Archive for August, 2011

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Super Mario World

August 3, 2011

   I admit, I might be biased in my selection of this game as one of my favorites: as a young’n, I was initially given the choice between a Batman car playset and the brand-new Super Nintendo. Not knowing what an SNES was–and my video game experience solely consisting of TMNT on my cousin’s old NES—I insisted upon the car set. My father didn’t like my answer and pretty much bought me the game system anyway. As a computer programmer always in the thick of cutting edge technology, his opinion of this new-fangled device was quite positive. This would indubitably change once he realized that he had birthed a monster: namely, me. This fateful decision to override my childish whim for a tiny Batmobile raceway would spawn a sickening obsession with videogames for over a decade. And, of course, this game was packaged with the system.

Generally, Mario games are widely accepted as benchmarks in videogame history. With SMW, the advent of platforming was upon us, and the Genesis was left in the dust due to the awesome 16-bit power of Nintendo’s new workhorse. There’s little I can say that hasn’t been said about Mario World, but I do feel I can elaborate on a few key points that made it timeless and legendary for me.

Probably the most memorable thing about the game–the very quality that lengthened the SMW’s lifespan–was the sheer mind-boggling amount of secret levels, exits, and alternate paths one could discover. Even after I somehow finished the game with my still developing platformer skills in their infancy, there was an incredible wealth of alternative routes towards the endgame and beyond. I still remember visiting my cousin and booting up his copy of the game, and seeing the Star Road for the very first time, thinking “How did he get here!?” From that moment, I knew I had to somehow discover every single nuance the game had squirrelled away beneath its pixelated exterior. Even years after I thought I had unearthed every possible passage, I was still hearing about tricks and hidden treasures I never even dreamed were real. I scarcely could believe in the damn “Top Secret” area  after a decade of not knowing about it.

Of course, it helps that the level design, tight gameplay mechanics, and the introduction of the uber-cool sidekick Yoshi play integral parts in the journey to uncover Super Mario World’s many secrets. In terms of difficulty versus your own intuition, there’s never an excuse to make against losing. If you’ve played it–and let’s be frank, you probably have, if you’ve ever played a videogame in your life–you’d understand what I mean by the entirety of the fairness therein. Sure, the game was revolutionary and all platform games to come were to be judged against this marvel. And even with that as the hilt of its majesty, it also had the incredible quality as being a pack-in game, thus providing it with the reputation as the game many gamers started honing their skills with. To this day, I can’t think of any other launch title besides perhaps Mario 64 that had this kind of impact. It is, in my opinion, the golden standard that eclipses even Mario Bros. 3.

…Plus, did you know most of the Koopa Kids were named after punk rock icons? Lemmy, Iggy, Wendy-O? How many games can you name with a baddie named after the lead singer of The Plasmatics!?

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Public Image

August 1, 2011

Normally, I’d be reviewing an entire album, but for now I wanted to focus on merely the title song of Public Image Ltd’s debut work.

In terms of just the mere history this song carries with it, the music nerd in me would automatically place this highly. As it stands, it’s an incredibly powerful abridged version of the rise of punk rock as a whole, through the eyes of John Lydon and Keith Levene.

Johnny, as everyone knows, was used and abused in the whirlwind ride that was the Sex Pistols: wrestling with the puppet strings by lord high executioner Malcom McLaren, watching his friend Sid Vicious spiral into the tar pit of a junkie, and eventually becoming public enemy number one in the wake of the single “God Save The Queen.” PiL co-conspirator Keith Levene was probably one of the most underrated names in the rise of punk rock in general, being one of the original members of The Clash and pioneering an incredible new style of fretwork that would be cited as a great example of the “post-punk” sound of the 80s. Both of them outsiders even in their former bands, the self-titled song—the first song off the first album—is an appropriate finale and introduction rolled into one, with a vitriolic splash of rebellion launched full-throttle at their detractors.

Lyrically, Lydon’s rave about only being seen for the “clothes I wear” or “the color of my hair,” along with the claim for not being treated “as property,” rings back to his initial recruitment into the Sex Pistols. Onward, “two sides to every story” pushes the notion further that between Johnny’s eventual departure from McLaren’s game and Keith Levene being sacked due to supposed drug problems, the new band has accepted the bullshit in the media–and that they are finally cohesive and independent (for the time being, anyway.) This would be the first time either of them really broke free and cut loose, and goddamn does it show.

Sonically, John sounds better than ever, shaping his traditional, snarky siren of a wail into a more refined, rebellious howl that seems to echo through the entire first album. It’s the perfect complement to Levene’s hollow, metallic guitar work, the spirited precursor to the sound that The Edge would run away with many years later. I haven’t even mentioned bassist Jah Wobble–who would become an influential dub musician in his own right later on–who was in fact a very key player in the early PiL days, and his bassline here is terse but resonates extremely well.

I just absolutely love the energy, the anger, the sense of deserved freedom that this song brings to the ears. It’s about clawing back from the suck, taking pride in undivided individuality, and just saying “forget it” at the end of the day. Though I love the Ramones with all my heart and I do believe they were the quintessential fathers of the punk movement, John Lydon is just as much on equal footing and “Public Image” is probably the greatest punk song, post/proto or otherwise, I’ve ever heard.