Games

Kirby Canvas Curse

Michael David Sims

What Curse does is something that's rarely accomplished in gaming; it connects you emotionally with the action.


Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: Action
Price: $34.99
Multimedia: Kirby Canvas Curse
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: HAL Laboratory
US release date: 2007-07
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The lack of Nintendo DS games is quite sad. To date the system has had eight months to build a formidable library, yet the catalog remains pitifully small. Worse yet, the majority of the games that are out there can hardly be called games. Many critics, including myself, have noted that most are nothing more than glorified tech demos, packaged and sold to Nintendo diehards willing to purchase anything new for their dual-screen system. The rest of the collection is unfortunately made up of N64 ports (Mario 64 DS, Rayman DS), games that could have been made for the GBA (Zoo Keeper, Mr. Driller, Polarium), and crap (Sprung, Pokemon Dash).

While it's still too early to call the DS a flop, when you consider that Sony is just about to start their hard marketing push for the graphically superior multimedia machine that is the PSP, its future isn't looking too bright.

Like any system, the DS needs a killer app that will sell not only itself but also the handheld. The NES had Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda; Tetris and the initial Pokemon games sold the GameBoy as did Sonic the Hedgehog the Genesis; the SNES was backed by Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past; Sony's first foray into gaming was made famous by Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider; the ill-fated Dreamcast had Soul Calibur while sales of the N64 were fueled by Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; if it weren't for Gran Turismo 3 A-spec and Grand Theft Auto III there's a mighty good chance the PlayStation 2 wouldn't be as huge as it is today, and the GameCube would have been considered a colossal bomb if not for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Super Smash Bros. Melee; then there's the killer app to end all killer apps: Halo.

Fortunately for Nintendo, Kirby Canvas Curse has finally come along.

In regards to my initial comments concerning tech demos and ports, Kirby is what I would call the first true game for the Nintendo DS. Even though I drooled all over Polarium, in retrospect there was little reason to release it on the DS when the D-pad would have sufficed had it been a GBA title. Canvas Curse, on the other hand, wonderfully utilizes the stylus as both a controller and story element.

Basically Kirby's world has been changed into a painting, and the hero into an arm- and legless ball. The only way to right everything is to pass through the various worlds on your way to hunt down the witch that has cursed you. However, because the little pink hero is virtually helpless without his limbs, it's up to you to use the Magic Paintbrush (RE: the stylus) to paint rainbow ramps and loops to guide Kirby over pits, spikes, and other perilous obstacles. Should an enemy cross your path, tap it with the very tip of the Paintbrush (to stun it), then tap Kirby to send him speeding into his would-be attacker. If you're lucky, the now dead enemy will bestow its power upon you, giving Kirby a beam of fire, super-speed, the indestructible form of a rock, and various other offensive and defensive attacks.

However, it's still up to you to guide the rolling hero to safety. Since the various worlds are comprised of many hills, Kirby rarely stops to give you a break. Blink for one second, and you'll find that he's bumped into an un-stunned enemy or tumbled downward into a bottomless pit.

While the concept might seem childish, what with a Magical Paintbrush and all, the game is truly a gem in that it's fully fleshed out from both a control and gameplay standpoint. Sure, the story itself won't win any awards, but the inclusion of the stylus (and therefore you) into it breaks down and rebuilds the fourth wall all at the same time. It's saying, "We know you're out there beyond the screen controlling Kirby, so we're going to include you and the controller into the game."

What this does is something that's rarely accomplished in gaming; it connects you emotionally with the action. While many titles have touched gamers from a story standpoint, few have accomplished this through the actual gameplay. ICO is the first to come to mind. Since you're charged with protecting the seemingly helpless Yorda, it's necessary to hold her hand throughout the adventure. Leaving her alone for too long will place her in grave danger, as the misty black spirits will come to claim her. Later on, when you find yourself separated from the pale child, a feeling of utter despair eats away at your heart. Yorda is gone, and so is part of you.

Continually holding down the R1 button connects you with the controller and, through it, the virtual girl. This holding of hands (or button, really) binds the characters and gamer in a way that had never been accomplished before, and losing her right at the moment of triumph (and then continuing the adventure without her) splits your heart in two. It's almost as if your own lover had been kidnapped right before your very eyes.

Kirby Canvas Curse isn't as visceral as ICO, but, by having been drawn into the game through the story and stylus, gamers will feel as if they're a guardian angel sent downward to protect Kirby from whatever dangers await. When you fail -- when he lands face first in a pool of lava or rolls right into an oncoming enemy -- there's a greater sense of failure because you didn't properly look after him. Due to this, you're more likely to stay one step ahead of both Kirby and the traps/enemies the next time around. Most guardian angles don't get a second chance, but you do thanks to the inclusion of extra lives. Ah, video games. Where one can never truly die.

Now as for my second comment about killer apps and the lack of one for the DS... this is it. Some might be turned off by the cutesy, colorful charm, but, much like Wind Waker, once you get past the look you'll come to realize that this is a truly fun, exciting experience that you'll want to tell your friends and fellow gamers about. Sure, they'll look at you like you're crazy for having played a "children's" game, but their verbal jabs will be silenced once you hand them the unit and tell them to give it a whirl, "Just for kicks," you'll say.

By the time Sony bashes us over the head with one PSP ad after another, the DS will be a year old. Hopefully by then Nintendo will have sold more units thanks to Kirby, and developers will have taken a serious look at its play mechanics and realized just what can be done with the DS's touch screen. Once they come to see that the machine is meant for more than ports and puzzlers, the anti-Nintendo/DS lot, just like your reluctant friends, will be silenced. Until then, however, the DS will sadly remain on course to becoming the next Virtual Boy.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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