In order to properly invoke nostalgia, one would have to employ certain techniques that would trigger our various senses in order to recall the feelings of memories we lived in our younger days. A familiar sound palette, album artwork of a beautiful sunset, sample choice, and the descriptive title perfectly places the listener back in time to enjoy the late summer nights of our youths. Neighborhood Afterglow by b o d y l i n e is the album for those who are soaking up the last summer nights before the turn of the season.
At its core, Neighborhood Afterglow is a nostalgia-evoking album that is reminiscent of a specific time period in vaporwave’s history. That time period is that of the early 2010’s, as the album is a textbook example of a classic vaporwave sound, down to the sample choice, speed, and amount of reverb applied to each track. The six-track album thus displays itself as a cohesive work that encapsulates feelings of mellowness and a sense of floating into the ether.
The album opens with “Traffic Light Plaza,” which features synth bell arpeggios, washed-out vocals, and reverbed percussion which sets the tone for what to expect in the album. Following tracks such as “Waterglide” and “Afterglow Waft” follow a similar format, with drawn-out chords on a rhodes piano, repeated hypnagogic guitar melodies, and a heavy low synth bassline that is reminiscent of early works of vaporwave, such as that of Luxury Elite and Cvltvre.
I believe that this album should be listened to by anyone who is a fan of the genre as there is nothing that this album presents that is particularly sonically original. While a lack of originality may sound as a negative descriptor, it reflects that the album’s sound is based on a formula that has been proven to be enjoyable to many fans of the genre, which is that a slowed and reverbed sample can prove to be sufficient enough to produce a good track. However, that also does pose the possibility that such an album in this format could be lost in the sea of the many vaporwave albums that have a similar sonic palette. In other words, if the average listener did not know that this album was released this year, one may think that this album is a classic vapor album from 2013 (which is certainly not a bad thing!).
Overall, this album is a very nice compilation of tracks that brings the listener a sense of comfort as it relies on the effective format of slowing and reverbing tracks, which eliminates a likeliness of any particular element that may not be enjoyed by all listeners that one may find in newer releases that incorporate a greater amount of experimentation. This album is definitely one that can be enjoyed by newer and older fans of the genre and one that is perfect for a listen on a late summer night.
Ah, 1997. I was at the tender, innocent age of five, discovering the things that would influence me for the rest of my life, such as Power Rangers and mimosas. It was also the final year that the original Sailor Moon anime was aired on American television sets. Back then, I didn’t really care, but it appears that for one vaporwave artist, this was nothing short of a tragedy.
Eric Gordon — aka Darien Shields — has been in the vaporwave game since 2017 and told me that he had a goal in mind when creating this alias: to create a total of seven unique albums, themed according to the years that Sailor Moon (the show he takes his name from) aired on television, so from 1991 to the aforementioned 1997. Platinum Phantom is the last in this series of albums, and as such, every sample from the album is from the far-off year of 1997. Besides the theming, he stated this time that he, in his own words, wanted to lean more into vaporwave cliches.
“This time I focused a lot more on MIDI composing than on any previous albums though. Some songs are wholly original compositions made from the samples I lifted. Some parts are just straight up slow-downs, but I tried to do that as sparingly as possible this time so I could really explore more and invest more of myself into the music.”
I like vaporwave albums with themes as it helps in the artist’s grand quest to make the listener feel something. Walking through a rainy Japanese mega-city or shopping in an eerily empty indoor mall or just making you feel sad as !@#$ are all popular themes in vaporwave. The question is; what is this album trying to make you feel? And the answer is: Well I’m not quite sure. Yes, nearly all of the samples are from 1997, but at no point did the album feel like this is something that was from or paying homage to that year. The album seems to lack a coherent vision or goal, not just overall, but in the individual songs as well.
So let us get right into it with… a slowed-down voice clip from Austin Powers? With that rather curious introduction, “Backstreet” continues. It begins intriguingly enough — Austin Powers sample aside — with an interesting melody, but instead of adding variation to that melody or having the song ramp up, it does the opposite and slams on the brakes. The music stops and what replaces it is some ultra lofi drum work and what sounds like someone banging on a pot with a metal spoon. This goes on for a bit before the melody from earlier fades back in. However, by this time my “groove,” as it were, was broken, leaving me rather unsatisfied. Vaporwave is no stranger to change-ups, however, there is usually an overarching feeling the artist is trying to convey when this is done. With this track, and many others on the album, it almost feels as though it is two different tracks and ideas unharmoniously meshed together.
“Comrade Chad” begins with a few scattered sound effects. Blowing wind, the sound of shoes squeaking on gym floors, and a tambourine. These sounds start to come together to create an interesting beat, but it just straight up stops before anything can come of it. What follows is a vaporwave tune with some pan flute thrown in which lasts for all of 47 seconds (I counted) before it again turns into something else that does not at all resemble what came before. A simple tambourine and drum-filled rhythm that can be described as rather plain. There never feels like there is a reason for these change-ups to take place and there isn’t enough time for each piece to develop before it goes on to the next one.
“Tux” is a classic vaporwave affair with a slowed-down sample and some sexual undertones. It is minimally edited, but this harkens back to the vaporwave “cliches” that Darien mentioned earlier, so it appears this was very much on purpose. It does not sound bad, just rather plain, though it is undoubtedly vaporwave, and likely will scratch an itch for those who are a fan of the classic style.
“Cosplay” is a faster tune that sounds like it should be blasted at a fashion show. This is to say, that while it plays like it ought to be turned up nice and loud, it is not what your attention and focus should be on, leaving it in a bit of an odd position. I know that is not exactly helpful for what the music actually sounds like though, so I will say that it has a lot of electronic sounds and sirens and such. It is not poorly composed or made, but it is simply not something I can see myself listening to outside of a Zoolander film.
The uncomfortably named “Daddy” is in the same vein as “Tux.” We get a slowed-down sample that ups the groove factor, and has served as the base of vaporwave for over a decade now. This one is a bit more edited than “Tux,” which puts more of Darien’s personal touch on it. Reverbed, mixed, and tuned down with some impressive sound engineering towards the end with how the song fades out.
“Novartis” is a nice little tune that kicks things down a notch and conjures up images of running down a beach in slow motion, or at the very least watching a commercial for a Sandles Resort. It is a very light track and the one I think most has the “vibe” of 1997 that I think Darien is trying to convey throughout the entire album.
It leads into “Daisuki,” which has very little to say about itself, as the song appears to be two minutes of a nine-second melody on repeat with only minimal variation. The sound itself is very “mallsoft” and the right amount of echo is put on the track to make it feel the part, but it sounds like it should be a piece of something larger. If this was a track on a mallsoft album, I would excuse it as simply there to set the tone, but I am unsure of how to feel about it on an album like this. As with change-ups, repetitiveness is something that is no stranger to vaporwave. For some artists, it has even become their go-to technique, but when one does this, you had best make sure those nine seconds resonate with the listener. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t.
I liked the next track, “Outrun.” However, this may be only because I am on a chiptune kick as of late. Just over two minutes of classic arcade-sounding goodness, and though it feels out of place on the album, as a stand-alone track, it is a catchy piece and is an example of repetitiveness done the right way. It conveys a clear feeling of “retro-ness” and has the clearest intentions of all the songs on the album. It isn’t complex, but in this instance and with what the song is trying to make you feel, it doesn’t need to be.
Sampling a scene from the 1997 box-office bomb B.A.P.S is “Pimpsqueak.” Following the sample is a short tune in the classic vaporwave style, with a slightly tropical feel, before “Main Drag (Feat. Donor Lens)” takes us back to the throbbing beat of a dance club. It is slightly minimalistic in its sound, but I feel like it does what it sets out to do. A track that sounds like it is meant to be played as a generic dance tune in an action movie, with the main character moving his way through a club, on his way to confront the drug lord that distributes his product in the basement of the place. The song is meant to inform you that, yes, this is indeed a place where young people go to boogie and do drugs, but that is it. It is one of those rare dance tracks that is not actually meant to be played too loud. A bit repetitive yes, but I dare you to find a dance track that is not.
The longest track on the album is the finale, “Deep Blue/Orange Julius.” It begins with a 1:40 piano piece before suddenly transitioning into a slowed-down version of Amy Grant’s pop hit, “Good for Me.” A great choice for a sample, however, there are some issues. It appears to only be minimally edited, save for being slowed down. I also fail to see the significance of pairing it up with the initial piano solo. I feel like the artist was trying to get across a message to me that I simply did not understand, and I really tried. I thought perhaps there was some significance in the name, with the piano being Deep Blue and the Amy Grant part being Orange Julius, but a google search revealed no correlation. And finally, though it is a small issue, “Good for Me” was released in 1992. Just sayin’
Looking at the info on the Bandcamp page for this album reveals that there are a wide and impressive variety of samples used in the making of this album, but for such variety, it seems that there is very minimal usage of them in meaningful ways. So much so that I was fooled into thinking that a track that used multiple samples, had only one source. The love is just spread too thin. The talent is there (Shields’ previous albums attest to that) and you can tell it’s there, just not the sound. If I had to sum up the album with a single phrase, it would be: missed opportunity. There are plenty of instances where the album hints at something great, but then switches to something… not as great. The jumping around of tones and styles is jarring and the theme of 1997 just does not excuse this. Platinum Phantom feels like three completely different incomplete albums rolled up into one, only sort of complete album.
Editor’s Note: This review was completed using a pre-release version of the game, so some features and experiences may differ from the final release.
A few times a year my family would venture up towards the many lakes of Wisconsin to enjoy the sights and go out on the water to enjoy some fishing. I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m not a fishing expert. That being said, I can appreciate a quiet afternoon fishing on the lake. Isle of Jura reminded me of those feelings, albeit through the lens of Alex, a young girl looking to complete her biology report on marine life.
Created by Ewan Mallinson, better known to some as future funk musician Mélonade, Isle of Jura is a quaint, straightforward game about a girl, an island, and fishing. This game doesn’t waste time with lengthy exposition; you begin on the docks of the titular isle. After talking with some of the locals you start off with a simple net to catch small critters like shrimp, clams, starfish, etc. Right away, the art style is inoffensive and ordinary. The characters lacked any defining features and the models lacked any outstanding characteristics. Mechanically, it reminded me of a cross between early Animal Crossing and Sims games.
You can sell what you catch to the local seafood restaurant and use the money to get better fishing equipment. You occasionally find artifacts too and can present them to the museum curator. This may all start to sound rather familiar to fans of games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. Indeed, Isle of Jura is in the same “collection” game genre, just with a greater emphasis on fishing.
The island itself is pretty small, a player can explore the whole island in less than 5 minutes. The only other area you can travel to outside the island is the boat to go deep sea fishing, which does provide the player some much needed variety. On the island, you can fish in rivers, ponds and, of course, the ocean, which offers a staggering amount of biodiversity. The fishing net works on the shores of beaches and lakes, as well as in the river. With this little net, you can only catch starfish, mussels, and frogs though.
You can use the money to buy better rods. Once you have a proper fishing rod you can start the real fishing! The mechanics themselves are pretty straightforward; reel it in once you get a bite, but don’t reel it in too quickly or you might lose it! Your options in fish open up too. In the lake, river, and ocean you can catch salmon, trout, and pike. The option to deep-sea fish with a weighted lure also gives you a chance to catch lobster, jellyfish, and a whole host of deep-sea life.
My time with the game was enjoyable, but something kept bothering me throughout my playthrough. There is a lack of atmosphere and personality. There is a difference between feeling secluded, like when you find a comfortable spot by yourself, and isolated, like when you feel cut off from everything. I explored this game in complete silence for the longest time, as there was no music aside from the menu music in the beginning.
When I first heard Mélonade was making a game, I was looking forward to what kind of OST this game would have. I wasn’t expecting future funk bops and crunchy beats for a relaxing fishing sim of course, but having no music at all only reinforces how empty this game feels. You don’t notice how essential the little jingles and music notifications are to a game until they’re gone entirely. The absence of music made the playing experience go by quicker for me. I was able to find most of the artifacts and fish within 3 hours of gameplay. Just long enough to remain interesting before becoming stale. Though part of the allure of fishing is the hours you spend watching the water, your lure, and enjoying the sounds of nature. And in that respect, the game succeeds.
The saying “never judge a book by its cover” can be true in a lot of situations. Paradoxically, first impressions matter. No matter what, it’s important to put your best foot forward and leave a lasting impression. Funky Can Creative’s newest game “PopSlinger” does just that. This arcade-style shoot’em up is a bubbly, bright, and nostalgic surprise.
I was drawn in by the retro anime aesthetics and dreamy city pop-inspired soundtrack. I was even surprised to hear that the title had voice acting. That was the cherry on top that would make this game a pleasing visual novel or even an animated series. On the contrary, PopSlinger is a video game, and sooner or later you have to pick up the controller and press start to begin. The opening cinematic establishes the heroines of the game: Ria and Gin. Ria is a happy-go-lucky Pop Slinger, basically this world’s version of a soda-themed magical girl, who’d rather have fun and take it easy. Gin is a dour, pragmatic spirit who understands that saving the world is serious business. The opening is brief, but it establishes their dynamic and the conflict quickly. The game wastes no time in putting the player right in the action.
The object of the game is pretty simple: get to the end of the stage without dying and get the highest score. You do this by wielding different flavors of soda guns. No, I don’t mean a soda gun you’d find at a restaurant bar, but actual weapons such as an orange soda pistol or a strawberry soda shotgun. You use this effervescent arsenal to eliminate different colored slimes and earn bonus points when you pop multiple enemies of the same color. In that aspect, it is unlike your typical shoot’em up where you just hold down the fire button and blast anything that moves. In Pop Slinger, you have to sometimes pick and choose when to blast. That adds a degree of challenge to the whole experience and makes it almost like a puzzle game. If you wanna spray and pray away just to get to the end of the stage that’s all fine and well, but if you want that high score and the alternate endings to the game, you’ll need to slow down. Way down. The player is given a dodge button to move out of the way of enemies and have some breathing room, but this can sometimes hurt more than help. I’ll explain in a moment.
This is the part of the review where I have to come clean, I was unable to finish the whole game, and that was primarily due to the game’s rampant and sudden difficulty spike. You see, the goal of each level is simple, but it’s not easy. I noticed this would be an uphill battle from the first level. You see, Ria, the spunky protagonist, is bigger than most of the enemies in any given level. Due to the placement of enemies and the way they shoot projectiles, an attack would just barely miss or barely hit. This inconsistency would lead to me second-guessing myself and receiving unnecessary damage. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue, except PopSlinger is pretty stingy when it comes to healing items. Unlike most arcade-style games there are no consumables. You do get power-ups from getting certain color sequences, but those vary wildly in effectiveness. There is no easy mode to switch down to, nor is there a way to leave a level and redo a previous level to get a better score or practice.
(Like the game so far? Check out our audio interview with the game developer & composter)
Check out the Skule Toyama’s OST for the game on cassette at Neon City Records!
When Ria gets a color sequence, Gin will grant her a power-up to help in battle. There’s your run-of-the-mill shield and healing item that can help, but some are not helpful and some can straight-up work against you in certain contexts. The turret power-up allows Gin to assist you with covering fire. The problem is she only fires in one direction and in one spot. When the enemies move around quickly, this becomes more of a nuisance than a power-up. The double power-up allows Gin to fire when Ria fires, which is good for clearing waves, but if you need to get a certain color sequence, oftentimes Gin’s Pop will get a different colored enemy and you’ll lose your sequence.
Perhaps the weirdest curveball this game threw at me was the idea of enemy shields. After a few levels, enemies will have different colored shields that require a soda to hit first before they can be popped. No biggie right? The pink shield can be broken with the strawberry gun. Makes sense. However, some of the shields don’t correspond to a soda’s color at all. For example, I found myself taking damage from an enemy with a green shield, only to find out I needed to use the cola gun to break it. The game gives no information on this and the player is meant to pick this up on the fly. This problem only compounds when multiple enemies are on the screen, whizzing towards you and each requires a different soda to defeat. Which I think brings me to my biggest critique of this game.
Ria may have too much energy personality-wise, but she is too slow for her own game. She fires her soda guns too slowly to break shields and hit enemies. She switches between guns too slowly. And her dodge often lands her in a worse position than where she started. This all happens while enemies move faster and faster across the screen. This can culminate in a frustrating experience that even funky french house music can’t make up for.
All of these critiques are not meant to take away from the game’s positive qualities. In fact, the most frustrating aspect of it all is that all of the core mechanics seem well thought out, but require some fine-tuning to make the game better overall. For example, Ria’s arsenal of sodas could be easier to manage so the player doesn’t have to scroll so much through guns. Some simple hit-stun when an enemy’s shield is broken could give the player valuable time to pop an enemy and keep their color sequence.
Overall I feel conflicted about Pop Slinger. On one hand, I adore the cute, bubbly art and character designs. I can tell a lot of love and effort was put into the world, the music, the characters, and even the story. However, the huge leaps in difficulty paired with the inconsistent mechanics leave a sour taste in my mouth. During play sessions, I would often leave the game in the overworld just to enjoy the music (I cannot stress how much of a bop this OST is).
Perhaps this is just a long-form admission that shoot’em ups are not my genre, but I hope to see more from Funky Can Creative in the future.
Exciting and great visuals and aesthetics
Boppin soundtrack composed by brilliant Skule Toyama
Adequate / fun voice acting
Negatives (What I’d like to see addressed in the next patch):
Switching weapons slows down gameplay and can confuse the player
The lack of directional shooting can make some parts unnecessarily harder
The small player size compared to fast moving enemies can hinder gameplay
In the waning days of 2020, I made a prediction for how 2021 would play out. I said to myself “People missed out on a lot this year, and to make up for lost time, people are going to be a bit…extra.”
When I made that statement, it was with the intention that the “extra” would be people putting out their best, giving 110%. This January, 3D Blast gave us “extra” with his latest release Music: Here to Stay
This 9 track album has a lot to say despite the short tracklist. Each track, however, paints a vivid picture packed with plunderphonics, genius genre blends, and a healthy peppering of memes.
Starting off with the album’s opening track “3rd Best.” This track is a swirling symphony of warm sounds and synths. The expertly sampled “Kokomo” gives us a taste of what this album aims to be, something familiar but still forward-thinking. 3D Blast always reminds us that we shouldn’t take him, or his music too seriously. Interspliced in this track are samples of Sans from Undertale and Isabelle from Animal Crossing.
Before we can get too comfortable, “Here to Stay” plunges us into a dreamy, trip-hoppy track that mashes “Fireflies” with “Superman” in a combination no one else would think about. Listening to this, we couldn’t help but have a spring in our step.
We take an odd detour with “Jameela Jamil”. Named after the British actress, this track features Jameela talking in an interview about being a “feminist in progress.” Accompanying her speech is the S.E.S song “I’m Your Girl” stretched and slowed. Every so often, a pitched sample from Neon Genesis Evangelion adds a dream-like quality to the track. Is there a deeper meaning? Or is 3D Blast just a big fan of The Good Place? Who knows.
Up until this point, the overall aesthetic of this record has been relaxing, groovy plunderphonics, but 3D Blast shifts things into high gear to on the back half of this record. Tracks like “Twentyinfinity” and “Nailed Frequencies” are bonafide future funk bops anyone can dance to. Interspersed throughout these two tracks are some well-placed samples, including a Joe Rogan clip that sends us right back to the dance floor.
The last couple of tracks were certainly not slept on either. Music: Here To Stay’s final three tracks have some very interesting features. 3D teams up with psychedelic grunge band The Effens on the track “Live Forever (You Got it)”. The dreamy, hypnopop lyrics mixed with 3D’s sampling and mixing makes this track sound like it could come right out of a George Clanton album.
Of course, it doesn’t hold a candle to the best track on this entire album; “Earth Worlder.” The Wizard of Loneliness and 3D Blast team up to craft a tale as old as time; The Legend of Earth Worlder. With a mix of high fantasy Bakshi-esque storytelling peppered with chiptune and video game samples, Earth Worlder rocked me to my very core and embedded itself deep in the caverns of my brain.
Last but certainly not least is “My Fault,” starring vaporwave’s saddest boy, Dan Mason. This song is actually a super wombo combo of two projects. The vocals are a pitched-up version of Dan Mason’s “little too late” and 3D’s own “Miss Resist”. The result is a track that makes us want to get up and dance while also holding back tears of unrequited love.
Put simply, this album is all gas, no breaks. It starts strong, maintains that energy through, and has managed to be one of our top vaporwave albums of the year, and it’s only January!
Get The Album!
Favorite Track: Earth Worlder (feat. The Wizard of Loneliness)
As exhausting as living in the 21st century often is, it’s little wonder that vaporwave in general – and late-night lofi in particular – is so preoccupied with escapist themes of luxury and relaxation. Filtering and refining smooth jazz and funk through gauzy layers of time, the subgenre creates a safe place to forget one’s troubles and while away the hours in opulence. VHS LOUNGE aims to be that place and it mostly succeeds, though the effect is diminished as many of the samples are too sedate and uniform to linger in memory. Still, the experience is a short but enjoyable respite from life’s ever-present stresses.
We begin already immersed in the lounge’s comforts, quietly taking in the night’s beauty. We wonder for a moment how long we’ve been here, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Before long, the smooth, jazzy saxophone and flute in “SYMPATHY” cause us to relax even further, sinking into our cozy seat and drifting into sleep. Punctuating our descent with its driving rhythm, “RESONANCE” lends a more active tone with an edge of mystery. Perhaps we’re on an adventure, serenely plumbing the depths of our imagination?
Eventually, our inner journey fades into obscurity as we ease back into wakefulness, and we notice that it’s still dark out. Have we slept only a few hours or for an entire day? Either way, we feel well-rested. Cued by the relaxed, muted trumpet of “JOURNAL,” we luxuriate in the lounge’s pleasures a while longer before slowly deciding to go “STEPPIN’ OUT” into the city, ready to party all night long.
Strutting through the crowd, the funky melody and horns reflect our confidence before giving way to the seductive sounds of “BLUSH.” The crooning saxophone and wah-heavy guitar suggest our display has caught the eye of another lounger who wishes to spend the night with us. More than a physical affair, though, “INTERLUDE” blossoms into a gentler, more romantic tune. Basking in their warm embrace, we briefly think to ourselves, “Is this the one we’ve been searching for?”
Abruptly as it began, however, the entanglement ends and we’re left alone with the somewhat bittersweet, but ultimately carefree “BLUE BREEZE”. Musing to ourselves, we decide things are better this way. It’s just the lounge after all, and we had fun. As if triggered by this admission, the gray clouds above gently release themselves and we find shelter to lazily enjoy the “RAINY PARADISE” before us.
Finally, the contemplative trumpet of “SENTIMENTAL” signals that our time in the lounge is coming to an end. Gathering our things, we raise one final glass in commemoration of our stay. Staring pensively out the window of our transport, we watch the “DISTANT LIGHTS” grow dim and disappear. As our memories of this place already begin to fade, we promise to return one day.
On reflection, VHS LOUNGE is quite a soothing experience. Although the samples could be a bit more distinctive from one another and the tape warble could be just a bit heavier, it doesn’t fail to generate a sense of indulgence for the listener to briefly vanish into. For those needing some time away, they could do much worse than to spend a few minutes in the lounge.
Into Dreams is the latest album by Epson, an artist who has released hit after hit in the late-night lo-fi scene. With vaporwave like this, you want the entire album to be an experience, one track blending seamlessly into another. The smooth jazz and R&B beats create the feeling of walking downtown after a long party. You’re tired from the night’s festivities, but you have a spring in your step.
Right off the bat, we have what is easily the strongest track in the album, “VCR Melt”. As the title suggests, this song is a melty, ooey-gooey slope of slow R&B beats that open up to a ballad of beautiful synths, all while sampled vocals phase in and out. They are recognizable, but just before you can fully recall the song it fades away like a long-forgotten memory. VCR Melt effortlessly guides the listener into the rest of this album.
This is not to say that this opening track does all the heavy lifting. The sampling and consistent production throughout gives the listener a great transition into songs like “Space Jeep” and “Epson 93-95”. What this album is, above all, is an experience reminiscent of classic vaporwave — capital “V” vaporwave if you will.
At the end of the night, that’s where Into Dreams is trying to take you. Tracks like “Captain Midnight” are reminiscent of classic artists like Infinity Frequencies and Mindspring Memories while tracks like “ⓡⓔⓛⓐⓧ ⓡⓔⓜⓘⓧ” feel almost like Lux Elite B-Sides. With Into Dreams, the listener is transported into this world of hazy, smooth synths and distant drums. What Into Dreams is trying to sell you on is the holistic experience of late-night delights. Pun absolutely intended.
However, some might find the thematic cohesion of this album a negative. People love singles, and aside from VRC Melt and the album’s closing track “Deja Vu”, the album can’t really be picked apart. With most of the tracks being under two minutes, listeners might find it hard to tell the difference between tracks like “Which Way” and “Memphis Socks”.
To that point though; why would you want to pick apart individual tracks? I mean, this album is clearly meant to be consumed as a whole, and leaving tracks out is ultimately cheapening the experience. Like leaving the pickles out of the burger you ordered from the hole-in-the-wall diner downtown. Just like this record, it gives you savory satisfaction. Just eat the damn pickles.
Into Dreams offers a reliable late-night lo-fi experience that harkens back to classic vaporwave aesthetics. While some listeners might see this as a relatively safe release with few extraordinary qualities that might help it stand out from the sea of classic vaporwave sounds, this Epson album is still a solid choice if you’re aiming to recreate that nostalgic feel.
It is hard to say whether or not walking simulators should be considered games. After all, there is no such thing as losing or winning in these sorts of games and most of your time will be spent holding down the W key on your keyboard to move forward. As such, they need to make up for their lack of actual gameplay with striking visuals, a proper mood-setting soundtrack, and an engaging story that has the player coming back for more. The question is, does Argent Games’ “Self-Checkout Unlimited” tick off all the right boxes?
The game starts off with your faceless and silent protagonist waking up in an empty, mid-90’s indoor mall with no obvious way of getting out. It is up to you to explore this strange embodiment of American consumer culture and to find your way out, though the game makes it very clear that not all is as it seems with posters telling you “Rapture is giving up the need to control” and reminding you “Nothing that you see here was, is, or ever will be real.” Directed by the friendly voices coming from intercoms above head, you go on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection to find out who you really are and exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing in this big scary world of ours.
If it sounds deep, that is because it is, but also it is not. It is like looking down into the depths of a giant pool that seems to have no bottom… only to jump in and discover that what you thought was an endless abyss was actually only about two feet deep and now your legs are broken. Throughout the game you go to various stores, each with its own purpose in helping you discover your true self, but the game never seems to get to any kind of point. It tosses around a lot of deep sounding words and phrases, but at no point did I feel like they had any kind of meaning to them.
Furthermore, there is very little interactivity in the game. There are a couple of very minor puzzles, but most of the time your tasks involve walking from point A to point B and occasionally placing object C into spot D, and the above is only done in the context of progressing the game forward. It seems like such a waste to have an entire (albeit rather small) mall at your disposal and for there to be so little to do. There are only five outlet stores which are open to you in this place which exist solely for the purpose of progressing the story forward. The others are closed off and kept in darkness so you cannot even go inside to have a look around.
What the game does get right, though, are the visuals and sound design. Clean and polished tile floors reflect the lights that shine overhead, the constant babbling of the grand fountain in the middle of the shopping center, the barely audible Muzak that plays from unseen speakers. The soundtrack is completely original to the game and was produced by Mr. Zunino, along with beloved vaporwave producer desert sand feels warm at night, who provided the music for the more abstract parts of the game. The Stores and small size aside, this place feels like the proper abandoned mall that fans of 猫 シ Corp. keep dreaming about. Furthermore, as you go along your quest you will be transported to other settings that are staples of the vaporwave genre such as an indoor swimming pool and a seemingly endless parking lot.
All in all, “Self-Checkout Unlimited” really nails the aesthetics, but with a price tag of eight bucks and a shallow experience that only lasts for around an hour, it is a damn shame that the developers could not do more with i