Posts Tagged ‘A+’

The Lego Movie

lego movieEvery movie franchise has gotten a Lego video game, so it’s about time that Lego got a movie.  Does that make sense?  I feel like that makes sense.  My wife wanted to see this movie from the moment she found out Will Arnett was going to voice Batman, but that honestly wasn’t enough to get me excited.  When I saw all the cameos in the movie, I started to get a little interested, but still, I wasn’t giddy about the idea of sitting through an hour and a half of Lego anything.  The games have always been disappointing to me, and I have no idea what’s going on with these weird ninja Lego cartoons that kids seem to love.  Lego and I have just grown apart over time.

Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked Legos.

Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked Legos.

I saw the movie last week with this attitude in my back pocket, and after slowly being won over by the charm and the humor of the movie, I left debating with my wife about just where this movie stands on our “All Time Favorite Cartoon” list.  It’s a lot higher on hers, but I’m pretty sure it has a place on mine somewhere. Still, the longer I thought about it, the more I liked it.

My biggest gripe with the film was that is relies too much on references to other franchises.  But we ARE talking about Lego, here.  Representing other franchises is their bread and butter.  The Star Wars references and the Lord of the Rings references were all well timed, they didn’t dominate the movie, and they were fun.  Thinking about it now, this was one of the movies strongest points and it really represented their brand well.

The casting for the movie is another bright spot.  Chris Pratt, who has been on my “Interesting Actors” radar for a while now, does a great job of voicing the main character,  Will Farrel makes for a funny bad guy, and Charlie Day is a stand-out as he always seems to be. Elizabeth Banks’ character is a nice strong female lead as well, which I think parents of young girls will be happy about.  And of course, Nick Offerman is always gold.

Also, the Good-Cop/Bad-Cop character (Liam Neeson) was pretty brilliant.

Also, the Good-Cop/Bad-Cop character (Liam Neeson) was pretty brilliant.

The animation was, obviously, a big part of the show.  Whenever things would slow down, it gave me a chance to really appreciate all the work that went into the film.  Building and ripping things apart is a big part of playing with Legos and I was happy that it was a big part of the film.  It really felt like this wasn’t a film made in Legos, as much as it was a film ABOUT Legos, and that was pretty cool.

Over all, the movie gets an A for original ideas masked under the familiar face of Lego, amazing visual effects, and for imaginative settings that bridged multiple Lego series’.

You should watch this movie if you’re a fan of kids movies, silly movies, goofy comedy, nostalgia, and creative animation.

Castle Doombad

Castle Doombad by [adult swim] iconI love Adult Swim games for the iOS.  No matter who the developer may be, they’re all great.  Castle Doombad is no exception.  I bought it 3 weeks ago and have been all-about it since. 

 

The story is basically that you work for a bad guy who needs you to build defenses in his castle to keep heroes away from his captured princess.  You get to build all kinds of traps over multiple stories of the castle, including a trapdoor, a troll that blocks the path of the would-be good-guys, and spinning blades on the ceiling.  There are a ton traps that can be unlocked, some that attack on their own and some that rely on your expert timing to be deployed.  All of this is purchased with “screams” that you are harvesting from the aforementioned princess and from machines you can build that create artificial screams. 

Castle Doombad pits you against a number of heroic characters.
Pictured: Not your character

Castle Doombad is not the most original title in the world.  It harkens back to the 2004 game Evil Genius in a lot of ways, but it is simple to play like any other tower defense game on iOS. Still, what it lacks in its originality it makes up for in its execution and charm.  The minions you can buy are a lot of fun to watch run around your castle, and the heroes all have a level of personality that can be appreciated without being too distracting to make some nail-biting, last minute, game saving additions to your top floor.

 

Some other things this game gets right is that it’s not on a freemium model.  You buy it, and that’s all there is to it.  Other Adult Swim games could have used this approach (I’m looking at you, Amateur Surgeon 3), and I hope something has been learned here. 

 

While most Adult Swim games can end up feeling very repetitive (Robot Unicorn, Mole Escape and Giant Boulder of Doom, primarily), Castle Doombad has kept my attention for a while now.  Chalk this up to interesting game modes (including a mode that moves your castle progressively lower into the dungeon instead of up into the sky. I still can’t figure out why playing in this mode feels so different and game changing when it really isn’t…), tons of unlockables and upgrades, and an endless mode where you can earn a ton of gold to unlock other goodies. 

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When things get flipped over in the dungeon stages, things feel very different.

If you just got an iOS device, I would still probably recommend Super Monsters Ate My Condo, but Castle Doombad is a close second.  It is by far my favorite tower defense style game on iOS, and possibly my favorite tower defense game ever.

 

Castle Doombad gets an A+ for creative design, fun characters, and game play that does not dull out as quickly as other iOS titles.

 

You should play this game if you’re a fan of: iOS games, Adult Swim games, Tower Defense games, super hero characters, super villains, or cartoon humor. 

5 Underrated A+ Albums

Sixteen Stone by Bush

While I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Bush fan, this album really deserves more credit than it’s given. Maybe it didn’t redefine a genre or put the world on its head, but it accomplished a lot. I feel like whenever a song from this album comes on the radio I have to defend it, and that doesn’t seem right to me, and it’s actually the reason I thought about writing this article.

Bush will forever be known as the band that showed up to the party late. Kurt Cobain was already dead, Pearl Jam was trying to stay relevant, and Soundgarden was either broken up or on their way there, and then in comes Bush. And they weren’t bad. Most new grunge bands would have been mocked and shunned, but Bush was actually so good that the genre most people were tired of became interesting again. “Machinehead” and “Glycerine” were GIANT hits and are accepted as such today.

The band kind of disappeared after this album. They released that song “Mouth” and kept trying to reclaim their former glory while changing their sound, but it wasn’t happening. Today, people kind of seem to think they’re a joke, but let me run some info by you. The album contains 6 songs that charted higher than number 4 on the Billboard music charts. The album itself peaked at #4, and has sold over six million copies. This was all AFTER grunge was popular. This is like someone coming out and releasing an amazing Rock/Rap album right now. Making old hat into new hat is pretty impressive, so my hat is off to them.

 

Ixnay on the Hombre by The Offspring

Before they went off and got kinda poppy and funny, The Offspring were kinda punk. Their first major album, Smash, was pretty high octane and didn’t pull any punches. It contained all the hits you likely remember, “Self Esteem”, Bad Habit”, and “Come Out and Play”. When their second major album came out, a lot of people were excited to hear where they would take their sound.

The album was still kinda punk, complete with a disclaimer at the album’s start, voiced by Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys. The album is a just as loud and charged as Smash and really kept their tempo up and their fire burning. The singles from the album, “Gone Away”, “I Choose”, and “All I Want” were pretty great and didn’t get as much attention as they deserve, especially “Gone Away”.

Today, when people look back on their career, people remember Smash, and then they remember “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job”, leaving Ixnay on the Hombre out of the picture. Their new stuff is cool, but it has more meaning when looking at it in context of a band with punk roots who took their message into the mainstream. Ixnay on the Hombre is a great album that many fans of outspoken, raw music should look into.

 

Fashion Nugget by Cake

In 1996, Cake got some recognition based on the success of the single “The Distance”, but their fame was sporadic at best from there. They have experienced spikes in popularity in their career after Fashion Nugget with hits like “Never There”, and “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”, but most people did themselves a disservice by letting this gem pass them by.

The album opens with “Frank Sinatra”:

and delivers track after track of fun, witty, catchy, well written, and downright enjoyable songs. There isn’t a track on this album from the somber “Sad Songs and Waltzes” to the cover of the 1947 song “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” that under-delivers; the album really shows the band’s range and writing styles in a powerful way.

Any Cake CD deserves your attention, but the most underrated of the group’s catalog is Fashion Nugget. While other albums show an evolution of their trademark sound, this album is as close to perfect as many might hope for. In a time when the music world should be begging for a fresh, fun, and outspoken group like Cake, the mainstream seem to keep letting them slip by. It’s nearly criminal.

 

Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet

I know you might think I’m crazy for putting this cult classic in here, but my point is that this album deserved much more than cult classic status. I bought this album without being too sure what to expect, but after the first few songs it’s hard not to be impressed. How so many people had never heard of Matthew Sweet before Guitar Hero featured “Girlfriend” is beyond me. The man has immense talent.

The guitar work of Matthew Sweet is something very special, and his songwriting ability is tremendous. The first 6 songs on this CD is one of the best beginning to any I’ve ever heard. From “Divine Intervention” to “Evangeline”, the album starts off with a showcase of talent and passion for not only the music he’s writing, but for the topics he addresses within each song.

While the album has been called one of the best power-pop records of the 90’s, today it is often overlooked and deserves a lot more attention than it gets. The videos for the songs “Girlfriend” and “I’ve Been Waiting” are made from a blend of Japanese animation and music, and was pretty cutting edge for the time.

From the harmonizing to the crazy guitar solos, Girlfriend offers up a lot more than many people might imagine. I listened to this album many times, and every time I listen to it I feel like I hear something new. It’s a beautiful album.

 

High Voltage

I’ve said for a long time, if someone asked me to show them what rock music was all about, I’d give them an AC/DC album. But let me clairify: I’d give them an album before Bon Scott died. After Bon Scott died, things changed, but ask any casual listener today and they might not even know about it. Brian Johnson came in after the tragic death of Bon Scott and did a great job with Back in Black and subsequent records as well. Bittersweet as it may be, Back in Black was so big that it’s easy to forget just how amazing the band was before the change.

The older albums had something the new stuff just doesn’t. Bon Scott added lyrics to the music that fit. He was a bad ass and he let everyone know it. Songs like “Live Wire”, “The Jack”, and “Rocker” cannot be recreated by any musician with the same amount of truth. The newer stuff feels too much like Brian Johnson is just trying pretend he’s Bon Scott. It makes sense to try, but none of his lyrics really come close to the badassery that was Bon Scott.

And of these older records, I feel the most underrated is High Voltage. For a debut album, it is simply amazing. The raw power of the band, and the in-your-face lyrics push this album to the front of the line when looking at some of the best rock albums of all time. From the very start with the song “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)” to the very last song “High Voltage”, AC/DC paints an accurate picture for the world of just what kind of power they’re unleashing.

I know the US version of this album went platinum, but today it’s one of the last albums a casual listener or new fan might pick up. Songs like “The Jack” have been retooled by and rewritten by Brian Johnson, and some people might even hear the (better) original versions after they’ve heard the new stuff. It’s a shame.

The most popular song on this album is “T.N.T.” but every one of these rockers could have been hit singles. In my opinion “Live Wire” is one of the best songs the band has ever written. Between the screaming classic guitar riffs and the bad ass lyrics that proclaim the power of AC/DC, it’s impossible to deny that this album should be the starting point for any new fan and should go down in history as, quite possibly, if not THE, then one of the very best quintessential rock albums ever made.

 

 

Donkey Kong Country Returns

A must have for Wii owners of all ages.

A must have for Wii owners of all ages.

Donkey Kong Country Retruns.  I wish they would have called it something else…Like “Donkey Kong Country: Anything Other Than Returns.”  It was gone for a while, and now it’s back.  I get that.  It’s returned.  Ok.  But man…so cliche.  But it’s Nintendo, and since it’s not a Zelda game, the title is going to be, at the very least, lackluster.  At least they didn’t make some kind of banana pun.

Now that I got that out of the way, Donkey Kong Country Returns is the best game I’ve played on the Wii yet.  It might be the best platformer I’ve ever played, along with Super Mario World and Mario 3.  And of all the recent Nintendo re-imaginings and re-releasings, it shines as bright as the sun.  The game pulls no punches in its extreme styling and imaginative level design.  It holds on to all the things we fell in love with the first time we played a game as Donkey Kong and Diddy, including the rhino and a plethora of hidden areas.   It contains countless hidden items and offers great replay ability.  The game is very near flawless.

I played a lot of the game with my girlfriend.  The multiplayer is a marvel in the platforming genre, in which it is common for a second player to feel like more of a burden or a distraction.  NEW Super Mario Bro.’s suffers from this problem, as a second player gets in the way and is constantly vying for the best power-ups and trying to run ahead or is constantly slowing you down.  In DKCR, one player controls Diddy and the other Donkey Kong.  Each has his own abilities, such as DK’s ground pound and Diddy’s ability to use a jet pack and gun, and so each character  is very useful.  If a player in multiplayer is going to slow, they are transported to the faster character.  There is no slowing down.

The level design is what really puts DKCR in my list of top three platformers of all time.  Some levels take place during dusk, making everything in the level a silhouetted black.  Another level is shrouded in smog.  The mine cart levels return, as do new challenges, such as a rocket barrel you must navigate through obstacles R-Type style, and barrels that shoot the player into a new path hidden in the background landscape of the primary stage.   Yet another level has the player being attacked by an octopus from the background of the level.  By far, the most impressive level is one in which everything (from moving platforms to hammers that can crush the player), moves in beat to the level’s music.  It is level design like that, which can remain interesting and fresh even on your tenth try, that keeps gamers from giving up on the hard levels and pushes them to enjoy the next stage.

In terms of beautiful level design and meaningful interactions with those levels, DKCR delivers and delivers big.

In terms of beautiful level design and meaningful interactions with those levels, DKCR delivers and delivers big.

The boss battles can be a bit over the top in difficulty.  There are some things that seem to be random, like enemy attacks, that feel like they really should be determined by a pattern.  Some of them, like the crab boss, seem unfair because of this.  Still, it is entertaining and offers up a bit of variety in difficulty and game flow.

On the surface, the game can at times seem a bit campy and too cartoonish. Hardcore gamers should not be fooled. The true core of this game is groundbreaking and inspired.

The games gets an A+.  I loved every minute, and after finishing, there is still a lot more to do.  I can’t wait to 100% the game and really get the full effect.  If you own a Wii, this is a must have.  It is simply a beautiful and exciting game.

Little Known A+ Albums: #4: Fountains of Wayne

This is their REAL first album.

A lot of people only know Fountains of Wayne because of their 2003 hit, “Stacy’s Mom” off of their album Welcome Interstate Managers.  It was a big success for the band and landed them a nomination in 2003 for “Best New Artist.”  This confused me greatly since I had been a fan of the band since 1996 when their first, self titled album was released.

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I understand a lot of people might have bought Welcome Interstate Managers and having heard of their nomination thought that they had discovered a new and interesting power-pop band.  The truth is they have two albums prior.
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#4 on my list is their first and self-titled album.
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There were a few singles off of this album.  The one I remember hearing on the radio was “Radiation Vibe.”  I remember seeing the music video on MTV (that’s how long ago this happened, MTV was still showing videos).  It was pretty awesome.  I can’t find that video, so here’s this live version.
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The whole album was very full of energy which is something I kind of feel like their other albums lack.  It’s true, the band has been writing more advanced songs and has been exploring more interesting sounds, but nothing can top this album’s furver.  I enjoy the angst and the heartbreak themes that run through this album, and I also appreciate the other fast-paced songs with lyrics that don’t really add up or matter, like Radiation Vibe and Survival Car.  Every song is fun to listen to and to sing along with.
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The album stayed in my CD player for about a month and a half after I got it.  I made copies for all my friends.  Now they’re fans too.  It’s not an album that’s hard to enjoy.  Even my friends with selective tastes can find something to like about this album.  It’s got heart and it’s got noise, and in my opinion that’s all a good album really needs.
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It’s A+ is well deserved, and if the Grammy’s actually gave a shit about good music Fountains of Wayne would have won that award in 1996.  For less than a dollar on Amazon.com, you can’t go wrong!
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Honorable mention: My favorite song by Fountains of Wayne isn’t on either their self titled album or Welcome Interstate Managers.  It’s on the album Utopia Parkway.  The song is called “Denise” and it goes like this:
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The whole album is pretty great (I give it a B), and you can get Utopia Parkway for about 50 cents on Amazon.com!
(You can currently get all 3 albums mentioned in this article for $30 online as part of a Amazon.com promotion)

Little Known A+ Albums: #10 Binaural by Pearl Jam

Stare at this long enough and you'll believe in God...or something.

Remember when grunge was in?  I do.  I remember Pearl Jam’s Ten, that’s for sure.  It was full of singles that got airplay ALL THE TIME.  The album sold millions upon millions of copies and anyone who owned it hung the liner notes/poster on their wall like a battle flag against…whatever grunge was against.  Grunge didn’t really have a message, did it?

Their next album, Vs., sold considerably less copies than Ten, dropping from 9.6 million to 5.9 million copies.  Vitology, their third album, only sold 4.7 million, and their fourth album, No Code, only sold 1.4 million copies.  The band was quickly losing popularity for a number of reasons.  The band wasn’t touring, they weren’t releasing music videos, and they were changing their sound.  The combination of all these things made many people in their fan base turn their backs on the band.

I know this isn’t a history lesson, but I’m bringing sales up because by the time Binaural came out there wasn’t much buzz about the band anymore.  It was the first album to sell below a million copies (just over 700,000 copies), and the singles off the album didn’t get that much air play.

Following their previous album, Yield, the band took a new approach.  Lead singer, Eddie Vedder said about the music of Binaural, “We’d rather challenge our fans and make them listen to our songs than give them something that’s easy to digest. There is a lot of music out there that is very easy to digest but we never wanted to be part of it.”  Grunge takes a back seat in this album, more so than the ones before it, and their singles were much more mellow.  “Nothing As It Seems” and “Light Years” weren’t upbeat or loud or fast or anything you might expect from the band.  Usually they let out singles that fit the band’s older image, like “Do The Evolution” on Yield.  This shook things up in a bad way for the album.

It's been said that during the production of the album, Eddier Vedder was in the middle of a stint of writers block. It doesn't show, but it may have allowed other band members to contribute more fully to the album.

Overall, however, this is one of the band’s best albums.  Pearl Jam has always released albums where everyone in the band writes songs, it’s not just one or two people taking the lead.  After being in a band for nearly a decade, Pearl Jam makes it work here for what I feel is the first time.  The sounds don’t clash, the slowing down and speeding up of the album works, and the lyrics and mood of the album fits perfectly.

Binaural is a welcome change from a band that had been writing songs about love, peace, and human injustice, and religion. In Yeild they showed that they had a lot to say about various social issues, but in this album they seem to make their points much more clearly.

For example, songs like Insignificance paint a realistic picture of how many Americans feel about war (remember, recording on this album began in September of 1999 and ended in early 2000). They make the point that it can often times feel like someone else’s war, a war that isn’t ours. Since we oppose it, we don’t need to take credit for it. Or, since we don’t know anything about it, we don’t need to take credit for it. But what happens when this war comes to our towns? How would you feel with war on our soil? The mood and tempo of the songs all create a kind of uneasyness in the listener. The pictures painted to go along with the mood only accent the band’s themes and points about humanity.

Pearl Jam, in my opinion has released 3 A+ albums, but this is the one I think most people missed. You can get it for less than a dollar on Amazon.com.

Note: I know it’s hard to sell people on Pearl Jam.  I know that.  Trust me.  Just give a listen to a couple of these songs and then judge.  Thin Air, Insignificance, and Rival. No videos were released for the singles off of this album, so this is the best video I could find.