Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not Quite Numb – Linkin Park Mix Pack Review

Well, this is strange. While there’s no denying the band’s popularity, I admit I’ve fallen a bit off of the Linkin Park bandwagon. I was there for Hybrid Theory, as was everyone else and loved it, and Meteora was groovy. Their fusion of alternative, industrial, rap and rock has always been an easy pill to swallow, and I still believe that no one can do it quite the way they do and have it sound great, with crossover appeal that extends into the ‘tough to crack’ urban community. That having been said, after Meteora, I fell off. I really liked Collision Course though it was an album of mashups, but my complete knowledge of Minutes to Midnight begins and ends with What I’ve Done, and I’ve barely listened to A Thousand Suns. In fact, prior to this pack’s release, I found myself questioning their relevancy to date, and was surprised they were even still making music. Embarassing? Hardly. But their album release this year (and relative popularity spike) likely prompted this pack, arriving casually and unexpectedly in my DJ Hero. With a hint of trepidation,I started to download. But I still found myself asking: “Is this even going to be remotely cool?”

“Who really asked for three Linkin Park remixes?..”

Fortunately, I’ve heard the songs featured in this pack. Should be interesting..

DJ Hero 2 "Linkin Park Mix Pack" (Downloadable Content)
For: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Songs sold as individual tracks)
Publisher: Activision/Freestyle Games
Price: 480 Microsoft Points, $5.99 PSN, 300 Wii Points (per track)
Release: 12/21/2010

Reviewed on Expert difficulty

When They Come For Me (Remix by Diplo)

A very cool remix with a middle eastern twang to it, it’s an easy, surprisingly bumpin track that’s as much fun to play as it is to rap using vocals…Really, why can’t more of the hip-hoppish songs flow like this one in vocals? The song has an undeniable rhythm to it, and its one that’s easy to get into and stay in the rhythm of once the song begins. Now, everyone may not like this new, almost reggaeton sounding like mix of the song, but I enjoyed it a great deal, and it really fits in with the style of the game a lot more than it would have in its original direction. It’s a tad on the easy side, but that isn’t an issue with this reviewer. Making it more difficult may have made it more hectic as a mix, and I think the nice mixture of taps (on cue with the drums!), lengthy freestyle sections, and generous crossfades are just tricky enough to keep even vets from turning their brain off for too long.


Pts.OF.Athrty (Remix by FSG)

An oldie, but goodie. Oddly, it’s very similar to the original remix (produced much later), but with a DJ Hero twist in terms of a variety of turntable effects to break up the action. Honestly, the song was already sick. Featuring Mike Shinoda’s commanding lyrical cadence on one end, and Chester belting out the hooks in a way that makes you stand up and take notice in another, it already felt like a hard hitting song to begin with. Now that the track has been augmented with a ton of on-point, rhythmic scratches and long stretches of bass and electric distortion, it has a sound that escalates and elevates above the original. It isn’t even the meatiest song in the world, but FSG took the multiple choruses within and made them so much fun to play, you don’t even notice. Bonus points for bringing me back to Hybrid Theory though, this track literally reminded me why I started liking the band in the first place. Jeez.

Rating: 5/5

The Catalyst (Does It Offend You, Yeah? Remix)

Overly preachy “lol anarchy” lyrics aside, this is The Catalyst with an Electro/DnB twist. Somehow, this makes it sound more like a Daft Punk song than is reasonably comfortable, but it’s still a fun listen, and as far as challenge goes, it’s the most difficult of the three, but that’s hardly a negative. It has a difficulty curve that’s spread evenly and nicely, with long note sustains and strange scratches thrown about, and the low tempo keeps things from being overwhelming until a nutty conclusion that sees fit to have you alternating between tapping and scratching while holding other buttons on the platter. Overall a pretty good mix, but in my opinion, it’s overshadowed by the first two tracks, likely because the tone of the song keeps it from being as fun as the first two, at least in my opinion.

Rating: 3/5

Man, was this pack a wake up call. Not just because it’s Linkin Park on display here, reminding me why I did like them a TON at one point, but because they did it without taking the easy way out and mixing One Step Closer or Numb. Linkin Park was so far off my radar that even a personal recommendation would’ve been met with trepidation, but I took the plunge here and walked away not only surprisingly unscathed, but without a shred of disappointment as well. Really, what took so long for their music to be featured here? Not only did it fit like a glove, but like the Jay-Z vs. Eminem pack before it, it took several tracks thought untouchable and made them work in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I mean, really. This pack singlehandedly made the band relevant to me again! There should've been an achievement for that along with this content, if you ask me.

Score: 8.5

I don’t know what’s coming next, but with 2010 as a reasonable gauge for expectations*, let’s hope the mixes keep on coming, and with even more variety and creativity than what’s already out.

Easy request to fufill, huh?

*Sure, the Old Skool Pack disappointed, but it was still bumpin’..

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Old Schoolin' - Dj Hero 2 Old Skool Mix Pack Review

It’s a good time to be a DJ Hero player.

Not only do we have what is considered the best game soundtrack released this year, but the usually unruly and stingy Activision has been supporting this game through the roof! No, really. Even Guitar Hero hasn’t seen this kind of support this year, and with FSG’s immense talent, it’s easy to see why they’ve thrown all their support behind this one. Hip-hop fans however, get shown a ton of love here. A great deal of the mixes in the game have much to do with that genre and R&B, and while the techno/electro fans complained that they didn’t get enough of what they loved, several excellent DLC packs did well to keep them at bay for a bit. But what of the crowd that needs their 32 bars? Sat idly by while the techno downloadables were too far out of their genre to even consider? Crossed their fingers and hoped this tidal wave of that which bumps and shocks would subside?

Their wait is over.

FSG’s back with the Old Skool Mix Pack, and just in case you felt like questioning their street cred, they’ve brought Tone Loc, Fat Boys, and The 45 Number among others with them.

Is it what we've been waiting for?

DJ Hero 2 "Old Skool Mix Pack" (Downloadable Content)
For: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Songs sold as individual tracks)
Publisher: Activision/Freestyle Games
Price: 480 Microsoft Points, $5.99 PSN, 300 Wii Points (per track)
Release: 12/14/2010

Reviewed on Expert difficulty

Beastie Boys - “Triple Trouble” vs. Tone Loc - “Funky Cold Medina”

It wouldn’t be “old skool” without the Beastie Boys, would it? While this is indeed a fact, the song Triple Trouble isn’t exactly their earliest work. This is a notion that quickly disappears once you realize what it’s being mixed with, the inimitable Funky Cold Medina! Since both songs use almost exactly the same instruments their mix is a deft one, with the Boys dominating the lyricism, and Tone Loc’s trademark drawl saved for the samples. While it is a funky mix, and there’s a hint of Loc busting out during the scratchfest that dominates the latter 3rd, it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity as far as a mix goes. I was hoping for a bit more FCM in the mix than there was on display, but I realize, it would’ve changed the tempo of the song drastically. Overall a moderately challenging song that displays hints of true greatness, but merely settles for being a cool track.

Rating: 3/5

Fat Boys - “Human Beat Box” vs. Mantronix - "King Of The Beats"

Now THIS is what I’m talking about! I knew I was in a treat the minute the song opened with the Fat Boys’ memorable beatboxing line (STICK EM!), and the song quickly segued into Mantronix’s amazing electronic beatmaking. Almost as if this is a fight between human and electronic beatboxing, the song constantly switches back and forth between the two in a way I can only describe as mindblowing. Each tap is a sample cued on rhythm, each freestyle section lets you mess around in a way that truly makes you feel in control, and I have to say, this is the closest feeling I’ll ever get to being a DJ of the 80’s. This is not only because the freestyle sections are abundant and cleverly placed, but it’s also due to some of the most creative scratch patterns I’ve ever played in a DJHero song to date. I even dropped my streak several times during the mix because I’d gotten so into it, I couldn’t help but throw in an extra tap or two along the way. Amazing.

Rating: 5/5

Tag Team - "Whoomp! (There It Is)" vs. The 45 King - "The 900 Number"

..and we’ve settled back down, with a mix that somewhat again reeks of a bit of missed opportunity. While Whoomp! is a definite classic, the decision to mix it with the slick (but repetitive) The 900 Number is what ultimately holds the mix back. You can only do so much with an amen break, and FSG did the best they could, augmenting Tag Team’s lyrics with the signature loop while chopping and screwing the lyrics for a good 1/3 of the song before letting it flow smoothly. The end result is a track that’s more fun to play than listen to, and the abundance of scratches and mad crossfades abound don’t do too much to distract from what is really just a lukewarm track. Not hot, not cold, just somewhere inbetween. Is that a bad thing when FSG’s production overall is better than most of what’s out there? No. But it is a bit of a rub, especially after that stellar second track.

Rating: 2/5

I entered this pack with the highest hopes, and a momentum that showed no sign of slowing, and I honestly walked away a bit underwhelmed by this one. It shouldn’t have been this way though. We had the Beastie Boys, we had Tag Team, even Tone Loc was along for the ride. This should’ve been a recipe for amazing like all the other tracks, but surprisingly, it’s the track selection that I feel did most of the damage here. While all the songs were definitely beloved classics, they just didn’t fit together as well as I hoped they would, nostalgia be damned. With the highest point being the amazing Fat Boys/Mantronix mashup, it makes the other two tracks stick out like sore thumbs, and it shouldn’t be this way when a great deal of Freestyle Games’ work is consistently excellent throughout. It’s good for what it is, but by no means a rush out and must buy..and for once, I envy the Wii owners’ purchasing scheme. Purchasing the second track alone would’ve made me feel much better about the money I spent this time around.

Overall: 6.5

(With a loss of upward momentum comes nothing but worry for the forthcoming Linkin Park pack.Here’s hoping this was a momentary misstep, and that it turns out excellent, instead of merely just good.)

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Screw off. LittleBigGyp.

So….let me get this straight. You have a nice little game prepared for your peripheral of questionable success, and to you guys, the logical thing to do is to make it Playstation Plus exclusive? A subscription fee for a “Free” download that could’ve easily been a $5-10 downloadable release?

WHO has Playstation Plus? Last I checked, it was a resounding failure on par with Home’s limited audience, and with questionable features like “early demos”, or “PS store discounts”, what did you expect? It was a attempt to stab at what made Xbox Live successful without actually knowing what made it successful (see PSPgo and the iPod Touch), and since they decided to keep giving away the online multiplayer for free, it further invalidated the $50 a year fee to all but the most dedicated of Sony blind followers.

If I can thank Sony for anything, it was giving me a choice NOT to have it, because it really is a worthless service. Pay…to get discounts? Some of which are usually only a savings of 2-3 dollars? Early demo access? I can wait a week. Free PSone download of THEIR choice every month? I’ll pass. Automatic game/system updates? How is that even a PAID feature?

By offering the entire infrastructure with negligible contrast between paid and free, they shot themselves in the foot right out of the gate. Also, their constant parroting that it’s “free” to play and communicate online with your friends (potshots at XBL) locked them into this position. They couldn’t have started charging for it even if they wanted to. It’d be a harsh betrayal of their fanbase. Kind of like the Qore subscribers that were screwed over because of PS Plus’ similar feature set.

Same thing going on here.

I understand that they REALLY need subscribers for the fledgling premiums. But this is stupid. They did it with High Velocity Bowling around launch time to a resounding backlash, and here we are again. Instead of making it available to the millions of PS3 owners, ESPECIALLY the ones who have bought the Move, they’ve bottlenecked the userbase to what I’m sure is a few hundred thousand (if that). The lot of early adopters who bought the Move this year and are still really wondering what the HELL to do with it are screwed as well. Good job.

The worst part of it all is, really. I like the Move. I think it’s forward thinking technology in the vein of the Wii remote’s physical input, and is in some ways better. I also like the way it’s marketed as a controller I can play real games with despite the inevitable presence of shovelware. That’s definitely something that appeals to me. But I don’t think Sony wants me to like the Move. Not like this they don’t.

I don’t want an EyePet. I want a Kinectimal. Echochrome II isn’t out until the end of the month. Despite the extra legroom the motion sensor gives me, I literally played the hell out of RE5 on my 360 and Heavy Rain is only worth going through another time BECAUSE of the Move integration. Sports Champions is tangibly pleasing but aesthetically dry, and really, The Shoot is the only game keeping me from shoving the controller up my nose in a WoW cancellation style freakout. They’ve got me shooting, ducking, spinning and all sorts of tomfoolery, making it easily one of the most tactile lightgun games I’ve ever played.

I can still remember the look on my face yesterday morning:

“A LittleBigPlanet Move game?! I didn’t see this coming..”


(Playstation Plus Exclusive)

“Surely they mean the ‘free’ price tag…eh, whatever. Good for them.
(Nope. No “Buy” link to be found.)

*incredulous stare*

Good job, guys. Minimum $17.99 just to play?

I’m good.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rough and Tough - Hard Edge Mix Pack Review

I remember questioning this seemingly endless momentum that FSG seemed to be on when I reviewed Electro Mix Pack, moments before I received the email from Activision announcing the Tiësto Mix Pack. Before I can even settle into the warm fuzzy place I’ve carved out for my turntable and I due to such a wonderful gift, this thing lands in my lap too. It doesn’t come alone either. It comes with news of two OTHER packs slated to release this month. To say I’m excited is the largest understatement I can muster, and I can’t really profess my love for this game any more than I already have. I’m excited. There. Said it again for effect.

December 14th marks the arrival of the “Old Skool Mix Pack”, dropping the tracks Human Beat Box vs. King of Beats (Fat Boys & Mantronix),Whoomp! (There It Is) vs. The 900 Number (Tag Team & 45 King, and Triple Trouble vs. Funky Cold Medina (Beastie Boys & Tone Loc)

On the 21st, The “Linkin Park Mix Pack” releases, featuring The Catalyst (Does It Offend You, Yeah? Remix) (FSG Remix), When They Come For Me (Diplo Remix), and Pts of Athrty (FSG Remix).

Crazy, right? For now however. Let’s indulge the one released on November 30th. The Hard Edge Mix Pack.

DJ Hero 2 "Hard Edge Mix Pack" (Downloadable Content)
For: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Songs sold as individual tracks)
Publisher: Activision/Freestyle Games
Price: 480 Microsoft Points, $5.99 PSN, 300 Wii Points (per track)
Release: 11/30/2010

Reviewed on Expert difficulty

Beastie Boys - "Body Movin'" vs. Lenny Kravitz - "Rock And Roll Is Dead"

What?! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Beastie Boys’ classic hip-hop dance song Body Movin’, smashed into Lenny’s inverted praise of Rock? Sign me up. From the start, the snare and guitar kick in, immediately contrasts with the Boys’ loud lyrics, and the song just continues to elevate itself from there, with both songs almost in a call and answer style as far as lyrics, and Lenny’s band dominating the rest of the sound via instrumentals. This song is a fun to listen to as it is to play, and even rapping along to it is a blast, provided you know the lyrics beforehand. It’s not particularly hard, but when it sounds this much fun, I’m actually glad it wasn’t too challenging. This keeps the focus on the song at all times, and everyone in the room is much better off for the experience. Check off another favorite for me. If I could give my star ratings a gold version ala Rock Band, this song would definitely have it.

Rating: 5/5

Pixies - "Debaser" vs. The Prodigy - "Invaders Must Die"

Honestly, mixing anything with the Pixies is a recipe for success. Mixing The Prodigy can make anything golden. Now that I’ve got that initial bias out of the way, I can be objective and say “Damn”. Try and imagine. Invaders Must Die is definitely the most prominent sound here, and it’s completely in full effect here, with the insane lyrics of Debaser being chopped, screwed, and scratched frantically and seemingly to the whims of The Prodigy’s beats. It’s such a strange and unique sound that it’s instantly startling and instantly likeable when you realize just how much talent is on display. Of course, playing nice with such an insane combination is an insane challenge as well. The entire chart repertoire of taps, scratches, and their variations are all on display here, and they’re all thrown at you at a fast pace that doesn’t give your fingers time to rest (or transition if you aren’t quick). Really, I’m not trying to sound intimidating, because I want EVERY player to give this track for a spin. I’m just saying, be prepared.To break it down lightly, it’s about 796 notes in 3 and ½ minutes. Prepare to be rocked.

Rating: 5/5

While a bit skimpy at only two tracks, the Hard Edge Mix Pack still stands with FSG’s best offerings. Hard rocking, meaty and bass driven, and full of energy plus challenge, its price may be a bit hard to swallow, but really. It’s The Pixies, The Prodigy, Lenny Kravitz, and the Beastie Boys all in the same place! If you are a fan of Dj Hero 2 at all, you need this as part of your collection. It represents some of the best it has to offer, and like its best work, defines why we play the game. Fun, creative, unexpectedly bumping mashups that look just as awesome to play as they sound. Crank up the bass, grab a mic. There’s greatness afoot.

Rating: 10

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Dividing By Zero - Tiësto Mix Pack Review

'Cause there ain’t a thing wrong with free music…

The Tiësto Mix Pack is here, and it’s funny, because I didn’t expect another mix pack so soon, but to get it this fast, and free no less, was something amazing. You can imagine my surprise and disbelief as I signed into the rewards site, got my promo code, and used it to download this one. “Could this be any good?” I thought, as I read through the tracklist. Characteristically, when it comes to Tiësto, I have a particular taste for his music. I don’t care too much for his original music, but I’m in love with his remixes. But here, in this DLC, we have a pack of Tiësto music…remixed by Tiësto himself. Dividing by Zero? Twilight zone? This is exactly what I felt like. Not knowing what to think, I watched the bar fill up and crossed my fingers.

What. It’s free. This is a win/win/win situation, no?

DJ Hero 2 "Tiësto Mix Pack (Sponsored by Coca Cola)" (Downloadable Content)
For: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Songs sold as individual tracks)
Publisher: Activision/Freestyle Games
Price: Free during promo period
Release: 11/23/2010

Reviewed on Expert difficulty

Tiësto feat. Tegan & Sara - "Feel It In My Bones"

Ironically proving my earlier statements, it’s funny that my remix philosophy about Tiësto comes to life with the first song in this pack! This version definitely has a bit more kick than the original (making it a better sounding song all around), but “Feel It In My Bones” is still the soothing, bouncy love anthem it always was. The charting kind of reflects this, with a moderate challenge that has a great deal of fun crossfades that indulge each side of the track with a bouncy rhythm, and a gradually increasing challenge that goes a bit wild in the end, but remains level throughout. It’s not a particularly hard song, but it’s one worth returning to not only for its sound, but for its charting. If you need to practice fast switching and spikes, this song has plenty, and the toe of the song makes it run to play around with as well.

Rating: 4/5

Tiësto feat. Emily Haines - "Knock You Out" vs. "Young Lions"

Tiësto songs and their taps! FSG seems to love charting his mixes with a boatload of taps to mix his rhythms, and this song is no different from anything on disc, with this mix staying true to title and threatening to knock me out. Emily Haines’ vocals dominate while the beat from Young Lions guides the rest of the track along and keeps it danceable. This is, of course, provided that you have time to dance between long stretches of rapid taps and wildly placed crossfades. This song becomes a bit insane by the halfway mark and can be hard to keep up with, but that seems to be half the fun intended; keeping up with all the taps while struggling to keep the platter still. It’s a better than average track, and even though it isn’t better than the one before it, there’s plenty of reasons to return for the track later. DJ battles are a must with this one, and really, if you feel like spraining a finger or two, that’s an option as well.

Rating: 4/5

Tiësto - "Louder Than Boom" vs. "Traffic"

I have a bit of a history with Louder Than Boom. Being no stranger to Rhythm games, I remember looking at this song in the “Extreme” category of Tap Tap Revenge (iPhone) and thinking, “Oh! This’ll be fun..” before being assaulted by what I can only describe was a torrent of skittles (and finger death) pouring down my screen. I still believe that song is virtually impossible to play perfectly, but thankfully, this version is a lot more manageable. High speed taps, easy scratches placed in tricky places, and middling crossfades are the order of the day here, as two high tempo high speed tracks collide with surprising energy. Traffic’s influence on the entire mix is defeinitely present though, as it makes the song sound much heavier, and more robotic, a feeling I shared as I played along with it. Many of the sections are similar as well, which kills the variety, but it’s a blast to play, especially when you’re on a roll and begin to feel the song (a given with a good Tiësto mix) Just beware of the final third. It’s a doozy.

Rating: 5/5

Tap tap revolution! It’s something I didn’t notice until I managed to finally play a bunch of Tiësto in a continuous block, but his songs are INCREDIBLY tap heavy. This is a very clever move on the developers part, as most of his music is Trance/Electro, and thus doesn’t have much need for scratches or even varied crossfading, depending on the track. It feels very much like running your own effects and sound equipment, and that’s a great design choice on their part. Overall, I enjoyed this one a great deal. It does reek a bit of advertising madness, being sponsored by Coke and all (along with just about all of these tracks being from his most recent album, Kaleidoscope) But at the low price of free, (if you caught it during promo week) combined with the fact that he always fits like a glove in this game, it makes for a great, listenable pack that I’ve taken to throwing on when I’m even just lounging around my house.

Tres excellent.

Overall: 8.0

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