The 'Shroom:Issue 166/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

Happy New Year!! 🥳🥂🍾 To start off 2021 right, we've got an ACTION-PACKED Critic Corner with a couple new sections to boot! Welcome back Doomhiker (talk) with Doomed Reviews, and welcome to CC Roserade (talk) with Rose's Quarantine Reviews! We still have our other regular sections, as well, hopefully more than enough to keep you occupied and thinkin!

Thank you for voting Half-Baked Reviews as December's Critic Corner Section of the Month!! Be sure to give your love to all of our sections here, and give a shout out to our writers whether in chat or in their forum threads dedicated to their sections. Be sure to vote vote vote!


And now for my regular announcements: We've decided to implement in Critic Corner something similar to News Flush over in Fake News, where no formal sign-up application process is required for one-time or limited sections. From now on if you just want to send in a single review for something you just read, watched played, tried, whatever, you just have to send me your review privately either to me directly in chat, or in a message to me on the forum at least one week before each 'Shroom is to be released! There's no commitment or obligation to provide a full monthly section (although you absolutely can shift it into one if you so choose), just send us your thoughts on a thing and we'll feature it here! If you have any questions or curiosities about this, please feel free to ask!

As always, if you would like to help Critic Corner, we always have openings for more writers! You are free to write for sections such as Character Review and Movie Review, or really anything you'd like to do! There's no pressure to have a huge section; they can be shorter and concise! The application process is very simple, starting with reading the Sign Up page, and sending your application to Ninja Squid, our Stats Manager on the forum. Any idea you have is welcome, and if you have any questions or need help signing up, please feel free to reach out to myself or other 'Shroom peeps!

Section of the Month

Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH
Place Section Votes % Writer
1st Anton's Half-Baked Reviews 9 50.00% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd Minecraft Super Mario Mash-Up Pack Review 4 22.22% Moldomré (talk)
2nd Pokédex Power 3 16.67% Yoshi876 (talk)


Rose's Quarantine Reviews

Written by: Roserade (talk)

Well, beautiful 'Shroom readers, it's finally January of 2021. Despite the time that has passed, it seems as though the quarantine lockdown will never end. I've been idling by in my room for over nine months now, and I absolutely need something to fill that empty space. Thankfully, I have just the remedy, one that I considered ages ago but have finally bit the bullet on:

Writing reviews.

Welcome to Rose's Quarantine Reviews, where we'll be reviewing certain things you could find around my house! What can you expect to be reviewed from month to month? Whatever tickles my fancy! There are no restrictions, no rules, only reviewing. Let's jump right in.

Pokémon Berry Bolt cereal

Apparently this is sold out at walmart.com

We'll be kicking off today's reviews with a look at this Pokémon brand cereal, which my parents randomly brought into the house the other day. They handed me the box and essentially said "why not?", so I essentially said "why not?" and poured myself a bowl to try. Before we get into the taste, though, we must look at the presentation. Each box of Pokémon Berry Bolt cereal has an activity on the back, as well as trivia questions on the side. For the back of the box, I was tasked with identifying the evolutionary lines of four different Water starters, Squirtle, Totodile, Piplup, and Sobble. This wasn't at all a difficult feat, but I appreciate the Totodile representation. My experience with the trivia question was also one of ease, but anything to keep the young Pokémon fans entertained is a win in my book.

The cereal you see on the box is the cereal you get: red and blue fruit-flavored corn puffs with some marshmallows. First reading this description turned me away initially. Low-quality cereal marshmallows in my fruity cereal? This works fine for Lucky Charms, but surely it can't be the same here. I can pleasantly say, however, that the cereal certainly works. The puffs are at the same quality and flavor as Trix, which is always one of my go-to sugary fruity cereals; the marshmallows themselves are similar to the ones found in Lucky Charms, but with a fruity edge to their flavor, which I found crucial to the overall experience. By no means is this cereal rocketing up the charts to one of my favorites, but it is still a cereal I could see myself enjoying an occasional Saturday morning.
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That being said, I do wish that there were better representation in this cereal, or at least a second set with different marshmallow shapes. This cereal only comes with lightning bolts and fireballs, representing Electric and Fire types, naturally, but I was hoping for representation of the Water and Grass types as well. Also, the cereal colors stumped me until I typed out "red and blue" for this review and realized the intent. That's definitely cute, but I say we aim cuter. Can we get lighter yellow or as close to white as we can, instead of blue? I would love to eat Pokeball cereal.

Rating: 7/10

In Otter News 2020 calendar

The only news source I can trust.

Next, we're looking at In Otters News 2020, an eighteen-month calendar packed to the brim with everyone's favorite: otter memes! I should preface this section by saying that otters are my favorite animals, which will certainly sway my opinion on this calendar. Personal bias and all that. The 2020 calendar spans from July 2019 to December 2020, with moon phases, US holidays, and international holidays identified. I find the inclusions of extra months very nice, because who couldn't use more otters in their life? I also appreciate the inclusion of the moon phases, because I like to get a good look at the full moon when I can. The photo you're seeing to the right is one I snapped of my own calendar, so you can see what meme-y goodness is in store for you. Just like the cover tells you, it's otterly amazing!

Every page of the calendar hosts its own otter image, with an appropriate pun caption to follow. Some other examples of page captions include "You are all otter your minds!", "Come on in... The otter's fine", and "I need a nap, I'm otterly exhausted..." But of course, as with any great product, we must see how it looks in action. Thankfully, I've managed to photograph my own calendar "in the wild", which I've put to the right!

As you can see, it works as a perfectly functional calendar, one which lists dates and gives you the room to write on it yourself, all with a smiling sea otter giving you a goofy pun! I highly recommend this to any otter fans out there, especially with a 2021 calendar already being prepared for the coming year. I know that I myself am looking towards receiving more otter puns during 2021.

Rating: 9 seashells/10

My sleep schedule

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Oh, how the mighty have fallen...

Fun fact: I used to get decent sleep. Further fun fact: I no longer get decent sleep.

There's a lot of issues that need to be discussed with this sleep schedule. Mainly, it's wildly inconsistent. Will Rose go to bed at 11:00 PM or 3:00 AM? Will he stay up watching a show, playing Ace Attorney, texting friends, or staring up at his ceiling while moody music is blasting through his earbuds? Will he ever stop procrastinating brushing his teeth until the moment he goes to bed, or will he keep allowing it to be a reason that he stays up so late? Is his mental wellbeing its strongest when he's laying on his carpeted floor at 2:14 AM contemplating existence? Who can say! It's fairly hard for anybody to function consistently well in the morning after these nights, or if the morning is high-functioning, by 1:00 PM their brain is nothing but gook and the desire to take a nap.

There's plenty of other problems that this sleep schedule poses, though. What happens when the young mind is sleep-deprived? Typically, one of three phenomena will occur: a) stupid Snapchat story posts, b) either really snarky or really affectionate messages to friends, with no in-between, or c) overwhelming sadness. Bonus points if all three occur at once, though this can be fairly rare. This schedule can also come with the side effects of tired eyes, a desire to never get up from laying down, and poor self-image as you look in the mirror. All in all, with everything considered, I cannot recommend this sleep schedule to anyone, but especially those under the age of seventeen. While there are some positives to this sleep schedule, such as an influx of angsty poetry that is occasionally good, the cons likely outweigh the pros.

Rating: 2 days of restful sleep/10 (er, 7)


That's all I've got to review this month. Thank you for reading, and if you have any suggestions for what I should review next, feel free to let me know on the forums! Take care, and much love to you all.

Doomed Reviews

Written by: Doomhiker (talk)

Look at that face.

It's been a while since I've last written a regular section for the 'Shroom, the last one being in Issue 147 with an underwhelming review of Donkey Kong Jr. As it turns out, arbitrarily limiting myself to only review games that are on a service which is no longer receiving more games which is lacking large chunks of retro games and consoles wasn't a good idea. Now I'm back, now being able to review any video game I choose.

This issue, we'll be looking at the Game Boy Advance game titled Frogger's Adventures: Temple of the Frog. As you could probably tell if you clicked on the link to Wikipedia's currently abysmally small and lacking article for the game, or by looking at the game's Metacritic page which only has four critic reviews and five user ratings (one of which my own), this game isn't extremely popular. Not surprising, really, since the Frogger franchise has many games which few have heard of. Do you remember Frogger's Adventures: The Rescue? How about My Frogger Toy Trials, or Frogger 3D? Chances are, you haven't. Nonetheless, this game is one which isn't actually half bad. Compared to Frogger: The Great Quest, a game which you might actually recognize to its poor reputation. In fact, this game released only a couple of days after The Great Quest, and took the game's horrendous Frogger design for its box art, while also reusing many characters for the game. However, strangely enough, this is not the GBA version of The Great Quest; that got at GBA version titled Frogger Advance: The Great Quest several months later in 2002, and is a 2D platformer. The game we're looking at today actually got a sequel, titled Frogger's Adventures 2: The Lost Wand, though for this review we'll only be covering the original game.

The game starts off with a story. Of course, you won't be playing Frogger for an epic, and the game understands this by making the story simple and short, merely existing to give a reason for us hopping around different stages. Basically, Lumpy the frog informs Frogger that their home, the Firefly Swamp is dying due to Mr. D (who is essentially death himself) stealing the elements which keep the swamp alive. Throughout the game, Frogger meets various other characters, who simply exist to give him basic information. Nothing too complex, which is perfectly fine for this type of game.

The gameplay is also pretty simple. Frogger goes through five worlds with two levels and one boss each. In a level, you make Frogger hop around, while dodging enemy and obstacle patterns of increasing complexity. Frogger is quite frail, dying in only one hit. While this may seem bad, checkpoints are frequent, and losing all of your lives only results in having to replay the level from the beginning. Your continues are finite, however running out of them only boots you back to the title screen, and you thus never have to replay anything more than a level. In addition, the difficulty is more times than not fair. The only part of the game which is not completely fair are parts of the flying carpet sections in the sky levels, which require a small amount of memorization to dodge beams of electricity which come too fast and are too wide to be able to react to normally. The rest of the patterns, wether they are cannonballs, giant marbles, skeleton dogs, electricity, or conveyor belts moving in different directions, are fun, fair and varied, keeping the simple gameplay fresh. The level design is consistently good and varied too; you'll be exploring mines, sky palaces and ancient temples, among other places, encountering a variety of creatures. The patterns even employ smart design at times; for example, in the sky world, there are several patterns of bats with singular, large eyes which fly around the area. In these sections, the tiles which the bats do not fly on are yellow, which a shrewd player can notice and use to their advantage. It also helps that Frogger controls well; moving from tile to tile with the d-pad feels snappy and precise, and the player can easily make him turn in place. Frogger also has a couple of moves other than hopping. He can lick with his tongue, which is used to pick up butterflies. These give the player an extra life, though in water world where the move can't the used, and the butterflies are instead placed on normal ground. In my opinion, this game should've had more uses for his tongue; it could've been a great way to spice up the level design, however its actual use in the game is unfortunately superfluous given that the butterflies could've been easily been in reach of the player without the tongue without the gameplay being massively changed. Thankfully, later Frogger games actually expanded on the tongue move, such as in the aforementioned The Rescue where it can be used to pull platforms. More importantly, Frogger can jump, which can make him go over a gap or over smaller enemies and obstacles. This is quite fun to use, as small shortcuts can sometimes be made with this move.

The first stage.

There are also several collectables scattered across the various stages, such as coins. You need 50 of them to play the game's final world, however, the sheer amount of coins in the levels will mean that getting to 50 coins is incredibly easy and not something which you need to worry about at all. There's also element icons; three in the first stage of a given world, five in the second. These need to be collected to finish a level, and if you get to the end without them all, you'll be unable to exit it. This may seem bad, however the icons are generally extremely easy to find and get, so this is a nonissue.

The game also has several bosses. These are generally decent, but not much more. The first boss is a goblin king. You simply defeat him by hitting various switches around the area while dodging his attacks. Then there's the second boss, a snake; defeated by hitting a switch which appears after dodging his boulder attacks, which gradually get more difficult throughout the fight. Third is a large shark, which you defeat by removing the ropes off a ship, made more difficult by the shark reattaching the ropes. The penultimate boss is the Sultan, which you defeat by beating him at a minigame not too different from the minigame in Bubblegloop Swamp in Banjo-Kazooie. For this minigame, you need to collect more blue gems than him three times, while also avoiding any orange gems. The final boss with Mr. D is perhaps the best one. In the first phase you have to dodge attacks which involve the four different elements in the game, and in the final phase the tables turn as you use the elements to drop him into pits. This fight involves a bit too much waiting, but as a whole is quite enjoyable and a decent enough challenge. In general, these bosses, bar the last one, are decent, but not anything amazing. They often involve too much waiting, and the third and forth boss don't present much of a threat as much as they require you to hop around quickly.

Presentation wise, this game hits the mark. While the box art may use a horrendous Frogger design, his sprite in game is pretty good, and the character's icon is pretty cute and not at all like The Great Quest's design. The sprite work makes the game's world bright and vibrant, and Frogger even has multiple death animations, like with the Crash Bandicoot series. The music, however, is just alright and not all that memorable or noteworthy.

While the game itself doesn't have any massive flaws, the game's length may be a dealbreaker to some. With only ten actual levels, this game is less than an hour short. According to howlongtobeat.com, the game's main story is only 42 minutes long. I can't imagine buying it when it came out. However, today getting a loose copy should be relatively cheap. I got mine loose for ten dollars Canadian. Wether or not, even with a low price, it is worth it, is up to you. Unfortunately, this game hasn't been rereleased, so you'll have to use a GBA or backwards compatible DS for this one, unless you're willing to emulate.

Verdict

As a whole, Frogger's Adventures: Temple of the Frog is a great, enjoyable, and satisfying game. The great and varied level design is extremely fun to hop through, combined with some great controls. Just don't go in expecting anything even somewhat long, and you'll most likely have a great time.

'Shroom FM

Written by: MrConcreteDonkey (talk)

Hello and welcome to the first ever 'Shroom FM Awards - celebrating the best and worst music of 2020! I listened to 152 albums that were released in 2020, and if you think that's too much then yeah, you're not wrong, but also I know people who've listened to more, somehow. I also managed to review 63 of these albums since starting this section in March, a much higher number than I anticipated. Anyway, let's get on to the main event!

Top 40 Albums of 2020

Oh, here it is. The main event. 40 whole albums, in a list.

Don't get too concerned about how things are ranked, there's not really that much in it between a lot of these albums and I think all of them are at least good. Also, I'm not limiting this list to just albums I've reviewed - there's a lot of albums here I really liked but didn't get the chance to write a full review for. I'm including mixtapes and live albums because it'd be a bit pointless to split them off. Plus, I'll put in some runners-up at the end; it's a shame I can't make a top 50, but for some reason 40 is the magic number.

#40
SFMnotredame.jpg Klô Pelgag
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs
#39
SFMtorturedmind.jpg Yves Tumor
Heaven to a Tortured Mind
A unique pop album that seamlessly blends electronic and orchestral instruments. While not my favourite Yves Tumor project, the best moments here are incredible.
#38
SFMafterhours.jpg The Weeknd
After Hours
#37
SFMspiritworldfieldguide.jpg Aesop Rock
Spirit World Field Guide
An hour of great synthpop/R&B with tight production. Still not a huge fan of the mixing, but the lyricism and songwriting here are stellar.
#36
SFMmiagargaret.jpg Gia Margaret
Mia Gargaret
#35
SFMmiles.jpg Blu & Exile
Miles
A gorgeous ambient record with a lot of cool and inventive moments It's a very long record, but the production, lyrics and flow here are superb throughout.
#34
SFMgnossienne.jpg Haunted Disco
Gnossienne
#33
SFMtricot10.jpg tricot
10
An interesting blend of spooky ambient and offbeat pop songs, short but a lot to unpack. Another album of slick, complex and fun math rock. tricot can do no wrong, to me.
#32
SFMinlet.jpg Hum
Inlet
#31
SFMwewillalwaysloveyou.jpg The Avalanches
We Will Always Love You
I still need to listen to Hum's other records. A beautiful, very bittersweet album; feels like it perfectly represents the end of 2020.
#30
SFMghostsv.jpg Nine Inch Nails
Ghosts V: Together
#29
SFM2000AND4EVA.jpg Bree Runway
2000AND4EVA
My favourite of this year's two Ghosts albums, a quietly optimistic and hopeful album. Ridiculously fun and catchy, it's short but every song's a banger.
#28
SFMhowimfeelingnow.jpg Charli XCX
how i'm feeling now
#27
SFMkofu.jpg Meitei
Kofū
A very good pop album which feels a lot more focused than Charli. An ambient album that shows you can bring a lot out of a sparse atmosphere.
#26
SFMritorno.jpg Andrea
Ritorno
#25
SFMsongs.jpg Adrianne Lenker
songs
A dense and energetic album with a huge, lush atmosphere, and very fresh beats. Quite subtle in its execution, but the songwriting and use of location here are incredible.
#24
SFMmaze.jpg chelmico
maze
#23
SFManimetraumadivorce.jpg Open Mike Eagle
Anime, Trauma & Divorce
Mad, fun and unpredictable; every song feels so different from the one before. It's about anime, trauma and divorce, and it handles all three very well!
#22
SFMcircles.jpg Mac Miller
Circles
#21
SFMboltcutters.jpg Fiona Apple
Fetch the Bolt Cutters
A beautifully-handled posthumous album, some of Mac's best and most poignant work. Passionate vocals, sharp lyrics, and a lot of inventive choices in the instrumentation.
#20
SFManima.jpg DAOKO
anima
#19
SFMcenizas.jpg Nicolás Jaar
Cenizas
I only discovered this late in the year, but there's so many brilliant, catchy tracks here, and the superb production and vocals keep it energetic and fun. One of the many projects Jaar has released this year, Cenizas is very minimalist but precise in what it does. It's a real treat.
#18
SFMrtj4.jpg Run the Jewels
RTJ4
#17
SFMdraininglovestory.jpg Sewerslvt
Draining Love Story
As biting and aggressive as you'd expect from the duo, but the beats here are phenomenal, and there's a number of standout guest performances too. Some very dark and dense drum and bass, the atmosphere is massive here and it's easy to get lost into. Also there's a Moral Orel sample which is a big plus in my book.
#16
ShroomFM156-1.png Against All Logic
2017 - 2019
#15
ShroomFM156-3.jpg Caribou
Suddenly
Not really what I was hoping for from Jaar's second AAL album, but it's still a very good project. This is a much louder album, with a lot of clattering industrial elements and a much colder atmosphere. Wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did; it's an album full of catchy house tracks with quite a mellow atmosphere underlying it.
#14
ShroomFM156-2.jpg Beach Bunny
maze
#13
SFMmakkuro.jpg tricot
真っ黒 (Makkuro)
One of the shorter records here, but there's so much charm and energy to the songs here, with a very bright and fun atmosphere and sublime hooks. Oh look, another tricot album. I meant what I said earlier. They don't miss.
#12
SFMshore.jpg Fleet Foxes
Shore
#11
SFMuncanto1.jpg Natalia Lafourcade
Un canto por México vol. 1
While often melancholic and introspective, especially in paying tribute to many deceased artists, this album has a very warm atmosphere and gorgeous instrumentation and vocals. With its incredible vocal performances and bright, full instrumentation, this album does a stellar celebrating Mexican folk music and culture.
#10
SFMreturntobirdworld.jpg Leon Chang - Return to Bird World
Return to Bird World is a follow-up to 2017's Bird World, a fun little album which acts as the soundtrack to a fictional video game, complete with its own guide, and a lot of inspiration from games such as Yoshi's Island. This album expands on this in many ways, being nearly three times as long as its predecessor, and it uses this time to explore the game's storyline and a wider variety of moods than the first album. This project does a great job of feeling like an authentic video game soundtrack, and telling a story while doing so.
#9
SFMpunisher.jpg Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher
A mellow project that feels perfect for a quiet night, Punisher is atmospherically gorgeous. The guitarwork and vocals here in particular stand-out, though there's plenty of subtler moments and sounds that help to flesh each song out. The lyricism here is superb too, never too overwhelming for the vibe but often melancholic, and often elevated by Bridgers' personality. All in all, it's a very emotive, smart and personal album.
#8
SFMvisionsofbodies.jpg clipping. - Visions of Bodies Being Burned
Acting as sort of a second half to 2019's There Existed an Addiction to Blood, Visions does not let down, and continues building upon the twisted horror narratives the trio established on that album, and have established throughout their whole career. Diggs' storytelling brings life to a lot of vast, disturbing imagery, and his hurried delivery draws the listener in very well. The production is also tight as hell, often catchy but at the same time loud and jarring.
#7
SFMcharmed.jpg DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ - Charmed
A three-hour long album might sounds like a daunting task - especially one as dense and energetic as this - but Charmed has so much personality and heart put into it that it's more than worth the challenge. Over the album's runtime there's such a wide range of ideas and styles explored, and a great mix of longer tracks that take a while to build and shorter tracks that throw you right in. If you enjoy any kind of house music, I'm sure there's something you'll love here.
#6
SFMgiftatsogetsuhall.jpg Ichiko Aoba - "Gift" at Sogetsu Hall
I feel like this might've been overshadowed a bit - both by Aoba's other releases this year, and due to the fact that live albums, bar a few, don't really tend to get as much attention as studio albums - but as acoustic live performances go this is near flawless. It's a beautiful and soothing listen, with every note feeling so delicate and precise, and the audience are so quiet it's easy to forget they're even there.
#5
SFMmagicOPN.jpg Oneohtrix Point Never - Magic Oneohtrix Point Never
I'm a big fan of radio and the general aesthetics around it, and Lopatin does a great job of integrating it as a concept around this throughout Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, both through the more conventional electronic and pop tracks, and the abstract "Cross Talk" interludes scattered throughout. The production gives the record a very surreal and ethereal vibe, and all of this helps it actually feel like some strange, distant radio station you've stumbled across.
#4
SFMnodream.jpg Jeff Rosenstock - NO DREAM
This is the first Jeff Rosenstock album I've listened to, so I can't comment on how it compares to his earlier work, but from my first listen I've loved the energy and attitude of NO DREAM, and with every subsequent listen I've enjoyed it even more. There's a lot of anger, anxiety and disappointment in the lyrics here, which Rosenstock offsets with dry humour and very powerful hooks.
#3
SFMinnersong.jpg Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song
This is such a deep and fun house record, with a lot of techno, pop and ambient elements mixed in, with these massive, gorgeous synths in particular. So many different styles and sounds are explored here, and Owens' lush vocals adapt to each of them. Sometimes it's minimal and pretty, other times it's energetic and thumping, but it rarely feels like one overpowers the other, or it lingers on an idea for too long.
#2
SFMpurplemoonlightpages.jpg R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages
I've enjoyed a lot of Ferreira's previous work as Milo, but Purple Moonlight Pages is some of his slickest music yet, and definitely feels like the start of a new chapter in his career. The lyricism here is smart and introspective but rarely feels too hard to keep up with, and Ferreira's delivery is backed perfectly by the Jefferson Park Boys' smooth, jazzy production. It's a fantastic hip-hop record with a very chill atmosphere.
#1
SFMadannokaze.jpg Ichiko Aoba - Windswept Adan
Windswept Adan is an absolutely beautiful record, from the huge and vast atmospheres created by the strings and other instruments, to the focus on nature sounds such as crunching leaves or crashing waves. Aoba's vocal performance is gorgeous as ever, and given a lot of room to shine on the quieter and more acoustic tracks. It's very versatile too, often simultaneously feeling adventurous and blissful. This album's a masterpiece and I can't recommend it highly enough.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS
Boris - No • Dan Deacon - Mystic Familiar • Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B • MIKE - Weight of the World
Kylie Mingoue - Disco • The Mountain Goats - Songs for Pierre Chuvin • Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts VI: Locusts
Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today • The Strokes - The New Abnormal

Best EPs of the Year

RePorpoised Phantasies
EPs are generally shorter than albums, so have to work quite hard to feel like a full and satisfying project on the same level as albums. Personally, I enjoy most EPs I listen to, but only a few tend to get any better than a flat 'good' for me. That said, here's some from last year that I wanted to highlight, because they are very good.

My favourite EP of 2020 was probably Machine Girl's RePorpoised Phantasies, which loosens up a bit on the hardcore side of their music (minus the massive blast of it you get right at the end) to create a more rave/dance-oriented vibe, with some house elements and a superb remix of a grime track in the middle. It's got a really lush, dreamy atmosphere, aided by some erratic breaks and offbeat synth noises. For the most part, it sounds exactly like the cover looks. Another great dance EP from last year was Ecstasy by Disclosure, a really fun collection of tracks with some very funky beats and cool samples. If you're into more atmospheric stuff, then Sewerslvt's IRLY is just as deep and engaging as the aforementioned Draining Love Story.

I've also been enjoying Se So Neon's Nonadaptation EP, there's some really slick indie rock here that's easy to sink into, plus some very strong vocals and guitar lines. It's also got a good mix of fairly laid-back and more energetic tracks, and it's a good showcase of the group's versatility. In terms of pop, Lovetheism by Haru Nemuri is very eclectic and noisy, and there's a lot of fantastic moments - such as the huge brass section on Fanfare, or the thumping drum line on the title track. Meanwhile, Nilüfer Yanya's Feeling Lucky? is a relatively short but very sweet collection of three superb pop songs, and, having liked her debut album Miss Universe, it's really cool to see how her sound has developed. BUMPER's Pop Songs 2020 is also fun and bouncy, especially the opener You Can Get It; and Tkay Maidza's Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 shows a huge amount of potential.

Finally, I don't think every track is perfect, but there's some incredible moments on JPEGMAFIA's EP!, a small collection of the singles he's been releasing over the year.

Worst Albums of the Year

Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Here's the worst albums of 2020, or my least favourites. There's definitely, definitely worse stuff out there but please don't show any of it to me, or else I will be very upset.

Look. I get that it's really not hard or unpopular to criticise Drake, but Dark Lane Demo Tapes is really one of the laziest projects I've ever heard. It's a dull album where every song sounds practically the same, and the big hit is such blatant TikTok bait that its Wikipedia article even has "TikTok dance challenge" listed in its contents. If that isn't bad enough, the Toosie Slide itself is so depressing, just three(?) boring moves with no energy or emotion behind them. It's not even a "slide". Look at the Cha Cha Slide and all the different moves it has, how easy it is to remember them all, etc. I don't have Spotify Premium and genuinely one of the songs had the exact same beat as one of the ads I'd just heard. Even the title here is dishonest, there's no way it's a "demo" if it's already hit number 1 in multiple countries, and "tapes"... technically, yeah, it's billed as a "mixtape", but in the current musical climate "mixtape" doesn't really mean anything. If this is even available on a casette tape, 99% of people are gonna be listening to it digitally. It's nitpicky but it does feel like it's an attempt to give the album some degree of authenticity it doesn't deserve. It is a big shame because Drake at his best can make some really good stuff, 'Nice for What' in particular was one of my favourite tracks of 2018, but he only really comes out with stuff like it once in a blue moon.

Another album that was extremely lazy was Childish Gambino's 3.15.20, which according to my own review "got Cooking Mama'd" but I can't remember why. Maybe it was slapped together in Unity and mines Bitcoin. 3.15.20 actually tries to use its laziness as an aesthetic, with most of the tracks named after their position on the album's duration, which seems like far more trouble than it's worth. The tracks themselves are mostly bland or, in the case of '42.26', a song he released two years ago with a proper name, which he has now renamed to a bunch of numbers. Very odd.

A big letdown for me was Supervision, La Roux's first album in six years. Her last album, 2014's Trouble in Paradise, was a lot of fun, and one of the first albums from that decade as a whole that I really got into, so I was excited to hear another project from her, but there's a lot about this that is really off. The production doesn't sound good at all, feels very plastic and inauthentic, and in terms of instruments and general sound it doesn't feel developed at all since Trouble in Paradise. If anything it feels more like a collection of rejected tracks from that album. I was also interested in There Is No Year by Algiers, as they've done some really cool and interesting stuff over their career (check out The Underside of Power and 'Can the Sub_Bass Speak?', for starters), but their sound on this album is just plain awful, even in its best moments it's just uninteresting post-punk but the production is so dire and lifeless that listening to any song from it feels like a huge chore.

Meanwhile, the worst thing about Glass Animals' Dreamland is the lyrics. The band try to write about nostalgia in an authentic way but the end result is more often than not very cringeworthy, especially when they try to tackle more serious subjects, or otherwise just plain unimaginative. The vocals here are particularly bad too, especially on the track with Denzel Curry where the Glass Animals guy sounds ridiculously out of place on his own album. And, finally, U.S. Girls' Heavy Light, an album with very bad mixing and very bland songwriting, plus a bunch of weird interludes that come out of nowhere and contribute nothing to the general feel of the album.

Albums I Wanted To Enjoy More

Alfredo
I tried very hard to 'get' Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist's Alfredo, but even after four listens there's something about it that doesn't click with me. I like Freddie a lot, and on this and numerous other records he's appeared on throughout the year he's had some great verses; meanwhile, the production is solid and chill, but beyond that there's nothing I find that special about it. It's definitely an objectively good album, and one that a lot of people rate highly, but for me it never gets better than alright.

Róisín Murphy's Róisín Machine was an album I was looking forward to, after really enjoying the first single, Murphy's Law, and the Moloko album Statues - but, on my first listen to the album itself, it really didn't click with me. If anything, it felt very overwhelming and stodgy, and even a bit too slow in some places. To be fair, I was very tired at the time, which isn't a perfect mindset to tackle a heavy, deep, repetitive disco album. I enjoyed it a bit more on my second listen, there were definitely more tracks I gelled with, but not on the level I'd expected to before going into it.

And speaking of disco, I liked Jessie Ware's What's Your Pleasure? a lot less on my second listen - on the first I thought it was good and solid, not to mention well-produced, but again there was that something that didn't make it feel particularly memorable to me. As with Dua Lupa, Kylie and The Weeknd's albums, I'd many songs from this album on the radio quite regularly - but, unlike those albums, hearing them in the full context of the album here didn't affect them in any way for me. There was nothing new or interesting to pick up on, it all just felt very clean and listenable, but a bit hollow. Tennis' Swimmer also fell off for me a bit after a few listens.

Most Cursed Shit

There's some Biff in this caption.
Wet Ass Biffy

And that's 2020 wrapped up! Thanks a lot if you've managed to read all of this, or if you do go off and listen to any of these albums. Even the bad ones. See you in February, when we'll be going through the first few releases from 2021!

Book Review

Written by: FunkyK38 (talk)

Reflection: A Twisted Tale
BookReview166.jpg
Author Elizabeth Lim
Release date 2018
Genre Fantasy
Pages 416
Available From

Greetings, everyone! Welcome to a new year and a new year of Book Review! This month, I will be covering Reflection: A Twisted Tale by Elizabeth Lim!

Last year, Disney released a live-action remake of their 1998 animated film Mulan, and I’m sure you know the negative reception it received, stretching from the lackluster story to the poor representation of Chinese culture to the backlash Disney faced for filming near concentration camps. It’s pretty much dominated any discussion of Disney’s Mulan, which is a shame because we got a better retelling of the animated film just a couple years before the live-action film came out.

Reflection is part of a series of books that retell the beloved Disney classics in a darker way. I’ve read the entries inspired by Mulan and Beauty and the Beast, and the one for Cinderella is sitting on my “to be read” stack currently. If you’d like to hear more about the others, let me know and I’ll review more in the future.

The plot of Reflection is fairly simple: after the fight with the Huns on the mountainside, Shang is gravely injured and dies. Mulan has to travel to the spirit world to save his spirit with the help of the Li family guardian. She must find his spirit and reach the top floor of the underworld before one night passes. If she succeeds, they both go free, but if she fails, she’ll be trapped in the underworld forever with no hope of moving on. Thusly, her journey begins.

Reflection's main appeal is not the journey, but the interactions between Mulan and Shang's spirit. In the original movie, the two of them were In this story, they must work together to get through the underworld, and Mulan must use the strength she acquired from her training and her intelligence to get through all of the trials laid before them. It's lovely to watch their relationship bloom. In the animated movie, they never spent much time together, just the two of them. There was a sequel, yes, but the less said about that, the better. In this book, they spend nearly the entire page count together, and they grow closer together as a result. We get to see them becoming trusted allies, and more character development really helps flesh Shang out.

I'm a little hesitant to go into the mythos of the setting, the underworld as told in Chinese myth, as I am not Chinese, so I'll just talk about it as a background in general. Lim does a great job of describing each layer that Mulan and Shang must go through, from a room of mirrors to a fiery mountain with terrifying creatures, and she keeps the plot moving well with thrilling action scenes and emotional character interactions. It's a hard book to put down, and if you love the 1998 animated movie, I really can't recommend it enough to you. Heck, if you've never seen the animated movie but you were left disappointed by the live-action movie, I'd recommend it to you (although you should probably watch the animated movie first to get the worldbuilding.) Or, if you're like me and you love retellings of Disney movies, definitely pick this one up.

That's all for me this month, readers. If you've felt ripped off by Disney's remake of Mulan (even if you didn't pay for it), and you're longing for the original, definitely pick this book up. You won't regret it. As for me, I'll be reading the Cinderella story, and bringing you another Graphic Novel Review soon!

Pokédex Power

Written by: Yoshi876 (talk)

It's a Wrestling Pokémon, and I wish this typing took more inspiration from the luchador fighters.

Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who is finally properly starting to play Pokémon Moon and has even gotten past the first trial. I'm sure many of us have our opinions on the trial systems, and honestly, I prefer the Gym system, I feel like it fits Pokémon better in a general sense, and I'm glad that they reverted to it when Pokémon Sword and Shield (which I still need to start) were released.

Although from my understanding, Generation VI is one of the more unpopular Pokémon generations, it did give us some outstanding Pokémon like the Goomy line, Trevenant and the Mexican fighter-flyer Hawlucha. I'm aware that Ash caught and trained one in the anime, and I am a little surprised on that, I could see an episode dedicated to a Hawlucha fighting tournament, but not one accompanying him on his journeys, but considering how cool the Pokémon is, I can't blame the writers for putting one with him.

And I certainly loved training my Hawlucha in Pokémon Y and he was one of the most frequent Pokémon to feature on my teams, helping me in many Gym battles, especially with Wolfric and featuring in my Elite 4 beating team. I was always impressed when I trained Hawlucha, though I was worried when he made his appearance just past the second Gym, as not all Pokémon there are guaranteed to be tough later on in the game. But although I loved training Hawlucha, does that mean it has good Pokédex entries? Let's find out…

Generation VI

Pokémon X Although its body is small, its proficient fighting skills enable it to keep up with big bruisers like Machamp and Hariyama.
Pokémon Y With its wings, it controls its position in the air. It likes to attack from above, a manoeuvre that is difficult to defend against.
Pokémon Omega Ruby Although its body is small, its proficient fighting skills enable it to keep up with big bruisers like Machamp and Hariyama.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire With its wings, it controls its position in the air. It likes to attack from above, a manoeuvre that is difficult to defend against.

I almost feel like the writers of the anime read Hawlucha's entries before it first appearance, as in its first appearance it is actually doing battle with a Machamp and is the victor, admittedly it also faces an Ursaring and Conkeldurr and perhaps it would've been more fitting to put in a Hariyama as well, but I think it's a cool little detail. I think it's also good that early on we learn how proficient a fighter Hawlucha is and its particular fighting style, I can perfectly imagine a Pokémon like Hariyama struggling to defend against an aerial attack, Machamp maybe not so much given its four arms, but certainly Hariyama. And although these entries are fine, I don't feel like they go beyond fine, there's nothing massively exciting within, the only thing that slightly excites me is the aforementioned possible anime reference.

Generation VII

Pokémon Ultra Sun It overwhelms opponents with quick moves, but sometimes it showboats for too long when it's using a special move and gets itself into a pinch.
Pokémon Ultra Moon In combat, Hawlucha leaps nimbly about, taking advantage of its opponents' blind spots. It's also skilled at using superb submission holds.

Ultimately, Generation VII just gives us some more facts about its fighting style, but at least we get a streak of vanity from this Pokémon who adores showboating. But the question here is: is it a showboater in the wild, in actual Trainer battles or both? I can see it showboating for an audience during a Trainer battle in a Pokémon championship, but would it really be showboating for no audience in a wild battle? Sure, the audience could be inside Hawlucha's head, but when it's fighting for territory, food or perhaps survival, I can't see it. And also, why does Hawlucha fight? Obviously, it's a Fighting-type Pokémon so it'll be within its nature, but is it defending its territory, or does Hawlucha just fight any Pokémon it happens to meet eyes with?

Generation VIII

Pokémon Sword It drives its opponents to exhaustion with its agile manoeuvres, then ends the fight with a flashy finishing move.
Pokémon Shield It always strikes a pose before going for its finishing move. Sometimes opponents take advantage of that time to counterattack.

Three generations in, and we still haven't moved way from the way that Hawlucha fights, and I'm bored. Flashing finishing moves, already covered. Agile manoeuvres, been there, seen that. Showboating and getting itself into a pinch, literally five seconds ago. Turns out, there's nothing more that you guys need to know about Hawlucha, everything is about how it fights.

Conclusion The Generation VI entries were fine, but nothing special, and then we almost fell into Beheeyem territory with so many repeated, albeit rewritten, facts. For people who want to know more about Hawlucha than how it fights, then the Pokédex is clearly not your friend as it has no idea either. Perhaps it keeps fighting Pokémon researchers so they can't study its natural habitat, eating habits, whether its wings actually allow it to properly fly or whether it's more of a glider. But instead, I think it's more likely the writers just hit copy and paste, fiddle around a little, and then call it a job done.

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

Written By: Hypnotoad (talk) Featuring: Toadbert101 (talk)

Cozy

So here I am, in the midst of building and working on a hot cocoa review, and I see this article in my twitter feed because I’m cursed with having The Takeout publishing a quick and dirty review before I can actually do it myself. But then, I go and read it, only to discover that they’re using a brute force method of taste testing by standardizing them all with water. Here, just read this quote for one of the samples:

10. Sillycow Farms Fair Trade Chocolate-Chocolate

"Spiritually, philosophically, taxinomically [sic], any store-bought hot cocoa mix ought to be able to mix with water instead of milk and still taste okay. You should be able to dig a packet of powder out of your pantry and exclaim, “Cocoa time!” without having to purchase anything else to live your dream. Sillycow was the one cocoa mix that emphasized using milk instead of water (and “very hot milk” at that—yes, with the italics and everything). This reliance on dairy was its biggest weakness: It’s almost too bright and citrusy to taste like cocoa when you add it to water, perhaps designed to be cut by the mellow creaminess of milk. With water, it tasted thin and fruity, like a mass-market health drink that comes in “chocolatey” flavor. "

"Katie: It tastes like water with powder."

Like...I...I don’t even know, dude. This absolutely blew my mind. Like wow what a concept a product that was designed to be consumed a certain way doesn’t taste like how it’s designed to taste when you purposely break from the directions and use entirely different ingredients. They go on to list Swiss Miss as 2nd place with the line "All that said, when you follow the instructions to a T, Swiss Miss is decent enough to satisfy your wintertime chocolate cravings with only a slightly bitter aftertaste." So you can follow the instructions for that, but not the others???? To quote in entirety a reply by some dude named Muttons who took the words right from my mouth:

How can you compare store bought hot chocolate by making them all the same way (hot water only) when some are specifically formulated to be made with milk and others to be made with water? The methodology is flawed. Hot chocolate that is specified to be made with milk is often just cocoa powder/chocolate and sugar. It will lack the creaminess we expect from a good hot chocolate because there is none in the mix. Conversely, those that are specified to be made with water often have dry milk or non-dairy creamer added to the mix to lend that creamy texture. That’s why some of your mixes have used much more powder because the powder has a creamer added to it. As such, the water only variety will come out on top because you are making the milk variety incorrectly. In a similar vein, it’s like comparing store bought pizzas and cooking them all at the same temperature for the same amount of time and totally disregarding the instructions on the package. And then complaining that some of the pizzas came out cold or overdone. It’s a wholly asinine way to do a comparison test.

Go ahead and make hot cocoa exactly how you want for it to taste how you want, but if you're going to do a side-by-side comparison, there's no "evening of the field" by making them all exactly the same way; you have to make them each how they were formulated and recommended to be made.

So a year later that’s what I’m here to do!

Muttons here points out something that seems to be a given, but may be taken for granted: “(...)the creaminess we expect from a good hot chocolate(...)” So, what other criteria could there be? These seem good to me!:

A small glimpse at my food shelf.

Criteria

Creaminess - Is the texture appropriate and pleasant?
Chocolatiness - Does it even taste like chocolate?
Comfort - Does this make me feel snug and cozy?
Quality - Miscellaneous aspects that can make or break (i.e. ethics, aroma, atmosphere, craftsmanship, allure, ease).
Value - Is it even worth buying?

Rather than drone on any longer without actually getting to any review, I’ll break into technicalities and specifics as appropriate throughout the reviews. And, as with my milk review from a year ago, this is entirely subjective and vulnerable to shifting moods and feelings, as well as subject to whatever information I have available to me. This is just meant to be internally contextualizing since there’s a lot! If you want me to explain a number better, go right ahead and message me in chat and I’ll gladly talk more about hot chocolate.

Swiss Miss

It’s only right to start off with the brand that has nearly become synonymous with cozying up near a fireplace after shoveling snow. While this is one I’ve definitely already tried, and can synthesize the flavor and texture by just thinking about it, it’s good practice to create a control for the rating criteria I’ve set up.

Milk Chocolate with Marshmallow Hot Cocoa Mix

Water (left) and milk (right). Science.
The rule of thumb for Swiss Miss has always been to use two packets, and this is likely because people don’t adhere to the ‘one packet for 8oz (formerly 6oz) water or milk’ instruction because, honestly, why should they? 8oz is an absolutely pathetic amount of hot chocolate for anyone doing some serious cozy drinking, despite being the lower end of a standard mug size. But who even has a standard mug anymore? People tend to pour however much they want to be drinking, then assume the packet will take care of the rest, when it really doesn’t, and thus a second becomes necessary. $1.79 for 8-1.38oz packets at Target surely isn’t a bad price, but needing to use twice as much to achieve basic satisfaction certainly does cut into it. For this, and all the rest, I followed the instructions as completely as I could.

With water, it definitely is water and has a tell-tale thinness, but with enough chocolate and sweetness to stave off that icky flavored water taste. This is the true Swiss Miss experience, the one from childhood lore. With milk it doesn’t feel quite rich as it does like...soft? Pillowy? Not exactly velvety, but definitely smooth. It loses familiarity and chocolate taste with this, but gains experience. Don’t let all the big words in the ingredients scare you, this is free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, or colors, and is gluten free; traits sought after by the highest quality products seeking to edge out the others.

-Creaminess ------- 3/5
-Chocolatiness --- 3/5
-Comfort ------------ 4/5
-Quality ------------- 4/5
-Value --------------- 4/5

Total: 18/25

Indulgent Collection Dark Chocolate Sensation Hot Cocoa Mix

Cocoa seems to taste better when someone else makes it for you.
What makes it the Indulgent Collection? According to their website, it’s simply more cocoa than the regular. Well, that’s one easy way to do it. Recommending just 6oz of water (or milk for ‘richer taste’) certainly does make a hot cocoa more indulgent just by virtue of there being more cocoa powder relative to liquid. I’m sure pretty much any mix would become more rich and indulgent if I just instead used more chocolate. That critique aside, this genuinely does have good flavor and texture. It didn’t taste dark at all, but rather rich and creamy. There was only a tinge of bitterness, but smooth sweetness outshined it. Compared to the regular milk chocolate Swiss Miss this just simply feels much more chocolatey and just all-around feels more cozy. $1.79 for 8-1.25oz packets at Target, which is the same price, so I would honestly recommend getting this one by default over the other.

-Creaminess ------- 4/5
-Chocolatiness --- 5/5
-Comfort ------------ 4/5
-Quality ------------- 5/5
-Value --------------- 5/5

Total: 23/25

Sillycow Farms

Now onto the one that was directly victimized, inspiring me to flesh out this review into a thorough multi-part review series with a disciplined goal to try every one I can by following the directions at least for the first try before I go and make it the way I want to, in order to give it a fair and consistent shot. To start, SillyCow is like $7 for a jar of it, so you can go ahead and afford a $2 bottle of milk, heck, spend $1 on a little pint and split it as evident by the images provided in the review you just made a splash of each one. There’s just no excuse. “Reliance on dairy was its biggest weakness” like oh my god guys I’m still reeling over this, this is absurd. Use any number of milk alternatives if you’re poo-pooing the dairy industry in protest! Breathe in, breathe out, it will be okay.

Sillycow Farms hot chocolates are Certified Gluten Free and Non-GMO Project Verified, have no corn or high fructose syrup solids, are nut and peanut free, non-dairy, have no trans fats, no added sodium, no artificial flavors or sweeteners, no artificial growth hormones, and are Certified Fair Trade in six flavors (although which six is not readily apparent on their website). With all this emphasis on using natural ingredients, I can see the price tag as being relatively justified. Language on their website, though, stresses ingredients “you can spell and pronounce”, which is a subtly anti-science narrative that weasels into common conversations that can fertilize seeds of future irrational and conspiracy-laced beliefs, and just something I can’t let slip by unnoticed.

Chocolate Truffle

The only thing abhorrent about these is the pitiful amount
Not just chocolate, but chocolate truffle. Definitely not the same as the fungal truffles I reviewed last month, chocolate truffles are a type of creamy confection that typically takes the form of a chocolate orb with a soft and smooth chocolate filling; a more luxurious and refined treat than your everyday bar. To try this, I followed the instructions exactly, up to and including the whipped cream, cocoa dusting, and using my favorite mug--a colossal Sulley mug. This hot chocolate definitely tastes a bit more rich and of higher quality than Swiss Miss. A gentle chocolate flavor that feels full rather than bitter; smooth, silky, milky, just what I want. Pretty large bits of powder, but they all thankfully dissolve rather easily.

-Creaminess ------- 5/5
-Chocolatiness --- 5/5
-Comfort ------------ 5/5
-Quality ------------- 4/5
-Value --------------- 3/5

Total: 22/25

Chocolate Maple

They all kinda look the same, don't they.
Same instructions as the Chocolate Truffle, so I did the same treatment. The maple flavor is very present and accurate, which is thanks to it using maple sugar and natural maple flavor. Strong cooked caramel and woody flavor, but is quickly overwhelming. It’s a bit too sweet to indulge in with large swigs, and instead needs to be delicately sipped. The suggested whipped cream is good to help temper the overwhelming sweetness and bring it back to creaminess, but at that point I’m finding myself working more to mask the maple flavor than I am complementing it.

I really like the glass bottles and design, but I noticed that as the powder settles down with time it becomes difficult to dispense, as the opening is too small to slip a spoon into to scoop. I found myself having to violently shake the bottle after loosening it up by poking a knife inside, all so I could shake out a little bit of powder without fear or concern of an avalanche. I also wish the lid was something a bit more sturdy and timeless if they’re going to claim the bottle is collectible, but that’s a non-issue.

-Creaminess ------- 5/5
-Chocolatiness --- 4/5
-Comfort ------------ 2/5
-Quality ------------- 2/5
-Value --------------- 3/5

Total: 16/25

A lot more flavors on their website, a lot of which appear to be some variation on just regular chocolate. I’d be willing to order some more that I couldn’t find in stores, but the shipping cost is a restrictive $18.

Land O’Lakes Cocoa Classics

Land O’Lakes is an agricultural co-op with a focus on dairy, specifically cheese and butter, so it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from hot cocoa. They promise flavorful ingredients and rich taste, which is good because that’s exactly what I’m expecting to receive. There are eleven flavors as of writing this, all made with nonfat dry milk, permitting them to print the phrase ‘just add water’; well...I guess they don’t produce retail milk, do they? I tried Raspberry, French Vanilla, and Mint; Chocolate Supreme and Hazelnut are the other two flavors they have available at Publix, but there’s quite a bit more available presumably somewhere else.

Raspberry & Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

The packets might be cheap individually, but it does add up if you buy them all.

Just 89 cents for a single-serve 1.25oz packet, but I have seen them go on sale regularly at 3/$2 (66 cents). Directions call for 6 fl oz of water per packet, which isn’t really much to drink, at least compared to my childhood barrels of hot cocoa, but hey, it’s enough for a relaxing sip. The powder smells like raspberry for sure, and the flavor is incredibly accurate and pleasant. Subtle and smooth raspberry flavor carried by milky chocolate. Nevertheless, it felt thin and watery. I tried it again with milk instead and it improved significantly, becoming very rich, and bringing out the smooth flavoring even more. It’s notable that raspberry can be a divisive flavoring, often leaning far too on the tart berry end especially with chocolate, but this was nice and mellow.

-Creaminess ------- 3/5
-Chocolatiness --- 4/5
-Comfort ------------ 4/5
-Quality ------------- 3/5
-Value --------------- 4/5

Total: 18/25

French Vanilla & Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

Your cocoa doesn't have to be like this, you can have better! You deserve better!
Likewise with the Raspberry and across the board for the rest, this is artificially flavored, which, sure, would be nicer to have natural flavors as a concept and probably for health, but can’t beat 89 cents right?? Mixed with water and...meh. It’s alright, definitely functions as a hot cocoa, but the flavor and texture are certainly lacking, so to each their own with this one. Tried it with milk as well and it was just simply superior. Good subtle flavor, can only get the vanilla flavor if you’re really attuned to it but nonetheless it’s there and balances the chocolate, giving it some warmth.

-Creaminess ------- 3/5
-Chocolatiness --- 4/5
-Comfort ------------ 3/5
-Quality ------------- 3/5
-Value --------------- 4/5

Total: 17/25

Mint & Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

Quite simply just a dirty dish.
Smells kinda minty but really not much, at least comparable to other mint products that tend to accost your senses. Is this a welcome delicateness, or just a pathetic amount? Can’t beat 89 cents!! Mixed with water as per the recommendation and it’s just absolutely miserable. Somehow it feels even thinner than the others, and the weak amount of mint flavor does nothing but make it taste like dishwater. The packet did have an alternate direction for iced cocoa, merely being less water but then poured over ice. It was...not my recommended iced cocoa experience, to say the least. There’s just no way that the amount of dry milk in here is sufficient. As with the others, I tried this again with some 2% milk, and the results are astounding. Creamy, smooth, relaxing, the gentle touch of mint is there but not potent, simply gracing it with a fresh coolness rather than a toothpastey kick. Tastes like sniffing a fresh box of Thin Mints.

-Creaminess ------- 3/5
-Chocolatiness --- 4/5
-Comfort ------------ 3/5
-Quality ------------- 2/5
-Value --------------- 4/5

Total: 16/25

Nestlé Classic Rich Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

Water (left) and milk (right). Two cups of cocoa is always better than one.
Probably the one brand of hot chocolate achieving the level of ubiquity as Swiss Miss is Nestlé, with a wide variety of exciting flavors such as: Dark, Rich, Milk, Rich Milk, and Marshmallows. Exhilarating. Navigating some of their websites for any information certainly speaks of their company sure as just some company, lifeless and monotonous. But who needs to excite a ripe potential customer base when you’ve got the might of your company name and history to push you forth? As this is Nestlé, they are boasting their Nestlé Cocoa Plan with its commitment to enriching the lives of their workers and sustainable farming of cocoa beans, but just simple isn’t enough to do much more than good PR.

This particular mix thus far is the only one that suggested water that actually tasted good and became creamy. Sometimes the job just needs to get done, no need for frills. It suggested milk as well, which was good, but somehow water...worked better? Using milk definitely made it heavier and creamier, but it was no more rich. With water the richness of the chocolate came through unobscured, and the dry milk in the mix did its job to generate a level of creaminess. The mix dissolved with water pretty readily and easily, while in milk it remained clumpy for quite some time despite vigorous stirring. Merely 88 cents for a box of 6 packets, 15 cents a pop. Sure, I got this at Walmart, where prices dip down to just a penny or two above the break-even point, but I can’t imagine this gets wildly more expensive shall it be available elsewhere; in fact, you can get a large tub of it at Target for a marginally less price-per-ounce.

-Creaminess ------- 5/5
-Chocolatiness --- 4/5
-Comfort ------------ 4/5
-Quality ------------- 4/5
-Value --------------- 5/5

Total: 22/25

Treehouse Originals Sea Salt Drinking Chocolate

It's as chunky as it looks.

At Publix right with all the other hot cocoa powders and chocolate syrups and stuff, right next to the Land O’ Lakes packets are some higher end ones, magically always completely stocked. Treehouse Originals uses sustainably sourced organic chocolate, an admirable feat when much more successful competitors resort to literally child labor and slavery. Rather than mincing a perfectly fine summary into my own words as if I have to be worried about a professor checking if I’ve plagiarized, have it straight from the horse’s mouth:

Our premium 72% cacao drinking chocolate are made with real dark chocolate from high quality, organic cacao that we sustainably source directly from a Oro Verde farmer owned cooperative in Northern Peru.

There are no preservatives or refined sugars in our drinking chocolates - instead, we focus on ethically-sourced wholesome ingredients.

We craft our hot chocolate in small batches to bring out the individual nuances of each cacao bean. With a modern take on a traditional European technique, we are able to fully realize the potential of the beans we source. All this makes for a decadent, fruity & fudge-like hot chocolate as intended to highlight the spirit of craft chocolate making.

What this means, though is it’s $2.29 for a single-serve packet; a good set of reasons, of course, but I didn’t want to do it. Ultimately, I figured it would be my one expensive option in this set of reviews, as it had the boon of being a single-serving that, while expensive for a single packet, is still cheaper than any hot chocolate I’d buy at a restaurant for a single serving. At least it wasn’t the $12 option I saw elsewhere. Out of the options of Dark Chocolate, Spiced, Mocha, and Sea Salt, I opted for Sea Salt as I feel that would be the most rounded and basic option.

Just about as dissolved as it would get without exerting extraordinary effort.
That’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that it tastes like every other exorbitantly priced cacao bar in that dirt would provide a more nuanced and rounded flavor with a more pleasant texture. I followed the instructions exactly, and thankfully they graced me with the “or milk” alternative in the wording as I was not feeling up to cursing it from the start by using water. I admire the commitment to the craft but god guy’s can’t you find a way to make your perfectly natural and sustainable product taste like the addictive ambrosia that is mass produced milk chocolate? Please? I promise I’ll pay the extra dollar if necessary, I’m already shelling out a small fortune for your burnt drywall so what’s another fee? According to their site, “our original recipe sprinkled with a cherrywood smoked salt harvested from the Pacific Ocean by our friends at San Francisco Salt Co,” and I just got absolutely none of that smoked flavor, or even smell, and none of that nice oceany sea salt I was hoping for. All I got was dark chocolate, and it was kinda bleh as it just would NOT dissolve no matter how “passionately” I stirred it. I could feel the clumps, and at best it was just kind of a subtle texture that prevented it from being smooth and creamy, and at worst it was dry and dusty.

-Creaminess ------- 1/5
-Chocolatiness --- 3/5
-Comfort ------------ 2/5
-Quality ------------- 3/5
-Value --------------- 1/5

Total: 10/25


$$$$
Have no fear, there are easily a couple dozen more I'll be reviewing, so here's to another enormous quarterly-long review series!

Just not these ones here unless anyone wants to start giving me money!

Also, thank you to Toadbert101 (talk) for helping draw some rating reactions again! 5 is just a constant mood.

The 'Shroom: Issue 166
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