Dynamic Theme Reviews 03: In which Spoonman relapses. I am so sorry.

PART 1

PART 2

I suppose that title is misleading. While it's true that the last time I wrote one of these theme-themed blogs was in July of 2015, my theme purchasing never truly waned from that period to the present time, so there isn't really a way for me to have regressed back into a terrifying addiction that I never actually quit. It's been more of a steady decline into Valley of Defilement-style awfulness for the past year and a half. On the positive side of this nightmare (please don't actually believe there's any upside to PS4 theme hoarding) I've become a bit more savvy about making sure the themes I purchase are at least decent. I've learned which publishers (yes, I am familiar with theme publishers, as well as pure sadness) put in work, and which are doing it on the cheap and hoping to dupe people with sub-par efforts. In addition, the advent of increasingly common preview trailers has made knowing what you're paying for much easier. Also, if you're not an idiot, you can usually guess whether or not a theme is good solely by the preview image. Unfortunately, my theme collection clearly shows that I am an idiot.

Hey Spoonman, shut up! Let's talk themes!

Skeleton Dance

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Remember "Thriller"? This isn't anywhere near that cool, but it remains substantial dope nonetheless. Ahem, *spooky Vincent Price voice* It was a dark and stormy night in the North Baitesville cemetery. A night that just happened to be the anniversary of the Valentine Street massacre. The air was misty, the grass was dewy, and the dead... were funky! *end spooky voice* No really, this is an excellent, fun theme to queue up on your PS4 around Halloween time. The background is active with lightning strikes, falling leaves and burning candles. The main attraction is disco-esque music and dancing skeletons. If you enjoy your skinless friends' animations, but feel this theme is a bit too dark and dour, there is a summertime alternative in Tropical Skeleton Dance--though I greatly prefer the original's thematic consistency and find this one's lack thereof to be a bit jarring. Choose for yourself.

Spoonman Approved *

3D Dragon Flight Dynamic Theme

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This a simple theme that will delight anybody that thought dragons were as cool as I did when I was a high school nerd reading Tolkien and the like. An expertly-crafted dragon flies through a misty valley while piano music plays and female vocals sing longingly in some language that is surely more emotional and meaningful than English ever could be. The dragon glides through the air, dives towards Earth (or Middle-Earth, or Earthsea, or maybe fantasy writers could have been a little more creative with their world names, eh?), then spreads his wings wide to slow his descent. All the while you can see the quivering of his wings from the pressure of the wind. The theme will also alternate between front-view and rear-view, as well as day and night. The sound effects have been replaced with the whoosh of leathery wing flaps, and the thuds of mystical tomes being slammed shut. Overall, a great fantasy theme.

Spoonman Approved *

Crabs, Crabs, Crabs!

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Oh joy! This one makes me irrationally happy. Look at how happy these little crabby guys are! The lady sighs in the music make me a little uncomfortable, but not necessarily in a bad way and I really appreciate that. The sound effects sound vaguely crab claw snappy, or sand shuffly in a way that's just barely accurate enough to make me believe it was done intentionally. If you're more into mammals than arthropods I recommend you use the similarly charming Llama theme with banjo tunes to induce your joy-joy feelings.

Spoonman Approved *

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Remastered Dynamic Theme

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While there aren't many Uncharted themes that I wouldn't recommend (they are based on art coming out of Naughty Dog, after all), I have to say that the Uncharted 2 theme is definitely the one that impressed me the most. The phurba dagger that plays a critical role in that game's storyline is the centerpiece of the scene as it sits upright, stabbed in the snow of the mountain train-wreck scene with which fans are familiar. As you interact with the menu, the camera angle will shift, revealing a full 3D environment of destroyed train cars and burning wreckage. I have never seen this done in a theme and am somewhat surprised it's actually possible. The major drawback of the theme is the audio loop. While not short, it does cut off the track, and starts the music from the beginning in a way that is obvious and unmistakable. I also enjoy the Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Ink Dynamic Theme as it features all the series' MacGuffins as though they were being sketched in Mr. Drake's notebook.

Spoonman Approved *

Star Trek PS4 Dynamic Theme

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Have you ever dreamed of boldly goin... ah, forget it. I'm just talking about a cool theme so it seems a bit silly to invoke the grandiose language used in the much-loved TV series about interstellar scientific adventure. In this theme you'll follow the original U.S.S. Enterprise through the vastness of space as it engages warp and visits alien worlds. The 3D model has a clean and polished look to it and the warp effects are... out of this world. No, I won't apologize. Get out of my blog. For those of us who are aware that Picard is absolutely the superior captain to Kirk, there's also a Next Generation theme with the appropriate enterprise model facing down an ominous Borg cube.

Spoonman Approved *

3D Assault Mech: The Last Stand Dynamic Theme

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So let's get one thing straight before we begin. This is a robot, not a mech. If you cannot forgive that mistake, I don't blame you. Have a nice day, see you in the next blog. If you're less of a stickler for the classification of mechanical thingamajigs (that's in the spellcheck dictionary. I weep for the English language), then you may have just discovered one of the coolest themes ever. This robot is clearly the last line of defense because he's pulling out all the stops. He's unloading his dual, chain-fed machine guns, letting loose with his massive cannon, and launching his shoulder-mounted rocket pods at unseen aerial foes. All the while the camera circles him in dramatic Kojima-esque low-angle shots. I'm truly impressed with the feel of genuine mechanicalness that the 3D model and animations combine to create. This robot means business, and the suspenseful piano sequence goes a long way toward heightening the intensity of the situtation. Whatever the situation may be that requires a combat robot to shoot wildly into the air at nothing.

Spoonman Approved *

So there you have it. I've suffered tremendous indignation for you all once again. Please show your appreciation by sending me lots of money. These themes are expensive, man!

* DISCLAIMER: Spoonman does not actually approve of the purchase of any PS4 theme, dynamic or otherwise. Please consult with a mental health professional before engaging in any theme purchasing.

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Dynamic Theme Reviews 02: In which Spoonman realizes his horrible mistake.

PART 1

After my first blog on dynamic themes, and the subsequent conversations it sparked, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about themes. Why doesn’t every single fighting game stage get turned into a dynamic theme? Why does something so useless cost so much money? Who else is stupid enough to purchase these things? Unfortunately, thinking about themes this much inevitably leads to the purchasing of more themes. I’m $50 deeper into this nauseating endeavor, and I really don’t have much more to show for it. I can, however, confirm that all the Aqua Kitty themes are as awesome as is Mouldy Depths. Check them out here, here, here, and here. The game is pretty good, too.

Now, without further ado...

Hohokum Dynamic Theme

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*applies stoner voice filter*

That little bass flurry feels nice, doesn't it? You find those chimes soothing, do you not? It's almost like that percussive pitter-patter makes you think that your head is all busy with thought, but in reality you don't have a damn thing on your mind, right? Man, sometimes I just want to sit back and relax, and the Hohokum dynamic theme is just the right one to do it with. The music gives you the sensation that you're melting into your chair and nodding off, but you're totally awake at the same time. The art is pretty sweet with some laid back gibbons just kind of hanging from vines. They got pink eyes though, so I guess they could be albino siamangs or something instead. Anyway, pop up to that function list area and you'll just see some telescoping trees sway in the wind. Everything is pretty alright until this freaky gharial-mouthed pachyderm comes sauntering into view. He's carrying some uptight-looking dudes on his back, and they got one of those gibbon guys locked up in a cage. It ain't right, man! The whole bourgeois scene kind of harshes my mellow. I'm going back down to hang out with those cool albino dudes again.

Spoonman Approved

Flaming Skull Dynamic Theme 2

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Crummy flaming skulls have plagued the PS store since the inception of themes. They usually consist of an amateur-grade 3D skull with a translucent fire GIF overlaid on top of it. This isn't one of those. This theme plays ripping metal music that's better than it has any right to be. Your icons are replaced by horned skulls, coffins, gravestones and a...walkman? At the center of it all is some sweet Megadeth album artwork come to life. Flames have engulfed the skull of this demonic beast and its jaw quivers in agonizing pain. It's got fangs and a popped-up collar, so it's probably an 80's vampire that super deserves it. To 14-year old Spoonman, this is the definitive best theme ever created. To today's Spoonman, this is simply the best possible choice for any PS4 user that wants to metal-out their console experience.

Spoonman Approved

Money In Fire Dynamic Theme

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Speaking of fire GIFs, check out this theme. I chose this one because I assumed a pile of burning money would hold a special appeal to the Giant Bomb faithful. Unfortunately, this one disappoints. It's a picture of money, and there's a video loop of fire over it. That's it. You won't see the bills start to crisp up and curl. You won't hear the comforting crackle of a very expensive camp fire. Both icons and audio cues are completely stock. They did at least take the time to change to settings menu background to orange. Still lame.

Spoonman Approval Denied

Undersea Voyage Dynamic Theme

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Let's continue the shit-sandwich approach to theme reviews! Prominently featured in the preview image for this theme are those cool glimmering patterns caused by light refracting through water before reaching the surface below. I thought that could probably look cool, so why not try it? Because it's awful, that's why. While it does have those cool glimmering thingies, the surface they're visible on is the flattest possible texture, and one that doesn't even simulate the bottom of the sea. In fact, it is pretty clearly a desiccated sea- or lake-bed. Further emphasizing that this texture is of a desert environment is the fact that THE FUCKING PYRAMID OF KHAFRE IS IN THE BACKGROUND! You know, the one in Egypt, with all the deserts. Why is it on the bottom of the ocean? Who put it there? I've developed a scenario in my mind in which somebody found this old Egyptian tourism promotional art from the 90's and thought it would be a great idea to slap a watery haze over it and sell it on PSN. It wasn't a great idea. Of course there is a certain appeal to the absurdity of it, but you probably shouldn't buy this anyway.

Spoonman Approval Denied(?)

Q*BERT REBOOTED Dynamic PS4 Theme

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This is another mellow theme with low-key music. The menu makes Q*Bert noises that sound like pulling your boot out of ankle-high mud. It takes place in space, which automatically adds 10 points, and features Q*Bert jumping around, playing 3D Q*Bert. The aspect of this theme that makes me like it is the camera motion. Rather than have things move around on screen, this theme creates the illusion that the camera is moving. As Q*Bert jumps between planes of gravity, the camera swings around to follow him. I don't think I've seen another theme do anything quite like this. There is a major downside to this theme though. It has the unfortunate distinction of being an official tie-in for the Pixels: The Movie movie. I enjoy this theme's innovation and general quality, but I just can't bring myself to stare at the title of an Adam Sandler film for any length of time. If you don't suffer from such an affliction, this theme might be what you're looking for.

Spoonman Begrudgingly Approved

LittleBigPlanet 3 Theme

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When Sony first introduced dynamic themes, they did so with one based on LittleBigPlanet. It makes perfect sense--the craftsy, fabric-ey world of LittleBigPlanet is the ideal setting for diorama-esque dynamic themes. I filled many a shoe box with sackboy-like creations when I was a young lad. I can happily report that the LittlBigPlanet 3 theme continues the series lineage of high-quality themes. When you turn this theme on the icons are changed to images that look like stickers from the game. The background could easily be a piece of a level taken from the game, with characters like Sackboy, Toggle, and the others running around the environment. Colors are vibrant and the polygonal models are nice and sharp. There are clockwork tea pots and clouds hung from strings. All the franchise’s charm is in play here. It’s unfortunate that the theme creators chose to go with natural wind and bird chirps in lieu of music. I’d love to hear the LittleBigPlanet “baba-dop-boo-booo baba-dop-boo-boo-booo” tune, but am left wanting. Still a great theme.

Spoonman Approved

Ok, that wraps up another pack of themes. I have quite a few more to go through and I think the next blog (what am I promising here?) will feature some of the Playstation Store’s nature-themed themes. See you next time.

P.S. Really, just donate the money to charity instead.

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Dynamic Theme Reviews 01: In which Spoonman wastes his money so you don't have to.

I have a weird obsession with dynamic themes on the Playstation consoles. I somehow developed a respectable (ok, nothing about themes is respectable) collection of these dumb things on PS3 and at some point thought I should make a blog or two showing and discussing them. Around 90% of the themes available are complete garbage, and so I thought it might prove useful to people who just want to get one or two so they'll have something nice looking on their system menus.

I was lazy and never got around to doing this (HINT: Just get the PixelJunk Monster tiki man), but after Sony's E3 promotion (spend $100, get $15 in credit) I figured there was no better way to make use of free money than to spend it on PS4 dynamic themes. I don't make good decisions.

Let's get started.

Whispering Willows

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This dynamic theme actually came free with the game of the same name, and you'll immediately notice that both products share excellent, crisp art. The audio of switching icons is a heavy metallic sound like the slamming of a jobsite gang box, or the ticking of an antique clock--appropriate for the gothic-horror aesthetic. The major downside to this one is that it's not very dynamic at all. Both the app list and the system functions list contain images of the main character (and her spirit alter ego) facing forward, with the only movement being the slow scroll of the game's haunted mansion in the background, as well as some subtle cloud movement. But what the hell, it's free.

Spoonman Approved

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster To Zanarkand

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So that name is a bit of a mouthful. It's also somewhat inaccurate because this theme doesn't feature Final Fantasy X-2 at all. What you're getting is basically the title screen of FFX, wherein our party of heroes is sitting at camp outside the ruins of Zanarkand. This is another one with little motion. All the characters are visibly breathing with enough animation frames to not look slow or stuttery like characters in shoddier themes, and there's also some weird FF spirit juice floating around in the air. This theme makes good use of the functions list to app list transition, with Tidus up on the rocks overlooking Zanarkand and the team below him at the campfire, moving from one to the other as the user navigates between the menus. More importantly, do you want FF noises on your PS4? You'll get a constant loop of FFX's main piano theme, which is awesome. You'll also get FF menu bleeps and bloops, which feel great as you switch between the pretty node-shaped iconography. If those things trigger the happy center of your brain you should probably get this theme.

Spoonman Approved

The Order: 1886 - Airship and The Order: 1886 - Whitechapel

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Say what you will about The Order: 1886, that game has some amazing art and atmosphere. That's probably why it's so disappointing that none of that quality has transferred over to the game's dynamic themes. Airship features flat, low-res images of the characters that shift slightly, and a simple zeppelin with a little bit of cloud movement. Not a stunner, this one. Whitechapel fares better by a slim margin by focusing on the architecture of the titular district of London. Gas lamps have a slight glow to them and chimneys are busily extruding smoke. Occasionally a large airship will pass by in the corner, and distant ones in the background are always making their slow pilgrimage to the right side of your display. Typewriter clicks accompany menu selections, and quality string music plays throughout. Both sounds could belong to almost any game and are completely generic.

Spoonman Approval Denied

Journey

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This may be my favorite PS4 theme. The sparse nature of the game lends itself well to the minimalism required of dynamic theme creation. The somber, lonely tones employed by the music is profound and immediately recalls me back to my first arduous trudge towards the distant mountain peak, which is prominent in the background of this theme.The only movement is that of the player character's flapping scarf, and the ribbons tied to gravestones on the sand dune ahead. Every once in awhile you'll see a glowing orb shoot away from the mountain, leaving a sparkling trail behind it. Journey veterans will recognize this as a player that has finally finished their scaling of the summit, and must return to the desert wastes. The menu audio is a mix of the game's player chirps, and extremely subtle footsteps in sand. The only downsides to this one is the standard iconography and the unexploited app list to function list transition. Maybe it's unfair of me to praise this theme's minimalism while condemning the lack of dynamism in other themes. What the hell, it's my review and I'll do what I want with it. Journey is beautiful.

Spoonman Approved

MOULDY DEPTHS - AQUA KITTY DX

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Apparently Aqua Kitty is a game. I had no idea, but when I saw the preview of this theme on the PS4, I knew I wanted it. The pixel art is all high resolution and beautiful. The ocean waves are in constant motion, and layered to create a convincing effect. The ship's crew are puffing on pipes, wrenching on submersibles, and remaining vigilant on their telescopes. Making excellent use of the transition, moving from the app list to the functions list pushes our window into this weird Jacque Cat-steau world downward into the depths of the sea. There we can see mechanical sea-beasts prowling the waters waiting for aqua kitty to dive in. Exciting electronic music keeps a steady rhythm and menus have crisp 16-bit noises to accentuate their fondling. This is how you do dynamic themes, people. There are several other Aqua Kitty themes that all feature the same ship-in-the-ocean concept, but offer different environments and times of day.

Spoonman Approved

Astronaut

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Another great theme from Tikipod, the people behind the game Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender. This theme has no music, which I guess is appropriate because it's in space and all. I'm not sure how to explain the presence of the default menu noises though. Anyway, the visuals are what we're here for. Your space dude has crash-landed on this cosmic rock and doesn't seem to have much to do. This is why you'll find him checking his space-watch, or sneezing in his space-helmet, or just stretching his space-legs. Occasionally he finds a space-ball to bounce, but that fun never lasts long. The astronaut has the same charm that made me fall in love with PixelJunk Monster's tiki man on PS3. And he's not the only thing that's keeping busy in this theme. An asteroid belt orbits a binary star system in the background, and distant stars drift by behind them. The thrusters of the astronaut's space capsule are still smoking after the crash and the access door's light continues to blink. The visual assets are all high caliber and far exceed your average dynamic theme's quality. I bought this theme on a whim and, aside from the lack of audio, I couldn't be more happy with my discovery.

Spoonman Approved

Well folks, that's it for now. I slapped an "01" in the title for some reason, so I guess that means I may do more of these blogs at some point. There are a few more themes I have in stock so if interest is there for more of this, I may go ahead and review them as well.

P.S. Don't buy themes.

PART 2

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