Games

The Best Collectible I’ve Ever Collected

Collecting Riddler Trophies is one giant puzzle game within an action game, and those puzzle aspects bleed into all other areas of Batman: Arkham City.

I like collectibles, but I understand why most people do not. When used poorly, they can intrude on a game in frustrating ways, encouraging behavior that contradicts the gameplay, ruining the game's pace, or just getting in the way in general.

There are some excellent collectibles: the audio logs in Bioshock flesh out the fascinating history of Rapture, the manuscript pages in Alan Wake serve as exposition and foreshadowing, the badges in L.A. Noire demand a kind of meta-detective work that perfectly supplements the game proper. But in my opinion, the best collectible that I’ve ever had to collect has to be the Riddler Trophies in Batman: Arkham City.

While the story of Arkham City left me disappointed, I kept playing long after the credits rolled in order to collect 400 Riddler Trophies. I didn’t intend to do this at first, I just wanted to collect the one or two trophies that were right next to me before I quit the game for good. But once I got those two trophies I just kept going.

The Riddler Trophies are fun to collect because getting them isn’t just a matter of simple, mundane, mindless collection. Each trophy is a puzzle, which turns the entire collection process into one giant puzzle game within an action game. What’s most impressive, however, is the way in which the puzzle aspects bleed into all other areas of the game.

You’ll have to use every gadget in Batman’s arsenal to find all the trophies. This can lead to some frustrating moments in the beginning and middle of the game when you see a Riddler Trophy mere feet away but can’t get it because you don’t have the proper gadget. But by the end of the game, this variety of solutions results in the best kind of confusion. You’re presented with a problem and you know -- absolutely know -- that the solution is within your grasp, you just have to figure it out.

Other trophies test your reflexes and navigational skills. You might have to hit three or four buttons without touching the ground, so the puzzle becomes a matter of figuring out how to best approach each button while remaining close to a tower that you can grapple to. These solutions require you to understand how Batman moves through the world: how fast he can turn while flying, what surfaces are best for grappling, etc.

Even combat becomes a bit of a puzzle when you find a Riddler informant. These men are usually located in groups, and if you manage to knock out everyone else without hurting the informant, he’ll spill the beans and reveal the locations of several trophies. This can be very difficult depending on who the informant is and what weapon he has. If he has a gun, you must disarm him by using the Batclaw. If he attacks with a knife, you must be careful not to dodge too effectively because you might have the upgrade that automatically knocks out a guy if you dodge his knife attacks. If he’s using a riot shield, you can’t dodge over him because then Batman will crush him beneath the shield -- and so on. Keeping the informant alive for later interrogation requires a deep understanding of combat, and the skill to actually execute all those moves when the situation calls for it.

Other characters can see the trophies as well. Throughout the game, you’ll likely hear henchmen remark, “What’s with all the green question marks around the city?” These collectibles, unlike most, are not items that exist solely for the player. Unlike collectibles in other game, these trophies have an obvious presence in the world of Arkham City, and the fact that other people can see them makes that world feel more cohesive.

Adding to that cohesiveness is the fact that there’s a logical narrative justification for why all the trophies exist in Arkham City and why Batman might want to collect them all. The Riddler has several hostages, and he’ll kill them if Batman doesn’t solve the riddles. This means that you’re not just collecting collectibles for the sake of collecting collectibles, you’re collecting them because Batman wants to save everyone. It wouldn’t make sense for this character to take the time to work out these puzzles just to humor the Riddler, especially with all the other stuff going on in Arkham City, but because there are lives at stake it makes sense for Batman to take a break from hunting the Joker to solve a few puzzles. In fact, this is the only game that I can think of in which the personality of the main character practically demands that you collect the collectibles. Not doing so breaks character.

Getting the Riddler Trophies also unlocks more back story on villains and Arkham City. These bits of back story aren’t as cleverly woven into story as there were in, say, Bioshock or Arkham Asylum. There are no interview tapes this time; rather, collecting X number of trophies just unlocks a new page on a menu. It’s a very game-like way of presenting back story, but the result is the same: the universe gets fleshed out, why villains look the way they look, why they chose a certain building for their headquarters, what happened to them between Arkham Asylum and now. Everything fits. Everything makes sense. It’s impressive just how consistent this universe is, and you have to collect the Riddler Trophies to see this for yourself.

Arkham City shows how collectibles should be handled. Instead of just forcing the player to hunt down an object, you turn that hunt into a puzzle game and find a way to incorporate that puzzle into other aspects of the game. The Riddler Trophies are an integral part of this universe, removing them would mean removing some of the most fun parts of combat and traversal in Arkham city.

These are best kind of collectible -- the kind that make a game better.

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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