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25Jan2012 1030: To a Mirror Shine

Today on Monty's Behind the Curve, I finished Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Ten years ago, I would have said that 35 hours of Zelda sounds like a great idea. Now that I've survived it, I see it for what it is: 35 hours of eating cupcakes. Just when you think you can't possibly eat another cupcake, you are forced to eat another cupcake. Forever.

I can't pinpoint exactly when the shine went off the Zelda series. Ocarina of Time was a legitimate classic, pushing those newfangled 3D polygons and updating the Zelda formula for a new age. Majora's Mask and Wind Waker were refinements of that formula that also turned into pretty great games. But Nintendo...kept going. The same formula, every time, pushed into Twilight Princess and now Skyward Sword. They have polished every facet of Ocarina of Time, polished it until you can see your face in it.

But "polish" is just another word for "grind"; there is actual material loss to Zelda caused by the slavish devotion to Ocarina. Every beautiful touch added to the series smothers under the weight of all the other beautiful touches added in previous games. Skyward Sword has a dungeon structured like the original Zelda, a series of connected square rooms...except now you get to move those rooms around like a sliding tile puzzle. That's great! Skyward Sword also has a sidequest for every single citizen of your starting town, and it's all they talk about. That's bad. Skyward Sword has a part where you sail a boat across the desert, because the boat also has a "time stone" that throws a bubble of space back in time to when the desert was an ocean. That's great! Skyward Sword also has a part where your equipment is all taken away and you have to stealth around for a twenty minutes. That's bad. And in the aggregate, it doesn't even matter whether each scene or dungeon is good or bad; the problem is that they're all there. Everything Zelda has ever done keeps snowballing into every new game. They dearly need to make a break with the past, a new reboot like Ocarina to cull a lot of the chaff that has built up. The "big news" here was supposed to be the swordplay with the Wii controller, but in truth the biggest risk they took was not having a boomerang.

Also, the final boss? The terrifying demon that had to be sealed for centuries because the Goddess Hylia herself could not defeat him in battle? I don't believe it is a spoiler to say that yes, this is Ganon. The spoiler is that the all-powerful king of demons went down in eight minutes, including pre-fight cutscene. Maybe Hylia should have brought a dose of full-heart potion.

Contrast that with the DS Zelda games, which I thought were fantastic. The jump to new hardware with a new control scheme allowed them to ditch the parts that needed ditching, much like Ocarina did on that bizarre N64 controller. Phantom Hourglass blazed a trail and Spirit Tracks refined the formula...but even with those two, you can see a new formula beginning to calcify. I don't think I can risk picking up a third DS Zelda.

The tl;dr of this whole thing is that Skyward Sword made me ask myself whether Ocarina ever actually was an enjoyable game. It's a terrible feeling to have.

I think Zelda suffers from this franchise accretion more than Mario or Metroid; I can't quite articulate this, because Mario has definitely picked up new powers and characters over the years. I think it's because each Mario game doesn't try to contain all the Mario stuff that has ever existed.

Anyway, that's enough about Skyward Sword and maybe enough about Zelda forever. The only single-player game I have left is Dark Souls, so I think I'm going to hide take a break from video games for a bit. I plan to dedicate February to trying to make a game instead. I think the time is right for my Legend of Zelda point-and-click adventure game set in modern Brooklyn.

The Amazon free list is inexplicably missing Honest Face, but in its place has suddenly become infested with covers like [Extreme Party Animals - Hey Ya] and [Twisted Party Band - Rappers' Delight]. I've heard that Adele is currently the only thing propping up the music industry, and from these lists I believe it. Pop will eat itself.

There's one non-cover on the top free songs list. [Cory Morrow - Lonesome] announces immediately that it is country rock, twang and violin screaming strongly. I made it 56 seconds; try to beat my score!

18Jan2011 0930: The Little Death

I dunno. I mean, I use the Internet as much as anybody, and yes SOPA is a raw deal. I just feel that making the Internet unusable today, like on Wikipedia and Reddit, would be more effective if the Internet didn't also do this every April 1st.

Hey, remember when I talked about the Blackwell adventure games further down this very page? They're officially on Steam now, including the fourth one that I didn't have, and the whole shebang is on sale. $15 is pretty sweet for 12-16 hours of this quality writing. The order is Legacy -> Unbound -> Convergence -> Deception, if you care to take the plunge. Steam says I beat Unbound in two hours but I don't believe that total; the other games have all been at least four hours.

If there's one thing I miss about doing the singles from iTunes, it's my exposure to the Spanish-language craziness. Well, [La Vida Boheme - Nuestra] isn't actually going to help in that regard. There is precious little Spanish contained within; it's an instrumental noise-rock/electronic fusion, guitar feedback wailing over industrial synths. It takes over three minutes for any human hand to become evident, and when the voices show up they show up shouting and screaming. This is...not great. Do you want somewhat-danceable angry punk that spends a minute on the feedback outro? 'Cause I don't.

[Real Estate - Easy] is neither easy like Sunday morning, nor are they Sunny Day Real Estate. Just putting that out there; there is no sun involved. Do you want a light and fluffy indie rock confection? You probably do, after that Nuestra debacle. There's nothing to point to here and say "Yeah, that's a good idea", but it'll be over before you know it and you'll feel kind of alright for listening.

Listen, [Young the Giant - Apartment]. You're obviously into this girl, and she's into you. You just need to man up and tell her. And quit singing songs about her apartment; she wants to hear songs about her. This particular radio-rock love song is louder and more thoroughly produced than [Real Estate - Easy], but somehow manages to come off as even sissier.

11Jan2012 1045: Punch-Mans

I'm not happy about the thick layer of Hulu bullshit on top (pro-tip: disable autoplay immediately), but these five minutes of the movie Haywire make me hopeful. Not for Haywire itself, but for a potential trend of MMA fight choreography in action movies. Kung fu brought us some good times over the years, but that Haywire scene put me in mind of the brutal simplicity of Children of Men or the new Bond. That's the kind of punch-mans I want to see on screen, and frankly it's a good deal more promising than hiring WWE "actors". I dug the hell out of Warrior; really all Haywire needed was to hire a real actress to do the ass-whupping, someone to hold their own against the rest of this ridiculous cast. Fingers crossed MMA is the new parkour.

Plus who doesn't want to punch Channing Tatum?

Country wallows in nostalgia more than is healthy, but [honeyhoney - Old School Friends] takes it one step further: honeyhoney isn't pining for their entire hometown or the house they grew up in or their dead grandparents. They just want to attend their high-school reunion. Guys, just...y'know, make sure they have your email address. You'll get an invitation. Alternately: Facebook.

I know I say a lot of music these days hearkens back to 80s pop or 90s rock, but that's just because I don't know any better. Well, I'm not going to start knowing better today, so [Jessie Baylin - Hurry Hurry] sounds like the genesis of folk, branching out from soft ballad pop, in the early 60s. There. How many musical facts did I screw up in that sentence? Anyway, she has that drum and violin sound that I associate with "classic oldies" radio, and the plaintive warbling historically associated with songs about Johnny and his new steady. Not bad for all that.

Katie Herzig is the second blond to hide behind her hairstyle in the album art today. [Katie Herzig - Lost And Found] is the most modern song on tap, modern in the way that the song lets her carry on for a couple verses with minimal volume and then suddenly gets louder without really adding anything. You know what I mean. All the instrumentation is intact, even the backing choir showed up thirty seconds ago, but it is suddenly imperative that this cute little song explode. And what I could make out of the lyrics was insufferably sappy.

04Jan2012 1230: That Most British of Christmases

Holidays are over and I'm back! But who cares, because Sherlock is also back. Between Sherlock and Tintin and Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is having a fantastic year. We should get on cloning that dude, because he needs to write all my entertainment forever. And leaving aside the wonderfully playful mystery script, Sherlock is an amazing-looking program. I don't know how much money the BBC has access to, or how long it took to shoot the three/four movie-length episodes, but it is shot with more skill and style than any "real" movie I've seen lately. Framing people through windows, wiping between all the cases that Sherlock rejects, the still-industry-leading depiction of the copious text messages...I think we have director Paul McGuigan to thank for Sherlock's success, as he's directed every episode except the one that everybody agrees is kinda filler.

Steam's holiday sale definitely put a dent in my wallet; and their holiday cheevo scavenger hunt was amazing as usual, forcing me to try ten minutes of games that I would have delayed indefinitely; but the real standout of my holiday playtime turned out to be the Blackwell adventure game series from the Indie Royale bundle. There was a minimum of adventure-game bullshit, the dialogue was sharp, and each game was digested inside of four hours. Recommended, but probably not at the $20 price point and probably not for anybody who isn't me.

Amazon's list of Top Free Songs is now irrevocably fucked; my ignorant double-download of Honest Face has forever enshrined that song in Amazon's recommendation engine. I can see from the song page that it is also some sort of freebie inclusion with the Amazon MP3 Downloader its top ranking is 20% my mistake, 80% Amazon shenanigans. Fortunately I'm buried in songs from their other promotions, such as 1000 $5 albums -- from which you should at the very least select Flogging Molly - Swagger -- or the usual Artists on the Rise. Or you could fill out your playlist of music nostalgia with the frankly brilliant promotion of one-hit wonders. No really, that's Amazon's excuse: you like one-hit wonders? Come get some.

I'll stick with the Rising Artists playlist for reviewing, as (a) that exposes me to new music and (b) they're free. [Atlas Sound - Mona Lisa] starts us off with a quiet folk-pop ditty, like any number of earnest young men in the early 70s. He's taking a break from protesting the Vietnam War to sing a love song.

[AWOLNATION - Not Your Fault] is making a strong bid for the opening credits music in whatever teen-sex comedy comes out this summer. Peppy keyboards and a vaguely British singer take us through a 2012 interpretation of what 1982 pop sounded like.

[Carter Tanton - Murderous Joy] is decidedly not the death metal that the title would imply. Maybe if the band were called "Sepulchre of Carter Tanton". This is the second quiet acoustic song today, and the third completely inoffensive one. None of these songs had anything I could really latch on to, but this is by far the most bland. Some sort of country-folk, some sort of dude singing...not everybody can be a one-hit wonder, you know? I wish I hated it so I had something to say.