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Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Azmol Meah takes on the UK-exclusive Hurry Up Hedgehog! for the Nintendo DS. He doesn't hold back.

There have been many video game iterations of popular board games in recent years. Everything from Monopoly to Risk to Jenga has made the jump from cardboard boards to, erm, digital boards!


All are household names and all have sucked as video games harder than a super turbo charged vacuum cleaner.


Next in this inauspicious line is Hurry Up Hedgehog!, based on a popular German board game known as Egelrace, which roughly translates to ‘Hedgehogs in a Hurry’. And just as the aforementioned titles should have remained board games, so should have Hurry Up Hedgehog. After playing the game equivalent, you’ll genuinely question how this could even pass as a decent board game.


There are two things that will catch your attention when playing Hurry Up Hedgehog!. First, there’s an option to dope the hedgehogs. Second, the little critters themselves come across as a sort of super freaky hybrid of Tina Turner’s ‘Aunty’ character from Mad Max 3 and some reject Twisted Sister outcast. Of course, those hedgehogs are maxed out with anthropomorphic traits, which means lots of animals behaving like humans! Why can’t hedgehogs act like, you know hedgehogs—granted, they don’t do much aside from getting splattered on roadsides by soccer mums in their 4x4’s—but surely a hedgehog murdering simulator would have been a better idea than what Oxygen have given us (ideally, the hedgehogs in this alternative game would be on drugs as well).


But alas, the developers only managed to get the dope part right. The rest of the game simply involves guiding those whiny, grotesque beasts we get from A to B on a 6x9 garden-themed grid, where your greatest foe isn’t an overindulged Knightsbridge housewife, but instead, a mud pit. Yes, that’s right, a mud pit. You move your team of Frankenstein’s droppings from left to right, forwards, backwards or on top of other Hedgehogs for some hot, saucy, hedgehog on hedgehog action, guide your team to the finish line and that’s it.


Yes, that’s it; stroke the stylus in four different directions. If you can master the ancient art of being able to tell the difference between, left, right, up and down then you’ll be a Jedi at Hurry Up Hedgehog! in the blink of an eye. Though with gameplay this banal, don’t be surprised if you find yourself edging closer and closer to the dark side. Even its single cart, six-player multiplayer can’t rescue it from total disaster.


Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the game essentially has one mode, no in-game music, a middle school educational CD-ROM look, menus that are only ever half explained, characters that could rival Sonic’s merry band of losers in terms of utter lameness and gameplay that requires no skill, thought, strategy, arcade nor mental ability. Add it all up, and you have one awful game.


Wisely, the game is being released at a paltry £14.99, which is, in all honesty, £14.99 too much. Sadly, a lot of the DS-loving teeny–boppers will probably pick this up, thinking it’s some sort of new super cutesy pet sim, but it’s not.  It may simply be the MOST…POINTLESS…GAME…EVER.


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008
by Raymond Cummings
Blubberlandby Elizaberh M. FarrellyMIT PressMarch 2008, 219 pages, $19.95

Blubberland
by Elizabeth M. Farrelly
MIT Press
March 2008, 219 pages, $19.95


Author Elizabeth Farrelly kicks off Blubberland with something of an extended mea culpa:


I, like you, drive too much. I buy too much—of which I keep too much and also throw too much away. I overindulge my children, and myself. Directly as well as indirectly I use too much water, energy, air, and space. My existence, in short, costs the planet more than it can afford.


Farrelly’s concerns here are spatial, aesthetic, social, political, and environmental, and the questions she delicately poses and answers at considerable length are poignant ones: Why do we First-World denizens insist on owning ugly houses and cars that we don’t really need? Similarly, why do believe that buying useless stuff will make us happy? Why won’t world leaders legislate in favor of sensible ecological co-existence with nature? Why are we so pathetically out of shape? Why are we so desperate to isolate ourselves from others, and how can we break the vicious cycle of narcissism?


Here, Farrelly, a University of Sydney adjunct architecture professor and Sydney Morning Herald columnist, supposes that , ‘Blubberland’ isn’t so much a place as it is a state of mind that champions an out-of control sense of self-entitlement. When it comes to suburban sprawl and energy conservation, she explains, governments are like overly permissive parents who allow their children (constituencies) to have whatever they want. Furthermore, she argues, this more-and-now mindset has us in a double-bind because parenting trends have followed a similar course in the last several decades:


This compulsion to desire-fulfillment has democracy in a trap. If we want to eat meat, with its huge eco-footprint, we do it. If we want to sprawl our cities across the landscape, live in a McMansion, drive an SUV, leave the lights or the hose or the TV on all night, we do exactly that. Even governments are intimidated to the point of being frightened to regulate. If it can’t be achieved by the market, they weakly presume, it can’t be achieved.


This culture of permission has spawned the notion that what’s unpleasant or painful about life can—and should be—surgically removed or made plain. Even places of worship aren’t immune, according to Farrelly: “Everywhere, under every log and rock, nice old churches are being melted down into imitation dry-cleaning shops, nightclubs, and ad agencies while the new, bursting-at-the-seams versions have the common-or-corporate look so down pat it’s hard to pick them from the general hight-street lineup.”


Farrelly envisions monotonous suburban sprawl as both key villain and deadening aftereffect here, a geographic phenomenon that encourages social disconnects by allowing us to be separate from one another and necessitating long, isolation-chamber drives to work: “Forget yoga. Forget acupuncture, hypnosis, and mindfulness therapy. Bested only by television and alcohol, the car is one of the most effective anaesthetics ever discovered.”


Drastic urban renewal, she believes, is the key to our selfish malaise, noting that life expectancy is higher in cities than suburbs and that city living encourages people to “share energy, share transport and share space to a degree that is inconceivable in any other situation”.


Blubberland‘s final chapter, however, imagines a Utopian future in which famines, oil shortages, and droughts confine masses to walled cities: everyone walks to work, on-break employees exercise on machines that help power their office buildings, everyone’s healthier because nobody can afford to drive. Farrelly may just be onto something there; whether or not world leaders will arrive at similar conclusions and act courageously before our selfishness hits a crisis point is an open question that’s almost too depressing to contemplate.


 


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Carole King
You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman) [Video]


Black Francis
The Seus (Infadels remix) [MP3]
     


Bubba Sparxxx
I Like It a Lot [MP3]
     


Nik Freitas
All the Way Down [MP3]
     


Sun Down [MP3]
     


Veda Hille
Podcast interview [MP3]


Lykke Li
Dance Dance Dance [MP3]
     


Shy Child
Astronaut [MP3]
     



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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means? It’s time for another lamentable entry from Hollywood’s hack factory. This week, a warmed over bit of magic realism that’s actually neither.


After years living in his shadow, Zach (Aaron Eckhart) decides to try and piece together the truth about his famous father’s tragic suicide. So he leaves Cornell, where he’s a top psychiatrist, and takes a job at a small-town mental hospital known as Millwood. He lies to the resident administrator Dr. Reed (William Hurt), making up a story about “helping a friend” to get hired on, and, almost immediately, he’s confronted with aging loony Gabriel Finch (Sir Ian McKellen).


Turns out, Zach is really hoping to uncover information about his dad—who was a patient at Millwood - and his new insane charge just may have some crucial knowledge. Of course, getting it out of his manic mind may be difficult, especially since Gabriel is convinced he is the King of Neverwas - the fictional land Zach’s father wrote about. The connection between the two is immediate, but the path to personal discovery is long and very complicated.


It’s not made much better by an old friend of the family (Brittany Murphy) or Zach’s fragile mother (Jessica Lange), both of whom have their own ideas about where this investigation should go. But our hero wants closure, and the only way to get it seems to b e to help Gabriel discover the truth about Neverwas. Oddly enough, it may be Zach who needs to open his mind to the potential possibilities.



Neverwas should have never been. Cinematic minds smarter than the ones behind the production should have stopped this cloying claptrap before it even made it to the storyboard stage. They should have seen that nothing good could come out of this manipulative M. Night Shyamalan-style spiel, a narrative overflowing with way too many clues and not enough answers. There is a vagueness and insularity to Joshua Michael Stern’s script that acts like a barricade to understanding the relevance of what is happening, keeping us from caring about Zach’s familial issues, Gabriel’s mental condition, and the secret behind the fairytale at the center of the story.


If Stern - who also directed - was brave enough to confront the issues head-on, to really take a chance and offer up an ending that would gel with all his portents and symbols, we might walk away satisfied. But the first-time filmmaker is just too in love with everything he’s doing—heading a major, A-list cast, creating an ethereal piece of motion-picture magic, mixing the allegorical with the artful - to worry about connecting with the viewer.


Since his characters are all so calm, never really letting go with passion or opinion, they sink directly into the story, acting as mere catalysts for the numerous twists and turns ahead. Indeed, when one looks at Neverwas overall, it’s not really a movie about people. It’s about pawns in a massive game of three-tiered cinematic chess, and not even Mr. Spock understands the logic this time around.



Going back to the finale for a moment, a bit of plot point spoiling is required to discuss its destructive impact. Those who, even after this review, would probably find themselves interested in viewing this film may want to move on to the end of this discussion. For all those who either don’t care, or are immune from the aftereffects of such pre-knowledge, here we go. All throughout the 90-plus minutes that Stern drags us through, there is one major question left unanswered: Does the land of Neverwas really exist? Is it real or just a figment of Gabriel’s dementia? Stern makes almost all the plot threads lead up to such a revelation. The answer, oddly enough, is a cop-out.


Gabriel indeed made up the entire thing in his mind. It is his elaborate fantasy world that Zach’s father usurped for his own benefit. The guilt, in combination with the overwhelming success of the book, drove the man to depression and self-destruction. In order to understand that his father was not a bad man, our hero must realize the truth behind the false fairytale kingdom and see how the obsession eventually destroyed him. Now all of that is well and good, except Stern has prepared us for none of it.


Indeed, his version of these concepts leads to only one logical conclusion: Neverwas is a real place. Two men visited it and it drove them crazy (crashing between reality and the magical will do that). By learning of its existence, Zach could understand his father’s feelings, and give Gabriel his mind back. It would be satisfying and symbolic, believing in your dreams vs. believing in what doctors and drugs tell you.



But Neverwas never intended to be so brave. Stern is out to play it safe, to scrounge around the outskirts of innovation while delivering derivative Hollywood hokum. As a director, he’s desperate to copy other filmmaker’s stylistic tricks (fractured editing, overcranking, saturated golden light, mostly monochrome flashbacks), while his dialogue is all suggestions and incomplete concepts. No one ever comes right out and says things in this movie. Instead, they beat around the bush like groundskeepers looking for gophers.


Perhaps more importantly, he lets his accomplished actors languish in pointless moments of meaningless behavior. Jessica Lange, sporting a new fright mask façade, is reduced to playing a delicate matron without a single subtextual reason for being so brittle. William Hurt has a nice unsettled quality to his part as a clinic administrator, but he has so little to do that his impact remains marginal. It’s good to see Brittany Murphy playing something other than a doormat ditz, and Aaron Eckhart does decent open-faced consternation well. But because of Stern’s sloppy way with the written word, we never come to care about these people’s problems.


Instead, we keep wondering how this all will end, where this filmmaker will finally go with his attempted warm and fuzzy fairytale. The answer undermines everything that came before, creating the kind of anger that only a half-baked bit of blithering balderdash can generate. Again, Neverwas never needed to be. Such a finite finding is the only way to evaluate this incomplete effort.


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Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The dependence of the Nintendo DS on stylus-based games has inspired an influx of pen-and-paper game translations. How do they hold up to the real thing?

I didn’t mention it on Monday, but there was one other thing that came out this week that my eyes just couldn’t help but return to: a little thing called Crosswords DS, the not-all-that-imaginatively-titled Nintendo Touch Generations entry into the crossword arena.  Here’s a trailer:


Now, unlike Boom Blox which just looks seriously fun, and R-Type Command, which may be niche but could well be incredible, Crosswords DS is the type of title that inspires an internal struggle.  On one hand, it sounds like an incredible idea for a puzzle buff like me.  Over 1,000 crosswords?  Word searches?  A few other bonus word puzzles?  Sign me up!


On the other hand, I’ve done pen ‘n paper puzzles on the DS, in the form of the Brain Age series’ Sudoku madness.  And I’ll admit, I lost a whole pile of hours to all of that Sudoku.  Still, as someone who grew up searching for the crossword in every Sunday’s paper (after tearing through the comics of course), there’s something a little bit surreal about having a friggin’ thousand of the things in one of those tiny little DS cartridges.  And, you know, I think you lose a little something in knowing that, if you get stumped on something, even for a second, you can just move on to the next one.  A thousand times.  None of this is even to mention the sterility of the stylus-touchscreen interface for putting the letters in, and how it doesn’t compare to the scratch of pencil on paper (or the added challenge and pressure of trying to use pen).


That said, I’d be surprised if I didn’t lose days of my life to Crosswords DS (and its less-publicized, out-for-a-while-already counterpart from the New York Times) eventually, just like I did with the Brain Age Sudoku.  What do you think?  Can the DS compete with the Sunday paper?


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