Games

Super Paper Mario

It is Super Paper Mario's quick wit, above all, that makes it such a joy to play.


Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: Action RPG
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Super Paper Mario
Platforms: Wii
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Intelligent
US release date: 2007-04-09
Developer website

What do we want from our nostalgia?

Many of us, especially those of us who have, say, been out of college a few years, or have kids, or remember when The Police were a fresh new sound in music, are utterly convinced that things used to be better than they are right now. They don't make world leaders like they used to, they don't make pop music like they used to, heck, they don't make cars like they used to; everything's coated in plastic, everything now is too superficial and slick. What happened to the ton-and-a-half musclecars? Why isn't there more dialogue in today's movies?

This holds particularly true for video games -- the technology keeps getting better, but what about the games? Those weaned on the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System surely appreciate the graphical advances and cinematic feel of much of modern gaming, but the complicated control mechanics and pitch-black themes of recent entries on the worldwide game bestseller lists are leaving many behind. What was wrong with Mario and Mega Man? Why do we need Tommy Vercetti propositioning hookers in Vice City or Tony Montana disemboweling his enemies with a chainsaw in order to have a good time?

It would be easy to tell these stubborn old-schoolers to go back to their old games -- modern consoles cater to these not-what-they-used-to-be's via download services that allow gamers to legally re-buy the old games that made their childhood the utopia they so obviously remember it to be. And maybe it's the constant sensory overload of modern times, maybe it's just the rose-tinted that we see the past through, but there's a bit of an empty feeling in playing the games of our past. Those games are never quite as entertaining as we remember.

If there's any company that recognizes the old-school gamer's longing for nostalgia, it's Nintendo -- why else would they put their A-1 design teams on games that are continuing the sagas of 20-year-old franchises? And yet, one gets the sense, as they do things like give Luigi his own game and put a water-powered jetpack on Mario, that even Nintendo senses the creeping staleness of the franchises as they once existed. This, then, is where the Paper Mario offshoot, and specifically its newest Wii incarnation Super Paper Mario comes in. Super Paper Mario is unabashed in its evocation of previous incarnations of the Mario franchise, and yet Nintendo has actually managed to add a fresh coat of paint to the Mario franchise, via the unique, consistently fresh graphic style, play mechanics that feel upgraded and yet familiar, and a disarmingly quick wit.

It is this wit, above all, that makes Super Paper Mario such a joy to play. The old Mario had the pleasing underdog story of the plumber-turned-hero, but other than that, its unflagging sincerity and all-too-cute attitude made the stories that drove the Mario games fairly forgettable at best. To be fair, the story arc that drives Super Paper Mario is nothing new -- saving the world from an evil mastermind is nothing all that new; saving the world from an evil mastermind called Count Bleck that punctuates random sentences with the occasional "BLECK!" has a sort of charm that makes you grin. That Count Bleck's assistant speaks in middle-management talk is an added bonus. Some of Mario's allies utter over-the-top hip-hop-isms, some speak very slowly. When characters get too long-winded, Mario is bound to fall asleep, sparing us the unnecessary exposition. It's that kind of game.

And yet, even with the quick wit and graphic shine pushing the franchise forward, it is constantly looking backward. Like the original Super Mario Bros., there are eight major sections of the game, divided into four smaller sections each. They even go out of their way to call them "Chapter 2-3", or chapter "6-4". There are various occasions throughout the game where our "Paper" Mario is joined by "8-bit Sprite" mario, sometimes in tiny form, sometimes in giant form (an acknowledgement that while a two-dimensional Mario may seem novel now, he did kinda start out that way, too). The sense of nostalgia doesn't even stop at the Mario franchise -- an extended sequence finds Mario working for "rubees", which happen to be little hexagonal bits of currency, one of a few winks to the Legend of Zelda franchise. None of this is even to mention that the constant text-reading and buildings with familiar little symbols on the outside indicating the contents of the inside evokes fond memories of just about every old role playing game ever made. The more familiar you are with the originals, the more you can find in Super Paper Mario, indicating that its Wikipedia entry will soon be overflowing with every bit of meaningless minutae that the developers decided to put in.

And oh, those developers… It would be inappropriate to go into too much detail (for fear of ruining some of the more clever bits of game design), but one gets the sense on more than one occasion that those developers might just be having a good laugh at what they decided to put us through. Of course, that's their reward for designing every single level twice -- once in 2-D, and once in 3-D, allowing for Mario's much-ballyhooed (and admittedly impressive) ability to switch between the two on the fly.

Super Paper Mario isn't perfect by any means -- its attitude and style cover up many of its flaws, such as somewhat slow-paced action and the somewhat tacked-on addition of "style points" to Mario's attack arsenal, for the sake of using the Wii controller (the familiar mechanic of a sideways-held remote becomes foreign when you're encouraged to shake the thing to make Mario do flips). Still, I can't even count the number of times it made me laugh. My poor wife's legs are tired from constantly being called into the living room to check out the newest cool thing the game did. And every time the game gets turned on, there's a sort of excitement, a level of anticipation that reminds me of every single time I turned on Metroid when I was nine years old: "What will I find today? How the hell will I find it? How cool is it gonna look when I get there?"

That's the sort of nostalgia we really want -- we don't necessarily want to play the old games over again, we just want something to make us feel like they did, so many years ago. Flaws and all, Super Paper Mario does exactly that.

9

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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