Category Archives: OMFG

OMFG – Singstar

I was once in a school production of the popular musical Grease. During my years treading the boards I was very much in the mould of Daniel Day Lewis, so the transformation from a clumsy, waif-like boff to streetwise American proto-hipster was within my range and my performance was well received. There was, however, a catch. One of the downsides to landing a part in a musical is that you are often required to sing. Now, some would say my inability to hold a note would rule me out of contention entirely, but my talent was so vast (or the pool so shallow) that my teachers had to come to a ingenious solution. They simply suggested that I mime the singing bits. Perfect. A musical without live performance and a performer told he’s so shit he should probably just shut up. Inspiring. Leave no child behind.

You would therefore expect that video game karaoke would be somewhat unpopular round our way; seeing as it combines my greatest passion with my biggest weakness. It’s like a kryptonite cape; familiar and iconic but also constantly draining me of my life force. But my Singstar story is a tale of triumph over adversity. I once glanced through a collection of my PlayStation trophies and I discovered that my rarest was for Singstar. The criteria? Simply playing it for bloody ages. What I might lack in talent, I more than make up in persistence. Just give me a chance Simon, I won’t let you down. I always give 110%.

This thousand hour love story; told across generations; peppered with conflict, friendship and even a wedding; begins with a simple click of the fingers. A strong, purposeful beat delivered elegantly by a well-manicured hand. As the fingers slam upon the palm with a raw rhythmic power, the hand balls delicately around the wrist with an effortless flourish. The image has the grace of ballet but the sound has intensity of cannon fire. Surely this is a call to arms. What comes next will be remembered for eons:

People always talk about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
All the things they’re all about
Hey oh hey oh hey oh
Write it on a piece of paper
Got a feeling I’ll see you later

For the uninitiated, these are the words of poet and academic Jamelia, taken from her seminal early 00’s release “Superstar”. This deeply provocative and timeless piece was chosen as the main theme for the first version of Singstar released on the PS2 back in 2004. Aside from its complex, layered exploration of all the things we’re all about, Superstar was also a perfect introduction to the world of competitive singing. In a game where sound was objectively valued and given a score, Superstar was ideal given that it was so monotone it could probably be performed to reasonable standard by Droopy the Dog.

You see, Singstar doesn’t care if you sound good, it just cares that you sound right. As the glittering bars fill the screen it patronisingly assures you that you’ve nailed it. You definitely sound just like Minnie Ripton. But as anyone nearby possessing a pair of ears will attest to, playing the footage back can be a dispiriting experience. Even if you hit all the right notes in the right order, you still sound awful you bloody drunk.

Which is where stage presence, a.k.a showing off, comes in. The PlayStation 3 version introduced the ability to record a short snippet of your performance which you could then play back at the end. The genius of this addition was that it gave you the heads up that it was coming so that you could prepare. Here it comes. Your spotlight.

My PS3 is filled to the brim with powerfully embarrassing ten second clips of myself, my wife and my close friends stumbling around living rooms briefly convinced of our own talent. Sofa cushions quickly appropriated into Jamiroquoi style hats. Scissor Sisters impressions that somehow manage to be more camp than the originals. You have not known pain until you’ve witnessed two nerds from East Anglia perform “Beep” by Will .I.Am and The Pussycat Dolls. Think you’ve reached peak cringe? Think again bitches. Here we all are making gang signs during Fix Up Look Sharp.

Great performances called for synchronisation. Teamwork. I consider Singstar to be one of the finest co-op games of all time. In duet mode, the score between you was shared and you would naturally assist one another by in one continuous feedback loop. Find yourself totally out of key in the chorus whilst your partner is nailing it, and a quick shift of concentration from what you’re seeing to what you’re hearing could find your voice clicking into place. Their enthusiasm, their passion and their enjoyment helped motivate too. Often hitting the right notes was just a case of giving it some welly. And with your high scores signed off with a photo of the victorious pair, there was plenty of scope for further shenanigans. The games unusual scoring system, where each song is capped at 10 000 points regardless of its difficulty, meant that perfection always felt tantalisingly within reach. A friend an I once agonisingly hit 9 800 on Supergrass’ Richard III. A mere 200 somethings from a technically perfect Gaz Coombes. It truly was the hardest thing you’ll never know.

Of course it wasn’t all about attributing value to art. Scores were all well and good but sometimes it was fun to just try and attempt something that was nigh on impossible to sing. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys has some truly next level harmony shit going on. “Rock Me Amadeus” required you to learn how to rap in German on the fly. “Take on Me” had that winning combination of lulling you into a false sense of security during the verses before detonating your lungs during the chorus. But The Bees’ “Chicken Payback” was Singstar on Legendary mode. Its insanely difficult, tongue-twisting tale of financial transactions within the animal kingdom required the kind of concentration normally only seen in the operating theatre, and remained a firm favourite long after the wider world had completely forgotten about its existence.

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There is a PS$ version but it’s bum. This is where it’s at, complete with main theme provided by Wolfmother (no, me neither)

Which is also the kind of thing that’s responsible for one of the games more obscure, accidental charms. Due to its relatively brief period of insane popularity, Singstar is a pretty good record of music during the mid to late 00’s. The mix of classics with what was popular at the time means that the likes of Bowie, Presley and The Rolling Stones rub shoulders with the “remember-thems?” of Orson, Ne-Yo and Daniel Bedingfield. Nostalgia in video games is generally restricted to the game itself. Unlike music, film or television, they very rarely reference outside of the medium. But Singstar has the early century coursing through its veins. It’s emotive of that time in a way that normally only music manages.

Of course, the relevance of this will largely depend on what you were doing at that time. Me? I’d just moved into a house with this lady I fancied and was enjoying those few blessed years of freedom before we lost our minds long enough to think it was a good idea to have children. Is it an exaggeration to say that our relationship was forged and cemented within Singstar? Possibly. But for a couple of years, this is what we did together. Our Friday nights were spent drinking every last remaining drop of liquid in the house whilst destroying the entire history of pop music. I’m not proud of it, but we got through several sets of neighbours during this time.

But those performances! The hours spent perfecting our Paula Abdul and MC Skat Cat or our Beyonce and The Other Two. The time we discovered that we could completely smash Parklife (this is probably largely down to the fact that I was born and raised in the same town as Blur and also that I’m married to Phil Daniels). I’m fairly certain the last time we saw my grandad before he died, we signed off our relationship by delighting him with a rendition of Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers”.

Or even that day we got married. Yes, I’m afraid to say, we’re one of those insufferable couples that did “a thing” at our wedding (although this was nearly ten years ago now so I consider us to be trailblazers in the world of lol random first dances). Run DMC’s “Tricky”, our go-to Singstar track, performed in full with the kind of enthusiasm you only get after a day of everyone doing everything you want and several thousand gallons of booze.¬† We’d managed to keep it secret until the performance so I’m sure we delighted and confused in equal measure. Although I do remember my best man cheerfully shouting in my ear afterwards that it was “the best thing I have ever seen, which was probably the most important and life-changing thing anyone had said to me all day.

This is going to sound naff as all fuck, but in many ways Singstar is more than a game to me. It’s a collection of memories. I dread to think of the money I spent on it over the years in its numerous guises or on its “only a pound per song” DLC, but without it I might never have learned how to rap a rhyme that’s right on time. I might never have learned that I have exactly the same vocal range as Thom Yorke (honestly, it’s spooky. My scores were consistently the worst amongst my friends except for Radiohead where I would always inexplicably smash it). I almost certainly would never have discovered that Dido’s “Thank You” is immeasurably improved with the introduction of a foul-mouthed hype man. So if it’s all the same to you Mr Smith and Mrs Heare, I won’t be miming during Greased Lightning thank-you-very-much. I’m going to sing. And to Singstar;

I want to thank you.
(Wanna mother fucking thank you)
For giving me the best day-ay of my life
(Of my mother fucking life)
And oh-oh, just to be with you
(Just to mother fucking be with you)
Is having the best day of my life.

 

 

 

OMFG – Super Monkey Ball

In the first in what I hope to be an illustrious and widely celebrated series, OMFG (standing for ‘OneofMyFavouriteGames’) will be a collection of love letters to the very best gaming has to offer. It won’t just be a list of Nintendo and rhythm action titles, I promise.

As has been documented elsewhere on this here blog, I am far from a social butterfly. I’m more a grumpy moth, and anyone that has had the displeasure of being a guest in my house will have experienced the nagging sensation that I want them to clear off so I can get back to quietly sobbing myself to sleep. But for one brief moment back in the early 00’s, my tiny student digs was one of East Anglia’s premier nightspots. Revellers came from near and far (other rooms in the flat and just over the road) to sample the simple delight of flinging a monkey down a bowling alley. Not literally of course; one of my housemates was studying animal sciences and wouldn’t stand for any of that caper; but within the confines of a video game that only ever could be created by Sega at their sunny day, simplistic, batshit best. This was Super Monkey Ball and it was totally bananas.

Before I go off on one about the multi-player (heralded by the fantastically cheesy and confusing inclination of the voice sample ‘party games…?!’, as if the game was questioning your decision to find fun in flinging an ape down a ramp and send it soaring through the sky), I should perhaps spend some time taking about the solo experience.

It was alright.

I’m being flippant of course. But talking about the perfectly serviceable maze based challenges that made up the solo campaign strikes me like focusing on the quiet shared understanding when you catch a chimp’s gaze rather than how funny it is when they throw their shit at each other or wank themselves off. Perhaps it was a nobler pursuit; a more elegantly designed and thoughtful section of the game. Perhaps more satisfying too; I daresay an entire generation of gamers have the first time they cleared the level Expert 7 etched into their memory.

But it just plain wasn’t as fun as the other bit. In a game as infectiously colourful as this, the image of a solo player perched on the edge of their chair, face locked in grim determination just doesn’t seem like a good fit. No. For me, Monkey Ball was a bunch of mates drunkenly cheering, jeering and dropping c-bombs with wild abandon.

You see, Monkey Ball, and Monkey Bowling in particular, was such a big part of our social lives it was responsible for creating an entire dictionary of terminology. And most of these revolved around the concept of “Cunting Over”. At this juncture I feel the need to point out here that we were about as far removed from a bunch of roudy ladz and laydeez as you could possibly imagine. For starters we were spending our student days indoors perfecting our bowling spins rather than trying to have sex with each other. So Lord only knows how repeated use of the word cunt became such an integral part of this cheerful little game but it’s origins are now lost in a cloud of rizla papers and cheap wine.

Anyway, Cunting Over was essentially giving the next player the minor inconvenience of having to wait for the ball to roll down the alley before they could have their go. If your first ball resulted in one remaining pin then you were in prime cunting territory. Get your shot lined up perfectly and then set the monkey on his way with minimum power and his agonising crawl down the lane towards a spare was seen as the ultimate insult. Manage something a little bit more flashy; like adding a bit of spin or knocking down more than one pin and your cunting would be elevated to the status of “Mimi’s Golden Cunts”. Balls it up by not achieving the spare and you’d feel the dark terrible shame of contributing to “Gongon’s Cunting Blunders”. It was a beautiful example of adding your own pointless twist. Nothing more than a stylish flourish to make loses that little bit more humiliating.

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In my head, this delightful collection of family friendly apes basically represent the word “cunt”

At the danger of turning this into a post of in-jokes and you-had-to-be-there’s, Monkey Ball is also responsible for the most hilarious argument I have ever beared witness to. Myself and three others decided to have a quiet evening trying to land on the tiny, moving, big point platforms in Monkey Target (given the decidedly less offensive but equally satisfying term of “plinthing”).¬†Suddenly another member of our group burst through the door. Now, it’s safe to say this chap was a bit of a loose cannon and it was clear he had been on the booze so the sight of his furious face was cause to drop the pad. Fag half hanging out of his mouth, pacing around the room like a scenery-chewing villain from a Guy Ritchie film, he proceeded to lay into us for having the gall to play a four player game with four players and not rushing out to fetch him first. “Oh well. This is very fucking cosy isn’t lads? Very cosy. Having a nice little game of Monkey Ball are you? HAVING A NICE FUCKING GAME OF MONKEY BALL?!” It’s rather difficult to take a hardman routine seriously when the subject is an abstract children’s game featuring a kawaii girl monkey with a bow in her hair. Safe to say we have drifted apart since.

This was all within our first year, and although many games came and went during our time together, Monkey Ball remained a constant. Occasionally we’d dabble in the glorious chaos of a Monkey Fight or the seemingly endless relaxation offered by a game of Monkey Golf, but really, it was all about bowling. The sequel smartly offered a twist on this winning formula by introducing the “crazy lanes”; a series of increasingly difficult challenges with warping, twisting alleys or pin protecting obstructions which made cunting over all the more difficult. I later read that Monkey Bowling was essentially “broken” and that strikes could easily be achieved by lining up in a certain way. I’m very pleased that none of us managed to stumble upon this One Weird Trick or the game would have effectively been ruined. Perhaps we would have done if we weren’t spending all our time trying to get into Mimi’s Golden Cunts.

You might think I’ve not spent a lot of this post explaining what makes Super Monkey Ball a good video game and you’d be completely right. But then sometimes what makes a game one of your favourites isn’t the quality of the game itself but how you remember it. It’s your tiny room rammed with new friends, passing the pad long into the night. It’s finding the perfect ice breaker, a game so gorgeous in simplicity that literally everyone wanted to play it. It’s someone pouring a pint of vodka and coke on your bed but you don’t care because your having too much fun, honest, it’s fine I’ve completely forgotten all about it. Like a song that reminds you of a special night, a game can be a reminder of the friendships that you forged that will hopefully last a lifetime.

And then it’s the simple joy of cunting those pricks over.

Anyone for a party game..?!