C.A.T.: Murmur

R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)

OK, so I guess I could keep the whole debut album trend going for at least one more week.  And since my summer basically comes to an end this week, I guess it’s kind of fitting that I do an R.E.M. album, since I spent much of the summer getting deeper into these pioneers of alternative rock.  Plus, I think they deserve a better CAT than Sean’s weak attempt.

I guess what makes Murmur such an arresting collection of songs is that it shows the band’s signature sound already fully-realized in a way that wasn’t quite like anything going on in the world of underground or mainstream music.  You’ve got Peter Buck’s jangly guitars, Michael Stipe’s somewhat unintelligable but nonetheless impassioned vocals, and then you’ve got the melodic basslines and soaring back-up vocals from Mike Mills.  These are really the core elements that have stayed at the backbone of R.E.M.’s sound for decades, and though they’ve certainly taken this sound in different directions, you can see on Murmur that they had already stumbled on to something special.

I guess I tend to look at R.E.M. as a band that were sort of a fusion of a lot of the best music that was happening in American rock’s underground from bands like The Feelies and The dB’s in the early ’80s.  However, I think R.E.M. was able to finally achieve mainstream success because for one they stayed together and developed their sound more than those bands, but also because there was undeniable respect for classic pop songwriting in their music.  You can see this in the Byrds-y jangle of songs like “Catapult” or “Sitting Still”, while you can also see R.E.M.’s interest in tender piano ballads, the likes of which would continue to be a big part of their repertoire for years to come.

Honestly, I always feel silly talking about an album that’s as heralded and influential as Murmur, but I guess that just speaks to the importance of the album.  And after going deeper into R.E.M.’s discography this summer, I can say that they’ve put out quite a lot of good music, but I don’t think think they’ve ever sounded better than on this debut.

Favorite Tracks: “Radio Free Europe”, “Moral Kiosk”, “Catapult”

Legacy of Lame

Dragon Age II – Legacy

It seems that I was in the minority when I came out in favor of Dragon Age II. The game suffered from a lack of scope, to be sure, but I had fun playing it. The first major DLC for the game was a weapon pack, which probably wasn’t the best strategic move for a game criticized for being a money-grab. Now another weapon pack is coming out, which seems like a really bad idea. But sandwiched between those two item collections came the Legacy DLC, an additional quest that added a bit to the main game’s lore and tried to address the chief complaints leveled against Dragon Age II.

Legacy immediately takes you two a new locale, as if Bioware was trying to apologize for not coming up with enough new settings. Hawke and company track down the dwarven cartel that has been trying to kill them and demand answers. What they get is violent resistance, and a new dungeon to explore; a dungeon that contains some dark secrets and an ancient evil. While it’s an admirable effort to make the game’s locations more diverse, an underground dungeon isn’t that much to look at, making the effort appreciated, but pretty much wasted.

The chief complaint against the combat in Dragon Age II was enemies appearing out of nowhere mid-fight, which as far as I could tell was not an issue in Legacy. The stakes of every battle seemed obvious from the get-go, with all enemies and traps clearly obvious. Legacy introduces a few new enemy types as well, some of whom return from Dragon Age Origins. My only real combat-related complaint is the final boss battle, which relies heavily on your three AI-controlled allies being able to not stand in the fire, a skill that many real life World of Warcraft players still don’t have. As a result, the final battle can either seem unfairly difficult or unusually tedious, depending on the difficulty you’re playing on.

All in all, while it’s not Lair of the Shadow Broker, I think this is a solid piece of DLC for a solid game. It won’t redeem it for anyone who didn’t like Dragon Age II to begin with, but those people probably wouldn’t be shopping for DLC anyway.

The Vault: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Super NES)

Released after the eponymous series’ first season, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers came crashing onto the Super NES at the height of the beat ’em up genre. Unfortunately it does basically nothing to stand out in the world of brawlers, aside from represent the Power Rangers franchise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as a solid game with a hot property slapped on it is often all a kid is asking for when he chooses the game most deserving of his allowance money.

Power Rangers is seven stages long, although five of them are two parters. They play out in a straightforward manner, you’ll run around locations as varied as “park” and “weirdly spacious sewer” beating up putties until the boss shows himself. At that point, you’ll transform into your Ranger alter ego and go through another level of putty massacre. Finally, you’ll fight the boss, then be returned to the character select screen and do it all again. That is, except for the last two levels, which play out like a fighting game as you take on one giant enemy as the Megazord. After that, you’re treated to a cinematic of the gang going for a joyride (no seat belts) and then watching Zack dance at their favorite gym/juice bar.

The in-game model for the Power Rangers is an obvious pallet swap for each ranger, which is a bit disconcerting of the girls. At least for the Pink Ranger, whose uniform had a skirt on it in the show. Less of a problem for the Yellow Ranger, since she was a dude in the Japanese original. 90% of the game is spent defeating putties of various colors, which is not that exciting. The game mixes it up with a few weird robot enemies and the occasional platforming section, but there’s really not much to it. The boss fights are all pretty easy, and against foes that apparently were in the first season of the show, but were not recognizable to me. There’s no sign of Rita, Goldar or even that other guy. Well, Rita does show up after the credits, but you don’t get to fight her or anything. An image of her just shows up in the sky. Maybe that was meant as a hint for the sequel? “Hey kids, maybe we’ll make another game in which you can finally fight the people you care about!”

The biggest surprise for me, when I pulled this game out of the vault, was the weird code I got after the game’s credits. Apparently there actually is a two player mode in this game, but it’s just one-on-one zord vs. giant enemy fighting. It’s essentially the last two stages of the game, but with a human controlling the enemy. That last fight of the game, by the way, was the only time I died in the whole half an hour it took me to beat the game. That last boss has like twice as much health as the Megazord! What do you want me to do?

Anyway, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a burning hot shot of nostalgia in its first few minutes, and then kind of boring for a while, and then a little bit difficult at the very end. As someone who remembers renting the title and being thoroughly entertained, I was pleased enough with it. But if you don’t have a place in your heart (buried deep down, I’m sure) where you still care about the Power Rangers, you probably would see this game the way it really is: mediocre.

C.A.T: Billy Idol

Billy Idol – Billy Idol (1982)

We’ve featured some fairly innovative and cutting edge albums lately, this is not one of them, but I’ll go ahead and tell you that despite what ever preconceived notions you may have, this album is worth listening to. The debut solo album from the frontman of Generation X, Billy Idol’s self-titled debut is pure 80s pop goodness with a little bit of angst that’s rocking’ good fun. No it doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to depth or great songwriting but it’s light listening of the best kind.

Despite his image, Billy’s debut is closer to new wave or pop/rock than punk. It’s an album that’s all about big hooks, catchy choruses and fantastic guitar work by Bill’s longtime guitarist Steve Stevens. Billy may present himself as a punk but unlike most punks he can actually sing. Vocally Billy is more reminiscent of Mick Jagger than someone like Johnny Rotten, with kind of a charismatic swagger and “Do ya think I’m sexy? Roughness.” It opens with a bang with the three best songs on the album and never slows down. Some classics include “White Wedding” and “Hot in the City” as featured in Big though any of these songs were good enough to be singles. Got to give it to Billy, the man knows melody and has fun doing it.

I like to think of Billy Idol as like the Jason Statham of rock and roll. He acts like a tough guy (which is entertaining) and has some talent, but he’s not really respected for his craft. Billy Idol delivered a handful of hits back in the day but there’s not much more than what’s on the surface. Though perhaps I’m digging a little too deep, really shouldn’t the only requirement for a song to be good is for one to like how it sounds? So in that simplified sense I like this album and I like Billy Idol, with all the cheesy artists that came out of the 80s he’s one that’s still kind of cool.

Favorite Tracks: “Come On, Come On”, “Hot in the City”, “White Wedding”


Last saturday I witnessed something very special for any Weezer fan with a true blast from the past. Honestly I think it would of been a treat for any Weezer fan, even those who may have grown cynical after Weezer started recording songs like ugh… “Beverly Hills”. How could one show satisfy all walks of Weezer fan? By playing The Blue Album and Pinkerton back to back in their entirety.

Earlier I mentioned Weezer fans that had grown cynical and even I must admit to being one of those few from time to time. I feel like it used to be cool to like Weezer but now I often feel embarrassed to admit to liking them. Maybe it’s because they’ve gone somewhat cheesy or mainstream (collaborations with ‘Lil Wayne and All American Rejects don’t help), or maybe they’ve just been around too long. Anyway you look at it I don’t think there’s any denying that Weezer’s first two albums contain their best work and some of the best alternative rock of the 90s and that’s what made this night so special. In a way it was like cheap travel and probably somewhat nostalgic for some, I was kind of young back then so I can’t really speak of any nostalgia. I don’t have too much to say about the show but I’ll leave a few comments about what I liked and didn’t and everything in between

Opening Act: The Thermals

After waiting in line for a little over a half an hour the doors opened at about 7:10 and at 8:00 the show began. Going in I didn’t even know there was an opening act, at least I couldn’t find any info about it before the show. Despite being around for almost ten years I’d never heard of the The Thermals, suppose that’s why they were still an opening band. This Pop/Punk trio hailing from Portland gave an energetic performance that was fortunately quick to the point. They kind of reminded me of like an indie rock Green Day which was fun, though I will admit to spacing out in the middle of their set. Though they didn’t drag anything out and seemed fairly grateful to be there so I’ll give em a big sweaty thumbs up, good job.

Weezer: The Blue Album

FInally at around nine, Weezer took the stage to a crowd of anxious fans doing the Weezer hand logo and tore right into “My Name is Jonas”. Right away I was glad to see Patrick Wilson playing drums as I know he’s mostly switched to guitar these days and guess what? He played drums for every single song in both sets, awesome? The arrangements of the songs kept fairly close to the album but with a little less keyboard and no acoustic guitar (until “Butterfly” in the second set.) Rivers Cuomo kept to singing the numbers fairly straightforward, only occasionally pointing to the audience of making Brian Bell sing a part just cause. Though what was really strange was Rivers lack of communication with the audience. Usually he seems to be a pretty interactive and energetic performer but this night it was all business. Maybe he just didn’t feel like it, or maybe he did it for the older Weezer fans who hate what Weezer has become and just came to hear the music? Either way it wasn’t a big deal and highlights from the first half of the show were definitely “In the Garage” and “Holiday.”


After finishing a solid rendition of The Blue Album, Weezer left the stage to let long time Weezer archivist/roadie/unofficial fifth member of the band Karl Koch do a slideshow about the early years of Weezer. Karl really made up for the lack of intimacy Rivers had shown towards the audience and gave everyone a few good chuckles. Some of the best parts of the slideshow were early reviews talking about how bad Weezer was, they’re good sports, I enjoyed this segment verily.

Weezer: Pinkerton

Ah, this is what I was really psyched for and I think Pinkerton may have actually overshadowed The Blue Album. Though it definitely doesn’t have the hits that Blue has, on stage it just rocked so hard. The riffs were crunchy the melodies and backup vocals tight and I felt very fortunate to see these songs that don’t see the light of day to often anymore. Really it was all great but my favorite moments were probably; “The Good Life” (My favorite Weezer song), “El Scorcho” and “Why Bother”. The only downer to this whole show was the lack of an encore. I guess twenty songs is a lot but for Weezer to leave the stage after “Butterfly only to come back and play “Blast Off” was very strange. For those who don’t know “Blast Off” was a Weezer rarity that was eventually included on River’s demo solo album and was actually played live for the first time at this show. I felt honored to be a part of that group but it does seem weird to go to a Weezer show without seeing “Island in the Sun” or “Hash Pipe”. This show really was the closest thing to actually traveling back in time.

I Killed Your Brother and I Want to Kill You

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon

In a lot of ways, EDF: Insect Armageddon is better than its surprise hit predecessor. The voice cast is better, the controls are significantly tighter and it finally adds the online multiplayer that the previous game so desperately needed. It seems like everything a fan could ask for. But the problem is the last Earth Defense Force game, 2017, came out at a time when you could get away with a being a laughably poor game, and those years of progress reflect harshly on this new, obvious cash grab.

Identifying what’s wrong with Insect Armageddon is as much about identifying what was right with 2017. That game came out in early 2007, before Halo 3, before Bioshock, before XBLA was a serious place to buy quality games. It gave us a new, ridiculous world, where the earth was being invaded by giant insects that also had space ships and robots. Where everyone spoke the dumbest lines with worse acting. Where entire skyscrapers fells after being shot by a machine gun a little. It was a gamer’s game, and it’s ridiculous level of camp matched its inexplicably fun gameplay to make it a cult classic. But when has making a sequel to a cult classic ever worked out?

Insect Armageddon introduces classes to the series, which can be leveled up given enough experience. This means you can play as a jet pack guy, a shield guy or even a turret guy. It also means you can’t access a lot of the weapons you pick up in the game, despite all the classes basically using the same weapon types. So instead of continually upgrading your arsenal, you’re forced to grind out levels as your class of choice. Each class can level up to level 8, I played as the turret guy for the entire campaign and finished just short of level 4. That’s right, over the course of the entire game, I only leveled up twice. A rarely got to try new weapons and didn’t unlock many of the meaningful upgrades to my class. A game like this, where the core gameplay is so repetitive, needs to reward players with constant progress. Insect Armageddon doesn’t do that fast enough. There aren’t even checkpoints, so if you die on a level, all that XP and any new weapons you picked up are just gone.

Dying wasn’t really a concern of mine on normal difficulty, however, since health pickups were plentiful and enemies not that dangerous. If you do fall in combat, you can be resurrected by one of your two AI buddies. They’re probably the funniest part of the game, since one of them is clearly based on Will Smith, he even says “welcome to earth” every once in a while. The rest of the games humor is a little more forced, as you listen to the lady who gives you orders bicker with the less-than-helpful intel guy. Beyond that there’s a weird homage to Captain Sully, and that’s about it for the speaking roles. There’s not really that much of a story, you start fighting giant ants and end fighting robotic giant ants, with a little variety in between.

You’ll spend most of your time in Insect Armageddon firing into hordes of giant insects. When they die, they instantly evaporate, denying you any joy in the results of your carnage. Every once in a while you’ll have to fight a bigger enemy by shooting it in its giant, glowing weak spot. This takes far too long, as enemies show no sign of weakening until they die. Often, I’d find myself just standing in place shooting my endless supply of rockets into my enemy’s space hole, waiting and waiting for it to finally explode. This is the first game in a long time that actually made my trigger finger sore.

Insect Armageddon makes a lot of improvements over 2017, but as everyone knows, unintentionally bad can be hilarious and fun, intentionally bad is no good for anyone. This game’s forced bad dialogue, decidedly poor gameplay variety and slow character progression made it a chore to play. Insect Armageddon simply is not bad enough or good enough to be a worthwhile experience.

Monkey Magic

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Here’s a review of a game I wish I had played last year. Enslaved is the latest game from developer Ninja Theory, the team behind PS3-exclusive Heavenly Sword and the upcoming Devil May Cry reboot DmC. It is a game that does not break new ground, borrowing its action-adventure gameplay heavily from the likes of Uncharted, Prince of Persia and God of War, but wraps around that solid base a story that is simply one of the most engaging I have played in a while.

Much of what makes this game great is its Hollywood ties. Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) wrote the story of Enslaved, based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West, the same novel that inspired Dragon Ball. In the distant future, the modern world is in ruins. The only remnants of our civilization are ancient mechs who still do what they where designed to do: kill humans. The few people that are left face the constant threat of abduction by slavers. As the game begins, Monkey, a muscular wild man and Trip, a brainy lady, manage to escape a slaver transport. Monkey is knocked out, so Trip puts a mind control headband on him, which wounds Monkey if he disobeys her and kills him if she dies. Trip enlists Monkey’s help in getting back to her home some 300 miles away.

Andy Serkis plays Monkey and I imagine he did a lot of mocap for this game as well, just like Heavenly Sword. We’re living in a post-L.A. Noire world, so I can’t say these are the best in-game performances I’ve seen, but they’re close. The interactions between Monkey and Trip are shockingly nuanced and make the story rather touching. It helps that the whole game is beautiful, set in a vibrant, largely desolate world that is so much more colorful than most games these days. There are plenty of cinematics that seamlessly integrate with the gameplay and overall the game feels a little bit like Avatar. Except you can play it.

The combat in Enslaved is your basic heavy attack/light attack fare, with counters, evades and simple combos to keep it interesting. Your only weapon is a staff (the legendary extending staff that Goku also had) which can shoot blasts of plasma that damage or stun enemy mechs too. But getting to enemies is far more interesting that actually destroying them in this game. You often don’t stand at chance at a distance, so you’ll have to maneuver around cover and rely on Trip to distract enemies while you close in on them. It’s simple, but it adds a nice puzzle element to the game. To mix it up further, there are turret sections, races on your hover disc (called your cloud) and plenty of platforming. Platforming in Enslaved is pretty worry-free, as the game straight up won’t let you jump to your death in almost all situations. Instead, you just jump along an obvious linear path, which discourages exploration, but adds to the game’s cinematic quality.

Enslaved was a delight to play and it’s haunting ending will probably make it stick with me for a long time. The poor game sold terribly, probably because it came out in the packed Q4 2010 without much marketing behind it. During these slow summer months, there hasn’t been a lot new to play, which I why I would encourage you to seek this one out. It’s got to be pretty cheap by now and it certainly is worth a look.