All entries for Saturday 21 February 2009

February 21, 2009

Comedy Reviews: Robin Ince and David O'Doherty

Robin Ince, Bleeding Heart Liberal, Stockton Arc, February 14th

I’ve never been to Stockton before, but lacking any notion of romance myself and the girlfriend headed over there to watch Robin Ince on Valentine’s Day. Over the course of two hours he tackles a huge variety of subjects, constantly going off on tangents, often not returning to the original topic. In this way it’s reminiscent of early Eddie Izzard, though in every other way that’s a bizarre comparison to make. Bleeding Heart Liberal is Ince’s best show to date, taking it politics, science, religion and all sorts of complex topics.

It’s a little too much for a group of people sat behind us, who spend most of the first half saying “I don’t get it” before muttering “we only understood the bit about the plastic bags” and leaving during the interval. It’s certainly not a show for the uninformed – while I enjoyed it there were some references that past even me by, but that’s part of the fun. There were clearly asides that my girlfriend understood that passed me by and vice-versa, but that has the brilliant effect of making you feel smarter than you actually are. Still, I’d defiantly recommend you at least have a rudimentary knowledge of current affairs and evolutionary theory before going to this show.

It went over the heads of a lot of Stockton and as such the audience reaction wasn’t what it might have been, but that didn’t diminish what is truly brilliant show. Also Robin Ince talks really fast so it’s great value for money.

David O’Doherty, It’s David O’Doherty Time, Darlington Hilarity Bites, February 15th.

This is an odd one to write, as I’m a self-confessed David O’Doherty fan. I first saw him in a field in Guildford some years ago after which the MC announced “Ladies and Gentleman, my new favourite comedian, David O’Doherty” to which I couldn’t help but agree.
In Edinburgh last year he finally got the big award he should have won about three years ago and has embarked on his first national tour and his show is good. But it’s not great.

O’Doherty basically does two things: funny songs on novelty keyboards, and anecdotal story-telling stand-up. He’s good a both, but the songs have always been where he’s really shined. But rather than intersperse them throughout the set they’re mostly confined to the start and end of each half of the show. This wouldn’t be so bad, but there is no structure or attempt at a theme for the show, so what we get is a bunch of unconnected stories and stand-up pieces. They’re all good but over two hours it gets a bit tiresome. Normally I’d just put that down to the nature of the form: anything over an hour is too long for most comics, but if you’re doing a tour people will expect a proper evening’s entertainment. So you either do longer, or hire a support act which is not generally financially viable.

But being a David O’Doherty fan means that I have a nagging feeling in the back of my head. I know he has a whole bunch of other songs. “Sent a Text to the Person the Text Was About” was oddly absent despite being his signature tune for a few years. He talks about sticking it to the man but “Corporations Don’t Fuck With the DoD” doesn’t get an airing (when later requested he “doesn’t have the right keyboard”). The publicity for the show says “There will be some sitting, there will be some standing, there will be a song called Bangin’ ”. He didn’t play Bangin’.

All the material in this show is great, the crowd loved him, but as a show it falls short. Which is sad as I wanted to write a really positive review talking about how there’s no comic like him and now he’s finally touring you should all go and see him. And you should. Tour dates here
But as a critic that can see the problems with the structure, and as a fan that knows the show could be a lot better, it was something of a let-down.
Perhaps nearer the end of the tour the kinks will be ironed out a bit, I’m almost tempted to go see it again in Wolverhampton to find out!

Game Review: Bully for Wii

5 out of 5 stars

There are a couple of valid criticism labelled at the Wii as a whole. First is that tons of its games are just a bunch loosely collected mini-games. The second is that those that aren’t are often just lazy ports from other consoles.

Bully brilliantly manages to flip both of these criticisms around and provide something truly unique.

It’s a game with a long history: originally released on PS2 under the title of Canis Canem Edit, the game has been re-worked for both the 360 and the Wii and given back its original title now the controversy has died down. For the record, you don’t play as a bully, you fight them. The media missed that little fact in their outrage.

What’s brilliant is that Bully plays like it was made for the Wii from the ground up, in many ways it’s a perfect fit. Because at its core, Bully is just a collection of mini-games, but a collection that is strung together so very well you don’t even realise.

There is no primary mechanic in this game. There’s no one thing you spend most of the game doing. An arguement could be made that the fist-fighting fits this as it features in a lot of missions, but at most it accounts for 30% of your play time. About the same amount of time is spent travelling from place to place or racing on skateboards or bikes, while the rest of the game involves taking photos, sneaking around, mowing lawns, delivering papers, throwing stink bombs, boxing, collecting things, playing drums and so on.

Bully throws you into a boarding school environment and lets you do whatever you want to. Going to one of eight different lessons starts a mini-game, which vary from playing dodge-ball in gym class to Brain Training style quizzes in Maths. Or you can skive off entirely and follow the storyline missions, do some side-quests or just go off and explore. On the other hand, attending the lessons and doing well will grant you special abilities which benefit you in the rest of the game.

Bully has one of those mindless collect-em-up subquests where you have to collect 75 elastic bands hidden throughout the world. I normally hate that sort of thing. They’re practically impossible without using a walkthrough or guide. Except in Bully, complete a certain geography lesson, and the approximate location of all the remaining ones is added to your map. So now if you’re in an area for a mission, have some time to kill, and see there’s a band nearby, you can search that area for a quick diversion.

It’s that sort of pacing that also makes Bully such a brilliant game. You get up just before school starts in the morning, and have to be in bed by the end of the night or you’ll collapse. This provides just the right amount of structure in the otherwise free-form game. You can start of in class in the morning, go out on missions of lunch time, head back to class if you’re nearby when afternoon lessons start, stay out and skive if you’re not. The evening is spent with either continuing on missions or doing some sub-quests before heading back to your dorm for the night.

Or perhaps you really want to do both classes that day so spent lunchtime around the school grounds searching for collectables. Since each day isn’t particular long either, it has that brilliantly compulsive “just one more day” aspect that will keep you playing until 4am in the morning.

With all these opportunities for choice, Bully could be a disaster. Sure, you could try and ‘power-game’ it, ignoring the main storyline and doing all the of the classes as soon as possible, but the positioning of each element and the pacing of the game pushes you away from that and actively encourages you to spread your time around, to the point that when you finish the main storyline, you’ll have done a good chunk of the side-quests, but still have a few things to finish off afterwards if you so wish.

Despite it’s brilliance, Bully has been mostly over-looked when it comes to ‘must-have’ Wii games, probably because it’s seen as being ‘just a PS2 port’. But the fact is, the game is far more at home on the Wii that it ever was elsewhere. The piece-meal, mini-game centred approach, with multiple mechanics that all use the Wii controller in a different way is what the Wii does best. The controls are nearly perfect, with the one exception of it asking you to hit + and – at the same time – try that without hitting the Home button (wonderfully, the same section on the PC version asked you to press mouse wheel up and mouse wheel down together).

There’s probably not enough new stuff in this version of Bully to make it worthwhile if you’ve played it on the PS2, but if you haven’t played it at all it’s complete must-have for the Wii. An exceptional game that proves that the words “console port” and “mini-games” don’t have to spell failure for the Wii.

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