The 'Shroom:Issue 167/Critic Corner
Welcome to February, the month for lovers! We here at Critic Corner lovingly bring you a lot of words to read, hopefully to your enjoyment and pleasurable entertainment!
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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|
|1st||Anton's Half-Baked Reviews||12||50.00%||Hypnotoad (talk)|
|2nd||Rose's Quarantine Reviews||6||25.00%||Roserade (talk)|
|3rd||Pokédex Power||4||16.67%||Yoshi876 (talk)|
Rose's Quarantine Reviews
Greetings, beautiful 'Shroom readers, and welcome back to another edition of Rose's Quarantine Reviews. In case you couldn't tell, we are still in quarantine, and I continue to review.
As we move into the middle of February, I'm reminded of the simpler things. The innocence of young love, the delicate beauty of a new layer of snow, and the simultaneous rage and satisfaction I feel towards life right now. What might be causing this simultaneous rage and satisfaction, you ask? Let's review some of it.
Zoom Video Communications
Alright, let's not get too dramatic right off the bat. Functionally, Zoom is a usable program. In a period of time where our communication is distant, a reliable video chatting and streaming service is welcomed. Zoom serves as a metaphorical bridge we all need in our literal lives, a way to meet face-to-face with those you need to see or really want to see. In that regard, Zoom serves its purpose effortlessly, hosting millions of peoples on their service daily, mostly with how work and school settings have turned to it for support. For being functional, it is worth it to be thankful towards the program.
However, there's some key concepts I'd like to emphasize. Firstly, I mentioned that a reliable service would be welcome in our lives right now. Obviously, Zoom cannot account for the internet or technology issues of every user; components like wi-fi connection and the device it's being used on need to be considered. I must still say, though, that I marvel over the number of individual difficulties people have while using Zoom. Sometimes sharing your screen boots everyone out of the meeting, or turning on your camera simply won't work, or the chat will glitch to where you're sending private messages to the wrong people. A whole assortment of problems are essentially guaranteed to occur at any time, which becomes a significant issue in a classroom setting. There is also the trouble of "Zoom bombing", a form of internet trolling which takes full advantage of the weak protection of the Zoom meetings and the expectations of the meeting host. Other articles search into this problem more deeply, but rest assured, the effects are immediate and, in some cases, traumatizing. Zoom has made the effort towards improving the security of meetings, such as adding a security menu and a waiting room for users joining calls, but some poor decisions are still being implemented. For example, why is it that clicking a link to a Zoom meeting immediately lets you in with the meeting's password? Having to put in a password afterwards would be seemingly troublesome, but it would also help alleviate this issue tremendously.
Perhaps most unfortunately for Zoom, my biggest issues with it are my own personal feelings towards how much I've had to use and what it's represented for me. I've had to use Zoom so, so, so often for eleven months now, and I'm certain that other students reading are in the same boat. It is absolutely endless. Nothing but Zoom call after Zoom call, upwards of five meetings a day. That's been my school experience throughout the second half of my junior year, and now the entirety of my senior year. Riveting stuff. I understand the value in having repeated connection with teachers in this way, and Zoom calls can certainly be beneficial for me. It's just reached a breaking point, where I'm in a purgatory of grey rectangles and teachers trying their damnedest to understand where the unmute button is. Never before have I felt so completely disengaged from school. So yeah, in that regard, Zoom Video Communications can eat my shoe. Not directly its fault, but it's receiving the sting of my feelings anyway.
Rating: 2/22 Zoom calls I've actually paid attention to this week
Kraft Original Flavor Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
Up next for review is Kraft Mac & Cheese, a childhood delicacy of mine that has seen a resurgence in my life in recent months. If Zoom was what was causing my rage towards life right now, Kraft Mac & Cheese serves as my satisfaction. When I was little, I would regularly go to my grandma's house to stay overnight on Fridays, and for dinner she'd always have either a Papa Murphy's pizza, or a pot of this pseudo-Italian goodness on the stove. For this reason, Kraft Mac & Cheese serves as nostalgia food for me, a reminder of a simpler time when I'd go over and play with Pokemon plushies and watch PBS Kids Sprout. If you'd believe it, her house was even the place where I joined the Mario Boards for the first time, nine years ago! Memories...
Onto the mac itself. It's alright! I think the cheesy powder creates a satisfying cheese flavor, and a good bowl of it will leave you feeling filled. My personal recommendation for cooking is to use the low-fat instructions on the box, as I feel like the normal instructions add too much butter and milk, detracting from the cheese flavor that is admittedly already pretty sparse. Kraft Mac & Cheese will also always be best during the first meal, rather than as leftovers; it just isn't the same being reheated in a microwave the following day. Would I recommend this meal to any avid macaroni and cheese fans out there? Probably not. There are other pre-packaged mac and cheeses out there that I believe deliver better on the cheesy side, such as Velveeta. What makes Kraft Mac & Cheese best for me are the memories and feelings that it elicits for me, which is why I'd rate it so highly. In a time where finding any comforts I can is a blessing, I've reverted back into my Kraft-loving kid self, and really, could you blame me for that?
Rating: 8/10 bowls of mac
"Sparks" - Coldplay
I'll preface this review by saying that, while I'd consider myself a significant Coldplay fan, I am not at all familiar with most of their music. Many of their songs hold a sentimental value to me, and I do genuinely enjoy every song of theirs I've heard, but I'm not very good at listening to full albums all the way through. With that in mind, we're taking a look at "Sparks", one of the tracks off their July 2000 album, Parachutes. A few of their other songs from this album resonate with me deeply ("Yellow" being a primary example), but "Sparks" has to be my favorite song I've heard from it.
There is a certain vocal quality to this song, one where Chris Martin's raw voice is drawn to the surface. It's rarer to hear him go into his lower register in his music, or to sing with a gravelly tone, but "Sparks" utilizes both of these components of his voice alongside his higher register, creating a melody that seamlessly flows up and down the staff. The lyrical contents of the song aren't anything revolutionary, yet paired with Martin's vocal performance, they still carry a sense of deep honesty and weight. Other Coldplay songs better demonstrate the poetry of their songwriting, "Violet Hill" and "Viva La Vida" immediately coming to mind as examples, but I find myself enraptured by the lyrics of "Sparks" regardless. Pair this raw honesty with an instrumental created with simplistic bass, guitar, piano, and light percussion, and you've got a song that will stand the test of time. Absolutely a forgotten gem in Coldplay's library, I'd recommend it to anybody looking for the luxury of emotional release, particularly anytime after 11:00 PM. While listening, my personal suggestion is to plug in headphones, lay on the floor, and stare up at the ceiling, effectively making you awash in the music. Am I recommending that as a moody teenager, currently going through a lot of emotional turmoil? Yes. Do I hope you still try it anyway? Yes.
Rating: 9 times hitting repeat/10
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.
Nintendo isn't always creative with their naming choices. Even today, the new Pokémon Snap is called, well, New Pokémon Snap. These titles obviously date rather quickly. Such is the case with the first New Super Mario Bros. game, which is turning fifteen years old this year, and is actually the first game ever reviewed in the 'Shroom's history, only a bit more than half a year after the game actually came out. Now that four other games came out afterwards, does the game still hold up on its own, despite no longer being "new"?
The game, after briefly showing the Princess being kidnapped, quickly throws you into the first level after entering it through the world map. The first level is a pretty simple grass level and isn't dissimilar from what you'd expect from a standard 2D Mario game. This makes sense, as the last released 2D Mario game at the time of its release was the then 14-year old Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. However, the game does modernize the 2D Mario gameplay. Taking influence from Super Mario 64, Mario has an expanded moveset, and can Triple Jump, Ground Pound, and Wall Jump. The allows for more acrobatic movement, and the Wall Jump especially is used for some fun level design, such as in World 2-Tower, where one of the Star Coins can be found by Wall Jumping in between a moving object. Mario can also latch onto and swing off of some ropes and vines, and, in some mountain-themed levels, Mario is also able to hang onto thin cliffs. Altogether, this leads to more varied level design and movement than what you would have seen in previous games. My only complain with this is that Mario feels a bit floatier than he should, but that's ultimately not something which ever becomes a major issue. However, moves aren't the only thing this game has brought to 2D Mario.
The game introduces three power-ups. There's the heavily marketed Mega Mushroom, and the least interesting of the three. It grows Mario to a gigantic size, allowing him to destroy most obstacles in his path. This power-up isn't that good, as most sections just have you walking forwards mindlessly; it feels more like a "use to win" button rather than something which can be used to help you progress instead of just instantly clearing the section for you. The only time you have to put any effort into using it is while collecting Star Coins. As a whole I found it something which felt more like something used to market the game as new and exiting rather than something which genuinely improves the game. It felt forced into the game. The next power-up is the Mini Mushroom, which is fine in concept but mediocre in execution. It shrinks Mario to a miniature size, allowing him to run of water, jump higher and go into tiny Warp Pipes. However, it comes with several disadvantages, namely the fact that Mini Mario dies in only a single hit, and that Ground Pounds are now needed to defeat most enemies. The main issue with this power-up is that it acts more like a key to access Star Coins than something you'd actually want to get. In addition, the most interesting one of the power-up's abilities, that being the ability to run on water, is barely used in this game (though World 3-B in New Super Mario Bros. 2 actually uses this ability well). Finally is the Blue Shell, by far the most interesting of the three. It allows Mario to hide in a shell, swim faster, and most importantly it allows Mario to speed around in a shell, bouncing all around. This can be quite fun, however I wish that the player could manually enter the shell with a press of the button; the current version of the power-up enters the Shell dash automatically. The selection of new power-ups isn't as good or exiting as in later games, but does the game make up for it in level design?
The answer is yes. The levels do have the standard generic Mario themes, such as the desert, forest, mountains, etc. However, while the themes themselves are nothing to write home about, the level design frequently introduces new mechanics to keep the experience fresh. Whether it's a level inside a sewer, a level on top of a massive Wiggler, or perhaps an icy level involving Mario swinging on moving ropes, the game has good level variety. In addition the game takes some mechanics from Super Mario 64 DS. Unagi, big and small, give the underwater levels an amount of variety which didn't exist in later games, and instead of going on a raft, the player may ride on Dorrie. The game also introduces a decent amount of new and memorable enemies, such as the inflating Balloon Boos or the weird Blockhoppers. The level design is generally consistently high-quality, naturally introducing and expanding on its mechanics. The only levels I really disliked were the Lakitu-focused levels, which feel more like simple straight lines than anything. This game also introduces collectables in the form of Star Coins, three appearing in each stage. These are generally fun to collect, albeit not always super well-hidden, with some being a bit too out in the open. However, I do have a problem with a fraction of the Star Coins, namely the ones which require the Mini Mushroom or Blue Shell to collect. You see, many Star Coins can only be collected with a Mini Mushroom in tow, even in levels which don't actually contain the power-up. This mean that in order to get these specific Star Coins, you'll need to get the Mini Mushroom from a Toad House, another level, or one of the moving Hammer Bros. or red flying ? Blocks, and bring it back to the level with the to be collected Star Coin. This can be quite frustrating and just amplifies the feeling that the Mini Mushroom is just a glorified key, and this is even worse with the Blue Shell, as it does not normally appear in any levels with the exception of Roulette Blocks and makes using it for Star Coins or Secret Exits an bit tedious. It's what ultimately stopped me from collecting all of the Star Coins in the game. Nonetheless, they're a nice addition to the series, and they have actual function, unlocking both levels and Toad Houses.
The game has a nice presentation. The game mixes 3D models and 2D sprites, and it doesn't feel like a poor mix. I'm a sucker for DS-era 3D models, being low-poly but using modern designs. The music is alright though a bit generic; the castle theme is a highlight. One of the reasons why the New Super Mario Bros. series of games feel so generic is that, for the most part, they all look about the same, so this game having a presentation which is at least somewhat different with the 3D model and 2D sprites helps make the game feel just a bit different from the rest.
Another thing which makes the game feel different from the rest of the New Super Mario Bros. series are the bosses. Unlike in later games, where most the bosses are the Koopalings, all the world end bosses, except for the World 1 boss and Petey Piranha, are original. Whether they're a Monty Mole in a tank or a mummified Pokey, they have great designs. The fights themselves are incredibly easy, however, and could've used some more difficult attacks, though still manage to be engaging. I would've liked greater variety in how you defeat the bosses; most of them simply require to wait for an opportunity to jump on them after dodging an attack. Compare this to another Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, where there was great variety in how you damaged the bosses; while there may have been some more standard bosses where you had to simply jump on them, there was also stuff like the RoboBrood, which involved destroying glass domes after attacking it with a captured Pokio, or the Mechawiggler, which involved shooting at it. I do understand that New Super Mario Bros. has simpler gameplay than Super Mario Odyssey, thus making it harder to design harder bosses, however games like Shovel Knight still managed to have a degree of variety when it came to bosses. That game had bosses be different by having the situations that you fought the bosses in be different; so for example Tinker Knight had you climb a giant mech, Plague Knight destroyed the boss area, Mole Knight, being a mole in an underground arena, dug in and out of the arena for attacks, etc. However this isn't something that this game does a lot, either. The only examples of the arena or situation of the boss was different was with the Giant Goomba boss with the moving platforms, and the Monty Tank boss which had an autoscrolling arena. Basically, more boss variety would have been appreciated. This game is mostly smooth sailing, and unfortunately lacks the more challenging post-game World 9 found in later games. Nonetheless, I did Game Over a couple of times, which sent me back a bit, but the level design was never downright unfair. The game features eights worlds, though two are optional. You enter these optional worlds by defeating the previous world's boss with the Mini Mushroom, which can actually provide an additional challenge (with the bonus of the Mini Mushroom actually being present in the World 2 castle, which can lead to World 3 or 4). In addition, Cannons appears at various points in the game, launching the player to a later world, and can be found using Secret Exits. Again some of the Secret Exits unfortunately require the Blue Shell to access, but are still fun to find. I do enjoy the large amount of different paths the player can take throughout the game, meaning a player has a lot of choice on how they want to progress. It also means that if they are stuck on a given level they most likely can choose another; the only world which needs to be completed in its entirety is World 8.
The game is not solely composed of the main campaign. The game also includes a collection of minigames from Super Mario 64 DS, which are a nice bonus. It kind of reminds me of the Mario Bros. remake included in several Game Boy Advance Mario games, in terms of being a persisting bit of extra content. In addition, for multiplayer, there is a Mario Vs. Luigi mode. Unfortunately, both due to having no one else to play with and regardless playing on the Wii U Virtual Console release of the game, I couldn't play this mode for this review.
As a whole, I greatly enjoyed this game. My issues with the game were ultimately minor; the core platforming mechanics and the level design were still just as consistently, legitimately fun as ever. The game has a decent amount of content for a 2006 DS game. I would definitely choose this game over others in the New Super Mario Bros., as there's bits of this game which make it actually feel different than the others and well, fresh. This game has different graphics, Mario feels a bit different, the bosses aren't just the Koopalings, this game has stuff from Super Mario 64 DS, it has unique and weird new enemies, and hell, some of the individual level gimmicks are different than what you'd see in later games, all making sure that this game thankfully doesn't have the same generic feeling that the later games have, as the newest New Super Mario Bros. games, ironically, unlike this one, all feel the same. Also, this game is only ten bucks on the Wii U eShop. Definetly worth that price for a good couple of hours of Mario fun.
Hey, welcome back to 'Shroom FM. It's going to be a bit of a lighter edition this month - I've been keeping up with new releases as per usual, but to be entirely honest I haven't been enjoying any of them that much. There's a few that are good, and some that are fine, but beyond that I'm not feeling a lot towards these albums.
Bicep - Isles
It's a good album with a lot of fun garage tracks and fresh sounds. Not really any more complicated than that. Very Enjoyable.
Clouds - The Parallel
Probably my favourite album out of the bunch I've listened to so far. I found out about these guys from a 50-minute documentary on dubstep (highly reccommend this). It's got a very cold and dark atmosphere, so in its worst moments can drag a bit, and there's a few ideas which could've done with more development, but there's a lot of very cool industrial techno sounds here and the production is pretty good.
R.A.P. Ferreira - Bob's Son
A nice little project, but there's a lot about it that just feels incomplete or unsatisfying, especially in comparison to last year's Purple Moonlight Pages. Production isn't particularly bad, but definitely not as tight as other albums of his I've listened to. But there's a bunch of solid tracks here, and if you enjoyed his album last year as much as I did I'm sure there's stuff you'll enjoy here.
Madlib - Sound Ancestors
Was marginally excited for this, I'd enjoyed most of the singles, but listening to the full thing there were so many tracks here that felt repetitive and bland, despite being based around some interesting enough samples. As with any Madlib album it's hard to flaw the production, but only a handful of the songs here actually try anything interesting, despite a lot of good ideas.
Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams
I'm a bit conflicted over this. Very enjoyable to listen to with its crisp guitars and Parks' strong vocal performance, but it's let down by the lack of variation between the tracks: by even the middle, it feels like it's retreading old ground. It's very mellow and bright, so if that's what you're looking for then you'll probably enjoy this.
Pom Poko - Cheater
Thought it was alright at first, definitely unique. In terms of song structure, they tend to jump around between multiple different ideas, which is good in concept and sometimes works, but not everything the band's doing lands. Unfortunately, my interest dropped quickly and by the midpoint of the album I was starting to find it actively grating.
Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
Very boring, safe post-punk. It's consistent and well-produced, and the guitars and drums definitely work, but songwriting-wise there's just nothing interesting or new happening here. Doesn't help that the vocals are terrible, too, and the lyrics aren't great.
Silkie - Panorama
A lot of very good sounds on this, but unfortunately there's a few moments where it doesn't really feel like it's doing enough, or a few tracks that don't quite work. That said, I like the atmosphere and general sound a lot, and the album cover's really cool.
Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz
Another post-punk album that mostly falls flat for me, though there's a few interesting choices in the instrumentation. There are a few tracks here I didn't mind: Ain't Nice is pretty good, plus its lyrics remind me of MGMT's When You Die a bit, except even less subtle; Animals is good too. The final two tracks inexplicably go in a bit of a country direction, the first is alright but the second's awful. But at least they're trying something. More interesting than the Shame album, but still average on the whole.
Weezer - OK Human
Weezer is a band with a very mixed discography - I haven't listened to much of their material from the last two decades and, from what I've heard about it, don't really plan to in the future. But I heard good things about this, and I checked it out, and sure, it's okay. Not bad but not great. The instrumentation is good, the strings on the first few tracks in particular, though it gets a bit stale on certain tracks later in the album. Lyrically, it does feel a bit like the band is trying too hard to come across as relatable or relevant, talking about "Zoom interviews" and "Audible headphones".
There we go. That's January in the bin. But please come back next month, maybe February will be good? Maybe?
Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who has finally begun playing Pokémon Shield, and I've gotten past my first battle with Hop, but I haven't progressed too far, about to head into the Wild Area, and hopefully I'll have some updates about my adventures there next month.
And although this introduction has focused a lot on Generation VIII, we are actually looking at a Generation VII Pokémon this time, as we once again turn our heads to the sky. And we're not looking out for either a bird nor a plane, we're actually looking out for meteors, and given the impact that they have, it's probably going to be best to avoid it. Today we're looking at Minior! I remember discussing with a fellow user on this site when Sun and Moon hadn't been released the possibility of a new cosmic type due to Pokémon like this and Lunala, and sadly, as we're more than aware, this didn't come to pass.
I have no experience with Minior whatsoever, I haven't gotten to where it would be appearing in Sun and Moon and I haven't watched the anime since Generation IV, so any appearances there have also passed me by, but I do really like space, so Minior has that going for it. Plus, I usually end up defaulting to some kind of Rock-Pokémon during the games. So, with these things in its favour, does Minior have good Pokédex entries? Let's find out…
Generation VII Meteor Form
|Pokémon Sun||Originally making its home in the ozone layer, it hurtles to the ground when the shell enclosing its body grows too heavy.|
|Pokémon Moon||Strong impacts can knock it out of its shell. This Pokémon was born from mutated nanoparticles.|
|Pokémon Ultra Sun||It lives in the ozone layer where it becomes food for stronger Pokémon. When it tries to run away, it falls to the ground.|
|Pokémon Ultra Moon||Although its outer shell is uncommonly durable, the shock of falling to the ground smashes the shell to smithereens.|
Basically, I'm confused. I'm fine with it being born from mutated nanoparticles – and I think that's kind of cool, and I'm fine with it solely existing in the ozone layer, where I'm baffled is why it falls. I was fine with the idea that once it became too heavy it would fall to Earth, and that makes complete sense, but then it adds in that it will also fall if being pursued by other Pokémon, why would that cause it to fall? Is there a threshold where it becomes subject to gravitational forces no matter how heavy it is, or does being pursued cause it to put on the additional necessary weight? Likewise, how does a Pokémon that lives this high up in the air and have a large rocky shell around it have natural predators? I'm imagining this Pokémon way up in the ozone layer, higher than your average Flying-type, and even so, what Pokémon has a beak that would get through this hard shell, especially given how the Pokédex notes that it's incredibly durable? The only feasible Pokémon I'm imagining that'd be absolutely fine with this is Rayquaza, and it's not in these games.
Generation VII All Cores
|Pokémon Sun||It eats dust in the atmosphere. The composition of the dust determines the colour of its core.|
|Pokémon Moon||If its core stays exposed, it will soon die off. It's possible that it may survive if it's put into a Poké Ball quickly enough.|
|Pokémon Ultra Sun||Places where Minior fall from the night sky are few and far between, with Alola being one of the precious few.|
|Pokémon Ultra Moon||This is its form when its shell has fallen off. The colour of its core depends on the materials that made up the food it ate.|
Although I slightly like the mention that places where Minior live aren't that common, it's a bit of a Captain Obvious statement that the Alola region is one of the regions it appears in, given that we're in the Alola region and it's a new Pokémon. I'd be more surprised if the Pokédex was telling me that it wasn't native to the region, and that might add a little bit of mystery around it. And it feels like the Pokédex writers haven't studied what they noted in the preceding game as there's more entries that confuse me, namely how this Pokémon eats dust in Sun and then UltraMoon acts like it's eating other minerals, that likely can't even be found high up. The Moon entry is decent though, I find it interesting that it can't survive out of its shell, though I do wonder why, could it be that there's too much air down here on the ground, and it thrives in the lower oxygen levels like in the ozone layer? I do hope it survives in the Poké Ball though, I'd be annoyed if I caught it, only for it to perish before we got to the Poké Centre.
Conclusion I hate the majority of these entries, and it feels like the Pokédex writers barely collaborated with each other given how Minior seems to be acting different from Sun to UltraSun. I do not, and will not, believe that this Pokémon has any natural predators when its in the ozone layer, I completely buy it when its core is exposed, as it almost resembles a gummy sweet, but given how durable this rock is, there aren't any jaws that are cracking through that – if a specific Pokémon which something resembling a probiscis was mentioned, I could believe it, but otherwise it's just simply nonsense.
Welcome to the second month of cocoa reviews! We barely even scratched the surface with last month’s batch, so here’s another handful of cocoa powders and mixes that I was able to get at local shops without much hassle.
Curse Trader Joe’s, once again they create stuff I want to try, limit the production of it to almost nothing, then hype it up so it’s gone before I even know they have it in the store because they run all of their seasonal promotions WELL before the appropriate season is in place. In this case, it’s the Hot Cocoa Snowman cocoa bomb and the Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Stirring Spoons with Mini Marshmallows. Most assuredly these will be available again in some form next year, and if I still care at that point I guess I should be ready for them in October when they’re putting up their Thanksgiving displays well befores Halloween has even happened. I still managed to get a couple of things, though, whether because they just simply have them in much greater stock for longer, or they didn’t hype them up as a must-buy trend item, or just simply they aren’t that good. Well, I’m here to test the latter!
Trader Joe's Organic Hot Cocoa Mix
“We made this mix as creamy and rich as we thought a delicious cup of organic hot cocoa should really be. Flavor-wise, there’s nothing water-y about it, but if you like your cup of chocolate even richer than normal, make it with milk.” Bold words to put on the largest side of the entire box, so let’s find out what their standards are.
Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate
It smells very minty, for sure. Curiously, the cocoa mix is inside a bag further inside the metal container, which struck me as a bit odd. Why not just use the can itself? Whatever. The instructions say, for an 8oz serving, stir 3 tablespoons of mix into ¾ cup hot water or milk. I have no real desire to repeat last month’s dishwater vibe with the other mint cocoa, so skipping straight past the water and using milk. Even though I used milk it still feels thin, so I can only imagine what using water would’ve been like. Not much flavor or creaminess at all to it, but it does have a subtly minty aftertaste. Upon finishing the cup it became apparent why it was so weak: all of those luxuriant bittersweet chocolate shavings are sitting right at the bottom of the cup, barely dissolved or melted. Perhaps if the milk was hotter, or if I stirred more wildly, but I feel like there was only so much I could do to reasonably suss out the chocolate.
Drostebest cocoas is Droste. Droste is a Dutch chocolate company that has been around since 1863 that is more internationally known for the Droste effect named after its packaging art, a recursive visual effect where the picture is within the picture within the picture, looping theoretically forever. I was only able to find this physically at World Market and The Fresh Market, at consistently variable prices from $6 to $12 for the same 8.8 oz (250g) box, so when I found it at the lower end of that spectrum I got it because I apparently have nothing better to spend my money on. Aside from the iconic art, the box only really lists nutrition facts, ingredients being just 100% Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder, and a blip about the Droste effect, no real instructions otherwise other than something vague and a direction to their website.
So, I followed the vague recipe on the box for the first one: “Put cocoa powder, sugar and cold water in a mug. Stir to a paste. Add hot or cold milk stirring until mixed. Ready to serve.” With absolutely no numbers to work from, I made assumptions with the serving size listed on the nutrition facts of 2 teaspoons, and just multiplied for the size of my mug. Two parts cocoa powder, two parts sugar, one part water, filled up to a total of one cup with milk. The technique is pretty good, stirring to a paste before adding the hot milk makes it instantly become hot cocoa without any serious need for stirring. Purely psychological, though, as I did have to stir the pre-mix into a paste pretty forcefully, but it gave me something to do while the milk warmed up. Multi-tasking! There's a primal joy in sitting there and studiously pecking away at the congealed dust orbs hidden inside the magic protection of starchy surface tension geodes, having them burst open and spill their guts to satisfy some pseudo-pimple popping relief, finally dissolving into the rest, but unless you get a high off of solely that, creating a paste is just simply the best way to make cocoa.
In the spirit of trying, I also found another recipe for Droste cocoa, but from 1904 as that’s the only one I could find that gave specific measurements: 1 teaspoon Droste Cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 tablespoon cream or evaporated milk; mix together in a cup and stir to a paste; fill up to 1 cup with boiling water. For this I used evaporated milk, but didn’t bring the water to a boil because I intended on drinking it within the next few minutes without searing my entire mouth. Looking at the recipe, yes, that’s TEAspoons, not tablespoons, which if you’re unfamiliar with the difference a teaspoon is ⅓ of a tablespoon. As I had braced for, this cocoa was quite watery and flavorless, I guess something that would’ve been fine for peeps living in pre-war neutral Utrecht, but not fine for me living in post-Reese’s NutRageous Orlando.
Guittard Cocoa RougeWithin the same sphere of professional-use baking cocoa powders as Droste is this one, Guittard Cocoa Rouge, comparatively priced at $7 for 8oz in most accessible places, and up to $12 if for some reason you need to shop at prestige locations for nothing more than being publicly visible inside of one. Guittard is an American chocolate company that uses traditional French methods, and has been in business since 1868. 22-24% while Droste is at about 20%, meaning I now expect Guittard to have a bit more richness to it. Why is it red, though? While I can’t find out assuredly why, my guess is that the alkalization process wasn’t done quite as much, as apparently the more you alkalize cocoa, the darker it gets? The difference between natural and Dutched means quite a bit for baking chemistry, but otherwise for my purposes it means that the more Dutched it is, the less bitter and acidic it is.
To even get into this one I needed a can opener, a fact I failed to notice upon purchasing as it was not something I had considered I’d need to look out for. While merely a temporary barrier to entry, the long term issue-at-hand is it has no means of resealing. ‘robust fudge-like flavor, and full chocolate essence’. The paste was much thicker than other powders that had similar recommendations, to the point of a thick brownie batter, but trust the process. After pouring in the hot milk it started to dissolve slowly, but rapidly sped up with some gentle stirring. It really didn’t taste any different than just melting down a bar of baking chocolate and drinking that, if only for the milk thinning it out some. To appeal to my specific tastes it could’ve used a LOT more sugar than what it suggested, and more milk, being just a bit more bitter than the traditional cup of hot chocolate in classic Americana. specifically for drinking, but I just can’t find it anywhere. Save Cocoa Rouge for when you’re doing science via baking.
Starbucks Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
What’s a review of warm beverages without Starbucks? Made with ethically sourced cocoa, which is cool, but also throws up the implication that others aren’t. Ingredients coming from fair and ethical sources are becoming a rapidly growing factor in purchases, with many manufacturers already making promises and commitments. Luckily several websites keep lists of which companies and chocolates rank on their virtues, a lot more than I have linked here. It also has real vanilla and bits of dark chocolate.
Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
Probably one of the most recognizable fancy chocolate names in the business, at least here in America, is Ghirardelli. One of the oldest chocolate companies, founded in 1852, it claims to be one of the only that handles the chocolate process from start to finish, ensuring high standards and quality are met. This particular hot cocoa mix uses sugar, real vanilla, and real chocolate (do some not???). More specifically, the ingredients ONLY are sugar, alkalized cocoa, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract. The only thing that might raise alarm bells is soy lecithin, but it’s simply an emulsifier to make sure the chocolate stays homogenous, and most concerns aside from it being a potential allergen seem kinda silly. This cocoa mix promises decadence and velvety-smoothness, two things I certainly enjoy, so I’m looking forward to it.Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop at the extortionate price you’d expect from a finished product at a Disney venue, and did not have a good time with it being a shining beacon of craven dark chocolate stale bitterness, so the addition of milk as recommended on the bag seems to be better formulated for its intended purpose. At $5 for a 10.5 oz bag (estimated 12 servings), it’s really not that much more expensive than other comparable brands, and certainly cheaper than purported higher quality luxury brands that end up being lackluster regrettable purchases. A solid choice if you’re looking to be a little fancier with your hot cocoa.
Hershey's Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
Other reviews for this elsewhere around online that all seem to project their own ideas of what they’re tasting from their preconception of the Hershey’s brand, and it very transparently affects their stance to the absolute core. It’s things like this that convinces me that food reviews don’t actually mean anything at all and provides no real useful information because too many reviewers just flat-out make things up, lie, or hallucinate, generating content that just isn’t true to the product and sets up false expectations. At least we can count on Insider providing a review that admits it doesn’t taste like Hershey’s. To summarize, just don’t bother with this one and trust my opinion as I have declared it to be the only one that is correct.
P.S. I love you Claudia, please keep making cheese videos!!!
Coffee Shop of Horrors
This is likely not a brand anyone reading this will come across unless they live in southwest and central Florida, but it remains in my review as a representative of smaller and local batches. Mostly, I got this because I was at the nearby spooky and eccentric curiosities shop and saw they had a horror-themed coffee display, saw they had a hot cocoa mix, and just handed them money to support the blending of two central focuses of mine. The mix I specifically got is called “Dr. Sarcophagus' Carnival of Dark Desire”, which is organic cocoa, milk powder, and sugar, a pretty basic and core set of ingredients to make a hot cocoa.located on their website. There are a couple other cocoas, one with cayenne and one with mint, but I just simply have not seen them available for purchase yet. They cost about $12 for an 8oz bag, which, ehhhh...ok, sure, for a brand like this, sure. With a noticeably smaller recommendation of 2 tablespoons of cocoa mix per 8-10 ounces of hot water, compared to other mixes I’ve sampled, I get a feeling that this will be strikingly weaker. With water, it’s absolutely flavorless and disappointingly thin. With milk, still pretty flavorless but at least it has some weight to it, but that’s completely attributable to the milk with the cocoa mix providing basically nothing at all. To lend it some credit I went and just made some with how much I felt like doing because that’s honestly what any normal person would do anyways with an open scoopable mix. I added an extra tablespoon of cocoa mix to a total of 10 ounces of hot milk, first stirring the mix into a paste with a splash of milk before pouring in the rest, then stirring it more and letting it take a moment to melt and dissolve. The results were a marginally better drink, noticeably more chocolate flavor, but it still lacked a comforting weight and heaviness. This could probably be remedied by using whole milk, heavy whipping cream, or even evaporated milk to raise the sweetness. An salvageable cocoa if you put some care into it.
I have yet to visit one of their (currently) two storefronts as driving roughly 45 minutes to try out a little coffee shop just feels like an unnecessary task now that I live in a city, whereas such a feat was a regular event when I lived in New York and even just a trip to the nearest Walmart was 20 minutes. Huh, I think I just convinced myself to make a day out of doing this soon! Anyways, the shop appeals to classic horror and mystery with its theming, touching not just upon goth aesthetics but pop culture, media, and gaming, and offers coffee, tea, baked goods, ice cream, pizza I guess. Who am I to judge, primarily, a coffee roaster, for dipping their toes into the hot chocolate appeal? They’re a super cool concept, place, and group of peeps that provide a neat sense of local pride in something quirky and niche. In a city that is internationally known for its theme parks and gimmicky restaurants and theatrics, it just feels nice to have something that feels genuine, familial, and fun.
|The 'Shroom: Issue 167|
|Staff sections||Staff Notes • The 'Shroom Spotlight|
|Features||Fake News • Fun Stuff • Palette Swap • Pipe Plaza • Critic Corner • Strategy Wing|
|Specials||Feedback Survey • Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury Photo Contest|