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New Betty Who

Words cannot express how happy I am to hear Jessica Newham (AKA Betty Who) is back on the music scene but, hey, I’m going to try anyway! 

‘New music’ comes in the form of a cover of Donna Lewis’ ‘I Love You Always Forever’ and as you’d expect, I love it. It’s not quite the news I was hoping for and it leaves me with questions as to whether this is just a taster or an actual bonafide single, I suspect the former. It’s great to hear her voice get even stronger and sound even sweeter than Lewis on this track, and it weaves the classic Betty Who magic into a 90s track that was already pretty special to begin with. 

I hope to hear more in the coming months, and I really hope this leads to more exciting news of a brand new, sophomore, album! 

Wallace & Gromit’s Fleeced

I picked this one up in a newsagents in Exeter, the box was a little battered and I’d guess that it had been sat there since I first discovered it a couple of years ago. I must admit I was initially intrigued but a little put off by the fact that this game is recommended for anybody aged eight and up but there is absolutely no need for alarm.

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To start of with, the more players you have the quicker this game is going to be. Much like Sorry!, Ludo or Frustration, this game is going to have you pulling your hair out all in the name of entertainment. It’s all about sheep rustling! If you’re clueless and find yourself saying, “But I don’t have any experience rustling sheep!” don’t worry youraself too much, after you’ve played once and got your head around the instructions, you’ll be good to go.

This is very much not one of those ‘pick up and play’ type board games. It’s actually fairly sophisticated and well thought out, it is going to bore the kids senseless, mind you. You’ll need to clear a good couple of hours and it really is more suited to anyone who’s enjoyed growing up with Wallace and Gromit and become a fan.

There’s a lot to love and a little to despise and I’m going to start with what I dislike because this list if far shorter and honestly, it’s more about the game’s marketing than anything else. Presumably the target is families which I can ultimately understand, but I like I’ve said I really can’t see you inspiring your kids to play this game because in short it’s a very simple premise with little thrill factor until you start playing. The object of the game is to rustle sheep from various hideouts across the board or, indeed, from other players. Once they’re safely rustled to your ‘Home’, these sheep are safe and out of play. At the end of the game you count your sheep and the player with the most wins. It’d be quite simple and over in a flash were you not playing with other greedy players waiting to steal your sheep because quite frankly, why not? Discovered hideouts has a certain amount of risk as it requires you to first have the key to whichever building the sheep maybe hiding in and then you pick a card telling you how many sheep you have found, this can range from none, sending you to the police station and making you miss a turn to a whole flock, err, I mean… 10! The main drawback here is that actually, as long as you remember to blow your whistle while rustling, sheep stealing from other players actually seems a more enticing prospect than you might expect.

Besides the fact, you can fairly easily drag this game out over an entire evening it doesn’t really seem suited to younger kids and I think as an adult I had much more fun knowing that each of the little sheep are beautifully designed and each of the character pieces you have to choose from are all designed straight from the short ‘A Close Shave’ which was possibly my favourite. It takes a concept from the episode and brings in to life. You can really tell that this game has been designed from the board up and there’s even a few puns along the way, as you’d expect from the beloved Aardman franchise. For playability I’d say, no game is going to be the same twice and if you’re the competitive type, there’s going to be a lot of dramatic tension and just plain unfairness when you’re almost home and some lovely person steals you’re sheep from a square away from your destination. There’s a lot of strategy to find within the limited number of ‘cheese cards’ available to as you’re not just looking for keys to hideouts, but for sheep stealing blocks and double dice rolls too, making your getaway from the illegal that little bit more feasible.

It’s nice to play a game that’s both physical, i.e. in board form, and unique and while I think the premise is nothing all that inspiring it’s certainly fun to play, even if it’s a little extensive in the rulebook department after a few turns familiarising yourself with order of play, and forgetting to blow your whistle when moving with sheep, you’ll find it pretty easy to finish, winning though is another thing altogether.

UNO Extreme

This is by no means a new game to me. I wanted to start my non-video game reviews off with a classic though. After a fair few years my first, the original, UNO Extreme machine stopped working reliably about this time last year. Since February however, I’ve been living with my partner Ben at the other end of town to my parents. (Can you imagine? The horror!) As such we’ve taken to meeting up for Sunday dinner and playing games. It’s meant there’s been a fair surge in my board game buying activity and it’s actually led to us uncovering a few gems that I’d never even have found time for if it had not been for after work on a Sunday.

The only way I can describe UNO is mad. It’s really a simple concept which you can play with a standard deck of playing cards, but over time an extensive list of rules has been added. Everybody plays it slightly differently changing out these rules a little bit like you would Monopoly. It’s a very good idea to ask people how they play before you begin, it definitely saves arguing about it mid-game later. The game itself seems fairly pointless if you’re not scoring as it’s really about either awarding yourself your opponents scores if you win or totalling up your cards until someone reaches the grand score of 500. Points however in this game most certainly do not mean prizes. There’s a fair bit of luck mixed with a splash of strategy here as you obviously want to get rid of your highest scoring cards first. Other versions include penalties, enabling you to play a x2 card on top of another and ‘7-0’ which gets painfully confusing as each time a 7 card is played you trade hands with a player of your choice and whenever a 0 is played, each hand moves one player to the left!

Adding Extreme to your game UNO really makes it the most simple and yet, frustrating card game I’ve played. (I’ve yet to break into serious card games, you see.) Here, instead of picking up a card when you pass or cannot play a card you press the button on the front of the machine which may, or may not, send none, one or more cards flying at you upon doing so. Instead of picking two cards up, on a x2 card, you’ve probably guessed it, you press the button twice. It’s a great addition which adds yet more unpredictability to a game that was fairly unpredictable beforehand.

What I love is how simple this game is, and yet how enjoyable it is after many games. It doesn’t require an extensive understanding of how a board works or how you can move or anything that for me slows the first play through of anything down and often hinders the gameplay experience, it’s as simple as matching colour or number on your turn adding more rules adds greater customisation to the game and it’s inclusive; you can play with almost anyone who’s willing to give it a go.

Tegan and Sara “Love You To Death”

Their newest album, their eighth, is due out on June 3rd; this Friday in fact. Their last album, Heartthrob, cemented them as a commercial success in the realm of electro pop, a trend that I’m hopeful will continue having heard the album for the first time in full today.

Boyfriend was the first taste of this new era for Tegan and Sara and it seemed like a very natural progression following their last album, released in 2013. It’s produced solely by Greg Kurstin and written by the duo and follows a very up-tempo, for the most part, fast paced train of thought that’s both personal and relatable. It’s addictively pop, and I think it shows a side of Tegan and Sara that they’ve been beginning to perfect since the conception of Heartthrob.

It doesn’t lose any of it’s indie sensibility either, songs like ‘White Knuckles’ and ‘100X’ burn a little slower, but with the intensity of say ‘I Run Empty’. I think, sonically, it’s at times like this that their voices interweave at their most memorable, reflecting on their singer-songwriter heritage.  The album as a whole has a fine venire of gloss from Greg Kurstin’s production and is perfectly concise enough for today’s busy radio-aware music industry. They say all that they really need to say within less than forty minutes of playtime and yet this is no rushed album; each song ‘pops’ and stands alone against the it’s counterparts, my only request being that perhaps we could hear more from them before 2019!

Benjireviews…Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth

UK Release Date: 05/02/2016
Console: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

I used to love Digimon when I was a kid. OK, I was never as into it as I was Pokémon, but I used to watch the cartoons, and Digimon World is still one of my all-time favourite PSX games. I felt it was similar to Pokémon and yet different enough to be interesting, and while I haven’t dipped into the franchise for a long time, I was determined to approach with an open mind when I eventually got back into it. Earlier this year Shawn bought Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth on the PS4, and this is my first foray into the world of Digimon in at least a decade, I’d say. So what did I think?

Honestly? I love this game.

This might come as a surprise because I usually rail against these so-called Pokémon-a-likes because they usually feel really rushed and watered down, and the artwork often suffers because they have a limited time to produce hundreds of monsters in believable evolutions. Where Digimon excels is that it’s been around for a long time – I’m talking 15 years plus long time – and so they already have a lot of monsters to choose from. And when you can Digivolve your Digimon into a plethora of different forms rather than just having one single evolutionary line, it adds a degree of customisation but also challenge, as naturally the more powerful Digivolutions have more complex criteria that need to be fulfilled in order to obtain them. I think the degree of freedom to customise your team is one of the main selling points of Cyber Sleuth though, as by and large you can Digivolve who you want when you want, and by nicknaming your Digimon it adds a further degree of personalisation and helps you get more attached to your partners.

You’d hope, as well, that a game with the word ‘story’ in its title excels in this department, and I firmly believe that this is the case here. The story in Cyber Sleuth is really, really interesting, and manages to shift between humorous side-quests, gritty main story and some truly shocking and horrifying moments (the whole concept of EDEN Syndrome and Eaters, for example). As you progress through the game and start figuring things out, things only get more interesting, and the mark of a great story is that it draws you in and makes you want to keep reading or, in this case, keep playing. There’s a great diversity of characters as well: ditzy ones (Nokia), moody ones (Arata), ones that love to ramble (Kyoko), shy ones (Yuuko), ones that irritate the hell out of you from start to finish (Jimiken), warped and disturbing ones (Rie) and ones that I still can’t figure out where their allegiances lie (well, that would be telling if I told you who that was). Figuring out which characters you like, which ones you don’t, and which are a bit of both is always one of the great things about an RPG, and there are plenty of instances of all of those here.

As much as I love Cyber Sleuth though, it isn’t perfect, and most of the problems I have with it are annoying because they’d be so easy to fix if a little more effort was put into them. The game was originally released in Japanese, and this is glaringly obvious not only because the narration is all in Japanese (which I like, by the way, because the game is set in Japan so it makes sense to have it narrated in the native language), but the fact that the writing is really, really bad in some places. It’s been so clumsily translated that some of the stuff you’re reading doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, while other bits are really very adult and actually completely inappropriate for what is still a 12+ rated game (particularly nearly every line of Rie’s dialogue and occasionally things that Nokia says). It’s a pity that it’s like this because it came out in English almost a full year after it came out in Japanese, and I just think that if they’d taken the time to translate it properly rather than going with their first instinct and what they think is right, they could have ironed out a whole load of the issues that spoil the dialogue sometimes and make it feel almost like you’re playing an indie game on Steam than a supposedly professionally-produced home console offering.

Speaking of home console offerings, the game is playable on both PS4 and PS Vita with cross-save functionality between the two versions, meaning you can take it on the go with you and then come home and play the best bits on your big screen. I really like that Sony do this and it’s something I wish Nintendo would consider because the whole point of the Wii and DS really was so that you could connect them up, but aside from games like Pokémon Battle Revolution this was never really realised, and has been even more forgotten with the introduction of the Wii U. The music in the game (which by and large is awesome; my particular favourite tracks are the Eater battle music and the Cyber Shift labyrinth music) sounds great coming through headphones on your PS Vita, and the fact that it’s exactly the same game in pretty much exactly the same graphics on both consoles is really good news. What you basically get is a home console-quality game on a portable console, which is definitely a step in the right direction as far as portable gaming is concerned.

On the whole, Cyber Sleuth is a really interesting game that has achieved its aim of getting me interested in Digimon once again. OK, the storyline and action is occasionally spoiled by the clumsy, nonsensical or inappropriate dialogue, but by and large this doesn’t ruin the gameplay experience enough to make you want to stop playing because the story is interesting enough to carry the game on its own. Add to that the customisation of your team with over 200 Digimon species to collect and raise, interesting characters and a whole plethora of side-quests to add replay value and keep you interested after the main story, and this is a game that is definitely worth a look, particularly if you’re a fan of Pokémon-style monster battlers or futuristic RPGs.

Instrumentally Speaking

Hello all,

Here’s another project Gameface update for you! Things are looking really good right now, as the second of my offerings comes to fruition and so I thought I’d update you as to how the process works for me.

Music nearly always comes first, I’d sooner listen than read though lyrics are very important to me as well. If often starts with chords that require some assembly to make sense of. Sometimes the sequence that these chords are arranged comes to me while I’m daydreaming or humming in the shower to myself. The latter half of Boardwalk’s chorus, for example, came to me one day as I was lathering conditioner into my hair. The rest though took some work beforehand as I worked to find something that still excited me and made me want to listen.

I love bridges, and I’ll often say that I think the best part of a song I’ve written is the bridge between the second and third chorus, it’s where I introduce some surprise variety which usually pays off really well to my mind. That’s not to say that every song I write has one, the track I’m currently working on takes apart the first verse and uses that instead.

When I’m satisfied that things are coming along very well sonically speaking, I’ll start writing the lyrics. I’ve almost always got a full instrumental by this point and that holds true for track number two today. I’ve usually already got a very basic idea of what the song is about, and I’ve probably thought of several different lines which have no connection at this point. I particularly remember having “you know it can’t hurt” as a starting point for Boardwalk for a long time before the verse had been written. I knew I wanted to write a song about Vegas casinos and a bad relationship but I had no idea quite how to connect the two.

It’s at this point where I listen to the instrumental I have over and over again until I pin down the melody and formulate some, at least, vaguely comprehensible lyrics. When these seem concrete enough I can usually complete the song by fleshing out the lyrics singing as I go, making little tweaks here and there until I finish with a song that’s satisfying and yet compact enough to not be self-indulgent.

The fun begins at this point because here is where I start to lay down the vocals. This can be make or break time for a song, if I feel like I’m struggling to sing the song I might try moving the key into one that’s a little more suited to my vocal range and it’s usually changes made here that are most noticeable in the final product; if the final product makes the cut at all. Sometimes this happens and for what ever reason the song remains unfinished. It’s usually successful though from here on in and I can mix and bounce the final result into iTunes and finally, onto the worldwide web.

Suffice as to say, I’ve decided to share a little bit more than just the biography of a song, a short but sweet vivisection of what goes on behind the scenes, within my strange mind. I shall be adding instrumental versions of my Gameface project songs from here on in. This means you’ll also be able to download the instrumental version of Boardwalk later on today via bandcamp.

Hope this inspires you all and as always thanks for any support and the generosity you have presented me with over our so-far-sweet time together.

Benjireviews…Doom

Doom 2016

Console: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
UK Release Date: 13/05/2016

Honestly, first-person shooters really aren’t my thing. I’m not as massively into online gaming as many people are, and I’m really not a fan of warfare or anything like that in general. Likewise, horror games aren’t usually something I’d go out and buy – I’m much more interested in the techniques people use to make stuff scary rather than actually being scared by them myself. But, as with many things in life, there are always exceptions to a rule, so when I heard there was a Doom reboot coming out this year, I was actually very interested.

I first encountered Doom as one of the first games I owned on my GBA back in the early 2000s. My juvenile self was very childishly excited about being allowed to play a 15-rated game, and although I couldn’t really get very far due to not having the attention span or nimble fingers required to play through the original Doom successfully, it was still a game I would play and enjoy every now and then. A few years ago, my youngest brother Seb bought the Doom collection on the Xbox 360, and started playing through Doom 3 with me present. I was amazed at how far the series had come, and how different Doom 3 was. OK you’re still fighting demons and Hellish creatures, but the fact that the storyline is actually explained to you and the game feels a whole lot more horrifying now everything is fully rendered in 3D made it all the more engrossing. This, in effect, is what inspired me to play the new game.

If I had to describe Doom in one word it would be ‘relentless’. From the minute you wake up strapped to a table and have to free yourself before you get devoured by something horrendous, the game throws enemies at you like there’s no tomorrow. Your first ‘lockdown’ (in which you have to kill every enemy in the room to progress) happens in about the third or fourth room, and even on the easiest difficulty is packed with agile enemies that are a pain in the backside to aim at, let alone shoot, if you’re as sucky at FPSs as I am. It’s no wonder you move around as quickly as you do, as you’ll need every ounce of agility you have to negotiate your terrain and get away from enemies throwing fireballs at you so you can shoot them back. Although the controls are a little cumbersome in places (click the right stick to melee? Really?) they’re fairly easy to pick up once you’ve figured out where they all are – the game isn’t massively forthcoming in revealing these to you.

Another word you could use to describe Doom would be ‘graphic’. This is quite honestly one of the most intensely gory games I have played in a long while. From ripping the hearts out of gore hives to cause them to explode, to executing glory kills close-up on wounded enemies, there’s gallons upon gallons of blood flying all over the place – though never, fortunately, onto your visor and hampering your vision. I think if the game wasn’t so fast-paced you’d notice the blood and gore and violence more, but because you’re glory killing an enemy then immediately trying to shoot and kill about 3 more in the vicinity, this isn’t something you continue noticing after a while. I don’t know that it’s a good thing that we become so quickly desensitised to this violence, but I guess it helps if you’re squeamish. Although if you are, the horrifying character design of some of the enemies is enough to put you right off.

As with previous games in the Doom series, exploration is key to getting the most out of your gameplay experience. There are a ton of secrets to find on each level, rewarding you with upgrades to your weapons or armour suit, and the environments you’ll be exploring to find them are quite nicely varied. You’re not always cooped up in nondescript corridors; there’s plenty of venturing out onto the surface of Mars where things get a little more open-plan. You also have your handy compass to show you where you need to head next, which is a darn sight more useful than the rather tricky-to-navigate map. And sometimes it is nice to get away from the demon-bashing for a while to go exploring and take some time to check out your surroundings. There are also challenges on each level and a multiplayer mode to add competitiveness, which should keep your gory fingers happy long after you finish the main story.

Overall then, Doom is a great revival of the series and one that fans of the classic should immediately take to. Unlike Doom 3 it doesn’t take long to get going (I think I counted about 5 seconds before I’d made my first kill), and gameplay-wise it’s much more similar to the first 2 instalments, but coupled with the backstory and visuals of number 3. If you like fast-paced, relatively scary shooter games with plenty of graphic content, you will very much enjoy fighting like Hell in this one.

Boardwalk!

So, it’s finally here! Track the first! This is pretty excited because it marks a whole new chapter in the musical escapades of Newhampton Atlantic.

The song itself is Las Vegas inspired as you’ll probably noticed is reflected in the title artwork that accompanies the track. It tells the story of a bad relationship in which someone is treated like disposable income. They’re treated like a wage or a bet; picked up and left at regular intervals. It’s generally abusive and self-centred, but the song has a positive message. It’s about leaving all of that behind and walking away.

Once again, If you like the song and would like to consider a small donation, please do. The download is available through bandcamp, or the player above and you can even share it with your family and friends… Just sayin’

Enjoy, as always.

Shawn

 

Upcoming Track: Boardwalk.

Hey guys,

So the first track to be included in my ‘Gameface’ project is almost finished, if it wasn’t for this wretched cold it would be with you sooner. But here’s my progress update on what’s been happening since I announced #Gameface about a month ago.

Instrumentals

It’s how I start most of my projects, the music comes first. I currently have three tracks on the go, two including Boardwalk which I’m writing for the project and another that I’ve sort of had to cut my losses with as far as being used in this particular instance. Boardwalk itself though is nearing completion, as it also has lyrics and I’ve begun laying down vocals for it. What’s annoying is with a clogged nose I can’t really sing to the best of my ability right now, but as soon as that improves you can expect to find it on Bandcamp.

Bandcamp 

Right from the off, this time, I have a plan in mind regarding how this is to release. As I’ve previously mentioned the project will come to you as organically as I write it and it will evolve over time until I deem it finished. Each song is set to appear on Bandcamp for nothing, zippo, nada or absolutely free as you might say.

However, I want to stress that while I create music for the world to enjoy, there are certain benefits to paying for the tracks I put up on the  internet. Any track that I publish can be bought for however much you deem it worth simply by specifying so when you proceed to download the song through my Bandcamp profile. First and foremost I’m an electronic music producer all that you hear has to be bought, and I like to try and keeping sounding fresh and exciting at all times. Essentially, money is required in order to up my musical game and will only serve to improve the quality of the songs that I am sharing with you.
As always, if you feel a song is worth absolutely nothing, remember that I appreciate your feedback and input. Having people who care enough about what you do and offer advice on how to make it even better is a much sought after and treasured attribute to one’s career. If you think it’s worth a little something, for example half or the full amount that you’d pay per song on iTunes for example please consider donating that amount.

I thank you for your time, and know that however this pans out I will still be creating this project but fans make a band/artist who they are and as such imagine the possibilities we have together. Taking this journey right from the word ‘go’. Imagine where we could go together and the music we’d create and it starts with both a little bit of you and myself to really say something.

Lots of love as always, I’ll let you know more about ‘Boardwalk’ as I clear my vocal cords and begin  recording. See you on the flip side.

Shawn.

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