Monthly Archives: February 2009

Review – Captain Dan: From the Seas to the Streets

Infamous pirate rapper Captain Dan is back with his Scurvy Crew in tow for another album full of cannons, wenches, rum, and gold. But does his latest adventure live up to past outings, or has the old captain finally run out of amusing chanties to throw our way?

When I was listening to the iTunes previews for the songs in “From the Seas to the Streets”, trying to decide whether or not I wanted to purchase it, I was disappointed with my initial 30 second glimpses. They didn’t seem to contain those same, accessible, catchy beats that made Captain Dan’s version of rap music entertaining even to someone like me, who traditionally stays away from the genre.

Frankly, it worried me. I didn’t want to lose my Captain Dan. I didn’t want him to turn into some overly serious act, interesting only to those heavily invested in the genre, more a parody of his former self than the genre he was originally taking off of.

Thankfully, he has avoided that fate.

Perhaps some of my initial worry was just a product of iTunes choosing the wrong 30 seconds to demo, but I think there’s more to it than that.

After springing for the full album in blind faith that Captain Dan wouldn’t do me wrong and subsequently listening to it all the way through, I realized I had been unfair during my preview. I was listening specifically for those overly catchy hooks and, yes, they are perhaps less obvious on the whole than on previous albums.

What’s gained in their place is greater variety and maturity (although I hesitate to use that particular term with this group for some reason) in song construction. It’s not less accessible, and certainly no less catchy, but it relies less on the overly obvious hooks of yore to achieve its goal this time around.

In another major step forward, more than on either of their previous albums I can listen to the whole thing all the way through without wanting to skip anything – either because of a joke that got tired, a hook that got old, or a song that was just never all that good in the first place. The album is strong all the way through – a notable accomplishment for any band, much less a “novelty” act like this one.

Overall, far from being significant downfall for the rapping pirate like I had at first feared, this is, on the whole, his strongest work yet.

Even the previously abysmal (but pathetically amusing) British rapper is decent this time around. They must have given him some serious lessons, because it’s a huge (and welcome) improvement.

This is also the first Scurvy Crew release where no two tracks really sound the same, even on first listen. The variety really is much appreciated. It makes it much easier to play the whole thing from start to finish without getting bored.

Admittedly they do retread a lot of the same themes. I mean, they’re rapping about piracy, there’s bound to be some overlapping topics now and again. That said, none of the tracks feel especially tired or flat. I already had my finger on the skip button when “Chests O’ Plenty” rolled around, threatening another strained take on the “oh, aren’t women and prostitutes just dandy” theme that I had learned to skip consistently on their previous two albums. Too much actual rap theming and not enough pirate in those particular cuts for my liking, I guess.

Imagine my surprise when I found that I actually loved the track. Euphemisms and puns abound and plenty of laughs are to be had here. It strikes the right balance between sexy, funny, pirate, and rap, and doesn’t stray too far toward any of the individual directions.

I’m not accusing “From the Seas to the Streets” of perfection. I’ll probably start skipping “That’s How We Row” before too long and I’m already not overly fond of “Diggin’ for Gold”. Still, the tracks aren’t poorly done. They just don’t resonate with me as much as others on the album do. Both are perhaps a tad minimalist for my tastes.

A couple of the tracks are modern rap takes on traditional pirate chanties and, let me say, this is a brilliant move. They change up the pace and provide amusing takes on what are sure to be familiar tunes to most listeners.

To even further raise the variety bar, they invited a couple of female guest rappers for “Ladies in Scarlet” to sing about how the better gender experiences life on the high seas.

Overall, wherever my worrying first impression came from, it was certainly a flawed one. This is one captain who has only improved with age. His third album has greater variety in rhymes and rhythms, more polish than ever before, far fewer duds than its two predecessors, and just as many catchy hooks and accessible head-bobbers to draw in those those not into rap that doesn’t happen to be fronted by a pirate.

Rap fans, pirate fans, humor fans, and those that just like a catchy beat should not hesitate to pick this one up. Nobody does the buccaneer technique quite like Captain Dan.


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First Impressions of a Street Fighter IV Newbie

So many different reviews of Street Fighter described how accessible it was, how good it was for players both new and old alike, how friendly it was to people who had either lapsed from Street Fighter or perhaps never even played it in the first place.

In a word: lies.

It was partially based on these statements that I decided to buy the game. Being almost completely new to the series, I lack even the most basic of basic knowledge when it comes to how to succeed in the game. I’ve written previously how I tried to get into Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and had my ass handed to me because it is most certainly not geared toward new players, which is fair enough. It wasn’t meant to draw in new blood.

According to many different sources, Street Fighter IV was. This excited me. As someone who had always wanted to like the series but never could quite get the grasp of it, the prospect of a somewhat more beginner friendly Street Fighter was highly compelling.

Such statements have greatly exaggerated the size of the welcome mat Street Fighter IV lays out to new players. For someone skilled at games, and even at fighting games, I still had a lot of trouble with my first session of SFIV. Even the easiest of easiest difficulties was somewhat frustrating. It was something I could get through, to be sure, but something that I nevertheless thought was too hard for being the easiest of the easy.

The training mode is certainly a better introduction than any other Street Fighter game has had (to my limited knowledge anyway) and I appreciate its inclusion. But it is highly imperfect in many ways. Among them, it fails to demonstrate any of the techniques it tells you to perform (making complicated learning more difficult than it should be) and, more importantly it doesn’t teach you technique. Having an easy way to learn combos and moves is great, but not especially useful if it doesn’t give me any idea how to use them. Something more along the lines of what has been offered in recent Virtua Fighters would have been wonderful (not that even a good training mode could get me to invest the time necessary to master Virtua Fighter, but that’s another story).

Admittedly, since I’m totally and completely stuck on cancels, maybe it gets there in the later lessons, but that would require me to be able to pass the cancel lessons. I’m not sure what is to blame for my complete failure at canceling, the training mode’s lack of instruction or my own lack of ability, but the end result is just as annoying either way.

I don’t doubt that I’m being a little hard on the game, as I am well aware that how much I suck at it is clouding my judgment, but that’s pretty much my point here. Getting into it is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be based on what I had heard. Honestly, I’m beginning to feel like some sort of inept freak for even speaking out against this game, as everything I’ve heard about it from all corners of the gaming world has been positively glowing. Maybe an inept freak is exactly what I am, but I still feel it’s important to voice my dissenting opinion, however small, if only in the hope that some day, fighting games in general, not just Street Fighter by a long shot, will take beginners more seriously and make more of an effort to teach them the fundamentals. I think that’s a major part of why fighting games have become less prominent in today’s gaming landscape than they used to be. If you’re not already indoctrinated it’s becoming harder and harder to find a game that will take you in and show you the ropes without prejudice.

All of that said, if it weren’t for those many, apparently inaccurate, statements claiming the game was good for newbies, I probably wouldn’t have purchased the game, so however misguided those statements are, coming from people who have undoubtedly loved the series for many years and already know how to play, I’m still glad they convinced me to buy the game.

However frustrating it may be at times, however many ways I think it falls shorter than it could for introducing new players, it is still, at its core, a fun game. I enjoy playing it and learning, however slowly, like no Street Fighter game I’ve ever picked up. I accept the fact that I am worthless at the game and am more than willing to keep at it and try and improve my skills to the point where someday, in the distant magical future, I’ll be good enough at the game that none of this beginner crap will matter to me anymore.

Until that day comes, I’ll be trying and failing to figure out what I’m doing wrong with cancels and crying a little inside every time I lose on the easiest difficulty setting.

Oh Street Fighter, how you torment me.

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This Week in Gaming – 2-16-09

This Week in Gaming returns! Find out what to buy and (more importantly) what to avoid amongst next week’s releases. Entertaining and informative, both at the same time! Revolutionary!

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This Week in Gaming – Week of February 9, 2009

Here’s a little experiment I did for a new weekly feature that I think it would be fun to start doing. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually stick with it. I do already have a lot of ideas for how to make the second one better. If you have any feedback, send it my way. Tell me what you think.

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Retro Chic

So apparently someone came up with the idea that it would be pretty cool to see what it would be like if classic games were rereleased many years down the line the same way classic books are now through those wonderful, cheap Penguin editions and such that you probably bought so many of for those high school English classes you loathed. The concept has now had time to germinate somewhat and crafty Interweb denizens the world over have gotten their hands on the concept. Some awesome things have resulted. Take a look at some of them for yourself, I highly recommend it.

See more: Let’s Go Play Some Books!

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Co-Op Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards. I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap. The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point. I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played. But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Cooperative Game

  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Rock Band 2

You know what? There was no contest here. Left 4 Dead wins this by a mile. I’m not going to spend a long time blabbering about why, primarily because I already have in a previous award. This is, plain and simple, one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever had, much less the best of 2008.

Playing through a game together with a friend is, to my taste, worlds more fun than competing against them. For a while it was something that was also fairly rare. I am pleased to see that more and more games are adding in co-op as a feature, and more of them are putting quite a bit of emphasis on it as well. None of them do it as well as Left 4 Dead, however. The visceral thrill of surviving the zombie hordes with the help of a good team and some decent strategy is simply unmatched.

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So Apparently iPhoto’s Faces Feature Isn’t Perfect

Having just installed iPhoto 09 recently, obviously one of the first things I did was to test out its spiffy new ability to detect faces in your photos. Well, let’s just say that it’s not quite perfect. I’m not saying it doesn’t work at all, but… well, just see for yourself.

Ok, so I’ll give it credit that this Christmas present label Santa is kind of technically a face, at least, but that doesn’t mean it’s not amusing anyway. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did tag another picture of said label Santa before this, so maybe this is actually an endorsement of the feature, not the other way around.

So this picture isn’t exactly one that I would normally be anxious to show off in a public setting, as it shows my apartment’s bathroom after a rather unpleasant plumbing accident. I’ll just leave the details at that. Still, the fact that iPhoto somehow found a face in this thing is more than worth putting this ugly pic on display.

And finally, apparently my family’s Chicago river cruise tour guide from a couple of summers ago resembles a plastic light-up Halloween skull that my roommate and I decided to name Yorick. Almost makes me feel sorry for the guy. I mean, you can’t deny the resemblance.

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