The 'Shroom:Issue 169/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

Hey guys, welcome to April, the month that doesn't have much else but maybe Easter sometimes if you care about that and also your reminder that the year is 1/4 done already! How's your New Year's resolutions coming along? There's still time to start them before December 26th comes and you remember that you even had one, so don't lose hope! Meanwhile here at Critic Corner we've been busily slamming away at our keyboards thinking HARD about some opinions to deliver to you, first class.

Additionally, awards season is now upon us! Meetings hosted by the Awards Committee has begun for 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, so please check them out! Keep tabs on any changes we've made super easily over with Lakituthequick, but be sure to visit the forum or chat if you've got ideas to share. Soon enough tournaments will be opening, polls will be coming up, and slots to create presentations will open. Soon soon soon!!!

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


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

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

Section of the Month

Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH
Place Section Votes % Writer
1st Anton's Half-Baked Reviews 9 45.00% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd Rose's Quarantine Reviews 6 30.00% Roserade (talk)
3rd Pokédex Power 3 15.00% Yoshi876 (talk)

Reviews / Opinion Pieces

I am become Chex Mix, destroyer of diets.
[read more]


Rose's Quarantine Reviews

Written by: Roserade (talk)

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

Once again, though, we have to call into question how long these reviews will be Quarantine Reviews. I live in Washington State, where qualifications for getting a vaccination have shifted. Starting April 15th, anybody over the age of sixteen will be able to register for a vaccine, regardless of their living situation. We continue to move towards normality, or at least, how normal things can be since this quarantine has begun.

With that update aside, let's get to the reviews! I'm writing this while on a spring break vacation, so I don't have too much time this month. As such, we'll only be looking at two things this month, but perhaps next month I'll look at four things to compensate.

Pichu (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate)

The mouse of the hour!

In the past few weeks, I've been revisiting a certain crossover platform fighter, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I've poured hundreds of hours into the game, but with life picking up steam, it's been hard to focus in on... any video game, recently. So with some additional free time, I've been playing Ultimate again. My character choices through the years has been varied; initially, the very first character I decided to main was Pichu. Its playstyle was an addictive glass cannon rushdown style, one which complemented my strengths with its freeform combos and high damage output. However, once the first nerfs hit the game, I found myself shifting away from Pichu. It wasn't because I only play the most viable characters, believe me, I just think my focus shifted at that point. After Pichu, my main shifted to Young Link, an incredibly versatile character with a toolkit for seemingly any situation; a while later, I settled into the juggling Jigglypuff, since I love aerial play and unique mix-ups.

While I've been playing the game again, though, I've found myself yet again gravitated towards Pichu. This is probably because of the space I had away from the electric rodent. I gave myself the time to experiment outside of its gameplay, and the release of DLC packs have given me even more characters to play with. Now, with a fresher head and a clearer perspective, I can adequately say that Pichu is back to being my favorite character to play as in the game. But why is that? Let's review it.

Charging up for battle

The first thing to know about Pichu is that I don't use the term "glass cannon" lightly. In fighting games, a glass cannon character is one whose damage output and potential is high, but who is easily K.O.'d for one reason or another. Pichu fits this to the nines: its running speed is like a burst when it starts moving, and its attacks are full of damage-mounting multihits and kill moves, but its weight is the lowest in the entire game, causing it to be launched at incredibly low percents. Tacked onto this weight is Pichu's "gimmick", if you would: any time Pichu uses an electric attack, it takes an accordant amount of damage. If you thought being light made a character frail, imagine the character hurting itself all the time as well. Yikes. Yet, all of these factors create an addictive, high-risk high-reward playstyle. Once you're in the Pichu gameplay loop, it's hard to break out of it, due to how invigorating the character is to master.

And don't worry about Pichu's frailness not being worth your time, because it absolutely makes up for it with its kit. Probably the most versatile component of Pichu's design is its aerial attacks: neutral air is a simple spinning attack with wide range and plenty of knockback; up air is going to be your primary juggling tool, keeping opponents in the air while hitting with multiple quick tail swipes; forward air and back air are both multihit electric attacks with both kill potential and drag-down opportunities; down air is a powerful spiking attack that can be used effectively on ledge. All of these attacks come together to form an oppressive aerial set that, paired with its generally quick air speed, generate damage quickly.

While its aerials are likely the best part of Pichu's kit, the rest is not to be discounted either. Grab into down throw and down tilt both act as immediate combo starters, easily leading into just about any of its aerials at lower percent; its jab creates simple jablock opportunities, which can easily lead into the devastating power of Pichu's forward smash or down smash; Thunder is a solid opportunist attack with a unique spike hitbox on the cloud; and while it was most powerful before nerfs, Pichu's forward tilt is still a powerful strike with plenty of oomph behind it. Not everything in its moveset is perfect, though. Skull Bash has a minor hitbox and usually isn't worth the wait time for its charge, especially when Quick Attack is a much better recovery option, and the rest of Pichu's throws are alright at best, none of them being kill throws.

All in all, how would I rate Pichu? I'd argue that the character isn't for everyone. You have to be willing to risk K.O.s at essentially any time, and you'll likely want to learn which attacks do or don't involve electricity, so that you can best utilize the percentage that you have. If you're looking for a safer character with a similar style, Pikachu is probably your best bet. For my money, though, I'd consider Pichu one of the most fun characters in the game, one that more than deserved its promotion up from just a joke character in Melee. Somehow, the development team managed to create a monster from such a minor character, and for that, they receive all of the accolades.

Also, Pichu is just really cute! Look at all of those wonderful alternate costumes! Personally, I'm quite a proprietor of the Team Skull look:

RQR 169-3.jpg

What a fit!

Rating: 8.5 damage taken after two Thunders/10

The Art Style of "Be Cool Scooby-Doo"

...bleegghhhh

You might remember that, a few years back, the reveal of these character designs caused a lot of flack online. Be Cool Scooby-Doo was the newest series dedicated to the Mystery Gang, and the look of the show was... certainly different. After seeing a few snippets of episodes, I can easily say that I agree with the majority of the internet opinions. Yeah, this style is bad.

Now, I'm not a professional artist or character designer, so my explanations of why these designs are unpleasant won't be perfect. I can still point to what I dislike, though! I believe a lot of this is owed to the structure of the face, most particularly the eyes. There's something about the spacing of the facial features and the size of the eyeballs that really throws me, as well as the proportion of the head to the rest of the body. All of it comes together to create a set of designs that doesn't really represent what came before, or how Scooby-Doo has developed over the years. Perhaps we've just been spoiled by the series that's come before, though. Take a look at the designs of the Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated show:

RQR 169-5.jpg

I believe the art style of these designs perfectly complements both the designs of the character previously, and the overall tone of the show. Mystery Incorporated is meant to be your more "serious" Scooby-Doo series, and these looks nail it. More realistic proportions and pleasant faces, while each character still has their own personality displayed through their look. It's not that every Scooby-Doo series needs to be held to this standard, but just look at how pleasant these characters appear while still being distinctly the members of the gang. Compared to these looks, the design of Be Cool Scooby-Doo just pales in comparison.

Curse you, Scooby-Doo. Why can't everything you do just be what I want you to do?

Rating: 2/10 mysteries solved


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)

You literally are what you eat

What if Pokemon was more focused on capturing and had a baby with Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs? Bugsnax, a quirky little indie game made by the creators of Octodad, comes to answer that question.

Right off the bat you're thrust in an unnamed journalist. You aim to get a story on adorable creatures called "Bugsnax" appropriately being a cross between food and insects. However, while journeying to the island, you get caught up in a storm and, after saving the mayor of a nearby town, find out that not only is Lizbert, the one who invited you to the island, and her girlfriend Eggabell missing, but that the town is empty after a bit of a falling out. You're responsible for helping the incompetent but lovable mayor Filbo bring everyone back to town, while also figuring out just exactly what happened to Lizbert.

The residents of Snaxburg, the main town of the game, won't return so easily. You'll have to complete various tasks to convince them to return, which more often than not requires feeding them, and thus capturing, Bugsnax. Each level of the game contains many unique varieties of Bugsnax, and you'll have to capture them using the tools and traps which you gradually unlock throughout the game. At first, you'll just start out with a simple trap which you can open and close, requiring timing it to avoid scaring certain Bugsnax off. However, you'll later unlock a "Lunchpad" which can launch your trap, yourself, and other Bugsnax, a Trip Shot which can be used as a tripwire, a net, which can catch stunned Bugsnax, and many other tools. Few of these tools catch Bugsnax on their own, however, and you'll often have to use some in combination, such as by using the Lunch Pad to launch the trap into a flying Bugsnax, or using the Trip Wire to trip a fast-moving enemy and then catching it with your net. Many types of Bugsnax act differently with their own movement patterns and ways to catch - for example, some may hide in bushes if you come too close, some may charge at you, etc. You also have a wide variety of sauces to fling, and different Bugsnax love or hate these sauces - for example, Bungers love ketchup, so you can make one charge into another Bunger by flinging ketchup on said Bunger, thus stunning them. Finally, some Bugsnax may be freezing or on fire - in these states you are unable to catch them. However, you can put them out of this state in various ways, such as by having a water-bound Bugsnax attack a flaming one. Each Bugsnax is like its own puzzle in terms of catching, both requiring observation of their environment and their movement. Some of my favorite moments of the game were figuring out how to catch certain Bugsnax - such as one time were I found out how to catch a flaming and flying Bugsnax by launching a popsicle Bugsnax at it, thus both putting out its flame and knocking it onto the ground, or one instance where I figured out that I could unfreeze a ice cream sundae Bugsnax by lighting myself on fire using a nearby torch and them running into it. There's a hundred Bugsnax in the game, all with cute and clever food-related designs, and I loved the process of catching them.

Of course, catching Bugsnax isn't the only thing you do in this game. Bringing the various villagers back to town was itself a rewarding experience. The many characters have various issues and character relationships after bringing them back - you'll find a farmer who thinks he can't accomplish much and has issues with his wife, a singer who can't recreate her earlier success, etc. The various characters are genuinely endearing, helped by the fact that they often interact with each other. It also helps that the voice acting is genuinely strong which brings life to the characters - including Roger Craig Smith, the latest voice of Sonic The Hedgehog, strangely enough. Of course, getting them all back to Snaxburg isn't enough; all of the characters have a string of side quests to complete. These side quests, obviously, include catching Bugsnax, though they may include other activities, such as snooping around for gossip or stealing a map. While many of these simply develop characters further, four also end with fights against "Legendary Bugsnax". These boss fights are awesome, essentially having the same puzzle-like catching gameplay but on a larger scale. These quests are engaging, especially for the dialogue, and I ended up completing all of them - something which I rarely do in games..

Of course, the game doesn't just spontaneously end. You do eventually find Eggabell on a snowy mountain, and open up a mysterious gate. After the island's volcano erupts, you and Filbo quickly go to through the gate - only to fall into the core of the island. Inside, you learn that the island itself is made of Bugsnax, and that they're dangerous, parasitic creatures. You find Lizbert, but she's in a monstrous state, and she and Eggabell help you escape the underground in order to warn the other to leave. However, the Bugsnax have launched an onslaught on Snaxburg, and you have to use weaponized versions of your tools in order to escape. This makes for a pretty fun, action-packed scene. If you manage to save all the villagers, you escape with them all, and they all leave on a decent note, learning some lesson along the way. it's quite a nice ending, but I do believe that the "horror" element of this game is often exaggerated by folks on the internet. The game really isn't that horrifying. It's slightly darker than your average kids game, but to be honest I find that whenever a piece of media primarily aimed at children has something even remotely darker than average it gets made out as this horrifying thing.

As a whole, Bugsnax is a great little indie game. It's one of my favorite games which I played this year and an easy recommendation.

'Shroom FM

Written by: MrConcreteDonkey (talk)

Welcome back to 'Shroom FM! Here's some albums from all the way back in March. We're so late into April that I forgot some of these albums even existed.

MARCH 2021
SFMasdaysgetdark.jpg ARAB STRAP - AS DAYS GET DARK
Despite both members releasing plenty of solo material, As Days Get Dark is Arab Strap’s first album together since 2005. Yet despite this massive time gap, the band's sound doesn't feel like it's aged at all. Aidan Moffat's (largely spoken) vocals in particular sound hardly any different than they did back in the band's early days, the same low-key and lethargic tone to them, and it's still just as effective at portraying the downbeat mood of the lyrics. There are a few touches here and there that make it sound a little bit more modern, mostly how clean the production is. The instrumentation is fairly strong throughout - the heavy drum machine mixes well with the guitar and synths to give the album a bleak and cold atmosphere. The album's not without its faults - for instance, 'Tears on Tour' starts off with an interesting and well-written presentation of grief, then descends too far into the melodrama as Moffat talks about crying at The Muppet Movie and Frozen (and Frozen 2), then becoming "the opposite of a comedian" and making everyone cry with him, then loops back to realism when he talks about being unable to cry anymore - they're well-written lyrics but you're left wondering how much emotional weight you're meant to attach to it. The final couple of songs on the album are also a bit underwhelming, just don't feel like they achieve much that isn't already done on the album. But overall, even if they don't change the formula much, this is a solid return for the band.
Best tracks Here Comes Comus!, Fable of the Urban Fox, Kebabylon
SFMharam.jpg ARMAND HAMMER & THE ALCHEMIST - HARAM
The album cover is two severed pig heads, maybe not the worst thing out there but a bit much for The 'Shroom.

This album is a collaboration between hip-hop group Armand Hammer (billy woods and ELUCID, not the dead businessman) and producer The Alchemist, who releases a lot of collabs, including last year's Alfredo with Freddie Gibbs. Despite listening to Alfredo multiple times, I never quite ended up enjoying it as much as I wanted to; whereas I thought Shrines, Armand Hammer's album from last year, was good but not great. On Haram, the different styles of both artists blend together - Armand Hammer's dense and abstract music and the Alchemist's jazzier production might not sound like they'd mix together well on paper, but it gives the album a very dreamy and surreal vibe. The instrumental of 'Peppertree', for instance, is largely built around reversed jazz samples, while 'Indian Summer' contrasts a light flute line with this loud, jarring siren noise. The lyricism here is very sharp, though possibly too rich and vast to fully digest from a single listen. If I had to complain about anything, I think there's a few features here that are slightly underused - particularly Earl Sweatshirt, whose verse on 'Falling out the Sky' feels like it's over too soon, and Quelle Chris on 'Chicharonnes'. KAYANA's feature on 'Black Sunlight' is my favourite here, especially at the end where ELUCID joins in. All in all, Haram is an inventive and engaging album, where both collaborators bring out the best in each other.

Best tracks Falling out the Sky, Black Sunlight, Scaffolds
SFMchemtrails.jpg LANA DEL REY - CHEMTRAILS OVER THE COUNTRY CLUB
I've enjoyed some of Lana's previous albums - Norman Fucking Rockwell! is one of my favourite albums from 2019, and Ultraviolence is also pretty good - but I just found most of Chemtrails very forgettable. It just feels lacking in identity, especially compared to NFR - and sometimes the things it does are far too subtle. The opener 'White Dress' is a good example of this: apparently the breathy falsetto and the weird pacing of the chorus is intentional, but that doesn't stop either from sounding awkward, and the song just ends up feeling like a mess. There's far too many tracks here built around sparse piano lines and little else, and Lana's vocals don't do enough to feel emotive or engaging. The worst track on the album is 'Let Me Love You Like a Woman', it's like a Lana Del Rey song generated by an AI. The second half improves things a little - 'Dark but Just a Game' actually has some energy to it and is built around a solid guitar line, same goes for 'Yosemite' (which is a cut track from an earlier album) - before running out of steam in the last few tracks, and ending on a underwhelming note. On the whole, Chemtrails feels lacklustre throughout, and even knowing the context behind some of the choices made on the album it doesn't really make them any less boring.
Best tracks Dark but Just a Game, Yosemite
SFMpromises.jpg FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS & THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - PROMISES
This is a cool (and unlikely) collab, bringing together London-based electronic producer Floating Points (Sam Shepherd), jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, and one of the most recorded orchestras in the world. After Sanders enjoyed Shepherd's album Elaenia, he befriended him and suggested the two collaborate, with the LSO brought in later to record string arrangements written by Shepherd. The album itself consists of a single piece of music comprised of nine movements, building and fading around a short, repeating melody. There's also a few seconds of silence after the melody, which allow it to fade out before it returns. It's minimalistic, but very tranquil and ambient, and continues like this until the penultimate movement. Shepherd is a superb instrumentalist - besides arranging the strings, he also plays piano, harpsichord, celesta, the Hammond organ and multiple different synths. Meanwhile, Sanders' tenor sax commands the mix when it appears, and he also contributes vocals for the fourth movement which are very welcome. Sure, the minimalism and repetition here probably won't appeal to everyone, but this is a really beautiful piece of music and a great achievement for all of the musicians involved.
Best movements Movement 6, Movement 5
SFMohno.jpg XIU XIU - OH NO
This is yet another collab album, though it's a different kind of collab album than the other two. OH NO is a fairly straightforward - and quite sweet - concept for an album, from a band whose previous releases range from isolating and disturbing experimental music to Twin Peaks covers. This album consists of "duets" between the band's core member Jamie Stewart and people who have essentially improved his outlook on humanity. There's a lot of different sounds here, but Stewart's presence keeps it mostly consistent. The tracks here are a bit of a mixed bag: the biggest problem across multiple tracks is that the collaborators feel a bit overshadowed by Stewart, or their performance feels too similar to his and doesn't really stand out. For example, 'One Hundred Years' is a good Cure cover, but both Stewart and Chelsea Wolfe's vocals are doing the same thing, and even though they're great musicians it feels unnecessary to have both, and it's far from the only example of this. Then there's tracks like 'Goodbye for Good' and 'A Classic Screw' which are messy to the point of being unpleasant to listen to, and 'It Bothers Me All the Time' tries to be dramatic and then just hits you with a noise that sounds like this, and I couldn't take it seriously past that point. On the other hand, 'A Bottle of Rum' and 'Rumpus Room', probably the least experimental tracks here, are two of the most fun to listen to; 'Fuzz Gong Fight' builds up to its loud moments really well; and there's some great sounds on 'OH NO' and 'The Grifters'. Not a bad album, even though it's often unbalanced.
Best tracks Rumpus Room, Fuzz Gong Fight, A Bottle of Rum
FURTHER LISTENING
Genesis Owusu - Smiling with No Teeth

Pokédex Power

Written by: Yoshi876 (talk)

It's a Mouse Pokémon, but it could be an Iconic one.

Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who has recently begun wondering if I should go back and get Omega Ruby, I never got the Hoenn remakes on account of owning Emerald, but I never actually use my GBA anymore, so it's almost a moot point. What do you guys think, go for it or not?

But Hoenn isn't what's on my mind for this month's edition, as we'll be looking at what might be the most iconic Pokémon of all time. This section hasn't looked at many of the icons in its history, and we can't get much more iconic than the Pokémon that is basically the face of the brand, and the one who actually gets a unique call in later games as opposed to as one post one put it "the electronic screams of the damned."

And me and Pikachu do have a history, as an Electric-type that is usually found early on the games, or least Pichu is on many occasions, I have used it in most of my games as one point or another, and Pikachu is definitely a decent choice in those early stages, and with the right training it only gets stronger. But does being the most iconic Pokémon earn it some good Pokédex entries? Let's find out…

Generation I

Pokémon Red When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms.
Pokémon Blue When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms.
Pokémon Yellow It keeps its tail raised to monitor its surroundings. If you yank its tail, it will try to bite you.
Pokémon Stadium Lives in forests away from people. It stores electricity in its cheeks for zapping an enemy if it is attacked.

Pikachu's initial Pokédex entries don't really stand out. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with them, they just feel a bit generic for an Electric-type Pokémon. We have the 'when they gather lightning storms form' entry, which is practically synonymous with the typing, I feel like Magnemite uses it at least once, probably in this generation as well. But we do find out that Pikachu stores electricity in its cheeks, which makes absolute sense, and that it uses the tail to monitor its surroundings, presumably to help it hide away from predatory Pokémon like Ekans. Although in real-life, there are birds that hunt mice, I can't imagine a Flying-type wants to go for Pikachu unless it's feeling particularly brave. The ending of the Yellow entry is a little odd, I can understand that you should not be yanking on the tail of Pikachu and that it would fight back if you did, but why would it bite you instead of shocking you? Feels like the latter would serve as a better reminder not to do so, especially since as we learn later on that power can be equivalent to a lightning bolt.

Generation II

Pokémon Gold This intelligent Pokémon roasts hard berries with electricity to make them tender enough to eat.
Pokémon Silver It raises its tail to check its surroundings. The tail is sometimes struck by lightning in this pose.
Pokémon Crystal When it is angered, it immediately discharges the energy stored in the pouches in its cheeks.
Pokémon Stadium 2 This intelligent Pokémon roasts hard berries with electricity to make them tender enough to eat.

Picking up on my last point made in the previous section, Crystal heads down the right route of saying an angry Pikachu will retaliate with electricity over biting, and like I just said that makes way more sense. Silver isn't the best entry as half of it comes from the previous generation, but we find out that Pikachu does act somewhat as a lightning-rod, attracting the bolts with its tail, and at least its hidden ability in future generations shows this. What I'd like to know is whether the Pikachu suffers any adverse effects from this. As an Electric-type, I'm sure it's fine with general electricity, but would it still be standing after a strike like that? And does the lightning help power the rodent up? Perhaps Pikachu will go and stand in thunderstorms to try and absorb the electricity in order to get more powerful. The best entry from this set is Gold, we get an insight into the Pika diet, and we learn that it also knows how to cook, maybe they are restaurants that could employ the adorable little critter as a chef! I think many of us would want to eat in a restaurant with a Pikachu chef.

Generation III

Pokémon Ruby Whenever Pikachu comes across something new, it blasts it with a jolt of electricity. If you come across a blackened berry, it's evidence that this Pokémon mistook the intensity of its charge.
Pokémon Sapphire This Pokémon has electricity-storing pouches on its cheeks. These appear to become electrically charged during the night while Pikachu sleeps. It occasionally discharges electricity when it is dozy after waking up.
Pokémon Emerald It stores electricity in the electric sacs on its cheeks. When it releases pent-up energy in a burst, the electric power is equal to a lightning bolt.
Pokémon FireRed It has small electric sacs on both its cheeks. If threatened, it looses electric charges from the sacs.
Pokémon LeafGreen When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms.

Generation II had a great set of entries (mostly), but Generation III seems to head in the opposite direction as it feels like we're already running out of steam when it comes to talking about Pikachu. FireRed, although a new entry doesn't really cover any new ground, and Emerald only gives us a bit of a power rating, which while neat, does seem maybe a but strong for Pikachu. I can definitely seeing it giving a nasty little shock, but a lightning bolt does seem a bit overkill and something that would make more sense for its evolution: Raichu. The entry for Ruby is probably the worst of the bunch, I can see Pikachu zapping things out of curiosity, but surely in its young life it would be taught the basics like that berries are for eating not over-zapping – I would've much preferred it if it was linked to the Gold entry that young Pikachu cooks might sometimes misjudge their electrical output when attempting to roast the berries. This also makes me think about the family structure of a Pikachu, which we know nothing about. I can see Pikachu being almost a herd like-species, or at the very least living with its mother and father until it stakes out on its own. Sapphire is a great entry though, as we learn how Pikachu actually generates the electricity, although it's nothing to do with the lightning strikes like I theorised. The early morning release also makes perfect sense, as none of us are at our best early in the mornings, and I can definitely see a groggy Pikachu accidentally letting out a few volts.

Generation IV

Pokémon Diamond It lives in forests with others. It stores electricity in the pouches on its cheeks.
Pokémon Pearl If it looses crackling power from the electrical pouches on its cheeks, it is being wary.
Pokémon Platinum It occasionally uses an electric shock to recharge a fellow Pikachu that is in a weakened state.
Pokémon HeartGold This intelligent Pokémon roasts hard berries with electricity to make them tender enough to eat.
Pokémon SoulSilver It raises its tail to check its surroundings. The tail is sometimes struck by lightning in this pose.

If Generation III was the descent into mediocrity, then Generation IV was the final destination – this metaphor makes no sense, but let's just work with it – as the only entry that's worth any time is Platinum. Although I'm sure that other Electric-type Pokémon like Plusle and Minum exhibited this behaviour, it is new for the Pikachu and sets up a friendly dynamic between individuals in the species. From this alone we can determine that Pikachu are friendly towards other members of its species and could potentially live in some form of pack society without competing for territory. A small glimmer in a mostly disappointing bunch.

Generation V

Pokémon Black It occasionally uses an electric shock to recharge a fellow Pikachu that is in a weakened state.
Pokémon White It occasionally uses an electric shock to recharge a fellow Pikachu that is in a weakened state.
Pokémon Black 2 It occasionally uses an electric shock to recharge a fellow Pikachu that is in a weakened state.
Pokémon White 2 It occasionally uses an electric shock to recharge a fellow Pikachu that is in a weakened state.

With Platinum being the best Generation IV entry, I'm not surprised that Generation V used it for all its entries, although would've been nice to get some new ones.

Generation VI

Pokémon X It raises its tail to check its surroundings. The tail is sometimes struck by lightning in this pose.
Pokémon Y It has small electric sacs on both its cheeks. If threatened, it looses electric charges from the sacs.
Pokémon Omega Ruby Whenever Pikachu comes across something new, it blasts it with a jolt of electricity. If you come across a blackened berry, it's evidence that this Pokémon mistook the intensity of its charge.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire This Pokémon has electricity-storing pouches on its cheeks. These appear to become electrically charged during the night while Pikachu sleeps. It occasionally discharges electricity when it is dozy after waking up.

Pikachu may be an icon in the Pokémon world, but even it can't get new entries when it comes to Generation VI.

Generation VII Normal Pikachu

Pokémon Sun A plan was recently announced to gather many Pikachu and make an electric power plant.
Pokémon Moon It's in its nature to store electricity. It feels stressed now and then if it's unable to fully discharge the electricity.
Pokémon Ultra Sun Its nature is to store up electricity. Forests where nests of Pikachu live are dangerous, since the trees are so often struck by lightning.
Pokémon Ultra Moon While sleeping, it generates electricity in the sacs in its cheeks. If it's not getting enough sleep, it will be able to use only weak electricity.
Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu This forest-dwelling Pokémon stores electricity in its cheeks, so you'll feel a tingly shock if you touch it.
Pokémon Let's Go Eevee This forest-dwelling Pokémon stores electricity in its cheeks, so you'll feel a tingly shock if you touch it.

Pikachu could definitely work as something that powers a power station, but they better be treated right! I want to see berries and good housing conditions rather than Pikachus rammed against other Pikachus in order to get the most energy out – but it is a shame that no Pokémon game has a place where Electric Pokémon actually power a place. I do feel like some of these entries could've come sooner though, like how it's in the Pokémon's nature to be storing the electricity and that it is weaker if it hasn't slept well. But when it comes to UltraSun, it almost makes it sound like Pikachu regularly fire off bolts randomly, which might make sense as they need to empty their electrical stats, but you think it'd find a place safer to do it, as it just makes its own life more dangerous if it's destroying the trees around it.

Pikachu in a cap

Pokémon Sun This form of Pikachu is somewhat rare. It wears the hat of its Trainer, who is also its partner.
Pokémon Moon This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. Since the cap's not the right size, the fit is a bit loose.
Pokémon Ultra Sun This form of Pikachu is somewhat rare. It wears the hat of its Trainer, who is also its partner.
Pokémon Ultra Moon This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. Since the cap's not the right size, the fit is a bit loose.

I'm really glad we got this set of entries, with pivotal information to learn about Pikachu. Oh, sorry April Fool's was weeks ago? Ah… Yeah, this is really disappointing to have a set of entries basically confirming Pikachu is in a hat.

Generation VIII Normal

Pokémon Sword Pikachu that can generate powerful electricity have cheek sacs that are extra soft and super stretchy.
Pokémon Shield When Pikachu meet, they'll touch their tails together and exchange electricity through them as a form of greeting.

Pikachu is just adorable in this generation with its squishy cheeks and cute ways to greet other Pikachu. It's just a shame you can't squish the cheeks of a Pikachu unless you want to be on the end of a violent electric shock. The greeting makes sense, but the electricity could also be used in a sense of dominance for which Pikachu leads the pack – even though nothing has yet officially established this Pokémon as a pack animal – the Pikachu that can shoot the hardest bolts or sustain the most wins. It's interesting that this Pokémon favour electrical bonding as a greeting rather than a call, but it makes sense and helps with a handy charge if one needs one.

Original Cap

Pokémon Sword This Pikachu wear its partner's cap, which is brimming with memories of traveling through many different regions.
Pokémon Shield This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. The cap is proof that the two travelled across many regions together.

Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, Kalos and Alola Cap

Pokémon Sword This Pikachu wear its partner's cap, which is brimming with memories of traveling through the Hoenn/Sinnoh/Unova/Kalos/Alola region.
Pokémon Shield This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. The cap is proof that the two travelled throughout the Hoenn/Sinnoh/Unova/Kalos/Alola regions together.

Partner Cap

Pokémon Sword This Pikachu wear its partner's cap, which is brimming with memories of when they first met.
Pokémon Shield This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. The cap is a precious symbol of a fateful encounter.

World Cap

Pokémon Sword This Pikachu wear its partner's cap, which is brimming with memories of traveling through different regions.
Pokémon Shield This Pikachu is wearing its Trainer's cap. The cap is a precious symbol that travels across different regions with Pikachu.

Again, the caps give us no information other than this is Pikachu in a cap. They honestly didn't need separate entries.

Gigantamax

Pokémon Sword Its Gigantamax power expanded, forming its supersized body and towering tail.
Pokémon Shield When it smashes its opponents with its bolt-shaped tail, it delivers a surge of electricity equivalent to a lightning strike.

I think Gigantamax could've gone further with Sword just explaining that it's bigger and Shield just going with a power boost, which is expected given that the Pokémon is now huge. I always wonder if there's place for Gigantamax outside of battles, like whether a Gigantamax Pikachu could provide the energy for an entire city if needed, and that would be a great entry for it to follow on from the Sun one where they wanted Pikachu to be its own power plant.

Conclusion Pikachu starts off pretty strong before slowly descending into mediocrity. I'm barely going to waste any words on the caps as those entries are just the worst ones in the entire Poké universe and shouldn't have ever been considered for alternate forms. The other form Gigantamax should've gone further while later entries would've been good if they'd be introduced earlier. Generation II was the real highlight for this Pokémon, and other entries should attempt to recreate this. I still wish we knew whether Pikachu was a pack animal or a solo creature, because there could be some really interesting facts to come out of a Pikachu social structure, here's hoping Generation IX delivers.

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

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

Anytime, anywhere

Well into Spring and still craving what’s seen otherwise as a winter treat? Restaurants and chains are here to meet that demand! Now that I’m a well-versed connoisseur of hot cocoas and chocolates, it’s time to turn my sights on those I have even less control and knowledge over. I’m not setting out to find the best hot chocolate in the US or the world, nor do I really care to, because at some point I believe there is a plateau of the tangible experience you’re getting as the price climbs higher and higher to account for the prestige and environmental supplementary experience. Maybe the best cup of hot chocolate is in some dump of a gas station in a land-locked state? Who cares. What I’ve got here is cocoa that was in the way of my daily commute and general around-town business, and that’s all that matters.

Starbucks

Starbucks is pretty much the zeitgeist of fast food hot cocoa, so let’s start with them. There’s definitely not as many hot cocoa varieties as their coffees, teas, and Frappuccinos, but they do at least put enough focus on them to include them in seasonable flavor cycles, which is more than many coffee shops and bakeries that just toss up a single pitiful ‘hot chocolate’ onto their menu, toss some Swiss Miss packets into hot water, and call it a day.

Hot Chocolate

It’s unspoken, but just simply can’t be forgotten that Starbucks offers an unprecedented amount of variability in terms of milk (and alternatives), flavors, toppings, temperatures, sweeteners, everything that you could probably strong-arm other places into accommodating for you they have instead made it their primary feature. Their basic online listing refers to it as “steamed milk and mocha sauce topped with sweetened whipped cream and a chocolate-flavored drizzle. A timeless classic made to sweeten your spirits..”, and I intend to keep as close as possible to that while still tweaking it in my favor. Steamed and foamed 2% milk, 4 pumps of mocha sauce (pretty much just sweetened chocolate), whipped cream, mocha drizzle. Rule of thumb with fast food hot chocolates, and Starbucks especially, is to not say no to whipped cream. Aside from them not filling that space with more liquid anyways if you say no, the whipped cream takes the edge out of the chocolate and just makes it so much more smooth, and Starbucks whipped cream just hits better. $3.15 for a Tall, which is a small at 12 fl oz ($.26/fl oz); the discourse over Starbucks’ cup sizes is a tale as old as time and not something I care to get into as the only people who still make snide remarks about it are the same ones who give people crap for liking a flavor. Starbucks has a reputation of having expensive drinks, and rightfully so, and this price is certainly on the higher end in terms of fellow competitors and what you’re getting, but pretty middle-of-the-road if you start pulling in rates for smaller local stores and similar. Is that pricing structure justified given how powerful of a company Starbucks is? Ehhh, not really, when comparing average employee wages to what the CEO is making, then comparing that discrepancy with what a locally owned downtown coffee shop is pulling in. Don’t be afraid to milk more value from this by having more stuff added and tweaking it to be however you want it to be.

See, there's totally something to drink under all that whipped cream!
For the one I tried, it had a noticeable dark chocolate flavor; hitting bitter just a little bit, but just rather rich more so. I’m sure the copious amount of whipped cream rapidly melting into the cup helped balance that out with creaminess and sweetness. The texture was thick enough that it sorta coated my mouth and throat with warmth, which helps with savoring it. I feel like I’m talking this one up a big game, but it’s not, like, WOW! It’s pretty good, I feel it was worth what I paid on the basis of treating myself out; I’m sure I could play the price-per-ounce game a little better by getting a larger size. If you find yourself on the side of hating Starbucks Hot Chocolate, maybe you just didn’t like how you ordered it, or don’t like dark chocolate, and I suggest giving it another shot but this time with more care put into specifying every possible variable you want. I promise the baristas won’t hate you for it, and the losers making fun of how long it is just hate that what you like isn’t aligned with their own.

It was only sippable after waiting about a minute, something I fear is standard across all stores and brands. When will they market lukewarm cocoa for specifically me...

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

Total: 21/25

Toasted White Hot Chocolate

Now that I’ve exhausted most of my monologuing about Starbucks, maybe I can get right to this review? We’ll see about that. The Toasted White Hot Chocolate is a winter holiday seasonal drink, made from caramelized white chocolate combined with steamed milk, finished off with whipped cream, holiday sugar sparkles, and crispy white pearls. Sounds fun, huh? Well, if you’re a food snob and pedant, you’d know that white chocolate isn’t realllllllly chocolate, being primarily made of cocoa butter but no actual cocoa particles. At least they avoided the Land O’Lakes Arctic White Hot Chocolate Cocoa dilemma, as hot cocoa has almost all of the cocoa butter removed, while remembering that white chocolate is not much but cocoa butter, leaving it as pretty much just hot soy lecithin-flavored milk. It’s no fun being a food pedant, though, and generally not welcome beyond dietary safety, humane, and environmentalism knowledge. I just need to remember that this option is something that exists so people like my poor unfortunate brother, who is allergic to chocolate, can partake in relatively normal activities with everyone else.

The one on the left isn't just a cup of milk, I promise.
I got the 16 fl oz grande, $3.95 ($.25/fl oz), with whole milk, holiday sugar sprinkles, whipped cream, and 4 pumps toasted white chocolate mocha sauce, pretty close to the default with just skewing towards a richer heavier feel with the whole milk. This one is similar in name, but just not the same as the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha from a few years back, and mostly seems to be a more simple version without the cranberry sugar chunks and no espresso. In my 4 minute drive home everything had melted and incorporated into the drink, so I didn’t get to experience being dazzled by festive toppings. It tastes like how walking into a Yankee Candle shop smells, with a more cooked vanilla flavor than anything. Certainly had velvety creaminess, as the whipped cream was in there, but it just didn’t carry any chocolate weight or feel to it, even by white chocolate standards. I could sit, sip, and enjoy this, but it’s just not for me, to its detriment as I’m the one here reviewing it and giving it points. I do acknowledge and appreciate it providing an alternative holiday seasonal flavor that I haven’t really seen achieved by other places yet, but here’s to the imminent future to prove me wrong.

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

Total: 16/25

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

To round out the seasonally locked beverages, I also got the Peppermint Hot Chocolate; a grande at $3.95 for 16 fl oz ($.25/fl oz). Whole milk, light foam, whipped cream, dark chocolate curls, 4 pumps mocha sauce, 4 pumps peppermint syrup, 1 pump vanilla syrup. It doesn’t really seem too different from the regular hot chocolate, but now has some peppermint syrup plunked right into it, and that’s exactly what it tastes like too. Certainly a strong showing of minty flavor upon the first sniff and swig, but it quickly fades, whether by breaking down as it dissolves and mixes in, or just quickly getting used to it. Either way, if you really like this one you can break out of the season by just requesting some pumps of peppermint syrup in your regular year-round hot chocolate, or anything else really, go nuts.

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

Total: 20/25

I feel like this score is a cop-out, as I’m compelled to mirror it with the regular hot chocolate because it hits the same notes, just removing a point for how it’s pretty much just some peppermint syrup added. Well, this is why I tend to avoid numbered scores!

Just a casual reminder that as there are baristas who prepare the drinks, rather than it already being mixed inside a big vat and kept hot as you would find at gas stations, vending machines, waiting rooms, etc., that there is certainly room for variability. Anyone who goes out and gets coffee all the time will eventually acquire a Favorite Barista, who heats it up just right, adds the perfect amount of ingredients, aerates the milk to perfection, or gives you an extra pump of syrup because you treated them like a human being that possesses emotions.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s McCafé Hot Chocolate is made with steamed milk, chocolate syrup, and topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. It’s very difficult to source anything more specific than that, such as what brand of chocolate syrup is used, but I suspect it’s Ghirardelli as that’s what several overseas stores use. Krispy Kreme also just uses Ghirardelli hot chocolate, so I guess this is just a fast food standard. $2.69 for a medium 16 oz ($.17/fl oz) which is certainly more than just making it from Ghirardelli powder yourself, but remains one of the cheapest fast food hot chocolates.

Just the faintest proof of chocolate drizzle left.

I got mine with whole milk, and the whipped cream and chocolate drizzle dissolved in the 3 minutes it took for me to get home, surprising no one yet remaining disappointing in a way. One virtue I recognized quickly was that it was drinkable immediately, rather than having to risk my ability to taste food or say words with ‘th-’ for the next week; while perhaps a fleeting moment of ecstasy and subject to the individual store’s machinations, it is nonetheless a boon for me. Chocolatey, creamy, smooth, comforting, but no more than required. The veneer of elegance, but ultimately quite simple. You can choose either chocolate or caramel drizzle, otherwise not many more visible options than that. I was assured, though, via the abject horror of a former McDonald’s manager, that any other syrup they have on-hand at the time can be added in whatever way demanded. It’s not bad, but I feel they could chop the price down a bit more for what it is, and while they’re at it make the box of 20pc McNuggets cheaper, too, because then they’d have a much more regular customer in me.

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

Total: 14/25

Dunkin’

Dunkin’ reviewed rather poorly for their bakery goods for me about two years ago, but I ended with the comment that their coffee is still good. Can the same be said about their hot chocolate?

Hot Chocolate

Sure is hot chocolate!
Their flavor text in the app states that this is ‘A Divine Classic’, that ‘chocolate lovers from far and wide rave about our rich and delicious Hot Chocolate’. OK, sure. $2.49 for a medium at 14 fl oz ($.18/fl oz), not a bad price comparatively. You can get it in mint, espresso, or Oreo flavors according to their website, at least for the time being, but on their app for my location lists instead vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, blueberry, raspberry, and coconut. I opted to just get the original.

To get straight to the point, it feels empty. It certainly is a hot chocolate, but doesn’t strike me any more than that. It remains thin even after the whipped cream and chocolate drizzle dissolve fully into it, certainly not the craveable creaminess I was promised and rather just another run-of-the-mill watered down dirt drink. It’s not baaaaaad, just...uninspired? Basic? Passing? There’s not really anything there for me to even critique; I can’t get enough chocolate, sweetness, warmth, anything enough to get a feel for what, I guess, they were trying to do. Just get 79 cent sludge from a gas station. Sorry, work friends, but this is strike 2 for Dunkin’ in my reviews, do you think their sandwiches could redeem them..?

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

Total: 10/25

Frozen Chocolate

NOW we're talkin'!
I got this one because one of my most favorite drinks I’ve ever had is a chocolate peanut butter frozen hot chocolate from a little bakery near my home town, probably one of the most indulgent and delicious things I’ve ever had, hitting several pleasure points for me, and paired well with one of their unnervingly dry scones. Looking for that same rush, further inspired by the usefulness of filling this section with even more words, I got their Frozen Chocolate to chug alongside the hot one. Another medium at $3.65, but it’s noticeably larger. I have no verifiably accurate volume of it because for some reason Dunkin’ and other fast food companies obfuscate this for reasons I can only assume are manipulative. Either way, I didn’t feel like my four bucks went to waste when I eyeballed the size of the cup.

Right off the bat I knew something was up, as it smelled a little odd. It tasted like coffee was mixed in, whether purposely or due to improper equipment cleaning, nevertheless it was present. Mocha is one of their flavor swirl options, alongside caramel, french vanilla, and hazelnut, so it’s possible they just screwed up my order because they were so busy having 8 staff members standing around doing not much other than talking while my drinks sat on the counter ready to be picked up. Still good, though, an obvious cocoa flavor rather than chocolate, and there is a difference, cocoa having a stronger and more bitter taste. Despite being a frozen drink, I didn’t find it overly icy and it was easy to slurp up. A bit more sweet than I anticipated, but not terribly so. Not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly one that exists with consistency near me without me having to trawl through local dessert and coffee shops or deal with secret menus and awkward ordering.

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

Total: 18/25

Panera

Panera makes a spot on pretty much every list for best fast food hot chocolate, and it seems to be exclusively because it’s unique, being served with caramel by default with big chocolate chip marshmallows in it. Specifically, their Signature Hot Chocolate is ‘bittersweet chocolate flavored syrup mixed with foamed milk and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel syrup’. Regular 16 fl oz is $3.59 ($.22/fl oz), with the Large 20 fl oz being merely 10 cents cheaper at $3.69 ($.18/fl oz) makes it a pretty easy decision on which size to get. The larger size pricing sits it quite comfortably in competition with McDonald’s, which is surprising as Panera isn’t exactly known as a budget-friendly restaurant.

Something in that whipped cream just did NOT want to melt.
So, ordered it online, got a sandwich with it because sure why not, pretty simple process that seems to be standard especially now with covid restrictions. What also seems to be standard now is frivolous features being excluded from to-go products, as this is yet another hot chocolate that is missing its big feature marshmallows, one that I do actually miss with this one as they seemed to be a highlight. What the heck even is a chocolate chip marshmallow? Guess I’ll never know. Opening it up to further inspect and there is quite a healthy amount of whipped cream, with the caramel drizzle on top, particularly thick and creamy, not really melting into the drink on its own until I wildly stir it up. The caramel syrup is thankfully not strong, providing just a smidgen of warm sweetness, while the drink itself has a nice full chocolate flavor; not too bitter, but not too sweet, likely as there were no massive floating chunks of cooked sugar. My only critique is the chocolate kinda sinks to the bottom quickly and creates a heavy sludge unless you’re constantly just stirring the thing, which isn’t ideal given that it’s a fast food to-go item and not something to sit down with and indulge.

It is notable that you can request to have chocolate drizzle, or none, instead. This leaves me curious about details of their business marketing decision regarding the default to caramel rather than chocolate. Was it to set them apart from others without actually making much of an effort to do anything different at all? It certainly paid off.

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

Total: 18/25

Foxtail Coffee Co.

To join the cacophony of list of best hot chocolates, I’m obligated to include a couple hyper-local places for several reasons: 1) I can, 2) they serve hot chocolate, and 3) they can be seen as representatives of other comparable local shops wherever else. Founded in 2016 and now having expanded to over a dozen stores and counting, they are primarily in the coffee business, as the name suggests; but as things tend to go, if you are serving hot drinks, cocoa will find a way, attended to or not. Their mission is rather virtuous, “(...) dedicated to responsibly sourcing some of the finest coffees from around the world. (...) upholds its ethical and quality standards by making sure these environmentally-friendly farms are paid fair wages.” As they are a chic coffee shop, they have a decent array of milks and alternatives (oat, almond, coconut), can add mocha sauce or caramel, and get a shot or two (or three) of espresso in it, whipped cream with a cute design poured into the froth, but that’s about where it ends. No mention of what kind of chocolate used, whether dark, milk, organic, powdered, syrup, chunks, nothing. Are they obligated to? No, not really, but they do extend that level of transparency to all of their coffees, and as I feel I’ve thoroughly explored in the last four months is that cocoa is no joke, and has an incredibly wide range of textures, flavors, and possibilities that a creative and with-it progressive chain such as Foxtail can take advantage of and hone.

Felt like good airport food.
Unfortunately, for now, they miss the mark. $3.79 for a regular 12 oz cup, with whole milk. I can tell that there was whipped cream and some kinda design, but it was all quickly dissolved before I arrived to pick it up within the 15 minute window of me ordering online and grabbing it, leaving a very large noticeable empty space indicating that I’d be better off requesting no whipped cream. Thinking that was the end of it, trying to take a sip revealed that a significant portion of it was foam. Once I FINALLY got around to the actual hot chocolate liquid I paid $.32/fl oz for, it was just...boring. Basic kinda bitter dark chocolate, nothing special one way or the other. Really no better than literally any other one I’ve tried, but at least those I had enough liquid to get a few satisfying warm gulps and feel like I got my money’s worth.

Nice atmosphere, good sandwich for the price, cool vibes, workers said they liked my shirt, just a really boring and unsatisfying cup of cocoa. They are very much an Orlando and Central Florida thing, so if anyone is ever visiting me, let’s go because they have cool architecture and it feels cool and trendy to be in one for a little bit. Go there for the coffee and relaxing ambience, maybe try their Raspberry Rose Tea.

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

Total: 7/25

Los Autenticos Cuban Cafe

I reviewed these peeps a long while back for their cuban sandwich, and I liked it enough that I’ve frequented this place when I felt like driving 20 minutes in city traffic. When I saw them in an article for a local place that serves excellent hot chocolate I knew I had to try it out whether I’d ultimately include them in this review or not.

kinda puts me in the mood for rocky road ice cream.
Their website as well as the article simply states that it is steamed milk with chocolate, served with whipped cream and more chocolate, but pictures indicate that it’s so much more. Decadently topped with large marshmallows, chocolate chips, sprinkles, chocolate drizzle. Well, I got it to-go, at $3.75 for a 16 oz ($.23/fl oz), so I didn’t get the picturesque cup with overflowing foam and roasted marshmallows (although some may have been plunked into the cup), and while slightly disappointing (by my own doing), I feel it may have been for the better. Without the mesmerizing dazzle and glamour of an Instagrammable food object, I could just sip at it and experience it for what it truly was: a pretty good cuppa cocoa. While not Spanish-styled in terms of spices or thickness, it remained exceptionally rich and indulgent, a mouth and soul-coating milky sweet chocolate. The whole she-bang was all in the cup, still, too, making a strong case that to-go drinks may be dialed down in terms of photogenic qualities, but don’t have to skimp on the inclusions.

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

Total: 22/25

7-Eleven

Despite doing their best to enter the fast food game with delivery, connectivity, and otherwise being a much grander store in Japan, 7-Eleven in the US is known for Free Slurpee Day and questionable parking lot exchanges. I don’t expect the quality of the products to reflect otherwise, and quite frankly am looking forward to it.

Hot Chocolate

What more could you ask for?
Well, here’s the 79 cent sludge, right in an economical large 24 oz cup ($.03/fl oz). Pretty standard, nothing special, exactly what you’d expect from gas station press-a-button-to-dispense hot chocolate, lava hot for 20 minutes afterwards and all. Quite sweet, leaving a weird feel in your mouth after drinking. It’s approaching creamy but not quite there, texture depending on how much milk or creamer you pump into it with the other press-a-button machine next to it. Conveniently, the bowl of creamers was empty except with hazelnut ones, and the milk dispenser was out; nothing that I wanted to ask the single worker in the store about as not only was he not wearing a mask, the customer giving him a hard time about lottery tickets also was not wearing a mask all while he was yelling and coughing. Nothing else to say about it, it’s exactly what it is.

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

Total: 13/25

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate

Same price, same size, same machine, just a different button. Getting absolutely no minty feeling from it at all, rather just a regular hot chocolate that had waaaay too much sugar added to it. I was left unable to finish it, as primal you-were-just-poisoned instincts started kicking in, and I had to chug some water.

7-Eleven seems very eager to be constantly adding new flavors, so I hope one day they bring in one I might actually like.

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

Total: 6/25

Wawa

There’s a lot that can be said about Wawa, but no better than in a heavily detailed article about their fandoms and rivalry with Sheetz. I haven’t been to a Sheetz in so long but remember them being the tippity-top gas station destination on our way through the Virginias and Carolinas, and now that I’m in Florida it’s purely Wawa territory. Wawa definitely does have a cult following here, having witnessed several people out in public wearing Hoagiefest shirts. While to the uninitiated, like myself, they appear to just be a pretty high end gas station, you know, the ones you go to when you don’t feel like being asked if you have any cigarettes by a guy who looks like he emerged from a nearby drainage ditch, but actually started out as a dairy farm and positions itself as a convenience store. Whether it’s a case of clean branding, or convergent retail evolution, it remains clear when you walk into one that they place a heavy priority on appearing as a full-scale fast food restaurant, complete with ordering kiosks for subs and whatever, and a barista serving up all kinds of drinks, and the latter is what I’m here for!

Purgatory likely takes this as one of its forms.

I ordered on the app, which was quite convenient as I could be nosy about all the sizing and details and look at maps to where I even want to go pick it up, but unfortunately I can’t screencap it to show you as it’s not allowed. You can also order at a computer kiosk in the store, and presumably can go up to the person at the counter and talk to them. Pretty solid variety at their little specialty beverage counter, separate from the regular self-service coffee and hot chocolate machine you can find standard at any other gas station shop, which they also have. Initially I was gonna get it from the machine, but the option for spiced chocolate was down or out at three separate Wawas I went to, and looking it up in frustration was how I even found out they have prepared drinks in the first place as I never pay attention to that kinda stuff any other time I go inside, instead making a beeline to the Chex Mix, candy bars, and iced tea fridge.

Mint Hot Chocolate

As far as I can tell, their hot chocolates are made with Hershey’s products; which ones, what flavors, what type, who knows, but it’s Hershey’s. 12 oz cup for $2.69 ($.22/fl oz), which is astonishingly high for a gas station, but remember that Wawa is--at least they think so--a convenience store that happens to have some gas pumps. Mint syrup, chocolate chips, whipped cream, whole milk, pretty reminiscent of a more gourmet version you’d get from a restaurant. Given my history with mint hot chocolates, with them all tasting like dish water, I was a bit nervous selecting this one, but found myself surprised. It tasted like drinking a regular hot chocolate while standing next to the after dinner mint bowl at an estranged relative’s funeral, which if you attended as many as I have, you know just how many handfuls you can get into your pockets before people notice. Unmistakably hot chocolate, with a delicate mint kick that left a toothpaste fresh tingle in my sinuses, which is really all that’s needed; and if you need any more than that, I suggest just eating a peppermint patty or chewing some gum. Wawa’s Mint Hot Chocolate is the example other mint hot chocolates should follow--subtlety.

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

Total: 19/25

Cocoa Cream

Wow, don't break the bank with all those chips, now...
I selected this one because it sounded suspiciously normal, yet cost more, so I wanted to see what it was all about. 12oz for $3.19 ($.27/fl oz), and lists chocolate chips, whipped cream, and 2% milk as the ingredients. Doesn’t sound like much, but ended up being quite a bit more decadent than I was anticipating from gas station hot chocolate. Not sure what purpose a few little chocolate chips served, but they at least provided me something to chew on while I eased into the cup fearing searing heat. As always with gas station hot chocolates, it’s molten lava, and I was unable to actually get a decent sip until like literally an hour later. While a good cup of cocoa, it’s just...not enough...especially when a mere 3 steps away is the much cheaper self-serve machine, I couldn’t buy into the concept as much. The lesson I’m receiving here is that the more expensive hot chocolate needs to overcome a much higher hurdle, good cocoa just isn’t enough; give me another flavor, some add-ins, some kind of syrup swirled all over, a fistful of chocolate chips slam dunked into the drink instead of just like 3 or 4 delicately plopped onto the whipped cream. Maybe I shouldn’t punch up at overly luxe gourmet hot chocolates so much.

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

Total: 16/25

Regular Hot Chocolate From The Machine

Better foam than I've seen from established restaurants.

I figured I should at least give this one a go, too. For those who don’t know for one reason or another, pretty much every gas station has a little vending machine, like a soda fountain, but for hot drinks where you put a cup under a little dispenser, press and hold a button for what you want, and it sloshes out until you let go. Very basic and mundane feature, it’s usually just some powdered mix that gets added to hot water as it dispenses, and the quality can vary.

What makes or breaks these are the amenities offered by the store, such as sugar, creamer, whatever. Wawa had quite a station set up of all kinds of different flavored creamers, as well as bottles of various milks, some spices, powders, all kinds of things, like a little hot beverage buffet. I simply added whole milk to it to give it some level of creaminess as I can only assume that the machine uses water. Well, it sure is hot chocolate. $1.99 for a 24 oz ($.08/fl oz), but I got it for free with a reward bonus ($.00/fl oz), both of which are quite good deals. The flavor and texture seems to be coming almost entirely from the whole milk I added to it, as it had an almost cooked milk sweetness to it, and a very lactic aftertaste. The actual chocolate was pretty weak in it, though, not too satisfying and just ended up tasting kinda weird as it approached room temperature. Doesn’t really help much having all these add-ins available if the base item doesn’t provide much to alter and add to. Not bad, but not good, more just serving as a cheaper option for people who don’t want the flair of their barista stuff and, like everyone else, assume Wawa is just a gas station.

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

Total: 14/25

For your Pennsylvanians and Mid-Atlantic peeps out there, go ahead and let me know how Sheetz compares.


Quite a range of quality here; places you’d expect something cozy ends up serving reconstituted hot dog water, while places known for their watery hot dogs end up serving indulgences fit for only the most lavish gourmands. “But Anton, you’re telling me you went out and spent ~$3 each on like a baker’s dozen of small cups of cocoa? Don’t you know you can make your own at home for cheaper???” Why yes, naysayers in the comment sections of other blogs I went to for research, and that’s why I preceded this with 3 whole months of exactly that!

Love’s, Flying J, Pilot, TA TravelCenters, all kinds of truck stops seem like they’d be a good place for hot chocolate, as they tend to be, to put simply, higher end gas stations, offering a large array of amenities at (typically) greater quality. Having driven across the continental United States a lot I know that they really serve as the beacon of hope in a long dark night. It’s unfortunate that they’re kinda out of the way of me currently, being as I’m in a city, and they’re only as pit stops on long expanses of highway, but just keep in mind that they can be worth the stop, if only to see what exclusive branded hot chocolate flavors they have because you’re a weirdo like me.


Weasel’s Mexican Hot Chocolate

To end this saga, here’s a hot cocoa recipe from the lovely Weasel. Nothing especially specific in terms of measurements other than your own general sense of right and wrong, but it’s just hot chocolate with some nutmeg and chile, maybe a tiny pinch of cumin. Milk base, of course, no question there from either of us. In the spirit of experimentation and just generally relishing a good creative mood, I took liberty and used a cinnamon stick as a garnish, as well as to stir. The recipe is reverse engineering one he had tried at a small shop that is now closed in an attempt to recreate and resurrect it, so I hope that my touch brings it closer.

"Does your phone have games?"-lookin' mug.
What I basically did was take a cocoa mix that, while I liked, was rather neutral with no exceptional level of flavor or quality that boosted it into a unique realm, and make that up. Bringing the beginning to the end, Sillycow Farms Chocolate Truffle fit the bill, lubricated by the fact that it’s specifically formulated to be used with milk, I liked it, and that I still have a whole jar of it that I need to use for something. I poured about two cups of 2% milk into a small saucepan and brought it up to a low simmer, careful to not boil and scorch it. Next I scooped in enough of the cocoa mix to add to two cups of milk; the altered proportions being no issue with the cocoa mix being in a single container rather than packets. With that I also sprinkled in probably half a teaspoon each of ancho chile powder and nutmeg, and just like two shakes of cumin. As the milk remained heated, I whisked the life out of the whole thing, blending it all together until it was all melted and dissolved in homogeneously, and starting to foam up a little. Pour into your favorite cup, being careful to not spill the whole thing all over yourself, then top generously with whipped cream, sprinkle a pinch of cocoa on top to look pretty, and plunk a photogenic cinnamon stick in to stir with. Complete!

The whole thing was exceptionally good. The cumin sure smells like taco night, but only gently brings the flavor towards a mole sauce if one was made with the false assumption that chocolate was a primary ingredient, tempering the sweetness down to something a bit more savory. The nutmeg and chile powder gives it a nice warmth that boosts the coziness; the chile in particular giving it something curious and interesting. I was a little worried that the chile would make it too spicy, but it really doesn't, rather a unique bite that tickles my lips when I sip. While perhaps similar to Nestlé Abuelita in the way of cinnamon, it’s not the star of the show approaching being an overwhelming force, and instead plays well with the other flavors. I’m sure that the cinnamon stick being added only at the end to stir with rather than dropped into the warm milk with the rest of the ingredients factored into that quite well, as well as me spraying half a can of whipped cream on top helping to balance it, too.

Go ahead and try this out, too! Tweak it to however you want, add, subtract, increase, decrease, do whatever, and let me know how it turns out! Your cup of hot cocoa should be a pleasurable experience, with potential to be experimental and exciting, or perhaps finding a new routine favorite to snuggle into on a cold night. Do whatever you want, there’s absolutely no rules other than doing your best to enjoy it.

The 'Shroom: Issue 169
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