The 'Shroom:Issue 193/Critic Corner
Welcome to April! The month where you go "wow, it's already April?", a stark difference from March where you were "I can't believe it's already March!" But it's true! It's already April! Halfway through it, actually, which brings you here, to Critic Corner, to get your monthly dose of reviews and commentary! Kick back, relax, and soon enough it will be September.
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 Meta Knight 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||18||72.00%||Hypnotoad (talk)|
|2nd||Book Review||3||12.00%||FunkyK38 (talk)|
|2nd||'Shroom FM||3||12.00%||MrConcreteDonkey (talk)|
Hey all, Cosmic here! I’m writing a Character Review now! No reason, I just felt like it (read: I’ve owed this to Waluigi Time for months now). Anyways, this character is a little something special, because characters like her are a bit hard to come by in modern media! So, she’s something special to me! Well, without any further delay, I’d like to introduce: "Bridget!". She’s a fighter from the Guilty Gear series, and just look at her! She’s such a cutie pie!! Okay, so as a fellow transfem, I may have a bias towards Bridget, but there's a lot that makes her stand out on her own merits!
As I said, Bridget is a transgender woman. But, it’s really her road to realizing that which makes her so lovable as a character, besides being cute as all heck. So, you all know the whole “same-gender twins are evil” belief? So, Bridget comes from a British town that still uses that idea in the 21st century. So, what do Bridget’s loving parents do? Why, raise her as a girl, of course! Now, that may sound scummy, but Bridget’s parents treated her no differently than her twin, loving and nurturing her and giving her a good childhood. However, her parents did feel guilty for forcing her to be something that she wasn’t (or, wasn’t at the time), so once of age, Bridget set out as a bounty hunter to prove to her parents that she could be a good boy. However, fast forward after a few successful years as a bounty hunter, trying to be a man just doesn’t feel right for Bridget. And after some soul searching (aka an entire arcade campaign), she finally admits that she feels a lot better by being what she’s really been the entire time: a girl! Seeing her struggles in arcade mode really hits close to home for me, or any other transgender person (not just transfems) who struggle to identify what they want out of themselves. Being afraid of rejection and oppression is a struggle that many people feel in the real world, and applying that to Bridget gives those people a character to relate to and make them feel seen.
That aside, overall, Bridget’s personality and design go hand in hand: bright, warm, and bubbly! And, if you can’t tell with that yo-yo and teddy bear of hers, she’s totally into everything cute. She’s been in the series since Guilty Gear XX, and reappearing in Strive, unfortunately as paid DLC, but I can accept the price. I can live with contributing to capitalism if it means I have Bridget in my life.
Like I said, Bridget is one of those rare characters in media that makes people feel seen and welcome, and Arc System Works really hit gold with this character. I hope you all enjoyed this character review, and please let me know if I should write any more! Ciao!
(By the way, take a listen to her theme song! It lives rent free in my head.)
Andrea - Due in Color
Really enjoyed Andrea's last album Ritorno and very much felt the same towards this! A lot of cool and intricate breakbeats, very atmospheric and dense, lovely to sink into.
boygenius - the record
Generally mixed feelings towards this. The songwriting is definitely deep, personal and emotive, but the music itself just doesn't grab me, and there's not a huge amount that stands out when it comes to the vocals or harmonies. There's a really cool moment at the end of '$20' with a lot of vocal layering, but - unless it passed me by - little else about it stood out to me. But if you're a big fan of this modern indie folk sound then you'll probably get a lot more out of it than I will.
JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown - SCARING THE HOES ⭐
Very precise and off-the-wall beats; the feeling that they almost shouldn't work makes them work even better. Both Peggy and Danny have a huge amount of energy; they're engaging and fun to listen to, and their styles work great together. I'd imagine some might find the noisy and eclectic production style to get a bit tiring towards the end, but nonetheless there's a huge range of ideas and things going on here, and it all comes together amazingly well.
Yves Tumor - Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)
Big fan of Yves Tumor's 2018 album Safe in the Hands of Love and - even though it didn't hit as many highs for me - also liked their 2020 follow-up Heaven to a Tortured Mind - unfortunately quite a bit of Praise a Lord... didn't do much for me. There's some great moments here, particularly the run of three tracks at the start, and 'Echolalia' towards the end. That said, my favourite track was the closer, 'Ebony Eye', the soaring instrumentation here was a real highlight for me.
Kali Uchis - Red Moon in Venus
The album opens (following a short intro) with "I Wish You Roses", which is great, very lush and laid-back. But from then onwards, nothing in the first half really comes anywhere near it - a lot of "nice" songs but none that really stand out. Things do improve from "Endlessly" onwards, thankfully, and there's plenty of cool ideas towards the end. Overall I liked this as a whole, even if a few individual tracks didn't do anything for me.
Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy
This came out in early February and I meant to review it last month, but as I listened to it so early it slipped my mind. Don't take that as a comment on the album, the album is very good. There's a huge range of sounds here and a rich atmosphere. The best tracks here build up into huge, intense peaks. 'Geronimo' in particular has a superb melody and grows in a really subtle but rewarding way.
I'd also like to pay tribute here - as best I can - to Ryuichi Sakamoto, who passed away on March 28th. I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I thought it was apt seeing as I'd covered his most recent album a few months ago, and he was an incredible musician and composer - so I thought it'd be nice to share some of his work here.
Firstly, if you're not familiar with his solo work, then 1996 is a great place to start. The album consists of arrangements of some of his most famous work, all of which are enthralling and it's very rewarding to take a moment to listen to.
His most well-known solo track is "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence" - an instrumental from the 1983 film of the same name. It's just such an incredible piece of music - gorgeous and warm but also quite bittersweet. There's a lot of different versions of this and it's hard to say which is the best - there's the original instrumental from the film; the version with vocals from David Sylvian, titled "Forbidden Colours"; the version from 1996; or the version from the official music video:
Sakamoto was also a third of the influential electric trio, Yellow Magic Orchestra, composing many of their biggest hits and providing keyboards and occasional vocals - Yukihiro Takahashi, the group's lead vocalist and drummer, also sadly passed away in January this year. The band's first two albums in particular - Yellow Magic Orchestra and Solid State Survivor - are a lot of fun to listen to, and still sound fantastic and well ahead of their time.
My favourite YMO song is probably "Tong Poo", which was written by Sakamoto - though the song of theirs I've been listening to most recently is "Pespective", from one of their later albums:
Finally, if you haven't listened to his most recent album 12, it's well worth checking out if you're a fan of Sakamoto or enjoy ambient music.
Thanks for reading.
A Report on the Effectiveness of Power-Ups
At ease, troops, and welcome to an informative session on advancements in tools to combat the Koopa Kingdom. I apologize for my absence last month, but don't worry, I wasn't on some sort of vacation (a good soldier never rests). Instead, I was on safari deep within Donkey Kong Island, studying the animals of the Island and researching to see which of them would make good soldiers.
Quawks the Parrot
The apparent cousin to the more familiar Squawks the Parrot, Quawks is kind of a weird Animal Buddy, first appearing in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. Quawks only appears in a single level, that being Parrot Chute Panic in Gloomy Gulch. Here, Quawks is not a singular character; rather, he's a series of identical parrots (who, fun fact, were, for a long time, listed on the Mario Wiki as a character named Flapper the Parrot). These parrots, who are all named Quawks, I guess, are used simply to carry Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong down the level, allowing them to avoid the Zingers who live inside the hive. Unlike the more familiar Squawks, Quawks can't fly upwards or shoot eggs, so his only role is to slowly glide down the level, which is pretty lame honestly! Quawks would also appear in the pseudo-sequel/retelling Game Boy game Donkey Kong Land 2, where he/they once again only appear in the level Parrot Chute Panic. Here, thanks to the Game Boy's limited technological capabilities, the Kongs use an Animal Barrel to turn into Quawks directly. Other than that, he functions the exact same.
So, yeah, Quawks' first time helping the Kongs was kind of lame. He was just a worse Squawks. But luckily for our purple friend, he would get a chance in the superior (fight me) Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble, also for the SNES. Here, Quawks would only appear in two levels, these being Low-G Labyrinth and Buzzer Barrage. Unlike in Donkey Kong Country 2 where he was rideable, in Donkey Kong Country 3, Quawks only appears as an Animal Buddy you transform into from an Animal Barrel. Here, Quawks once again cannot spit eggs, but at least this game gives him the ability to hold and drop barrels, so he can at least defend himself that way. Also, he's learned how to fly upwards, so you at least get the full range of motion! Yeah, I'm not gonna lie. He's again just basically a worse Squawks, but he does have one tiny advantage over regular Squawks. Since he only appears as a transformation, he has a smaller hit box than Squawks does in some of the Squawks levels. In some of the Squawks levels, the Kongs ride Squawks instead of transforming into him. This makes the hit box bigger because, if an enemy hits one of the Kongs, they lose that Kong. But that's not really an advantage Quawks has over Squawks. It's more of a mechanic in the game. Also Quawks is the only Animal Friend to not appear in Dixie's Photo Album, because not even the Kongs like Quawks, I guess.
Quawks would never get another appearance in a mainline Donkey Kong game, not even appearing in Donkey Kong Land III, the Game Boy sequel to Donkey Kong Country 3. Instead, Quawks would make make only one further appearance in Donkey Kong Barrel Blast as an item, which makes sense. I mean, the new games don't even use the Animal Buddies that are actually cool (come back Squitter!), let alone waste a spot on something that already existed in a better and more iconic form, so why would they even bring Quawks back? Like I said, Quawks is probably the weirdest Animal Buddy, because he really doesn't have a reason to exist. Everything he can do, Squawks can already do, so he basically only exists as a worse of version of Squawks.
Expresso the Ostrich
One of Cranky Kong's favorite Animal Buddies, Expresso the Ostrich, as his name suggests, is an ostrich! First appearing in the original Donkey Kong Country, Expresso only appears in four of the game's levels. Expresso is also kind of a different Animal Buddy, because, despite wearing shoes and despite the fact that ostriches are quite fearsome in real life, Expresso cannot harm enemies! In fact, jumping on an enemy harms Expresso! Expresso instead excels in more strategic areas! Expresso is by far the fastest Animal Buddy in the game, which makes sense, because ostriches are quite fast. Also, while Expresso cannot fly, he can (by pressing "b" or holding "b") glide until he hits the ground. Expresso even has a little bit of a double jump, because going into the glide motion causes Expresso to jump higher than the initial jump. Finally, while Expresso can't kill anything, certain small enemies such as Klaptrap will simply pass by Expresso's skinny legs!
So as you can see, Expresso has a wide variety of pretty interesting powers, but, sadly, the original Donkey Kong Country really doesn't take advantage of his moveset. It really all comes down to the fact that the Animal Buddies in the original Donkey Kong Country were designed as level-specific power-ups, something that could make the level easier. Because of this, while they do make the levels easier and they are pretty fun to play, the levels aren't designed to really show the Animal Buddies' strengths. They couldn't design the level around them, because there's always the chance you won't have them. This is fixed in later Donkey Kong Country games that have levels where you transform into the Animal Buddies, thus creating levels that can take advantage of the different Animal Buddy movesets. But sadly, those aren't in Donkey Kong Country and, outside side of a few bonus areas you need Expresso's glide ability to get to, the game just doesn't really do anything to wow you with Expresso.
Expresso would return to aid the Kongs in Donkey Kong Country's Game Boy sequel, Donkey Kong Land. Here, Expresso would be one of only two Animal Buddies in the game, along with series staple Rambi. In Donkey Kong Land, Expresso would again appear in only four levels, but what's even worse is, this time, in only one of those levels (Collapsing Clouds) does Expresso appear outside of a bonus area. As a plus, though, Expresso apparently decided to not skip leg day, because he can now defeat enemies by jumping on them, including the stingy Zingers!
But sadly, despite being one of only two Animal Buddies to appear in both Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Land, and despite having a very varied and unique moveset, Expresso would never appear again in a mainline Donkey Kong game. Not only that, but he would never really appear in any of the spin-offs either. It's weird, because he's mentioned in both the instructional manuals of Donkey Kong Country 2 and Donkey Kong 64, but he just never comes back. It's a real shame, because he's got all these different things that could have made for fun levels built around his powers. He's not like Winky the Frog, the other Animal Buddy from the first Donkey Kong Country who never appears again. All that guy could do was jump high, and they replaced him with a superior Animal Buddy. But, no, Expresso is a very unique character who, because he only appears in the original Donkey Kong Country (and Donkey Kong Land), never gets that spotlight level like future Animal Buddies like Rattly, Squitter, or even Quawks get. Instead, he's stuck in the games where Animal Buddies mean the least.
The animals of Donkey Kong Island have the power to help us defend ourselves against the Koopa Troop, but the Kongs aren't using their resources well! They brought back an Animal Buddy clearly inferior to Quawks while one of the best Animal Buddies was left to gather dust. But don't worry, troops. When we recruit them, we'll know how to properly assign them to the duties they'll excel at. Join us next time for further review of our defenses against the Koopa Troop.
All-Time Smash Merit Ranking
Hello again everyone, apologies that I couldn’t have gotten this ready for March. But I had quite a bit of time taken from me when a winter storm took out my home’s power for close to a week, and if that wasn’t enough, a few days later I’d lose my main Wi-Fi for a weekend. So a lot of the time that I like to have to work on these things before the deadline was smashed and I ended up having to delay. Hopefully, something like that shouldn’t happen again. Our non-'Shroom sections this time covered were Lucina, Dark Samus, and Terry. But now we are nearly done. The next one after today in fact, should be the finale of Smash Merit rankings as there will be only 5 characters left.
But before we get to those, we need to finish up #7 and #6. For now, let’s start with our boy, Roy!
|Fighter Group||Smash 4 Veterans|
|Game of Origin||Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1988 (JP), 1990 (US), 1991 (EU)|
Roy is the Koopaling with the shades that first antagonized Mario in the 5th world of Super Mario Bros. 3. Though I’m a bit puzzled why you yet again wanted me to do another Mario character in the Shroom so badly. Cause we do have the wiki article fo- *PHONE RINGS*
Wait huh? Hold on a moment
Oh… this is the wrong character? But the voters clearly wanted Roy! So they got Ro-… oh… you mean… THAT Roy…
Honestly, I’d almost much rather cover the Koopa, are you certain I couldn’t change it up juuuusssssst this once…?
....Ok, fine… let’s go over… (sigh) the FIRE EMBLEM Roy…
|Fighter Group||Melee Veterans/Smash 4 DLC|
|Game of Origin||Super Smash Bros. Melee (Nintendo Gamecube, 2001 (US/JP). 2002 (EU)|
|(…Well, maybe I should include his actual franchise debut too…)|
|Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (Game Boy Advance, 2002 (JP)|
By now we should all be familiar with Fire Emblem’s… reputation within the Smash fanbase. It started with a fair share of curiosity as the japan only series was brought into Melee despite being a complete unknown to those outside of Japan. This eventually prompting Nintendo to try their hand at bringing the series to the West to satisfy people’s curiosity. And a new legion of Fire Emblem fans would be born from the GBA games as well as Path of Radiance on the Gamecube. However, it of course proved to not be enough as the franchise was almost shuttered if Awakening wasn’t a success. Luckily for the franchise, Awakening was not only a success… it just about sold like hotcakes at least in terms of expectations for Fire Emblem at that time.
Though with the huge success, that meant Nintendo would be less shy about the content placed in Smash. And it quickly grew tiring for those who would like anything other then another anime-looking character with a sword. The inflection point seemed to really begin with Corrin. Cause the additions of Robin and Lucina instead of Chrom just seemed like a big surprise. But Corrin was adding a character from a game that did not release yet in the west. though was released at the time in Japan. It didn’t help that Corrin’s inclusion didn’t exactly age well as Fates proved to be one of the most divisive entries in the franchise. The reaction to Byleth was arguably even louder then Corrin’s but I think it can be said the reaction to Byleth stemmed from the Fire Emblem fatigue the Smash fanbase was having since Corrin’s inclusion.
However, what I’m here to do is remind people. That I think the problem with Fire Emblem inclusions is older then we think. It’s just expectations have changed between back then and now in why it doesn’t seem to be as noticed. Or how Melee being only the 2nd entry makes thing seem more normal then it otherwise is. Let’s start with how Corrin isn’t even the only Fire Emblem character to be introduced to the west through Smash before their game’s release had sunk in. This is where we go back to none other then Roy. Who when you think about it, was Corrin’s inclusion but worse in many ways. The only reason Corrin’s could still be technically still worse, is because you had to pay an additional cost to add him/her to your game… though even that doesn’t entirely excuse Roy because in the SAME EXACT GAME, Roy was DLC there too. And if him being de-cloned is enough to excuse it for you, then you also shouldn't have had a problem with Corrin being a wholly unique character.
Roy is the original sin when it comes to Fire Emblem inclusions. It’s just he doesn’t get the same backlash towards him that Corrin and Byleth do because Roy got in early enough where it almost didn’t matter. The speculation scene we know of today didn’t really hit it large until the Pre-Brawl days. I’m sure in some form it did exist for Melee. But given it wasn’t really that long between the release of Smash 64 and Melee the potential for online fans to get salty over inclusions was very much diminished. Perhaps arguably that is a more peaceful time, you could even say perhaps a period where people didn’t take Smash so seriously yet. It’s just if anyone has ever complained about a new Fire Emblem fighter, or even a character that’s shilling a new game such as a Pokemon. You can point to Roy as the most egregious example of this. Roy technically debuted in Smash before his game was out in general. We give heat towards Byleth for having been decided to add to the game before his game was out, but at least they were given time to prove Three Houses was well-recieved. Granted, if Three Houses had turned out to be a disaster, it wouldn’t have stopped Byleth from getting in. But we still had time to get accustomed to know Byleth through their original game before they were added to Smash.
There was no such luxury for Roy. And unfortunately, Roy doesn’t even have the luck of having his character being particularly that well-recieved. The game he was in was likely not too awful or anything. But if you ask a Fire Emblem fan in the know, they would not typically say Roy was one of their favorite characters. Most of Roy’s fanbase comes purely from the Smash Bros. side of things. And that’s not how inclusions in Smash should work (Note, I am not putting down inclusions that wouldn’t have been as popular without being in Smash such as the MOTHER/Earthbound series. Ness and Lucas each had their game out before Smash, big difference for at least the beginnings of the cult followings to take shape) Maybe at this point it’d be ok to have at least one Smash original character since Smash does have a legacy of it’s own. Though the closest we have to that are the Mii Fighters which are given the Smash symbol, partly because they’ve been the Multi-Man characters since Smash 4.
The funny thing is, Roy’s game to this day is STILL in Japan only. Granted, I’m sure fan translations exist somewhere. And the extra odd thing is… Roy’s FATHER technically has more merit at this point due to starring in the first Fire Emblem game to come out in the West. That’s right, the Prequel was released in the west while the game starring a Smash Bros. fighter has remained officially only at Japanese shores. Which is just super weird when you really think about it.
I suppose one thing Roy had over Marth in Melee that on a surface level he seems like the cooler character. Arguably more in tune with the name of the franchise “FIRE Emblem” as there is so such fire in Marth’s moveset. While Roy’s neutral special is a blade that creates an explosion in front of him. And to Roy’s credit in Smash 4 and Ultimate, changes were made that made him closer to a semi-clone then how he was in Melee. However, the origins of his inclusion in Smash still haunts him to a great level. As it feels like he’s returned only to sate nostalgia for Melee. As after all, before Roy was included in Smash 4. The game had inexplicably returned Dr. Mario of all things, still as a separate character. And they brought back Mewtwo as the first DLC character in Smash history. Mewtwo, Roy, and Lucas’s inclusion probably also helped pave the way for Ultimate’s “Everyone is Here!” idea.
But when it comes to the high expectations of merit, it falls short from many aspects that were doomed from the start. Roy’s not the worst inclusion of the series, as I still rank him above the Dr. Mario’s, Dark Pit’s, and the Piranha Plant kind of inclusions. But for Nintendo’s sake, they had better not try to pull another Roy-like inclusion in the future. Maybe they can get away with it if it’s a brand new franchise with a unique moveset. But if they try that for Fire Emblem again, AND it’s a clone of another character? I would not blame Nintendo for creating a bunker to hide themselves from the sheer hatred from Anime Swordsman-haters.
...In case you’re still interested though about the Koopaling still. Yes, Roy O. Koopa would be quite a bit far up on Fire Emblem Roy.
But sorry folks, Roy is... not my boy
And now, we actually get to ANOTHER character that actually originated as Japan only. But is much older and grew a legacy over time, although the history with Nintendo is a bit muddy.
|Fighter Group||Ultimate Newcomers/Echo Fighters|
|Game of Origin||Rondo of Blood (Turbografx-16, 1993 (JP)*|
*Re-released Worldwide as Castlevania: Dracula X for the SNES in 1995
Simon Belmont is perhaps the closest Castlevania has to being the most well-known protagonist purely because of him being the main character of the first NES Castlevania. As such, at least in the west he was likely the most requested Castlevania character should it ever get represented in Smash. Although, the Belmonts' popularity are a little different in Japan. That’s where Richter comes in. Richter still wasn’t the first Belmont for Japan, but he seemed to supersede Simon in popularity. Which may be a likely reason he got in Smash in the first place.
Heck, the moveset that both Simon and Richter have in Smash actually incorporate features from both sets of games they were in. In a technical sense, since they debuted in the same game they could technically be echoes of eachother as a result.
But anyway, as Simon got his slice of video game history through the NES debut of the franchise along with… extra stuff such as the Captain N series. Richter’s started only in Japan with Rondo of Blood, although that game would get a proper re-release in some fashion through Castlevania: Dracula X for the SNES. Although Rondo of Blood would get released in the West eventually through the Wii’s virtual console. Which is more then you can say for the other character chosen for this month. The funny thing is ever since Rondo of Blood and Dracula X seems to switch in terms of being re-released. Rondo of Blood was on the Wii, then Dracula X on the Wii U. Then Rondo was on a TurboGrafx mini, but then Dracula X was the version chosen for a Castlevania collection. I’m not entirely well-versed with which version people consider the better one but since Konami has switched between them. Maybe it’s just a toss-up between the two.
Though arguably, Richter Belmont might be more well-known for being in none other than Symphony of the Night. Which besides being well-known as a classic game on the Playstation 1, was also famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for it’s voice acting. Richter is of course the character Dracula speaks to in a scene that has certainly been a part of the lexicon of cheesy, but charming video game voice acting that is the “WHAT IS A MAN!” scene with Dracula. Although if you ask me, it’s more fun if they’re arguing about UNO. (Warning: Swearing)
Being in releases like Dracula X and then subsequently released on Nintendo systems since the Wii does help a bit. But there is still this sense that Richter is less known in Nintendo circles compared to Simon. To the point, that he seems a less relevant echo than Daisy. This does put him in our current bottom 5 of our merit list. But don’t get me wrong, out of all the characters in the Bottom 5 he is personally to me a likable character and I don’t mind their inclusion compared to the four below him. On this list the echoes are admittedly relegated to the bottom of the list for few exceptions. And that’s not exactly changing even for a 3rd party echo like Richter.
|1. Mario||21. Mewtwo||41. Inkling||61. Pyra|
|2. Link||22. Ridley||42. Snake||62. Mythra|
|3. Pikachu||23. King K. Rool||43. Shulk||63. Palutena|
|4. Donkey Kong||24. Zelda||44. Pit||64. Joker|
|5. Kirby||25. Meta Knight||45. Little Mac||65. Young Link|
|6. Samus||26. Ganondorf||46. Ness||66. Sheik|
|7. Pokemon Trainer||27. Mr. Game & Watch||47. Captain Falcon||67. ROB|
|8. Luigi||28. Sonic the Hedgehog||48. Sephiroth||68. Min Min|
|9. Wario||29. Cloud||49. Robin||69. Byleth|
|10. Yoshi||30. Sora||50. Jigglypuff||70. Ice Climbers|
|11. Bowser||31. Ryu||51. Falco||71. Wii Fit Trainer|
|12. Peach||32. Villager||52. Wolf||72. Dark Samus|
|13. Mii Fighters||33. Bowser Jr.||53. Pichu||73. Chrom|
|14. Mega Man||34. Olimar||54. Duck Hunt||74. Lucina|
|15. Pac-Man||35. Fox||55. Ike||75. Daisy|
|16. Diddy Kong||36. Rosalina & Luma||56. Greninja||76. Richter Belmont|
|17. Banjo & Kazooie||37. Marth||57. Steve||77. Roy|
|18. Simon Belmont||38. Zero Suit Samus||58. Terry||78. Dr. Mario|
|19. Hero||39. Toon Link||59. Bayonetta||79. Dark Pit|
|20. King Dedede||40. Isabelle||60. Lucas||80. Piranha Plant|
April Fool’s, my least favorite holiday due to too many bad burns from pranks I didn’t care to be burdened with. Obnoxious holiday in an obnoxious month, so why not try some obnoxious and otherwise gimmicky food?
MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based art collective founded in 2016 and releasing works since 2018, is known for its punchy satire that aims to skewer aspects of capitalism, culture, and politics. Their works vary in style, from physical products, to mobile apps, twisting social behaviors into playable games that criticize what’s happening despite people gleefully participating, and a particular penchant for shoes, often collaborating with celebrities but never collaborating with companies. Thriving in controversy, MSCHF products tend to slip into cultural zeitgeist suddenly and rapidly, propelled by baffled newscasters and blubbering pundits. What my interest with them here is that every now and then they sell food. Spiked holy water seltzer, Big Fruit Loop, things I would’ve loved to have snagged but the reality of limited drops is they vanish within a couple hours at most.
Drop #61 from MSCHF, dropping on November 15, 2021, is Illegal Chips, highlighting foods that are banned for various reasons and simulating their flavors in potato chips. Why am I reviewing them now in April 2023? Well, because I can, and because it’s thematically appropriate, and since they sold out basically immediately it’s not like anyone could’ve benefitted from me reviewing this in December 2021, not even me as I don’t have ads. Plus, with this review so divorced from the time of release, I am free from the dark cloud of SEO, unburdened with an anxious sense of relevancy and cloutchasing, a review true to my genuine impression, yet now empowered with great vision of other reviews that were clawing for whatever interaction and numeric data they could gather to propel them up that algorithm ladder, giving me one of my greatest pleasures: seeing which reviewer is a fraud or not.
For $12 I got four bags–three different flavors with one repeat–which included all of their options: Casu Marzu, Horse Meat, and Fugu. As with every Drop, MSCHF includes a manifesto that serves as an artist statement and explanation of what this even is, seemingly in jest to ridicule an aspect of culture while driving through an overarching point:
Illegal al says:
"Give me horse flavored chips or give me death!" The distinction between food animals and non-food animals is a social construction. The same, of course, can be said of law in general. In a Hobbesian state of nature, humans live in constant conflict, eating whatever they feel like. Prohibitions create desire. The grass is always greener on the other side, and forbidden fruit tastes sweetest. Illegal Chips compiles the flavors the government doesn’t want you to try. And, buddy, do they ever taste good! Technological advances free us from the mundane concerns of the past. Artificial flavoring is the future, our path to disengaging food production from the deleterious environmental effects of industrial agriculture and the sheer inefficiency of living animals. Forget fully-automated luxury communism, our advances in food science will lead us to the promised future: fully-synthetic luxury omnivorism! Science is blinded by nostalgia for the past and the false idol of the familiar. Why simulate when you can make new? What a waste to devote millions in R&D funding to the pursuit of artificial cow or chicken when all the animals of the earth stand arrayed before us for inspiration. Better late than never–it’s time to move from food realism to food modernism!
Born too late to explore the earth. Born too early to explore the cosmos. Born just in time to eat horse chips.
Big fan of the cute gator mascot.
Starting with truly the most illegal flavor, casu marzu is a Sardinian cheese infamous for its particularly stomach-churning method of aging that utilizes live fly larvae to initiate the decomposition process; i.e. “maggot cheese”. Mimolette, a bright orange aged cheese, favorite of French presidents Emmanual Macron and Charles de Gaulle, is another cheese that utilizes live bug activity to alter the flavor and texture. I’m drawing this comparison as mimolette was once banned in the United States, but is now legal again, and can be purchased with relative ease at any grocery store that has some level of gourmet cheese display, such as Whole Foods, Publix, Sprouts, The Fresh Market, Earth Fare, local butcheries and delicatessens, etc. While off-putting at first, and definitely a unique characteristic that creates excitement and thrill, the cheese mites in mimolette are microscopic, introduced only to the surface rind, and mostly, if not entirely, removed by the time the cheese is consumed. Meanwhile, with casu marzu, the maggots are introduced into the interior of pecorino cheese for the purposes of fermentation and breaking down the fats, and are quite visible and intended to be kept alive throughout consumption; this fact rendering the cheese potentially unsafe to eat as the maggots can remain alive inside your body and become parasitic. I know I tend to put a lot of links into my reviews but the last one I included, which I will share again right here is an excellent lengthy article detailing the history the Sardinian origins of casu marzu, as well as its connection to their proud heritage.
According to a flavor profile card that some influencers got in special packages, with me only finding out while looking at other reviews because I didn’t get squat, the Casu Marzu chips are described as: “Strong, funky, and intense, these chips are perfect for anyone who likes a powerful blue cheese, or cheese connoisseurs anywhere.” Ringing true to its pecorino origins, it tastes like grated parmesan cheese that was left to sit at just above room temperature for a bit too long. Leans more towards blue cheese, and the stronger funky flavor would come as no shock if that’s just simply what they were labeled as. Unsurprisingly underwhelming, as the entire thrill of casu marzu is the exoticized spectacle of writhing maggots launching themselves out of the cheese, and without that horror occurring it’s just cheese. It’s just cheese.
And I gotta say, overall, the actual quality of the chips themselves is pretty good. Thin and crispy, every piece with flavor visible and detectable, just a mundane satisfying potato chip texture.
The illegality of horse meat veers more towards economical and bureaucratic reasons more so than anything else, but is bolstered by a taboo that is weaponized by vegetarian activists: why do we eat cows, but not horses? The rhetorical answer from that, being horses are just an animal we like and care for more as a society, is also genuinely the answer as their use in human activities (racing, competitions, breeding, pet ownership, etc.) leads them to being regarded as toxic, as there could be any number of unregulated chemicals and drugs in their system that are not fit for human consumption. This is also a catch-22, though, as it was only in 2007 that the FDA stopped regulating this (and revered in 2011), and should horse meat become regulated as a food for human consumption then this issue would drift away. It’s a confusing litany of excuses that don’t hold up for what’s truly the answer–there’s not much genuinely stopping us from becoming a society that eats horse meat other than our core cultural beliefs.
A given description states these as: “smoky, sweet, tangy, we complement our horse flavor with a classic stew profile. Notes of mushroom, onion, and tomato round out the chip alongside the core gamey horse flavor.” What I feel is most notable about these is how much they smell like dog food. Shocked and flabbergasted that meat tastes like meat; tastes savory, vaguely like bbq. These aren’t bad, I just can’t get past the smell, which causes them to just be impossible to eat unless I plug my nose when chewing which is just no way to live. Otherwise this doesn’t taste anything different than just another rendition of bbq.
I haven’t decided if I appreciate them going the length of making these actual chips with balanced flavor, or feel short-changed for them obfuscating a direct taste with spices that steer these more towards a normal chip flavor that everyone already knows and likes, but I’m leaning towards the latter as it’s kinda taking the wind out of my sails in regards to any level of hype or sense of discovery involved.
Fugu–while not technically illegal but still extremely hard to acquire as the process to safely prepare it requires significant training and certification and the cost of the dish can be prohibitive–is most commonly prepared as a traditional Japanese sashimi dish. If any of you have watched any cartoon, sitcom, or half-baked murder mystery anywhere from the 1980s through today I’m sure you’ve seen several episodes where the plot teeters on someone trying this risky pufferfish dish, highlighting the tetrodotoxin as a highly lethal poison if consumed. The flavor is reported to be full of umami and mildly sweet, so subtle that seafood does not come to mind, a strong uniqueness that definitely isn’t a highbrow deflection that the only draw to this is the thrill of danger. There are aquaculture methods that prevent the pufferfish from becoming poisonous in the first place, but what’s the point of that?
Well, the point of that is people are curious about the flavors of this dangerous delicacy without wanting to, well, die. This flavor in particular is their celebrity collab, designed by Mythical Kitchen with its host Josh Scherer smacked right on the package, a YouTube channel founded by Mythical Entertainment probably better known for Good Mythical Morning. What gets me with MSCHF is how often they skewer influencer culture and internet popularity, but PRETTY OFTEN rely on those exact same people to buoy their drops and campaigns to the virality required for them to make bank. With constant marketing spearheaded by popular celebrities utilizing the same channels to shill everything else, diluting an art collective that tries to be edgy and controversial into just another Moschino-esque brand making weird stuff for rich people to make Instagram posts with. Maybe the NYTimes calling them ‘Banksy for the Internet’, initially making me gag, isn’t so far off.
The fugu chips are described as: “clean, crisp, and briny, the fugu flavor is complemented by citrus notes of yuzu, and liberally spiced with sichuan peppercorn. It is a light, refreshing, but impressively full-mouth flavor with a lingering spicy tingle.” So, salt & pepper with fish and lemon, got it, sounds like some nice fish & chips but…chips, and as we know with expectations I can expect to not get this at all.
Like the Horse Meat it also smells like dog food, but worse, sickeningly worse. The taste is right on with being like a bad salt & vinegar chip, with a tinge of algae, and coming in hot for the aftertaste with a heaping spoonful of MSG. Not sure where they got ‘light and refreshing’ from, but I think somewhere along the line the citrus flavor soured and leaned more acidic, while giving way to stronger flavors. If overwhelming umami and rotten fish is what they were going for, they sure got it, but I’m suspecting that, with the strength of these compared to how actual fugu is remarked as tasting mild, if not bland, this is less genuine fugu flavor and more just something that will elicit reactions for YouTube views. No way for me to know for certain unless I try fugu sashimi itself, but with the possible flavor options being nothing, decomposed sea sludge, or death, I think I’ll pass.
Initially feeling disappointed that the flavors were pretty, like, meh; alright, not exactly ones I’d ever try or get to actually enjoy, but not repulsive, I achieved enlightenment–they’re nothing special. This realization reveals the artistic intention behind what’s otherwise pretty blatant manipulations of clout-chasing hopping onto algorithmic YouTuber trends, in that the hype itself is greater than the actual end product, the journey greater than the destination, like a roller coaster where the anticipation leading up in the 2 hour queue provides more lasting memories than the 25 second ride.
MSCHF seems to do food releases pretty regularly, such as the Big Froot Loop, Spiked Holy Water, both of which I was too late to get regretfully due to me being someone who has a job and also is not a reseller bot.
Starting out in 2008 as an ice cream truck in New York City, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream is a producer of French ice cream, a style that utilizes egg yolks which makes it more custardy, thick, and smooth; opposed to American (Philadelphia-style) ice cream that just uses milk, cream, and sugar. Known for their penchant for unique flavors at their brick & mortar scoop shops, they’ve lately been diving deeper into peculiar territory; the last one, relative to this review happening, that got a lot of attention was their Kraft Mac & Cheese flavor as it struck cheesy gold with a pint launch in Walmarts nationwide. This is where their marketing does well, as I’ve noticed their unconventional flavors are the ones made available limited edition in Walmart while basically no other flavor of their is available there, while their vegan options and more standard flavors are available at places like Sprouts and Whole Foods, zeroing in focus on target audiences without wasting logistics to showcase stuff neither audience cares about.
I used to live near an ice cream shop that specialized in non-traditional and wacky flavors, all in the name of April Fool’s. Chicken wing, bologna, ketchup & mustard, beef gravy, sauerkraut, so none of these oddball flavors really catch me off guard or seem like the impossible brought to life. As I’ve done before myself, with and without an ice cream maker at home, you can create absolutely any flavor of ice cream you want as long as you set your sights on it with ease. As with Van Leeuwen’s Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream, a simple look at the ingredients reveals it’s just a regular ice cream base (cream, milk, cane sugar, egg yolks) with basically Velveeta mixed in (Kraft cheese sauce mix (whey, milkfat, salt, milk protein concentrate, sodium triphosphate, contains less than 2% of tapioca flour, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, with paprika, turmeric, and annatto added for color, enzymes, cheese culture)). This is not to dump on their careful mixing of ingredients to create a stable product, but rather highlight the accessibility anyone can have to be making whatever they dream of. The difficult part is getting anyone to like it.
Grey Poupon with Salted Pretzels
I was unable to get the Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream as I never saw it in stores and it sold out online pretty quickly. I’ll admit I had the chance to get it online, but the cart minimum is to purchase five pints at a total of $60, and I do not care enough to do that nor have the freezer space. Never again, though, as online tracking cookies and algorithms have combined to send me push notifications every time Van Leeuwen is up to their nonsense again, alerting me to head to my nearest Walmart ASAP like the good mind-controlled drone I am.
Waaaaay too many pretzels, which I’d never thought I’d complain about as it’s one of my more favorite additions to ice creams, but they’re just really poor quality pretzels that feel soft and mushy. I’m not sure why this is the case as other ice creams with significantly less focus on quality end up providing some solid crunch, so I’m hoping someone at Van Leeuwen name searches and finds this review so they can know that they gotta fix their pretzels because that was absolute trash. Maybe what they were trying to evoke was soft pretzels, served at pubs with a side of beer cheese and mustard, but even then it’s just not there; the pretzels just seem soggy and gross and will forever entwine in my thoughts the connection between Van Leeuwen and poor quality add-ins. The mustard flavor is barely even noticeable until suddenly you get a ribbon of it and then it’s too strong, and not even in the right way. With Grey Poupon I was expecting more of a dijon mustard, as that’s what they do and are most famous for, but instead it’s a honey mustard. I get why, the sweetness of the honey mustard, allegedly, helps connect to the sweetness of the ice cream in a way that perhaps intended to not be jarring, but the honey taste is quite tangy in a way that’s overpowering. No salt flavor to be found, which was sorely missed as it may have been the only thing that stood a chance at balancing the flavor.
What this needed to be was mustard-FLAVORED ice cream, or at least homogenized better. In fact, Van Leeuwen’s own Grey Poupon mustard ice cream was preceded by a French’s Mustard ice cream by Coolhaus that achieved those two things, complete with positive reviews. The Coolhaus mustard ice cream was available for only a short time in August 2019 in just a couple locations, but gives me hope that that brand will be open to these kinds of things again, perhaps on a more accessible scale.
Tapatío Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Creamalready have regular access to locally.
Van Leeuwen’s version here states that it’s chocolate ice cream, marshmallows, and fudge swirls, with a cheeky addition of just some Tapatío hot sauce. That’s just…not what Mexican hot chocolate is, it’s not regular hot chocolate with hot sauce dumped in; it’s unsweetened and bitter chocolate with vanilla, chili powder, and cinnamon at minimum, with other warm spices like nutmeg and cloves being optional. The game is revealed by themselves in the same bit of text: “(...) this isn’t the hot chocolate you grew up with, this is way cooler (...)”. Who are you referring to with that ‘you’, your local customer base who are steadily displacing the people who actually grew up with it? It just feels like a weird partnership that doesn’t hit accurately; I get why they couldn’t pair with Nestlé Abuelita, but I feel just being rid of the brand partnership and having just like a dark chocolate ice cream base with spiced cocoa nibs would’ve leaned more true to concept.
Credit where credit is due, this ice cream does not taste bad, and this version’s flavor being mostly there might satisfy most people. There’s a nice heat present that does not feel overwhelming or alarming, providing a nice “..oh?” kick that maybe not everyone has had the chance to experience, or even consider as an option as they were raised on Swiss Miss with water. I like that the marshmallows they included are soft and pillowy when they easily could’ve gone with Lucky Charms dehydrated abominations. I’m just not buying into the validity of the concept; it just feels cheapened and off-base, and like a misunderstanding and child’s view (at best) of what Mexican hot chocolate is.
I would like a Mexican hot chocolate ice cream, and then, separately, a hot sauce ice cream; perhaps to contend with the Ranch Ice Cream.
Hidden Valley Ranch Ice Cream
Taking social media by storm for, like, a week and a half before being pretty much forgotten, Van Leeuwen has partnered with Hidden Valley for a ranch-flavored ice cream.
It tastes like ranch, with a strong punch of garlic and onion in the first sniff and bite, but really nothing more than that. Reminds me of those ranch seasoning packets you can mix into like sour cream or whatever to just make anything taste like ranch dressing, and someone at Van Leeuwen one day just mixed it into a batch of ice cream. And, as something that tastes like ranch and is pretty much the same consistency of it, albeit a bit colder, it’s pretty gross. I thought, well, this seems disgusting because how many (normal, well-adjusted) people just eat spoonfuls of ranch? Don’t (functional, emotionally-stable) people dunk stuff into ranch dressing or dips? So, that’s what I tried! Scooped up a hunk of ranch ice cream with a hard pretzel, and bit into a familiar and standard experience that was just a bit colder than usual, all of the off-putting and horrific flavors and aftertastes gone. It became just a normal ranch dip experience.
This particular flavor was the final straw for at least one writer, and while they just mostly seem pretty sour at anything being whimsical, I really think their stance should be considered:
to top it with pretzels or potato chips, that leaves me wondering about a disconnect between their flavor statement being: “Hidden Valley® Ranch: Hidden Valley is more than America's favorite ranch dressing, it's a way of life. It goes with just about everything - pizza, carrots, french fries. But it's never tried to go with ice cream. Until now.” Operative word here is ‘with’. Is this really ranch ‘with’ ice cream in the way it’s being compared to with pizza, carrots, and fries? A more apt approach would be a ranch seasoning to flavor fries, or a ranch sauce base for a pizza, but otherwise the Van Leeuwen Ranch Ice Cream is ranch ice cream, a single product not with anything, just itself, and the suggestion to top it with something spoils the whole thing to me in a way. If you’re using the ranch ice cream as a substitute for ranch dip, then why not just use ranch dip–pop it in the freezer for a little bit if you have to? The Grey Poupon one did what I think should’ve been done here, which was having pretzels mixed in; a proper choice regardless of how terrible the execution was. So, what could they have done here? Perhaps not have been made at all. Perhaps lay off the flashy brand partnerships that I’m sure is driving the social media talk and sales that they want to see for short-term profit, but perhaps more effort should be given to supporting their other seasonal limited flavors that seem more of like chef artistry that I think would strengthen the brand long term. At this point I feel like I’m nitpicking, but it’s just because there’s a je ne sais quoi floating within that I do not want to support and my psyche is clawing for any way to bring it down, attributes I’d glaze over or forgive if the thing just tasted good, tasted like it was worth my time, tasted like it was worth the space on the shelf and spell slot within the seasonal release.
[Van Leeuwen’s Ranch Ice Cream] seemed to be an obvious attempt to vie for social relevance without the real intention of doing something adventurous — or merely good — with its flavors. (...) Many of these collaborations feel like they’re more focused on creating a stunt for shock value than actually making ice cream that’s nuanced, complex, or just plain fun. Sure, I know that these flavors keep being made because consumers keep buying them and reacting to them (or… uh, writing about them), but what happened to the whimsy that once seemed to be at the core of these exploits?
Unironically, the approach should be closer to what Little Debbie has done with their own peculiar ice creams in partnership with Hudsonville Ice Creams. Each flavor, rather than just being the partner product lazily mixed into proprietary ice cream, seems more inspired by their titular items; almost like a deconstruction in a way that doesn’t feel pretentious. It’s not that these companies shouldn’t be doing this, it’s just gotta be good, gotta feel like it has longevity beyond the Instagram Reel of shock reactions.
Champagne Ice Cream
Not so much one of their loud and wild limited edition flavors, eschewing the partnered logo and massive social media push, it is nevertheless a limited edition and fairly unique ice cream that I feel should be looked into to see how the less flashy limited editions do..
This one is just a flavored ice cream, showcasing their signature French-style ice cream, and complemented with an appropriately French white wine. Only the very slightest hint of champagne flavor, very fleeting, otherwise just tastes like vanilla bean ice cream. Just a really crappy Trader Joe’s cheap white wine taste that you only get if you’re actively trying to find that taste on the back of your tongue. Yeah yeah the ice cream felt smooth and creamy, felt like a good quality mix, but come on guys if the flavors are not there then all that work crafting a fancy-pants dessert goes to waste. With the Champagne flavor being all but non-existent, they easily could’ve called this egg flavored as that’s what’s more noticeable and believable.
They could really have upped the potential of this, and the one venture I see possible is a key feature of champagne–the bubbly. Popping candy, i.e. Pop Rocks, is something I’ve experienced with champagne-flavored chips that absolutely heightened the novelty and made it something for me to talk about and get other people to try. Just a simple addition that would bring genuine intrigue, stir up talk and conversation, do something.
Geeze, all this disappointment with Van Leeuwen from so many angles that all come down to how they’re just not good flavors or thought out well at all. Makes me weary to try any of their standard flavors, so I’m hoping along the line somewhere they figure out how to make something people want for longer than a bombastic Instagram reel, but I feel they’re just going to decide that short bursts of terrible flavors net more one-time sales with no expectation of quality.
|The 'Shroom: Issue 193|
|Staff sections||Staff Notes • The 'Shroom Spotlight|
|Features||Fake News • Fun Stuff • Palette Swap • Pipe Plaza • Critic Corner • Strategy Wing|