Strongly recommended [Open Thread]

I spent the weekend with a mild cold, which still persists. The worst part isn’t the physical symptoms, but the sense that my brain is fogged up, which led to an interesting series of careless mistakes in the lab yesterday. (Fortunately I didn’t break anything.) On the other hand, my illness gave me a good excuse to spend the weekend with my new video game purchase.
New Super Mario Bros.: It’s really good to have a new side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. game. Of course, the 3D installments Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are both outstanding games, but the 2D platformers have their own character that is revived in this DS edition. This was the game that sold me on the DS and so far it has not been a disappointment; it’s a worthy addition to the series. Previous games managed either solid level design with some attendant repetitiveness (Super Mario World), or quirkiness but with an uneven feel (Super Mario Bros. 3). This game manages to find a happy medium in which the levels are distinctive but well-balanced. One aspect imported from the Super Mario 64-style is an appeal to my obsessive completist instinct: I haven’t been able to leave a world without collecting all the star coins and opening secret exits. Fortunately these tasks are challenging enough to be interesting but not so much as to be frustrating. I’m now halfway through World 7 and some of the star coins are pretty deviously placed; it remains to be seen how much longer I make it before I give up on completeness and make a run for the end of the game. Rating: 4.5/5
Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood: I mentioned this book in an earlier entry, but I want to give it a proper review. One of the things I like about Murakami is his extensive use of surrealism, but this book was different in that there was no surrealism at all; in fact it is the most straightforward and accessible of all of his writings. Despite the lack of this distinctive element I enjoyed it as a beautifully written and resonant love story. Murakami’s protagonists are typically introverts, but Toru Watanabe particularly so, and much of the book concerns his sense of isolation and his search for connection to others. So it’s not hard to see why I identified with this character, although to a lesser extent I saw parts of myself in each of the characters. (In fact, it’s tempting to say “If you want to understand me, read this book,” but Toru and the others are also different from me in various respects, so it might just confuse the issue.) This book also made me realize how unfamiliar I am with The Beatles: the song that’s referenced in the title was central (so naturally I went and listened to it) and many of their other songs are mentioned as well. It’ll be a few years before I get to ’60s music in my ongoing survey, but maybe I should remedy my ignorance sooner than that. Rating: 4/5
Islands: Return to the Sea: I was skeptical of this band with their insular-themed name and lyrics and calypso-tinged music, but this turns out to be one of the best albums so far this year. In fact the calypso elements combine with guitars (and strings and horns) to create terrific pop songs that are sometimes light-hearted and sometimes epic. The best songs come at the beginning: “Swans (Life after Death)”, “Humans”, and “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” are all top-notch. and “Rough Gem” comes in just behind the first three in quality. After an instrumental track there’s a slight departure in style with “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone”, which adds a dash of hip-hop with mixed results. “Jogging Gorgeous Summer” is beautiful, and “Volcanoes” is fun; the last couple of tracks after this aren’t as exciting, but only because what came before was so good. This is a great album for these warm summer days; buy it and take it to the beach. Rating: 4.5/5

5 thoughts on “Strongly recommended [Open Thread]

  1. Mason

    NSMB: I have been having a lot of fun with this, although I think I have thus far spent a lot less time with it than you have. I am starting by going through worlds lightning fast without being anal about collecting things, and I plan to go back and find more exits later. The death match is fun, and I have a real “winning” move as mega-Mario in the underground level (or at least the underground level with several layers of bricks). The key is to start at the top and ground-pound through all 4-5 layers until you die. Well, that’s what I did, in any event.
    Calypso can be cool, by the way. Harry Belafonte has some good stuff…
    And “Norweigan Wood” is a beautiful song… but not as beautiful as “Octopus’s Garden.”

  2. Lemming

    I think he dies when he gets to the part where someone left a couch partially obstructing the designated fire-escape route.
    “. . . And then you die.”

  3. Arcane Gazebo

    Josh: Ewww.
    Mason: Oh yeah, I meant to say something about the versus mode in my review, but forgot. I’ve only played it with you guys when I was in Pasadena a few weeks ago, but it definitely gets a thumbs up.
    Shellock: I have managed to die a lot of stupid deaths attempting to stomp on Koopas, since the target area seems a bit smaller than in previous games and I have a tendency to miss and land just in front. Or, when trying to make a Koopa-assisted jump across a pit, miss and plummet to my death.
    Of course, this means that every time there’s a turtle on the screen I can say “This is the part where I always get killed.” :)

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