The Zero Hour

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

Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Zero Hour at Eurogamer: Zelda, Mario, Metal Gear, Counter-strike previews.

Kongfest – Silent Reviews

Nevermind, it’s a tribute

Time sure flies. Nevermind, one of the greatest albums ever released, is now 20 years old. Such a fact seems small to some, but immensely huge to others and it’s simply because the album, the band, and most importantly that music, means a lot to some people. It’s one of those era defining records in a sense that; One generation has Revolver, one generation has Dark Side Of The Moon and one generation has Nevermind. If you were to pick one album that would represent the 90’s, it would be Nevermind, no question (although, being a Brit, I could definitely see people arguing that Oasis’ Definitely Maybe would take that crown, but THEY’RE WRONG!)

I’ll be honest, It’s really hard to sit here and talk about an album and a band that I really love for the simple reason of that I’m unaware of the context. I can research about how it “changed the world”, brought alternative rock into the mainstream and influencing bands such as Green Day, Weezer and The Vines, but it doesn’t feel right, because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t alive in September 1991 when the album was released. I’ve often wished I was, but I wasn’t a cool Alt-rock LA based teenager excited for my favourite bands new release, I was a 6 month old foetus in England. So it pains me to say, I don’t have a cool story of “where I was when the Teen Spirit video premiered” or “when I found out Kurt committed suicide”, I have no knowledge of the whole whirlwind that was the career from either an American or English perspective from the time, so that’s why I’d never get asked by Melody Maker, Rolling Stone or NME about Nevermind (also, because you know, not exactly a household name) other than “what’s your favourite track?”

But there’s other reasons albums like this get remembered, it’s not historical value, although that is significant in many classic albums, it’s how that record makes you feel. And I think that most people’s favourite albums are favourites because they connect with you on an emotional level, and Nevermind is no exception. It resonates with teenagers all over the world, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium are obvious teen anthems, the latter’s lyrics of confusion and dis-illusionment maybe about drugs, but at the same time, could sum up all that awkwardness of adolescence and I guarantee anyone who’s 15 and can play guitar can play the intro Smells Like Teen Spirit. Its bittersweet acoustic numbers from the slow burning Polly to the haunting Something In The Way are both heart-breaking and tracks like Breed and Territorial Pissings stare down at you with such intensity that it’s almost a competition between you and the track to which will run out of energy first. Come As You Are is still this watery, trippy, dreamy experience that in the world of hindsight just feels tragic, and for the same reason, In Bloom’s lyrics of “Likes our pretty songs/likes to sing along/don’t know what it means” is almost like Kurt knew the impact it would have.

I kind of feel that I have to make up for the fact I don’t have a historical story about the album, thankfully I do have a personal story, which I’m going to share with you.

I first heard Nevermind when I was 13 back in 2004, before then I’d mostly listened to, and I’m not kidding, novelty albums. The only CD I had to my name was Goldie Lookin’ Chain’s album (a Welsh comedy rap group, think Insane Clown Posse but intentionally funny).  I can’t remember what led me to listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time, and it’s clichéd to say it, but it was mind-blowing, this pop song bundled in a layer of heavy chords, and indecipherable shouty lyrics. I was this quiet, pretty messed up kid, hanging out with people who never liked me, being bullied and just generally having a shitty time, and then this music came along and just made everything that little bit better. I bought Nevermind in the winter of 2004, it was £16 (I’m amazed I remember that) and I remember someone teasing me about paying that much for it, but it was completely worth it. I only played the two songs I’d heard prior to getting the album the first couple of plays before actually listening to the whole thing and I think I can safely say it changed my life.

It’s strange becoming a fan of a band long after they’ve split up, you’re more a fan of a period in history than a band, something that’s been and gone and will never come back, but I listened to those songs repeatedly, and I knew even from the first time I heard it that Kurt had been dead 10 years, but I had this weird bit of denial, where I couldn’t accept that fact, maybe I knew that as long as we recognise his work, not for how popular it was, or for even what it means, he could never really have died. I think maybe that idea rooted something in my brain that still hasn’t got out. Cobain’s lyrics inspired me to start song writing, guitar playing, even singing briefly (Something which I slowly realised I wasn’t very good at and since vowed never to try again) and this led to an interest in creative writing in general, so I guess if it hadn’t been for one £16 CD, I wouldn’t have this website, I wouldn’t write short stories, I wouldn’t be studying English, hell I don’t know where I’d be without it.

And I suppose that’s what makes a classic album, something that can continue to be introduced to and that can influence people, be it 13 years old or 20 years old, and I don’t think anyone questions Nevermind’s status as a classic album. Maybe it doesn’t have the ambition of Smashing Pumpkins, or the swagger of Pearl Jam or the experimentation of Sonic Youth, but it perfectly creates a balance between pop and rock, it’s not too heavy for mainstream audiences and there’s really something in there for nearly everyone, so if you haven’t heard the album, try and pick up a copy on its 20th anniversary this week (don’t get the actual 20th anniversary version unless you love 4 discs of extras and demos, get the original 12 track CD). It’s truly a piece of musical history that deserves all the praise it gets. Iggy Pop may not like it, but he spends most of his days with puppets trying to sell you insurance, so take from that what you will.

And with that special message, I’m done and I can go home.

Duck Dodgers

Who is your favourite Looney Tunes character? Did you say anyone except Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck? Good because you’re WRONG. No-one likes Southern chickens, fast rodents or cats with the inability to catch birds. Well, maybe a little.

So Looney Tunes cartoons are, for lack of a better term; ****ing perfect and so because of their legacy, everyone at some point must have been excited to play video games about them, none of which have exactly fared well. Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle is the most well known, but was a pretty dull puzzle platformer thing, but somehow spawned 3 sequels. In fact, a lot of the characters have their own games, Porky Pig got a haunted mansion game, Roadrunner, even Yosemite Sam, but we’re not looking at those today, mostly because…well, they’re not very good. In fact, are there any good Looney Tunes games? Really? The answer is probably no. But let’s take a look see at Duck Dodgers.

Ok, Duck Dodgers, the name painfully referencing Buck Rodgers In The 24th Century, is a spin-off cartoon where Daffy Duck (or his great great descendant or whatever) plays some ridiculously long winded character who is a space hero saving the universe from sci-fi parodies, which he ultimately fails. Someone at some point thought it would be a neat concept for a game and so here we are 11 years later talking about it.

The first problems become apparent when loading the opening cinematic. The plus side is that it tries to look good, there is some charm in the graphics, but ultimately they just remind me of Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers, which if you recall, is not a good thing. In fact, there appears to missing graphics, one character was missing his nose. The dialogue is just as ambitious, the characters speak, but the subtitles fall behind and the speech and the voice clips just bleed into each other and it’s just painful, but thankfully I can skip through it and just get on with the game.

The story of the game is that Marvin The Martian has created an ultimate weapon to destroy earth, unfortunately because he didn’t think it through, it needs atoms to work. You know, like EVERYTHING EVER. Oh except these atoms aren’t microscopic, they’re about as big as my fist, which basically means **** science…why am I worried about the scientific accuracy of a game anyway? Moving on, Daffy Duck Dodgers has to collect the energy atoms before Marvin to stop him. He could have just found one, laid a trap for Marvin and arrested him for crimes against the universe and saved the space government a lot of money, but THAT’S NOT FUN. Instead we get a collect-em up 3D platformer, which…is?

TO be fair to the game, the actual platforming aspect isn’t too bad, it mostly revolves on you picking up little items that fix your health/give you extra lives and they tend to lead you to the atoms, which is a bit of a bummer for those who like to explore. In fact, the actual game kind of tricks you into a sense of non-linearity, you do have to complete one area completely before moving on to the next section. This isn’t a problem if you like doing lots in one go, but for a game that plays like Mario 64 in Space…before they did that themselves, it feels just a little bit restrictive and added to the fairly small levels, it kind of brings it down and doesn’t really set the game apart from other platformers.

It’s not helped by the games camera, which like most 3D platformers of the genre, really does not like the player, often screwing up your jumps or just panning when you don’t need it, and the first person view is very hard to navigate.

Ultimately, Duck Dodgers is a game that tries to be good. The level design tries to capture that cartoon aesthetic and place it in a 3D setting, but the cel shading and 2D/3D don’t really look very good on the Nintendo 64’s hardware, and Daffy constantly is missing pixels when you look at him. I liked the voice acting, but that maybe biased because Daffy is just generally pretty awesome, it never got on the wrong side of annoying, nor was it over used, unlike some games I’ve played recently, and its camera is just…****ing awful. But surprisingly, for reasons I genuinely can’t explain, maybe it’s a fairly fun enjoyable game and it looks like Duck Dodgers managed to avoid duck season this year, I guess.

Diva Starz: Mall Mania

You know that awkward phase in a girls life where they become all irritating and preppy and only care about their outfits, cute boys and hair accessories? I mean, I don’t know if it even exists outside of shitty American pre-teen movies, but you know, there’s a whole damn market for that kind of junk. Thanks to the Barbie craze of the 1960’s, every generation has a version of this, be it Bratz or some other thing, I don’t know nor care. Unsurprisingly, because of the stigma of games being aimed at boys, someone had to make a game aimed at that market of irritating giggly females. Which is why today, and because I’m so full of self-hatred and enjoy watching myself suffer, I’m playing “Diva Starz: Mall Mania”

First things first. You get to the start menu and the music is just awful. I mean, even though the GBC’s sound card isn’t the best, there’s still potential for some good music. Here’s just a chiptune chainsaw burrowing through your skull. So you press start as quickly as possible and start the game. You select a character out of a possible of five girls who are all basically the same, except for hair colour and one of them is a token black character, so fun for everyone. Except me. Obviously. Anyway, so the first level is the character getting to the mall on their scooter collecting items that I can’t recognise because the spriting is rubbish, it’s pretty much, press A to jump (they’re not even wearing helmets, good rolemodeling girls) and after a while the level ends. Once there, the game becomes a choice of 4 really boring minigames that I don’t think I finished because I fall asleep before the last one everytime. There’s a food court level where you have to take apart and rearrange a sundae onto someone elses plate, encouraging dietary problems and anorexia. Next is a level where you give them clothes to wear and are immediately told YOU’RE WRONG if you don’t select the correct outfit by the game like a stubborn Gok Wan. There’s a pet store level where you have to navigate a maze (great store design guys, really) and get a dog, which is so freaking bizarre. You know, when kids go shopping, they always go to the pet store and buy a dog. I bet she’ll bring it home and her parents’ll be like;

“You bought a dog? Why?”
“Because it goes with my shoes,”
“…Honey, pack your bags, you’re going to the catholic boarding school this year”

Anyway the next stage is a music level where you have to dance in a music shop (???) and press the right button that appears on the bottom of the screen, this is probably the strongest of the games, but it’s insanely slow, I was more worried about falling asleep than I was missing the correct button. And finally a bag shop where you throw stuff at bags on a conveyer belt for reasons I don’t understand, like the generation game at a monkey enclosure.

Oh and your reward for getting through these minigames? You get a freezeframe of your character (and their new dog) on the catwalk. Does that satisfy you? No. Good, you get to do it all again 4 more times with the other characters, have fun!

This game sucks like Chet’s party last night (read with rising inflection? Like everything’s a question?) and like, I wouldn’t be seen dead with it. It’s so last year, it’s so blasé and…you know what, I can’t keep that up. This game is truly awful, definitely amongst the worst I’ve played. Including Home Alone 2. The game is easy, the mini games aren’t original, or fun, they’re just boring, and the entire concept is fickle enough to make me hate anyone who even considered buying this game, let alone play it. It’s cheap shovelware aimed at people who won’t ever play it because they don’t stock it in River Island and because Gameboys aren’t fucking shoes. It’s like aiming a bible reading game for a pensioner who’s convinced video games are a spawn of satan, they’re not going to buy it, so why make the effort, make something more worthwhile, like…god damn it, now all I can think about is shoes.