PCP: Raleigh Ritchie

Monotony Monday #7 – Music n’ Missandei

Raleigh Ritchie: A Raleigh to Really Rally Behind

The short of it: With a charming mix of melancholy and joy, Raleigh Ritchie’s music is almost always an airy delight. It’s downtrodden indie pop that plays with the genre as well as Jacob Anderson plays the Unsullied leader. 

Roughly four years ago, I downloaded a “Best of June 2013” tape from Sunset in the Rearview. It came with a bit of a melancholy tune by Raleigh Ritchie, who I assumed was just another British sadboi musician that’d never get the acclaim he deserved.

Three years after that, I was screaming at my TV, begging for my favorite secondary Game of Thrones character, Grey Worm, to escape his near-deadly encounter with the Golden Harpies. As soon as he emerged in the third season, I knew he was going to be on my “Please Don’t Die” list.

Lo and behold, it turns out Jacob Anderson is just brilliant as pretty much everything he does.

With the pseudonym of Raleigh Ritchie, Anderson creates ballads of hopeful heartbreak. His music is painfully honest. He gently sings of his sad dreams and struggles, his fantasies and nightmares, everything from his luckiest stumble to his worst mistakes.

It’s absolutely delightful hearing him bounce over the noisy sounds of tracks like “Cowards” before powering over the simplistic piano tune of “Stronger Than Ever,” (my personal favorite).  Everything’s brilliantly and uniquely produced, but they’re all outshone by Anderson’s crooning and lyricism.

I’m more than familiar with the sad said of indie pop and the evolutionary successor to emo, where every girl is a beautiful devil and every fault is your own. But Anderson uses these incredibly human and tender stories of how scared he is of, well, the scariest non-scary parts of living. Growing old, changing, losing the ones you love, he manages to encapsulate them all in songs that never hit preachy or whiny. His versatility with handling the most common of fears is as stunning as the visuals in his videos.

Everything just fits so well in his music. His consistency and experimentation should clash, but they’ve yet to do so. His versatility keeps him afloat, even in the face of the most challenging music possible: Dan Harmon’s freestyling.

Man this dude’s great.

PCP XL: Mortal Kombat XL

Fun Fridayz #6 – Man My Madness is Mad

Mortal Kombat XL: Mortality Shortener

The short of it: With a refreshing emphasis on character over classics, MKX is a brilliant reawakening for a series that just saw a decent reawakening. Stunted by wearied cheapness instead of challenge, its single player options end up less than they could’ve been.

I’m straight terrible at fighting games. Arguably, I’m bad at all games, but fighting games really reveal how godawful I am at every facet of gaming. Learning from mistakes, proper timing, understanding mechanics, everything. I just shell up and scream, bashing on buttons like down-down-up-left-right-select-x-x-y-start-down-bumper-bash-the-batteries-out would do anything.

But here I am, absolutely loving MKX.

For the past few days, I’ve been destroying my blood pressure playing through the surprisingly good (but not quite as good as Injustice) story mode as well as struggling to succeed against the easy AI in 1v1. It’s been fun, at least, until I hit the final boss and dropped down from normal to very easy. But I guess that’s classic MK, or even just classic fighting game, where devs create a super dope system for combatting others but consistently fail to create a final boss that’s challenging rather than cheap. Much like Shao Kahn in, well, every single iteration of Mortal Kombat, the final boss of MKX is the same ol’ 25 percent damage taking, unblockable chainable projectile dealing cheapskate that’s far less of a triumph to beat than a relief.

Yet, I still love it. Giving every character three styles almost triples the already decent roster. Netherrealm finally stepped up and made new characters that are genuinely good, in both design and play. Erron Black’s sick design allows him to stand on his own, while Ferra/Torr’s classic big bulk/little spike playstyle allows them to fit in the classics. Kotal Kahn manages to hold his own as a less outrageous Shao Kahn, and D’Vorah’s instrumental place in the campaign makes her hard to ignore.

Everything just feels great. Sure, some animations are a little choppy or weird, but there really isn’t anything that’s pulled me from the heat of the battle. I’m frustrated by start up times and delays, but those are classic fighting game mechanics. My frustration is with myself, not the game, which is both calming and infuriating.

That aside, it’s still a fun ride. The only real problem with the story is the weird amount of stage wedging. By that, I mean that it’s obvious there’s a fairly select number of stages that the story has to force the player into– one of the fighters has to do some grandiose move to force the fight back into the market stage or the forest stage. That being said, I’d rather the stages be tight than the roster.

I think the real tragedy of Mortal Kombat, aside from the krappy side games and characters, is the fact that it took until a year post-release for this game to truly be worth reviewing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited to see what MKXI has to offer, but it straight up sucks that it took until 2016 for a 2015 game to be “complete.” I desperately wanted to play Injustice 2 after watching the campaign and various tournament fights, but I’m going to have to wait till Injustice 2 XL or whatever it is to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth of content.

Maybe it’s my discomfort with the rapidly growing trend of microtransactions as the profit base of games nowadays. Hell, maybe it’s about time for devs to really get the value they’ve earned after painful hours of coding and programming. But it’s still feels bad. It’s why I’m so divorced from Grand Theft Auto V after adoringly buying every DLC I could for its predecessor. It all feels like some kind of weird corporate trick, where a mixture of the cream and the crap is skimmed from the final product to be delivered later. And the messed up thing is that it makes sense for characters to be slowly developed and refined after the game’s release. But then there’s this day one pre-release nonsense, coupled with the microtransactions for easy fatalities.

It doesn’t quite feel right, I guess. Yeah, I’m just some dude and I’m bad at games. But it feels like a weird separation between player and developer– it seems to have slipped from relationship to business. There’s less hype about sick kombos and more about “additional kontent.”

But I’m still here, having a bunch of fun with these challenge towers and Test Your Luck with friends. Is the discomfort of post-release support worth the reward of a complete package a year later? I can’t say. All I can say is how much I’m liking the game, and how I’m deadass terrified of entering the online multiplayer. It’s a mortal fear.

PCP: Two Best Friends Play Yakuza 4

Watching Wednesday #6 – Wallops and Weeaboos

Two Best Friends Play Yakuza 4: Yakkin’ Over Yakuzies

The short of it: This is one of my favorite playthroughs, period. It’s a great mix of the fantastic and frantic story of Yakuza 4 with the Best Friends’ humor and reactions. It’s easy to binge and easier to enjoy. 

Two Best Friends Play AKA Super Best Friends AKA TheSw1tcher isn’t to easy to dodge in discussions about top-tier Let’s Players. Their content is consistent in both timing and quality, with the contrasts between Matt and Pat often being the highlight of their videos. However, the Best Friends shine when they’re united in marveling at a game– either in admiration or anger. This playthrough is an example of the former.

Pat takes control of both the PC and the story, having already beaten the game. This turns out to be super helpful, since these games almost seem to pride themselves on the increasingly thin thread of sense that holds the story together.

Yakuza is unsurprisingly about the Japanese organized crime syndicate, though it’s less brutal criminal activity and more hyper dramatic and action filled soap opera. It’s about as gritty as Pat’s bald head.

It’s hard to nail down the peak of the series. Matt’s constant references to Face-Off resulting in Pat being both impressed and outraged. Pat’s joking attempts to disguise his previous save files. The constant pseudo twists and actual twists. The never ending hype fits over the sickest finishing moves.

I’m currently embroiled in their ongoing playthrough of Yakuza 0, the current gen prequel. It’s beautiful watching Pat’s first reactions to a seriesthat’s upping the absurdity for the fourth or fifth time in a row. More importantly, it reveals the true star of the series– the brilliant localization. Although I’m sure there’s valid arguments for literal translations, it’s just so much more satisfying seeing the absolutely fantastic translation, from the goofiest jokes to the most hear wrenching monologues.

Watching these two Canadians play through this absurdly Japanese game somehow provides this solid platform for enjoying this piece of art. They’ve gotten me to respect and admire the gall of the Yakuza series. Man, it’s gangsta.

PCP: The Glass Cannon Podcast

Monotony Monday #6 – Mindful Maladies

The Glass Cannon Podcast: An Explosively Good Time

The short of it: Familiarity between both the players and the players and the general rules cements this podcast as a hallmark of quality play. From episode one to one hundred*, the show boasts the most consistent quality and content of any I’ve listened to so far.


*I’m only on episode 23, but I’m willing to bet it stays true.


What, another RPG podcast? Isn’t this getting tired and repetitive?

First off, nah, this stuff is still dope, especially since I haven’t been able to get IRL tabletop time in.

Second off, the GCP guys play Pathfinder. It’s totally different from Film Reroll’s GURPS and so completely 100 percent different from DND.

The reality of it is that the GCP’s game is somehow the most rule-centric but most free. The players knowledge of the game, ranging from vague to frighteningly specific, allows them to move forward in every weird situation. Of course, dealing with weird player choices is typical of even the most noob of RPGs. What makes the GCP so special is how every player operates appropriately– sliding between the legs of a massive rc one minute, gently retreating the next. It’s honestly how a game should be played.

Basically, the Glass Cannon is true to its name (but not in fragility). It’s amazingly smooth, but it’s constantly packed with gunpowder (sulfur more like sulFUN).

The player monologues before each episode are genuinely welcoming bits of advice and personal stories for new players. However, they don’t structure themselves as a tutorial or a introduction to RPGs. Instead, they occasionally drop some helpful tips or an explanation of more complicated rules when it fits. One of the players’ unfamiliarity with Pathfinder makes these explanations natural and appropriate.

The humor in the show is pretty par for the course (that course being RPGs with buddies). Riffs range from players’ word flubs to the ludicrousness of their situation to the often misplaced sound effect amidst their brutal battles.

Those battles, despite often having a goofy sound or two, are far more real and realized than any of the other podcasts. As it gets explained in episode 22, a true threat to player characters that are worth an emotional investment makes games so much more than a roll of the dice. It’s a tension that can’t be found in Settlers of Catan or any other tabletop experience. It’s life on the line– it’s a character birthed from a bit of the player’s soul and subconscious.

The true glass cannon is the characters that slowly merge with their players– their power lies in their teamwork and camaraderie, as well as their slowly increasing powers and abilities. But with one bad roll, they can be flung into their tomb. And that’s what makes this podcast so much more genuine and fascinating than other shows.

It’s deadly to free time. Get ready to blast off.

PCP PSA

Unfortunately, I’m back from vacation. This means the week respite from my posts is over, so Pop Culture Please is back at noon. And then gone. Then back at noon, gone, back at noon.

Thrice weekly posts again is what I’m saying. Aight, cheers.

PCP: Banjo Kazooie’s Mad Monster Mansion

Fun Fridayz #5 – Functioning Freedom

Banjo Kazooie: Mad Monster Mansion’s Mad Fun

The short of it: Yeah, the entire game is great. But this level specifically is pure concentrated Banjo. Everything that works in the main game works perfectly here. Spooktacularly. 

Banjo Kazooie’s almost a genre in itself– it’s the height of 3D platforming and collectathons, backed by goofy humor, brilliant map design, near perfect music, and just the right edge of dark.

Although its placement is hard to nail down thanks to the game’s fairly open structure, Mad Monster Mansion might be the peak of the game’s design. And one of its key features is its soundtrack.

The level is found upon a haunted hill with tombstones lining the path. Upon entering the level, the player’s greeted by the smallest map in the game. In its six areas, it holds an absurd amount of atmosphere. Each level in Banjo Kazooie has its own atmosphere, of course. The ice level has penguins and polar bears, the water level has sharks and fish, and so on. These NPCs fit their scenery and so do their puzzles. But there’s something special in MMM.

The aforementioned edge of dark is partially to blame– the player expects to see goofy monkeys or honeybees in any of the other worlds. But the Mansion’s first Jiggy is inside a gooey ghost that must be stealthily entered. Like, that’s weirdly creative, even for this game. One of the next Jiggys requires Banjo to move an anthropomorphic glass to spell out a word, much like an Ouija board. Another forces Banjo to beat a disembodied hand in a piano playing contest in a massive haunted church. The transformation is the only in the game that turns B&K into an inanimate object– the most adorably tiny pumpkin.

It’s the step the game didn’t need to take. Clanker is creepy, but he’s not supernatural. All of his pieces are attached (mostly). The other levels don’t quite breech past hinting at something beyond nefarious.

Sure, mechanically, they’re all par for the course. But MMM perfectly funnels that player around the level without any hitches. It’s polish on polish, piled with the right amount of cheesy and creepy.

Mad Monster Mansion is up there with Halo: Combat Evolved‘s The Library as the best spooky levels.

PCP: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Watching Wednesday #5 – Wowin’ Whacks

Injustice: Gods Among Us: God Among Storymodes

The short of it: Injustice manages to do what Warner Bros. and DC couldn’t do with billions upon billions of dollars and dozens of stars. It gives classic characters that have been done to death life again with its character-driven story. 

There’s lot of stories under the DC banner– some are brilliant studies of what it means to be human, some are flopping insults to fans. After the lukewarm  Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, it seemed like DC’s fighting games were doomed to mediocrity. And then a God was born.

That’s overly dramatic, but a metagame/metahuman joke wouldn’t have made as much sense. The point is, with the release of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Netherrealm and DC created a new standard for fighting games. Whereas Mortal Kombat X created an devent story by killing off old characters and introducing interesting new ones, it could hardly be considered character-driven. Injustice dedicates itself to the description.

The game (and preceding comics) comes up with a plot that manages to turn both Superman and Lex Luthor into more than the Flanderized forms of themselves in most other media. It’s the familiar story of the fallen hero. After being tricked into committing the Herculean crime of killing his wife and daughter (triggering a nuke in Metropolis in the process), Superman turns to judge, jury, executioner for the world’s criminals– and heroes. The heroes that try to stand up to Superman’s domination of democracy are brutally cut down by the god-emperor. Batman is the sole living opponent to Supes’ iron-fisted rule; he uses an interdismensional transporter to pull Justice League members from a universe where the League stopped the plot/nuke.

The game does lack of characterization for the typical villains; fortunately, its depiction of struggles of the former heroes turned to villainous pawns is enough to satisfy the bad guy side of things. Sure, Sinestro is still kinda lame, but The Flash’s growing uncertainty about whether or not he’s on the right side is fascinating. And it’s fun– the wit and charm from the animated series is present in the game’s burner lines after matches conclude.

Now, of course, being that this is a video game, it should go into Fun Fridayz. But I’ve never played Injustice. Hell, I’ve haven’t played a Netherrealm game since MK9. And I was bloody terrible at that; combos and timing escape me. I watched the game’s cutscenes in movie format thanks to some YouTube heroes.

Check it out:

This vidyagamemoviewhatever is super. It’s like a league of justice. It’s Batman. Whatever, it’s just dope.

PCP: Night Lovell

Monotony Monday #5 – Meek Musical Musing

Night Lovell: Good Night and Good Luck

The short of it: Top-notch production and a consistently good flow makes Night Lovell more than his genre. 

On RL Grime’s 2015 Halloween mix, there was this one track that always blew me away. I figured Grime had done something to it, only to find out that no, Night Lovell is just that dope.

Lovell’s subgenre is hard to pin down–it’s easy to distinguish it from other artists by ear, but analysis is a little tougher. A YouTube commenter referred to it as shadow rap, I thought of it as spooky trap (cleverer name pending), but in reality, it’s closer to a more refined cloud rap.

Spooky trap takes the vocal samples and ambient production of cloud rap and combines them with a concentrated flow and darker tone. It seems to often have some form of layering on the vocals, deepening them, but not to the degree of anything Houstonian.

It’d be a lie to say the style doesn’t borrow- artists like Lovell reveal the legacy of Lil B and, by extension, Clams Casino. Lovell’s work is a reflection of other new artists from both the mainstream, like Travis Scott, and more Internet-popular artists like Jazz Cartier. The Lovell/Cartier connection is interesting- there’s multiple occasions where their production could be switched without any noticeable different. However, whereas Cartier leans more into the rap-pop sphere, Lovell’s influences are harder to specify- the closest being horror core. Lovell’s occasional usage of vividly violent image (“pool of blood”) reflects this, but, when mixed with his overt emotional honesty, create something far outside those bounds.

He features the Canadian-Carribean patois, and, much like Drake’s attempts on Views, ends up a bit short of a credible impersonation. Fortunately Lovell goes for the humor rather than the homage, elevating it above Drake’s efforts. This is where any comparison between the two ends.

Night Lovell manages to isolate himself as a unique talent in this era overflowing with soundcloud success.

PCP: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Fun Fridayz #4 – Force Fun Not Forced Fun

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: Lightsabers, Lightning, and Legends, Oh My!

The short of it: A flawed but fascinating take on Darth Vader’s apprentice; before Ahsoka, Starkiller was Vader’s first student. Though this isn’t the first Star Wars game to put the player in control of a Jedi, it does manage to make it seem the most meaningful, powerwise. 

Have you heard the tragedy of Starkiller the Unwise?

I thought not. It’s not a story the cannon would tell you.

Of all the tragedies and triumphs of Disney’s unification of the Star Wars canon, I think I’m most disappointed in the loss of The Force Unleashed. Sure, Genndy Tartakovsky’s The Clone Wars deserves more than it got, but I don’t think there’s quite as much in-universe fun to be had.

On its surface, The Force Unleashed has a lot of problems.

  • Edgelord dialogue (performed well by my #2 man crush, Sam Witwer)
  • Painful loading sessions, both between levels and between customization menus
  • Video game/shonen levels of powering up that invalidate every character that isn’t Starkiller
  • Awkward squeezing into the canon
  • Level design that barely eeks into serviceable
  • Lackluster enemy AI that breeches farther into cheap than challenging

I could go on and bitch about what this game could have been– but that’s such a boring way of talking about media.


Note: I feel the same way about a lot of easy to make, hard to elaborate on criticism of adapted media. “Oh no, we won’t get Planet Hulk/whatever kind of adaptation of niche media!” Yeah, but it’s not like there’s going to be any other adaptation. It sucks, but a few canon shoutouts is more than a fan could ask for into a trillion dollar franchise.


So here’s what’s what: this game is hella flawed. It’s nowhere near a ten, or a nine, or an eight. But stick a saber in me and call me Qui-Gon, I love it.

When I first picked up The Force Unleashed years ago, it sold me in the first ten minutes. Using the Force, I picked up a stormtrooper, the last of his squad, and dangled him two stories above a TIE hangar. As he flailed helplessly in the invisible hand of a burgeoning Sith lord, he desperately grasped the catwalk’s railing. He held there with the tenaciousness of a bull. At least, until I put a lightsaber and ten million volts of force lightning through him.

It was a power play; I was the apprentice of the Dark Lord Vader. Everyone below me was a waste of space. And I embraced that, tossing rebel and stormtrooper alike into the vacuum of space.

There’s some level of catharsis of finally being the one– the player equivalent of Anakin or Luke, the person capable of being the genetically perfect (because Midichlorian bullshit or whatever, I don’t own a shovel to beat George Lucas with or anything) force of the Force.

So every time I had to fix some miniscule pseudo-platforming bullshit to make it the next segment of murderizing some poorly-armored jobbers or every time I trudged through wave after wave of cheap-moving cheaters to make it the next powerful boss, I was excited. I was there, switching my lightsaber crystals to these beautiful new configurations that matched my increasingly terrifying Force powers.

It sucks. It’s far from perfect, and maybe, if it was separate from the beloved Star Wars franchise, this game would’ve died in alpha. But it’s there, with its classically Star Wars-ian not-so-subtle nods to its legends. Vader, Fett, Yoda, dodge in and out of this storyline that doesn’t quite make sense.

But y’know what? Who cares. I embrace it like the way Disney embraced the universe: here’s some super tight storylines and power fantasies, so let’s just absorb them. Maybe it’s not mechanically perfect, maybe it’s edges are as rugged as Sam Witwer’s jaw. But Force unleashed, ain’t it a sight to behold? More so, ain’t it a scenario to enjoy?

And yeah, there’s a lot more to be said about the improvements and failures of The Force Unleashed II. But that’s for another post– if I don’t milk this series, who will?

PCP: Big Quint

Watching Wednesday #4 – WOOH WOOH

BIGQUINT INDEED: Big Ain’t Big Enough

The short of it: Big Quint’s genuine reactions manage to amplify and simplify the high and low points of albums. His emphasis on what sounds good is a different kind of review with the same value as the kind that picks apart ever snare. 

Big Quint’s a murderer.

Two chairs lost their lives trying to support Quint’s ample frame as he bounced along to the newest hip-hop– Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is the latest to snap the legs of a chair.

Quint’s channel is a pretty straightforward reaction channel– not my favorite kind of content, but it’s one that has its place in the annals of YouTube. He gives an intro, reacts to the music, cuts about halfway for a snack break/monologue, then resumes, before giving his final opinion on the album or track.

Fortunately for us, Quint’s truly just a fan of music. He’s honest with his opinions and genuine with his reactions; his reactions are often his first time listening to an album. Unlike other reviews or reactions from more technical critics, Quint lets his ears do the thinking for him. If it bangs it bangs, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.

Every month or so, I revisit his reaction to J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, an album I already loved before watching Quint’s reaction.

 

I do the same with Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo; every once in a while, I use Quint’s videos to remind myself of how damn good these albums are. I enjoyed them when I listened to them, sure, but for Ye, I had trouble digesting it after all the Taylor Swift nonsense and some of the worse lines on the album (bleach).

But then there’s Quint, bouncing along, chuckling at the dumb stuff but still vibing out to the beautiful production and braggadocious lyrics.

I guess it’s just a reminder of how wrapped up in ourselves and society we can get, and how we can subconsciously make ourselves enjoy things else. Yeah, we need critical analysis and discussion about the finer points of music and artists. But at the same time, man, why can’t we just lose it when we hear that drop on G.O.M.D or Father Stretch My Hands? Thankfully, we got Quint to remind us to snap and shout along with dope music.