The 'Shroom:Issue 168/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

Time flies by when you're having, uhh, well, umm.....when you exist in linear timespace as your focus remains honed in on surviving day-to-day! Maybe reading a bunch of words here at Critic Corner can help! We continue to be quite beefed up with a bunch of sections this month, so take it easy, kick back, and enjoy someone else's thoughts and opinions being funneled directly into your head for you.

Additionally, awards season is now upon us! To begin preparations for the Mario Awards XV and our wiki's Anniversary events, the Awards Board has opened up on the forum, and the official Anniversary page has been created. Please check them out! Awards Committee sign-ups are open, so if you're interested in helping out, give that a look.

Thank you for voting Half-Baked Reviews as February'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 14 53.85% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd Doomed Reviews 5 19.23% Doomhiker (talk)
2nd Rose's Quarantine Reviews 3 11.54% Roserade (talk)


Rose's Quarantine Reviews

Written by: Roserade (talk)

Greetings, beautiful 'Shroom readers, and welcome back to another edition of Rose's Quarantine Reviews. Yet again, we are still in quarantine, and I continue to review.

Things are becoming quite a bit interesting here in Quarantine Land. My high school has shifted towards bringing students back into a "hybrid" model of learning, where students can be in the building physically, but have to remain at six foot distances from each other, always wear masks, so on. I must say, it's interesting to watch this unfold. On the one hand, I think there's tons of inherent risk to this form of schooling, even with the restrictions in place on everyday protocol; on the other, it's been nice to hear from other students and how they feel really good being back in the school building. Personally, I've opted to stay home for the rest of the year. No matter what, there's still the possibility of transmitting or receiving the virus while at school, and I've adapted to the online format enough to keep myself engaged (for the most part).

Regardless of what my decisions are with schooling, it's evident that my state is moving towards a place of "normality", whatever that really means at this point. Does this mean these will be Quarantine Reviews for much longer? It's hard to say, but we might as well continue to review in the meantime.

Friday Night Funkin'

Gettin' freaky on a Friday night.

Let's talk about a certain desktop game that's been really making its rounds across the internet as of late. Friday Night Funkin' is a rhythm game created by programmer ninja_muffin99, artists PhantomArcade3k and evilsk8r, and composer kawaisprite. The game serves as what is essentially a love letter to classic Newgrounds flash games, with a visual style and cast of characters reminiscent of early 2010's content on the site. From a presentational standpoint, I believe that the game nails the feeling it emulates perfectly. The designs of the new characters are pleasant and nearly nostalgic with their artistic style, while the returning or recognizable faces creates a welcoming environment for internet veterans. Seeing the character Pico, who basically acted as the second mascot for Newgrounds for many years, finally generate some relevancy again is fantastic, and I'm a sucker for the character Lemon Demon, whose characteristics and voice lines are entirely based on Neil Cicierega's music project of the same name. It's easy to become attached to this ensemble, especially with all of their little quirks: the player character, Boyfriend, regularly offers peace signs to the player during the first song; Girlfriend, the character in the middle of every scene, becomes frightened when thunder crashes in the background; the Spookeez characters, Skid and Pump, regularly make sounds in their music just like their creator, Sr Pelo, makes in his videos.

Gameplay of Week 3 (Pico)

However, as this is a rhythm game, it isn't just the visual presentation that needs to be solid. Does Friday Night Funkin' bring the tunes to make it a stellar rhythm game? I'm happy to report that the answer is, absolutely, yes. This game's soundtrack is, well, funkin', with plenty of the tracks playing on repeat through my earbuds recently. In particular, my favorite tracks include all of Week 3 and Week 4, as well as "Roses" from Week 6 (not for obvious reasons). In addition, with the game being separated into distinct weeks of music, there is a clear difficulty arc at play, both in each individual week and as the game progresses. Week 1 will find you in simpler tracks like "Bopeebo" and "Fresh", while the final track of Week 4, "MILF" (which I'm sure is a word you never expected to see on a Mario wiki), is a grueling test of endurance and all that you've learned so far. The songs generally aren't that difficult, at least in my opinion and my limited experience with rhythm games, but in this way, it acts as an easy point into the genre. It's got songs for rhythm game newcomers and veterans alike, and I already feel as though my abilities have approved through a few direct playthroughs.

Does the game have faults? Certainly. Occasionally, the notes of some songs will feel off from the implied beats per minute, and there is an odd glitch where notes sometimes won't register as hit after a long note. These issues are minute, though, compared to the sheer quality of the rest of this project. Not only is the game entirely free and still receiving updates with new weeks and content, it's also open-source, meaning that the modding community has gone wild with Friday Night Funkin'. If you ever get bored of playing through the main game (which I haven't just yet), make sure to take a dive into the world of Funkin' mods, it's truly an amazing sight. A quality game with rocking tunes that has successfully united the internet in the way a browser-playable game hasn't in years? Count me in.

Rating: 6/6 weeks (but there might be a seventh on the way soon...)

You can play the game in browser on itch.io or on Newgrounds, with information for downloading to your desktop and supporting the creators on each. The game has plenty of crude and occasionally disturbing content, so probably don't play it if you're eight.

Makeshift Chocolate Milkshake

Hey, I made that!

Here's a fun one! Take a look at a chocolate milkshake I made on my own. The recipe is very simple: I took two scoops of Tillamook Mudslide ice cream and put it in the container of our Magic Bullet blender, before filling it to the top with low fat milk. Once the ice cream and milk were sufficiently blended, I sprayed some whipped cream on top, before finishing it off with a garnish of three Hershey's milk chocolate squares.

Overall, I'd say the quality of flavor with the milkshake is good. It tastes like chocolatey goodness, which is, understandably, the point of making a chocolate milkshake. Especially near the end of the cup, the whipped cream adds an extra profile of flavor that makes the drink delectable. However, the consistency of the milkshake is all wrong. While I prefer thinner milkshakes overall, this drink still had a closer consistency to chocolate milk than a shake.
Look how photogenic it is!
If I were to make it again, I'd add about half the milk instead, so that the ice cream can carry its thickness. Also, while the Hershey's on top was a pleasant idea, the pieces got stuck at the bottom of the glass and rock-hard from how cold the ice cream was. Next time, if I'm looking to add even more chocolatey flavor to it, I'll look towards a chocolate syrup to run over the top instead.

Still, for my first excursion into the world of Magic Bullet milkshakes, I'd consider this concoction an alright success. At least it looks good in photographs!

Rating: 6.8/10 pieces of Hershey's milk chocolate

Yes

The word of the hour.

Alright, let's talk about this word for a minute. Is it a practical word? Yes. Did I just give you a perfect example of its practicality? Yes. Is it still an odd word? Yes.

Firstly, we should look at the word phonetically. Yes is written as /'jes/, which means that one pronounces it with a light "yuh" at its beginning. For a three letter word that's meant to be one of the simplest words in the English language, doesn't that seem odd? Why isn't the word pronounced something like "ees", making it even simpler for somebody first stepping into the language to understand? It also takes a lot less effort to make the sound "ees" than "yuhes", so the response time with it could be even quicker.

Yes also comes into play with people's golden rules for success. Regularly, advice you'll be given will be along the lines of, "if you want to achieve success, say yes to every opportunity you can!" At many points, yes doesn't feel like an option as an answer; rather, it feels like an obligation to say it. Why is that? Why has our society shifted towards the constant approval of more and more, despite our own personal wellbeing? Could it be a biproduct of capitalistic values of constant production? Could it be that the fear of disappointing the other person could be too great to say no? Could it be that our entire human population is secretly made up of improv actors who have been taught to always say "Yes, and"? Will we ever truly know the answer to any of these questions? It would be funnier to say "yes" here, but instead I'm going to say, I don't even know what I'm typing anymore. Yes isn't a real word anymore, I've looked at it too much. Please help me.

Rating: Yes/Yes


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)

Back together

Days pass, years pass, decades pass. Such is the case for Sonic Generations, a 20th anniversary game which is itself now hitting its 10th anniversary. What was a celebration of the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise’s has now been around for a third of the franchise’s history. How has this game of ages aged?

Like the original game, this game starts with Green Hill Zone. The first impression that I got of this game was that its graphics are gorgeous. Green Hill Zone is lush and detailed, with many hills and coils in the background, making the area feel like a real piece of albeit cartoony nature rather than a flat plane designed for the player and the player only. Compare it to something like Sonic Forces, which looks considerably less detailed and rather cheap. Unlike that game, Sonic Generations has truly impressive graphics which involve fantastic lighting, many varied camera angles, and overall rich textures which make a game which still graphically holds up today. The game ends up looking a good degree better than Forces, which came out six years later. Graphically speaking, Generations looks nearly as good as Sonic Unleashed and most likely would be able to pass off as a new game if released today.

Speaking of Green Hill, the main gimmick of Sonic Generations is its use of various zones from the series’ history. These zones are divided into three groups of three: Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and Sky Sanctuary coming from the classic games, Speed Highway, City Escape, and Ocean Hill coming from Adventure-era titles, and finally Crisis City, Rooftop Run, and Planet Wisp from the more modern games. There’s unfortunately a slight gap in the stages: Sonic CD is completely forgotten outside a boss, and the Sonic 3 half of Sonic 3 & Knuckles has no representation. In addition, there’s some slight repetition in the zone choices. Three of the nine zones are non-hellish city levels, which means that a third of entire the game has a similar theme.

Lopping around

The many zones are often reimagined to a degree. Sky Sanctuary, which was originally a simple one-level zone, is now a lush, beautiful garden. Seaside Hill now contains elements of both the Seaside Hill and Ocean Palace levels. In Crisis City, the tornado is actually a big part of Classic Sonic’s version of the stage. This helps make the stages feel fresh.

As for the gameplay, it's split up into two styles: classic and modern. Classic Sonic is played in 2D stages which occasionally use 2.5D mechanics, such as Choppers which go between the foreground and the background. While Classic Sonic doesn’t control as well as in the original games I still loved the multi-pathed stages and the many different camera angles and events Classic Sonic goes through. Stuff like the G.U.N Truck chasing Sonic though the entire stage or shredding through an airship didn’t happen in such a grand way in the original games. In addition, I greatly enjoy the distinct feeling of bouncing off a Badnik in this version of Classic Sonic. It feels incredibly satisfying to bounce off multiple in a row. While Classic Sonic is definitely viewed more poorly after being shoehorned in Sonic Forces, I find his inclusion here to be perfectly fine as it actually makes sense for an anniversary title.

Modern Sonic, on the other hand, uses the classic Boost Formula which previously appeared in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors. Basically, it makes Sonic speed forward at speed faster than usual, with enough “boost”. The boost controls well, and thankfully you can’t just mindfully boost through the stage. Stages often have actual platforming challenges, sections where the player needs to drift or sidestep, etc, which means that the player will have to react quickly with genuine skill in order to go through the level. This makes the Modern Sonic stages some of the most fun stages to get better at in the entire series. Just like the Classic Stages, these often include many different pathways to go through, some of which being genuinely obscure. Modern Sonic stages also include 2D sections. I don’t mind these, as unlike Colors or Forces the levels have a good balance between 2D and 3D, though the 2D parts do feel a tad bit redundant with the inclusion of Classic Sonic.

Sonic Generations doesn’t just have stages to complete. Red Rings are also included, serving as a nice optional collectible for those interested to find - Sonic’s friends can provide tips on their location, preventing their collection from becoming frustrating. There’s also a decent amount of missions, with only a small amount actually being required. These can vary, from completing a new set of obstacles, to helping Sonic’s friends, to beating the level quickly. These are usually quite fun, especially to S rank on, with the exception of Vector’s Rooftop Run mission, where you have to frustratingly hit back music notes, and Knuckles’ Sky Sanctuary mission, where you have to slog through the stage finding various collectables. Unfortunately, S ranking the normal stages is too easy; you’ll often get the rank simply by playing it without dying.

Finally, there’s a decent selection of bosses. There’s three bosses which you need to beat in order to obtain the Chaos Emeralds: Metal Sonic, Shadow, and Silver. All three generally involve running after the boss, and with the exception of Shadow, who is a bit frustrating to chase, these are generally decent. Then there’s the main bosses: the Death Egg Robot, Perfect Chaos, the Egg Dragoon, and the Time Eater. The Death Egg Robot and Perfect Chaos offer decently fun platforming necessary to beat them. I especially enjoyed the large amount of 3D platforming required for Perfect Chaos, something which most other bosses lacked. The Egg Dragoon, while offering an enjoyable use of wall-jumping, rail grinding, and skydiving, ends up dragging on way for too long, and ends up a pain in the ass to hit due to the machine's constant retreat. Perhaps the only downright bad part of the game is the climatic Time Eater. In this boss you’re basically just mindlessly dashing at the Eater. Dodging its attacks isn’t remotely enjoyable with the Super Sonic controls which are too sluggish for their own good. It also doesn’t help that Sonic’s friends are constantly yammering on, which starts out charming but quickly becomes annoying. The Time Eater somehow manages to be both boring and frustrating and is pretty much the only moment where the game fumbles considerably.

For a 20th anniversary title, Sonic Generations succeeds in most ways. The only major flaws are one or two poor missions, its short length (which does not matter that much given that most mainline Sonic games are pretty short anyways), and the final boss. I know that the story is often criticized, but I honestly don’t give a damn. You could write an epic in the game and I wouldn’t care if the gameplay wasn’t good. That’s not to say that games can’t have quality and compelling stories, but in my opinion it's not a necessity and is usually far from the most important aspect of a video game. Overall, it’s a great game, and hopefully Sonic Team doesn’t screw up again and will give us a 30th anniversary title that’s just as good if not better.

'Shroom FM

Written by: MrConcreteDonkey (talk)

Welcome back to 'Shroom FM! Good news everyone, music did get better in February!

Oh, also, turns out this month is 'Shroom FM's first anniversary. Happy birthday 'Shroom FM.

FEBRUARY 2021
SFMlittleoblivions.jpg JULIEN BAKER - LITTLE OBLIVIONS
To get straight to it, this is one of those albums where there's little to hate about it but also little to love. The instrumentation is fine - guitarwork is good enough, synths work how they're meant to, drums do get a few interesting lines here and there. Unfortunately, Baker's vocals are, for me, one of the weaker parts of the album - her performance feels exactly the same on every song, irregardless of mood or tempo, and when it gets loud, her voice sometimes sounds quite strained. The lyrics also rarely grabbed my attention, which didn't help this much. There's some degree of variation in how the tracks here sound; from louder, dynamic tracks that build up to a huge ending, such as "Heatwave" or "Faith Healer", to quieter, more acoustic tracks which slowly fizzle out, like "Crying Wolf" or "Song in E". That said, most (if not all) of the songs here suffer from a lack of originality, with many sounding quite similar to each other or generic of the broader alt-rock/indie-folk sound.
Best tracks Bloodshot, Relative Fiction
SFMforthefirsttime.jpg BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD - FOR THE FIRST TIME
For the First Time is an interesting album which showcases the unique style of the band well - unpredictable, experimental post-punk with a lot of instruments and deadpan lyrics. They also take a huge amount of inspiration from post-rock, even comparing themselves to Slint during "Science Fair", as well as klezmer (most directly on the track "Instrumental") and free jazz. Vocalist Isaac Wood only sings on the last two tracks, delivering the lyrics in a spoken word style for the rest of the album. The lyrics themselves are also interesting - very blunt and personal, often narrating specific events in his life or people he's gone out with. They can feel a bit narcissistic or over-the-top in places, though this is mostly intentional - and there's a quiver in Wood's delivery, which makes him sound slightly timid. That said, "Sunglasses" has definitely been toned down from the single version, and that does take the air out of it when you compare the two (apparently "Athen's, France" has been too but I don't remember the original version as well). This run of tracks between "Athen's" and "Sunglasses" is definitely the best part of the album - these songs are all quite long, and can get tiring as they go on, but are dynamic and unique enough to stand out. Meanwhile, "Track X" sounds pretty but feels a bit stagnant, and "Instrumental" and "Opus" are solid but fairly generic. All in all, this is a unique, well-crafted album with a lot of personality, even if it's hard to sympathise with at times.
Best tracks Athen's, France, Science Fair, Sunglasses
SFMcarnage.jpg NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS - CARNAGE
To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of the last Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, Ghosteen - I appreciated what it did but it didn't really click with me - so I wasn't sure how to feel going into this. Most of Cave's collaborations with Ellis - also a member of the Bad Seeds - are movie soundtracks (most notably The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Carnage definitely has an air of that to it, as there's plenty of smaller, subtle moments which feel instrumental to the atmosphere. The first half is quite uptempo: "Hand of God" is calm at first but soon gets offset by some discordant noises and a fast beat; "Old Time" slowly builds and adds more instruments underneath Cave's vocals; "White Elephant" grows from a foreboding instrumental into a bright, intense ending. The only song that bucks this trend is "Carnage", ironically one of the most beautiful and poignant songs on the album. Meanwhile, the instrumentals on the second half are a lot calmer - maybe slightly less interesting if I'm being harsh - though Cave's lyrics and vocals are still bold and engaging. The lyrics in general are a highlight, often very melancholic and bittersweet, and suit the atmosphere very well. It's a really cool album, on the whole.
Best tracks Old Time, Carnage, White Elephant
SFMasthelovecontinues.jpg MOGWAI - AS THE LOVE CONTINUES
I haven't had that much experience with Mogwai - I've listened to Happy Songs for Happy People and a few odd tracks here and there - but I've enjoyed most of the stuff I've heard from them. And As the Love Continues does have its moments, despite a few flaws. The weakest part of the album is the production, which at its worst sounds way too compressed and murky, which takes the air out of some of the prettier moments here. There's a few songs where the guitars - probably the most important element of the band's music - don't sound great; for instance, "Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever", which is built around a hook with this jarring, unpleasant guitar sound. They're not the only instrument to suffer from this: the drums on "Drive the Nail" are terrible enough to ruin the entire song. "Ceiling Granny" is the worst song here, not just because it's boring, but also because it's a terrible name for a song... Actually, come to think about it, all of the songs here have pretty bad names. That said, the best moments here are superb: "Dry Fantasy" builds up from a nice synth intro into this big hook, "Ritchie Sacramento" works in some vocals pretty well, and "Midnight Flit" brings the best elements of the album together, leading to a huge peak. Everything else is generally fine, deep and atmospheric enough. Not a great album but it's alright.
Best tracks Midnight Flit, Dry Fantasy, Ritchie Sacramento
SFMnextpartofthedream.jpg PARANNOUL - TO SEE THE NEXT PART OF THE DREAM
On his Bandcamp page, Parannoul describes himself as "just a student writing music in [his] bedroom", which may at first seem hard to believe considering how massive To See the Next Part of the Dream sounds. Every layer of this album sounds so clear; the guitars are dense and vivid; the drums are heavy, and the vocals have a wispy quality to them, which took a while to click for me but was very effective when it did. There's a lot of subtler melodies throughout too, which could easily get drowned out by the other instruments but always manage to break through. The main melodies of the songs themselves are generally quite upbeat and bright, and, alongside the gorgeous cover art, gives the album a dynamic, sort of adventurous feel. The lyrics, however (or, the translations he provides on Bandcamp) are in complete contrast to this, taking a pessimistic and depressive tone. A lot of the lyrics concern anxiety - "Extra Story" addresses Parannoul's anxiety around aging with less-than-optimistic flashes of his future self as he grows older, even though he's just 20 years old; "Youth Rebellion" bluntly addresses his loneliness and lack of self-worth; "White Ceiling" describes the feeling of waking up and every day feeling the same. Overall, the way these bleak, claustrophobic lyrics constrast with the soaring instrumentals gives this album a really unique and emotive atmosphere - but even if you ignore that, these songs are still amazing.
Best tracks White Ceiling, Youth Rebellion, Excuse, Analog Sentimentalism
FURTHER LISTENING
Otay:onii - Ming Ming
The Weather Station - Ignorance

Graphic Novel Review

Written by: FunkyK38 (talk)

Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship
GNReview168.jpg
Author Jamie Lee Rotante, illus. Brittney Williams
Release date 2020
Genre Comedy, young adult
Pages 143
Available From

Welcome back to another Graphic Novel Review, everyone! Today, we'll be taking another dive into the Archie Comics universe with a look at one of their newer titles: Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship!

If you've been reading this section for a while, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Archie Comics. When I was a kid, I collected the digests, and even now I've got a few shelves on my bookcase 100% dedicated to my Archie library. So I'm very excited to review this 2020 offering from the red-haired dork featuring BFFs Betty and Veronica!

Bond of Friendship focuses on a simple story: it's Career Day at Riverdale High School, and Betty and Veronica hop from chapter to chapter exploring different careers, from president of the United States to astronauts to superheroes. This story is nothing new to Archie Comics, I've seen them do it at least twice before. Rotante, however, puts a fresh twist on the old concept. By fleshing out the inspirations for the girls' daydreams about their future careers, mainly by giving the speakers of Career Day more backstory and personality, the story moves from Betty and Veronica's daydreams to something a little more inspirational. While two of the speakers are Katy Keene (supermodel/actress) and a literal superhero, the other two speakers are a local POC senator (taking some inspiration from POC congresswomen like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez) and an astronaut recently back from a space mission. Their stories feel real and relatable, and Betty and Veronica's daydreams even show a bit of a stepping-stone path, for example, in the astronaut story, Betty goes from organizing a location for the local space club to stargaze, to doing some community outreach to teach children about space exploration, to getting an internship with NASA and eventually becoming an astronaut. Obviously, not everyone is going to have the chance to follow that path, but it feels a little more reachable than just the usual scenarios this type of story usually presents. I can remember from the older stories how it would go: Betty would move through a career taking her dreams seriously and by doing her best and Veronica would envision herself being fashionable in her new position and using her career to advance her social status. But Rotante does a good job of making both girls' daydreams feel realistic. In the astronaut story, she fleshes out Veronica by using her social-media savvy to also get her a job in NASA working in the PR department. I really liked how she looked for ways to positively use Veronica's interests and connections as keys to a successful career path.

A good graphic novel is art and story, so I'll move on to the art of this book next. When I first saw preview images for this book, there was something really familiar about the art style, I just couldn't put my finger on it. Once I got the book in my hands and really checked it out, I realized what it was- Brittney Williams also did the art for my favorite Marvel heroine, Patsy Walker (a.k.a. Hellcat!) I'll be reviewing Patsy's books later this year, but Brittney Williams does fantastic art. Her lines are always sharp, her expressions are fantastic, and she always gives all of her characters this really nice youthful look. I love it. You should really check out more of Williams' work. I'll be featuring her again later!

Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship is really a treat from Archie Comics, who seem to be throwing most of their energy into Riverdale right now, unfortunately. But this book gives me hope that they can push past the horrid CW live-action content and start to move their properties into the 21st century in ways that inspire young readers to dream big about their futures and realize that space might not be as far away as they think. Don't miss out on this one, not only is it leagues better than Riverdale, but you'll be supporting a fantastic female writer/artist duo and getting some great art and story out of it. What's not to love?

That's all for me this month, readers! Tune in next time for a new Book Review!

Pokédex Power

Written by: Yoshi876 (talk)

It's a Apple Core Pokémon, although it looks like a whole apple to me.

Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who has been playing Pokémon less as their life began getting busier. I haven't even caught up on the Pokémon Direct, but given that I lost my copy of Platinum years ago, I'll be more than happy to get back into the Sinnoh region again.

But we're not looking at the Pokémon from the Sinnoh region this time, instead we're looking at one of the stranger Pokémon that we got introduced to in the Galar region. There have bene plenty of food-based Pokémon throughout the franchise's existence, including the widely hated Vanillish line (though I don't mind it), but this line is a bit odd, although mainly for the typing rather than the apple aspect. And as someone who eats a lot of apples, while living in England, this is still an interesting Pokémon to me.

I do find the stranger Pokémon are the ones I gravitate towards, but I can't say I can see a place for Applin in my team, mainly because I rarely seem to ever train Dragon-types. I've had some experiences with the typing, but it's not a favourite of mine. But what are Applin's Pokédex entries like? Let's find out…

Generation VIII

Pokémon Sword It spends its entire life inside an apple. It hides from its natural enemies, bird Pokémon, by pretending it's just an apple and nothing more.
Pokémon Shield As soon as it's born, it burrows into an apple. Not only does the apple serve as its food source, but the flavour of the fruit determines its evolution.

Applin's entries are actually fine for the most part, I think it's really well explained why this Pokémon inhabits an apple, and I'm almost kind of glad that it's not just some apple that has become a Pokémon for some flimsy reasoning. I also love the ecological standpoint of the fact that Applin outside of the apple is preyed upon by bird Pokémon, although I imagine its disguise might still bring it some unwanted attention from herbivorous Pokémon who believe it is an apple. Its entries also reference its evolution, as the variety of apple fed to an Applin in Sword and Shield does change what final evolution you get.

However, I do find that its entries almost contradict the typing of Pokémon it should be; these entries read more like a Bug-type Pokémon than a Dragon-type, and given the old adage of a worm or caterpillar inside an apple, a Bug-typing for Applin makes complete sense.

I don't have any main issues for these sets of entries, as although I have some questions, I feel like these could be answered in future entries. Chief among those questions is why exactly does Applin burrow solely into apples, might it burrow into a similar fruit like an orange or peach if there were some nearby? And much like how a hermit crab will change homes once it outgrows it shell, does Applin increase in size enough that this is a concern, and would it also move on if it eats the apple enough that it can no longer sustain it?

Conclusion For an introductory set of entries, these are pretty good. I immediately understand why Applin is inside an apple, and how this camouflage helps it survive in its day-to-day life. Would I like more, well when do I never? But I understand you can only give so much in the initial entries, and these do a perfectly fine job.

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

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

Cozy

Sure, Spring is beginning this month, but I know you guys in New York and other northern states are still getting pounded with blizzards, and with that bitter cold comes warm and cozy hot cocoa. This month I bring you more offbeat and irregular options, for one reason or another, but almost entirely from the perspective of a relatively sheltered white dude from backwoods New York, hoping to share with you that there is more out there than instant cocoa packets.

Hershey’s Cocoa

Just cocoa, nothing else, nothing done to it, just cocoa. That’s all the ingredients say: Cocoa. This is the base product that goes into all of the other mixes, albeit this one is from Hershey’s own cocoa processing. So why is this one different than the Guittard and Droste I reviewed last month that were also just cocoa powder? Hershey’s isn’t alkalized. The Dutch process, or alkalization, is treating the cocoa solids with an alkalizing agent, such as sodium carbonate, to bring it down from its higher natural acidity to neutral pH. What this translates to in terms of information that matters here, is Dutch process cocoa is darker in color and less bitter with more mellow flavor.
Cocoa.
The cocoa powders in essentially every other mix is alkalized, which you can see in their ingredients as “cocoa processed with alkali”, “Dutch cocoa”, “alkalized cocoa”, and every variation therein, and even some that don’t mention the process at all because it’s just simply implied or expected given the regional and cultural context of the manufacturer (such as Droste), or quite frankly they just don’t care to specify. The difference between the two is most important in the chemistry of baking, as it impacts how cakes rise, the interaction with baking soda, etc., and are therefore not interchangeable products. If knowing is of critical importance, it’s best to look it up if you can’t directly confirm that it is Dutch process from the container.

So, this Hershey’s Cocoa is natural, unsweetened, acidic, which sets up my expectations accordingly. It also has higher antioxidants for those who need to justify their chocolate intake as dietary health. It is still cocoa, and not cacao, so it has been processed through roasting and crushing. About $3 for an 8 oz tub pretty much anywhere you go, but still requires outside ingredients, and therefore itself is merely an ingredient. I wasn’t about to just put straight cocoa into a mug and mix it up, so I followed the recipe on the side for the Perfectly Chocolate Hot Cocoa: 2 tablespoons of sugar, dash of salt, 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Cocoa, mixed together in a mug, gradually pouring in 1 cup of hot milk, then add ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract; just doubling it as I wanted to use my enormous mug for this. Tasted like a chocolate bar for sure, but with a markedly bitter aftertaste, and I’m left feeling almost parched and thirsty, wanting to drink water soon after just to rid myself of it. I could likely mask this by adding more sugar, or remedy it by using almond or soy milk instead as they’re more alkaline than dairy milk.

All cocoa mixes are ultimately able to be personalized by adding other components, but they’re typically already refined proportions set to deliver a specific flavor and taste, and altering that may not work as well as it could be due to an unknown proportions Hershey’s Cocoa is specifically for customization, so if it tastes too bitter, just add some more sugar and another drop of vanilla. Go wild and crazy, do whatever you want.

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

Total: 16/25

Nestlé Abuelita

I’ve moaned about Nestlé enough times that I feel like I can just get right to the review, but they just keep showing up to suck all of the freshwater dry. Beyond that, they have a brand of Mexican-style hot chocolate, Abuelita, that has been around since 1937 that they ended up acquiring in the 1990s. $3.19 at Target for six tablets, promising to make 24 cups total as per the recipe. What makes a hot chocolate Mexican, aside from this particular one having been invented in Mexico, is a stronger chocolate taste and the inclusion of cinnamon, vanilla, maybe some cayenne, sweetened with sugar, and frothed with a molinillo. Should you lack this specialized tool, a whisk will be fine. The variability seems to be something you are encouraged to play with, which is always a boon.

It’s hard to tell what’s actually in Abuelita as the ingredients include the rather vague ‘artificial flavor’, but the strong cinnamon smell before even opening the wrapper indicates that that’s probably one of them. Simple enough preparation: plop one chocolate tablet into 4 cups of milk, warming it in a pot on medium heat. For 2 cups I simply cut the tablet in half, which was easy enough as it’s properly demarcated to allow such a thing. A lesson for anyone unfamiliar with heating milk is that as soon as you turn away it starts boiling over and exploding everywhere, which provided a fun cleaning activity for me to do while I let the drink cool to a temperature conducive to human life. It obviously takes longer than a traditional packet of powder to heat and dissolve, but not obtrusively so, and with the benefit of permeating a warm cinnamon smell throughout your place. The cinnamon flavor is quite apparent, as are the chunks floating around in it, which appear to either be large sugar crystals or bits of chocolate. This seems to be a feature rather than a flaw, but also notable is that a film does develop on top of it if it’s left to rest for a little bit; an unsurprising fact of life for anyone familiar with making pudding or other cooked milk things. It’s still sweet on its own, so I don’t feel any need to add any sugar myself. Definitely a more pronounced chocolate flavor, but not like dark chocolate, just like...chocolate.

Under the watchful gaze of abuelita.

The box didn’t say to froth the drink, so for that first try I didn’t bother, but as their product-specific website does mention it, as well as it just being an expected feature of a Mexican hot chocolate, let’s try it and see if it even does anything worthwhile for the time spent and potential hand strain. What became immediately noticeable after whisking it like crazy while it heated up was not just that the froth vanished within seconds after stopping, so like, what’s the whole point, but soon enough that became apparent. The drink was much more homogenous and smooth, lacking the floating-chunk deal from before, and just simply didn’t develop a film as easily while I let it sit there and approach a safe temperature. The pot was also much easier to clean, lacking the cooked milk buildup. The downsides were that the cinnamon smell didn’t flow through the whole kitchen for a reason that escapes me, the whisking resulted in collateral mess on my stovetop, and the teeny-tiny pinch of sugar steered the flavor more towards something basic, muting the cinnamon warmth. Maybe scorching the milk brings out the kick? Maybe the froth will persist longer with lower heat and longer cook time? Plenty of room for experimentation extending beyond simply using milk, water, or an alternative.

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

Total: 21/25

Ibarra review when?

Coconut Cloud Vegan Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

Coconut Cloud is a brand of vegan and dairy-free creamers, lattes, cocoas, and coffee mixes. The one I got, just the regular Original Hot Cocoa, is vegan, dairy-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO, and uses MCT oil which allegedly helps with appetite control and other goodies, but is not exactly known if it actually does anything. It’s in there though, if you care! As you may suspect from the name, the ingredients do include coconut cream powder, coconut sugar, cocoa, rice starch, vanilla flavoring, sea salt, and some other things. There’s a lot to read on their website so I suggest you check that out for more information so I can spare this page a few lines of space. It’s listed at $13.49 on their website, but is $5.99 for a 7 oz bag at Publix.

Probably the largest display of 'vegan' I've seen yet.

The suggested serving is 2-3 tablespoons of powder mixed into 6-8 oz of hot water or nut milk, and promises richness and coziness, two things I’m grading for, all without the dairy. For the first run I used Mooala Almondmilk. As there’s no dairy in the mix, and no dairy or carrageenan in the milk, it just tastes and feels soulless, like it’s missing something, the oomph. It doesn’t give that vibe of coming back in from shoveling your driveway so your grandmother you don’t want to visit can come, taking off your wet boots and putting on some thick socks, sitting in front of an electric space heater because you’re too poor to live in a house with a fireplace, and sipping on the only joy in your childhood, having the warm, smooth, chocolate creaminess blanket you that I yearn for when I drink hot cocoa. It would almost have more use just pouring it over my freezing digits. That said, it’s not bad; it’s about on par with some nondescript cheapo highschool football game concession stand hot cocoa, or car mechanic waiting room coffee. It’s nice that there’s space within a vegan and non-dairy diet to at least come close.

Months later, I came back to this using NotMilk, a relatively newer brand in the American market that notably doesn’t use nuts, but rather a blend of nonsense that mimics real milk as best as an algorithm can make it. It feels much creamier; sweet, smooth, I was able to slurp down the whole thing rather quickly. It just brought out the cocoa flavor quite a bit more, almost to the point of feeling like Swiss Miss, just without the soul-coating warmth. While not equivalent to a true dairy base, this lends more credit to the base liquid having a much stronger factor in these than one might expect, and opens the door for more experimentation with cocoa mixes that anyone may have thought were lacking something. Plenty of options in the market, now, no need to settle, but when the bulk of the pleasure of this cocoa is grounded in the type of milk used, I can’t really credit Coconut Cloud with more than just its virtues.

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

Total: 16/25

Swiss Miss Non-Dairy Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix

Not to be left behind in the increasingly dairy-free future, hot cocoa staple Swiss Miss created a non-dairy version of their cocoa mix about a year ago, around June 2020. I spotted it on the shelves at Target for $4 for a 6-pack of 1.23 oz envelopes, catching my eye mostly because it was pretty much the only thing left on the cocoa shelves just a couple days before Christmas.

Might be cozy, but don't sleep on this.

Much like Coconut Cloud, this Swiss Miss avoids dairy by relying on coconut milk and tapioca, plus a short handful of other varying ingredients. No artificial colors or flavors, no preservatives, and may qualify as vegan if more information is made present, but I’m thinking not because they’d certainly boast it if so. The instructions are simple: one packet of mix into a mug, then pour 8 oz of hot water or plant-based milk alternative, then ‘stir, sip, savor because I deserve it’. I kept it non-dairy with the new NotMilk brand of AI-generated plant milk which is alarmingly tasty and seemed to work well with others. It's a perfect replacement; no noticeable difference between this and regular hot chocolate, and perhaps even better as it’s a bit more sweet without that heavy feeling sitting in your stomach if you drink too quickly. I feel this is too generous of a take, though, and perhaps too closely aligning more with a backdoor review of NotMilk, so I’m gonna bite the bullet and try this with water.

So, dump the packet, 8 oz hot water, pour it in, you know the deal. From the top I can already tell it makes good on its promise to be sweet and creamy, as there’s a nice pearlescent layer of foam glimmering. The first sip gave me a surprise, genuine smooth texture without that lurking hint of ‘it’s still water, we tricked you!’, with a nice dark cocoa flavor which I wasn’t expecting to lose in the first place as it’s still cocoa, dairy or not. I couldn’t help but quickly slurp the whole cup down, discovering further that the mix had rapidly dissolved fully, leaving no wasted sludge or debris at the bottom waiting to choke me. Losing points only because it’s triple the price per ounce than their regular version, which could come down with time as this becomes a more marketable sector.

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

Total: 23/25

Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate

This is only available during ‘the holidays’, whatever that may mean in Trader Joe’s-speak, but what is to be understood from it is that it’s a seasonal item that is sure to appear and disappear quickly, but at least will be back again. About $4 for 9 oz seems pretty, ehh, alright. ‘Inspired by European Tradition’, whatever that means. Being a Trader Joe’s product, here is the longform description on the side:

“Not quite a hot cocoa. Hardly chocolate milk. Oh no. This is a chocolate experience meant to be sipped and savored… a European delight. One taste (...) and you may feel like you’ve been whisked away to a sidewalk bistro in Rome or Barcelona. This decadent chocolate elixir has been crafted in the European style using only the finest ingredients. Immerse your taste buds in this rich bittersweet chocolate. Simply add milk or water to enjoy this velvety smooth sipping chocolate at home.

It's European™®©

Well, ok! Leaning a bit hard into the European thing. European drinking chocolate is much thicker, like how this food blogger is laying it on the powdered versions, more for dipping sweets and treats into as if it were just a bar of chocolate melted down rather than a drink. From my cursory first-page-google search, it seems to be a Parisian thing primarily. The recipe instructions for this sipping chocolate is to stir 3 tablespoons of mix into ⅓ cup of hot milk. The suggested portion is just absolutely pathetic, significantly less liquid than any other mix I’ve tried, but with more mix added to it; it’s no wonder the end result is thick. I can perform the same feat using literally any other cocoa mix if I just ignored the more sensible instructions and just used five times the amount. But with ⅓ of a cup, of course all I can do is sip it because a sip is all there is. There’s not even enough to adequately dunk a cookie or biscuit or anything into it.

To alleviate this, I simply went and used more milk, but then came the realization that it scales up rapidly. Using 3 tablespoons for ⅓ cup, but using a 1 cup mug suddenly makes it 9 tablespoons, which is like half of the container, so I settled somewhere in the middle. It’s very clumpy, but does eventually dissolve completely if you’re patient or have a compulsion to stab at and smash every glob of dry cocoa dust, and more definingly is quite thick. While still a tiny bit runny, it clings to the spoon. I can see why it’s called ‘sipping’, as if you take a big swig of it you really get hit with the fact that there’s no sweetness to it, but if you just gradually sip it’s just kinda a warm chocolatey thing to have, if a bit bitter. Good thing there’s a suggestion on the container for a that requests sugar. To instead make a decadent hot chocolate with this same mix, the container says stir 3 tablespoons of mix into ¾ cup of hot milk, then add sugar to taste. Well...huh...it’s the same thing, just thinner. I mean, sure, that’s what it is I guess. The addition of more milk and sugar does thin it out and take some of the bite out, it’s not enough, and it remains tasting like just straight up cocoa powder.

While good to dunk Speculoos into, Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate is just base level europhile nonsense and a waste of money; if you want to experience ‘European Traditions’ by the way of just really thick hot cocoa, go and buy a cheap barrel of Nestlé hot cocoa mix or bulk cocoa powder and have at it.

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

Total: 12/25

Franprix Chocolate Chaud

C'est européen! 🥖🥐
So what is European-style hot chocolate? Well, I went all the way to Paris to find out!* (*Not exactly, but once I figure out a way to monetize this and become an instant internet celebrity, maybe I can.) When I actually did go to Paris, though, French hot chocolate was on my long list of things to acquire. A pretty standard option at most cafés and restaurants, it was surprisingly difficult to find in stores.
A bit more awkward than receiving a cute little cup at a corner café.
Maybe I wasn’t looking at the right places? Either way I finally found some of the (in)famous Angelina brand at Galeries Lafayette for way more than I cared to pay for. Surely, I thought, I could find the same or similar for a less extortionate rate once I escape the illusory confines of luxury, and right I was after taking a more thorough foray through the aisles of a nearby Franprix, for just a couple euros.

Already a finished product right inside the bottle, it’s made from fresh pasteurized semi-skimmed milk, 21% chocolate (cocoa, sugar, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor), water, and cocoa powder. The instructions state to shake vigorously, first, then heat the uncapped bottle in the microwave or in a pan over low heat. Not sure what shaking it is gonna do as it’s basically a solid rock trapped inside a glass jar, but once it’s heated you can drink it right from the jar, but I’m sure the intent is more to pour it into a few cups. Not wanting to test fate with putting this thing inside a microwave, I opted to place it in a pan and warm it sous vide style as I figured that would be the safest and most controlled way. In expected sous vide style, it took like an hour to get to a point where I felt I could drink it without choking, if even to just get it out of the glass.

Incredibly thick for American hot chocolate standards, it’s essentially hot pudding in terms of consistency.
THICK
Rich flavor, but slightly bitter, more along the lines of pure cocoa; I guess it is a French product and I’m a spoiled Hershey’s American who prefers milkier and sweeter. That being said, it was incredibly indulgent. Definitely not something you chug, but rather sit and relax with, taking in the decadence. It’s effectively fondue, good to dip tea biscuits into.

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

Total: 18/25

Seems kinda unfair to use my standard scale for this, as it’s a different concept entirely, so just consider this a review that sees this product highly for what its own intended purpose is.

Cocoa Bombs

Certainly looks cute.

If you’ve been an avid watcher of food channels and competitions any time in the last 6 years, you’ve seen some rendition of chocolate domes or orbs being melted by pouring warm chocolate on top, thus revealing the hidden interior, much to the dazzlement of the patron and audience. Now, if you’ve been a human existing in general proximity to pop culture and the internet in the last, say, 8 months, reaching its zenith by December 2020, you’re aware of the cocoa bomb craze that hit Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms that synergize well with dazzling food trends. The concept is essentially the same, cast some melted chocolate into the shape of a dome, seal the contents inside, and either rest on a plate or fuse with another dome to create a sphere, much like a Kinder Surprise egg.

I’m not one to be swayed much by flashy food trends as more often than not they feel like more of a show of presentation, form, and artistry, rather than practical and efficient use of food as affordable sustenance; not to pooh-pooh the technical skill and mastery to utilize food as an engineering medium, but most of the time I’m not too keen to invest the majority of my meal budget on an item in which the primary focus is to be unceremoniously destroyed in order for me to consume it in any meaningful way. This is where cocoa bombs fascinated me. Yes, they make for quite a show on social media, but the destruction of the chocolate orb serves a true utilitarian purpose; not just unveiling what is hidden inside, only to leave a mess of warm chocolate splattered on the perimeter, the orb itself integrates into the drink, and the contents are spilled inside to be mixed together--no wastage of food for solely visual effect and garnish! Actually acquiring one was another feat, their popularity surging at a memetic high leaving every single source of them, from online, to national chain stores like Target, to local chocolate shops, depleted and out of stock. This scarcity certainly lubricated my excessive spending decisions when I finally found a couple.

..tada

The first one I found upon chance, in a little bowl at the checkout desk at a chocolate shop in a town about 40 minutes away. The price shocked me, $6 for a single ball, ultimately just one cup of cocoa. Having finally found one, I caved and got it, writing it off as a required review and just living in the moment. Spoiler alert cocoa bombs aren't too exciting when you are fully aware how much you paid for it. Out of a couple options I selected the Milk Chocolate Bomb, which by the ingredients appears to be, well, milk chocolate with cocoa powder inside, simple enough! Lacking, though, was any indication of the volume of the contents, or instructions detailing just how much liquid is recommended, a feature taken for granted with retail products. All I was left to do was assume a standard mug size was good. So, set the cocoa bomb into my mug, heat up some milk, and just pour on top until it does its thing. It didn’t immediately bore a hole through the chocolate, but rather kinda stewed in the molten milk for a few seconds before starting to lose form; a reaction I should’ve expected, but was still slightly disappointed in. While the effect is quite mesmerizing once it finally begins, you can achieve the same thing for free by watching someone doing it online. Rich and chocolatey, a fun enough appeal to it, definitely boundlessly more exciting than just scooping some powder out of a bag. Sometimes it’s just the fleeting joys in life that help define it, but I just wish it wasn’t expensive.

ok

Next one was at Peterbrooke, a franchise chain chocolatier. After waiting 3 weeks for them to get back into production as they had completely been booked and sold out over the holidays, I finally found some in their shop at a staggering $8. They looked extravagant, and it was a day to treat myself, so, eh, capitalism caught me again. Once again, it didn’t really melt in a way that provided a grand reveal, and rather just kinda slowly blended into the milk all but for one moment when a mere five marshmallows popped out. The chocolate shell was thick and didn’t fully break down, and instead glommed onto the side of my mug all the way around and failed to integrate into the drink, leaving behind lots of chocolate debris at the bottom. Beyond that, it’s a pretty standard hot chocolate; the full appeal is the novelty of the bomb. Check out their Instagram stories for some footage, and do note that the primary footage is sped up.

wait for it........
Now that the end-year holiday blast has passed, the trend seems to have cooled off despite capitalism’s best efforts to bring it into the Valentine’s season, or towards the more opulent tea bombs, so they can be readily found in chocolate shops again, but seem to be lacking from big-box retailers. Perhaps in the true spirit of Ostara, cocoa bombs will experience a new spring and rebirth, finding its way as a novelty in Easter gift baskets.

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

Total: 11/25

Lesson learned: it is incredibly difficult to take video with one hand while pouring a searingly hot liquid with attempted precision with the other hand. If I ever foray into video reviews and footage I’ll absolutely need to invest in a real setup.

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