The 'Shroom:Issue 104/Critic Corner
I'm sad now. Halloween is over, and we have no choice but to endure the boring November month until the Holiday season becomes a thing again. Not that I have any holidays I celebrate in December, since Buddhism isn't too big on celebrations like that... for the most part, anyway. But hey, I love the festive season when I'm not at work, putting up with hordes of rude customers pushing and shoving their way through crowds whilst screaming at you, dropping rubbish and spilling food and beverage along the way just to make things that much more difficult for me. Why is this my life?
But hey, forget about my whinging, let's talk about this issue! ...it's a very short issue for Critic Corner, actually, because of a series of rather unfortunate events. Stooben Rooben (talk) had to go bi-monthly for The Stoob Tube because it became too much for him to manage a sub-team and write four lengthy sections every month, so more power to him; this is also the bi-monthly gap for Marshal Dan Troop (talk) and his section Shoey's Shoetacular Reviews, so got none of his evil genius insight this month either. Time Turner (talk) got stuck with homework due to the busy end-of-year school pile-up, so he had to bail out this month, while FunkyK38 (talk) ended up with a horrible cold that prevented her from writing a book review. On the less justified side, Pyro (talk) is now officially fired for consistently not sending in a section for the past five months. Lemony Snicket would be proud!
I'm not super worried, though, because November is usually a quiet month for us, especially since we did a mini-special issue last month, and have the big Holiday Special Issue coming up next month. Lots to look forward to in the coming weeks, but if you're at all interested in writing a guest section for that issue - or, well... a permanent section - hit me up on the forums. You can heed the sign-up page if you want, but you can also apply for an entirely new section idea if you have something cool you think this sub-team needs, so there you go. Anyway, enjoy the issue, I'm going to go shoot up some stormtroopers.
Section of the Month
D'aww, isn't that so sweet? Not a single writer was left out of last month's voting session, seems everyone got a little lovin' from the fans for Halloween. Of course, some got more love than others, and to that end, the October Halloween issue's SOTM winner for Critic Corner is none other than Time Turner (talk) for Location, Location, who wrote a frightening review of the Creepy Steeple from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, home to everyone's favourite (or in Turner's case, least favourite) doppelganging antagonist. Congrats again for another win, mate, you're goin' places! The direct second-place runner-up was newcomer Stooben Rooben (talk), who started a new section titled The Stoob Tube in which he wrote a loving recap of all the released seasons of Supernatural up to now, inarguably the longest section I've ever had in Critic Corner.
3rd place runners-up were a three-way tie between Marshal Dan Troop (talk) for his Shoey's Shoetacular Review of the iconic Nintendo RTS, Pikmin 2; myself for my Crocodile Style Review of the somewhat underwhelming Mad Max video game; and Yoshi876 (talk) for Character Review, in which he did an overview of the Bookend, Killer Chair, and Mad Piano enemies from Super Mario 64. Well done to all of us, but we were unfortunately crushed beneath the might of Time Turner's steeple... but if we put together all the votes of the runner-ups, we get 7 points, which is one more vote than Turner got! So I ask you, who's the real winner in all this? Food for thought.
Dippy rocks out in this double-up review of Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4.
Crocodile Style Reviews
Do you remember the rhythm genre? Yeah, some of you little anklebiters probably don’t remember those noisy years about mid-2000s, when plastic guitars dominated every gamer’s household and there were many a sleepless night for frustrated neighbours, forced to endure tonedeaf twenty-somethings screeching “Eye of the Tiger” all bloody night. As with most things that Activision get their slithering tentacles on, the genre saw its demise just before the turn of the decade, culminating in Activision blowing their load on a grand total of six bloody Hero games before it was finally decided that that cow had been milked to the bone, and it was time to move on to making more Call of Duty weapon skins. But now we’re five years into the future since the last of the big rhythm releases was made, and we’ve seen not only Activision come back into the fray with Guitar Hero Live, but also their rivals Harmonix, who were responsible for the decidedly less-saturated-but-still-overdone Rock Band series, returning with the fourth instalment in their long-standing series. I figure that the best way to review these sorts of games together is to compare them based on multiple criteria and tally up the points to see who wins, so without further ado, let the deathmatch begin.
I’ve grown used to the Australia tax, I see it as penance for creating Rupert Murdoch, but Harmonix can fuck their prices right up their gold-plated assholes. $500 for the full band set?! What, is it made from unicorn skulls? ...actually that’d be metal as hell. Before you say “nerrr but you’re buying the whole instrument bundle with it!”, Guitar Hero Live cost me little over $200 for the game and two guitars, so there’s no excuse. I’ve heard that the reason was because the bundles were being shipped over from Europe, because we’re just British rejects anyway, may as well give us their goddamn hand-me downs too. This follows a history of Harmonix screwing over their Australian consumer base, to the point where I’m starting to believe their entire staff consists of disgruntled New Zealanders. Guitar Hero Live also allows you to buy extra guitars and mics separately, while Rock Band 4 forces you to get the bundle or get stuffed; now in their defense, Harmonix have said that they’ll start releasing standalone instruments at the turn of the year, but it’s not much of a rock band when you’re playing without either a guitarist or bassist because Frank the Roadie forgot to pack a spare guitar before tour. Goddammit, Frank.
Point: Guitar Hero Live
The controllers themselves are actually different from each other for once, so at least we know the two games weren’t sitting next to each other in the classroom. Rock Band 4 has the full guitar, bass, drums, and vocals set going on, while Guitar Hero Live just sticks with electric guitar and vocals, but the big differences come in with the guitars themselves being formatted differently. Rock Band 4 sticks with the five-frets, five-buttons format that’s been a staple of the genre since before bread was invented, but also adds another five to the bottom of the neck for use in solos. While the traditional mapped solos are still available, the game also adds a free soloing mechanic where you can go wild with your guitar so long as you strum in rhythm, with blue bars indicating top frets and red ones indicating bottom frets. It does make the game a bit less challenging, since you can literally just spaz out completely during solos and still get a high score so long as your strumming doesn’t sound like a howling baboon, but the times where I was actually able to string together a coherent melody made me feel like a true rock star… then I’d fuck up the main rhythm once the solo was over, and I’d come crashing back into horrible reality again.
Guitar Hero Live, on the other hand, has decided to reinvent the wheel by eschewing the five frets and opting instead for just three, but with two buttons per fret. These form high and low notes indicated by a black up arrow for the former, white down arrow for the latter, and a black and white box for bar chords – that being, holding both of them down. I don’t mind the different structure, since it adds a little bit of spice to the formula that I feel the genre very desperately needed, although this now puts me on the hit list of purists ready to sacrifice me to the elder rhythm Gods over a plastic guitar. While you’re communing with those Gods of yours, you may want to ask them to deliver a peripheral whose strums aren’t louder than the fucking game audio. Also, this is pretty obvious, but you can’t use any of your previous guitar controllers for Guitar Hero Live, while Rock Band 4 is more than happy to let you dust off those old toys and rock out for a discounted price, so…
Point: Rock Band 4
"Aesthetic" is a word I’ve grown to resent in recent years, having been appropriated by the hipster art college crowd who would tag Sonic inflation porn as art because it’s their “aesthetic”. But all things considered, a band’s appearance and set pieces can often be a central point in a band’s appeal, as with Alice Cooper’s wonderfully morbid stage performances, or to distract from how mediocre their music actually is, as with KISS’ faux-occult tripe. So of course, customising your band members and selecting unique gigs has been a major part of the rhythm genre, although Rock Band 4 is the one that’s stuck to the old style of using customisable in-game avatars, while Guitar Hero Live has eschewed this in favour of live actors. At least we know where most of Activision’s budget for this game went towards. There’s actually a lot of attention to detail in the live sets in GHL, with the pop set having a glossy girl gang theme, or the bro-rock set having an unlikeable douchebag theme, but the live performances tend to come off as more awkward and corny than impressive. I’ll take my KPop-dressed black metal bassist over a snapback-wearing Eminem wannabe any day.
Point: Rock Band 4
The story campaign is a lot longer and more fun in RB4 too, with branching options dependent on whether you want to stay indie and poor, which allows you to choose which songs you want to play, or sellout to become rich but at the cost of fans and song choices. You use the in-game money to buy new clothes, hairstyles, and instruments, so I just got far enough to unlock the women’s suit and pompadour so I could live out my dreams of being Janelle Monae for a few beautiful moments... Meanwhile, the GHL campaign restricts you to single-player as opposed to the full local multiplayer structure of RB4’s campaign, and it ends up being stupidly short and frustratingly linear, like Activision decided that they needed more of that Call of Duty level structure in their games so let’s toss it in the game all about musical freedom.
Point: Rock Band 4
Of course, the true meat of the rhythm genre is the selection of songs available to you, and I feel like I should first set some ground rules for when you’re making a party game. First up, do not wall half of the game’s core content behind a locked door that requires you to sit through the entire single-player campaign to unlock them all first. You are selling the game on the premise that groups of mates can just sit down with a pack of stubbies and more gummy worms than should be safe for human consumption, and play their favourite songs… or their friend’s least favourite songs to be a shitter. There I was, fresh out of the store with a copy of Guitar Hero Live complete with two guitars, ready for me and my brother to get cracking and relive the glory days of our early teen years, only for me to spend half a day playing solo just so we could get the songs we actually care about. Cosmetics are fine, no one outside Valve’s playerbase cares if they have to beat “Raining Blood” on expert just to get a skull mask or whatever, but I didn’t shell out $200 to stand on my own strumming a plastic vaginal flap like a twat.
The actual choice of songs is really all dependent on your tastes in music, so it’s difficult to judge based on those criteria without offending someone. Oh wait, this is Crocodile Style Reviews I’m writing right now. In that case, what the hell is up with all this scenester crap in Guitar Hero Live? You can’t go two songs without hearing some faux-hardcore group screeching about their lost girlfriends, and it’s genuinely painful to listen to. Bring Me the Horizon? Are you fucking kidding me? You may as well have packed the game with black mascara and a swoop wing wig, because we’re all apparently 15-year old mallgoths now. Guitar Hero Live seems to be targeting the tweeny crowd, which is good if you’re an idiot… except most of those songs are kept locked up behind an always-online paywall, with only 42 of the game’s ridiculously expansive setlist being playable offline. I will admit that the idea of having music video channels running on a live streaming service is a cute idea, but all it does is force you to sit through a swamp of songs you don’t like to reach the ones you do want to play. To play songs on demand, you are required to spend tokens to basically “rent” songs out, and you’d best believe Activision ain’t raining these down on you, instead plugging the idea of spending real life currency either on more tokens or to rent out every song for play-on-demand for twenty four hours. The punchline to all this? Local multiplayer is exclusive to this online mode. Oh Activision, and here I almost forgot that you’re a bunch of money-fucking space mutants.
Rock Band 4 on the other hand gives you around 60 or so songs right off the bat, and can be played offline with your mates to your hearts content, although not with online multiplayer which is just as well because their servers kept shitting themselves every second day. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the setlist in RB4 due to the use of the wrong songs to represent each band, which I’ll never get because “Superunknown” and “Passage to Bangkok” are incredible choices for Soundgarden and Rush, respectively. There’s even a far greater meme factor in RB4, between the Protomen song and 4 Non Blondes… you know, the song remixed in that He-Man meme. Get on my level, scrub. Meanwhile, Guitar Hero Live does feature “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who… in a shortened version, which is absolute musical blasphemy. My workplace plays the full 8 minutes, so what, was that too long for you to map? You bloody mapped the 17-minute “Do You Feel Like We Do?” in Guitar Hero 5; what, did the snack table go that quickly that you decided to call it quits after three minutes, you lazy fucks?
Point: Rock Band 4
To summarise, Guitar Hero Live looks a lot nicer and is easier to actually get a full controller set for, but Rock Band 4 has a much more appealing aesthetic to it and far less songs to slit your wrists to. So who do I dub the winner of this guitar duel? Neither, because Crypt of the Necrodancer has already proven to be the best rhythm game this year with just a chick hopping around getting her head chopped off by conga-lining zombies. Eat your hearts out, Activision and Harmonix.
Ah, the RPG games, the time where the Mario series lets its hair down and becomes something it generally really isn't. Most RPGs introduce a slew of one-time characters, and because they're characters it means I can review them. Hooray! Anyway, the focus for my review this time is the insanely rich and insane bloke, Booster!
In Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Booster fulfils the role of "character who tries to marry female party member and most be defeated by the heroes for her to be rescued" (kind of a long job title if you ask me), however, me manages to avoid the clichés associated with this role. Here is not a character attempting to marry Princess Toadstool to fulfil a prophecy or to gain power, but it's because he feels that he should. Heck, he didn't even kidnap the princess from the party, instead she just fell from the sky (like most future wives do).
Now, spoiler alert: Mario rescues Toadstool, so one would assume that this is the last we'd see of Booster, but no he returns in a future chapter where his new bride falls from the sky. Now this little scene was entirely unnecessary, but it was nice to see Booster not go forgotten from the rest of the game, although to be honest he would be outstaying his welcome if he appeared in any further story capacity.
All in all, Booster is actually just a fun side character in a side plot, however, I do have issues with him. Chief among them is his personality, I get that's he meant to be a kid in an adult's body, but his stupidity is far beyond anything feasible even for a child. Seriously how can some not interpret a girl crying as she doesn't want to be locked up in your tower? Or that the person who looks like someone you should be fighting is actually your doll come to life? Or decide to get married without even knowing what marriages is? Seriously, he makes Joey Essex look like a genius.
As much as I enjoy the fact that Booster manages to avoid clichés in his characterization, it's sadly his childish personality which annoys me so much that I kind of have to ignore that fact. I guess in my eyes he's like a child: fun to watch, until they open their mouths.