[Game Review:] Pokemon Sword & Shield are a breathtaking return to the core of an iconic series

Pokemon Sword & Shield bring the 7th generation to life in ways never before seen and are solid games all fans of the series should check out.


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Pokémon Sword & Shield bring the 7th generation to life in a never before seen way.

Pokémon Sword & Shield

Rating: 4/5

It’s time to once again journey into the world of Pokemon as Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield released for the Nintendo Switch. Game Freak’s 7th generation of pocket monster games is charming, engaging and best of all, a fully fleshed out console Pokémon experience, great for newcomers and veterans alike.

Sword & Shield deliver a solid experience, that while not without some flaws and hangups, still make for the best games in the series thus far, and two excellent Switch titles. Picking up where the Let’s Go! series left off, the games are essentially an upgrade to the previous console titles, fully formed and true to the mainline series.

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The Britain inspired locales of Galar are very beautiful and pleasant to the eye.

The latest iteration of the famous series has you traversing the world of Galar. This British-inspired landscape is an exotic world filled with green pastures, farms, industrial cities, icy landscapes, deserts and human-sized mushroom forests. The scenery of the game is largely breathtaking. Nearing the end of the game some of the environments start to seem to repeat and the gyms somewhat look alike, but the vast scale of the environments is amazing.

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Gym battles probably feel the closer than ever to Ash’s epic fights in the original anime.

The world of Pokemon is realized in a way that would have been unfathomable to the 11 year old me playing Pokemon Red.

The world of Pokemon is realized in a way that would have been unfathomable to the 11-year-old me playing Pokemon Red. When battling gym leaders, a crowd of animated fans go wild when you knock out your enemy’s Pokemon. Train stations, high rises and hotels all capture the feel of the UK and modern urban locales. It truly feels stunning to go from the tiny small town you begin at to the televised Pokemon League battles in packed stadiums and a final battle atop a skyscraper with some of the story’s antagonists.

The tunes you’ll hear along your journey are thoughtfully composed and of the high quality you’d expect from a Nintendo original game. The “Gym Leader Battle Theme” straight up sounds like a modern rave track (at least in the intro).

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The Wild Area is the most interesting feature of Sword & Shield. Sadly, it could have been better utilized.

The Wild Area itself could’ve been bigger…

Early on, you reach an area called the Wild Area. This, essentially, is an open world part of the map very reminiscent to Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s large open areas, or Monster Hunter’s instances, where not only hundreds of Pokemon roam, but other trainers across the world, too, if you are connected online. To me, this is probably one of the most interesting novel features in the games, but sadly, its potential isn’t fully realized.

The Wild Area itself could’ve been bigger. Players can take part in “Max Pokemon Raids” where you team up with other players online, or AI controlled trainers offline to take down giant “Dynamax” Pokemon. The concept is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a Pokemon MMORPG, but falls short as Raids are not updated quickly in the online list and are hard to join or find other players to complete with. Worse still, once you beat the game you are limited to only doing high level raids which already are hard enough to find players to complete with. In the future, I would love to see a Pokemon game that explores this area even further, maybe even a side game that branches off into a Pokemon MMORPG based off the Wild Area.

Pokemon Sword & Shield are not perfect. There are graphical frame-rate dips, sadly, no voice acting, mediocre antagonists and plot points, and a relatively short journey and online mode. Many aspects of the game feel slightly superficial, as if a small delay in release could’ve resulted in a much greater game experience.

However, the quality of life changes and streamlining of the core Pokemon game are welcome additions and as a whole, Sword & Shield bring the Pokemon world into modern times as a fully fleshed out version of Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee. Any fans of the Pokemon games are RPGs should check this one out.

Rating: 4/5

Video Games and EDM (Part 1)


Part of a series I’m writing for an EDM website, I’m going to be exploring the relationship between EDM and video games. This is an excerpt from that story, which begins by chronicling some of the earliest instances of EDM in video games, part of a shift that helped raise awareness of electronic in the US in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Video Games and Electronic music enjoy an intertwined relationship


Electronic music and video games, in some respects go hand in hand. Whether it’s promotional trailers often featuring EDM, locations and dance clubs actually a part of the game, or the game soundtrack, the industry seems to have taken notice. The same feelings that make EDM fun to dance to and get hyped to, are also fun to game to.

Not only can a lot of EDM be found in today’s video games, but even in the past, video games helped give electronic artists and video game music producers a platform for their music to shine. Before we talk about today’s EDM in video games, let’s talk about some of the earliest instances of electronic music in video games.

Many studios out of the UK were already experimenting with EDM in games

Some of my first experiences with electronic music were while playing video games. Back in the era of Nintendo 64, the original Playstation and early 2000s PC games, games developed by British and European studios helped expose Americans to dance music. American studios did eventually catch on, but until the arrival of dubstep, electronic music was still very much a niche genre in the US.

If you were lucky enough to have stumbled across some of the more quirky games of the 2000s era, you would have been treated to some early electronic music, some in-house and some licensed. The frantic RC racer game, Re-Volt, was one of these games that helped cement my love for EDM. Several Nintendo 64 games, especially those developed by European studios featured UK house music, such as the action-adventure game Buck Bumble.


Re-Volt (N64, PSX, PC, later re-released on Android)

Published by Acclaim, this unconventional racer had players control RC cars along small miniature tracks scaled to the small RC cars size. Tracks within the game took you to locales such as the aisles of a local supermarket and its parking lot, or through a child’s room, littered with toys and teddy bears serving as obstacles. Just to add to the craziness, the game also threw in Mario-Kart style items like firecrackers, oil slicks, nitro boosts and even a self destructing bomb that could be passed off in “tag you’re it” style fashion.

As soon as you load up the game, you’re greeted by an upbeat house track with filtered vocals. Re-Volt was one of the earlier games to actually use MP3s in the game, and on the PC version, you could pop the game CD in your computer and the soundtrack would play directly from those files.

Each of the music tracks in the game, presumably created in-house, had electronic music flair, indicative of the UK based game developer’s studio. “Little Toy Carz 2” was one of a few insanely epic tunes for it’s time. Drum and bass, a bit of breakbeat, and techno sounds into a blazing fast BPM definitely set the tone for the lightning fast races within the game. The theme for the supermarket track, “Toys for the Boys” incorporates elements of speed dance, rave and Goa with an intro that I will never forget, some fifteen odd years later.

[Throwback:] [Alternative Pop/Electronic:] Caribou – Odessa


[Throwbacks:] Odessa – Caribou (featured in FIFA ’11)

This eclectic little number comes from an era twas rife with alternative electronic acts like Caribou. Released in 2010, a few years before, acts like MGMT and Empire of the Sun were transforming alternative rock and electronic music while channeling sounds of the 80s rock scene.

“Odessa” was featured in FIFA ’11, the worldwide hit soccer video game from EA Sports, well known for its varied soundtracks. Take some time and drift away to these entrancing sounds.

Buzz Words: November 18th-24th

Updates for the week of Nov. 18th – Nov. 26th; New Music, Albums and Buzzing Video Games like Pokémon and Red Dead


Trendy and buzzing topics for the week of Nov. 18th:

Music:

Taiki Nulight’s recent LP “Murky Manor”

The Club – Mix Cut – Reebs

Falls (TOKiMONSTA Remix) – ODESZA, Sasha Sloan

Satisfied (feat. MAX) – Armand Van Helden x Cruise Control Remix

Standout from A State of Trance 888 “Amsterdam”


Video Games:

Pokemon: Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee – Quick Impressions coming up!

Red Dead Redemption II –  Review coming soon.

(Upcoming) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – News coming soon.

[Commercials with Cool Music:] Microsoft Surface – The Salmon Sisters [Throwback to PS2’s Amplitude:] Garbage – Cherry Lips


[Alternative Rock/Pop:] Garbage – Cherry Lips

Go baby go go, (yeah we’re right behind you)
Go baby go go, (yeah we’re lookin’ at you)
Go baby go go, (oh, we’re right behind you)
Go baby, go baby, Yeah we’re right behind you!

Microsoft’s recent ad for the Surface Go has surfaced feelings of nostalgia in many people who heard the song featured in the ad, Garbage’s “Cherry Lips.” For me personally, I first heard the song on the Playstation 2 music game, Amplitude.

From the makers of Dance Central, the unconventional music game had you piloting a space ship that coasted along “tracks” of music. Each track had notes that you would blast and after getting through a “section” or “verse” with no misses the track would blast away and disappear and it’s element would continue to play for awhile. Each track was broken down into vocals, bass, drums, synths and FX, and basically the better you play the game the better the song would sound, you could also choose to completely ignore the vocals track to make an instrumental version, or only play the drums and bass for an acoustic/percussive “remix.”

It wasn’t until it resurfaced in the Microsoft ad that I found out more about Garbage and that the lead singer actually wasn’t Gwen Stefani (it sure sounded like it to me). Enjoy the ad and it’s original music video above and below take a look at what it was like playing the song in Amplitude.

 

[Throwback] [German Rock/Alternative:] Tokio Hotel – Dogs Unleashed (2009)


Throwback Jam: [Alt. Rock/German Rock]

Dogs Unleashed – Tokio Hotel

We are dogs unleashed,
Out of control
Full of dreams, nobody knows
Unleashed, time to escape
We don’t wanna suffocate…

Today’s throwback highlight is to German alternative rock band, Tokio Hotel. The band took the world by storm quietly after the release of their 2007 album, Scream. “Dogs Unleashed” continues their melodic foray into dark, but still light rock and has a nice catchy hook/chorus.

“Dogs Unleashed” comes from their 2009 album, Humanoid. Fun fact: I was on a school trip in Rome, Italy when I heard one of the band’s most popular singles, “Monsoon.” It played on the Italian equivalent of MTV, with it’s accompanying video. I also was introduced to Mika’s “Relax, Take It Easy,” a light-hearted dance-disco EDM cut, also released in 2007.

When I returned to the States, I found Tokio Hotel had become very popular and was beginning to make waves  in the US. Select singles became available in the US iTunes store. “Monsoon” was also featured in Guitar Hero: World Tour (the international themed iteration of the popular game).

[Video Games] [J-Electropop] Utada Hikaru – Simple & Clean (Ray of Hope Remix)


[Video Games] Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8

Electronic/Pop
Simple & Clean (Ray of Hope Remix) – Utada Hikaru
Theme from Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Remake for Playstation 4.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Opening Movie:

Simple & Clean “Ray of Hope Mix”

When you walk away, you don’t hear me say
Please, oh baby – don’t go!
Simple and clean is the way that you’re making me feel,
tonight, it’s hard to let it go

We’re almost through our first month of 2017 so congrats to everyone for that! In other news, fans of role-playing games, Disney, Square Enix and Utada Hikaru are rejoicing around the world at the release of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Prologue for Playstation 4. Released January 24, 2017 (my birthday week!) the game has been a long time coming for many fans after several side spin-off games were released in the past few years and little updates for Kingdom Hearts 3 have surfaced.

Nevertheless the game will likely prove to be extremely popular and wildly successful like most of the offerings in the award-winning franchise that pits Square Enix characters (including popular heroes, and villains, from Final Fantasy) with Disney characters and often in Disney “worlds.”

Since the beginning of the series, Japanese-American singer, Utada Hikaru, has been seen as a sort of frontrunner for the series as the titular games in the series (KH1 & 2) both featured some breath-taking opening movies featuring music from Hikaru. For 2.8, the iconic “Simple & Clean” from the original Kingdom Hearts gets the remix treatment turning from a dance-techno pop song to a more electro-pop/dance offering.

The “Ray of Hope” remix is quite interesting, though short, and 2.8’s opening movie makes it feel all the more epic. You can check out the video and the song itself above. Here’s hoping to a remix of Kingdom Hearts 2‘s “Passion” showing up somewhere eventually as well.