Rundown (1/10-1/16) Meandering Musings About Music

  • Post category:Rundowns
  • Reading time:19 mins read
  • Post comments:0 Comments

Wherein I discuss music stuff, the return of two old ghosts, an open area fury, the return of a gaming legend, and the end of East AR Wars.

Back when I was a little kid, I had a very limited interest in music. I owned a few albums, soundtracks, and so forth, but I never really listened to them, and certainly never listened to the radio or kept up with what was popular music. A lot of this had to do with the fact that, when I did encounter music, it was loud, booming, and associated with a visual aesthetic that I found uncomfortable back then, and still find uncomfortable to this day. The flashy editing, gyrating bodies, and skimpy clothing I saw in most music videos I encountered turned me off of the medium as a whole up until I was a teenager. Around this point, I started getting into video game soundtracks, OverClocked Remix, and more comedic video game music, such as that produced by Brentalfloss and The Adventures of Duane and Brando.

This lasted until I was about 17, when I started slowly branching out into more ‘normal’ music by the way of various mashups, such as those made by Team Teamwork and Triple-Q, and started playing through the Saints Row series, which introduced me to a wide variety of genres through its in-game radio. This all helped wet my palate, and in the ensuing almost-decade, I have been gradually expanding and diversifying my musical library into what it is today. Which is to say, a cluttered and eclectic collection of albums assembled through happenstance, impulse, and stray recommendations that have gradually shaped my taste in music into whatever it is today.

I seriously get a kick out of just looking at my musical library and wondering what anybody who came across it would think. I have ~20 custom ‘mixtape albums’ of select songs from various anime and video games. I have a bunch of game soundtracks, most of them being more upbeat and poppy. I have a dozen albums that I would describe as ‘weeaboo GarageBand garbage art.’ I have several mashup albums. I have some nerdcore and video game tribute music thrown in there for good measure. Lots of 90s rap music. A growing collection of pop and electronic Japanese music from the 80s and 90s. A collection of hundreds of royalty-free tracks from a company called SLOS. I have a mangled collection of the licensed soundtracks of the first four Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, and for the album art, I used snippets from Shapeshifter by Lemonfont. But I also have some wackadoo stranglers with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, The Stranger, a self-made collection for Queen, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Bat Out of Hell.

Unlike my tastes with games, which tend to be pretty easy to read, I have no way of surmising my taste in music. I am open to listening to just about anything and will gleefully add albums to my library on a regular basis, but It’s hard for me to answer the question of “what do I like in an album?” Well, I like more mellow and backing music with no lyrics, few lyrics, or lyrics in a different language. Because then I can use it as background music while writing and editing. But I also like music that demands attention through robust energy, a more eccentric tone, or strong lyrics.

However, I am fairly confident in saying that I don’t like things that are too ‘hard’ such as metal, and I simply do not enjoy music that involves a male singer wistfully or lackadaisical strolling through a track— which applies to the genre of country and stuff like Nirvana and Radiohead. But I think I like 80s jazz fusion. Or at least I like Shakatak’s The Coolest Cuts.

I really don’t know how to make heads or tails of my musical collection, but I do have to admit that it is getting more than a little unstable at this point, as I keep gleefully adding stuff to it. Most people seem content to just listen to Spotify like the radio or yore, but I am a packrat who only listens to music saved locally and has enough in this library to last a continuous 11 days.  …Which is not even counting the stuff I achieved, like the Sonic Adventure 1 soundtrack, because that is a commitment if you want to listen to all of it, and a mess to organize into something recognizable as an album, or a representation of the game as a whole. 

Unlike Sonic Adventure 2’s soundtrack, where you can just take the stage structure for the Hero and Dark routes, sprinkle in some incidental themes and character themes in appropriate instances, and you’ve got yourself a video game playthrough in album form. And if you aren’t listening to music as an album or deliberate mixtape, can you really say you’re listening to music?

…What the hell was my point with any of this? I don’t know! But now you know that Natalie Neumann is even more of a weirdo.

Majesco Entertainment is one of those game publishers with a track record that just… doesn’t make much of any sense the more one digs into it. They were a publisher of dozens of licensed games, pumping out mostly poorly received titles before that market crashed during the seventh generation. They localized an eclectic assortment of Japanese titles from Bomberman spin-offs to handheld Guilty Gear games to the Cooking Mama series. And they went in big on more original projects like Advent Rising, Bloodrayne, and Psychonauts

They were by no means a good publisher— they put out Drake of the 99 Dragons for goodness’ sake— but they were a persistent one, managed somehow scrape by in the turbulent games industry and outlasted a lot of bigger and more successful studios, such as THQ. That is until 2016, when Majesco shut its doors and its assets were sold to the biotech firm  PolarityTE, thus ending their ‘legacy’ once and for all… or so I thought.

In 2017, Majesco co-founder Jesse Sutton re-acquired Majesco’s assets from PolarityTE and quietly began re-establishing the company. Then, in 2018, Sutton sold 51% of the newly rebuilt Majesco to Liquid Media Group. A burgeoning Canadian entertainment company that hasn’t done much of note as far as I can tell by browsing their rudimentary website. Since this acquisition, Majesco has released some of their back catalog on Steam and sold many of their IPs to Ziggurat Interactive, but they recently showed up in my newsfeed as I saw that the early 2011 Nintendo DS swansong, Monster Tale, is coming to modern platforms in 2021.

For those unaware, Monster Tale was a title that used the DS’s dual screens to effectively run two games at once. The top screen was an action platformer Metroidvania, the lower screen was a Tamagotchi-esque monster raising simulator, and by raising the monster, they could aid the protagonist throughout the game, gaining more abilities as the game progressed. It was a solid game and in 2015, Nintendo Force announced that a remake of Monster Tale, Monster Tale Ultimate was in development for Nintendo 3DS. But that never happened, DreamRift has not put out a new title since 2012, and their website went offline in 2019.

With the backstory of all parties in mind, you can probably understand why I did a double-take as I read the headline of “Majesco Entertainment to Reopen the Gates of Monster Tale.” Because I thought Majesco was dead for good, and I thought that DreamRift has quietly shut its doors sometime in the past five years. But I guess not! Here’s hoping that this new version of the game, whatever shape it may be, actually comes out this time and manages to be a good Nintendo DS port! Because most of the time, they don’t turn out super well, especially if they heavily relied on the second screen. 

On that note, second screen gameplay experiences have proved themselves to be something of a failed concept, and now everybody who invested in this gimmick, especially Nintendo, needs to reformat their titles for a single screen format going forward. This includes all the Wii U titles that have now made their home anew on the Nintendo Switch, including the upcoming Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. A title that Nintendo has not discussed much since its announcement up until now, but with the title a mere month away from its February 12th release date, Nintendo finally explained what the new Bowser’s Fury part of this game was

Rather than be another batch of levels, Bowser’s Fury is a condensed open-ended Super Mario Odyssey style sandbox in the 3D World engine, complete with oodles of collectibles, a vast horizon of explorable sub-environments, and a build-up to what will probably be the grandest and intense boss battle in the entire Mario series. It pits the player against a giant metal Bowser and forces them to run through the level as all hell breaks loose, all before reaching a power-up that turns Mario into a Super Saiyan cat kaiju to do battle with this mighty foe. Also, Bowser Jr. serves as Mario’s companion during this section, using his paintbrush from Super Mario Sunshine to reveal secrets and squashing enemies from the comfort of his little personal Koopa Clown Car.

It looks far more interesting, ambitious, and effortful for what I assumed would be a tacked-on 2-3 hour sub-campaign. However, my interest in the title is sadly more muted than I would like, as, no matter how dope Bowser’s Fury looks, it still uses the underlying physics and controls of Super Mario 3D World

I’ve brought this up before, but I’m not a fan of the physics and controls of 2D Mario games. The slippery momentum and needing to press the run and jump buttons with the same finger— it makes the act of movement more complicated than it is in your typical 2D platformer, and I don’t like complicated movement systems.

When this mentality carried over to Super Mario 3D Land and later Super Mario 3D World, I always thought it felt finicky and a step down from the movement systems of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. And now, after Super Mario Odyssey brought the series forward with its wonderful movement systems and controls, this just strikes me as antiquated by comparison. It’s not my cup of tea, but if you like the feel of the classic running system in Mario games, then I hope you enjoy Bowser’s Fury to its fullest potential.

Shortly after people were reeling from the hype of Bowser’s Fury, Bethesda quietly dropped a teaser trailer on Twitter. Revealing the existence of a game with a CG environmental cinematic for an Indiana Jones game developed by MachineGames of Wolfenstein fame. No details beyond that were revealed, and in a follow-up tweet, Bethesda said that they will not discuss this game for a while, and presumably wanted to make an announcement before somebody leaked this project.

As such, there is little to nothing to say about the game itself beyond wild speculation, which I won’t bother with. However, seeing this announcement caused me to pause and realize that despite being a series that mostly lived in the 80s, the Indiana Jones series has been fairly persistent in the world of video games since… video games began, really.

  • 1982’s Raiders of the Lost Ark for Atari 2600 was frustrating, cryptic, and wildly unconventional in its use of the Atari 2600’s system switches, but it was an innovative and interesting title that gave players a mystery to solve and adventure to embark on. 
  • The LucasArts adventure games based on the series, The Last Crusade and The Fate of Atlantis were highly praised at launch and both remain classics to this day. 
  • The movie trilogy got a pretty good action platformer adaptation for the Super Nintendo in the form of Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures.
  • LucasArts tried their hand at creating all original action adventure games based on the series with 1999’s Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and 2003’s Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. Both of which were supposedly good efforts.
  • And in 2009, the series was given another injection of relevance with Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. The title had some hype to it, but it was ultimately a low budget licensed Wii game and far from a AAA rendition of a beloved adventure film series.

Overall, the series has been more present and prolific than a lot of notable game franchises I could name, but most people will probably see this as the first tried-and-true Indiana Jones game. 

On the subject of Lucasfilm properties, when EA first signed a 10 year licensing contract with Lucasfilm, granting them near-exclusive rights to make Star Wars games for home consoles, people were more than a little peeved, and for good reason. Because EA had abused and misused licenses before, they had just finished shutting down a bunch of studios, and conveniently epitomized all the evils of the AAA games industry. Upon getting this license, EA proceeded to… make very poor use of it. They released the rushed and limited EA’s Star Wars Battlefront (2015). The ‘virtual casino’ known as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017). EA’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019), which was actually quite good from what I heard, because it was a regular old video game and not a live service. And EA’s Star Wars Squadrons (2020), which is supposedly spectacular in VR.

Considering the size, scope, and marketability of Star Wars, I feel confident in calling this a failed experiment, as EA had the resources to put out a new Star Wars title every year, but did not plan things around one of the most lucrative brands in existence and wound up canning projects like Visceral’s project Ragtag. EA made plenty of mistakes, and I was expecting them to fizzle out the license with a few more rushed or scaled-down holiday titles up until 2023. However, that’s seemingly no longer the case. This past week, Ubisoft (known defender of sexual abusers) and Massive Entertainment (creators of the ‘apolitical’ Tom Clancy inspired The Division) announced that they are currently working on an open-world Star Wars game

No details, or even a title, were revealed for the game itself, but this announcement raised questions about what confidential corporate dealings are going on between Lucasfilm Games, EA, and other publishers. However, Lucasfilm did not confirm any changes to the deal when speaking to Wired, while EA stated that they are still making Star Wars games. Accordingly, I can only assume that they renegotiated out of a truly exclusive contract and that Lucasfilm will be less rigid about who gets to use the Star Wars license. Which, in theory, means there will be more Star Wars games, and that’s… good, I guess. 

I’m hesitant to call it ‘good’ because of how volatile discussions around Star Wars has gotten following the release of the sequel trilogy and the fact that just about everybody has something to say about it… except for me. 

Despite having grown up with the original and prequel trilogies, I fell off pretty hard after watching The Clone Wars in 2008. Since then, I have not seen a Star Wars film, and the only Star Wars games I ever played were the two Knights of the Old Republic games and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Because of this, I don’t really consider myself a fan of the series. I respect it historically, aesthetically, and culturally, but it’s not something I want to get invested in… if that makes any sense.

…I just remembered the first time I listened to Jazz by Queen, specifically the track “Bicycle Race” and I was confused as to how or why somebody would casually drop “I don’t like Star Wars” into a song, but now I can weirdly sympathize with the notion now. Because in 1978, when the song was released, I’m sure the film was still the talk of the walk, and I know plenty of people didn’t quite get it because Star Wars (1977) went against a lot of conventions, despite conforming to the hero’s journey and whatnot.

Leave a Reply