The 'Shroom:Issue 172/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

Phew, lots of stuff going on in July, including my birthday! Happy birthday me! 🥳🏖️ Lots of stuff to read here, too, including a new section from Ninelevendo (talk), so let's cut the chit-chat and get to it!

Mario Awards season is still in full swing! Voting has just wrapped up, results are finalized, and have been sent off to people to do presentations. If you're interested there are still a few spots left, but they did fill surprisingly fast this year. By next issue in August the Awards Ceremony will have already happened, scheduled for August 13th. You can find more information in Awards Board and the official Anniversary page. Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Thank you for voting Half-Baked Reviews as June'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 58.33% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd Rose's Quarantine Reviews 5 20.83% Roserade (talk)
2nd Character Review 4 16.67% Waluigi Time (talk)


Super Ninelevendo Entertainment Reviews

Written by: Ninelevendo (talk)

Hello 'Shroom readers! Welcome to my new section, Super Ninelevendo Entertainment Reviews, also known as SNER. (I tried to make the acronym SNES, but Super Ninelevendo Entertainment Scrutinizations doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.) In this section, I, Ninelevendo, shall harshly critique children’s video games to further build up my self esteem so that I can appear more intelligent than I actually am. (Oh and also you might enjoy reading my thoughts on games or something.) To start off this series, I shall be looking at none other than Paper Mario: Color Splash, a game that is fittingly themed around paint.

North American boxart of Paper Mario: Color Splash.

Color Splash sure was a divisive game, I doubt I need to tell you that. Its predecessor, Sticker Star was more or less panned on its arrival, with many fans wanting a return to Paper Mario’s roots. So when a sequel was announced and it looked like Sticker Star HD, of course most of those same people were angry. But I’m not here to tell you that vocal people on the internet complain about things, that’s old news. What I am here to do is look at Color Splash for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. And what it is is a charming action adventure game, with great dialogue and fun exploration, but is bogged down by a meaningless battle system and unintuitive puzzles. Well there we go, jury’s out, review’s over.

Seeing as Color Splash is a sequel to Sticker Star and borrows many gameplay elements from it, let’s get one thing clear here: I didn’t hate Sticker Star. While it had obvious flaws, most notably with the battle system and narrative, there was plenty of fun to be had with its puzzles, humor, art style, music and general abundance of creative moments. It did a decent job of being what it was trying to be: an action adventure game. In a way, it was mostly the unwillingness to completely shed the RPG roots of the series that brought Sticker Star down instead of letting itself be its own thing. Now I won’t lie, I still would of preferred a game more like the first two Paper Marios instead, but I can at least commend the game for trying something new, even if it only half-succeeded at making those new things fun.

So why am I talking so much about Sticker Star at the start of my Color Splash review? Well, it’s because Color Splash is very derivative of Sticker Star, from the very paper-y aesthetic to the poorly implemented Battle System, so I’m going to be referring to it a lot. If you’ve played Sticker Star, you will more or less know exactly what to expect from this game, with similar tropes, puzzles, etc. Since we also aren’t living in a pre-Paper Mario: The Origami King vacuum, I don’t see any reason not to draw some comparisons to Color Splash’s sequel either. Spoiler alert, I prefer The Origami King, but I’d like to explain a bit more about why exactly that is.

Now that we’ve gotten past introductions, let’s actually start reviewing the game in question. And what better place to start with what’s arguably the most important part of a game, the gameplay.

Gameplay

This is probably the best level in the game right here.

Getting into the basic Mario series run and jump side of things, the world and environmental design in Color Splash is fantastic. The abundance of things to do and varied layouts makes exploring every area, fun, rewarding, engaging, other adjectives, and the best that the Paper Mario series had seen at the time. There are plenty of things to find, from Toads that are part of a rescue squad to colorless spots to paint in. Having such a variety of things to once you enter a level keeps them entertaining, and I mean, who doesn’t love splashing things with paint? Even outside of the colorless spots, there are loads of things to hit or jump on, things to examine and secrets to find. It’s quite satisfying to 100% complete an area, and this element of discovery and exploration is by far the game’s strongest gameplay element. That being said, it isn’t perfect. Each area is separated by being a different “level” on a 2D-Mario style world map. While it makes travelling between areas fairly easy, it also limits the scope of what can be contained in a level and somewhat dulls the excitement of exploring new areas within one level as a result, as you know that they aren’t going to be too much different to what you’ve already seen so far. Some levels also have multiple exits, and while that may work fairly well in 2D Mario games, here it just ends up just being an annoying and forced way of making you re-enter an area that you’ve already been in for no good reason. There’s also no hint system to help you find that one little paint spot that you missed, and since not all of them are obvious, I had to resort to using a guide to find them on several occasions. Granted, 100% completing areas isn’t required to beat the game, but some help would have been greatly appreciated to make it less of a chore. (And is an issue that Paper Mario: The Origami King mostly fixed.)

Thing cards can be very random sometimes.

Returning from Sticker Star are Things, real world objects that somehow ended up in the Paper Mario world. These are mostly used to solve puzzles in the either the overworld or boss battles. Using them in the overworld requires a new technique called Cutout, which in all honesty is just a less interesting version of Paperize from Sticker Star. You can only use Cutout when objects make a certain shape, with the options mainly being limited to either a rectangle for Thing cards or a stair pattern to get to otherwise unreachable places, and as a result the implementation is fairly boring as you never have any reason to use it unless there’s an obvious roadblock that you can’t get around otherwise. Paperizing at least had you placing multiple stickers in different areas, finding scraps to take to different areas, rotating them to fix something, or other generally more interesting puzzles. However, cutouts don’t show up all too often, so I can’t complain about it too much. I just tend to forget that it’s even a feature.

Also like Sticker Star, placing Things in Cutouts will have them change the landscape in some way, such as the Fan Thing creating huge gusts of wind. Having to require a certain Thing sticker to progress through certain levels can be annoying, however thankfully there is a Toad in the main hub level that will tell you what you need if you’re stuck, a feature that Sticker Star was lacking. While I greatly appreciate this, it sort of begs the question of what the point of Things are at all. They’re not a very good puzzle if the game just tells you the answer, are they? I conclude that finding Things is more of a way to lock progression behind exploring and finding them, kind of like Metroid in a sense, and I suppose that I’m okay with that. I’m not going to complain about having to explore and play the fun part of the game, am I?

Overall, the exploration is the main gameplay mechanic that keeps this game engaging enough moment-to-moment for it to not be a slog. It’s much better than the hallway simulator that Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door can be at times, and it beats out even Paper Mario 64 and Sticker Star. However, I do think that The Origami King outperforms Color Splash here with its more open interconnected worlds and items that help you find secrets, however considering how great The Origami King does in that regard I do consider this to be a major complement to Color Splash. Very well done.

Battle System

Now that we’ve talked about the good aspects of the gameplay, let’s talk about the battle system, which is by far my biggest issue with the game. Touching an enemy on the overworld begins a turn based battle in which Mario attacks by using cards. You can find these in various places in the overworld, such as from ? Blocks, filling in Colorless Spots or even from buying them at the card shop. Using Paint on colorless cards will add power to them, and with your limited amount of paint, can sort of act like a FP system, but more one that in a second. Similar to Sticker Star, these cards are consumed upon use. Now using consumable items isn’t a terrible idea by itself to base a battle system off. The problem comes from the rewards for completing a battle, or rather, the lack of. Using cards, that you can purchase with coins, and paint to best enemies rewards you with... paint and coins. Is it more paint and coins than what you would have used on the cards? In most cases, yes. However, you can easily get just as much paint and coins by hitting other things in the environment. The end result is that battles just end up being a waste of time. Now, I did neglect to mention that battles also rewards you with hammer scraps, which increase the maximum amount of paint that you have at one time. However, the amount of paint that you have never becomes an issue, as it is easily replenished from the overworld, and cards never use enough paint for it to be an issue. The game even provides failsafes to ensure that you always have enough paint, such as providing paint-filling 1-Up cards that are obtainable during a battle. And even then, half of the cards that you get are already colored in. Coins themselves likewise hold little value, as the game just chucks them at you faster than a Pianta can chuck Mario to his death. Some events, such as Roshambo temples (which, by the way, kind of suck), reward a ton of coins, so much so that the coins earned from battle (and even the overworld) are almost completely inconsequential. There’s basically no reason to battle whatsoever, to the point where fleeing each battle is just as viable an option to actually fighting. There is one thing that might count as an incentive to battle, and that’s the fact that enemies sometimes drop cards of themselves that you can collect in a museum, an optional objective that unlocks concept art and other things. Fighting enemies as you progress through the game and collecting their cards that way is much less tedious than having to having to go back and find them later, however if you’re not a completionist that’s interesting in 100% the game than this isn’t to fix anything.

You see this? This is why the Wii U failed.

To make things worse, the battles themselves aren’t even fun. The somewhat irritating forced use if the GamePad to select cards is a pain, not because of the GamePad itself, but rather the way that the cards are sorted. Instead of a neatly arranged Sticker book like in Sticker Star, Color Splash instead decides to play 52 pickup and makes you slide through a stack of cards to find the one that you’re after, “conveniently” starting with the healing items that you use the least often. It’s tolerable, but clearly needed more thought put into it. After eventually finding the cards that you want, you can paint it in to make it more powerful and do more damage, which isn’t a bad idea on paper. It’s just that paint is far too plentiful for it be anything close to the FP system of previous games, and cards without paint do so little damage that they’re barely worth using at all. Then there’s also the issue of HP, which is to say that there’s no HP bar for enemies at all. Enemy health is instead indicated via how much paint an enemy has remaining on them, with a fully colored enemy being at full health and a mostly white washed-out enemy hanging on to their last breaths of life. While it’s flashy, it also gives absolutely no indication as to how much damage the enemy requires to die, and when you have various different strengths with your different card attacks, is quite annoying. Even Sticker Star did this better by having a shared health bar for enemies and displaying damage numbers on attacks, and even then it wasn’t ideal.

One thing that the battle system does have going for it is the variety of attacks available from the different cards. There are your basic jump and hammer attacks, as well as variations such as one that jumps on all enemies in a line or hammers that smack an enemy into one behind it. It somewhat reminds me of the varied badges from the first two games, which is a definite compliment. However, even this simple upside is squandered from the fact that there’s only goal in a battle: kill of the enemies in the smallest amount of turns as you can. This is generally the basic goal of any turn based game, so it’s not inherently an issue. What differs in Color Splash as opposed to say, Paper Mario 64 and The Thousand Year Door, however, is that killing every enemy in one turn is much easier, and has virtually no drawbacks. The first two Paper Mario games balanced powerful destroy-all attacks by putting them behind a high FP or SP cost, which meant that you couldn’t use them too many times without having to either use a turn in battle to restore those points, or heal in the overworld (which usually wasn’t free). Meanwhile in Color Splash there’s nothing stopping you from buying a million colored-in kill-everyone attacks (I’m looking at you, Big Fire Flower and Big Ice Flower) with your never-ending bags of money. So the variety of attacks is essentially worthless when there's only a few that are worth using. It’s not like failing to kill every enemy is a big deal either, as they only deal a small amount of damage, and being able to use multiple cards in a single turn means that you can quite easily heal with a Mushroom Card and obliterate everyone on the same go.

Do I use Blue-Eyes White Dragon or evolve my Charmander?

Boss Battles are equally unengaging. Being a battle that’s required to beat to progress might solve the issue of having the battle be meaningful, but instead of creating a strategic fight, we’re left with a bunch of gimmick “use this item when I tell you to” fights. The real-life Things, that I mentioned earlier, can be turned into battle cards and used for a variety of attacks. So what do Boss Battles decide to do with these thing cards? Require you to use them to win the fight. I can’t stress enough how uninteresting this concept is. It’s supposed to act as sort of “puzzle”, but just comes off as a time wasting inconvenience. Again, you can consult a Toad in the hub area to work out what thing you need, but it again begs the question, why bother with these puzzles at all? There is the element of working out when to use the card in the battle, but this is usually incredibly obvious as you’ll be completely unable to attack otherwise. And if you do happen to get it wrong, such as by using your card too early, it just feels like you’ve been cheated out of progressing and rewarded with a Game Over screen. There’s just nothing fun with this idea. I’m okay with using Things to progress in the over world, but in Boss Battles? Give me an actual reason to engage with the intricacies of your battle system please.

Overall the Battle System that this game has is a sad shadow the fun strategic elements that the first two games had, and makes no effort to fix any of the issues that the system had in Sticker Star, and I would go as far to say that it’s slightly worse. Now I think I’ve made my point here, the battle system is bad, you get it. Let’s go to something I didn’t hate quite as much!

Story & Characters

Below are a few of my favourite lines from the game so that you can get a sense of the serious tone of this game’s story and characters:

  • Owwwwwwwwwwwwww... I burned mah mouf on the coffee.
  • From now on, no more straws for anyone! Drink with your mouths, people! Oh, who am I kidding. I can’t outlaw straws. Because then only outlaws will have straws.
  • Well, I’ve already locked you in jail. There isn’t actually much worse I can do without raising this game’s age rating.
Maybe the real adventure was the coins we collected along the way.

By far the best thing about Color Splash is the dialogue from the characters and the random scenarios they find themselves in. The writers clearly had fun with this one, with those rarer funny gags from previous games coming back in full swing, taken up a notch to the point that a lot of scenarios are outright ridiculous, and this alone is probably the sole reason that Color Splash is better than Sticker Star. It’s just more entertaining in more instances, even if a lot of Sticker Star’s issues with the battle system haven’t been fixed. The whole game plays like some sort of Mario sitcom with various wacky scenarios to go through, with action sets like sailing to an island with a parallel dimension, exploring a miniaturized forest or sneaking around a secret weapons facility, to more random events like participating in a beach festival or relaxing in a hot spring. The interactions with characters are also every bit as entertaining as the situations that they’re in. Some great examples include the yellow Rescue Squad who get upset after you turn a turnip into a card or a pile of ash who turns out to be Shy Guy who found a burger just a tad too spicy. The writing and humor that this game offers is absolutely fantastic and is more or less the sole reason that I would recommend playing it. I would talk about this subject more if I could, but unlike gameplay aspects such as the battle system, no amount of explaining will ever convey it properly, so it’s just something that you need to experience for yourself.

This is probably the most notable NPC I can think of, and he doesn't even have a name.

So while the humor in this game is fantastic, on the other hand, the character designs themselves are... almost nonexistent. Almost every Toad that you speak to looks the same, however some more major characters are at least given something slightly more distinct, such as tricorne for a Toad captain. There are even various enemies that you can speak to, such as Shy Guys, who are only distinguishable from normal enemies by having a text box above them. The bosses are all Koopalings, and while it’s nice to see their personalities fleshed out more, they have a very small presence, pretty much only showing up for their boss battles. It would have been nice to see more of them, or some other Mario characters in general. While a major upgrade from Sticker Star, which had no unique looks at all and barely any NPCs outside of Toads, the lack of unique characters is still a missing element that would have allowed for some slightly more interesting dynamics between characters and possibly funnier scenarios. Seeing a paper version of someone like Rosalina with a wacky character trait would have been a lot more interesting than a bunch of the characters who have no other character traits aside from being wacky. I’m not asking for them to all look as visually distinct or have as deep of a backstory as someone such as admiral Bobbery, but putting a bit more effort into even a minor character, even if it’s just a name, would be a means to get more invested in the game, and that’s never a bad thing. However, at most, this is a minor nitpick, as the funny dialogue is clearly the focus here and more than makes up for a lack of characterization. Heck, this game even uses the generic-ness of some of its characters as a punchline, and I can’t complain about that.

Oh also there’s a plot involving Bowser kidnapping Peach or something but who cares, it’s mostly irrelevant and not exactly a highlight. There was a somewhat interesting idea present with the black paint, but it never gets fully explored and as a result the story is just there to give a vague reason to complete an objective and not much more.

Art Style & Music

You can't tell me that this game's art style isn't amazing.

Color Splash’s art style is gorgeous, and the paper aesthetic has been multiplied ten-fold (haha, get it) so that the world looks and feels like a living diorama. ? Blocks unfold when you hit them, revealing them to be the sort of papercraft cube like what you might have made as a kid, thicker objects such as rocks look like they’re made of cardboard, clouds in the sky look like they’re hanging off of string, there’s an “unfurl” ability with allows you un-origami objects, etc. It’s creative and the amount of effort that’s gone into making the world look all papery is something that I admire. I will say that I do think that The Origami King does do a better job with the paper aesthetic, however it’s probably a bit unfair to compare the two when The Origami King’s main focus was, well, origami, as well as the fact that it came out after Color Splash and was likely using it as a basis to expand upon. Overall Color Splash is extremely pleasant to look at as there’s always something interesting to take in.

Despite the constant changes that the Paper Mario series has gone through, one thing has remained a consistently great quality; The Soundtrack. As for Color Splash, well... Saying that it breaks that pattern might be a little too harsh, but it definitely seems to be the weakest in the series, at least in my opinion. There are just hardly any tracks that I found particularly catchy or memorable. Even the few that I do like aren’t particularly amazing, and I think the sound font might be part of the issue. Non of it sounds like real instruments, which can sometimes come off as a bit grating. Making things worse, some of the music is just rearranged versions of tracks or sound effects from Sticker Star, which quite frankly isn’t that interesting. Sticker Star’s best music came from the Jazz-sounding boss battle tracks, none of which is here. I feel obligated to bring up that The Origami King has a killer soundtrack with an almost metal like direction, and while maybe not every game needs to go that far, I would have preferred Color Splash to have been a bit more liberating with its instrument choices.

Conclusion

So after that huge wall of text, what do I think of Color Splash? Eh, it was alright. Funny enough that I enjoyed some of it, and the downsides weren’t bad enough for my fun to be halted completely. Would I recommend that you play it? Sure, but just make sure that you’re aware that the game has issues, and if you’re willing to look past them, there’s definitely an experience worth having here.

If Color Splash does ever get ported to the Switch like 90% of Wii U exclusives have so far, I would like to see some big changes, mainly to do with the battle system. I doubt it would get fixed completely since most of issues mainly come from the fundamental idea, however even if nothing got changed, I would still recommend that you give the game a go. With that being said, if you haven’t tried The Origami King yet, I still personally think that game is a better experience with many of the same upsides. So if you can, give both games a go. You’re bound to find something to laugh at.

Overall, I give Paper Mario: Color Splash a Huey in Paper Mario: Color Splash/10

'Shroom FM

Written by: MrConcreteDonkey (talk)

Hey. What's up. I've been busy with work so these might be a bit shorter than my recent reviews, though I think the fact that they were short was the original point of the section and I was getting a bit carried away with the length anyway, so maybe that's a good thing? There's a few albums I specifically wanted to talk about but haven't had the time to fully process my thoughts on so I'll postpone them to next month. You can't stop me!!

Sidenote, I can't believe I was called tf out for leaving my sub-team too early in the special issue. 😔 I'm sorry everybody. You can sort of pretend this is the Fake News if you tell yourself none of these albums are real and that Mario made them.

JUNE 2021
SFMblackmetal2.jpg DEAN BLUNT - BLACK METAL 2
Black Metal 2 is the sequel to Blunt's 2014 album Black Metal, an album I didn't quite enjoy as much as I wanted to, despite having some excellent individual songs. The instrumentals here often consist of sleepy guitar lines backed with fairly minimal percussion, giving the whole thing a surreal yet enchanting atmosphere - other elements do pop up from time to time, such as the gorgeous strings in "SKETAMINE" and "the rot". Blunt's vocal style is really unique - deliberately low-energy, almost tired-sounding but very direct at the same time - which brings the lyrics to the front the mix and makes them feel very engaging. It also creates an interesting contrast when Joanne Robertson's vocals pop up, as hers are a lot more melodic if still a bit discordant. Overall, there's a lot of well-written and engaging songs here, and, being a 22-minute album with only two songs longer than three minutes, it manages to cycle through a lot of different ideas over its runtime.
Best tracks SKETAMINE, NIL BY MOUTH, MUGU
SFMjubilee.jpg JAPANESE BREAKFAST - JUBILEE
Before this year, I'd heard a couple of Japanese Breakfast songs and enjoyed them a bit, but overall they didn't end up leaving much of an impression on me. However, when I first heard the lead single from Jubilee, "Be Sweet", it instantly clicked. There's so many superb melodies packed into this song, the guitars and synths are on point, and Michelle Zauner's vocals are flawless. Really just a perfect pop song, definitely one of my favourite songs of the year so far. The album itself provides a very nice mix between slower, laid back songs - such as "Kokomo, IN", with its warm guitar line - and energetic pop bangers, such as the opener "Paprika". "Posing in Bondage" is another highlight, starting off with some quiet percussion and a nice, mysterious synth line, then slowly building this ethereal soundscape around it. The chamber pop elements here (string and brass instruments) which blend with the synths and guitars really well, though on a few songs the mix can feel a little bit crowded. There's a small dip in quality in the second half, not to say the songs are bad but definitely not as remarkable as the first - but overall this is still a really tight pop album and a joy to listen to.
Best tracks Be Sweet, Posing in Bondage, Slide Tackle
SFMbutterfly3000.jpg KING GIZZARD and THE LIZARD WIZARD - BUTTERFLY 3000
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a band I've been finding difficult to unlock - not to say their music is difficult to comprehend, it's just that everything I've heard from them I've just found okay at best. I think it's also down to the fact that they release so many albums and change up their sound so often that it's hard to know where exactly to start. I gave one of their most acclaimed albums a try and was completely indifferent to it, and I gave this a try and found basically the same result. Butterfly 3000 is a fairly straightforward psych-influenced synthpop album. The tracks here are all pleasant enough and many of them have good elements, often within the instrumentation, but songwriting-wise there's just little going on here that's interesting, and none of the songs ever feel like they really get going. Sorry King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard but given the choice I'm buying the Aunty Donna DVD.
Best tracks Interior People, Blue Morpho
SFMdisco2.jpg MIKE - DISCO!
Turns out this is the fifth year in a row MIKE has released new music on June 21st. Last year he released Weight of the World. which I thought was pretty nifty, and this year we've got Disco!. The album opens up very abruptly with "Evil Eye", built around a lush 70s soul sample - it's a strong opener, MIKE's delivery in the verses is very good and the bars are great - even if structure-wise it's nothing too novel. However, beyond the first song and a few good ones that pop up later, a large portion of the tracks here just ended up completely passing me by. It often just feels like it's lacking in energy or innovation, and while the production is still deep and intricate, MIKE's bars are often the best part of this and - as with its predecessor - they often feel like they're hidden behind the murkiness of the album's atmosphere. All in all, Disco! starts out strong but you get the point fairly quick.
Best tracks Aww (Zaza), Evil Eye, at thirst sight by Assia
SFMblueweekend.jpg WOLF ALICE - BLUE WEEKEND
Blue Weekend is definitely consistent with Wolf Alice's recent output, in that it feels like it's trying a lot of similar things to their last album, Visions of a Life, and I'm largely ambivalent towards it for the exact same reasons. On Blue Weekend, the band are clearly trying a lot of different stuff, particularly vocalist Ellie Rowsell, who cycles between soft, lush dream pop vocals ("The Beach", "Feeling Myself"...) to some kind of whispery narration ("Delicious Things") to loud riot grrrl-inspired vocals ("Play the Greatest Hits"). It's hard to deny she's got a lot of versatility, but the songs themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. The opener is really cool, builds up really nicely into a massive, satisfying peak at the end; "How Can I Make It OK?" is superb, very dreamy and ethereal, and "Lipstick on the Glass" is cool too. Then, on the other hand, "Play the Greatest Hits" is terrible. Instrumentally and in terms of delivery it just feels weak. It reminds me a lot of "Yuk Foo" from Visions of a Life, seeing as that was the 'loud' song on that album and the worst one there too. Other than that, "Safe from Heartbreak" is very boring, and "No Hard Feelings" feels like an intro for a song that doesn't start. Then there's a few tracks that just don't do much for me either way, particularly "The Last Man on Earth" and "Smile"; I'd heard the former when it was a single and thought it just felt like a generic, cookie-cutter Wolf Alice song, and the latter I don't remember anything about. I think my reaction towards Visions of a Life was largely the same, so if you liked that you'll probably enjoy this too. It's not bad, a lot more heart to it than some albums I've heard from this year, it's just not much better than 'alright'.
Best tracks The Beach, How Can I Make It OK?, Lipstick on the Glass
FURTHER LISTENING
voljum - dayscapes

Graphic Novel Review

Written by: FunkyK38 (talk)

Super Mario Manga Mania
GNReview 172.jpg
Author Yukio Sawada
Release date 2020
Genre manga, humor
Pages 160
Available From

Hi, everybody! Welcome back to Graphic Novel Reviews! This month, I will be looking at Super Mario Manga Mania by Yukio Sawada!

Super Mario Manga Mania is a collection of comics! Specifically, it is made up of strips of Super Mario-kun, which is serialized in Coro Coro Comics and Coro Coro Ichiban in Japan. This book is made up of the author's favorite stories, and the stories take inspiration from Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, Super Paper Mario, Super Mario Galaxy, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, although the strips from Sunshine make up 1/3 of the book. Perhaps the author has a soft spot for that game? Either way, this collection is different from the Super Mario Adventures manga that I previously reviewed, where that one was an original story arc, this is more a collection of original gags that don't have any real ties to each other, minus the few strips that share the same game being inspired by the same game.

Let's talk about the story. Each of the stories are pretty much tiny little episodes packed full of puns, visual humor, and Mario-style action (bonking people on the head, punching with a big fist, etc.) The funnies will have you either chuckling or groaning and rolling your eyes, and I suppose that's to be expected. It's good humor for kids, and I can absolutely see a 12 year old who loves Mario loving this book. The stories flesh out minor characters from the games a little bit more, like Elder Princess Shroob or Gooper Blooper. Mario kinda feels like that 90s TV version of Mario in this: he's a little greedy, they entice him into helping someone with the promise of meeting that person's beautiful sister, he's unwilling to help others unless something directly related to his mission is involved, etc. It's a little refreshing to see a tiny chibi Mario with a few flaws, a little depth rather than the shining hero that he usually is. All in all, this book is light and goofy, full of silly puns, and happy that you're there to read it (hey there, fourth wall!) There's nothing too serious.

...Until you get to the last few chapters! The last real story in the book is one that the author created when he was in a dark place- his father was dying, and he was extremely stressed moving back and forth across Japan to see him in the hospital and doing work at his own home. This results in quite a big case of whiplash with the tone of the last story- it starts out very serious, but it ends in a goofy joke with everything fixed. In his author's notes, he states that his first draft was a little too heavy, and he wanted to keep the tone lighter since this is a comic strip for children. I almost wish that he had gone heavier, because it feels like the fact that he wraps up the strip with a happy ending is sort of, trivializing his pain, for lack of a better word. The English adaptation notes that this story can be scary for younger kids, and they even re-ordered the strips in the book to put this one last deliberately. That's all I'll say on this part, since it's his grieving process and he can make the comic any way he want.

This is a cute little manga that any Mario lover would absolutely love, and if you've never had the chance to read Super Mario-kun, I'd give this a try if I were you. It's a worthy addition to your Mario collection, and hey, if these books sell well, Nintendo might let more manga come over from Japan, which is always a good thing!

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

Pokédex Power

Written by: Yoshi876 (talk)

It's a Spatial Pokémon, but remember a small ball can hold the lord of space.

Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who finds it really interesting how for all intents and purposes, Pokémon created the world, and yet a 10-year-old kid is still able to take them on with a fluffy bunny and capture them within a ball that really is no taller than a 3DS standing upright.

And for once I've actually managed to theme my opening paragraph to the Pokémon that we're going to be examining, as we take a look at Palkia, who is deemed the lord of space if you look at Poké-mythology, which really got a kickstart with the Sinnoh region, what with the god of all Pokémon being revealed, and the Pokémon that dragged the continents into place, as well as those who gave people the concepts of knowledge and emotions…

Unfortunately, Platinum is the Pokémon game that I lost, and as such I never faced Palkia within the mainline games, so my main experience of Palkia comes from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness, and gosh I found that part of the game infuriating, much like with Palkia's mainline game counterpart Dialga. But does my annoyance at Palkia mean it has poor Pokédex entries? Let's find out…

Generation IV

Pokémon Diamond It has the ability to distort space. It is described as a deity in Sinnoh-region mythology.
Pokémon Pearl It is said to live in a gap in the spatial dimension parallel to ours. It appears in mythology.
Pokémon Platinum A legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh. It is said that space becomes more stable with Palkia's every breath.
Pokémon HeartGold Its total control over the boundaries of space enable it to transport itself to faraway places or even other dimensions.
Pokémon SoulSilver Its total control over the boundaries of space enable it to transport itself to faraway places or even other dimensions.

Right out of the gate, we find out about Palkia's abilities to control space, with its every breath helping to stabilise space itself. It is very likely that the original space was incredibly unstable and needed to be stabilised by Palkia, but I do wonder several billion years in whether Palkia is still needed to do something, or whether space would start becoming more unstable if Palkia were to disappear somewhere. I also like the hints at alternative dimensions, which I believe goes a lot further when it comes to UltraMoon and UltraSun, although I find it disappointing that Palkia doesn't have Pokédex entries when it comes to those games. But given how Palkia clearly plays such a central point in all of creation, I do find it strange that according to Diamond, it is only a central point in Sinnoh-mythology, as opposed to worldwide mythology. Surely the stabiliser of space would have references in Kanto, Hoenn, Galar etc., as I can't remember those regions having their own deities in this vein.

Generation V

Pokémon Black A legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh. It is said that space becomes more stable with Palkia's every breath.
Pokémon White A legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh. It is said that space becomes more stable with Palkia's every breath.
Pokémon Black 2 A legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh. It is said that space becomes more stable with Palkia's every breath.
Pokémon White 2 A legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh. It is said that space becomes more stable with Palkia's every breath.

Does the Pokédex become more stable with every entry that is repeated?

Generation VI

Pokémon X It is said to live in a gap in the spatial dimension parallel to ours. It appears in mythology.
Pokémon Y It has the ability to distort space. It is described as a deity in Sinnoh-region mythology.
Pokémon Omega Ruby It is said to live in a gap in the spatial dimension parallel to ours. It appears in mythology.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire It has the ability to distort space. It is described as a deity in Sinnoh-region mythology.

It is probably a myth that Generation VI would have new entries.

Conclusion Palkia only has entries for Generation IV, but they do an adequate job for this space master. You get the general feel of Palkia's power, which is very important for a legendary Pokémon, and you see how its status is cemented within mythology, even though it should be worldwide and not just limited to the Sinnoh region. Sprout Tower having a large Bellsprout just doesn't really hold the same interest as the Pokémon that can stabilise space with its every breath. I would be interested in how Palkia might react to an entropy Pokémon, something like Yvetal, so hopefully this may be explored (it won't though) in future entries of the series.

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

Written By: Hypnotoad (talk)

Anton be shoppin'

Buffalo - Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of 3 of my Buffalo reviews, a selection of food and food-adjacent things around Buffalo that help define its unique culture and traditions.

Perry’s One Buffalo Premium Ice Cream

What is a trip to Wegmans without getting a half gallon tub of Perry’s Ice Cream? An evening in my childhood was not complete without a heaping bowl of Chocolate Panda Paws with some extra milk poured into it like cereal because I was a really weird kid. Founded in 1918, Perry’s is headquartered in Western New York, in the town of Akron just a bit east of Buffalo, and distributes throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New England states. Perry’s has a whole bunch of flavors that regularly take inspiration from overarching local themes, particularly sports teams, in a way I haven’t really seen replicated by others, but would not be upset to be shown more.

Looks super boring and barren, but packs a punch. An apt metaphor, perhaps?

To fit this theme, my selection was the One Buffalo Premium Ice Cream flavor, introduced first in local sporting arenas before becoming fully available for retail in early 2016. The flavor is a collaboration between Perry’s and Kim Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Bills, a family who saved the team from being bought by Bono or Trump. The intent of this particular ice cream flavor is to showcase flavors iconic to Buffalo, and also to assuredly burgeon her sports brand and legacy as an integral part of what it means to be from Buffalo, which also certainly distracts from their other ventures. Hey, they love Buffalo so much, they do all their fracking elsewhere in places like northern Pennsylvania in what can only be believed by the average Buffalonian as just simple Steelers rivalry. Pegulaville! Josh Allen! Play-offs! Circle the Wagon!! Luckily there’s no benzene released into my kitchen when I crack open, with their milk being sourced locally for the vanilla ice cream base, with sea salt caramel swirls, fudge-coated pretzels, and sponge candy pieces. While I’m kinda questioning just how crammed full of Buffalo pride this is with there really only being sponge candy and local milk I can really point to as representative of the area, I can’t think of many other things to use unless a buffalo wing and beef on weck ice cream would turn out well.

There’s a nice balance between sweet and salty, and there’s quite enough pieces of the pretzels and sponge candy throughout the ice cream to be satisfying. The pieces have a good texture to them, and a pleasing crunch that thankfully isn’t stale. The vanilla ice cream itself is also generously creamy and actually tastes like vanilla, rather than being just a plain bland icy base that you can come to expect with things like this in other brands. My one complaint is that it’s hard to discern between the sponge candy pieces and the pretzel pieces, and if noticeable were just relatively disappointing to the pretzels in crunch power, which makes the sponge candy kinda lose its spark and just be present as something satisfying the theme.

The Broadway Market

Large structure, but the further you went in the more sparse it got, leading to just some people selling stuff from card tables very far apart from each other.
The Broadway Market is quite a household name and legendary fixture in the Buffalo region, especially around Easter. Originally serving a community of primarily Polish and other Eastern European families, the place is quite a hit around Easter, making local news headlines as everyone flocks to go get their butter lambs and pussy willows, but what about the rest of the year? My visit here was in late November, not quite close at all to Easter, so none of the special spark or fervor was present or necessary.
The french have café au lait and croissants, in Buffalo it's pastry hearts and Timmy Hos.
The white flight of Eastern European heritage families away from this district and into the suburbs resulted in a community that is now heavily Bangladeshi, Southeast Asian, African, and overall Muslim and Buddhist, quite a stark cultural difference from the former Orthodox and Catholic Christians that still influence the area despite not actually, uh, being there. There’s plenty of information out there detailing the history of Polish immigrants flocking to the east side of Buffalo], culminating in the Broadway Market as a traditional food hub, and it’s all quite interesting. As is the case for Buffalo in whole, it is steeped deep in tradition and harnesses that as its primary allure, and the people just keep coming back and can’t let it go. The vendors you can find at Broadway Market do vary season to season, year to year, and not many are regular year-round shops save for a few standards, like Famous Horseradish. Fresh delis, bakeries, lots of random stalls, kinda like a weaker fusion of a flea market and farmers market. It ends up feeling like the world’s only flea market that doesn’t trigger claustrophobia, but with a thick fog of just sheer sadness and depression that pretty much hovers over Buffalo in general, whether metaphorically, or literally as a limitless expanse of dark gray clouds hovering ominously as Lake Erie refuses to freeze. There’s plenty of food halls and marketplaces filling up cities across the country now, so for Broadway Market to still have that really grungy and dirty kinda back-alley ‘how can any of this even be legal’ feel that flea markets have feels like just such a missed and wasted opportunity. Is it the area it’s in? The kind of place I’m imagining this could be would probably be a better fit in the well-to-do already-gentrified areas like Elmwood and Williamsville, but a central location in the city proper in a historical and well-loved location, feels like it could be more prosperous. Therein lies the issue, spelled out quite plain as:
  • Only 6% of the space's 547,000 square feet is used.
  • Merchants keep irregular hours.
  • The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours of operation are ill-suited to the needs of potential customers.
  • The market doesn't serve the needs of the ethnic communities around it, and tenants, employees and staff don't generally resemble those in the communities.
  • The only advertising goes to a Polish newspaper.
  • The market is directed at the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood's 7,100 residents, a customer base far too small to support a public market of any size.

Overall I really just didn’t get much there. I got a pastry heart from Chrusciki Bakery, got some horseradish from Famous Horseradish, got scared of how busy their deli was, tried to avoid the flavored peanut people, and then just wandered around before realizing I should just go. It certainly is a place to come get stuff, I guess, if you’d rather just not hit up Tops or Wegmans to be more efficient, but it’s hardly the destination that I thought would be an impactful special trip to see. I’m aware that this is kind of a doom-and-gloom bit going on here, but to not highlight this is to deny an aspect of Buffalo--a city stuck in its past, for better or worse. It really has a lot of promise with its focus as a niche specialty market offering up a world of flavors, but like that article dreams of, it could and would be so much more if it branched out more internationally and embraced what the city is now, but not quite with the “another place, another time” mystique that the expert is planning around, as the rich cultures they want and need to tap into exist there right now. It doesn’t need to turn its back on traditional Polish vendors and specialties, absolutely not, that’s still a huge draw and remains an identity that calls Buffalo home, but it’s about time to recognize Buffalo as having more so it could become more.

Famous Broadway Market Prepared Horseradish

Be skeptical of most things that call themselves 'famous'.

Growing up in Buffalo you can come to believe that what is available to you is all that there is, all that there was, and all that there ever will be, as heritage and tradition are paramount. Famous Broadway Market Prepared Horseradish is one of these cultural icons. The Famous brand is just horseradish root, freshly peeled and grated, then just dumped into a big tub of vinegar which acts as the sole preservative, no artificial flavors, coloring, anything.

Despite this, I never had any, because for what reason would I need some horseradish sludge? As this clickbaity travesty of truth makes apparent, it seems there’s not much ripe and ready use for horseradish in general. The article is titled ‘109 things to do with horseradish’, but starts right off with "I’ll start by saying that I don’t actually have 109 things to do with horseradish, but I’m working on it. (...) As I continue to build my list to 109 (and if you have a great one, post in the comments below and I will add to the list) here are my favourite uses," proceeding to only list 8. Kudos to Meghan though for going towards the phallic joke, she saw the opportunity and grabbed it by its extremities. Mix it into hummus, I don’t know, slap it on a sandwich, sure, use in a salad dressing, go for it, queen. But surely had Meghan here actually done some work she could’ve found out there’s much more than that. Primarily mixed into other sauces or drinks, particularly cocktail sauce and Bloody Marys, to give them a nose-singing kick. Already I can see I’m a little in over my head, just simply not prepared (or willing) to make any of these dishes just to sample this, so I’ll just do all I knew it for: roast beef sandwiches.

To make a potentially drawn out story short: It’s fine. It’s alright, and lasts for months because it’s just absolutely swimming in vinegar. Just some bread, roast beef, and prepared horseradish and it already felt kinda lost, though. I could taste some kinda tang that I would otherwise be suspicious of coming from the meat alone, but my nose wasn’t on FIRE like video reviews and taste tests imply would happen. I can’t imagine adding this to anything would do much unless I absolutely loaded it up, but at that point how much of it is just vinegar? This just isn’t a product for me, my lifestyle isn’t one where I can easily incorporate this into meals without explicitly planning it like I do for reviews.

Miller's Prepared Horseradish

The other Buffalo prepared horseradish product, Miller’s.
Can't even come up with a caption for this.

They don’t seem to have any story or much of anything I can find, aside from them being in Buffalo for decades, that would make them stand out, so I guess that’s why they just...don’t.

Unlike Famous, this one does have more nonsense in it, including something vaguely called Artificial Flavoring, then soybean oil, salt, and sodium bisulfite. I guess those additional ingredients certainly do something as I kept this product, um, uhh...WELL past the expiration date, UNOPENED and SEALED of course, and it remained perfectly fine. It’s really hard to tell where the horseradish flavor begins past the vinegar, but I can’t cut deep into that given how I left it in my fridge for well over a year because I just never got around to deciding that today is the day I’m going to be eating vinegar-soaked horseradish. I’m sure it’s worth something to note, though, that it was indistinguishable from the Famous brand prepared horseradish that I had within a week of buying it, in praise or detriment to either one, I cannot tell.

In summary, I just had no clue what I was getting into with this, but now that I’m aware of what prepared horseradish even is, what it tastes like, its consistency, and expectations, it’s something I can consider in future meals should I want a more unique zing that I can’t get from peppercorns or citrus. While I’m not dazzled by this, I do appreciate its place in the pantry as a proper vehicle to introduce vinegar to sandwiches and appetizers.

Weber’s Brand

Big fan of the classic deli vibe these got.

Another baby of The Broadway Market, founded as Heintz & Weber, and sold there in 1922 and then promptly bought out by Weber in 1926, remaining in the family ever since. Proudly a local Buffalo product, their mustards are #1 in the Western New York, supplying hundreds of local delis with necessary condiments to run their shops. I picked these up at Premier Gourmet just because I was there, but these mustards are available pretty much everywhere in Western New York, especially if you’re within the general area of the city, as well as sporadically around the country in fine delis and markets.

Weber's Horseradish Mustard

Starting off with their most popular product horseradish mustard, their recommended uses include hot dogs, bologna sandwiches, burgers, deviled eggs, roast beef sandwich, pretzels, all kinds of standard and typical mustardy things. My selections for this were pretzels, since I just have those laying around all over, and hot dogs, so I can shoehorn Sahlen’s into this.

A well-balanced meal.

It just...really doesn’t have much horseradish flavor to it. It certainly has more of a mustardy kick than, say, French’s and other basic store yellow mustards, but it’s just not quite delivering on its promise. Dipping a soft pretzel into some of it certainly is the optimal experience if you want to experience the bite it can offer, but when added to the hot dog and bun it starts getting lost, and the addition of some simple bread & butter pickles pretty much masks it all but the knowledge that there sure is mustard on there. Perhaps you need to load a ton of it on? Maybe using it in something like an egg salad would put more of a spotlight on the zappy horseradish? While far from being bad, it’s ultimately quite a standard mustard that has all the standard mustard applications, but just with an itty-bitty jolt of what’s probably more vinegar than anything. More importantly, it exudes a powerful supporting-local-businesses vibe, and I can absolutely get behind that, but to talk it up as anything more than that you’re just fooling yourself.

Weber's Select Hot Garlic Mustard

With its black label and serif typeface, you know that Weber’s Select Hot Garlic Mustard means business. Charcoal-grilled hot dogs and hamburgers are what’s recommended, so again that’s what I did. You better like garlic if you try this because hoo boy, it sure tastes and feels like chomping into a fistful of freshly roasted garlic cloves. Once on the hot dog you don’t really need too much of it as the flavor is strong enough to carry itself on, but graciously blends in rather than being obtrusive. Dipping a soft pretzel into it doesn’t provide much cover, though, and the garlic is at its full power. Horseradish is in this one, too, and it’s much more noticeable and potent than the one that brands itself as the one with horseradish. While strong, the flavors aren’t too punchy and off-putting, and are still smooth and appetizing; you just gotta know how much is too much. I’ve tried a lot of mustards over the years, and I’ve never had anything like this one. I can’t really foresee me having much use for this one specifically, but if rich and robust flavor is what their Select mustards promise, then I’ll have to check out their Jalapeno one.

Wegmans Pittsford Flagship Store

Okay, yeah, I know, Pittsford is in eastern Rochester and not really Buffalo, but can you blame me for taking the chance to go to a flagship store for a grocery supermarket that I already like? Wegmans is Western New York culture born and bred and this is my review.

The view of any Buffalonian probably at least 25% of the time.
Walking into a Wegmans, after being sprung awake by the intense cinnamon smell emanating from their firewood, you are almost always met with a sprawling produce section. From there you choose your path: one way towards a conventional supermarket setup with aisles of cereal and toilet paper, and one way towards their prepared and fresh foods area. In the pictures I’ve provided you can see how sprawling the prepared food area is, and that’s not even all of it. If you’re anything like me, wandering around a grocery store is about the most excitement you’re gonna get out of the small town area I grew up in without involving meth, and the 24 hour choices are (were) Walmart and Wegmans.
🤩
The various prepared foods sections and food bars all generally close at 8pm and open again in the morning, so just be conscious of that. This store in particular has a 2nd floor with various restaurants on it, but otherwise this layout format is pretty common for Wegmans stores, with more of their smaller conventional stores remaining in their home market of Western and Central New York as competition is weaker. They feature an open-air floor plan specifically designed to evoke how European markets feel, with “dazzling displays of fresh produce, artisan breads, and other baked goods hot from the oven several times a day. Meat, fresh-caught seafood, deli products and imported cheeses, international foods, plus all the grocery, dairy, frozen, and household items usually found in a supermarket.” It’s almost overwhelming just how much there is, with there being something new every time; but if all you need are some essentials then you can surely just head right to the aisles and get on out without fussing with the fancy stuff. Many, if not basically all, Wegmans stores will have all of these features, but the Pittsford one just simply had the most of everything, providing everything that Wegmans could possibly offer. The cheese shop in particular was mesmerizing, taking me basically to another world. Flanked on each side by a huge olive bar and a wall of traditional cheeses, the cheese shop is staffed by a couple cheese peeps just working away in a large prep area, cracking open huge wheels of cheese and putting together a bunch of pre-made platters and boards. In that center area is where they hold all of the more specialty and fancy cheeses, and you can be sure I swiped up a few.

Being someone who works in the grocery world, I know that a lot of this talk is a bunch of hooey, but all that stuff you can read in that About Us linked above that they brag about is stuff you can truly go there and see yourself. While they do have an expansive list of products offered in their massive stores, realistically it is all stuff you can find pretty much anywhere else, whether it’s other grocery market chains, or nearby specialty markets, all without being packed in like sardines with other customers with how busy the parking lots and stores can be; a problem that is not unique to any store in any market. Publix seeks to edge out competition over this by providing what they call Premier Customer Service, which, truly, is provided, further commentary withheld; meanwhile Wegmans’ angle is surrounding you with dazzling and unparalleled selection in an adventurous setting. It truly is an experience going there, and genuinely exciting because there’s just an incredibly diverse amount of stuff offered, and most importantly, a vast and varied cheese shop. I don’t want to be the kind of person who fanboys over a billion dollar corporation, because while they boast about how they’re such an amazing place to work for with all kinds of benefits for their employees, so too does the place where I work; and just because you may offer the most benefits in the relevant field and area doesn’t mean that they’re adequate for the level of work involved.

Unfortunately, at the point of publishing this review here in July 2021, a lot of what made Wegmans unique and special has been shut down and changed significantly, or closed for good, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a low priority, and honestly kinda laughable, being concerned about a grocery store’s salad bar as a casualty of a virus that has, so far, killed millions worldwide, but it’s a marker of perceived normalcy and what we once had, and to mourn that sense is valid. Maybe having a bunch of food just sitting out all day and left to the wills and whims of any wild number of undisciplined and thoughtless people was never a good idea, and I would like to see how a company like Wegmans, who has based a core aspect of their image, and arguably the entire weight of their ability to enter new markets outside of Western New York, will respond and adapt. If it’s anything like Publix, the strategy will be to just forget that anything happened and move on at the first hint that it will be legally allowed (despite not doing much to help anything aside from immediate optics), but I feel like Wegmans will be more careful and put more focus into building a more comprehensive and satisfying ready-to-go program. Unfortunately this will be at the cost of its unrivaled product assortment and SKU count as discovery and exploration in shopping has been put aside for just getting in and getting out, and may be going down a path that I see Publix taking with its removal of meal prep sampling and the pre-packaging and simplification (and off-site warehouse preparation) of prepared foods, wherein it risks becoming just another grocery store with no tangible unique spark to justify why their prices are significantly higher than the Target down the road selling literally the same stuff. I am making myself homesick typing this, knowing that I can’t just check for myself.

So blah blah blah, what did I even get there to actually review?

Danny’s Favorite

Excellent profile.

I certainly picked up plenty of things, including a container of freshly sliced spicy cup pepperoni, cookies, donuts, store branded pantry items, drinks, Western New York local products I knew I could only find there, and of course cheese, but one of the key things to know if it’s good or not in a place that offers it are their subs. My selection for this is the Danny’s Favorite, listed as having “thinly sliced salami, capicola, and spicy ham with provolone cheese, organic green leaf lettuce and tomato slices served on our signature sub roll.” I opted not to get the tomato, and had olives and banana peppers added. This is baaaaasically an Italian sub, but without committing to the name and setting itself up for whatever differing expectation each and every customer will expect by name alone, which is smart.

The meats are all freshly sliced--perhaps not directly in front of you, but I’m not one of Those People who expects that--and weighed out on a scale right there so you can see how much you’re getting. The slices could’ve been a little thinner by my personal standards, but they were pretty fine and I greatly appreciated them being draped and laid on, instead of just uniformly placed. You know, like, when they kinda squiggle it on instead of placing it all flat? Just makes an incredible difference in texture and sensation, like you’re getting more of a mouthful instead of just a slab, somehow makes it feel more fresh; try it out next time. Nice THICK slices of cheese, though, I want to be able to tell that it’s there. Generous amount of toppings without overloading it with a bunch of filler lettuce. I opted to have this all on a sesame seed roll as I wanted something a bit more exciting than just plain white, but didn’t want to commit to having basically a bag of bird food spilling out onto wherever I go for the next couple days. The combination of meats had a good hearty flavor with a nice spicy bite to it that I expect from specifically capicola, and my choice of banana peppers definitely paired well to add some sweetness to it without sacrificing the spiciness. Probably one of the best sub breads I’ve had, with one pitfall. The dough is flavorful and fresh, soft and chewy without yielding and compressing with each bite, but the crust rapidly hardens. With that, it gets brittle and will fracture, creating unnecessary crumbs that are also just frankly sharp and uncomfortable to eat, greatly limiting its shelf life and leftover value. Much more reason to get it fresh, and eat it fresh, then come back and get another if you want one again the next day.

Filling, fresh, quick, simple, and most importantly a good value, what else can you ask for? Of course, I got this with their whatever combo with chips, and drink, and swiped up one of their fresh cookies that they keep in a hot case so it’s still all nice and warm and melty and gooey.

Mayer Bros. Farm

One thing that has always fascinated me about recognizable corporations is that sometimes they’re just literally right there in your backyard. Like, I used to live across the street from EA, now I’m just down the road from WWE performance centers. Perhaps not as major as those, it kinda caught me off guard that the peeps who make the apple cider I find all over the place in the country during autumn are based just down the road from some family in Buffalo. And, turns out, they’ve got a walk-in store!
Parking lot left uncropped to get a full feel for Buffalo.

Cider Mill

Take me to stores that look like this if you want to win my heart.

Just a little bit down the road and turn the corner from Paula’s is the Mayer Bros. production, packing, and distribution plant, along with their Cider Mill. Taking the shape of a good ol’ country farm market, the Cider Mill is a little store with an in-house bakery and some winding shelves and tables that hold various sauces and mixes and drinks made on-site presumably at the Cider Mill, as well as a bunch of small local goods and treats, like cheeses, candies, chocolates, just all kinds of stuff you’d expect to find at a cute little rural-but-bustling farm shop. Cozy and warm small town feel that’s a perfect pick-me-up for having just submerged your entire foot into a slushy puddle that you (I) didn’t anticipate being that deep. Everyone is nice, never have to wait long to get in and out, but luckily without that abandoned every-worker-is-staring-at-you-because-there’s-nothing-else-going-on vibe. Only complaint is that it’s open just in the Fall, generally mid-to-late August into the beginning of December. I understand that this is because it’s when apples are in season, and that is an honorable reason, but living in Florida has spoiled me with having these kinds of markets and events year-round.

Apple Cider Freeze

Take me back...
Speaking of slush, they have apple cider slushies! $1.75 for a small, $2.25 for a large, and it’s quite simply just apple cider with ground up ice. What makes this superior to something like snow cones or shaved ice is that these are drinkable, a fact not exclusive to this particular one, but is notable for the experience. Not much to say about it other than it tasted good, tasted fresh, was refreshing and pleasantly cool in spite of it also being freezing temperatures outside. I do wish the sizes were larger, but not in the sense of feeling like I paid too much for what I got, but rather I would be willing to pay more for a significantly larger size to be available.

Apple Cider Donuts

Right when you walk in there’s a bakery display and counter, a case filled with cookies, pastries, pies, freshly baked breads and pies, but most most MOST important to me were all of the apple cider donuts. There’s a pretty standard selection of plain cake, with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or frosting, some festive sprinkles, all fine and dandy but I’m here to shovel every apple cider donut they have into my gut. About $8 for a dozen, $5 for half a dozen, or $1 each, give or take negligible pennies. I got a selection of all apple cider cake donuts, but one with powdered sugar, one with powdered cinnamon, and one with some kinda, I guess, cider-flavored frosting. All were about the same, that being absolutely fantastic. Tasted fresh, which is a trait I expect to be varied depending on time of arrival and duration between getting them and actually eating them, but more importantly tasted like what they should taste like. A nice, subtle, sweet and tart apple flavoring, the powders doing their thing. The frosted one was just kinda there, didn’t hate it, just didn’t see much appeal in the frosting, but the base apple cider cake donut itself was good so there was no loss. Nice soft, yet heavy bite; as filling as you’d want from just a simple donut.

Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce

I made sure some drizzled on the side, just for you.
On the shelves there’s all kinds of canned and pickled veggies, salsas, dressings, vinaigrettes, jams, jellies, spreads, and out of allllll of that, I selected the Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce. Pretty standard bbq sauce ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar, mustard, garlic, anchovies, and then of course the apple butter. Apple butter isn’t butter at all, just being named that for its spreadability and consistency, and instead it’s more like a concentrated apple sauce that was cooked slower and longer, giving it time to caramelize, and then often given the usual cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, cloves to finish off its flavor. I used this on a burger, because what else am I gonna use it on. Tart and tangy with a touch of sweetness, as you’d expect from something called Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce. The flavor was strong, but didn’t overwhelm the rest of the burger, remaining noticeable even when I included strong-tasting Stilton blue cheese. I’m not sure if I’d use it on every burger, but it was a good fun thing to try that I certainly won’t shy away from using again.

McDuffie’s Bakery Shortbread Cookies

They sure are cookies.
Another Buffalo-local product that’s featured and available at the Cider Mill are McDuffie’s Bakery Scottish shortbread cookies. Cursory research tells me that their bakeries sell Trump Resort branded cookies, and also have their cookies sold at Trump Resorts and properties, something I’m kinda ehhhh on and only really rendered vaguely complacent by with the fact that hotels in general are their clients. Looking further into it, it turns out that this is a deliberate foray into politics, actively supporting him, and have crazed fans screaming at people to "GET OVER" this fact; this happens to take a side that I just can’t morally support. Too many small businesses in my travels and experience have an unnecessary risk of being ran by people with the absolute worst political/social/moral takes that I just can no longer take my chance--if I have the option to avoid it--with accidentally giving money to only to have them turn and make my money into a donation towards a politician who wants to actively strip away basic liberties from gay people--a mere drop in the ocean of offenses. Yeah, I get that there’s anxiety and fear among the working poor (a class of which I am part of) that the wealthy and elite don’t care about their plight and struggles, and this environment was ripe for an autocrat to come in and and dangle hope and attention in front of them for the small payment of ignoring (at best, but turned out to be more actively supporting) a seemingly endless list of fascist, racist, and downright disgusting statements and policies, which unfortunately, but not surprisingly didn’t work out for them. Navigating these businesses that take active and public polarized social stances is just a fact of life, especially with 45’s administration driving a wedge deep between neighbors and families, and it’s too bad that unsavory and abhorrent public opinion-making and advocacy overshadows what were otherwise pretty alright shortbread cookies.

In the marketplace system we exist in, there’s pretty much always another option, and the gold standard of cookies, the Girl Scouts, align more with how I think people should be treated, and are still a way to support local families...even though they did get rid of my favorite cookie...

Cuba Cheese Shoppe Curds

Chewing on erasers has never been so delicious.
Another thing I took for granted in New York was widely and easily accessible cheese curds for fantastic low prices, more often than not from some Amish or Amish-adjacent place. Cheese curds are squeaky bits of young cheddar formed in the early stages of cheese making, once the milk starts to coagulate. The Cuba Cheese Shoppe is a small local cheese producer operating in the town of Cuba, about 75 miles southeast of Buffalo. The area has been known for producing cheese for almost two centuries, having once been called the ‘Cheese Capital of the World’ in the 19th century by people who I can only assume were completely unaware of, like, France, England, or even Wisconsin. Their physical location includes a shop that is very much the kind of place I would one day like to own and operate, with all kinds of gourmet cheese, meats, condiments, and specialty products that you’d expect to find at any fine deli. While I didn’t actually go to this location, they do fling their cheese to all kinds of local places to sell, and I happened to get some while at the Cider Mill. There’s not much to say about the cheese curds I tried, other than they sure were cheese curds! Squeaky, salty, cheesy, hard to not eat the whole pack at once.

Ulinger’s Maple Candy

Rocks.
Ulinger’s Maple Farm is a small local family-owned, well, maple farm, with products available for purchase at co-ops, smaller local grocery chains, Made In America shops, and farm stores like the Cider Mill. A quick look at their site and you’ll be able to see that they’re really big on how healthy pure natural maple syrup is, which, like, go for it dudes, you’re not wrong. These maple candies are made with their own maple syrup, granulated sugar, and cream. Well, they certainly tasted like maple syrup! Much more concentrated maple flavor than you’d get from just slurping down a spoonful of syrup. Kinda unpleasant to actually have in my mouth, just a weird kinda saccharine stickiness, with that telltale maple flavor, but just with nothing going with it. Usually there’s like a pancake or french toast or something, but just sucking on a hardened rock of maple syrup is kinda weird; sorry Canadians. I assumed that the idea of this was to suck on it like a hard candy until it dissolved, which worked for a while, and then it kinda disintegrated into its constituent components, making for even a more weird mouthfeel. Just not something that I think is better than the base product; if I want maple syrup I’ll just get some on breakfast foods, thanks.

‘Mouthfeel’, I’m a real food writer now.


Yeah yeah, a bunch of other reviews I see about this place are that they felt rushed, as the store setup is similar to a cafeteria with it being one long line guiding you through the whole store, and that the line was moving quick and had no time to stop and look, but like, how about you just...stop...and look! Let the people behind you just move past, that’s what I did, it was no problem at all. Others said you can buy the same cider at any grocery store, get apples anywhere else, find the snacks and sauces and treats wherever, but I feel that all these peeps are missing that, often, going out to a place like this is a trip to savor. You’re not just grocery shopping, of course, you can go grocery shopping at an actual store, but make this a cute little evening event and it’ll make you feel warm. Think about it, you can go to the store and get a tub of ice cream for $3, but sometimes you still go to the ice cream parlor on the side of the road and get a scoop or sundae for $5. It’s not about the thrift, it’s not about the convenience, it’s not about the necessity, it’s about doing it, spending the time with it, getting into it, feeling it, enjoying it. This place is kinda small but has a TON of stuff in it, and I don’t feel like my photos do it any justice. As always, I recommend checking out every scrap of information you can find in Google Maps photos because having a community collective scrap together their own photos DOES do it justice. Look at all the Halloween decorations!!!!!

The 'Shroom: Issue 172
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