The 'Shroom:Issue 205/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

April showers bring more hours! At work! Where I constantly am! Life is just so busy all the time that it can often be hard to just sit and think your own thoughts, but this is what we here at Critic Corner are for! We consume the media and then tell you how you should feel about it!! You're welcome!!!!!

This month be on the lookout for two one-time sections, Shoey's Shoetacular Reviews by Shoey (talk) and Video Game Review by Waluigi Time (talk), in addition to a couple regular sections!!

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
Place Section Votes % Writer
1st Anton's Half-Baked Reviews 19 61.29% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd The Mariospective 10 32.26% Goombuigi (talk)

Shoey's Shoetacular Reviews

Written by: Shoey (talk)

Felix the Cat
Felixthecat1.jpg
Genres Platformer
Platforms Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Release date March 28, 2024
Rating E

Hello and welcome to a special one-off review of something very near and dear to my heart, something that, if I'm being honest, I didn't believe would ever get a release on any modern console (because, well, why would it?)! A game that I have very fond memories of playing on an NES emulator that briefly existed on Facebook in like the year 2008! I'm of course talking about 2024's game of the year (that's right, the debate is already over! Everyone can go home!). What game, you ask? Of course, I'm talking about Limited Run Games' rerelease of the Felix the Cat Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy games!

Released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992, with a Game Boy port released in 1993, Felix the Cat was one of the many licensed mascot platformers made for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game starred, well, Felix the Cat, one of the most well-known cartoon characters of all time, the undisputed king of the 1920s silent animation era who also had a very popular cartoon in the 1950s. This game was one of the three major projects that license owner Don Oriolo made/commissioned between the years 1988 and 1995 to revitalize the Felix the Cat brand in the public consciousness. The other projects (a feature film released in 1988 and a new Felix the Cat animated series) were both super flops! But while Felix might have struck out on the silver screen and the small screen, maybe he'll have better luck in the world of video games!

Strange times for Nintendo Power

The Felix the Cat game actually had a strangely high amount of hype around it, with the game even being the cover story for an issue of Nintendo Power! Upon release, the game was fairly well-received, being mostly in the 7-to-8 out of 10 review score range. But since it was released kind of late in the NES's lifespan and since there were already a large number of platformers already on the system, Felix the Cat didn't make much of an impact on either system. As a result, while successful financially, the two games seemed destined to remain stuck on the NES and Game Boy forever…

Felix the Cat platforming!

… or at least it seemed that way until this year, when Limited Run Games announced that Felix the Cat would be making a return, with both games being packaged together as a compilation release!

The publisher announced that a limited-time physical edition would be sold alongside an eShop release. This is unironically my most anticipated release of the year, which says something about both me and the upcoming Nintendo Switch release schedule, lol. I have very fond memories of playing Felix the Cat on a Facebook NES emulator, so I was super pumped when I found out that Felix the Cat was getting a rerelease on my favorite console, the Nintendo Switch. But honestly, this is a strange game rerelease (especially as a separate product you can buy) and it's even a little strange that Limited Run Games is promoting this. I'm guessing that the retro market is starting to get a little tapped for games with any sort of name value, and, though Felix the Cat has long since passed his heyday, he still has some sort of name value, so I guess I could see why you'd think you'd be able to get something out of it? It's probably one of the odder games that Limited Run Games has done this with, because… Well, I don't really see what the market is? Like, yeah, Felix the Cat still exists, mostly as a merchandise brand, but I'm not really sure what the Venn diagram looks like between the people who play video games and the people who buy those Felix the Cat clocks! But it exists, so I'm not going to worry about why it exists and, instead, I'm going to get into telling you about it!

Let's get this straight right off the bat. Felix the Cat is a compilation only in the most legal sense of the term! This compilation consists of the NES version, the Game Boy Version, and the unreleased Famicom version of the Felix the Cat. By the way, it's super weird that Felix the Cat didn't release in Japan, because apparently Felix the Cat was one of the most heavily merchandised cartoon mascots in Japan, but I digress. Here's the thing, though. The NES and Famicom versions, as far as I can tell, are completely identical outside of the "cutscenes" having Japanese text, and the Game Boy version is the same game as the NES version except it has fewer levels (only having 11 compared to the NES version's 29) with a few minor gameplay tweaks. So, yes, this is legally a compilation, I guess, but only in a very technically correct sense at best!

I'm pretty sure that like 90% of NES platformers have basically this same plot!

Primarily based on the 1950s cartoon, Felix the Cat sees the Professor kidnap Felix's girlfriend, Kitty Kat (who, fun fact, only existed in the 1920s silent cartoons, not the 1950s ones!) in an effort to extort Felix the Cat into giving him the Magic Bag of Tricks. Not one for extortion, Felix the Cat summons his Magic Bag of Tricks (which canonically speaking is alive, by the way) and sets off on an adventure to stop the Professor and save Kitty Kat! So, yeah, pretty standard platformer plot!

The game consists of 9 worlds and 29 levels, with most worlds being three levels long. The levels are broken into five distinct themes, those being:

Platform levels:

These are your standard levels where Felix the Cat jumps around the level, dodging enemies and climbing landscapes. These are the most common levels and the majority of boss battles happen in these kinds of levels.

Sky Levels:

These operate kind of like Balloon Fight, at least initially. In base form, the player must keep pressing the jump button to propel Felix the Cat upwards as you traverse the level. Most of the enemies in these levels are either birds, birds that shoot projectiles, or cannons that shoot projectiles!

Rafting levels:

Felix the Cat commands a little raft as he fights the currents of the mighty river! This is probably my least favorite kind of level because the controls are just wonky. You're constantly being pulled back by the current, making jumps feel weird. In addition, these tend to have the most annoying enemy placements, as you're bouncing up and down and getting pulled back by the water. I just don't like these levels. I think they're the second-weakest level in the NES version and the weakest in the Game Boy version.

Underwater Levels:

Donning a scuba mask, Felix the Cat proves that not all cats hate water! Exploring the sea, Felix the Cat fights off jellyfish, bubble-shooting crabs, and big fish. Unlike in a lot of platformers, the water levels in this game are probably the best in the game. Unlike the standard platform levels, they don't feel as slippery. Plus, as we'll get into later, they've got my favorite power-up, the face submarine!

Space:

Only used for the sole level of World 8, space is easily my least-favorite level type in the whole game. A shmup level, the Magic Bag of Tricks takes the form of a spaceship captained by Felix the Cat. Traversing the vast depths of space, Captain Felix the Cat fights off asteroids and aliens. Unfortunately, for reasons I can't really explain, the game treats the spaceship as a Magic Bag of Tricks power-up. This means, just like all the other Magic Bag of Tricks power-ups, it runs on a timer. If you don't collect enough Felix the Cat coins, it'll explode. In addition, this is the only level that doesn't have multiple Magic Bag of Tricks power-ups, so you're stuck with only one hit point the whole level!

Unlike most platformers, Felix the Cat doesn't attack by jumping on enemies. In fact, jumping on the majority of enemies outright kills Felix. Instead, as the movie's theme song says:

Whenever he gets in a fix / He reaches into his Bag of Tricks!

The Magic Bag of Tricks basically operates as Felix the Cat's power-ups. And while it isn't quite as all-powerful as it is in the cartoons, it still has a number of powers that greatly help Felix the Cat! I actually think that the way the game handles the Magic Bag of Tricks is the most creative thing in the game.

Go-Go Extending Glove!

The way it works is that, in base form, the Magic Bag of Tricks only extends out a wimpy boxing glove to defeat enemies, but the bag can be powered up by collecting the many Felix the Cat coins that are scattered throughout the level! As long as you aren't in the maximum power-up state, any time you collect a number of coins that ends in zero (i.e., whenever you collect a enough coins for it to be a multiple of ten), a heart spawns. if you collect that heart, the Magic Bag of Tricks transforms! Outside of rafting levels and the space level, each level type contains at least two Magic Bag of Tricks upgrades!

These upgrades also act as HP. If, say, you've got the tank upgrade on a platform level, you'll be knocked down to the car upgrade if you take a hit. The upgrades being hit points can lead to uneven levels since not every level type has the same number of transformations. For example, while standard platform levels have three potential Magic Bag of Tricks upgrades, the rafting level only has one!

There's also one weird quirk with the transformations. They carry over between levels, but the upgrades aren't the same, so if you leave a platform level in the tank and the next level is a sky level, you'll be in the plane (highest sky upgraded). The quirk comes in with rafting levels. For some reason, this upgrade system doesn't carry over the rafting levels, where it always seemed that I started in the base transformation (Felix on a raft) no matter where I was upgrade-wise in the previous level.

The Magic Bag of Tricks gives Felix command of the seas!

But yeah, this is probably the best part of the game because it's a creative use of Felix the Cat lore and the upgrades are pretty fun because they make you more powerful. It's a good use of creativity, and there really isn't a bad transformation in the game. While I don't like the rafting levels much, even the power-up for the rafting levels is good. I think it has the silliest and most creative transformation. The Magic Bag of Tricks becomes a dolphin that shoots lasers! Come on! That is amazing! Also, the max upgrade in the underwater level is a goddamn face submarine! You know I'm always down for a good face submarine!

The upgrade system is very generous because there are magic coins all over these levels. In the very first level you can get to the max upgrade state (30 coins) with no real trouble. It also helps that many of the levels have "hidden" magic bags. These operate basically like Warp Pipes in Super Mario Bros., taking you to a room with usually between 10-15 Felix Coins.

This speaks to a wider point. The game is very easy, which isn't really a bad thing per se. The enemies are pretty brain dead, with most of them only walking forward, and the ones that do shoot projectiles always shoot them in the exact same spot. This goes for the bosses, as well. Most of them are pretty braindead easy, having only very basic attack patterns that mostly consist of moving back and forth and shooting projectiles.

He just goes up and down…

It's also super easy to get lives in this game, because, not only do you get a life for every 100 Felix Coins, but, once you hit max upgrade, every 20 Felix coins after that will get you another life. It's also worth noting that the transformations are supposed to be timed, but you not only get a generous amount of time with each transformation, but a way to refresh the timer. Every 5 Felix Coins (or 15 on max upgrade level) produces three bottles of milk. Not only do these give you points, but each bottle restores a portion of your transformation timer. The end result is that, outside of like space levels and sky levels, as long as you're not getting hit, you really don't have to worry about the timer.

I've been talking about how easy the game is, but the thing is that easy isn't bad. In fact, I'd consider easy to be refreshing for an NES title. So many NES titles that had little content made their games as hard as possible to stretch out what content they had, but not Felix the Cat! Instead, Felix the Cat focuses on being a fun platformer. While it's short, being only about an hour long (with the Game Boy version being even shorter), I'd prefer that over an hour-long game that made itself brutally difficult in an attempt to stretch its content out.

Honestly, I'd say that Felix the Cat is in the upper echelon of NES platformers. The controls are a little slick, but that's pretty standard for the time, and it's nothing you won't get used to after a few levels. I saw some reviews say that there isn't a lot of variety in the levels, and, honestly, I disagree. In 29 levels, there are five different distinct level types. While, yes, the enemy variety is pretty low, and, yes, most of the standard platforming levels are basically the same, you still have a pretty decent variety of different level concepts! The graphics themselves are nice, colorful, and vibrant, especially for a licensed NES game. The music is surprisingly catchy, although those 8-bit chip noises can get a little grating at times. But most importantly, it's just a fun and enjoyable little game!

Now, I want to make this very clear; these are not Ducktales-style remasters. This a straight port of a NES game and a Game Boy game that has been dolled up to sell as a remaster. Actually, I guess that's not technically true, because they did make one change to the game! They replaced Poindexter as a boss in world one and world six… But other than that and some modern luxuries like the ability to save and rewind the game (which, like, wow! making an easy game even easier!), these are the same games that were released in the early 1990s! With that in mind, to be quite honest, I think the price they're charging is ludicrous. They want 25 dollars for two games, neither of which are longer than an hour! It's a ridiculously high price for what this is.

25 dollars for this???

So, honestly, I can't recommend this to anybody that already didn't have a connection to this game like I did. Not only did I buy the digital version, but I also bought the limited-edition physical version because apparently I'm a Felix the Cat superfan. But for anybody else? No, this a terrible deal because you're not even getting multiple games! The Game Boy game, outside of a few minor gameplay tweaks, is the same game as the NES version but with less than half of the levels! And the Japanese version brings no value to this because that's quite literally the same game as the NES version just with Japanese story text.

While, yes, Felix the Cat is a good game and it's probably in upper echelon of NES platformers, there isn't a universe out there where this is worth 25 American dollars, especially in a world where other quality, meatier NES platformers like HEBEREKE (see Ufouria: The Saga) are only selling for $10! So yeah, Felix the Cat is a fun game but at a terrible value!

Video Game Review

Written by: Waluigi Time (talk)

Final North American box art for Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Wowie-zowie!

For a while there it looked like Nintendo was going to pull a Mario Kart and let New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe stand as the sole representative of 2D Mario platformers on the Switch, but they proved us wrong (and broke up the Great Mario Drought of 2022-23). Super Mario Bros. Wonder looks to be a much-needed breath of fresh air for the series after the 13-year reign of New Super Mario Bros. (that title sure aged like milk), and I say that as someone who will fully admit to enjoying those games! They were fun, but definitely getting a bit stale there.

So let's get this out of the way first. Is Wonder the refresh from the New Super Mario Bros. games most fans have been hoping for? Yes! The game retains the familiarity of the classic platformers while still managing to feel like a brand new experience. For me, it's to the point where it almost feels foreign when you hit a ? Block and a regular old Fire Flower pops out, or they recycle a music track from a previous game. Now I wouldn't say that's a problem, in fact it's probably to the game's credit that I get in such a zone while playing that it takes something like that for me to remember "Oh yeah, older games! Those exist!". There's new world and level themes, a bunch of fun character designs (so many great new enemies!), more story beats than these games typically have, and a really charming art style that makes everything feel just a little bit more cartoony and expressive. It all goes a long way.

A Goomba sleeping on a pipe in Super Mario Bros. Wonder
A wonderful spin on the series!

The general gameplay should be pretty familiar to anyone who's played one of the other 2D platformers. The biggest change to the base moveset, double and triple jumps being absent, was a little jarring at first, but something that you quickly get used to with all the other movement options you can get from badges. Compared to previous titles, removing the level timer opens up more room for exploration and puzzle-solving, so it kind of feels like Donkey Kong Country lite. I think it's a positive change (and the timer removal is long overdue if you ask me) and I had a lot of fun hunting for collectibles and checking all the nooks and crannies I could think of. A lot of times I'd miss a collectible and run back through the level again because I already had a pretty good idea of where it might be. Of course, the Wonder Effects take center stage, and they go a long way towards making levels feel distinct. There's also some neat concepts like levels with multiple paths where only one of them has the real Goal Pole, and you have to find the right one to progress.

Speaking of levels, there's a lot more variety than just the A-to-B platforming stages, taking a cue from Super Mario 3D World which had diversions like the Mystery Houses and Captain Toad levels. It's a nice change of pace since you're not playing the game the same way all the time. Search Party levels can go straight to the Underwhere, though. A lot of the solutions felt cryptic (anti-shoutout to An Empty Park) and I just looked up several of the Wonder Token locations. Or maybe I was just impatient, could be that too.

Artwork of Drill Mario from Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
You know the drill.

All of the new power-ups are a lot of fun to use and have a very satisfying feel to them. Elephant Mario is probably my favorite, even though it's not the most interesting power-up on paper. Watching enemies fly off the screen when you whack them plus the sound design is just great stuff. It really does a good job of making you feel powerful and unstoppable, even though you're actually just a grounded version of Raccoon Mario more or less. Bubble Mario is also pretty satisfying to use, although I got a lot more use out of it as an offensive tool than using the bubbles to jump off of. Drill Mario is particularly fun when you can just tunnel underneath hazards unharmed. Is it cheesing? Probably. Is it still a lot of fun? Absolutely! Tearing through enemies or solid rock above you using just your noggin feels really good too. I kind of wish it also functioned like the Spin Drill from Super Mario Galaxy 2 and let you dig through sections of dirt instead of just burrowing beneath the surface, because that seems like it would be good for hiding secrets, but I'm not super bothered by it.

Luigi with a Cap Glider
Yeah, maybe handing out one of the most powerful items right away wasn't the best idea...

The badge system, I'll admit, I wasn't too crazy about initially. I think the biggest problem was that the first badge they give you is the Parachute Cap, which is really good! It overshadows pretty much every other badge for quite a while, so outside of a few niche cases, I didn't really see a need to use other ones and it felt like the game wasn't giving me a good enough reason to engage with the mechanic. Eventually I warmed up to it as I got further in and unlocked other useful badges, and I do appreciate the customizability it offers players, even if I personally didn't use a huge variety of them. I still feel like it's a little underbaked because, with the exception of the Badge Challenges (which feel like glorified tutorials) and one other specific level, the game doesn't expect you to have any particular badge equipped so it can't design courses around using them, relegating them to "extra" status for the majority of the game. There's untapped potential here and I'd like to see it stick around and be iterated on in future installments.

Artwork of Wonder Bowser Jr. from Super Mario Bros. Wonder
You'd think with all that Wonder power, Bowser could afford a few extra troops.

Oh, the boss fights. I don't really have anything good to say here, unfortunately. Seeing Wonder Bowser Jr. in the trailer piqued interest since he looked like a pretty interesting design... and then it turned out he was most of the game's boss fights. And it's basically the same thing every time! He's pretty much the classic SMB3 Koopaling style fight, you jump on him, he retreats into his shell and spins around for a bit, rinse repeat. There's different effects going on in each fight, but it changes very little besides how easy it is to avoid his invulnerable state. The other recurring "boss", if we're being charitable enough to consider it one, is a generator on the airships. The "fight" consists of jumping over a few obstacles and stepping on a button on top of it one time, and then you win. It's an unfortunately low point in what's otherwise a really creatively designed game. At least the final boss is decent?

The playable character variety is nice and a big step up from previous games, which didn't give you a whole lot of wiggle room if you wanted a full party in multiplayer. Yoshi being locked as an easy mode character is really disappointing, though. Somewhat less so for Nabbit, just because he doesn't have a unique moveset. But come on, they gave Yoshi his tongue and flutter jump and you can hitch a ride in multiplayer! Unlike Nabbit, Yoshi takes some knockback when enemies hit him, so he's already kind of occupying a "lesser" easy mode niche. I think it would've worked fine if Yoshi had a unique moveset and couldn't use power-ups as a tradeoff, but could still take damage and die to non-instakill hazards. Maybe make it a little fairer by letting him use the Super Mushroom. The concept of Yoshi being fully playable in a mainline platformer is really cool, but because of the implementation, I didn't bother using him at all until I'd already beaten the game and wanted to get through levels quicker to mop up a few missing collectibles.

Artwork of a Talking Flower in Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Well, that was something.

Oh yeah. Talking Flowers sure do exist. I actually don't mind them that much! At first, I thought they were annoying but chose not to turn them off to get the full experience. By the end of my first hour or so of gameplay, I'd already gotten pretty used to them. I'm not really a huge fan of them, but I've accepted their presence. I'm still not really sure what the point of them was though, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times they led me to a secret that I wouldn't have found myself. Most of them are just making comments about the level or being quippy. I assume they're meant to be comic relief, but I felt that there were better moments of humor elsewhere - for example, at one point there's a plot about helping to rescue some Poplins. If you return to the level where you found them the first time, you'll find them trapped again because they voluntarily went back, causing the Poplin who asked you to help in the first place to give them an earful.

The soundtrack is... fine? I wouldn't really say there's anything wrong with it per se, but I don't know, for some reason it just didn't stick with me as much as the soundtracks of the previous main series games have. I don't even dislike any of the tracks! There's some pretty good ones in here like the Wonder Effects for Bulrush Coming Through and Missile Meg Mayhem, the theme for the Castle Bowser levels, and I have to give appreciation to the underground theme for being a pretty creative rendition of the iconic theme this time around. I just didn't find it too captivating overall, unfortunately. Maybe it just needs more time to settle and become nostalgic, I don't know.

I may sound critical in this review - negativity bias and all that - but honestly, I really did enjoy this game! A few questionable aspects aside, it's fun, charming, and the good parts outweigh the bad by a longshot. If you've enjoyed the previous 2D platformers (or maybe you're interested in jumping into the series for the first time) and are looking to pick up a new Switch game, I definitely recommend Super Mario Bros. Wonder.

The Mariospective

Written by: Goombuigi (talk)

Welcome back to The Mariospective! This monthly section is a series of retrospectives of every Mario game on the Nintendo Switch Online service. This month, I'm reviewing Donkey Kong 3, the final game in what could be considered the Donkey Kong arcade trilogy, though it is certainly less well-known than its predecessors.

For new readers
For new readers to the section, The Mariospective is a section where I will review every legacy Mario game on the Nintendo Switch Online service, from the humble beginnings of the Nintendo Entertainment System all the way to the Game Boy Advance, one Nintendo system at a time. My aim is to review these games on a monthly schedule, at least for now. For the time being, I will be going through every NES Mario-related game on NSO, with each game covered in their own review. These will be covered chronologically, starting with Donkey Kong and ending with Wario's Woods.

In addition, during my playthroughs of each game, I challenged myself not to use save states or rewind functionality of NSO, in order to get a more authentic experience and judge each game accordingly - otherwise, using save states and rewinds would remove a lot of the games' intended challenge. I also will be going for 100% in each game, in order to experience everything there is to experience about each one. In the older games, particularly ports of arcade games, there's the question of what counts as 100%. If such a game is meant to be infinitely replayable, it's impossible to reach a definitive end. Therefore, I decided that in such games, I would classify my playthrough as 100% once I experienced every unique stage in the game. A bit of an arbitrary metric, I will admit, but it's the best I could come up with.

In-game logo of the Nintendo Entertainment System port of Donkey Kong 3
System NES
Original Release Date Japan July 4, 1984
USA June 1986
Europe September 15, 1987
Australia N/A
Nintendo Switch Online Release Date Japan July 17, 2019
USA July 17, 2019
Europe July 17, 2019
Australia July 17, 2019
100% Criteria Beat Round 15


Overview

The game without Mario.

After Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong ended up getting another sequel in 1983, titled Donkey Kong 3. It is drastically different in gameplay from its predecessors, adopting the approach of a shooter game more than a platformer. While originally released in arcades, it was ported to the Famicom in 1984, and later to the NES in 1986 in America and 1987 in Europe. Its design and setting is actually based on the Game & Watch game Greenhouse, including the playable character, Stanley, a bug exterminator. Speaking of which…

Story

This time around, Stanley the exterminator is the protagonist, and while Donkey Kong remains the villain, Mario is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, this is the first and one of few games that I’m covering that doesn’t feature Mario at all. As for Stanley, similarly to Pauline from a couple years back, he would end up being an inconsequential character later down the road, with his only legacy being his appearance in this game. While Stanley does fit as the protagonist of this game based on the greenhouse theme, I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if Mario was the protagonist instead, as he has faced off against Donkey Kong before. The story goes that Donkey Kong broke into Stanley’s greenhouse, and it’s up to the bugman to shoot Donkey Kong and spray the insects, while protecting his precious flowers. Donkey Kong specifically bashes the beehives on either side of the greenhouse, which causes bees to emerge and attack Stanley.

Gameplay

The blue greenhouse, the first stage.

The gameplay of Donkey Kong 3 is rather simplistic, as I’ve come to expect with these early-era NES titles. It’s much more similar to a shooting game, with the goal being to shoot Donkey Kong enough times to push him to the top of the vines that he’s hanging on to. If you don’t shoot him, he slowly creeps down, and, after enough time, jumps from the vines, causing Stanley to die instantly. As such, the player always has to keep their eye on Donkey Kong and spray him rapidly enough so that he doesn’t creep down. It’s not an easy task, either - it takes a few dozen squirts of the spray to finally get him out of the greenhouse. But of course, this is an arcade-originating game, and it has an infinite gameplay loop, with no definitive ending.

On top of having to constantly spray Donkey Kong, the player also has to keep an eye on the multitude of enemies threatening to kill Stanley. I was surprised to find how many enemies there were in the game, more than in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., or Mario Bros.! Most are some type of insect (in line with the greenhouse theme), with the most basic ones being Buzzbees. These fly down and try to steal the flowers at the bottom of the screen, and can be defeated in one spray. Then there’s Creepies, which are indeed, as their name implies, creepy. They are worms which fall down from trees at either side of the level. They can be shooed away if the player sprays them while they’re inside the trees, but when they fall onto the stage itself, there’s no getting rid of them. They can be extremely irritating, as they constantly block the player from spraying Donkey Kong, since they are stunned if the player hits them - especially in later rounds, where three or four of them can appear at any given time. Then there’s coconuts, which are occasionally thrown by Donkey Kong from the vines. These only appear sometimes, and aren’t too hard to avoid. On the other hand, Round 3 introduces the Beespy, which can be extremely hard to avoid. It takes two hits to kill these, and when you do, they shoot four smaller flies down onto Stanley, which can be difficult to miss due to their speed, especially if Stanley is close to the Beespy as he kills him. Attackers, which are introduced in Round 6, try to snipe Stanley by charging at him horizontally. Like Buzzbees, these aren’t too hard to avoid, as long as the player keeps an eye on them. Kabutomushi, which make their debut later, are similar to Attackers. Lastly, there are Butterflies, which, despite their innocent appearance, are just like the Buzzbees in terms of behavior.

The yellow greenhouse, the second stage.

While I do like the variety of enemies, as they serve to make the game more interesting, they highlight my biggest problem with the game - its emphasis on multitasking. Specifically, the player has to constantly juggle between spraying Donkey Kong and fighting off the insects, and unlike other games so far, this game doesn’t really provide a moment of rest. Mario Bros. and Pinball had the bonus stages, and even Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. had moments in its stages where the player can take a moment to rest, but I never have that feeling with Donkey Kong 3, as it constantly pushes me to move quickly. As a result, I find that the game is way more difficult than any of the previous games. Now, this could be the case because I was somewhat familiar with Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. before playing them for this review, or it could be because I don’t like shooters as much as platformers, but I believe that the persistent focus on multitasking plays a large part. The controls don’t help either, as they feel rather restrictive. What I mean by that is that Stanley’s movement isn’t very versatile, and thus he has to primarily rely on his spray to make progress. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but the restrictive movement, specifically the jumping, makes it very difficult to avoid the barrage of enemies, especially since there tend to be more of them at any given time than in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. The player cannot move left or right while jumping at the same time, which limits Stanley’s horizontal movement, and makes him less fun for me to control, and can make the game frustrating to play at times.

The grey greenhouse, the third stage.

Stanley does have some items at his disposal, though. Of course, he has his trusty spray, which can fend off most enemies as well as Donkey Kong. This is a lot of fun to use, even if I’m not a big fan of the shooter genre. And even better, if you shoo Donkey Kong high enough, a Super Sprayer will fall down, allowing Stanley to temporarily shoot Donkey Kong higher and defeat all enemies in one go. I really appreciate this item, as it makes a difficult game significantly easier. While I didn’t feel like I needed the hammer in Donkey Kong or the fruit in Donkey Kong Jr., I absolutely relied on the Super Sprayer to carry me through some levels. Unfortunately, that’s the only other weapon that Stanley has, and it only appears at the start of the game and after each death.

The rounds rotate between three different kinds of greenhouses, each with different appearances and layouts. The first greenhouse type introduced is the blue greenhouse, with three levels that Stanley can hop up and down from. It’s a fairly simple design that makes for a good opening level. The second greenhouse is the yellow greenhouse, which only contains two levels, making it simpler to get to the top and shoot Donkey Kong, but as a trade-off, there are vines that the Creepies creep in, which can sometimes block Donkey Kong from the player’s aim. But, without a doubt, the most difficult greenhouse type is the gray one. It contains three levels like the blue greenhouse, but the second row is split in the middle, meaning that the player can only access the top row from the sides. You’ll want to reach the top row, as it’s the only way to shoot Donkey Kong to the very top, but you’ll also want to stay in the center, as that’s where Donkey Kong is, which makes the gray greenhouse a cumbersome stage to traverse. And if you get any Creepies on the side of the stage, good luck with that!

Presentation

As with the previous games I’ve covered, while the graphics and music are downgraded from the arcade version, and there are significantly less music tracks to listen to, the graphics are fine enough for 1983. This is yet another game that features a 2-player mode, even though it is unfortunately alternating multiplayer, and the game likewise features a Game B, which is simply a harder version of Game A.

Conclusion

Donkey Kong gets his comeuppance.

And with that, I’ve covered all there is to cover of Donkey Kong 3. This game was a lot less commercially successful than Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., and I can see why. Not only is its gameplay drastically different from the previous titles, no doubt alienating some of the previous games’ players, it’s also more difficult compared to its precursors. There are way more enemies on screen at any given time, and the perpetual juggling between tasks makes it difficult for me to have much fun with this game. Plus, the shooting nature of the game makes it feel a lot more mindless and simply less strategic than its predecessors. Even though this game has a more distinctive premise than Pinball and actually has a story, I at least had some fun with Pinball, whereas more often than not, I found myself frustrated with Donkey Kong 3. It’s a shame that this would be the last major game that the ape starred in for a good while. Overall, this is a tough game for me to recommend, and I would only advise you to play this one if you’re interested in seeing what Donkey Kong 3 is all about. It’s a fine novelty, but not much more.


I hope you enjoyed this month's retrospective of Donkey Kong 3! Next time, I'll take a look at Wrecking Crew, the final pre-Super Mario Bros. game on Nintendo Switch Online. See you then!

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)
Artwork by: @Paraslider

Gourmet Milkshakes


True horror

Canberra, Australia. The year is 2015. Nobody cares that Tony Abbott is in-office because the US still has President Barack Obama with Hillary Clinton destined to follow. Twee delights and effervescent whimsy fill the air, oh what a wonder it is for liberals to be in power whether or not it’s just by name or not, policies be damned, as Portlandia has just won its 6th Daytime Emmy. Blind were we to the traumatic events soon to unfold, with our zeitgeist of string lights and mason jars, maximalism and boho chic, the camera devouring food before we do triggering a trend so terrible and wild, funky and gunky of monstrous proportions–the freakshake.

Said to have started at Patissez Cafe, the freakshake was identifiable as a large volume of milkshake served in a mason jar, adorned with copious amount of toppings turning the ridiculous into dazzling. Nutella, pretzels, cookies, brownies, entire cupcakes, smores, smothered in fudge and sauce, anything and everything you could think of that would be more suitable served in a large salad bowl instead crammed into a now-overflowing mess of sugar and excess, visual excitement better serviced to show to the quickly clicking world than to actually consume. The plague quickly spread across Australia, fueled by social media through the rest of the Anglophone world permeating the most fashionable cafes and coffee shops of London, the trendiest restaurants of NYC comically one-upping each other with more opulent and disgusting deviations, turning tabletops into Pinterest and Instagram workspaces timed right as the most viable career path on the planet becomes farming clicks on videos and blogs. While Patissez, to this day, is still selling their Freakshakes with the quaint racial microaggressions you’d expect from a 2011 Burning Man caravanner (“Vote For Pedro” dulce de leche, “Michael Jackson” white chocolate), the trend has matured into more modern ideations that we know and love–tourist traps and franchise schemes.

The Yard Milkshake Bar


The Yard Milkshake Bar - “As seen on Shark Tank”. I don’t care enough to detail their story and information because it’s heavily curated in all of their ‘We’ve Been On Shark Tank!!!!!’ postings all over the place and doesn’t seem to be much deeper than they had history owning convenience stores and ice cream shops, hopped on the freakshake trend in 2017, and got on TV in 2019. I severely hope that Kelis is getting royalties from the incredibly cringeworthy tagline of “Bringing all the boys and girls to The Yard since 2017”.

It's a nice picture..!!

Out of their 18 million options, I chose the Peanut Butterfinger Cheesecake, as it aligns with my tastes quite a bit and poses as a safe option, as well as it being one of the biggest pictures on the menu. Classified as a “Pint Shake Boss”, both a sundae and a milkshake with an added cookie dough scoop differentiating it from the other regular options, costing $19 plus tax, and luckily has a calorie count to account for it. Listed as containing honey roasted peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter drizzle in a peanut butter dipped jar rolled in Butterfinger pieces, topped with whipped cream, peanut butter drizzle, Butterfinger pieces, a peanut butter monster cookie dough scoop, a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and a slice of New York cheesecake. THIS is the excess I was looking for, beautiful and terrible, brilliant in its display and selection, yet horrifying in its need to be served with a plate underneath to catch all of the nonsense rapidly falling off of it. The best way to approach this, I decided, was, after taking dozens of pictures and several videos, to dismantle it piece by piece onto my plate, removing the cheesecake primarily as it’s genuinely an entire slice, then the Reese’s Cup, and scraping all the nonsense off the side of the glass with the spoon provided, enjoying it deconstructed in a more sensible and controlled manner as I cannot imagine the chaos and entropy of trying to consume it otherwise.

The price of these becomes most shocking when you deconstruct it and realize you just paid $4 for a single Reese's Cup.

Straight to it, it just did not taste good at all, really freezer burnt in a way that just could not be ignored. The cheesecake tasted like it came from a box in storage as expected, the Reese’s Cups are always good frozen, but the actual milkshake was so incredibly gross. It seemed that every cold ingredient on this thing was freezer burnt or stale in some way, and I’m unsure if that’s due to improper storage or something, but it was just horrid. I feel I may be overblowing the awfulness of this, but the objective fact is that they have no business being involved in the milkshake business if they can’t even make their base milkshake taste good. Like, what else is there to say about this? I can’t credit The Yard for a Reese’s Cup tasting good, for a boxed cheesecake slice to taste acceptably bland, but it’s criminally irresponsible to call yourself a milkshake bar and serve completely disgusting milkshakes, especially that of a featured product. My bf, Weasel (talk) got the Blueberry Frozen Lemonade, and that was ehhhh alright, and ‘ehhhh alright’ was something I became envious of, and even that felt off and was just not something we could finish. I got to keep the jar it came in, which was a fun bit of novelty if only to serve as a regular reminder of how atrocious this thing was, and also to supplement the mental value with the same trick sports stadiums and theme parks have pioneered. I certainly hope that every milkshake place that specializes in these kinda bizarre lunatic nonsense things has a rinsing station where you can wash off your jar to bring back as a souvenir, in case that’s the kinda collection you want to start making.

I will admit that there’s a lot of spectacle going into this, and it’s definitely fun trying them whether they taste good or not, riffing on it with Weasel for some quality time. Though, that’s not to say this is the optimal route, as I could spend just as much money as I did on one of these milkshakes to buy the ingredients to make several sundaes at home that don’t taste abysmally expired and spoiled. Looking at other reviews and videos, though, it’s clear that the ‘WE WERE ON SHARK TANK!!!! TELEVISION!!!!! PRIME TIME TV!!!!!’ is working heavily in their favor as people seem to think that The Yard pioneered this, originated it, are the only ones doing it, and do it the best, when in fact every medium-sized city has a couple places that do stupid milkshakes, too. Sure, yeah, perhaps it’s an “original concept” that thought to include ‘milkshakes, ice cream, sundaes, and edible cookie dough’, but that just feels highly derivative and clawing at some kind of claim when someone can take the entire concept and just bake the cookie dough to now suddenly be an elite original concept that does milkshakes, ice cream, sundaes, edible cookie dough, and cookies, and I want 25% of all gross profits from this idea.

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An issue within their enormous menu is a difficulty to maintain fresh inventory on every single one of their dozens and dozens and what seems to be genuinely hundreds of items. Yes, yeah, they can be pretty modular with one item fulfilling multiple purposes, like peanut butter or sprinkles for example, but I believe in taking some inspiration from Kitchen Nightmares in that paring the menu down will yield a higher quality product that may potentially make lines go up in ways I support, and also streamline the business in a way more conducive to franchising on a higher level. Rather than having a plethora of items that assuredly need to be kept frozen or preserved in some manner to keep everything available at all times, a smaller menu will allow for fresher items to be held for a shorter amount of time as customers will be guided into a smaller selection of products that will burn through everything in total faster.

It’s critical for me to state that I went to the Virginia Beach location and that this one appears to be a franchise location, not one of the four original stores that are owned entirely by the founders. What’s truly disappointing is that their milkshakes look cool and unique, expansive varieties that push fun seasonal ideas, and that has me questioning my experience. This doesn’t fully settle concerns, instead raising more questions: did I get a bad batch? Doubtful with it being a featured item that assuredly was quality-checked and rolling through inventory, so maybe it was stockpiled for the special with several prepared buckets left to die in the freezer? Is there a discrepancy between each store in quality? Is this just how the franchises are? Are the original stores any better? Are Logan and Chelsea Green, founders of The Yard, prowling through search engines for any negative commentary to then fire targeted missiles at an underperforming franchise location? And the question that concerns me the most is if this was a fluke and if any of the stores could have fresher inventory, and the truth is that I absolutely will never take the chance again on such an expensive and wildly unnecessary gimmick product and hope that my disappointed reaction to it spurs you all to never try them and that one day their line goes down and they consider my suggestions.

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen™


Seriously, look at that Brownie one!

Being an Orlando local, I felt it was an obligation to make the trip to Universal CityWalk, the Universal Studios Orlando Resort’s “Epicenter of Awesome” where you can embark on remarkably exciting adventures like walking past a dozen obnoxiously-themed restaurants before not eating at any of them and just going over to only Voodoo’s as too many of your friends canceled last minute on going to Rising Star to justify staying there any longer. CityWalk is effectively the entrance/exit to several of the Universal Parks and serves as a ‘downtown’ area of general shopping, in similar intention of Disney Springs but with a significantly less outdoor mall feel. Parking is $27 regularly, but is free after 6pm or any time if you have a Universal Annual (Preferred) Pass, and can involve a hefty amount of walking depending on how far away you end up getting parked plus just the simple distance from the parking area, through the security check, across the walkway, into the CityWalk area, and then around a large water feature to get to Toothsome’s; suffice to say that the burden placed upon oneself to come here just for this is significantly greater than most any other restaurant outside of the theme park areas. The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen™, colloquially and more easily referred to as Toothsome’s, is a steampunk-themed candy and chocolate shop with associated full-service dining that features over-the-top milkshakes. It’s important to state that the milkshake area was separate from the restaurant, and had such incredibly pared down features that I was personally fine with, but anyone else looking for a genuine experience would be terribly missing as otherwise the only thematic elements visible is like industrial revolution turn-of-the-century typefaces and fonts, copper and brass piping and just a general brassy color palette, gear imagery, and some stupid goggles and statuary for sale. More decor, costumed actors, just all of the theming that’s promised, all hidden behind the doors to a pretty basic French twist on standard American dining options.

My milkshake selection was based on a couple gentle factors, being that I wanted something that was somewhat obnoxious to get that full stupid milkshake experience, but still be something that I could possibly enjoy as these were all between $16 and $17 each for roughly 16 oz of consumable product. Looking over the picture menu and what’s readily clear is that these are all pretty…simple…following a minimalistic formula that honestly sapped away any feeling of immersion or thrill. As ridiculously plain as the Brownie milkshake looked, really being just chocolate shake with a circular brownie plopped on top with a straw shoved through it, I could not justify the $17 price tag and instead went with the Strawberry Cheesecake and That’s Mint options, each for me and my brother to share, as those had a full set of the topping variations and were just things we agreed we both theoretically like. The total price came to $31.63 after tax, which included a Universal Annual Preferred Pass 10% discount.

The Strawberry Cheesecake milkshake is listed as being sour cream ice cream, cheesecake, graham crackers, whipped topping, and a chocolate dipped strawberry. The sour cream ice cream frightened my brother, but I insisted that if I’m to be reviewing this that I must get it as per the stated recipe, a mistake that delivers immediate consequences every time I make it. So the structure of this is sour cream ice cream milkshake, with strawberry glaze squeezed around the insides of the jar, the rim covered in a copious amount of the most shelf-stable whipped cream I’ve ever seen, with a hunk of New York-style cheesecake plunked in the opening with a chocolate-covered strawberry placed on top; graham cracker only visible as extremely light dusting on the whipped cream. What was immediately visible was the lack of strawberries involved, with most of this thing being whipped cream. I’m very aware that commercial restaurant levels of strawberry dessert topping exists at a very affordable and profitable amount that provides both the bright red visuals of the glaze AS WELL AS, CRITICALLY, including a generous amount of sliced strawberries. There’s no reason why a spoonful of this couldn’t be slopped on top of the cheesecake, perhaps even being used as the food glue to attach the chocolate-covered strawberry to. If not that, why not a swirl of sour cream and strawberry ice cream, or mix in the glaze, or even just use strawberry ice cream?? This switch would be critical, too, as the sour cream ice cream was just much more intense than it really had to be, further intensified in comparison to a pretty flavorless and bland slice of cheesecake. The sour cream flavor was just honestly sickening and vile as it was left naked and open with little else to contend with it, and we just simply could not finish it. The strawberry on top was alright, though.

Would've thought a theme park to have more...theme.

The That’s Mint milkshake is listed as being minty chocolate chip ice cream, Andes mints, and a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Mint chocolate chip ice cream certainly fills the full 16 oz cup, with a hard chocolate shell coating much of the rim and top, then whipped cream stuffing the opening with a couple Andes mints and a mint Oreo ice cream sandwich placed on that. I was initially impressed by the hard chocolate shell, as it provides the over-the-top overflowing visual, but makes absolutely none of the sticky mess, only being a projectile hazard if you try to pick any of it off with a spoon. The mint Oreo ice cream sandwich was nice, and I can’t exactly credit that towards Toothsome’s and rather to Nabisco, great job Nabisco, but with there being only one of those with only two Andes mints it left the whole thing feeling kind barren and uninspired, dare I say homemade with how modest and low-on-frills it is. If I’m paying $17 for an extravagant milkshake, I want more frills, pure ostentatiousness, to be dazzled, in awe, jaw dropping in absurdity! Even though it was the best part, I would’ve gotten rid of the mint Oreo ice cream sandwich and replaced it with either an actual ice cream sandwich and/or several standard Oreo cookies, intact or crushed–even the mint ones if so necessary! And, at the very least, for the milkshake to be good, and, while mint chocolate chip ice cream is a top choice of mine, this was very clearly an excruciatingly low-quality bargain version that found a way to stick itself between flavorless and noxious.

There is no visible washing station, aside from any general understanding of just going into the bathroom, so what we ended up doing was just scooping as much of the horrible nonsense we could out of the (plastic, not glass) jars into the garbage can and taking the disgusting jars home to just wash there. Certainly there was a better way, but what can you expect from two people with anxiety. It’s quite something to say that the most impressed my brother and I were with this place was with the choice in napkins they had, being thick heavyweight towels, easily absorbing any ice cream drips as well as presumably a significant portion of this restaurant’s budget with how everything else looked.

It’s hard to fully put forth just how incredibly disappointing, the complete lack of imagination that absolutely befuddles me not only as it’s in a high-concept themed restaurant inside of a theatrical theme park but just in the most basic sense of creativity and thought. Truly, wholeheartedly, I plead with you, beg you, anyone who reads this to just not even bother with this at all, don’t even go inside and question it, just stay away and do something better with your time. Complete and utter shame, shame is what it is, the creative directors and those responsible for this cheap and lackluster gutter trash-quality slop need to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Stay away.

Build My Burger


My quest for local massive shakes led me to a place called Build My Burger, a burger concept restaurant that lets you…..choose your toppings? I can’t hate on this much at all because we really shouldn’t be able to customize burgers at every restaurant, and being able to modulate between every possible option SHOULD be a gimmick. Plunked down right by UCF, an absolutely massive university system, Build My Burger aims to be a fun hangout space that offers ‘fries, freaky shakes, beer’, wings, tenders, and of course burgers; basically American pub food plus the shakes.

I feel like a few more Cocoa Puffs would've really elevated it.

For my order I got a double angus patty, with a pretzel bun (extra charge), swiss cheese, applewood smoked bacon (extra charge), lettuce, caramelized onions, and bbq sauce, then of course the Chocolate Delight Freakshake. $33 for both the milkshake and burger, about equal price for each, like, whatever, novelty, whatever. I’ll never pay that much again for the luxury of choosing toppings, but luckily they lowered the prices a few months later. The burger was actually really good, and I’m a huge fan of pretzel buns so the simple fact that it was an option at all made me a fan, more so that the burger tasted nice and fresh, flavorful and filling. But, what we are here for is the freakshake, the Chocolate being one of only two options visible on the menu, with multiple other options appearing to have been available at some point. The Chocolate Delight, at the time of me getting it, included a base hand spun chocolate milkshake inside of a traditional milkshake glass rather than a mason jar, with Cocoa Puffs adhered to the top with a thick and sticky whipped cream, a yeast donut with chocolate sprinkles, an entire Hershey bar, an Oreo, and an expired mini jar of Nutella. The most baffling part of this is the inclusion of the mini Nutella container. I can confirm that it is real and not an elaborate fake cake element; the container remains sealed and I cannot imagine how I’m intended to use this. Maybe if I got the combo with the fries I could dip those into the Nutella? But, assuming I got only the milkshake, I’d have to either spoon it out to eat it that way, attempt to suck it up through the straw, maybe try to wipe it onto…something…maybe the donut? I took a stab at dipping what I could into it, which ended up being a piece of the Hershey bar, which felt pretty awkward. What I’m glad for is that the actual chocolate milkshake within was pretty good, like, actually really good. By the time I got halfway into it the copious amount of heavy whipped cream mixed into it, which I can’t say I was really a fan of as it made the whole thing taste weak, but I didn’t hate it. The construction of this in general just feels very amateur, which I do not intend as an insult because it’s pretty clear that this is a new business taking a stab at concepts to see what works and what doesn’t, and it’s just my stance here that this doesn’t; almost as if the thought process that went behind it only got as far as what would make a good viral picture, and no consideration for anything further that that. All this tells me is next time when I go there, if there should be a next time, to just get a standalone milkshake.

This is the reality of these milkshakes.

One thing I did enjoy about this place was the people-watching. Very obvious TikTok kiddies, copy/paste trendy hair and all, being cute together but watching TikToks at FULL volume. Another guy dropped a hunk of bacon or something from his burger, got up and went to the counter and told them “something fell from my burger”; had to say it like six times because the guy at the register was like uhhh ok, with the guy now aggressively pointing at it on the ground which elicited the register guy to give a confused “ok” again before just sitting down and leaving the bacon chunk on the ground. Insanely impatient woman who was acting like she was being physically attacked by having to wait for food to be freshly made in front of her, with enough fidgeting, dramatic head turning, and loud sighing to power a small city, complete with her actually saying “about time” when she received her order and quickly changing her tune to say “hope you guys have a good weekend” after I stared at her hard enough to burn a hole through her vile head. There was another man, very serious-looking, who got the same milkshake, so I observed his actions to get more information. After looking super glum and intimidating, quickly erupted with childlike glee after receiving his weirdo shake, plucking every Cocoa Puff off and eating them rapidly, going up to the counter after finishing it and giving the workers a huge smile and two thumbs up. What he ended up doing was pouring the rest of his milkshake into a to-go cup and plucking the Nutella jar out and just taking it home with him, which I guess I could’ve done but I didn’t really feel like I could possibly clean up the container well enough after it had been plopped into the milkshake.

Every time I have been in this place I have seen their owner, Aly Lalani, running around doing SOMETHING, always being extremely personable and never (from my perspective) getting in the way of the workers. Incredibly ambitious and a family man, Aly wants to turn towards the franchising business, and with the kind of person I’ve seen him as I certainly wish him the success. Whether it’s coming out of the back to give a little girl a free cookie, or encouraging me to get a free fountain drink while I wait for my pickup order that I arrived early for to be ready, this is the kind of personal touch and hospitality that makes this burger shop stand out compared to fast food chains.

An incredibly important change that occurred in September 2023, six months after I went there and took my initial notes and commentary, is they discontinued their freaky shakes in order to streamline their franchising business, quote:

“It’s the end of freaky shakes!!! We have been busy behind the scenes working on Franchising and growing the brand. Our customers love our food which keeps us busy to a point where we have no time to make these beautiful work of art. Therefore we are discontinuing Freaky Shakes as we grow our brand to new markets and keep our menu consistent and delicious 😋”

Like, honestly, mad respect, understanding that making giant funky milkshakes was not going to be a sustainable part of their core business, but still keeping simpler milkshakes on the menu as the milkshake itself was my favorite part. This change might remove a social media picture opportunity for them, but really if it was not their focus then they shouldn’t be having that be at the forefront, so having people now posting pictures of their giant sloppy burger creations is a boon to their core business. This update genuinely had me supportive of their growth and has me considering going there tonight after work to go get a burger because I’m CRAVING a pretzel bun with fresh burger and sloppy cheese, and without having a $15 milkshake added to the order and instead a $5 one, it’s only going to cost me a sensible ~$22 which is just a few bucks above my regular McDonald’s order to give me something much more satisfying. Screw it, I’m doing it, and will be slapping away at my keyboard with saucy fingers finishing this exact review.

Update: The chocolate milkshake is FANTASTIC, old-fashion style that shocked me with nostalgia. Complete perfection aside from the fact that I do not currently have 5 gallons of it sitting in front of me. Nutella jars and stale Cocoa Puffs are not needed, this shake is just absolutely amazing and has put BMB on my internal map of places to go back to.

Legends Ice Cream & Churros (FKA Lucha Libre)


I should be allowed to wear one of those masks if I get their biggest shake.

I’m gonna be honest, I had no idea what this place was, just that I had searched on Google Maps something like “ice cream” or “milkshake” in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad area while I was visiting Weasel because I like dragging him along on my weird review adventures and just wandering around food places with him. This wonderful article here that I’m not going to do injustice with by trying to summarize much, just that Legends Ice Cream & Churros is an ice cream shop that redefines what an ice cream shop is all about. Founded by Martin Ortega, mixing the cultures of growing up in Mexico and living in North Carolina, Legends is very vibrantly luchador-themed, hosting an enormous and variable menu of paletas, ice cream, coffee, fruity treats, snacks, and most importantly churros and massive milkshakes. Luchadors are over-the-top so of course the shakes and treats at a luchador-themed shop would also be over-the-top, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The milkshakes range from simple and common creations, to more complex combinations, to distinctive behemoths. Walking into this place is astonishing, almost staggering, with the vast amount of theming; absolutely loaded with luchador stuff, whether it’s a wall of masks, shirts, hats, memorabilia, newspaper clippings and advertisements, several curated areas entirely meant for taking selfies, and an incredible amount of ¡Mucha Lucha! recolors serving as mascots.

Invest in flamboyant tabletops or tablecloths PLEASE!

Pretty much every flavor and combination is Mexican in some way, whether it’s popular Mexican flavors or just with Mexican packaged food plopped on top, the culture and pride is first and foremost and done in such a colorful, creative, fun, and exciting way. There were definitely other options I wanted to get, but the Mangonada Titan All-The-Way had some heavy advertising, including a large standee to take a picture of yourself next to, so I knew this was the one I had to get. As per my receipt, the Mangonada Titan cost $13.99, and making it go All-The-Way with the added mini Tajín and Adrenaline Chamoy costing 99¢ and $1.25 respectively. It consists of a squirt of chamoy sauce around the inside of the cup, mango and chamoy sorbet, a paleta of my choosing (lime), diced mango, a tamarind candy stick, tamarind bites, more chamoy, sprinkling of Tajín, then the Tajín bottle and Adrenaline Chamoy shoved in. The Adrenaline Chamoy is a syringe filled with the chamoy sauce, and the Tajín, of course, is a branded little bottle of chili peppers, lime, and salt that was placed on top, which I’ll make the incredibly petty critique of it not even being placed in a way where the label was placed aesthetically with the logo visible from the primary camera angle.

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Extremely not a fan of those scary-looking gray candy things, which I had to find this video to confirm that they’re tamarind bites; they were alright to start but I suppose the cold temperature hardened them a bit as it sat there and just turned into irritating rocks that I kept mistaking for my teeth falling out and I eventually had to scoop them out and toss them aside. The mango ice cream within is fantastic, and I wish there were more of it as the overwhelming amount of chamoy got really tiring pretty quickly, especially with having nothing else to eat or drink available to me which I guess is partially my own fault but c’mon who wants to buy MORE stuff to go with your $16 milkshake? The tamarind candy paste was wrapped around a straw which I think was the worst choice of this entire thing as it was wrapped around the bottom of the straw rendering the functional ability of the straw moot, and it was also difficult to chew it off as the straw is plastic and inedible. If I could’ve just bit right through it I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it and actually consumed it, but instead it was basically torture for very little gain other than taking mental note on what percentage of this item I’ve consumed relative to how much it cost me. The aesthetic elements add a sense of thrill, but lands squarely in the trap of my preconceived judgment of these fancy milkshakes in that they seem impossible to eat without getting filthy, and I find it hard to believe anyone actually wants that, especially when the expectation is you’re going to be tapping away at your phone screen to document the entire experience. It’s supposed to be twee and whimsical, a cute picture to draw attention, to go ooh and ahh at, get clicks and likes and follows and wow you’re so cool and interesting for trying this wild and wacky thing!, that is part of it, yes, but. There is a failure to grasp the largest picture, that within the whimsy must also be utility, which I believe multiplies the whimsical nature. Willy Wonka's chocolate world wasn't fantastic because it was a bunch of inedible decor. The mango pieces are good and I’m not mad at them, except when I could tell that they were not the ripest ones available, which made them stiff and flavorless obstacles in the way of me digging up that amazing mango ice cream below. My mistake here was getting a mix of the mango and chamoy sorbet instead of requesting just more mango as that may have cut down on the overbearing flavors that I just honestly do not like and I don’t think I’ll ever grow to like no matter how many times I review chamoy products, and because I could’ve instead had more mango.

I would've liked the cookie to dip in, not to be crumbs all over the place.

Because the Mangonada (the chamoy and tamarind bites only, if I’m to be honest) left such a bad taste in my mouth, I also got a hot chocolate, specifically the Chocolate Azteca, which confused both of the cashiers as they asked me which one, which confused me right back. Apparently there’s quite a few things there that are called ‘Chocolate Azteca’, including several of the milkshakes, an ice cream flavor, as well as a cold drink. You’d think there’d be different names for some stuff, but what do I know? The picture showed me something with whipped cream, toppings, and I guess a cookie plunked aesthetically onto the top, but what I received was a to-go cup that had some chocolate painted onto the side and rolled in what I can only guess are wafer crumbs. If they thought I was taking this to-go then, like, well, don’t assume that please, but also please don’t slather liquid chocolate onto something you’re giving me to bring into my car. I had to start drinking this by wiping all of the chocolate off the side of the cup with my finger and then wrapping the cup up with napkins, as it’s my personal preference to not coat my entire hand with chocolate each time I grab the vessel holding my beverage that’s otherwise supposed to keep my hands not covered in food. It was good! The hot chocolate tasted good, regardless of the bonehead preparation of it, it was good! But there was just absolutely no thought put into the reality of this and just purely into the visual appearance.

My one biggest regret here, aside from getting a milkshake contraption that just was not aligned with my tastes, is that I never got one of the churros or the milkshakes that came with one, but I suppose that’s a feature of a successful business that when I try something of theirs that was kind of a disaster (for me) that I still want to try something else. I will absolutely go again, because even though I wasn’t too into the Mangonada Titan, I was definitely into the theming, the large variety of options, and how it was good exposure to food and flavors I may not have otherwise easy access to because even though I could probably spend $1 on these Mexican treats or candies by just walking across the street to the Mexican grocery store, it just feels more special when it’s something that’s not just an Oreo shoved into whipped cream. At the time of writing this there are two locations, the original in Greensboro and another opened in Winston-Salem in 2021, but it has now changed name from ‘Lucha Libre Ice Cream & Churros’ to Legends Ice Cream & Churros and has begun to franchise out with posts on their Facebook page stating stores are coming soon to a bunch of major cities, including: Miami, Charleston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, Raleigh, Washington DC, Nashville, and–critically for me–Orlando; though there is no other indication or clarification as of this moment if any of that is actually happening.

JoJo’s Shake BAR


Any weather is ice cream weather!

I first saw this in a local news magazine as opening in March 2023 with their first Florida location right here in Orlando. The article details JoJo’s as being a “Chicago-based '80s diner chain [that] will bring some not-so-healthy eats and nostalgic feels to Orlando this week”, but it felt less 80s-themed and more like cashing in on millennials now having money and having no culture beyond what they experienced as children, which I suppose is an excellent strategy for an entertainment and shopping mall existing steps away from extremely popular convention centers, theme parks, and tourist destinations. Snacks, sandwiches, soups, burgers, brunch, dinner, cocktails and drinks, JoJo’s satisfies a lot of cravings with a diverse-yet-standard menu that most importantly features hedonistically-indulgent milkshakes.

Walking past the 'Critics Not Welcome' delighted me more than it probably should've.

I wanted to go, but despite it being in the same city as me it happened to be located in the International Drive district right by the Orange County Convention Center, which is sorta far out of the way for me to visit and can be difficult with handling parking, so it was inconvenient for me to go to without there being anything else in the area for me to attend. Some friends attending Megaplex went there together and were extremely satisfied with their experience there, which convinced me that I need to set aside some time for it. Before I could get around to that I instead saw Jojo’s set up at a nearby Halloween market advertising their new location and just absolutely had to try it even though it was a torrential downpour. They were selling only one item, a Cookies ‘N’ Scream Mini Milkshake, made with vanilla Oreo shake, an Oreo mummy, chocolate waffle cone, and cotton candy, all at $9–nothing mini about that price. Nevertheless, I was in the mood to spend money and excited that this luxury nonsense food I’ve been wanting to try has magically appeared in front of me. The theming of it was fantastic, from the giant candy corn design of the chocolate-dipped waffle cone, to the chocolate-dipped Oreo with the little eyes and Pinterest perfection, with the little spider ring toy. I bit into the cone first because that’s what was prominently there, and was shocked that it…wasn’t stale? It was crunchy? Fresh?? I remember going up to grab more napkins because I was an awful mess and the one worker there asked me if I liked it, and I just had to say something like ‘I know this will sound weird, but I greatly appreciate how nothing here is stale; everything tastes fresh and it’s a shame how freshness is what surprised me, but I absoLUTEly will be checking out the store’ and I could see her taken aback by such a sharpened compliment and delivered me such a pained and relieved ‘thank you’, as if personally understanding. It’s odd to see a chain company existing at one of these local markets I go to–typically they’re banned, for objectively good reason–but their acceptance and touch of personal quality felt very validating.

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A few months later Megacon was going on, which gave me an opportunity to be in the area of their brick-and-mortar store, and, with everyone I know bailing on me for a variety of reasons, I was determined to face one of the most terrifying things–sitting at a 4-person table in a full-service restaurant by myself–so I can get another one of these milkshakes. ‘Vintage’, ‘retro’, ‘nostalgic’ are words I’ve seen describing this place, but aside from some murals of Biggie Smalls and Prince, some ‘Throwbacks’ drinks that reminisced to no particular time at all, near-gaudy application of Target-adjacent décor, Jojo’s came off as quite modern to me. Yes, yes, neon lights, disco balls, Polaroid walls, but what is modernity if not the ideals of the newly matured? The 30-somethings who now have the disposable income to do what they think is cool, what they want to do? I happened upon quite a slow time, I guess as it was between sensible brunch and dinner hours, and appreciated how the workers left me be until I gave non-verbal cues that I am ready to order, which I will credit as their greatest feat of appealing to 30-somethings.

I think I need one of these every day from now on.

Alongside their regular menu they also had a Valentine’s menu, indicating to me that there’s routine updates based on seasonality and theming that I believe to be critical to continued business and return customers, but their Girl Scout Biggie Shake spoke to me, priced at sizable-but-expected $14. Andes mint chocolate shake, toasted marshmallow, chocolate pretzel, chocolate s’more, double chocolate cookie, delivered in a more sensible drink cup rather than the passé mason jar. For another $6 you can add some fernet branca, an alcoholic twist that is offered for the rest of their Biggie Shakes as well. I also ordered the Windy City Smash Burger, another $14 that required another $4 to be paired with fries, and I truly believe that if it just said $18 for both I wouldn’t have felt it to be such a grift, but I suppose a splurge is meant to be a splurge. As the afternoon went on, people started flooding in very conveniently as I received my food, suggesting to me that 3:30pm on a Tuesday is a great time to come in. The ample amount of staffing being put to harmonious work, again leaving me to poke and prod and make a mess of myself, coming by only to ask once how everything is, to which I emphatically said “I don’t think I’ve ever had chocolate-covered pretzels that weren’t stale before, it’s very good.” It was quite incredible, really; the pretzel wasn’t stale, the toasted marshmallow freshly charred delivering a taste more nostalgic than the menu items names, the graham crackers which I believed surely would be soft–as they become as such so quickly in my own pantry–having a firm snap and crunch that can convince you that such an iconically cheap treat can be tendered as high quality. The milkshake itself had a pleasant mintiness to it, not obviously some kind of tired mint extract applied, with a decent thickness I believe is crucial. You just simply don’t think of a milkshake covered in sweet treats to be deemed as ‘fresh-tasting’ in any sense of the phrasing, and JoJo’s ability to execute such a simple-yet-profound feat while still maintaining a successful chain across the country throws into question why so few of the others are able to do it. I contemplated getting one of their hot chocolates, because it was neat to see them treated with a similar over-the-top extravagance as the milkshakes, including the extraneous toppings, but I was simply too full at the time, and it remains a singular reason to go back.

JoJo’s has quickly become a routine trip for numerous friend groups I’m in, a gathering point, a fun bit of bonding to emphasize happy, silly, and most importantly free moments of time to engage in intrinsically human acts of commensality, and to that end I say: there are few better ways than with good fries, a fresh burger, and a goofy milkshake.

The 'Shroom: Issue 205
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