Friday, March 28, 2014

Nick Greco's Top Five Favorite Comedians - Interview

Photo pulled from Greco's Facebook
It is well-known among his peers that twelfth grade Ringgold High School student Nick Greco loves stand-up comedy. Not only does he pour tons of time into watching stand-up online and on television, but he also aspires to be a comedian himself. He loves a wide variety of different styles of stand-up, so in turn, he loves many different comedians. After a talk, his top five favorite comedians were revealed. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Dave Chappelle
After a lot of thinking he was ready to say his first performer, the loud-mouthed Dave Chappelle. “As a child I remember always watching him,” Greco said. He said that four to five years ago he started watching his stand-up. He also enjoys the comedian’s show, “The Dave Chappelle Show,” having said it is “about the same [quality].” He said he likes Chappelle because “he appeals to a wide variety of people.”

2. Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks
He likes the politically-motivated and often dark Bill Hicks a lot, as well. Hicks does “philosophical comedy” that is “truthful,” Greco said. “He had really good material” that was “never the same,” he went on to say. One bit he remembers in particular is from the “early 90s,” according to him, about Jay Leno. Greco explained that the bit would poke fun at Leno’s strange behavior and lack of talent, despite success. Hicks was explained as “somewhat like” the next performer he discussed…

3. George Carlin
George Carlin, a comedian best known for his talent as an intricate wordsmith, was described by Greco as very personally inspirational. “[Carlin] makes you want to do standup comedy,” Greco said. Greco described Carlin’s quality as “very consistent” throughout the many years he performed. He especially enjoys Carlin’s bits on “euphemisms” and something called “free-floating hostility.” “He went too early,” Greco said, even though he does realize that the man lived a long life.

4. Eddie Murphy
The next comedian he expressed his love for was Eddie Murphy, a talent who got his start on “Saturday Night Live.” Greco said he “like[s] his really early movies,” such as “Beverly Hills Cops” and “Coming to America.” The special “Delirious” is one of his favorites, he also said. One bit that he thought back on was about Murphy’s “uncle’s wife looking like a gorilla,” he explained. “Also an influence,” Greco said.
Dane Cook

5. Dane Cook
The most controversial pick from Greco is Dane Cook, a very popular comedian surrounded by multiple claims of plagiarism. He said he “never really noticed” the joke stealing even after looking into it, but noted it would be a “big ethical issue” if he did do so. He described Cook as “very relatable” and “very consistent,” and said “I like that he’s very loud.” “I’d like to see more of him,” he concluded.

Greco’s love for standup comedy is certainly apparent. It was clear that he could have discussed more comedians he loves, but these are his top five favorites. These men have a special place in his heart, because of the laughs, memories and inspiration they provided for him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Video Game) - Review

Remember E3 of 2010, when Microsoft and Sony scrambled to get us to care about their motion control peripherals, while Nintendo mostly ignored its own to show off fun video games? One of the couple brand new games that were announced for Wii was Donkey Kong Country Returns. I was absolutely enamored by this game, developed by Retro Studios of Metroid Prime fame. Returns was an absolutely enthralling experience for me, with its stiff challenge and frantic platforming sequences. Naturally, I was excited when the sequel, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, was announced for Wii U. I've played the new game extensively, and I can safely say that it's more of the same, but nothing more.

Tropical Freeze begins and ends with stunningly detailed and meticulously animated CG cut-scenes that bookend a mind-numbingly simple and goofy story that does its job of adding a touch of purpose to the adventure. An army of no-good Penguins freeze the jungle the Kongs live in as well as the surrounding area. They must be stopped, and bananas must be collected along the way to feed into Donkey Kong's dangerously strong addiction. It's vague, but it's fun. 

The visuals are great in Tropical Freeze. Stylistically, it's pretty conventional, but incredibly cute, colorful, and lively. Additionally, from a technical standpoint, Tropical Freeze does much to impress. Enemy designs are adorably antagonistic, and a high level of detail doesn't get in the way of a convivial, cartoon aesthetic. The game just looks fun, but with a bit of a rougher look than something like Kirby, and even Super Mario. The score does its job but didn't manage to capture me in a big way, save for a few tracks. Sound effects are silly and often provoke a smile or even a laugh, and the dynamic animations for especially the playable characters are quite enjoyable to look at.

What makes Tropical Freeze enthralling is more or less what made Returns enthralling; there is an intense level of finesse and refinement to a big collection of levels rife with inventive concepts. The first level of the third world is my favorite; it features a bunch of moving, cardboard animals with poles and vines attached to them, which makes for some exciting jumping about, all far from the ground. Other levels take advantage of sacs of water to be thrown at fires and bombs to be used to blow up wood; both of these things add a level of strategy that doesn't bog down gameplay like similar concepts in puzzle/platformers. It took a world or two before the gameplay felt notably fresh, but once it happens, it really does happen. This is a challenging yet never frustrating video game with a multitude of moments in which the player must quickly rush through a level, fueled by the fear of impending death from behind. Even during segments in which you're not forced along, there is a certain whimsy to how elegantly one can zip through these tough environments. 

The whole game gives off the stark impression that Retro Studios put a lot of passionate effort into this project. Small but important fixes to this game over the last are evident, most notable amongst them the control options that drop motion controls. Levels are packed with little visual quirks and each include (addictive) online leaderboard-enabled time trials, and the game boasts a myriad of cleverly-hidden collectibles and secret levels. Unfortunately, none of the few noticeable changes to the formula here elevate this game over the last one on Wii, despite clear potential. There are a few new companion characters to play with and they're all an equal joy to use, but it doesn't do much for the overall quality. Every now and then, the camera slides into a perspective different from the typical side-view, which could have been what this game needed to push it over that line if it wasn't used so rarely. 

Super Mario Galaxy was an incredible, revolutionary game when it came out in 2007, and magically enough, 2010's Super Mario Galaxy 2 managed to be better than just "more of the same" because the challenge and density of new concepts were both markedly superior. Tropical Freeze doesn't do the same thing over Returns, which sucks, but only to a point. It's essentially a big, graphically-updated expansion pack. Because of that, the achievement of Tropical Freeze isn't remarkable, but it sure is a blast.