Surprise! – “The Now Now” Review

Remember that time, just over a year ago, when I thought that “Humanz” was gonna be the last Gorillaz album? Remember that? When I continuously defended it to the weirdly many detractors I came in contact with because it was one of my favorite bands in the world coming together with lots of other artists to comment on the state of the world in a bunch of beautiful, genre-bending tracks? And I wrote a whole review on it thinking it was gonna be the last one ever?

Oh… well… uh… Gorillaz is back now. I guess “Humanz” wasn’t their last album, huh? Surprise!

I’m joking around a little, but gosh was I not expecting this album as fast as it came. Well actually, I wasn’t expecting this album at all, but here we are! I wanna do “The Now Now” the same justice I gave “Humanz,” but as I sit here writing this intro, I don’t feel like I have the same sort of emotional investment in this album as I did the last one. I’m not at all saying it’s a bad album – it’s great. But the fact it came so quickly and was accepted so easily into the fanbase makes it seem so much less of a big deal than “Humanz” was.

So, anyway, I’m gonna do my best here because I love Gorillaz, and I feel… complicated about this album. I apologize in advance, because while this review starts out pretty run-of-the-mill, it kinda gets weird toward the end. I wanna reiterate that I don’t think this is a bad album, and yet… it really disappointed me in a way I have trouble voicing throughout the post. I hope you enjoy anyway.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Redemption – The Sims 4 Seasons Review

Last time I talked about the Sims, it was maybe not in the most positive or optimistic of lights. It seemed like the game was stuck in a rut that I wasn’t sure it would ever be able to struggle its way out of.

And yet… things have changed since that post. Since I wrote about EA’s greed ruining a franchise I loved, huge news dropped regarding the newest expansion… one Sims fans have been asking for for a long time. Seasons.

It’s out now and… boy is it good. It’s good enough that it makes me feel better about this franchise’s future… and that’s really saying something, considering how the popular theory in the Sims fandom not too long ago was that Sims 4 was on its way out.

How did one expansion turn the fandom’s opinion around so totally? Well… it’s a lot of factors, from the quality of the expansion itself, to the context surrounding it, to the way it was advertised and released.

The Expansion Itself

I wanna start with this because I think it’s the most important. No amount of good PR for a below-average expansion could have saved the Sims from the My First Pet Stuff debacle, in my opinion. And though packs came out after MFPS that were good (I have since gotten Jungle Adventures and actually really enjoyed it), these packs still had that problem of nicheness. Sims needed a pack that would appeal to a broad range of simmers, and affect the game enough that it couldn’t be brushed off as a waste of money.

It also, of course, had to be good. And Seasons is really, really good.

Let’s start off with a little info on what I, personally, like to see in a Sims expansion. Ideally, expansions should have the most game-changing content of the three types of DLC for this game. That means they should have a broad assortment of new CAS items, new objects, and new gameplay. I also think the best expansions have broad appeal – that is, no matter what type of simmer you are, you can find something to enjoy in the new content. And finally, I feel as though expansions especially should really change how the game runs and improve upon the game to a degree that playing the game without that expansion would be markedly different.

I was very impressed with both the CAS and object selections from this new pack. We got a nice look at the new CAS items in the livestream, and then and now I was struck by how diverse the new clothing and hairstyles look. It’s clear the Sims team has been working hard on making their textures look more unique and realistic than ever. I like how the clothing items all have many color options and all look like something people would wear in real life.

Also, I have to give props to the new hairstyles in particular. The Sims team has commented that they’ve been working to make the Sims 4 more diverse and inclusive, and this pack’s focus on textured hairs really puts their money where their mouth is. The new hairstyles are gorgeous, and are different than anything I’ve ever seen from this series, and is a nice step forward toward more inclusivity. I hope the team continues to add content like this to the game.

The bulidmode objects are chock full of fun new decorations for all the holidays, which is something I, as a person who loves realism in their game, really appreciate. I can see people who wouldn’t be as excited about these as I am, because it may seem like a hassle to decorate your sim’s house for each new holiday and season, but for people who love to get into the weeds of all that detail, it’s a welcome addition. Plus, most of the decorations are versatile, with swatches for as many holidays and seasons as I can think of.

Discussion of decorations, though, leads me right into the gameplay features of this new pack. And there’s a lot of good stuff here.

On the subject of decor, I have to commend the attic box decoration feature. While I loved Sims 3 Seasons, one of the more annoying aspects of it was the lack of customization available for exteriors of houses, and how what customization there was was a really huge hassle to mess around with. Sims 4 has found a slick way to make exterior decoration much easier and more engaging, with a surprisingly dense selection of different decorations that are applied easily to the outside of sims’ houses. I also love how other houses in the neighborhood also decorate for each holiday… it really adds to the realism and makes the world feel connected, even if it’s not open.

Moving onto those holidays, though, huge props for making the giant improvement to allow players to create their own holidays. This is a feature I immediately wanted to use as soon as I got my hands on it, and it’s just so intuitive, versatile, and fun that I can’t imagine a Seasons pack without it.

The calendar function is useful for more than just these holidays, though. I absolutely adore the option to plan parties in advance – before, my sims rarely threw parties just because it was weird that you had to plan them the day of. Now, it’s easy to just throw a party out a few days before it happens, giving the player a chance to plan and prepare.

Weather is also a huge addition to the game, and it’s as gorgeous as I expected. I love how dramatic the weather can be – from huge blasts of lighting to vicious blizzards. Plus, it adds an element of risk to the game I haven’t seen anywhere except maybe in Jungle Adventure, because the weather actually is quite dangerous for your sims. Sending them out into the cold without the proper gear or letting them just run around outside during a storm puts their lives actually at risk, just like in real life, and there are moodlets to reflect that. I like that this pack adds stakes to decisions, and makes it so a player can’t just run around willy-nilly without any consequence.

Every season feels distinct and different from each other, and the weather is a big factor in that. Even summer, which is more or less the “default” season that the base game was stuck in eternally before this pack came out, feels different, with heat waves and bright colors that make it distinct from the darkness of fall and winter. And I’m not sure if this is true but it seems to me that the team also put hard work into retexturing the sky… I got this beautiful screenshot of Brindleton Bay in fall as soon as I booted up the game with Seasons for the first time, and I don’t remember the moon ever looking so bright and beautiful with this game.

128

There’s a lot more to discuss in the gameplay, but I feel like I’d be repeating myself. Seasons seems to have touched every part of this game, to the point where everything feels new and exciting, and the level of realism has really been dialed up. I also love the changes to gardening and the scarecrow feature and scouting and the new objects sims can interact with and… if I praised everything I liked, we’d be here all day.

And I do want to touch a bit on the context surrounding this game, and its popular reception within the fandom, because I think that is another thing that set this expansion apart from the others.

The Context

Seasons was the first expansion pack for the Sims 4 I’ve felt legitimate excitement for. And that’s… huge. If you read my last post about my disappointment with how EA was treating the expansions in TS4, you’ll know that that’s huge for me. And while the expansion itself is great and that helped, I also can’t help but think that how the expansion was revealed to the fandom, and what was different about the marketing, did help.

First of all, it’s good to know that Seasons has been asked for for a long, long time. Seasons was one of the most popular expansions from both Sims 2 and Sims 3, and so people were clamoring for it for Sims 4 as well, basically as soon as the base game came out. But after much of the negativity that came along with My First Pet Stuff, I saw a lot of people joking that instead of a full Seasons pack, we’d be getting split gamepacks for each season or something to that effect.

But then, suddenly, with really only a bit of warning, the trailer dropped. And suddenly the mood in the fandom was like night and day. Suddenly, people were excited about this game again. It was cautious, in some cases, but the game just looked so good in the trailer, and most importantly, the announcement came only a month before the release date.

In a lot of ways, I think this was a huge positive for the reception of Seasons. Giving the fandom less time to speculate and tear the information we had to shreds before the actual expansion dropped and keeping that time dense with livestreams and gurus answering questions on Twitter. This kept excitement high and harsh critique to a low.

I think that overall improved the fans’ overall perception of this game pack. It was a sudden surprise, which is exciting, and the short month between the surprise and the actual drop of the pack was filled with even more exciting reveals. What disappointments there were (major ones I can think of only being the lack of snow depth and the lack of a new world), were overall not that big of a deal to most of the people I saw discussing the pack, and more often than not the tone was excitement.

And that coming from a group of fans that not too long ago was griping over a dying game series spitting out bad packs no one really wanted is a huge step forward. And this expansion, with everything its brought along with it, has really reinvigorated my love for this series, and made me hopeful for where it’s going to go in the next few years.

I’m so happy to be able to say that.

It Takes Effort – “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino” Review

I originally had a different idea for this week’s post, but after I realized that Arctic Monkeys’ new album “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino” was going to be released this week, I dropped everything to write a review of it.

This is Arctic Monkeys’ first album since their 2013 hit “AM.” I was introduced to the band by that album, like many people were, charmed by their swagger-filled alt rock sound behind the crooning, smooth vocals of lead singer Alex Turner. “AM,” I think, is a fantastic primer to the band’s work, accessible, catchy, and instantly understandable. I love “AM.”

This album is not “AM,” though.

Continue reading

At Home in the Valley

I’ve found a lot of value recently in calm, quiet places I can escape to for a while to relax. College is great, but it’s also essentially like living at school all the time, so I have a bad habit of getting wrapped up in my schoolwork constantly if I don’t have a good place to calm down and distract myself.

I’ve found a lot of these places, and I want to talk about one of them today. Stardew Valley.

Continue reading

The “Heathers” Remake: Oh God, It’s Bad

So thanks in part to an incredible on-campus performance of “Heathers” my boyfriend and I went to recently, my love for this musical has been rekindled. And just in time for terrible, horrible tragedy to strike – of course. A “Heathers” remake.

Oh god. Here we go.

Continue reading

The Next Best Thing – “Fire Emblem Warriors” Review

There’s a variety of different franchises I would love to see Super Smash Bros-styled fighting games made of. Among these many franchises is the Fire Emblem franchise. With a huge variety of colorful characters, all with associated weapons and fighting types, as well as a dedicated and growing fanbase, it seems like it would be a great fit

And, well, we still don’t have that. But we do have “Fire Emblem Warriors”, and that’s kind of the next best thing.

Continue reading

The Choice was Never Yours – A “Doki Doki Literature Club” Analysis

(The following post will contain major spoilers for a really, really good game. It’s free on Steam, so if you haven’t yet played it, close this post and do it! It’s about a 4ish hour experience. Do heed the content warnings, however. This game is not for the faint of heart… and I mean it.)

When I heard about “Doki Doki Literature Club” (henceforth referred to as DDLC), I wasn’t expecting too much of it. Sure, a psychological horror game disguised as an anime-styled dating sim sounds like a fun little novelty, but I was expecting the scares to be cheap. You know, your usual jumpscares and incoherent plot leading to more jumpscares. I was expecting a game for youtubers to record their reactions to so we can all have a little chuckle about how 2spooky these anime girls are. What I was not expecting was a genuinely horrifying and yet somehow heartfelt story about the nature of choice.

Continue reading