Reviews

Magical Starsign

Azmol Meah

The biggest crime Magical Starsign commits is the endless, relentless, incessant, infuriatingly pointless random battles.

Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: RPG
Price: $35.99
Multimedia: Magical Starsign
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-6
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Brownie Brown
US release date: 2006-10-23
Developer website

There ain't nothing magical about this.

"Good things come to those who wait" -- an age old saying that's been around longer than I have. In some instances, it's true. I, however, waited ages for Magical Starsign; I woke up early every morning anticipating a parcel at my door, and each day I was left disappointed. Then it arrived, I ripped open the packaging quicker than Homer Simpson would a box of donuts, and 20 hours later, I was left wishing the game was thrown off the plane and left to drown in the Atlantic Ocean.

With so much effort on my behalf to finish the game, I at the very least expected some effort on developer Brownie Brown's part. Instead, what we're left with is one of the most unambitious and lacklustre games of the year.

Why do JRPG's even bother with stories? They're all the same and usually involve some spiky haired teenagers saving the world from an evil magician/wizard/god etc. Here we have a high school teacher, Miss Madeline, who shoots off to some distant planet on her headmasters wishing to do...well, to do something important.

Of course, her class of rag doll misfits/freaks can't let the woman be and sneak off into rockets themselves in hopes of finding their MIA teacher. Each of the six characters in your team gets stranded on a different planet and it's your job to find them all, rescue Miss Madeline, thwart a diabolical plan by space pirates/evil wizards and get your math homework done in time. Yes, homework, which is an apt way to describe the level of excitement I felt whilst playing Magical Starsign.

At the start, you're given the chance to choose between a male or female lead and either light or dark magic as your primary weapon. I chose the guy and light magic, though in all honesty it doesn't really make that much of a difference. Magic is your main source of defense and attack in battles that are played out in an orthodox turn-based format. There are no axes, whips, swords or spears to speak of, just a few melee attacks in the form of kicks and punches.

Here, though, the problems really begin. To say the combat system is simple is an understatement -- at times it plays like a beginner's guide to RPGs. All you do is click on the magic icon and sit back and watch as your band of merry dweebs releases its oh-so-unspectacular attacks on various intellectually challenged opponents, over and over and over again. You do learn new spells as you level up, but these are so few and far between that you just end up using the same tricks you started with.

The lack of options in terms of attack and defense kill any requirement for tactical thinking, but to rub salt in the wounds, the team-based attacks are so pointless that you really have to wonder why the developers even bothered. The fights also last too long for a portable title, not to mention that 90% of the time the battles are too easy and it's only really when you're faced with a boss fight that you come up against any real challenge.

A welcome complexity is the astrology alignment tactic; each character has a planet-specific element assigned to it such as water, fire, earth, wind etc. Aligning your planet with its corresponding colour in the solar system increases the impact of your spells; the same also applies to your opponents. This adds some much needed depth, as you can reserve your magic on enemies that don't have their planets aligned, saving your more powerful attacks for enemies with increased magic power, while guarding the weaker members of your team and reserving their power to heal your allies for the battles ahead. Unfortunately, for seasoned RPG fans, this won't be enough to test the grey matter.

Celestial Swap, a spell that allows you to move the planets in your favour comes in handy during the boss encounters, but later on even these become tests of endurance rather than skill, as the difficulty suddenly takes a steep turn. You have no choice but to grind and grind to increase your stats, for no reason other than to artificially extend the length of your quest.

It seems that even Brownie Brown realised that outside of the fighting there's nothing really to do, no mini games, side quests or even towns that are worth exploring, so towards the end you're bombarded with drab cutscene after cutscene, with dialogue so unbelievably poor, that it makes Metal Gear Solid look like Shakespeare.

But the biggest crime Magical Starsign commits is the endless, relentless, incessant, infuriatingly pointless random battles. What's worse is that throughout your adventure there are points when the battles aren't random and you can actually see your foes -- why they couldn't apply this to the rest of the game is truly baffling. Every seven or eight steps you'll find yourself warped into battle; this leaves you disoriented, confused, lost (in part due to worthless world map) and unprepared as you use items and magic power when you wanted to reserve them for the fights ahead. To take what little freedom you have away from you is bad enough but to persist with an idea that has no reason to exist is unforgivable.

This, though, is the underlying theme of Magical Starsign, as there's clearly been no effort or even an attempt at something new. The features of the DS are underutilized (when you can't even do the map on the top screen properly, you know you're in trouble). The artwork and characterization may be the most generic and bland ever seen in a Nintendo title. While graphically and in terms of the score this clearly has GBA written all over it, even when played on a DS Lite. After the recent, visually stunning RPGs by Square Enix and Namco Bandai for the DS, this just looks amateurish.

Magical Starsign's lack of imagination results in the failure to evoke any feeling of excitement or wonderment, and the sci-fi setting, while a welcome scenery change from the usual medieval world, is criminally underused. There is no sense of awe or amazement -- I wanted to immerse myself in the game world and its inhabitants and be surprised by what I encountered. With no attempt to push any boundaries in terms of narrative, gameplay or characters there's simply nothing here to enjoy or recommend.

3

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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