Reviews

Flower, Sun, and Rain

Jason Cook

Flower, Sun, and Rain asks a question that is very important as we look at video games as an art form: do they have to be fun?


Flower, Sun, and Rain

Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture
Players: 1
Price: $29.99
Platforms: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Xseed Games
Release date: 2009-06-12
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I am from the school of thought (not a very uncommon one) that Suda51 is a genius. In a medium which grows more and more formulaic by the year, Goichi Suda pushes the envelope of player/game interaction, narrative, characters, and gameplay further than anyone else in gaming today. His newer titles, Killer7 and No More Heroes, are cult classics and both examples of his unique appeal.

While not a household name, he is apparently popular enough to warrant a DS remake of one of his earlier games, Flower, Sun, and Rain, which was released originally for the PS2 some eight years ago.

If Killer7 and No More Heroes were too weird or inaccessible for you, stay far, far away from Flower, Sun, and Rain. This is without a doubt, the most maddening, weird, annoying and not particularly fun game I have ever played. And yet, I applaud the effort and many of the ideas present in it.

Flower, Sun, and Rain asks a question that I think is very important as we look at video games as an art form: do they have to be fun? Think back to the last game that you played through that was not fun (game reviewers aside). Can't come up with anything? I don't blame you, neither could I. Most sane people will stop playing a game when it is not fun. But Flower, Sun, and Rain asks the player to slog through awful game mechanics and seemingly endless, pointless dialogues to uncover the details of it's plot -- one that is at least interesting.

Those mechanics work thusly: as a detective, you are hired to uncover a mystery. To do so, you must search for objects to help find clues. You will use your device “Catherine” to “jack into” objects to solve puzzles. But unlike most other puzzle games in which you are presented with one clue at a time and are asked to interpret that clue in order to reach a solution, you are given the solution to every puzzle in the game at the start. The guidebook to the hotel -- which has fifty sections, many of which are very long -- has the numerical codes to every puzzle hidden within its pages.

For example, for one puzzle, you must find a six digit code to create a drink recipe. There is a section in the guidebook about drinks, and it's up to you to find the code. This is not only tedious and obtuse but also unbelievably difficult. Sure, you can sift through the 50+ pages of information -- from info on soccer formations to professional wrestling to camera settings -- but even if you do stumble across something valuable (sometimes highlighted in green but often not), you have to remember which page it was on. It is really a fool's errand.

As a point and click adventure game, the story is the draw. And Flower, Sun, and Rain does have one that I found intriguing. You are essentially stuck in a Groundhog Day time warp, each subsequent day in the game seems to repeat itself. The cast of characters is also wonderfully bizarre, from the stoic and creepy manager Edo to the duo of masked pro wrestlers, there are some generally funny moments of dialogue and interaction between the protagonist, Mondo, and the strange folks that he runs into. The game's world unfolds like a David Lynch film -- quirky, nonsensical, darkly funny, and confusing.

That said, I still found it very difficult to remain interested. I thought it odd that distributor Xseed Games sent me a detailed walkthrough, giving a step-by-step guide to the game. After about 20 minutes, I had to flip to the solution to the first puzzle of the game. Many of the solutions are not at all what you initially think and having to scroll through Mondo's soliloquies before beginning a puzzle becomes the definition of frustration. There is also a lot of backtracking, talking to random guests, and trial-and-error gameplay -- all aspects that go beyond being not too fun to being simply unbearable.

If it sounds like I hated Flower, Sun, and Rain, I think I did. But the idea of giving the player the answers to all the game's questions is a masterstroke -- it's much more realistic and interesting than the trite way that puzzles are dealt with in most games. It's just far too much to ask of the vast majority of players to read and memorize a huge guidebook when they are playing a video game. I don't think games need to be fun to play at least in the future as we ask, “Are games art?” Many great forms of film, music, and literature are not particularly “fun” to absorb. But I don't think that there has been a game yet that is not fun to play and can still be considered “good.” If there is, let me know so I can play it.

I like to think that the decisions made in this game were intentional -- that the repetition and overwhelming puzzles are meant to reflect Mondo's mental state and the effect that the island is having on him. But I also get the feeling that this is an early product of a maverick designer with many more ideas than were possible at the time to put into a coherent game. I think if Suda51 could go back and tweak Flower, Sun, and Rain he would alter a lot of the choices that he made and it would make for a more compelling game. As is, Flower, Sun, and Rain is a jumble of interesting ideas trapped in an awful, repetitive mess that I can't recommend that anyone play. For fun, that is.

2

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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