Reviews

Capcom Arcade Cabinet: 1985-1 and 1986 Packs

These were games designed to punish you, games that didn't care how many quarters you put in.


Capcom Arcade Cabinet: 1985-1 and 1986 Packs

Publisher: Capcom
Format: PS3
Price: $9.99 per pack
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 2013-04-02

Among console gamers there is an understanding that games just aren't as difficult as they used to be. While there is certainly a modicum of skill and familiarity necessary to conquer even the easiest games of the current generation, there's usually an understanding in, say, a modern first-person shooter that if you play a game on the "Normal" setting, you won't have to restart at the same checkpoint all that many times to get past a given stretch of gameplay. Games have inserted convoluted stories and pure length in place of the marathon practice sessions of the past. If a given game actually presents a pure challenge, a stretch that even the dedicated player willing to put in hours of practice might not pass, references to the 8-bit game of ages past start flying.

"That's Nintendo hard."

"That might challenge Castlevania."

"That's so fucking Battletoads."

Ghosts and Goblins is one of the most legendary of the "Nintendo-hard" games, an arcade experience translated as faithfully as 8-bit technology would allow, a journey that even kids with all the time in the world had a hard time getting through. That game's arcade iteration is one of the three in Capcom Arcade Cabinet's "1985-1 Pack", a pack that seems expressly designed to remind you just how unforgiving arcade games could be back when the expectation of success wasn't a given.

These were games designed to punish you, games that didn't care how many quarters you put in. Sure, every one of these games has checkpoints and feeding quarters into the machine allowed the player to save progress to an extent, but none of them allow you to simply start up again where you left off. Dying comes with a price, and in that era, that price was often a loss of progress that could at times seem insurmountable.

It likely comes as no surprise that this version of Ghosts and Goblins is just as difficult as its NES counterpart. Where some aspects of it feel more forgiving -- the default javelin feels much less sluggish, for example, and well-timed shots can stun some larger enemies in place -- other pieces feel trickier. The density of the enemies is a little higher, their attack patterns a little less predictable. That said, it also looks prettier than its often-ugly NES counterpart, which manages to slightly counteract the psychological toll that constantly getting killed and starting at a frustratingly distant checkpoint has on the player.

Gun Smoke, from the same pack, isn't much better and is actually the first game in the whole set that I used the built-in autofire function for. One false move and you're dead in Gun Smoke, and the tenaciousness of the enemies -- not to mention the constant fire of the bullets, grenades, and even knives -- ensures that you never have a moment to relax. Even getting through the first stage of Gun Smoke, autofire enabled or not, feels like a feat; getting through the whole game can feel like conquering Everest and K2 in the same week.

Section Z rounds out the pack, making it a cool three-for-three in the NES-conversion department. The arcade version of Section Z is simply a horizontal shmup, with none of the interesting pathfinding of the NES version, and it actually manages to be the easiest of this group. Still, the last few stages could inspire a thrown controller or three, and I got the impression by the end that the game may well have taken pity on me after so many failures; at no point did I feel as though I conquered it. Perhaps I simply lucked my way into finding the final magical checkpoint spot.

Despite being strong enough games to have inspired NES conversions, Gun Smoke and Section Z feel inferior to Ghosts and Goblins. More than anything, they feel like genre exercises with small twists -- in Gun Smoke, you can shoot three ways; in Section Z, you can turn around at any point to address threats on either side -- without much in the way of distinctive visuals or sounds to back them up. They're not bad games by any means, but neither inspires the sort of nostalgic wistfulness that the brilliant and difficult Ghosts and Goblins manages to muster.

This is, I suppose, the same criticism that could be levied at the 1986 Pack, which includes Legendary Wings, Side Arms, and Trojan -- three more brutally hard arcade experiences that simply don't offer the same sort of nostalgic wistfulness that Ghosts and Goblins and previous entries 1943 and Black Tiger managed to muster. The most interesting of the three is Legendary Wings, another in the top-down shooter collection this package beats into the ground that offers the additional challenge of some side-scrolling platformer-style stretches. It's disconcerting when it turns from a 1943-alike into the arcade equivalent of the action sequences in Actraiser, but it at least keeps things from getting stale; that both styles of play offer unique and difficult obstacles keeps things fresh and interesting throughout.

Really, of all the games introduced thus far, Legendary Wings may well be the most likely to be enjoyed by someone who's had no experience with any of them.

Trojan is not actually a half-bad game either, in that it offers swordplay over shooting action. The action of the sword and shield is difficult to master, but it also offers the most opportunity to impress an observer with mastery. Like Avengers before it, Trojan is particularly challenging at the boss fights, high-speed chess matches where the bosses offer patterns but not predictability. It is truly a game in which success lies in mastery of the primary mechanic rather than in simple repetition.

Finally, there's Side Arms, one of those sub-par shooters that feels too fast for its own good and comes off as overly easy when you stay alive long enough to build up a superpowered devastation machine, but is also ridiculously, stupidly difficult once you lose those powers. The good(?) news is that you can feed it "quarters" until it mercifully ends.

Of course, if you grew up with Side Arms, you think I'm full of shit.

Nostalgia has everything to do with how you'll feel about these games. I'd like to think that I'm not off-base in thinking that Ghosts and Goblins is objectively the best of the six games under review here, but I grew up with Ghosts and Goblins. Objectivity is an impossibility. The only way to get a truly objective opinion on these games is to ask someone who wasn't there for an opinion.

My kids think they're all dumb. Does that help?

6

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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