? Let’s look through my stash of pirated…I mean, legally bought games…ah Mickey’s Speedway USA, this looks like it’ll contain enough faecal matter to stink out the lourve [what does that even mean? – ED]. Let’s crack this thing open and pour in our venom shall we?

Ok, so the first thing you do is select a character and immediately this is a problem. There aren’t enough, Mario Kart has 8 minimum characters and they’re all uniquely balanced, here we have 6 and there’s not a great deal of variation. The tier list is there, with 2 characters taking up each position, Mickey and Donald are all-rounders,  Minnie and Daisy Duck are the lightweights, and Goofy and Pete are the heavy characters, even though Goofy has never came across as being heavy. To be honest, this only really comes into any real use when it comes to the later difficulties and so is mostly down to personal preference. But if you choose anyone except Donald Duck, you are a shit. To be honest, I felt that the only playable characters were a bit obvious. You can unlock Donalds nephews and Professor Ludwig, which is cool, but when you consider the sheer amount of characters in the Mickey universe of Disney alone, just going with the bare basics felt a bit obvious and boring. I at least wanted Scrooge McDuck in there, or maybe considering Rare did the Roger Rabbit game, he could have appeared. Maybe I’m just disappointed that Mickey Mouse isn’t as cool as the Looney Tunes, or I’m just finding excuses to why Daisy Duck’s in there instead of, you know…someone good.

So anyway, the game follows its predessecor Diddy Kong Racing and decides it needs a story as to why Mickey Mouse and his friends are driving up and down America. Some weasels have stolen Pluto and so for some reason, Mickey and his friends race each other to get him back. The thing is, it’s a poor excuse plot and it’s not even needed, the title tells you the whole point of the game. Mickey Mouse. Racing. In America.  Mario Kart hasn’t got a storyline and that’s pretty popular. But the other aspect of the plot is how the game centres on racing across America, and whilst the levels definitely have the feel of the places they’re trying to capture and thanks to the sheer bonkers that is America’s ever changing climates from east, west, north and south, you get a good variety (even the ice level…) of tracks.  But then at the same time, with the exception of the touristy landmarks  on most levels (although there was no Hollywood sign in the LA level) you could probably just say the games set in a cartoony country, give the levels different, Disney themed names and it wouldn’t make a difference.

On the subject of the levels, someone’s gone out there way and made them look very nice indeed, they kind of looking a bit more realistic like Jet Force Gemini than the cartoony Diddy Kong Racing, I don’t know if this is Rare really making use of the N64’s tech or just a purposely weird decision. It still runs on the DKR engine (get it, it’s a car game and it runs on an engine…) and this becomes more apparent when you slide on an oil slick or powerslide too long. But the thing is, Rare seem to very much have been playing a fair bit of Mario Kart, because despite the more realistic style of graphics, it genuinely feels almost the same, but with mice instead of plumbers, there’s so many blatent rip-offs it’s amazing Nintendo didn’t sue…*looks at box* “Published by Nintendo” Oh there you go. No suings for anyone…except me.

The most obvious “homage/rip off ” (delete as appropriate) is clearly Louie…or Huey…or Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub  in a floating thing at the starting lights couldn’t be more Lakitu unless he has had a fishing rod, and the weapons are just worse versions of Mario Kart’s, thankfully they didn’t look into the future and take inspiration from the Mario Kart Wii items, because that would be awful…who’d want to look to the future just to see how Mario Kart’s coming along…?

Anyway, Baseballs are like green shells, RC cars and planes are like Red Shells, there’s a spray can that acts like mushrooms and and a bubble that gives you a speed boost and invincibility…nope, don’t know where that came from.  The only downside is when it decides to take Mario Karts catchphrase based dialogue and make it more engaging and have characters speak to each other during the race, this is what the kids call an “epic fail”. The stock phrases become repetitive and irritating quickly, as well as non sensical “I thought we were friends” Mickey yells as you hit him with an explosive toy car, forgetting that he’d just done the same thing a minute earlier. On the subject of throwing stuff at people, something I’m very skilled at after that year I was accidently left in the monkey enclosure, the battle mode is almost a cut and paste from Mario Kart, they even have balloon health bars, except they were from Disneyland and hence overpriced. No wonder they use crappy toys as weapons, they spent all their budget on balloons.

Mickey’s Speedway USA is Mario Kart with Disney characters, nothing else. It sounds stupid to sum it up like that, but it’s impossible to think of it as anything else, I wanted to compare it to Diddy Kong Racing, but there weren’t enough politically incorrect elephants in this, but there is Goofy…

But at least the stuff they’ve stolen is the best stuff from Mario Kart game and you stop caring about the subtlety of which they’ve “borrowed” ideas and remember that there’s a good reason they’ve copied Mario Kart. Because Mario Kart is fucking fun. It’s quite a good bridge between Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, because it develops the genre a bit more, before Double Dash slightly re-invented it. But if you have either of those two, you probably won’t play this, because you won’t find a copy and because it’s not as good.

That’s all folks!

Wait…that’s not right.