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Oh, Skies of Arcadia. You and I have such a complicated history! I bought you almost two years ago, in an attempt to squeeze some role-playing goodness out of my recently purchased GameCube. We breezed together through the first ten hours—remember those sweet days?—and then we got stuck. We got lost in Ixa'taka, and then later above Valua. We didn't even remember what we were looking for, or where we were going. So I took you out of the disc tray, and put you into your box, then onto the shelf.

I had no intention of leaving you there. But, for a long time, I did.

For months and months, in fact. When I sat down with the intention to play a video game, I would look at you on the shelf and ask myself: do I want to spend two hours with you, aimlessly wandering in our airship, waiting for our compass to spin? I would ask myself: Can I, at this point in my life, cope with so many random encounters? The answer, so often, was no.

Then Spring Break of this year arrived and I, having recently exhausted my supply of other games, decided to give you another spin. I'm so glad I did! Once I found that damned Maw of Tartus (or whatever), the story began to pick up, and your charms once again revealed themselves to me. Soon we found ourselves playing for hours at a time. Long hours. Late into the night. Sometimes early into the morning.

These, of course, were hours that would have been better spent in service of my schoolwork, which makes our time together so much more bittersweet. The unflappable protagonist Vyse and his merry band of air pirates, whom I remember now only as my dear friends, may one day soon become my nemeses. In a few weeks, when I present my thesis for all to see, and I'm barely able to fill my allotted time with mumbles and half-assed half truths, your colorful and intricate world (which I explored with the fervor of an addict) will, I'm sure, seem to be nothing more than a Gomorrah of hellish temptation.

So, while I wrested great joy from completing you a few days ago—joy in every way commensurate with the sixty or so hours we spent together over the last two years—most of the pleasure came in the form of relief. I am no longer bound to you! I can trade you away on Goozex! I can once again live the life of a normal man. (At least until your sequel comes out.)

Lengthy musing about SoA's battle system follows. Read at your own risk. )
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A smelly man at Target sold me Professor Layton and the Curious Village about a week ago. He smelled really bad, like emergency bad, and I've had a moral crisis over the past week wondering if I should have alerted his fellow employees, or his supervisors, or the local health board—anyone in a position to break the news to him gently, to shuffle him off to a shower or, at the very least, a bathroom. It's humiliating to buy video games at Target in the first place, since you have to ask permission to have opened their cabinet of valuable shrinkage-prone products—you have to take on the role of penitent thief—but it's doubly humiliating to point through the glass at what a pungent man in a red shirt calls "oh, you want Curious Valley," then slink behind him to the register at what should have been a safe, odor-free distance, but which wasn't, god help us all. His sticky stink haunted the first few days of my ownership of this game. Just looking at the cover would call forth the scent, and for hours it would flit here and there in my nose, emerging phantom-like from the combination of commonplace aromatic molecules of the household or city. After a few days (mercifully), the pong exorcised itself from my nose and my memory, but I will forever associate Professor Layton with those brief, panicked moments of conviction: that I had been irrevocably tainted.

As for the game itself: it's awesome. I finished it yesterday. And by "finished" I mean finished: 135/135 puzzles, 5000+ picarats (not sure if this is enough to unlock all the bonus content?), maybe I missed a few hint coins somewhere, and the portion of the game available only to owners of the sequel is still, of course, virgin territory, but I think I did a thorough job of putting this baby to bed. I don't think I've ever devoured a DS game with such intensity, not even Phantom Hourglass.

more review after the cut )
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Guster clambered up the ladder of commercial success early in their career, mostly through sheer tenacity and showmanship (nary a female have I met who, after seeing Brian Rosenworcel's frantic conguery, did not want to have his babies). As a result, we've been able to witness their maturation from Indigo Girls-aping, Jackopierce-covering weenies to literate, confident musos with, well, chops.

Last Friday at the Nokia Theatre they demonstrated their surprising prowess: Great Escape (from their second album) rose like a hot air balloon from all the new life they breathed into it - the tinny strums on the record gave way to fat distortion, and the nonsensical bridge we all know and love (circle circle dot dot dot) was replaced with a tease from the Violent Femmes' Kiss Off. Diane is now not just their best song on record (from Keep It Together, their latest) but also one of the finest songs in their repertoire: they used to fudge this song badly when played live, but now it's brilliant. Even Center Of Attention - one of the weaker songs in Guster's post-Parachute catalog - sounded punchy and new. Compare it to an early bootleg and you'd think a different band was playing it.

Keep It Together bore witness of a newly liberated band's growing pains - every song seemed to pull the band in a different stylistic direction - but the new material debuted on this tour has a clear direction and clean execution. I fully expect Ganging Up On The Sun (or whatever they decide to call the new record) will be the Damn Pop Record of 2006. (Listen to Manifest Destiny, The Captain, The Beginning Of The End, and One Man Wrecking Machine on this excellent bootleg.)

This is my fear, though: confidence leads to stagnation. Guster compels us because of the lengths they're willing to cross to compensate for their shortcomings: their heartfelt, wide-eyed ballads, their humorous on-stage shenanigans, their insistence on "no sticks!" on Lost And Gone Forever. They're quirky, which attracts obsession and the establishment of an identity. Guster's quirks are their fan's quirks - they're our quirks. Outsiders couldn't hope to understand them. In their attempt to become the band they've always wanted to be, Guster needs to make sure that they don't become just like everyone else.

Pelt's latest recording seemed bland and boring to me - I like drone, but I could find no compelling reason to sit through their lengthy, unmoving, thirty-minute tracks. The record, however, is a cadaverous shadow of the live experience. A monochromatic cacophony of frantic Fahey-esque guitar, squeezeboxes, double-stop violin and harmonium builds into a crescendo, spins out of control, then crumbles into a chorus of gongs, which Tibetan singing bowls gradually slice and dice then fade to nothingness. The denouement came when the sines from four bowls emerged as a major chord, bringing with it the trembling, unexpected sense of well-being that sets apart all great music. Pelt convinces you that making noise is no easy feat, and then make it seem effortless: You may think that their music is chaotic, until you see them tiptoeing across the stage, moving to a new instrument, in an effort not to interrupt it. The experience was akin to being a frog boiled alive and I must have looked mighty strange at the end of the performance, huddled up next to the stage, agape.

Marissa Nadler was the first of three performers on a bill with Pelt and Earth Sunday night (I didn't stick around for Earth, wasn't in the mood for doom sludge metal or whatever). She's this year's Joanna Newsom and if you like the folk music and you don't have her new record then, quite franky, you disgust me. Her songs and arrangements are briskly laconic, and her sense of her chosen style is so clear as to be almost forceful. She is a British folk singer (Scottish, actually, judging from those velarized L's), modern trends have placed no fingers on her, she exists entirely within her own forgotten and/or imaginary world. I was captivated.
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> So what's the deal with this new Hitchhiker's Guide
> flick? Have you heard anything pro or con?

I saw it last weekend.

I sort of felt like I could reconstruct the board meetings that led to the most egregious violations of the book's integrity - a smartly suited, clueless fuck with a Brooks Bros. tie yammering, yammering: "There should be a love story!" Or, "We really need something in the middle of the film to flesh out the plot and tie up the loose ends!" Or, worse: "Zaphod should be politically relevant! Play him like G.W. Bush!"

So, yes, like any other self-respecting nerd, I left the movie (taking great joy in) noting the flaws of the film. My snide ray was set to kill! How dare they debase this work, this most important monument of my geeky youth? How dare they.

Then I thought about it for a while and calmed down some. How much could I realistically expect? Is there any book that lends itself less readily to the movie format? HHGTTG is really only about 50% narrative by volume, and that narrative isn't exactly MGM material: earth gets destroyed, guy in a bathrobe goes to weird planet, uh, the end. The movie attempts to make a proper "plot" out of this by playing up the role of the Vogons, conventionalizing the Arthur/Trillian love story, sending Zaphod to meet Deep Thought, etc. The whole enterprise is an embarrasing failure, of course, but I can appreciate the fact that it was an effort that had to be made.

On the plus side, a number of the remaining 50% - the Guide entries, what I consider to be the real "meat" of the book - made it into the movie as high class, amusing animation sequences. (Unfortunately these trail off in number as the film progresses.) The filmmakers also brilliantly executed a number of creative and often hilarious visuals: Ford and Arthur as sofas, the Heart of Yarn, and the vertigo-inducing Magrathea (among others). Jim Henson's Creature Shop created the Vogons, so they're spot on, of course.

But the movie felt like a collection of ideas about how to make a movie of HHGTTG, rather than a completely realized film. It was strange: all of the actors' performances, considered on an individual basis, were great - especially Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast (I kind of wish the movie was just Slartibartfast and Arthur talking about Earth for two hours). But the performances didn't cohere. None of it stuck together. Does Bill Nighy even know who Mos Def is?

So I'd say this: go for the pieces, not for the whole. Allow the infidelities to Adams' work to enrage you, and revel in that rage! It's your birthright. But don't forget to enjoy the stuff they got right.


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