The 'Shroom:Issue 181/Critic Corner
Welcome to April, where it's almost hot finally, but it's also still cold! And also rainy! And dry! While the weather can't make up its mind, our writers here in Critic Corner sure have, so be sure to check out what they have to say! We have an absolutely packed Critic Corner this month, including a guest review by Hooded Pitohui (talk) and a new section by Mustard Machine (talk)!! This month we're also celebrating Yoshi876 (talk) and his glistening muscled bod for his 100th 'Shroom Issue! Throughout this issue there will be plenty of sections catered towards a fitness theme of sorts 💪🏋️🤼
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 on the forum. Any idea you have is welcome, and if you have any questions or need help signing up, please feel free to reach out to myself or other 'Shroom peeps!
Section of the Month
|Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH|
|1st||Anton's Half-Baked Reviews||13||50.00%||Hypnotoad (talk)|
|2nd||All-Time Smash Merit Ranking||9||34.62%||SonicMario (talk)|
Hello. This is going to be a very short and quick one because work has been horrifically busy this month and I've had little time or energy to write/listen.
BLADEE & ECCO2K - CREST
Have had barely any experience before with Bladee or Ecco2K before listening to this, though I'm generally familiar with their general style so I sort of knew what to expect. Sadly, I found this album really bland, if not outright annoying at times. There's a few eclectic and surreal elements in the general sound and vibe but the songwriting is very, very plain. I also found the vocals quite annoying throughout.
CHARLI XCX - CRASH
Decent enough, but definitely underwhelming compared to the best stuff she's put out over the past few years. The opener, it's got a great energy and fun instrumentation, and "New Shapes" is also pretty good, but then the rest of the first half just feels really nondescript. "Beg for You" is a top 40 hit over here so it's already had a lot of radio play, I've never liked it much and listening to it in context makes no difference there. That said, there are a few good tracks in the second half which bring it back slightly - "Baby" and "Yuck", for instance - and the closer "Twice" is also a highlight. I also appreciate the '90s pop elements here, although sometimes they're not executed as well as they could be.
DENZEL CURRY - MELT MY EYEZ SEE YOUR FUTURE ⭐
I've listened to a few Denzel Curry projects but I have to say this is definitely the best stuff I've heard from him so far. I've listened to "Walkin" quite a few times so far this year - it's a great song, Denzel's flow and lyrics are superb and the beat switch halfway through is brilliant. That and the two songs that follow it - "Worst Comes to Worst" and "John Wayne" - were my favourite songs here, both just have these deep, mellow beats (the latter produced by JPEGMAFIA) and very sharp lyrics. There are a couple of weak moments - "Ain't No Way" has a large amount of guest performers yet I don't really get what any of them add here, and "Sanjuro" is pretty static - but generally Denzel's lyrics and flow are stellar, and the atmosphere here is excellent.
ASIAN GLOW & WEATHERDAY - WEATHERGLOW (EP)
A nice collab between two pretty big emo/noise pop artists, but didn't leave too big an impression on me. The opener, "Melt the Bed", has a really engrossing atmosphere and sonic palette - everything else that follows is good enough but never quite lives up to it. Still, it's loud and emotive, and the atmosphere is cool.
K-Pop Album Reviews
This month, Zange reviews TWICE's Formula of Love! Maybe this one will worm its way into their heart for that perfect 5/5 score!! Or maybe there will be more screaming over stupid album packaging... (as a reminder, make sure to turn on subtitles!)
Rising Sun Reviews
|Girls' Last Tour|
|Genre||Slice of Life (Iyashikei)|
When you think of a post-apocalyptic story, does your mind jump right to violent gangs, looking like they wouldn't be out of place in Mad Max or Fallout, roaming a barren wasteland and murdering anyone they can extract resources from? Where does your mind jump when I tell you to think of a post-apocalyptic story completely unlike those stories of violence and conflict? Do you begin to think of relentlessly, perhaps even recklessly so, optimistic stories that assure you that humanity will survive and that hope will always prevail as the world's end turns into a new beginning?
If so, then let me tell you now, as we begin to dive into this post-apocalyptic story, that Girls' Last Tour is neither of those types of stories.
Originally produced in the form of a six-volume manga, Girls' Last Tour was adapted into a twelve-episode (with each episode, in turn, divided into two or three segments) anime by the studio White Fox in late 2017. The manga had only recently released its fifth volume at the time of the adaptation's airing, so the show mostly covers events from the first four volumes. The premise is simple. In a world devastated by a great war and left mostly devoid of life, two girls, the bookish, contemplative Chito and the more carefree and unrestrained Yuuri (nicknamed, respectively, Chi and Yuu) go about with their lives. To say instead that they spend the bulk of their time "surviving," while perhaps less vague, doesn't quite capture the premise of the series properly. Survival may always be a concern in the background, with the girls making reference to their fuel supplies and food stocks, but it never dominates the story, and, as a result, violent conflict is fairly rare as well.
The show does introduce a somewhat more clearly defined driving goal at the end of episode two when the girls set their sights on reaching the highest level of a towering vertical city. While the rest of the show does follow the girls in doing just that, the story never dwells on where the girls are or how far they have to go. Ascending, like survival, becomes a background element, always present, but rarely woven into the narratives presented. There may be times when the girls look down to get a general sense of how far they've come and moments in the story where they climb towers to get to the next level, but you could forget that the girls are climbing for most of the story and get just as much out of the show.
All of that said, while it may sound as though I'm describing a show that lacks any kind of point or direction, the simplicity of the show's premise is one of its strengths. Foregoing any kind of larger overall goal allows Girls' Last Tour to more effectively emphasize and explore its main theme of getting on with life in a hopeless situation. The idea of "hopelessness" permeates the show, sometimes made more explicit, as when Yuu begins to sing a little impromptu tune consisting of the word "hopelessness" and when she later suggests that it's important to "get along with the feeling of hopelessness," and sometimes left implied, as when the girls encounter machines that dutifully continue their work with no society left to reap the fruits of their labor and no chance of winning against the forces of entropy and decay.
For all that the show emphasizes hopelessness, however, it never takes the heavy-handed approach of painting a world of despair, gloom, and misery, nor does it ever attempt to affirm the idea that things will work out with abundant optimism and dedication. In its exploration of hopelessness, it takes a refreshingly realistic approach. Even in a world where the chance of long-term survival is slim and the hope for a return to normal is practically non-existent, life goes on, and the few people the girls do encounter find dreams and passions to pursue. Whether or not their passions may be an excuse, a reason to live and press onwards in an uncaring world, they still give them something to grasp and to strive for. Whether making maps or trying to build a plane, the people the girls encounter do something to improve their circumstances and leave a mark on the world. At the same time, however, the show proves consistently unafraid to show setback and failure. Just because its cast of characters has goals and the determination to see those goals through does not ensure their success. Kanazawa, the mapmaker who the girls encounter in episode three, for instance, loses his life's work, every map he's made scattering to the wind. With no chance to get back to the point he had made it to, he struggles with the question of whether or not there's any point to getting back up and going on. Ishii, who appears in episode six and devotes herself to building a working plane, finds herself grappling with an even more challenging question when her efforts fail. While Kanazawa can make new maps, Ishii's failure leaves her with no chance whatsoever of resuming her work. Whether through these encounters, through Chi's constant concerns with meaning and legacy, the contrasts between the philosophies of Chi and Yuu, or through the smaller, less-meaningful-on-the-surface moments that the show wants its audience to sit back and consider, Girls' Last Tour's greatest strength may be the way it manages to constantly confront its audience with the question of what making peace with hopelessness means and, while undoubtedly having a fairly positive existentialist leaning, the room it leaves for folks to find their own answer to that question.
When looking at the other strengths of the show, its pacing cannot go without mention. Iyashikei shows often consist of episodes divided into smaller segments, each with their own mini-narratives, with those segments mostly focusing on fun, silliness, or relaxation. In one or two episodes, you might get more dramatic or impactful stories, but they're often fairly spaced out. Girls' Last Tour is no exception in terms of consisting mostly of those more relaxed mini-narratives, ones which feature only Chi and Yuu. At times, there may not be any more purpose to a segment than seeing the girls imagining their ideal home in the ruins of a residential building or seeing the girls get drunk (which plays out better than it might sound) and dancing under the light of the moon. What sets the show apart from many of its peers, however, and makes it more palatable to anyone watching who may want a bit more impact from a show, is the way it never expects you to sit through more than two of these episodes at a time. Every third episode presents some kind of encounter, opening up new paths for the story to take, routes that it can't go down with just the two main characters. These episodes have fuller stories, with their segments more directly tied to one another, making the show feel closer to other varieties of slice-of-life shows. This regular string of encounters, along with a select few segments that carry a little more weight, such as "The Sound of Rain" in episode five and "Spiral" in episode eight, give viewers who may not be as invested in the iyashikei genre something to latch onto and to get invested in. They draw you in and, by spacing out the less impactful segments, make them more enjoyable by balancing the two halves of the show without trying to mash them together into a mixture that loses the best elements of both halves.
The show's throughline between its episodes further sets it apart from many of its peers. While the show may be reasonably described as episodic, the episodes are not disconnected. Episodes draw on and build upon earlier episodes. There are larger changes that persist between episodes, like the girls acquiring a camera from Kanazawa in episode three that they subsequently make extensive use of throughout the rest of the show, and there are small nods to earlier events in the form of quick, conversational references. There are moments where you see some character development on the part of Chi and Yuu that you can trace back to a particular event from earlier in the show, with the girls recalling at one point late in the series Yuu's time spent contemplating the nature of the afterlife when stuck in a darkened temple, seemingly separated from Chi. At times, there are even entire repeated conversations. When these repeated conversations come up, they rarely simply retread old ground, instead highlighting some difference in the girls' current circumstances, or something that has changed about their views on the world. A particularly striking example comes up in episode eleven's "Destruction" segment, where we're treated to a conversation about weapons and war lifted directly out of episode one's "War" segment. What was once a meandering, relatively surface-level exchange in the slow-paced first episode becomes a much more emotionally fraught and impactful conversation when the girls actually have the opportunity to witness – and wield – awful, destructive power. From a humorous "confrontation" between the two girls that comes from them contemplating the nature of war in episode one, we ultimately get one of perhaps two glimpses of Chi getting deeply, truly angry with Yuu as she laughs at the flames she unleashes in episode eleven. Even the one time a repeated conversation seemed to have no change in context, when the start of episode nine repeated the conversation that opened the series in episode one (and managed to make me think I had accidentally restarted the series from the beginning), it was drawing upon conversations from the "Spiral" segment in the previous episode to make a point. If you aren't fond of wholly episodic formats, Girls' Last Tour offers something different enough, with the way it builds upon where it has been before, to keep you interested in spite of its structure.
As far as music goes, the show does just fine in that department. It doesn't offer anything groundbreaking, but it has a fitting soundtrack filled with calming, relaxing music. The touch of sadness in the soothing music complements the lost-yet-still-beautiful-in-its-own-ways world of the show. When it needs to break out something more memorable, the show does so ably, as the "Song of Rain," coming from the episode five segment "The Sound of Rain," shows. That segment was, for me, one of the highlights of the show, and the unexpectedly cheerful musical performance ensured it stuck in my mind.
I do have to say, though, that the animation is fairly rough at plenty of points. The two main characters have a fairly non-standard design that can sometimes make them feel like videogame models (Yuu in particular sometimes feels like she could fit in among the Bravely Default series' cast). You can take or leave their designs; they felt odd to me at first, but I found I was used to them after a few episodes. What's harder to get past is the liberal use of conspicuous CGI (and, yes, I'm using that term as it is often widely understood – clunky 3D models that look jarringly out of place in motion – even if there may be good reason to quibble over the term). It's hard to miss and it's nearly omnipresent in the show.
If animation is the only thing I have to criticize, then I can't very well call this a bad show, can I? All things considered, Girls' Last Tour is a post-apocalyptic story distinct from most of its peers and an iyashikei distinct from most of its peers. If you're a hardcore fan of more typical post-apocalyptic fare, that emphasizes violence or doom and gloom it may not be for you. If you're a hardcore fan of the iyashikei genre and want a show that fully embraces relaxation, or if you detest the genre and never want to watch a show that meanders, it may not be for you. If you're looking for something that falls between those two extremes, or you're looking for a show that offers a more realistic balance of pessimism and optimism in a hopeless or meaningless world (or, certainly, if you already think of yourself as an existentialist type), you might find this show worth your time. For those of you who are in the United States, it's on Amazon Prime Video if you're interested.
Van Shoeul's House of Ghouls
|Theater of Blood|
|Starring||Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry|
|Directed By||Douglas Hickox|
|Streaming||Amazon Prime Video Vudu, Apple TV (through iTunes), Tubi (Spanish Dub)|
Good evening dear readers, and welcome to a new section, Van Shoeul's House of Ghouls. I'm your host, Vincent Van Shoeul. In this little section, we shall take a journey through the darkness, examining the many tales of terror guaranteed to leave your body jumping. But be warned, my dear friends, this section is not for the faint of heart, and I would advise those of you with weak constitutions to leave now. But for those of you brave enough to stay, I can assure you this section will be a thriller
For our first featured presentation, we're going to be looking at 1973's horror-comedy film Theater of Blood, directed by Douglas Hitchcock. Theater of Blood is a tale about an actor who, after being spurned by a critic association one too many times, sets out for revenge... with blood! The principle characters in this performance are: Diana Riggs as Edwina Lionheart, daughter of our spurned actor; Ian Hendry as Peregrine Devlin, president of the Theatre Critics Guild; and Milo O'Shea as Inspector Boot, a police officer trying to prevent the killings. Last but not least, we have this month's villain-hero; Legend Vincent Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearian actor who, after being denied the Theatre Critics Guild's Best Actor Award, faked his own death and now, with the help of a gang of homeless people, has returned to claim his revenge on the critics who mocked him.
The premise is actually quite similar to a couple other Vincent Price movies, those being The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Madhouse, with Vincent Price playing a man taking revenge on those he feels have wronged him. What makes Theater of Blood stand out is the creativity of the kills. From the very first kill (critic George Maxwell being stabbed to death by a group of vagrants à la Julius Caesar), every kill in the movie, with only one exception, is themed after a Shakespearean play and each kill goes the in order of Edward Lionheart's final Shakespearean tour. With Edward on his mission to get revenge are a gang of homeless vagrants, who serve as active participants in the kills, decoys to draw away the cops, and, most importantly for Edward, an active audience for Edward's many acting performances. The kills are truly where this film stands out, and, while there isn't a lot of gore, it's not because the movie refuses to show blood. When the kill calls for blood, there is always blood (see the decapitation of Horace Sprout for an example). Tying the kills to Shakespeare gives the movie a lot of unique kills. Standout kills to me are Meredith Merridew, who is killed by being force fed pies made from his own dogs until he chokes to death (based on the feeding of Queen Tamora in Titus Andronicus), Chloe Moon, who is electrocuted to death in a hair salon (based on the burning of Joan of Arc from Henry VI, Part 1), and Trevor Dickman, who has his heart cut out (based on the removal from a pound of flesh from The Merchant of Venice).
Theater of Blood also contains a fair amount of humor in it. Whether it be the homeless people cheering at the wrong time during Edward's rendition of Mark Antony's Caesar speech or Edward dressing up as a flamboyant hairdresser in order to lure Chole Moon into a trap, the movie uses humor tremendously. My favorite moment of the movie is probably when Edward and his vagabonds trick Meredith Merridew into eating his own dog by pretending to be from a show called This is your Dish, complete with a movie camera! The movie does a good job balancing its humor and its horror elements, and, while the movie definitely leans towards comedy, it doesn't let that comedy get in the way of the kills.
For our actors, Ian Hendry does a phenomenal job portraying snobby film critic Peregrine Devlin, who, even when his friends are dying, can't help but insult the acting skills of Edward. In fact, even when all he had to do was compliment the work of Edward and retroactively give him the Best Actor award to have his life spared, Delvin still refuses and continues to insult Edward. Milo O'Shea, playing the role of Inspector Boot, does a fine job portraying the classic horror movie cop. Hardworking but incompetent despite knowing who the killer is, knowing his motive, and even having a picture of Edward, the inspector proves incapable of protecting any of the critics (at one point allowing himself and all the officers posted to be distracted chasing an Edward look alike). Diana Rigg also does a great job portraying Edwina Lionheart, the bitter mourning daughter of Edward who tricks the police into thinking she's helping them while, in reality, she had been helping murder the critics the whole time.
The standout of this film, though, is obviously Vincent Price playing Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart. A vain, bitter man who is obsessed with revenge after losing out on the Best Actor Award, Vincent Price gives his all in this role. Whether he's disguising himself as a flamboyant and implied-to-be-gay hairdresser, dressing up as a French chef (complete with French accent), or dressing up a masseuse in order to trick critic Solomon Psaltery into thinking his wife is cheating on him so he'll murder her, Price always delivers.. An actor with a flair for dramatics, Edward is prone to breaking out in reciting Shakespeare while murdering his victims. As part of his bitterness, Edward oftentimes taunts his victims, reading back the words they wrote about him as they beg for mercy (a mercy he never gives(. Vincent Price knocks it out of the park with this character. The constant dramatics and megalomania of Edward, who you can tell is convinced he's the most brilliant actor who ever lived even as the critics shun him, really adds personality to the main villain here. It's a perfect portrayal from a brilliant actor.
I have a simple rule with movies: "If it has Vincent Price in it, watch it," and this movie justifies my position. Theater of Blood is a tremendous romp of a horror movie, a perfect example of how great those old-school horror movies can be. Theater of Blood is full of creative kills and great acting. Vincent Price truly shines as a Shakespearian and, in a long list of great Vincent Price movies, I'd have to rank this one near the top!
Well, my dear readers, did you make it all the way to the end? Are you now positively terrified down to the bone? If our little story hasn't left you weak with terror, I invite you to join us again next month for another horrifying Van Shoeul's House of Ghouls.
Being someone who grew up with Mario games, I never had a huge urge to try out different series. The Mario is series is quite big after all, he does everything from kart racing to sports games to RPGs! So while I’ve always had an interest in Kirby, having played Nightmare in Dreamland and Amazing Mirror and quite liking both, it wasn’t until Planet Robobot’s reveal that I decided to try it out for good. So starting with a purchase of Return to Dreamland, I’ve loved the Kirby series ever since. It was the first series that I ever decided to branch out with, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the pink puffball, with Planet Robobot ranking pretty high on my list of favourite games. So when Robobot was immediately followed up by the disappointing Star Allies, my faith in the Kirby series has admittedly dropped a little bit. Star Allies was the game that pushed me into finally buying a Switch, and finding it to be a watered-down experience for the sake of multiplayer yet still being a worse multiplayer experience than Return to Dreamland was a little upsetting.
Considering the amount of small experiments that they’ve been doing with 3D, a new, fully 3D Kirby game was inevitable, and so to me Forgotten Land’s announcement came of no real surprise. The only real question I had was; Is it going to be as fun and creative as Robobot, or is it going to be a dumbed-down experience with bland level design like Star Allies? Naturally, the only way to find out was by playing it.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
After however many years, Kirby has finally gotten a full 3D game. After several experiments with spin-off games like Battle Royale and Blowout Blast, a 3D Kirby game that was actually a racing game with Air Ride and even the final Boss Battle on Star Allies taking place in a 3D arena, Kirby and the Forgotten Land finally brings the mainline 2D platformer action fully into the third dimension. Acting as a straightforward, 3D Land-style take on the “bring the 2D series to 3D” idea, Forgotten Land brings over all of the more familiar aspects of modern mainline Kirby games with it, such as inhaling, flying, obtaining copy abilities, etc. with the new spin of having a Z axis.
Unlike Mario games, which have more of an emphasis on movement, such as platforming via precision jumping, Kirby games have traditionally set themselves apart having a greater focus on puzzles and combat, with varied level elements and Kirby’s multitude of copy abilities being the stars of the show. Kirby games have always strived to be accessible to anyone and generally aren’t particularly difficult, with Forgotten Land being no exception, however that doesn’t also mean that they aren’t engaging. Using the different properties of certain abilities, such as Fire being able to destroy Ice blocks in order to find a collectable, in combination with the vast movesets that each have to use against any unfortunate enemies or bosses in your way are the two key ways that Kirby games are able to keep things both interesting and enjoyable despite the low difficulty. Forgotten Land is able to keep these aspects intact and remains relatively engaging to the end, however it also doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, mostly because things have become a little bit too streamlined.
With the move to 3D, Forgotten Land has simplified the level design quite a bit, making levels sometimes feel a little too linear and simple, which is both a little disappointing yet somewhat understandable. Levels are for the most part set out in a “go forward to reach the finish” style and don’t really let you break that format too much. Exploration itself sometimes feels limited, there’s rarely many instances where you head off the beaten track unless the game explicitly wants you to, and I constantly felt like my wondering around between any gap in the scenery was pointless and unrewarding. Kirby himself can’t fly much higher than the platforms that he’s flying over, which feels both nonsensical and restrictive. However while the levels often seem empty, thankfully there are some additional side missions to complete while you explore each level in addition to the caged Waddle Dees that you find, giving you at least some incentive to check anything that seems suspicious. A few of the additional objectives do seem a bit unnecessary or like they could have just been added to the level more organically, but they are a welcome addition nonetheless.
The puzzle aspect also comes a bit short on needing you to turn on other areas of your brain as the majority of them are things like “I wonder how I can light these torches with the fire ability” and only gets slightly more complex as the game goes on. The only time that I really felt that I needed to stop and survey my surroundings was during the post game, which is quite frankly a bit too late for the level design to finally start getting more creative, and I wish that they would have introduced a few more new ideas during the main campaign.
The copy abilities have likewise been simplified quite a bit. Copy abilities in the 2D games had almost fighting-game worthy movesets (why do you think they’ve made two Kirby Fighters spin-off games?), which wouldn’t translate well in a 3D environment considering how there’s no longer an “up” or “down” direction to press. Forgotten Land’s abilities by comparison are a bit more basic, usually only having about one or two moves, with a select few, sword and hammer, being a bit more complex. With a total of only 12 copy abilities and with two of them, Crash and Sleep, being one-time uses, as well as the fact that the previous games usually had more than 20, the shallow movesets and low amount of variety of Forgotten Land’s copy abilities may seem underwhelming. However, it also isn’t the full story.
A new feature to the series, copy abilities can now be evolved after collecting blueprints that are found in levels. Evolved copy abilities are a bit different to simple upgrades, like the scrolls found in Squeak Squad, but rather completely change how the ability functions. For example, evolving Sword into Gigant Sword gives Kirby a massive sword that is slower than the original, but also hits much harder, and replaces the spin attack with one massive sword swing. Other abilities have smaller changes, such as tornado mostly only having a larger area of effect, but it keeps things fresh regardless by making the prospect of trying out a new evolved ability exciting, and keeps the core gameplay loop fun even without a huge range of different abilities.
While an interesting way to keep the small number of abilities constantly relevant, evolving copy abilities isn’t implemented perfectly. You can only have access to one type of evolution for each copy ability at a time, so ones that feel more like a different take on an ability rather than an straight-up improvement, like the aforementioned Gigant Sword, either become your only option or become ignored entirely for a different evolution. They also don’t really add anything new to the ability that can be used for exploring levels or problem solving that couldn’t be done before, as I’m pretty sure that you could probably get every collectable in each level without ever evolving a single copy ability, which feels like a wasted opportunity. In the end, while fun in concept, I feel like the execution is a little lacking and would have preferred if they were done slightly differently, perhaps being introduced as strong new moves to existing abilities or completely separate abilities entirely.
As per video game tradition, the end of each world features Boss battles to test your mettle. There’s not really a whole lot to say here other than they’re pretty good and test your reflexes and combat ability well. There’s even a new dodge mechanic that slows down time if you time a roll well enough, which is pretty fun. The post game bosses in particular offer a decent amount of challenge for those looking for something a bit harder, although I did find them to be a little easier than the those found in previous games.
Treasure Road & Currency
Spread throughout the journey are inter-dimensional portals featuring short challenges, going by the name of Treasure Road, that test your skills at each of Kirby’s different copy abilities and mouthful mode transformations, with new ones unlocking when you either beat a level or evolve a copy ability. Structured vaguely like the challenge rooms from Return to Dreamland, you’re tasked with beating a set of small tasks as fast as possible, with an optional clear time goal to aim for, while also using all the unique aspects of each copy ability to the fullest.
While certainly fun and I appreciate having them here, there are a few issues with this format. A lot of the more interesting concepts, such as making circles around objects with the drill ability, are only ever seen in these stages and are never explained or used elsewhere. This feels like a missed opportunity for some more fun course elements in the main game, especially where it would have made more sense to have a chance to play around with these elements in a more relaxed environment rather than a time based one. Additionally, while there are time goals that do provide a moderate amount of challenge, completing them also doesn’t provide any kind of meaningful reward, or even count toward completion. I would have enjoyed these a bit more if I had more of an incentive to keep trying for that perfect time, but eventually I just stopped caring and moved on.
Speaking of rewards, completing each Treasure Road level is the main source of obtaining one of the game’s in-game currencies, Rare Stones. Along with coins, which can be found pretty much everywhere, these items can be exchanged in the hub world to evolve each copy ability. While not a bad idea on its own, Forgotten Land strangely decides on a free-to-play mobile game like approach to its currency, offering additional stones or coins through codes that can be found online via Nintendo’s social media outlets or offering an infinite amount in the post game via grinding the boss rush mode. To me, these feels completely out of place, especially during the post game where you can upgrade each copy ability to max out its power and the only means to do so is by grinding through the games boss rush mode multiple times. This format made sense in Super Kirby Clash, not here, and creates added tedium that easily could have just not been there.
As with every modern Kirby game, Forgotten Land has a new Kirby-related power gimmick, this time being mouthful mode. Ever wondered what would happen if Kirby tried to inhale something that was too big for him to fit his mouth over? Ever thought that Kirby’s body was probably made of rubber? Well now you know! In keeping with the theme of a post-apocalyptic earth, Kirby can now half-eat random real world objects, such as traffic cone to pierce cracked objects, a light bulb to illuminate dark areas and, perhaps most notably, a car. Yep.
Each mouthful mode transformation is mostly a one-move affair, meaning that they’re all fairly simple. While entertaining to look at, they aren’t utilised all that much to create different puzzles, mainly being used as a “here’s the thing, press the button” type deal and never going too much further than that. I was still generally happy to see Kirby stretch himself over any random object when given the chance, but the sense of excitement that came from seeing a new mouthful mode object began to fade fairly quickly. They’re still better than the Super Abilities from Return to Dreamland which sometimes felt more like a watching a cutscene than playing a game, however they also don’t blend in with the regular gameplay as well as the Robobot armour did. A weird and entertaining addition for sure, but not one that I see myself yearning for more of in the future.
Forgotten Land also offers a two player co-op mode, with player two taking control of Bandana Waddle Dee, and this is how I played the majority of the game (with myself playing as Kirby). In a similar vein to the co-star Luma from Galaxy 2, co-op feels more like an additional afterthought to a single player game to give your couch partner something to do other than simply just watching, rather than something that actually gets the two of you to work together. Bandana Dee has a tendency to teleport to Kirby whenever he goes too far away a bit too often, meaning that Player 2 rarely has the opportunity to do their own thing, and pretty much every mouthful mode transformation sticks Bandana Dee to Kirby, leaving them with no meaningful way to provide any input into what’s actually happening.
In the end we simply didn’t end up enjoying Forgotten Land as a co-op experience all that much, much preferring Return to Dreamland. Granted, it’s still a fine feature to have, especially to get a less experienced player to join in, however those with more video game experience would probably be better off playing through the game by themself, as they may find themselves a little bored by a lack of things to do while their Player 1 friend gets to do most of the more interesting stuff.
Now if there’s one aspect that I would have to give the game a 10 out of 10, it would be the cuteness factor. It’s impossible not to love Kirby and all of his innocent little dances or the way he excitedly says “Hi!” to everything or waves to his Waddle Dee friends (who now make their own cute voices) around the hub world or patiently waits for a bite while fishing or eagerly looks back at the capsule machine… there’s just too many cute moments present to list all of them. The synchronised dancing with Bandana Dee after beating one of the world’s bosses in particular is adorable and I love it to bits. Thankfully its cute stuff isn’t as nauseatingly overbearing as some other cutesy games can be, mostly making it count in the little things instead of throwing it constantly in your face, and knows when it’s appropriate to get a little more serious (or even somewhat unsettling).
The story this time around involves Kirby being warped to another dimension where he finds a new world that appears similar to a post-apocalyptic earth, where nature has began to reclaim the once-populated buildings. A new set of enemies by the name of the Beast Pack begin capturing Waddle Dees, and Kirby sets out to save them. It’s not a particularly in-depth plot and there are no real developments made until the very end of the game, where in usual Kirby style things ramp up pretty quickly, but it gets the job done for a platformer series that has never really been about plot anyway. I do sort of wish that there was at least a little bit more to digest about mid-way through the game because the villain’s goal is never really explored and they end up being kind of bland but it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Forgotten Land also uses its, well, “Forgotten Land” theme quite well in its level design, incorporating the crumbling architecture from the planets old inhabitants as different platforms or areas to explore. While I do think focusing on making things look more like a real place gets in the way of the exploration feeling more nature like I said earlier in the review, it still makes the world an immersive one to be in, and if that’s the sort of thing that you like, you’re not going to be disappointed here.
Forgotten Land features a more orchestral-sounding soundtrack this time around, with music that sounds like it has more nuance, with practically none of the usual loud, fast-paced, catchy tunes that previous games used often. This works particularly well for some of the slower-paced levels such as the snow world, however it also leaves a lot of the tracks being more on the forgettable side, and I think that a few catchier-style tunes would have been nice for a bit more variety and to let the others stand out a bit more. There’s also a surprising lack of remixes from old games here, which is particularly unusual compared to more recent games like Robobot which had a ton, but it also really sells that this game is the beginning of a new era of Kirby that doesn’t need rely on nostalgia pandering to make an impression, which I can understand. Overall I think the right word to describe the soundtrack is simply “nice”. It’s always pleasant to listen to and definitely won’t become grating or annoying, but you also likely won’t be humming any of the tunes to yourself once you’ve put the game down.
There’s a ton of things that I haven’t even mentioned here that add to the overall experience, whether it’s the hub world that gradually becomes bigger with more Waddle Dees saved, the few mini games that you can play such as a tilt ‘n’ tumble style motion control game, a figurine collection which also offers some insight on the boss characters, and a bunch of quality of life improvements like not dying when you fall off of a cliff, automatic checkpoints and the complete absence of the long outdated life system that make Forgotten Land feel like a complete and polished experience.
Overall, while Forgotten Land is definitely not my favourite entry in the series, it’s still a solid time all around and feels like the fresh new Kirby experience that the Switch was deserving of. But while it’s definitely a cut above Star Allies, it also doesn’t come anywhere near Robobot’s creativity, and I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted a bit more from the puffball’s first real 3D adventure. Regardless, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is an enjoyable game that’s easy to recommend to anyone, however I do have to wonder if it will hold up in the future when we inevitably get some bigger and better 3D Kirby games, or if this first attempt will simply end up like the world it takes place in, forgotten to time.
Disclaimer: Please do not look to Kirby as your fitness role model. Eating everything in sight is not good for your health. Do not attempt to eat any automobiles, as it may lead to possible injury.
All-Time Smash Merit Ranking
For our Shroom sections... It’s two fighters that together would cook up the spiciest bowl of ramen you’d ever had!
|Fighter Group||Ultimate Newcomers/Fighter's Pass 2|
|Game of Origin||ARMS (Nintendo Switch, 2017 (US/EU/JP)|
Before we knew that the Switch Smash Bros. was going to be called Ultimate. Obviously speculation went into overdrive as to what new franchises were going to get in Smash. We got Inkling basically from the get go. As it would turn out, the base game would only have Inkling in terms of new franchises. But that didn’t stop the likes of the Arcade Badge bunny, Ever Oasis characters, Captain Toad, Dragalia Lost characters, Astral Chain's duo, A labo representative, etc. from being suggested here and there. One new game that many thought was at least going to get one character was ARMS, a new fighting game that did seem to have a sort of main character/Ryu of the game in Spring Man
But to our surprise, Spring Man turned out to be only an Assist Trophy. Though we did think that perhaps ARMS just didn’t perform enough for Nintendo’s hopes. It certainly was not the runaway success that Splatoon had turned out to be. So maybe it just managed to miss the boat for Smash. But then for the very beginning of Fighter’s Pass 2, we don’t get an announcement of the character. But we do get one for what game the character is from. Leaving Speculation only narrowed down to those that are in the ARMS roster. Some thought there’d actually be a decent chance Spring Man would still be (or even said SHOULD be) the ARMS rep despite the Assist Trophy status. Or perhaps they were only projecting because they hoped another character (Say Waluigi, Shadow, Isaac, etc.) gets the same treatment. Others pointed to Ribbon Girl who also shares the box art with Spring Man and only represented with a Mii costume at the time. Mii costumes may have been seen as not as limiting as Assist Trophies are. Some wanted Twintelle… because they likely had a thing for her heh. Probably fair to say that most of the ARMS characters had someone advocating for them. But there could only be one. And at least in my opinion, they chose the right one.
As Min-Min is pretty much not only the fan favorite ARMS character, but she’s also the developer’s favorite. It was once reported that Min-Min won some sort of character tournament. And some wondered if maybe that tournament behind the scenes was deciding which character was going to be the Smash representative. Whether it could all just be coincidence or not. With Spring Man out of the way to being Assist Trophy’d, Min-Min rose up the ranks to manage to be the representative of ARMS. She’s also of note the only character that was a spirit that got upgraded into a playable character. Briefly giving some hopes up for others such as Geno fans before much like a certain flower girl, Sephiroth struck through the heart.
Min-Min’s trailer in Smash was also pretty fun. With Captain Falcon and Kirby there to dine on her ramen. They actually had to invite Captain Falcon’s voice actor to the studio just to record sounds of him slurping noodles and nothing else. Poor Spring Man might be the new Chrom though, having gotten to raise the letter before it’s punched out from him. Perhaps he’ll get his chance... another day. (I could see the next Smash having Min-Min and Spring Man together.)
As for any personal experience I had with ARMS, I did rent it at some point. But I just don’t think the game was for me really. The motion controls make it fun in short bursts but not something to repeatedly go back to. But, it certainly provided a unique part of the roster to have someone with such a reach. Even if said reach made Min-Min one of the most hated characters in the competitive scene. Particularly the Japanese competitive scene. Not being a competitive player myself I can’t get too much into detail as to why. But I’m sure there’s more experienced insight on that from others.
Regardless, it was a pretty low-key beginning to the 2nd Fighter’s Pass that probably tempered expectations a bit after the first Fighter’s pass had mostly 3rd Parties. As it would turn out there would only be one (or well, technically two-in-one) more Nintendo character in the pass. But then the rest was pretty much back to 3rd parties. Including the real winner of the ballot. However you feel about Ultimate’s DLC, the 2nd Fighter’s Pass was certainly a ride. And Min-Min left us unassuming of what was in store for us.
And now, we get to none other then the big bad of the Mario series himself…
|Fighter Group||Melee Veterans|
|Game of Origin||Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985 (US/JP), 1987 (EU)|
Being this is a Mario character, again there’s no need for an introduction as we have an entire Bowser article here on the wiki,
But in just talking about him personally, he always seems to have some kind of big presence. In nearly all the platformers, he’s always a recurring boss and quite often a giant version of him or some other type of form he takes is the final boss. In Mario Party, you fear landing on his space. Especially in the games that he can outright take your hard-earned stars. in the RPG games, he tends to be one of the funniest characters In any spin-off game he’s playable in, his large size makes him the de facto heavy, slow, but powerful character of the roster.
With how long Bowser’s been around. He just has so many interpretations and/or ways he goes about his evil. For the most part he’s still generally just continued to save Princess Peach. But the why for that has varied. Is it perhaps Bowser has a thing for Peach as implied by the Paper Mario games? Is it just a move for power over the Mushroom Kingdom like it seems to be in the main platformers? Perhaps he just does it to antagonize Mario some more in an eternal rivalry with him. Maybe it’s a little of all of the above. Though sometimes Bowser’s just a big ol’ troll, especially in the aforementioned Mario Party games.
Perhaps the game that Bowser was at his most badass, was Strikers Charged where he has sharp metal claws that only look more intimidating when Bowser does a mega strike. Though of course, maybe that had recently been outdid by the Bowser’s Fury mode in the Switch version of Super Mario 3D World (I have not gotten that game so I admit I haven’t experienced Bowser’s fury for myself)
In the Smash Bros. games him being heavy and slow was often a detriment. He was for the most part outclassed by any fighters in Melee and it didn’t really get that much better for him in Brawl. Smash 4 and by extension Ultimate did help him a bit by making much faster despite his power making him something of a force to be reckoned with. Though he’ll still have trouble with some of the quicker characters naturally, as his size makes him quite vulnerable to combos that will wrack up damage. I never gravitated much towards slow, powerful characters most of the time so Bowser has not exactly been a favorite of mine to use. But he can be fun to just smack an opponent around with his powerful smash attacks.
Though one last thing about Bowser that I think over time’s become a little more endearing about him. Is despite being the most recurring Nintendo antagonist there’s that sinking feeling he’s really not all that bad of a guy deep down. I mean, I don’t take that to mean like the Mario Bros. and their friends are actually the villains per se. Bowser still has his fair share of times he deserved to get s smacking around by Mario. But there are the instances where a game’s plot was just a play all along such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mario Party 2. Now we can’t make that a sample size for every Mario game. But when you combine those games with all the spin-off games where Mario and the game play sports. They often invite Bowser along to play with them, which isn’t exactly the attitude you’d give to someone who’s legit kidnapped the princess just about a hundred times. Now Bowser is of course isn’t the most innocent Nintendo “villain” there is. I think we could count more times Dedede had to be possessed in order to attack Kirby where as Bowser has indeed attacked Mario on his own volition numerous times. But he’s the fun Saturday Morning villain that’s never meant to be truly defeated, just coming back for the next week for a new episode/adventure.
And of course, that’s not even getting into how Bowser is seen as a pretty good dad for Bowser Jr… granted he’d probably be an even better dad if he didn’t make his son (Or the Koopalings, who seem to be at least be adopted children if you're with Miyamoto's assessment that the Koopalings aren't his children by blood) antagonize the Mushroom kingdom. But between some goofy outfits and being protective of Jr., Bowser’s shown his fun side in more recent years. When he’s being truly threatening, it’s good to be able to kick Bowser in the teeth in the platforms. However, him having a softer side under that spiky exterior makes him enjoyable in some other ways that warm the heart for certain.
Now to see where these two stack up in the rankings. ARMS being a one-off game so far and nowhere near the instant success that Splatoon saw definitely limits how far Min-Min can go. I think she deserves to be higher then Byleth though for being a unique franchise rep, though under the likes of Mythra. Putting her in-between the three Switch game representatives that came in throughout the DLC.
Bowser on the other hand we have to give special consideration on being the most recurring antagonist in Nintendo history. I think he should be above Pac-Man when it comes to Smash merit despite Pac-Man having more of an all-encompassing game merit. I still account for relevance to Nintendo. And as such Bowser’s major appearances in many Mario games outranks Pac-Man’s history on Nintendo consoles. I will however put Bowser below fellow Mario character Luigi. Not just because Luigi is older thanks to the Mario Bros. arcade game, but Luigi is playable in more games then Bowser is. I feel in most cases an iconic Player 2 should warrant more consideration then the main villain even if some disagree with that assessment (Though that may be partly me justifying wanting Tails over Dr. Eggman if it came down to a choice between them for another Sonic character). But even ignoring that, it feels more right to have both Mario Bros. over Bowser in the merits. Bowser can’t beat Mario or Luigi in any of the platformers. Shouldn’t be surprising that they rank above him in other ways too.
|1. Link||21. Wii Fit Trainer|
|2. Luigi||22. Chrom|
|3. Bowser||23. Dr. Mario|
|4. Pac-Man||24. Dark Pit|
|5. Diddy Kong||25. Piranha Plant|
|6. Banjo & Kazooie|
|7. King K. Rool|
|8. Sonic the Hedgehog|
|9. Rosalina & Luma|
|15. Duck Hunt|
|19. Min Min|
To help celebrate Yoshi876 (talk)’s 100th issue with The ‘Shroom as Spotlight Manager, I’ll be following the theme of his extraordinarily buff pecs and abs and reviewing some fitness-adjacent food items! While there are certainly more direct fitness foods and consumables, such as protein powders, my goal here isn’t to actually properly work out and become buff. Instead focusing on snacks and mimics that provide concealed protein or energy boosts, as those benefits promised are something I can actually use during my 12-hour shifts at work or long drives across the country, and also make some attempt to appear to be a stomachable treat. Will any of these triumph over such perfect cookies like Trader Joe’s Chocolatey Coated Chocolate Chip Dunkers and propel me into a new era of tangentially-healthy eating? I severely doubt it, but let’s see how close!
Lenny & Larry’s
Hiding healthy nutrients in the shape of a big cookie is a strategy powerful enough to land Lenny & Larry’s in basically every grocery and convenience store, from the grimiest of gas stations to luxe gourmet supermarkets. Aside from shelf visibility, my awareness of this brand was made possible by my one brother suddenly eating a whole ton of these while he was working on bettering his diet and to get rock-solid abs. Packed with protein and fiber, plant-based with non-GMO ingredients, cruelty-free, with many products lacking dairy, soy, eggs, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners, but my favorite actual factoid about this company was that it was founded by two incredibly buff musclebros named Benny and Barry. Despite all of their virtuous accolades people still have gripes about their use of palm oil, which the farming of leads directly to mass deforestation and subsequent negative contributions to climate change.
It’s also curious and notable to mention that Lenny & Larry’s settled a lawsuit over their nutrition label and protein content, which claimed that the stated protein content was well over what actually was present. They denied the claim but settled just to move on, and unfortunately the evidence and information used in the case is not available. What this translates to our use for is that a significant amount of search results for reviews of their products are near-conspiracy theory level deep dives into whether they’re actually healthy or not, when all I effectively care about is do they taste good.
The Complete Cookie
Their The Complete Cookie line, which honestly has an astonishing variety of flavors that still all make sense for traditional cookies, is basically their main line and flagship cookies. What makes The Complete Cookies complete is that they all have 16 grams of plant-based protein (mostly from peas and rice), and 10 grams of fiber, all while not running afoul of a vegan diet. For the complete Complete list of what makes the Complete complete is: Non-GMO Project verified, no soy, no dairy, no egg, vegan, kosher, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial sweeteners, 0g sugar alcohols, and sustainable palm oil. Their explanation of what Complete is also states “It’s time to throw away those inedible protein bars (...)”, satisfying protein and fiber needs without compromising taste or causing stomach aches.
Double Chocolate Chip
This Double Chocolate Chip cookie is a good example of a gustatory version of uncanny valley. Not too bad, but not too good, I had no desire to continue eating much of it except for the fact that it was basically the only food I had packed for a 12 hour drive in an effort to force myself to eat it. The chicory root is very present, and if you’re unfamiliar with what that is just go ahead and get basically any alternative anything, from dairy, to snacks, to protein powders, and you’ll taste the same exact thing in all of them–vague earthy herby woody kinda bitter something. Weirdly soft, kinda like Chips-Ahoy Chewy which is a texture I sincerely believe needs to be outlawed. Despite that, it’s still pretty dense, approaching more like a thick brownie. I can’t say that I was energized with these on my long drives, and the meal replacement aspect of them felt more like it was due to my appetite being soured than my hunger being sated, so, meh.
After what I experienced with the Double Chocolate I can’t say my expectations were high, but I was glad to be proven wrong, and even more glad as snickerdoodles are one of my favorite cookies. Pretty indistinguishable from a regular snickerdoodle cookie; the cinnamon is there, it’s soft and chewy, there’s even molasses to give it that warm sweetness.
A curious thing I saw with the webpage for this, though, is it says “up to 16g of protein”, a cheeky and subtle cover against their lawsuit and settlement.
The Ketogenic diet, colloquially ‘keto’, is a trendy diet focusing on avoiding carbs and prioritizing proteins, and has managed to attain a stranglehold on the entire healthy food sphere. It’s important to note that keto isn’t a true universal diet, and more catered towards curbing extreme obesity, and may pose more risks than benefits to a significant amount of people. Essentially, all Lenny & Larry’s Keto line achieves is a low-carb product, with only 3 grams as opposed to ~27 grams in the Complete line, but still with 9 grams of protein. There’s currently only two flavors, and I got them both.
Straight up not good, no mincing that in any other way. Why is it so thick, it’s like a hockey puck! I’ll give it points that it was recognizably peanuty, but it was annoyingly crumbly for something that’s advertised as being creamy. The big ‘NEW & Improved’ on the bag makes me very concerned over what it used to be like.
Surprisingly not too bad, but still plagued with that telltale pea-protein and chicory root flavor that pretty much all plant-based foods have. The chocolate chips provide a welcome variation in texture because otherwise it’s just kind of a mass of crumbs temporarily glommed together, like moon sand. I can’t tell you why the peanut pieces in the Peanut Butter didn’t provide this same relief. Its packaging features a big ‘New & Improved’ bit, and it seems that what is new and improved is the flavor, sweetness, and closer accuracy to an actual cookie
The Complete Crunchy Cookies
These ones were a bit harder to find, as the information provided on their Where To Buy page wasn’t too helpful, not by their own fault, but rather the stores just not having them in stock or placing them in a place that made sense. I’m sure I walked right by them a few times at some stores, and I can understand why, as they straddle the line of several types of foods that have designated sections: protein, health, cookies, snacks, vegan, organic/non-gmo. Eventually I found two varieties at Whole Foods, in the same aisle but across from their other cookies, way up on the top shelf with some other expensive niche bags of cookies. I went out of my way to buy these after I had tried the others because I found myself struggling most with the texture of them as a fault, and held onto hope that making them crunchy would eliminate that problem altogether.
And with these, hope turned into reality, as despite them having pretty similar ingredients (namely pea protein and chicory root fiber) the crisp and crunchy texture took precedence. This is the first item I’ve had from them that I found myself willingly adding to my lunch rather than being an obligation I begrudgingly accept as a necessary research task for reviewing. They’re not anything magnificent, just taste like a regular extremely crunchy bite-sized cookie, and it’s either miraculous or fraudulent for a protein cookie to achieve this. My only critique against them would be I’d appreciate them more if they were more a Famous Amos crunchy consistency as these approach burnt biscotti levels of tooth shattering, but otherwise great job!
Along with all of the qualities I praised in the Crunchy Chocolate Chip, this one differs only in it having a more pronounced cocoa flavor, which, if I’m reading the ingredients correctly, appears to be by virtue of mixing some alkali cocoa powder into the mix. It doesn’t taste as sweet, or as balanced, as the Chocolate Chip, but if you’re a fan of how dry unflavored hot cocoa mix tastes then have at it. Notable with this and all of the other cookies of theirs that have chocolate chips is that the chocolate pieces aren’t hard chunks, and tend to be more soft and melty; something I was a bit surprised with, and happened to like.
Overall, with Lenny & Larry’s, there are just better ways to get extra protein, tastier, more flavorful, and perhaps even more convenient as these (at least The Complete) cookies are just a bit too large for them to taste as off-putting as many of them do. The amount of sugar in these will probably scare some people off, especially if you’re coming at this thinking it’s healthy food rather than just a virtue-cookie with a bit of fiber and protein powder sprinkled on. Someone else will have to run the numbers for me but I contend it’s healthier to just have regular cookies that taste and feel good, and then have a decent protein-filled meal before basic exercise–or even just a handful of peanuts. The price of each cookie hovers around $2, plus or minus a couple of dimes depending on which line you get and from which store you get them, which sits around the same price as king size candy bars, and the little benefit they gave me would never supercede the satisfaction of a Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels, so unless I decide to do a review gauntlet of every iteration and flavor, I can’t see myself personally ever getting these again. Overall, though, it certainly is a halfway feel-good cookie where you can kinda cheat on your diet, but fall back on some bonus points, and these have likely finally pushed me to the point where I need to start including nutrition facts and numbers in my critiques.
Clif Bar & Company
Clif is one of those companies that has almost become synonymous with the field they are in; not near Kleenex and Band-Aid, but it’s often what comes to mind first when you’re going out to get some kind of health-adjacent energy bar. Expanded well beyond their basic energy bar, they have Nut Butter Bars, Duos, Cereals, Thins, LUNA (a women’s nutrition bar), Zbars, energy chews, energy gel shots, drink mixes, brownie bites, artisan foods, and plant-based jerky for pets. Honestly I’m kind of just amazed that there’s no Controversies tab on their Wikipedia page, so go give that a read for solid history.
Sitting at a comfortable 2/$3 on sale at Sprouts, regularly $1.69, their first and flagship product, the CLIF Bar is branded as performance nutrition, a better choice, Non-GMO, sustainable ingredients, many (if not all) products being certified organic. High in protein, fat, and carbs to help support sustained energy during sports or outdoor activities, actions they align themselves with closely as self-proclaimed stewards of the environment and frequent sponsoring of athletes. With the sugar content but relatively low calories, this really shouldn’t act as a meal replacement or be treated as a healthy food outside of exercise, but they’re still packing a lot of varied nutrients and are pretty good for quick energy for endurance and following high-intensity activities. Definitely has soy, nuts, milk, wheat, and other allergens, and doesn’t seem to be a brand that focuses on catering to those. Rolled oats and 15+ flavors, let’s see what it’s about.
Nice and sweet, no weird flavor or aftertaste. Kinda just feels like a granola bar that invested more in the gunk that makes it chewy than the granola. The chocolate pieces are flavorful and noticeable. Pretty heavy and dense relative to other chewy granola bars, and also feels more filling as a result. There’s something in there that’s a bit crunchy–the oats, maybe–that’s really satisfying.
Peanut Butter Banana with Dark Chocolate
Sticky to the touch, as evident by it having a sheen and being sorta limp, and I’m chalking that up entirely to the inclusion of bananas. Not getting as much peanut butter flavor from it as I’d like, but definitely getting banana and chocolate. Nice sweet flavor and smell, with no weird aftertaste that I was expecting.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut
By now I can tell that these all seem to have a similar taste profile, the same kinda sweetness, the same kinda chewy texture with bits of crunch, a winning formula they’ve found and then expanded into a bunch of flavors subtly made with differing add-ins. This one now has a white chocolate squiggle on top, how fun. It certainly tastes like what it says it does, and you can readily identify each declared inclusion and flavor.
Not sure what’s crisp about it any more than the other bars–perhaps the three shaved almonds?–but those sure are blueberries in there. I appreciate that they base the flavor on actual blueberries and nothing more, because fake blueberry flavor is just one of the few fake fruit flavors that is hard for me to accept.
For $1.99 on sale at Sprouts, originally $2.29, you can get what pretty much looks like a regular chocolate candy bar that got lost in the health aisle on its way to the checkout impulse rack. Non-GMO, complete plant protein, low glycemic (digests slowly to prolong energy and sate appetite), gluten free, vegan, no surprise here. These carry a whopping 20g of soy-based protein and 30g of carbs per serving, with no trickery as one single serving is simply the whole bar. Lots of vitamins and minerals, plus amino acids to aid in muscle recovery after exhausting workouts. The sugar content is also high, but if you’re eating these for their intended purpose of supporting muscle-building and exercising, then there’s no issue here. For my purposes, I ate them on my lunch break while sitting in a cozy swivel chair.
Chocolate Peanut Butter
It resembles a regular chocolate bar, and pretty much tastes like one too. Chocolate covering, with a layer of peanut butter on top of a couple layers of crunchy rice stuff. The price is also comparable to what king-size chocolate bars cost now, anyways. Pretty filling, without making me feel nauseous or bloated. They’re actually pretty good, with only a tiny suspicious hint of it not being just another candy bar. Genuinely felt energized after this. It’s not going to fit the same niche as a Snickers bar or something, but it does a good enough job to make you feel like you made a better choice while still feeling a bit naughty.
Same general structure as the Chocolate Peanut Butter, including the sheer density of it. Maybe it was the mint flavor, combined with how easily I can scarf down anything chocolate and peanut butter, but this one was a bit more difficult to eat completely; not as a sign of bad taste, but it just felt heavier and extended beyond the point of feeling full to instead starting to feel bloated. Still satisfied a craving for something chocolatey and minty, without feeling overwhelming with menthol feeling
Neither the Bars nor the Builders seem like they should be categorized as healthy food, or healthy options, but rather a subtle tweak as healthier* options. Relative to traditional sweets and candy bars, Clif produces products that satisfy a number of cravings while providing an option that at least attempts to do something for you by way of protein, fiber, and energy. With their sugar content, though, you still need to exercise, move around, actually do something to burn that energy–which is entirely what the point of these even are and not just some marketing trick–or else it will translate to increased weight, mitigating the benefits. On top of them just being consistently good, the company seems to be pretty nice and responsible, which is always a treat, so perhaps I’ll expand out and try the rest of their dozen other products.
Stories of humble beginnings, founded by a couple best friends, one of whom is the son of owners of a large fruit-processing plant, conveniently, and subsequently bought up by Kellogg’s for $600 million a couple years later, RXBAR is a brand of protein bars and adjacent products that brands and prides itself entirely on ”no b.s.”–transparency and simplicity. In a quote I find myself adoring, and I’m sure is what sold investors on appealing to more than just tight niche markets: “He recounts how he and his partner realized that most protein bars were either “hippie non-GMO organic” ones with no real functionality or, at the other end of the spectrum, “meathead” energy bars that were all about performance.” Before being acquired, the friends made their business successful by starting and staying small, selling door-to-door, doing online sales, and working hard to slip into and become synonymous with the CrossFit craze. Soon enough their ‘no b.s.’ brand took shape in their easily identifiable logos that present in bold and foremost what they are made of: Egg whites, dried fruits, nuts, and dates.
Just hard work, humble beginnings, and $500k from your father. No B.S. Anyone can do it.
Chocolate Sea Salt
As the main focus of the minimalist package says, it’s made from egg whites, dates, cashews, almonds, chocolate, cocoa, sea salt, and natural flavors. No dairy, soy, or gluten, but the egg whites inside that help up the protein content are assuredly not vegan. Their simplicity covers a lot of health food woes, such as lacking sugar alcohols that can make you gassy, and withholding the chicory root and other nonsense protein fillers. 12g of protein for the whole thing, which is about on par with similar products.
More importantly, though, that behind the punchy slogan and attractive label is just truly garbage. My immediate reaction on taking my first bite was precipitated by my brothers taking audience to this trial, both of them grimacing as I opened the package, with my one more niche-health-product-attuned brother exclaiming from across the room “is that dates, I can tell that’s dates, Larabars are disgusting.” Their judgment did not affect me as I’m used to them icking at things I’m about to try, and I usually relish the reaction and ham up things like how chunky the milk I’m about to drink is or something, but they found pure joy in my involuntary reaction as I took my first bite: loudly exclaiming “Ugh, BAD, NOT good!” Incredibly dense with an off-putting mix of savory and sweet, and not only is the taste horrible, but the texture is wildly bad as well. The chocolate is not noticeable at all, and the sea salt, while it certainly tries to make an appearance, is just overwhelmed by the fermented raisin flavor of dates. It really just feels like stale taffy that got dried out and expired years ago but you spent too much money on it so you try to eat it anyways but end up choking and dying. The cashews and almonds provide some necessary texture within the chewiness, like something to focus on while you bite into it, but they’re pretty much kept large and solid and end up just contributing to feeling like my teeth are about to shatter.
The best way I can think of describing this is imagine the worst Cosmic Brownie you’ve ever had, and just make it denser, stickier, drier, all of the worst qualities of a Cosmic Brownie multiplied, and now make it taste like dates.
The blueberry flavor is strong in this, but not enough to overcome the dates, or at least it just really doesn’t go well together with it. Do I just not like dates? I’ve had them before and thought they were alright, if just a bit too much like tasting the power of 100 old raisins all at once, but I haven’t had dates mashed up with egg whites and nuts before and maybe that changes things. Incredibly difficult to chew without feeling like I was putting the fate of my dental crowns, fillings, and teeth in general at risk of being gummed onto and yanked out. While I can’t deny that chewing more is scientifically supported to quell appetites and aid digestion, I can deny this gooey slab’s curse of costing me another thousand dollars at the dentist by chucking it in the trash, an act I’m more than willing to do because it tastes like absolute crap. What’s the point of a simple and healthy food item if I can’t even get it to go down my throat? I could just cook up some eggs for much cheaper, and graze a few blueberries at the grocery store, and have a much better time doing so. There’s no need to suffer anymore, so why are we doing this to ourselves? If convenience is the selling point for you, with all of these ingredients gummed together in one handheld slab, then shop around for any of the other 40 brands or so of protein objects at your favorite store. Have some trail mix instead.
Layers Chocolate Almond
After absolutely hating the first two, in the spirit of Jenny Nicholson I went out to find other iterations of this brand to see just how thorough my disgust is, and where I ended up was at Target buying RXBAR Layers. Unfortunately it only came in a box of 4 that cost $8.49, and was precipitated by the standard Target worker mechanisms of them bringing out their entire rack of items to stock and parking it in front of a full ¼ of the aisle and conveniently right in front of where I wanted to look while the worker remained in a hazy retail trance unaware of my presence, which served as the banshee scream of my impending demise.
Advertised as half wholesome (the smashed dates) and half indulgent (the peanut butter brick), RXBAR Layers follows the brand’s theme of being what it says: a protein bar with layers. Alleged to be chewy, creamy, crunchy, the same non-nonsense protein bar you know but now with added indulgence. There’s currently two flavors–Peanut Butter Chocolate, and Chocolate Almond–and the one I was able to find within 15 miles of me was Chocolate Almond. A single bar holds 250 calories and 14g of protein, the most of any of their products. I’ll give it a pinch of credit, I didn’t immediately hate it, but I was more perplexed. It tasted almost like nothing at all, and was just entirely texture and a weird dry raisin aftertaste. The chocolate chunks had absolutely no flavor, like, completely devoid of anything and seemed only to serve as a proximity mine to instantly melt as soon as my finger went near it. The peanut butter, which I was looking towards as my salvation, was just so incredibly dehydrating with no nuttiness to it at all, as if the inside of a Reese’s cup was left to bake in the sun for a couple weeks before being retired to the underside of your bed. The two layers felt pretty distinct, too, and were a bit frustrating to bite into, as the peanut butter layer would just disintegrate while the date layer would immediately get stuck to every part of my teeth it managed to touch as I struggled to chew. For a brand whose motto is “No B.S.” I’m calling complete bullshit on their pushed press release marketing focusing on them being clean because while they may have simple ingredients, I feel absolutely filthy and gummed up, and if I don’t brush my teeth soon they’re likely going to befall the same fate as the peanut butter layer. I’m thankful that a product that persists so long and easily in my mouth at least doesn’t taste like stale garbage, but I’d appreciate it if it tasted like anything at all.
As I’m typing out this review, on my phone I’m actively checking to see if Target accepts returns and refunds on opened food items.
As I’m a masochist, further I went down the RXBAR hole. I actually have real hope in these as the package veers away hard from their standard declaration. They eschew the bold and brazen listing of ingredients and replace it with “5 Core Ingredients, Plant-Based Protein, Soft & Chewy, No B.S.” because I assume that ‘pea protein’ isn’t an attractive selling point when what people found appealing in your mainline products was specifically their lack of pea protein. Also notable is that the list’s font size is decreased to a similar size as the logo that is purposely diminutive, with ‘Plant’ taking the starring role. Nutrients are about the same, just a little less protein, maybe a little more sugar, but what these effectively are are vegan versions of their mainline bars.
Visibly drier, like it looks like desiccated flesh, none of that gummy and oily sheen. Crumbly and feels chalky when biting into it, so make sure you have water nearby. I’m thankful that they’re not as hard, firm, and chewy, though, in lieu of their package saying ‘Soft & Chewy’ which is another load of b.s. from the no b.s. company. It smells like an off-brand hot cocoa candle, and the flavor leans towards inoffensive, which with other food items would be a detriment, but with RXBAR the less I taste the more palatable it is. Absolutely no chocolate flavor at all, not at all reminiscent of a chocolate chip cookie. This convinced me that the problem with the mainline bars is not the dates, but rather the egg whites, as that’s the only significant difference.
Ok, now, this one tastes like...pleasant? I won’t say good, or enjoyable, or anything I would desire to eat again, but I ate the whole thing and felt no bit of disgust. The peanut butter tastes like dried out crusts from one of those grocery store fresh peanut butter grinders in the bulk food sections, and by no means is it anything like Reese’s peanut butter filling, Jenny, shame on you. It has a more natural taste with no creaminess, and any sweetness coming subtly from the dates, taking note from a vegan snackfood crutch. I think it’s a misnomer to call it ‘peanut butter’, and it would be more accurate to just say it’s ‘peanut’, as those two names evoke completely different tastes and feelings, and what this bar provides is more aligned with simply peanut.
Despite this minor victory, I’m not yet sure if I’ll try any of their other products, like the cereal or the oats. Maybe they’ll be different, being a completely different format entirely, but my trust with the company itself is low and I don’t want them to have any more of my money.
I love highlighting other reviews that do an excellent job, and if I have nothing else to thank RXBAR for, this will be it; a review by Maverick Baking that knocked me off my feet with the sharp honesty that I love to imbue my own commentary with. In a sea of review bloggers who, presumably through gritted teeth, praised these protein bars to the heaven for their ‘delicious’, it’s always fulfilling and validating to find someone committed to just giving a real review.
|The 'Shroom: Issue 181|
|Staff sections||Staff Notes • The 'Shroom Spotlight|
|Features||Fake News • Fun Stuff • Palette Swap • Pipe Plaza • Critic Corner • Strategy Wing|