Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 56 - Pikmin

I've been busy of late - mostly playing on my brand new Wii U that I got for Christmas! However, I suddenly realised that I was way behind on these blogs, so I've managed to crack out a new one for you - and suitably enough, it's a Nintendo franchise!

Yeah, it's still boxart. I'll do another picture of me soon(ish)...
Released on: Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo WiiU (utilising the backwards compatibility - haven't got that have you PS4 or Xbox One!)
Release date: 2001

Like Pokemon, Pikmin was a franchise I missed out on when it started. Not out of any particular reason, just that it didn't appeal to me particularly, so I never got into it. And then I met my wonderful wife, and quickly realised quite how much she loves this franchise (not as much as Kingdom Hearts, but close) - this is proven by the blue pikmin (named Roger, obviously) who lives in our car...

But I digress. (Actually, that's not really digression, because I was still talking about Pikmin. Now I'm digressing though, by talking about the fact that I wasn't really digressing....*enters recurisve loop*)

Anyway. So, what's Pikmin about?

Well basically you are Captain Olimar, a podgy, confused little man who crash-lands on a planet when his spaceship is hit by a rock. And then you discover a lot of small plant-like creatures called Pikmin, who (luckily) are happy for you to use them as labour/an army in order to traverse the dangerous surface of the planet and obtain the parts of your spaceship.

Basically, it's a RTS game (real-time strategy) disguised as a cute kids game. You send your army of pikmin to attack/destroy/build/carry things, and you run around independently, making sure that none of them are killed by any of the dangers around!

Sounds fun, right? Well it is. I'll tell you that right off the bat. Pikmin is fun. And it's got some really nifty design ideas. The most stand-out one to me is the time limit. You see, Olimar can only survive on this planet with it's "poisonous oxygen" for thirty days. And there are (conveniently) thirty parts of the ship to find. So that's right, you have to find one every in-game day. And considering each in-game day lasts about 20 minutes (I think, I didn't time them!) then all of a sudden there is a pressure to get things done!

(Various people have told me that the time limit makes re-playing the game once you've completed it less fun - but I don't know, I only played it for an hour!)

Also, I actually had the choice of playing the Gamecube original or the Wii re-release, and was advised by Neety that the Wii controls are actually an improvement, and they certainly came naturally to me!

Now I'm not normally a strategy gamer type of guy, and I expected to be vaguely entertained, but not enthralled by Pikmin, but do you know what? One key decision Nintendo made when creating this franchise became the killer moment for me. The Pikmin are so cute, that when they die due to you launching them at an enemy they can't defeat, or by accidentally letting them drown, or any of the other numerous ways you can inflict death on the poor 'min, a little ghost rises up from them - and you feel guilty!

Seriously Nintendo, I'm a 33 year old man, I shouldn't care about the lives of tiny little animal/plants who are just in a video game - NO WAIT! GET AWAY FROM THAT LAKE! STOP WALKING THAT WAY YOU STUPID.... Oh crap.

You get the idea.

It's heartbreaking!

So you try really hard to get it all right for the little buggers, and before long you are hooked.

"Another glowing Nintendo review" I hear you all sigh, "Seriously Brawny, you are so predictable.."

Well my responses to that are twofold. Firstly... *blows raspberry*.

Secondly, there are some things I didn't like about the game - it was maybe a little too calm and sedentary for me (although that might just be the opening levels) and I find the fact that you have to use tactics confusing (but again, that's probably just me. I like games where I mash the A button until enemies are lying on the floor with limbs all askew.... wow, that sounded violent!)

And that, in essence, is my review in a nutshell. It's a very good game - but it's unlikely to ever become a must play for me, as (like RPGs), the gameplay style is not one that enthralls me.

I'll play it a bit more though - just to make sure the Pikmin all get home OK....

*Turns back to TV and ignores world...*

Rating: 8/10
Time played: 1 hour
Would I play it again? Yes - on and off.

Next time on Brawny's great playthrough - it's a console we haven't done before.. and no, it's no the WiiU! (Not yet anyway, although I am in the midst of writing a WiiU specific blog post too!)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Yet more Musical Mediocrity - the Brit Awards 2014!

Once again, we are zooming towards February, which means we will soon be at that wonderful time when we are informed about what has been utterly shite in the world of music this year. I am, of course, talking about the BRIT awards. So, to carry on my long-held tradition (see my blogs for 2013, 2012 and 2010 - I never did one for 2011), I shall have a look at the nominations for British Single of the Year and give you my unique take on them all...

As always, I listen to as much of the song as I can stand, and then tell you what I thought - I hope you are ready - here goes...

Bastille - Pompeii

How long did I last? 2:39

Impressions: It sounds quite 80's. Is that a thing now? I thought we had revisited the 80s a few years ago and had moved on since then. I'm not a fan of extending a one syllable word over six notes, especially how often they do it, but at least the song sounds unique overall - it's not something I'd be likely to mix up with anything else...

It's not perfect, by any means, and it does feel a little like they were worried about listeners getting bored, particularly in the second verse where there are about four different accompaniment styles over the space of two lines...

And then, in the middle, it decides to abandon it's individuality and stages it's very own breakdown, cutting back to just vocals and piano, before adding backing vocals, then drums... like EVERY POP SONG OF THE LAST TEN YEARS HAS DONE!*

(*Note: I have no actual proof of this, it just feels like this is the case)

But this wasn't terrible. Maybe the quality of music has improved over the last year? Maybe I've become more tolerant?

Rating: 6/10

Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding - I Need Your Love

How long did I last? 0:37

Impressions: I have not become more tolerant. This song started and all of the horrendous memories of years past doing this blog came flooding back.

Before I go any further, I must confess an automatic prejudice against this song - I very much dislike Ellie Goulding. In the several of her songs I have unfortunately heard, her common theme appears to be the fact that she cannot pronounce any kind of consonants whatsoever, instead preferring to just breath down a microphone with the implication that some of the noises she makes may at one point have been words.

And while we're on the subject of musicians that I could not possibly give two fucks about, welcome back Calvin Harris - I hadn't missed you at all! And I see you are still utilising four/five note patterns on horrible synths with some heavy drums to give it a big beat - oh wait, are you just doing that to drown out Ellie Goulding? If so, Mr Harris, you have my respect. Not much of it, but a tiny amount. A drawing pin's worth of respect, if you will.

However, your songwriting still sucks. Delaying the fourth chord of the world's most obvious chord sequence doesn't make your song original. It just makes it jarring to the ear and makes it sound awful.

Rating: 2/10

Disclosure - White Noise

How long did I last? 0:37

Impressions: It starts off sounding like video game music, which is a positive in my book. Sadly this positive only manages to last slightly longer than the positive charge in an AA battery once you have slotted it into the back of a Sega Game Gear (you see? I can still get retro gaming references into this blog even when it's about music!). And then the vocal starts, which is what killed the song for me. Imagine, if you will the sound you get if you took a squealing weasel, managed to (somehow) insert it into a toothpaste tube and then slowly squeezed the end.

That's what this sounds like. As if someone is slowly squeezing out the words.. well, I say words - I assume there are words but in direct contrast to Ellie Goulding, it seems that this weasel ONLY uses consonants, so it just sounds like some harsh noises.

And the music is so repetitive, dull and immensely frustrating to listen to. It's as if someone thought they'd written a song, that lasted 7 seconds, pressed a button on the keyboard, pressed repeat and left.

I may be doing this song a disservice, as it may pick up and become interesting later on, but I highly doubt it...

Rating: 3/10

Ellie Goulding - Burn

How long did I last: 1:11

Impressions: Why does this begin like some kind of dance track? It's an Ellie Goulding song, shouldn't it be all breathy and dull? Oh wait, here comes the unique vocal stylings of little Miss "I just breathe instead of sing" and the track begins it's sharp descent into horrendousness. Seriously, it sounds like some kind of early 90's dance track - I was expecting some Bonkers-style happy hardcore beats to come in at some point - which, let's face it, would probably have improved it.

And how many times does she feel the urge to say Burn in the chorus? Is this song a secret tutorial for pyromaniacs or something? (There may be a lyrical reason for it - but since I can't understand a damn word she says, I couldn't tell you!)

Rating: 3/10 (It's better than her Calvin Harris one. Just.)

John Newman - Love me Again

How long did I last: 2:59

Impressions: First things first. I don't like his voice. I tried not to let that influence me, as I am notoriously fussy with vocalists, so I tried to listen to the whole orchestration and not focus on it. Then the descending string part (which sounds like it came direct from the seventies) starts, and it reaches the morse code style guitar part. I was reaching out to turn it off, but stopped when the chorus came in. And I realised that although I have heard this - many many many times - it's *takes deep breath* not shit!

Don't get me wrong, this isn't audio perfection by ANY means - I still don't like his voice, and it is remarkably musically predictable (yes I am a musical snob - what are you going to do about it!) but at least it has real instruments (and synth strings) and it bounces along the way that a pop song should do.

So just as I was thinking that this was doing really well, it reaches the middle eight, and sadly, that completely breaks the song for me. It is such a dirge in comparison with everything we've heard before. It's such a shame, because without that I MIGHT have listened to it all the way through.

Rating: 7/10

Naughty Boy - La, La, La

How Long did I last?: 0:20

Impressions: This opens with some kind of ethereal fake harp. That's OK, I can cope with that. But then the vocal (and I use that word so very loosely) comes in. Singing "lalalalalala". And that's where I stopped. Partly because I feel that anyone who sings with la la la la is just lazy, but mostly because the last of the la's in each line has had so much auto tune applied to make it slide up that it just sounds horrendous. You remember how the cheap keyboards you used to play with in music lessons had the pitch bend wheels on the end? Well it's like that, but with a horribly cut and pasted vocal.

This song is not recommended for you. Or for anyone with ears and any kind of musical knowledge. Or rats. (It would be cruel to the rats).

Rating: 2/10

Olly Murs - Dear Darlin'

How long did I last? 1:14

Impressions: So, last year Olly Murs was the big surprise for me. I listened to his song all the way through and enjoyed it. So I was quietly confident when I started this song.

"OK", I thought, "It's a ballad - It starts with just piano and vocals, so let's see what happens next... oh, the second time around the verse has a kick drum under it - not original but works I guess..."

And then, the rest of the song comes in, and in one defining moment I realise what's going on.

Last year, Olly Murs wanted to sound like Maroon 5 - which is fine, as Maroon 5 have long since stopped sounding like Maroon 5.  So for this song, Olly Murs apparently REALLY REALLY wants to sound like Robbie Williams. But not early-era energetic Robbie Williams, oh no. He wants to be overblown middle of the road filled with dullness Robbie Williams. The Robbie Williams everyone tries to forget - with such wonderful hits as "Millenium" and other such bland shite.

This song is just not fun, and that was a big disappointment for me. Olly was a pleasant surprise in last year's blog, but sadly that appears to have been a one off, rather than the norm.

What a shame.

Rating: 4/10

One Direction - One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)

How long did I last: 0:51

Impressions: Oh dear god. Before I even put this on I was worried about it. Just look at that combination of title(s) and artist. It seems to scream "Hey, remember when music was good? Well FUCK YOU - that will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!".

In fact, I almost listened to zero seconds of it, but I decided that it wouldn't be fair to do that. I promised to try every song on the list. And that includes this one.

So here we go.


I guess that after ripping off other songs for their own "original" compositions ("Summer Lovin'" for "You don't Know you're Beautiful", "Baba O'Reilly" for "Best Song Ever", "Should I stay or Should I go" for "Live While We're Young", to name but three) One Direction embracing cover songs is the next logical step, but who thought that this was a good idea?

There are no words to describe the awfulness of this.

Oh, and now the Synth Clap is being used. Personally I think that the use of Synth Clap should be banned, and anyone who uses it should get THE CLAP!


I tried to listen further, as I'm told that there is a "mash up" involving Teenage Kicks later in the song (hence the title), and I wanted to hear how awful that was. However, it is a medical fact that if you listen to more than one minute of this song (and you are over 12 years old), then your brain will explode.

Rating: 1/10

Passenger - Let Her Go

How Long did I last? 2:01

Impressions: Now this is strange, the opening sounds like a real instrument. Not the ethereal synth harps of Naughty Boy, or the vomit-inducing synths of Calvin Harris, or even the HORRENDOUS SYNTH CLAP OF DOOM used by One Direction. This is a real instrument, one that somebody has to learn how to play... that makes a change! Again, like the earlier song by John Newman. I wasn't particularly keen on the vocalist when it started, but I let it keep going - if for no other reason than it was cleansing my brain of the One Direction horrors it had previously suffered.

But yeah, musically it's OK. The chord sequence, while pretty standard, was at least varied enough to not just be a bog-standard four chord sequence, and the orchestration actually sounded quite nice...

Sadly it came down to the vocalist after a little while. John Newman survived because the rest of the song was interesting and energetic - but with this pedestrian plodding song, there's only so much of this vocalist I can take - especially when I can't understand the lyrics because there's a complete lack of diction again!

Rating: 5/10

Rudimental - Waiting All Night

How Long did I last? 0:56

Impressions: What happened to songwriters / musicians / producers? Why can't we just give a vocalist a tune, tell them to sing it, and then record them singing it? Why must we play with auto-tune to make it sound horrible, and why must it be cut and pasted to high heaven? Please, can't someone stop the madness?

Well, if they can, it sure as hell won't be on this song, which suffers from all of those complaints and more. I mean, this isn't music, it's just - noise.


Yes, I know that I like to listen to Slayer. Or Rob Zombie. Or Ginger Wildheart's Mutation albums. And yes, I know that a lot of people would just deem them noise as well. But...


They are better noise! (And I don't need to justify it any more than that - it's my blog damnit!)

Also that drum beat - the one that sounds like someone has taught a strobe light how to play the drums - aren't we past that now? Surely we don't need to keep making songs that sound like this - do we?

Rating: 3/10

So this is over for another year - and the winner (i.e. the one that is the most not shit) is John Newman! Well done sir, you can continue to make music. Now the rest of you, if you'd just step through this door...

*Ushers the artists out of the door*

*Shuts the door*

*Muffled Shotgun Blast rings out*

*Comes back in alone*

Let's do better next year, eh?