Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flake Music - When You Land Here, It's Time to Return

Do you like The Shins? I know I do. Are their three studio albums not nearly enough of their unique indie sound? I know it's not enough for me. That's why I own this Flake Music album.

Before they came to be known as The Shins, they were know as Flake Music and they were part of a lively Albuquerque indie scene that spawned Scared of Chaka, The Rondelles, and several others that I am too lazy to look up. Anyway, this album sounds basically just like The Shins, but without the high production values of Chutes Too Narrow. There are only 8 tracks listed on the back cover, but there are 11 tracks on the disc itself. There are 3 untitled interstitials on the album, which are placed fairly randomly. It's the sort of thing that drives me nuts because I like to know the titles of the tracks I'm listening to.

As for the music itself, just imagine what The Shins would sound like if they were a little less produced and a little rougher around the edges. Even so, if I played this for you and didn't tell you it was Flake Music you would definitely think that it was an earlier incarnation of The Shins that performed under a different name.

Five Iron Frenzy - Quantity is Job 1 EP

This EP was my introduction to the fantastic Ska/Punk of Five Iron Frenzy. Five Iron Frenzy are as versatile as you could ever want a Ska/Punk band to be. They can rock hard, they can roll sweetly, they can cover ELO and make it sound completely natural, they can dish out high quality comedy, and they can dabble in absurdity. Add to that versatility the vocal talents of Reese Roper, and it's a savory combo.

I highly recommend "My Evil Plan to Save the World" "Dandelions" "Sweet Talkin' Woman" (Yes, they cover The Electric Light Orchestra and knock it out of the park) "The Untimely Death of Brad" and every single ridiculous track of the pants opera. So that's over half the EP. I can say without hesitation that if Ska/Punk is your bag, you will dig this EP big time.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gauntlet II (NES Game)

Gauntlet II is very similar to the first Gauntlet, but with the following differences: 1) Gauntlet II has much better graphics than its predecessor. The textures are more dungeon-ish, and your character and his/her enemies all look a lot more like what they're supposed to be. 2) The voice that was missing in the first game is present in Gauntlet II. It sounds just like the arcade original. Any time the red warrior needs food, that glorious 8-bit voice will tell you all about it. It may seem a small thing, but it is a big part of Gauntlet's undeniable charm. Even when Gauntlet made the jump to consoles such as the Playstation 2, they kept the same voice. 3) If you have a Four-Score, you can play Gauntlet II in 4 player mode. There aren't too many 4 player games for the NES, and I would go so far as to say that Gauntlet II is as good as you'll do for 4 player NES action.

Gauntlet (NES Game)

Gauntlet is an iconic game. It's one of the very earliest dungeon crawlers but it holds up surprisingly well despite its age. This is one of about a billion ports of this arcade classic. The trick is not to find a vintage system that had a Gauntlet port, it's a much harder thing to find a console that didn't.

For Gauntlet to warrant a release on so many systems, one would expect that one would be blown away or peeing one's pants whilst one's jaw hits the floor as a result of one's contact with Gauntlet. Maybe it doesn't hit that hard, but the appeal of Gauntlet is undeniable. Upon startup you are greeted by one of the all-time great video game fanfares (It's up there with Contra if you need a comparison). You are allowed to select one of four characters (Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie, and Wizard) each of which has its pros and cons. You are then dropped off in the first dungeon and must fend off attacks from ghosts, grunts, demons, and other enemies as you pick up treasure and life-renewing food all while fighting your way to the exit.

I can only throw two gripes I have about this game are: 1) The classic voice that tells you "Red Warrior Needs Food Badly" from the arcade version is not present in this port. 2) Only two players can play this game. The arcade version feature 4-player cooperative play. Aside from those two gripes, Gauntlet is a fine game and highly recommended for any serious NES collector.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ella and Louis Sing Gershwin

I bought this album for one reason and one reason only: I love Satchmo. I felt I didn't have enough Louis Armstrong in my life, and I happen to be a Gershwin fan as well so I purchased this disc with no deliberation. At the time I had no idea who this Ella Fitzgerald person was (I feel compelled to point out that this happened 13 years ago. I've learned a lot since then). When I popped this disc into my discman, I was greeted by the most beautiful female voice I ever heard. Apparently this Ella Fitzgerald was some sort of goddess. I double dippy dog dare you to find a voice better than Ella Fitzgerald. Sure, Aretha Franklin is soulful but it's close and no cigar. Emmylou Harris sends shivers down my spine, but she doesn't knock my jaw to the floor. Susanna Hoffs is a stone cold fox with a distinctive set of pipes, but I'll still take Ella every time. Nobody can do what Ella Fitzgerald did. Bless Sara Vaughn for trying, but there will never be another Ella Fitzgerald.

So when you take the greatest female voice in the history of music and add the unmistakable Satchmo growl and lay it all down on a bed of Gershwin songwriting, you've got pure gold. There simply is no better version of "Summertime" than the one offered here. "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" never had the chemistry Ella and Louis give it. Every song is a gem. I cannot recommend this disc and the respective catalogs of the artists involved highly enough.

What it is to Burn- Finch

If someone handed me a bag full of emo CD's, I would hand it right back. Why? Because it's not my bag. I really don't understand men who wear women's pants and makeup and scream at the top of their lungs about how sad everything is. It's like they heard Pinkerton and thought that Rivers Cuomo never got over how sad everything is and never eventually wrote an unironic (though it wasn't taken that way) song about how he wished he was a part of the stuff-shirt Beverly Hills scene. Now he's married with kids and his twitter feed seems to indicate that he's a generally happy dude. And yet the emo kids keep crying and cutting as if there were nothing else in life. So much emo doesn't reach beyond the perceived misery that accompanies the high school experience of every red-blooded American (and possibly the blue-bloods as well).

Anyway, despite the massive head-scratch I offer to the emo community, What it is to Burn by Finch is a proud part of my music library. Why? Because it transcends the cliches of its genre. Sure, the very name What it is to Burn seems annoyingly emo-ish and yet I assure you that the music on this particular platter is of the highest quality to be found in the genre. The songs rock harder than just about anything else in the Drive-Thru Records stable, and every song reaches to be anthemic. Not all of the songs succeed in their aim, but the majority of them get there. Oddly enough, the best track on the album is the title track which appears as a bonus(?!) at the end of the album. It's good  enough to be the album opener and yet it isn't. If you're looking to add some emo to your life, you could do much much much worse than What it is to Burn.

Come Back Around- Feeder

This is one of the singles from Comfort in Sound. It features the title track and two B-sides. "Come Back Around" is one of the better songs from Comfort in Sound. It fits nicely with the theme of the album, and stands up nicely on its own.

The two B-sides are a world apart from "Come Back Around." They sound like they were written for another album entirely. They rock harder and in a more straightforward way. They aren't bad songs at all, they just don't fit the theme or texture of "Come Back Around" is all.

Comfort in Sound- Feeder

This is the album Feeder put out after their drummer committed suicide. As a result, it is a personal and pondering introspection on life and loss. This is also the first and only Feeder album I know. I actually saw them on the tour supporting this album. They were opening for Rooney, but if you ask me they put on a better show than Rooney did. That's why I went out and picked up my copy of this album.

I have no idea what other Feeder albums are like, so I can't make any statements about how Comfort in Sound is artistically different from previous efforts. I can say, however, that on this album Feeder sounds intimately aware of their own mortality. It's not that every song sounds weepy. Much to the contrary, each song sounds like it's making the foot-dragging walk away from a graveside at the end of a funeral. It's a beautiful sadness. There is a great blend of acoustic and electric guitars on this album, and the synths are all timely and understated. More than the songs themselves, I just enjoy how this album sounds.

From Lausanne, Switzerland- Favez

If I knew anything about the elusive Favez, it's that they either hail from Lausanne, Switzerland or they don't. This album either pays homage to their hometown or it doesn't. Hold on, I can't keep this joke going. I'm going to look it up. Yes, they are in fact from Lausanne, Switzerland and yet I still have no idea how to pronounce their name.

Anyway, this album is alternative-ish but also indie-ish and fairly emo-ish (the Cap'n Jazz variety not the guyliner variety). It's a little hard to pin down genre-wise, but it is a very smart album and very well-written. "Ages of Wonders" is a clear highlight, but there are other stellar tracks such as "Don't let the Riot In" and "Son of Steve McQueen." I can't say this is one of my favorite albums (because I don't remember how I came to own it and therefore I rarely remember to listen to it) but I can say that it has never disappointed.

Ages of Wonders EP-Favez

I have no idea who Favez is, how to pronounce their name, or how I came to be in posession of their music. All of these things really don't make much difference because I have done the research and have come to the conclusion that Favez rocks. I have no idea how Favez is classified, but they seem to occupy a space somewhere between The Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate.

This EP features the single "Ages of Wonders" and three acoustic versions of songs from From Lausanne, Switzerland. I sincerely hope Favez actually is from Lausanne, Switzerland because otherwise I would know literally nothing about them. At any rate, "Ages of Wonders" is a highly enjoyable song that has never failed at rocking my very socks. It's angular and will hit you in the side of your face like a slushy snowball. I literally don't know how else to describe it. The acoustic tracks on this EP are pleasant enough, but all of them are better in their electric form. Basically this EP gears you up to listen to From Lausanne, Switzerland.

Physical Fatness

As punk compilations go, this is not a very good one. It's hard to complain about punk compilations. They usually cost 5 bucks or less and usually have at least a couple songs you'll dig. Fat Wreck Chords normally maintains a very high level of punk rock goodness, but Physcal Fatness just isn't up to snuff (oddly enough, Snuff has two tracks on this comp, one of which is fairly good). If you listen to Survival of the Fattest and Physical Fatness back to back, the difference in quality is easy to see. The best track of the album is the opener, and it's all downhill from there. If you buy one punk comp this summer, don't make it this one.

Life in the Fat Lane

Life in the Fat Lane is a better compilation than Physical Fatness yet not as good as Survival of the Fattest. It also features the first blatant pop-punk on a Fat Wreck Chords compilation ("San Dimas High School Football Rules" by The Ataris). In many ways, pop punk has been the death of "real" punk. I struggled for years with the fact that I love both the "real" and pop varieties of punk. It's something akin to being a whaler who always has a moment for greenpeace.

Anyway, despite marking a slight shift in the Fat Wreck Chords catalogue, Life in the Fat lane is as good as you could expect a punk comp to be. There are some real hits, some near misses, and only a couple songs that aren't worth the trouble.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Survival of the Fattest

Back when I was really into punk (yes, I did rock a mohawk. Thanks for asking. No, it wasn't a faux-hawk. I shaved the sides and spiked it up because that's how things are supposed to be done) there were two major punk labels that despite having vast means and national distribution still managed to have a good amount of cred, which is no small feat in the punk scene. The two labels are Epitaph (which was founded by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion fame) and Fat Wreck Chords (which was founded by Fat Mike of NOFX fame). Both labels had (and still have) large stables of great bands, and both labels put out great compilations. This is one of them.

Survival of the Fattest features the cream of the Fat Wreck Chords crop. Many of the songs are fantastic, and some of them are not. I recommend the following songs to our ears: "Justified Black Eye" by No Use For a Name, "Mother Superior" by Good Riddance, "Raum der Zeit" by Wizo, "Rotten Apple" by Stung Out and "Vincent" by NOFX. The Wizo track is the best song on the album and without question one of the greatest punk songs I have ever heard. Also, I have no idea what the song is about because the lyrics are all in German. Dig it.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Farrah is a band about which I know very little. They're another power pop forum speculative buy. Basically, if enough people who like the same music I do tell me that I should go out and buy something, I will buy it. I shudder to think of what would happen if these people start flinging themselves off cliffs. I'm just that susceptible to the power of suggestion.

Anyway, if you're like me and you dig power pop, you'll dig Farrah. They have big hooks, sweet harmonies, and nice catchy pop from top to bottom. It's really hard to review these power pop albums because they tend to fall into one of the following two groups: either the entire album is great (but usually not transcendentally so. Let's be reasonable. Power pop is awesome, but it somehow never comes off as important as....say...Bob Dylan or his cronies. Farrah and bands like them are like an evolved version of The Lovin' Spoonful. The Lovin' Spoonful was a great band with a catalogue of highly enjoyable music, but you wouldn't try to tell someone they were the best band of the 60's. There's no way "Do You Believe in Magic" sits on the same pedestal as "Blowin' in the Wind."  Not even John Sebastian would try to tell you that and yes, I did have to look up his name. It's the same reason a comedy will never win an Oscar. It just doesn't carry the weight of supreme importance. Even though "Blowin' in the Wind" did not, in fact, change the world, it gets points for trying. Songs about girls just don't cut it. I don't make the rules, but I definitely know what they are) or the entire album is unlistenable. If you mess up power pop, it blows up in your face. It has a delicate balance and a sure formula (a little Byrds jangle, a dash of Beach Boys harmonies, and a love for all things Beatles). Farrah, like so many other bands has gotten the formula and run with it. They sound just fine, but don't expect them to take a stab a righting social wrongs (even if those who do always seem to fail).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Comic Book Nerd

This entry is double posted in one of my other blogs, which is why it's de-nerded a bit.

As many of you may already know, this is the year of the comic book for me. As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons I wanted to get this iPad was because I can now carry a large comic book library with me everywhere I go. It's a nice perk, but not the only reason I bought this thing (that would make me a huge nerd if it was the only reason, which is why I tell myself it isn't).

Since starting to read comic books back in July, I have read many many comics. It's so much easier to read them digitally than in paper form. I do actually own some hard copy comic books which were purchased from the fantastic Atomic Comics before it closed it's doors for good last month. I own a few TPB's (trade paperback): one DC Crisis, and two UK Transformer compilations. The bulk of my collection, however, is comprised of about 90 issues of Alpha Flight.

What is Alpha Flight? It's a team of Canadian superheroes similar to the X-Men. As a matter of fact, Wolverine got his start in Alpha Flight before running off to join the X-Men. How did I get involved with such a strange group? Well, I started reading comic books because I felt I needed more X-Men in my life. The issues that introduce Wolverine to the X-Men also introduce Alpha Flight to the world. I really like Alpha Flight because it's basically a crisis in every issue. They pull of stuff in April issues that other titles save for December or their annual. They kill off major characters and replace them fairly routinely. Also, Alpha Fight doesn't always have the benefit of sponsorship by generous benefactors, and more often than not they are not even supported by the Canadian government. When you read Alpha Flight, you will absolutely never know what they're going to do next.

Anyway, just because I feel like it and I have the time, I'm going to run down all the comics I have read thus far and give them a rating (no, I won't do it issue by issue. I'll just rate each series).

Alpha Flight Volume 1 There are three volumes of Alpha Flight thus far (well, I think they just started a 4th. I own the first issue of it). The first volume has 130 issues, the second has 20, and the this has only 12. I started the second volume, but I'm not done yet. Anyway, I loved the first volume of Alpha Flight. I read it after having read every DC Crisis. In Alpha Flight, every issue is a crisis. There were very few throwaway issues. they always faced awesome foes, and there were so many twist and turns, I couldn't possibly explain them to you in a concise form. Just chalk me up as an Alpha Flight fan. These issues were as good as anything I've read thus far.

Scott Pilgrim This was the first (and only thus far) graphic novel I ever read. I read it after seeing the fantastic movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. If you haven't seen it, you are missing a movie unlike any other. It's an all-out visual feast. It's as good a comic book movie as there will ever be. Anyway, the graphic novel is as good if not better than the movie it inspired. It's a graphic novel for people who enjoy comic books, video games, and indie rock. If you enjoy any or all of those things, you should enjoy it. I love the story as a metaphor for modern romantic relationships, but I also love it as pure entertainment. It is smartly written, and all the dialogue is almost over the top in its wittiness. All in all a very good read and highly recommended.

As for the DC Crises, I think I'll rank them from my favorite to my least favorite. Before doing that, I think I'd better explain what a crisis is in comic book terms. DC has been around since the 1930s, which means they've had 80+ years to muck up their continuity and make things so convoluted that it became darn near impossible to jump into any of their series without doing a lot of research first. The first major crisis was Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was DC's way of blowing up everything and putting it back together again in a more reader friendly way. With that knowledge in your pocket, here are the crises I have read in order from my most favorite to my least.

Infinite Crisis Oddly enough, Infinite Crisis was the comic Joel always tried to make me read when he was trying to convince me that I should read comic books. I liked Infinite Crisis the most because it seemed like it had the most compelling story lines. It just generally had the most going on, and the things that were going on were all worth following. You really can't ask for more in a massive crossover series.

Crisis on Infinite Earths You really can't do much better than the original massive crossover. The only thing I didn't really like about this series was that at times it seemed like story lines were being laid out in a very meticulous way simply because they needed to shape certain characters in certain ways in order to get themselves out of certain corners they had painted themselves into previously. I'm just saying that the story seemed a little less organic than it could have been, but I understand why they did it the way they did. Aside front he one gripe, Crisis on Infinite Earths is very good and highly enjoyable.

Identity Crisis Identity Crisis is more of a minor crisis than other crises in the DC catalog. It centers around The Elongated Man's wife going missing. I love this story because of the awesome husband/wife relationship between Sue and Ralph Dibny. This is a story that carries over into Infinite Crisis, and even though the conclusion is fairly senseless, there's a lot of real emotion in this story. I'm only downgrading it because it makes me so sad and it seems senseless in the end.

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time Zero Hour continues to story of Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and his transformation to Parallax and his attempt to rewrite time. I loved the story of Hal Jordan's fall, and Zero Hour is a good story, but it has waaaaaay to much rainbow in it. Seriously, it's very distracting to look at that much rainbow without seeing unicorns. Oh, and there were a couple pieces of the story that seemed like too much of a stretch, even for a comic book. I would tell you what they were, but it's been a while since I read this and I honestly can't remember.

Final Crisis I just really didn't like Final Crisis much. If I was a goth (no, not a Visigoth or Ostragoth or any other sort of actual goth. I'm talking about the people who misuse the word goth and take it to mean "draped in black and obsessed with death") I would eat this with a black fork and spoon, but since I'm a normal person, I didn't like the satanic overtones. I also really hated the aftermath story lines. The Super Young Team is an abomination, and the whole crisis seems 1) unappealing 2) not so critical that it can really call itself a crisis. After reading this one, I wanted to hit it with a rolled up newspaper and shove it's face in the Super Young Team side story so it would know what it did wrong.

In addition to all these crises, I read all the lead-in and aftermath stories. I won't bore you with the details of all of those, except to say that 52 was an excellent series and really made me care about Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. The last comic book series I'll tell you about (you didn't really read this far did you? I wrote this more for myself than anyone else) is...

X-Men I have read the first 200 or so issues of X-Men, and loved every single one of them. With all I've read thus far, I'd consider myself much more of a Marvel man than a DC guy. The X-Men are now so iconic that people who have never read a comic in their life have a general sense of the characters and their respective stories. It's just been a pure delight to get a deeper sense of the X-Men. Although I like to tell people I'm an Alpha Flight fan, I think the X-Men are my favorite comic book characters of all-time.

Well there you have it. I've read a bunch of comic books and loved most of them. If you actually read this, I hope you're a nerd, otherwise I'm sorry for wasting your time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why I Haven't Written in a While

You honestly can't be too surprised to see that I haven't written in a long time. First of all, my track record has been sketchy at best, and I nearly quit this blog two times already, so you knew what I was when you picked me up.

There are a few reasons why I haven't been too diligent about writing in this thing lately: 1. I got an iPad. Yes, I took that plunge into the world of tablet computing and now I spend all my time shooting birds at pigs and monkeys and/or reading digital comic books. 2. I'm really trying to be a good husband and father. The times when I feel really plugged into my blogs, I tend to be a little distant with my wife and daughter. It's not that I don't love them, it's that writing is a lonely thing to do, and at times a selfish thing to do. So yeah, I have been spending more quality time with the wife and kid and I don't regret it. They are the people who matter most. Inasmuch as this blog has zero readership, I really can't justify how devoted I get to it at times. 3. I got bored. Yeah, it's the number one reason all my other blogs have failed. I didn't keep my own interest, so what's the point?

So what does all this foofaraw mean for this blog? I honestly have no idea. It might be a little easier to keep it up with an iPad, which is how I'm writing this very entry, but I don't know if I'll want to keep it up. We'll see. Anyway, this has been the state of the blog. Keep not reading and I'll keep not writing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Galaga (NES Game)

When I was a kid, we never had a Nintendo. We had an Atari 800XL and about a zillion games for it. My favorite game by far was Galaxian. I actually practiced this game, honing my skills for reasons I couldn't explain then or now. I remember the day when my uncle told me that there was a sequel to Galaxian that was even better. My mind could scarcely conceive of the concept.

Galaga is basically the same game as Galaxian with a few more bells and whistles. The only thing about the bells and whistles is that each and every one of them is great. First of all, the enemy ships make a much grander entrance in Galaga. They swoosh and swirl before taking their place at the top of the screen. Also, one of the higher-ranking ships has a tractor beam that can steal your ship. This can actually be a good thing because if you shoot the enemy ship, you'll get your ship back and have two ships and double the firepower. One other bell and or whistle is the bonus stages. In these stages, ships will just come at you in rapid succession and you try to shoot them for extra points.

As a lifelong Galaxian fan, I can help but enjoy Galaga. This is exactly what a sequel should be. Every added feature is an improvement, and it still has the spirit of the original. I may be biased, but I'm giving Galaga...

Freedom Force (NES Game)

Freedom Force is a fun light gun game that I was not aware of until fairly recently. I wish I knew about it sooner because this is a really cool game. First of all, the graphics are fantastic. In the first level, the camera will scroll up and down the fuselage of a plane. Doors will open, some have hostages and some have terrorists. Your job is to kill all the terrorists you can and avoid killing hostages, all while trying not to get yourself killed. There are various powerups that will appear in the lower right hand of the screen. That's where to look if you need a bump in health or ammo, but be careful because a grenade will kill everyone on screen, including civilians and hostages. You also have to keep an eye out for grenades and missiles which you can shoot down in midair. If you don't hit these, it's instant death.

All of the levels are well-designed and have great graphics. In the airport terminal,  you'll even see a girl in a bikini who will pop out and wave at you as if there wasn't a major counter-terrorist action going down. Also, there's a kid on a skateboard who seems equally oblivious. Now that I think of it, there's an awful lot of whimsy in this game considering the body count.

Whimsy and bikinis aside, Freedom Force is about as good as light gun games get. It's non-stop light gun shooting, and the death animation for the terrorists is as fun as death can possibly be. The only issue with this game is that the difficulty does get pretty steep pretty fast. Aside from that, I've never had anything but fun with Freedom Force.

Fighting Golf aka Lee Travino's Fighting Golf (NES Game)

Fighting Golf is pretty darn good as far as vintage gold games go. It's no Golden Tee, but it's a highly playable and fairly enjoyable game. I also love how downplayed the Lee Travino sponsorship is. Travino's name doesn't appear on the end label at all, and it only appears in very small print on the front label. Maybe the game really wasn't licensed by Mr. Travino and SNK was hoping he wouldn't notice if they made the type small enough.

Sponsorships aside, Fighting Golf has everything you'd expect in a golf game from this era: club selection, power meter, overhead map, silly name, wind gauge, scorecard, etc. Fighting Golf really doesn't have any features you couldn't find on any other golf game from the era except one: it's actually possible to shoot under par in Fighting Golf.

I can't tell you how many golf video games I've played where it is practically impossible to shoot even par. Even worse, none of these games have handicapping systems. I don't know why I love golf video games. You would never catch me on the links in real life. At any rate, Fighting Golf is simple enough to actually be able to play well. Just practice the power meter a bit, and sink a few putts and you're basically a pro. Fighting Golf is by far the most enjoyable golf game I've played on the NES. I do have to downgrade it a bit because it can get a little boring, but maybe I should upgrade it for being boring like golf is in real life. Meh. I'm giving it...

Fester's Quest (NES Game)

I don't know what to make of this game. I just don't. Did I enjoy it? Maybe, I guess. Did I have any idea what was going on? No, not really? Will I ever play this game again? I really have no answer for that.

In the beginning of Fester's Quest, a UFO appears. This frightens Fester so he gets off his lawn chair and picks up his gun. Then he takes to the streets and shoot things, some of which look like little berries and some of which are definitely aliens...I think. I guess the UFO means aliens, right?

As Fester you'll wander pointlessly and aimlessly, wondering what you're doing. You'll shoot the berries and pick up cash and weapon powerups, which is highly satisfying. You'll also shoot aliens, some of which have satisfying deaths. You'll wander in sewers, which play exactly like the above-ground levels. You'll wander into 3D mazes with literally nothing in them except an exit door. You'll come across other members of The Addams Family who will help you on your quest. Quest to do what? I don't know. You'll also come across bosses who are terrifying and well-animated.

Basically, Fester's Quest is as much fun as you can possibly have without really knowing what the crap you're doing, which is to say it's only moderately fun because you don't really know what the crap you're doing half the time. So yeah, that's all you need to know.

Faxanadu (NES Game)

Faxanadu is an action RPG in the same vein as Battle of Olympus. You play an unnamed character who returns home to find his hometown nearly abandoned. You'll make your way to the king who'll give you the scoop on everything that has happened and will send you on your way to make everything right.

In standard RPG fashion, you'll start with a little gold and practically nothing else. A visit to a few key shops will have you holding slightly more than nothing. Obviously as the game progresses, you'll acquire better weapons, armor, and a few magic items. You'll explore the vast expanses of the world tree as you attempt to find who is killing the tree and poisoning the water supply.

You'll meet many odd foes along your way. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any other NES game offhand that rivals Faxanadu for weird enemies. Faxanadu has become something of a cult favorite over the years, but the reason for the cult status is not immediately apparent. The opening screen and first town are pretty bland looking (it's a dying world, after all) and you'll probably find yourself wondering what kind of subpar adventure you've signed on for. Once you get a weapon and find your way into the world and kill a few baddies, you'll probably find yourself nodding in approval.

One of the things I don't like about the game are the mantras. These are the passwords given to you by the priest in whichever town you find yourself in. Faxanadu doesn't have a battery save feature, so you'll find yourself writing down long passwords. If you make a mistake in either writing down or entering the password,  you'll be up a creek.

Aside from the mantras, Faxanadu is a highly enjoyable game. There's a lot to explore, and many monsters whose deaths are highly satisfying. The villagers don't weigh you down with much extraneous information, and you quickly learn which villagers are of no use whatsoever (they're the same ones in every village). Faxanadu is a very good action RPG. I'd rank it above Zelda II and slightly below Battle of Olympus.

Excitebike (NES Game)

Few NES pleasures are as pure and simple as Excitbike. It's a fairly easy game with simple graphics and cute music, yet the gameplay is fun and compelling. As the title would imply, you race on a motorcycle. You can compete in either solo mode or against CPU controlled players. The solo mode is almost too easy at first, but the levels get a bit harder as you go along. Competing against the CPU is a bit harder as they can knock you off your bike at almost any moment.

In addition to the two game modes, Excitebike features turbo boost, which can really shoot you over some of the steeper ramps. Be careful not to use too much turbo because your bike will overheat (as indicated on the handy temp gauge) and you'll have to wait for it to cool down. One other great feature of Excitebike is the track editor. As a kid my friends and I spent many happy hours trying to throw each other off with ridiculous track designs. The only feature lacking is the ability to save tracks, but that's a small thing compared to the immense enjoyment I've derived from Excitebike over the years.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Duck Tales (NES Game)

Disney had a few really fun games back in the day. You had great platformers like Darkwing Duck, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, Quackshot, and Mickey Mousecepade. Most of these games were ably created by Capcom, who has a generally good track record in general. So you'd expect Duck Tales to be on par with those games, but it unfortunately falls a little flat.

Duck Tales actually looks really good for an NES game, and the music is pretty good too. It's the gameplay where this game begins to stumble. It took me a while to figure out how to swing Scrooge McDuck's cane, and even longer to be able to swing it reliably. Maybe my system isn't running the game properly, but I've never had this problem with any other game.

With shoddy controls and unclear objectives, Duck Tales just comes up short. I just didn't have much fun with it. Sure, you can play this game, but why would you when there are better Disney games to be had?