The 'Shroom:Issue 207/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

Shroom2017 Anton.png

Happy June! And just like that we're halfway through the year, and just like that we've come up upon the annual Mario Wiki Anniversary! Please take the time to check out The Community Awards where you can vote and give love to all kinds of things in our community, such as our wonderful sections here in Critic Corner!!

Congrats to, and thank you for voting Hall of Shame and Half-Baked Reviews as May's Critic Corner Section(s) 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

Place Section Votes % Writer
1st Anton's Half-Baked Reviews 17 44.74% Hypnotoad (talk)
1st Hall of Shame 17 44.74% Waluigi Time (talk), Hooded Pitohui (talk), and Roserade (talk)
3rd Book Review 2 5.26% FunkyK38 (talk)
3rd 'Shroom FM 2 5.26% MCD (talk)

Reviews / opinion pieces
We always need This but more of 'Shroom FM!
Chewing burns calories, too!

'Shroom FM

Written by: MCD (talk)

Hello music fans. It's me. Music man. Mr. Music.


Charli XCX - Brat

I'm not quite as hot on Brat as others are, but I'm pleased at the level of acclaim it's getting. If I'm honest, there's a lot of places where I don't really see what's happening here that wasn't happening on her previous albums or mixtapes in this style. '360' - the opener, and probably biggest hit - is tight and precise, and yet it just feels like standard fare for a Charli / A.G. Cook track. It's catchy and slick, but it's basically just a chorus. After '360' and the much cooler 'Club classics', I thought this was just going to be purely a party album. That's not a bad thing, I thought maybe that was why everyone was so impressed. No emotions, just play the hits. Then ‘Sympathy is a knife’ and ‘I might say something stupid’ threw a few curveballs - particularly the latter; no beat, low-tempo, completely serious and introspective. It doesn't work. Especially not this early. ‘Sympathy’ is brilliant though, raw and anxious lyrics BUT it also slaps. ‘So I’ sort of finds a middle ground between the two, as a poignant tribute to SOPHIE, whose style would have slotted perfectly onto Brat. I think the second half is general is pretty underrated compared to the first - ‘Apple’ is very, very fun; ‘I think about it all the time’ sounds unique even in the context of this album and is deeply personal in a way few songs really reach; and ‘B2b’ is the best song on the whole album, with its massive, thumping drum and synth lines. Maybe the album as a whole will click more on future listens, but either way it's not hard to see why Brat is so big right now.

Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard and Soft

Not a perfect album by any means but by far the best I've heard yet from Billie Eilish. There are a couple of weak moments in the songwriting - for instance, the opener ‘Skinny’ is definitely emotive, but lyrically and instrumentally bland, and ‘The Diner’ has some cool ideas but feels a bit half-formed. Some tracks have cool ideas which aren't executed in the best way - ‘L’amour de ma vie’ completely changes from a soulful, slow guitar-led track into a high-tempo dance track, which is... definitely interesting. Unfortunately, the transition between the two just doesn't exist, at all. It's a little awkward. ‘Bittersuite’ also completely changes its sound by the end, but it feels a lot more polished here. The highlights here are great though; particularly ‘Lunch’, which is super bright and fun while also very open and personal; and ‘Chihiro’, which is deep and introspective, led by a slick, funky bassline, which keeps the song steady as the rest of the instrumentation grows around it. I haven't always been the biggest fan of Billie in the past (did not like When We All Fall Asleep..., ambivalent towards Guitar Songs) but this doesn't outstay its welcome.

Beth Gibbons - Lives Outgrown

Portishead are great, I don't need to tell you that, and I enjoyed the solo album Beth Gibbons did with Rustin Man (2002's Out of Season) but for some reason I found little of what was happening here particularly memorable or engaging. The atmosphere is neat - dark, introspective folk; very intricate, abstract percussion. Instrumentation in general is well-crafted. Her vocals here are - no big surprises here - sublime. It's an impressive soundscape, but in terms of individual songs or even moments in songs, there's only a handful that really grabbed me.

Priori - This but More

This but More
Found this pretty much at random while I was looking for new stuff to listen to, but very glad I did, this is really neat stuff. It gets off to a bit of slow start, but the third track ‘Learn to Fly’ is where it really takes off. The textures here are dense and immersive, and the spaced-out vocal samples really add so much. From here onwards, the atmosphere is very deep and consistent, and wonderful to sink into. The next few songs are all highlights, too: ‘Ruins’ has these lush, twinkly synths over a oddly-timed beat, ‘Eternal’'s cold and melancholic synths contrast gorgeously with the warm guitar line which pops up halfway through, and ‘Wake’'s breakbeats and layered, ethereal vocals are incredible. After that, there's a few less strong moments, but the closer ‘To See Our Secret Die’ brings it back. I love the atmosphere on this album, quite surreal and minimalistic but very engrossing, and the production is sublime.

Thou - Umbilical

Very decent sludge metal. Did take a while to get into it, but a certain point in ‘House of Ideas’ - you'll know when - is where it started to click. It's followed by ‘I Feel Nothing When You Cry’, which is a surprisingly cohesive, high-tempo banger with, as is ‘The Promise’. Vocals in particular are great - blistering and versatile.

Maruja - Connla's Well (EP)

This is good! Very dark and frantic. Vocalist is insane, the way his intensity builds on 'The Invisible Man' is seriously impressive - on the final sustained note he even kind of sounds like the Associates' Billy Mackenzie. I can't be the only one hearing this.

Marina Satti - P.O.P. (EP)

This is one of those projects that definitely “challenges modern pop sensibilities”, particularly if you’re one of those countless “modern pop will NEVER blend with Aegean Islands folk music” people who keep screaming at me in public. P.O.P. does do things with pop music that I’ve personally never really encountered before and throws a lot of unconventional choices and ideas out there. Especially in the first few tracks, it feels like new, fresh and sometimes bizarre ideas are always coming at you, yet never taking away from the cohesiveness of the tracks – even when it’s playing around with song structures. Unfortunately, not everything it throws out there really works for me – there’s a lot of pitch-shifting or fluctuating which only really works for me in very specific contexts. I didn't like any of the other vocalists who popped up, if I'm honest. By far the worst part is ‘Mixtape’, this song takes the style and turns it into a nightmare. A 10+ minute track of incomplete and unconnected ideas, only few of which land, at what feels like the natural end point for things. And it's not even the last track! The closer - ‘Ah thalassa’ - is a slow, emotive ballad with lush instrumentation; it would be out of place even if ‘Mixtape’ didn't exist. This EP is really sharp and inventive in its best moments, but I think needs a little more focus. No less chaos, just chaos to a better end.

The Mariospective

Written by: Goombuigi (talk)

Welcome back to The Mariospective, the section where I review every Mario game on the Nintendo Switch Online service. This month, I'm reviewing Wrecking Crew, the game which gives Mario yet another occupation.

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.

Wrecking Crew In-game Logo.png
System NES
Original Release Date Japan June 18, 1985
USA October 18, 1985
Europe October 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 Phase 100 without skipping any phases


The game where Mario destroys stuff.

Wrecking Crew was published in 1985, and was a sequel to the game VS. Wrecking Crew, which was released on the VS. System the previous year. While you wouldn’t know it by the name, this is indeed a Mario game, featuring the trusty red-wearing plumber as a demolition site worker, alongside his brother Luigi in two-player mode.


There’s not much of a story behind this game - Mario and Luigi are at a demolition site, tasked with destroying all of the walls in each stage. Their foreman, Foreman Spike (who has only recently become relevant again thanks to the movie), sometimes meddles with them on particular stages, so presumably, he wants to get them fired, but his role in the story isn’t particularly defined.


The gameplay of Wrecking Crew is quite simple, but enjoyable. The objective in each stage is to break all of the breakable walls, while avoiding rampant enemies. Mario’s movement is quite limited - while he can move left and right, he can’t jump this time around, and has to use ladders for vertical movement, which can make traversing the stage difficult. Stages also have vertical scrolling, which can make traversing some stages quite difficult. Climbing ladders can take a while, especially when also trying to avoid enemies going up and down them. Horizontal movement, on the other hand, provides a lot more opportunities, especially since, like in Mario Bros., the screen wraps around so that Mario can go from the right side of the screen to the left, and vice-versa (indicated by two-way arrows on each side).

Welp, I’m stuck...

The goal of Wrecking Crew is to destroy all of the breakable objects in each stage, and there are a few types of these. There’s the standard grey walls, which can be destroyed with one hit of Mario’s hammer, light grey brick walls, which take two hits to destroy, and dark grey brick walls, which take three hits to destroy. There’s breakable grey ladders as well, and these can be tricky, as the player will often need to climb these ladders to reach other breakable objects. There’s been a few times where, absent-mindedly, I destroyed a ladder, only to find out that I needed to climb it to reach walls that I can’t reach now - which forced me to kill poor Mario and restart the level. In general, a rather notable design issue with this game is how many times the player ends up in a position where they are forced to die, thanks to the enemies and their movement as well as the aforementioned breakable ladder. Some pillars contain drums, which fall down when the support underneath them is destroyed. These drums, with the right timing, can actually trap enemies, which the player can use strategically to make the rest of the stage that much easier. And then there are bombs, which are pretty powerful. They can break nearby walls, open doors, and knock nearby enemies, as well as Foreman Spike, to the bottom of the stage. Speaking of doors, these can be used to knock enemies into the background, where they can do no harm, though I haven’t used them a whole lot. They only appear in a handful of stages, after all.

Pictured is Foreman Spike, being a nuisance as usual.

As for enemies, the game has a few of them. The most prominent ones are Gotchawrenches, which simply walk around slowly. They can climb up ladders, and red ones are slower, but they’re all easily avoidable. Then there are Eggplant Men, which are a lot faster, so Mario can’t simply outrun them. In some stages, they appear in groups, and they are especially tricky to dodge in those situations. Then there are Fireballs, which, like in previous games, appear if the player spends too long in a particular stages. They’re somewhat of a tradition in these classic arcade-originating games, I’ve noticed. Lastly, there’s Foreman Spike, who follows Mario and tries to knock him with his hammer. He’s really annoying, since at times, he interferes with the player so much that he causes an unwinnable state. For instance, if Mario’s climbing a grey ladder, Foreman Spike might break that ladder, and as I detailed earlier, will make it impossible for Mario to reach high up objects. He’s a pretty big hindrance from my experience, and as much as I like the obscure character that Foreman Spike is, I didn’t enjoy his presence from a gameplay perspective, as he felt more unfair than truly challenging. The enemies overall are decent, though sometimes, depending on the design of the stage, they can end up surrounding Mario from both sides, and since Mario can’t jump, there’s nothing he can really do about it.

On the other hand, though, I found that this does encourage a different kind of strategy compared to past games I’ve covered, and that’s planning out Mario’s traversal. What I mean by that is that in previous games, the player is encouraged to jump into action immediately, and the stage layouts were simple enough that not much planning was involved. However, in Wrecking Crew, the level layouts are often quite intricate, requiring the player to stop and think about what the next move should be. There’s often a methodical approach that is needed to successfully beat the level, making this game almost more of a puzzle than a platformer. As someone who’s a fan of brain-scratching puzzles, this game has an inherent appeal to me based on that alone.

Attempting to make a stage in the stage editor.

One of the highlights of this game compared to past ones I’ve covered thus far is the number of unique phases. Donkey Kong had three of them, Donkey Kong Jr. had four, Mario Bros. had 22 of them before they repeated, but Wrecking Crew has a whopping 100 phases! It was by far the lengthiest game I’ve played so far, taking me a few hours to beat. It’s quite impressive for a game from 1985. Even more impressive, though, is “Design” mode, which allows you to make your own stages. That’s right, there’s finally a new mode outside of the standard 1- and 2-player modes. As a big fan of Super Mario Maker and customization in general, this is a very intriguing inclusion, especially for 1985 when such stuff wasn’t a trend. The interface is fairly archaic, as one might expect (you need to cycle through elements to get to the one you want, which isn’t very intuitive), but the very inclusion is still a great feature to me, and yet another point that upholds this game. Unfortunately, the stages that you make can’t be saved in-game, but using save states, you can save a few of them (or you can screenshot the layouts and recreate them later, I guess). Nonetheless, a stage creator is something I always appreciate if it’s included.

The rather basic bonus stage.

Outside of the standard stages, the game also has a bonus stage after every fourth stage. Unfortunately, this bonus stage feels more luck-based than something like Mario Bros.. There are a handful of walls, with one of them containing a coin inside, and the player has to hit walls until they find the one with a coin inside. However, Foreman Spike also destroys walls at the same time, which leaves it practically up to chance as to whether Mario or Foreman Spike find the coin first. Even if Mario breaks more of the walls, there’s a chance that he’s unlucky and Spike finds the coin on his first or second try. I do appreciate the inclusion of a bonus stage, as it breaks up the pacing of the rest of the levels, but it feels like a bit of a throwaway to me.


Wrecking Crew’s presentation is about what you’d expect. Visually, it looks like a NES game from 1985. I do like the blue-green color palette that is used for the floors and walls, but there’s not much else to say visually. I must say, though, that I really enjoy the music. These old games have some catchy, albeit brief, themes, but there’s something about this game’s music specifically that stands out to me. Perhaps it’s the two remixes from the Super Smash Bros. games that make me enjoy it.


Overall, I’d say Wrecking Crew is a surprisingly enjoyable game. While it does have its points of frustration, it’s a fun game with a ton of stages to play through, plus a stage creator if that tickles your fancy. While there are points where you’ll find yourself surrounded by enemies or get softlocked, more often than you might like, Wrecking Crew is nonetheless an enjoyable experience. If you’re a fan of puzzle-platformers, I’d definitely recommend it, and even if you aren’t, I’d recommend this game over most of the others that I’ve covered so far. It’s certainly a meaty game with 100 stages to enjoy, plus you can start at any stage from the title screen, a nice feature for if you want to skip to the end of the game or have already played a few stages. With a stage creator to boot, I’d say this is one of my favorite games from this early NES era. Though, like any game, it has its archaic elements and frustrating moments, it’s still a fun game despite that.

I hope you enjoyed this month's retrospective of Wrecking Crew! Next month, I'll take a look at Super Mario Bros., arguably the most well-known NES game. See you then!

Anton's Half-Baked Reviews

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)
Art by: @Yonsoncb

Judgment Free Zone

I don’t work out or go to the gym, and, ridding yourself of any offensive stereotyping of the body types of forum/chatroom moderators and peeps like me who spend a lot of time writing and posting online, if you spend any bit of time with me you might not even notice. For now, at least, I have above-average strength, an unnervingly high stamina and constitution, and obnoxious agility that becomes apparent when trying to walk anywhere with me, almost all certainly due to the requirements of my career having me running in circles, lifting hundreds of heavy boxes, and thinking quickly to manage the entire body of actions for 30+ non-autonomous individuals for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week; and that’s with me doing nothing to support it with my diet consisting primarily of milk, cookies, and chicken tenders. Luckily for me, the long-sustained trend in food has been healthy alternatives, with the current hype being all around functional food and beverages, which puts a big focus on cramming as much of whatever current health craze stuff into foods that mimic junk and treats that people actually want to be eating. While I’m still young and bouncy, and in need of a review topic that will most assuredly give me months and months of content, I’ll be finding my way around which of these products works best (for me), isn’t a load of complete nonsense, and–most importantly–tastes good.


It’s become a ritual of mine to stop by Sprouts once a week or so and check out their new product display, as they pretty regularly change it out to showcase new items that pretty much no one else (near me) has and take risks on new inventory that I hardly see anywhere else. During one of these trips I saw these sleek and chic glass bottles that spoke to me, sure, because they looked so unnecessarily luxe, but also because they were one of the few items on the New racks that appeared to have any movement. Three flavors available, with Pure and Mango Ginger still there, and Pomegranate nowhere to be seen despite a shelf tag which indicates to me that the best option is already gone, but nevertheless with a 2/$7 price tag and no sale I probably wasn’t going to get more than that.

MOSS is a relatively new product, January 2024, from Michael B. Jordan, through his company Outlier Society Ventures and partnering with health-and-wellness company DrSmood which is founded by the founder of Pandora jewelry and his model/architect wife. Jordan states that the genesis of MOSS is from his own frustrations with incorporating sea moss gel into smoothies, it being trial-and-error and just a high barrier of entry, followed by four years of development with nutritionists and experts, bringing this methodical celebrity ritual a few pedestals down. It’s important for me to say that the bottle says ‘Product by: Dr Smood’ and says absolutely nothing about Michael B. Jordan or his Outlier Society Ventures, despite Jordan doing all of the grassroots legwork, which raises a couple questions that can all be put under the umbrella: why? According to this interview in GQ, Jordan just “(...) let the pros be the pros and do what they had to do in order to really make it into a beverage that could be sold around the United States and around the world,” which just tells me that he had the idea and is using his star power, charisma, and name to market and push the product in ways that DrSmood would not be able to. Their website says that their host of ingredients includes ashwagandha, which apparently was a limited time online-exclusive inclusion for a Mango Ginger V2, but has already sold out. MOSS promises to “awaken the senses, enhance vitality + bring balance back into our lives”, and the founders could probably use some if it also helps them get their feet moving as fast as their mouths, but all I’m here for is to find out if it does what it says and, primarily, if it tastes good.


“Functional + Refreshing,” is exactly what I’m here for, so, so far so good, “Sea moss infused with sweet lime citrus for light, crisp flavor and lasting hydration.” Call it paranoid or cynical, but with the Pure flavor having lime added to it just tells me that this is going to taste a bit funky and needed a subtle something to help offset it. Gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, separation is natural so shake well, and enjoy cold, and a quick spin around to the Nutrition Facts shows it’s 50 calories and has 13g (4% DV) of carbs, so be careful if you’re in this for a keto diet. Despite being called ‘Pure*’, it has a bunch of other nonsense in there; the ingredients include reverse osmosis water, erythritol, sea moss, lime juice concentrate, and organic monk fruit. Erythritol promises significant bloating, gas, and diarrhea, and given my experience with the Keto-Friendly Swiss Miss wreaking havoc on my guts I was a bit taken aback and now apprehensive, but I’m in too deep. Below that is a note that the * for Pure describes the flavor, not the ingredients, and I GUESS so but it’s more like an artificial pureness utilizing subtle sweet and citrus flavors to trick your mind akin to dish soap and antibacterial sprays.

To my surprise, and also validation, it smells like a freshly cleaned highway rest stop after it has just rained, which I cannot decide if it’s good or bad, and will instead settle on it’s definitely covering up some crap. It feels incredibly…smooth? Like, it’s thickened and softer, the viscosity is low and reminds me of like aloe water without the chunks, which takes a little getting used to and I don’t think I ever fully did. I typically cross-reference my reviews with other websites and YouTube videos, just to see if anything I’m experiencing and feeling lines up with what other people are saying, and this is the first product I’ve ever reviewed where there’s just absolutely nothing being said about this except for on TikTok, which I am taking as further validation of the target audience. This one here says the Pure tastes like a flat Sprite that had all of the ice melt into it, and yeah, I would agree that that describes the flavor, but no one in any of the dozen videos I clicked on brought up the texture that I think is critical here. Refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, seems to be the only word any of these people can think of, and I disagree here that it’s truly refreshing; maybe the little bit of lime serves that mental trick for freshness akin to vanilla being a mental trick for creaminess, but I wouldn’t say that I felt any thirst was quenched with this as I would with, say, a Powerade or some other kind of electrolyte drink. It’s not bad, it’s just not what I’d grab again if there were any other options, just say you’re drinking it because sea moss has a bunch of health benefits and having a ready-to-drink glass bottle of it removes several hurdles and barriers that moss gels and supplements would otherwise pose.

Very aesthetic, but the goo floating around kinda took me out of it.

Mango Ginger (V2 ?)

Now, what I was saying earlier about how the Mango Ginger V2 was an online-only exclusive, was either false information, or Sprouts got their hands on a batch of it because the glass I have includes ashwagandha but the online listing does not. The full list of ingredients for the one available online and what appears to be what is available at all is: ‘Reverse Osmosis Water, Organic Mango Concentrate, Erythritol, Wild Sea Moss, Lime Juice Concentrate, Organic Mango Extract, Organic Ginger Extract, Organic Monk Fruit’, which is all of what mine has plus ashwagandha and eleuthro ginseng, which are both things that–along with their added, *cough* trendy buzzwords *cough*, health benefit–imbue slight bitterness. It must be known that I drove all over the city and stopped by six different Sprouts locations and not a single one had any MOSS–none on the New For You racks, none in the water aisle, none next to the chlorophyll water which is kinda the same concept, none in the juices, teas, sodas, end caps, specials, refrigerated, removed from the Sprouts website in all locations. I’m not sure what the deal here is because only six weeks ago did MOSS marketing believe and push such a large footprint, but if I’m to base this off of my experience with limited batch eggnogs, the likely scenarios are they did not produce enough to meet demand whether it’s due to just not expecting it to sell as much, or just not having the ability to do it at all, with the eggnog reasons being available of milkfat and with MOSS either harvesting the actual moss or producing the glass jars.

Either way, this is considerably more tolerable to drink than the Pure, but don’t take that as likable. Fresh and pleasant smell, but the texture is still the same, leaving it still pretty off-putting and unpleasant as the flavors aren’t quite sweet or strong enough in general to compensate. The ginger flavor is much heavier than the mango, which has this leaning towards feeling like a kombucha in terms of how powerfully those are flavored. Whatever mango there is tastes TOO real, which shouldn’t register as a fault, really, but should’ve been supported a little differently as it just didn’t taste like they used good quality ripe mangos and instead more of the skin, as implied in their social media advert for the flavor..

What I feel is most important about MOSS, in how it’s been marketed and just also my personal experience, is that it just looks cool, it looks modern and artsy and like something someone would be willing to overpay for, so big BIG credit to the graphic designers behind all of these subliminal tells. Being a celebrity-founded product that started selling in Erewhon in Los Angeles, it’s clear what kind of audience this is geared for. This incredibly astute TikTok makes a good point in that, if they want to reach larger and more varied markets, MOSS will need to rebrand away from sexy glass bottles and into cans, a la poppi, but I think where MOSS differs is it already looks cool. Yes, it does have a similar base issue in that moss isn’t exactly the most approachable and consumer-friendly entry as a wider audience may think of it as dirty, but this very much is an LA elite trend that trickled down from Kim Kardashian and can very much stay as a high-end niche item that fades away when the next healthy trend appears, but gives Michael B. Jordan’s business and health-cred the boost it needs to expand into other categories, or create new ones as MOSS has. It’s too early to forecast either likelihood, but I think a rebrand that focuses more on mass appeal will just destroy the strongest selling point MOSS has and is only something I’d expect to see once a venture capital group buys him out.

I’m not sure what it says about MOSS that I only saw it a few more times at Sprouts and now that it’s off the New For You racks it’s just gone from every Sprouts I go into. Using their store finder (which I will say is one of the best store finder’s I’ve ever seen as it loads new areas as you drag across the map, a functionality that’s so obvious and intuitive, yet basically no other bothers to do) it’s just not anywhere around where I live at all, with the Dr Smood café in the high-end luxury neighborhood of Brickell in Miami being the closest, with them not even having MOSS visible on their website, shop page, or Instagram at all. Something is going on here, and it feels more like a product that just was not ready for a nationwide launch and has now had to scale back to its handful of ultra high-end markets and niche clientele in Miami, NYC, and Los Angeles.


Founded on the belief that being healthy is not a privilege, but a human right, Equitea’s goal is to help raise awareness and address ways to heal from addiction, depression, and trauma based on founder Quentin Vennie’s own life experience. The ritual of drinking tea with family was also in part a recommendation from his child’s neurologist to help alleviate symptoms of ADHD, and to help with rest, recovery, and self-care. Initially selling just functional loose-leaf tea blends, Equitea branched out to selling ready-to-drink teas after acknowledging the market they’re trying to reach very plausibly does not have the tools or time to be making tea themselves. With community and mental health in mind, each flavor is intended to aid with a particular need, such as focus, clarity, and energy. I suppose this is the same way literally every other herbal tea company on the planet functions as tea has been used as holistic medicine for eons, with such things as people drinking chamomile tea to help relax, but I suppose that Equitea comes with a much stronger motivational-speaker/entrepreneur angle that cannibalizes personal stories to push sales. Can’t fault that much as it’s pretty benevolent in intention and effect, just kinda silly to see health benefits of tea be shockingly discovered in 2022.

Clever name, but not particularly good SEO as everyone else on Earth seems to have had the same idea with combining ‘equity’ with the slang ‘tea’ for talk/news/gossip, and as a result it’s difficult for me to find any other reviews of these drinks. Or, perhaps, could be that no one’s hyped about them. Let’s see which it is.

Spiced Hibiscus

Can adaptogens fix my check engine light?

Labeled as the ‘antioxidant blend’, the flavors highlighted on the can are hibiscus, cinnamon, and honey, so it’s those I’m expecting to taste most; in addition to those are rosehips, elderberry, lemon peel, schisandra berry, and allspice essence. With the hibiscus, lemon peel, and elderberry provide a ton of Vitamin C, though it is not listed in the Nutrition Facts, and schisandra berry serves as the adaptogen here with all kinds of touted benefits but otherwise is said to taste similar to clove. With several of the pumpkin spices or mimics at play here, in combination with berries, I’m expecting this to taste like a mulled wine. According to the picture currently in place here this flavor used to have, and feature, ashwagandha; I’m not sure if this is just a coincidence with this being another drink that used to have ashwagandha but removed it, or if this is a trend that’s rapidly dying due to severe overuse and growing tired of it to the point of actively avoiding it.

I went to open this up and it made a pop and fizz, which concerned me because there’s only a few reasons a tea would do that and several of those reasons indicate that it’s no longer safe to consume, and with such strong flavors in here it was difficult to ascertain if it was due to mold or fermentation through a sniff test. As I was doing that, though, I read the tiny words on the can: ‘sparkling tea with adaptogens’. I felt silly not noticing that, but not for long because what I truly still feel is that the word ‘sparkling’ needs to be more at the forefront and highlighted, enlarged, rendered more important in some way because the difference between a sparkling tea and still tea is enormous, and often sweet tea is what I pick for a drink when I don’t want to be dealing with carbonation.

Before we continue to the review, we must take a detour to acknowledge what the word and phrasing ‘adaptogens’ has become, from what it meant to be to now how it’s constantly used in what seems to be every new product that isn’t something like another form of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. For all intents and purposes, ‘adaptogens’ has taken over ‘superfoods’, providing a more esoteric and holistic eastern medicine approach as opposed to the more scientific magic. It’s a catch-all term for a handful of plants and mushrooms that are used to alleviate various stresses the body can suffer with and return to a ‘homeostasis’. It has a lot more nuance within that has been lost by becoming a loaded marketable phrase that just means ‘this product is healthy and will cure you and actually the other products actively harm you’. It’s more useful than superfoods as term ever was and ever could be, but that vast variety under the adaptogen umbrella risks information being lost and then obfuscated for profit.

Honey and cinnamon are the only flavors that make themselves apparent in spite of how many others are listed, and what they render obvious is that neither of these things should be left without some kind of stronger substrate, otherwise they’re genuinely sickening. It tasted fine when just on my tongue, but once it hit my throat it literally made me gag, an effect I could replicate with every sip with myself and the two other people I made try it no matter how much we tried to get used to it and charge ahead. Maybe it was the extra tartness from the berries in this, as well as it being a hibiscus tea base, making this particularly astringent. The carbonation in this was hardly noticeable, like yeah it was present and obviously a sparkling tea, but it didn’t have much of a snap and was quickly forgotten behind any other reaction I was having towards the offensive taste that made my mouth feel as dry as if I just choked down a handful of cinnamon powder. I just could not finish this one and had to dump it.

Black Tea Lemonade

Black tea, cardamom, and the adaptogen rhodiola are highlighted on the can, with simply honey and lemon juice being the remaining ingredients. The Black Tea Lemonade serves as their ‘natural energy’ drink, likely due to the natural caffeine found in black tea. This is another one that formerly had ashwagandha and is just convincing me that the hype-death is real, and it’s kinda hilarious how these companies keep changing their formulations without formally announcing anything as it implies the ashwagandha actually didn’t do or taste like anything.

Well, it smells like a mix of disinfectant spray and cat urine remover. It’s also pretty strong on the honey, but the lemon brings another strength that harmonizes the two in a way that should be obvious being a classic grouping in hot tea. The carbonation doesn’t add too much, but compels me to sip at this rather than take large swigs. Honestly it doesn't taste too bad, but I still wouldn’t say this is better-tasting than like an Arizona Arnold Palmer or any of those clones. What this has going for it primarily is the additives that pull this into a better-for-you health food market, along with the organic ingredients, and intensely manufactured personal connection to the founders–that I honestly find awkward to be dealing with when all I want to be doing is drinking my expensive sip of tea–to round out a really mentally feel-good product. With these teas now being off of the new item racks and now found on the bottom shelves of the ready-to-drink tea aisle right next to a bunch of others that are more colorful and fun, I guess we’ll see if this leads towards what is undoubtedly their ultimate goal: profit.

Lenny & Larry’s Fitzels

I last summarized and Lenny & Larry’s products back in April 2022 where I came to the conclusion that “healthy food tastes better when it veers more towards being unhealthy”, so that’s exactly the experience I’m expecting here again. Fitzels, as of March 2024, are the newest in their line of protein-packed snacks, and fit right in with the brand’s ethics by containing no soy ingredients (though still being produced in a factory that contains it), high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols, and also being Certified Vegan and Non-GMO Project Verified. As I continue writing it’s becoming evident that the Sprouts ‘New For You’ shelves and ‘Innovation Centers’ are quickly becoming a place where I harvest review material as it executes a strategy completely in line with how I shop, and is where I got these for $2.99. They’re also available online (where I basically refuse to purchase food from) at larger retailers like Target and BJ’s, as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods and assuredly soon more higher-end sporting and outdoor stores as this fits well into their typical lineups of on-the-go and active sources of protein.

Gonna need that pizza seasoning to come in bulk.

“Fitness + Pretzels = FITZELS™” Yes, yep, yeah, this is exactly what I’m here for, let’s get to it. There’s 18g of plant-based protein in each 3oz bag, which the ingredients indicate is from the health food darling pea protein. Loaded with carbs, which might scare the Keto peeps, but makes this evident as a snack designed for pairing with physical activity to support goals, even if it’s minimally and not negatively. Out of the three flavors currently available, Pizza Palooza and Everything Bagel were the flavors I chose, leaving Boujie Mustard behind for someone else to try. The flavors are alarmingly accurate, enough that I’m second-guessing their nature as a ‘healthy’ product before reminding myself that it’s basically just a decent pretzel with protein put in the mix. The Everything Bagel tastes exactly like what it should, and isn’t overly seasoned; I feel this one would do well with dipping in sour cream but otherwise you gotta be a fan of everything seasoning to get into this. The Pizza Palooza does NOT taste like pizza in the way most people know it, and tastes more like a traditional Italian tomato and basil-heavy Neapolitan; in fact, what it tastes like is pizza Combos but more simplified ingredients. Tomato, onion, garlic, and especially paprika are what you’ll get with this, which are, in fact, real ingredients, sir, and I understand why this grouping is so often used in savory flavorings because it’s just fantastic. The Pizza Palooza is easily my favorite of the two and even then I didn’t eat the whole bag at once because the flavor was strong and pieces hearty enough that I was pretty satisfied with just a handful, which does stretch out the value into something a bit more reasonable. The texture has a firm snap that I expect from hard pretzels like this, and are sturdy enough to allow for dipping if you so choose to bypass the active intentions. A bit more dry and and almost mealy than you’d get with Rold Gold or Snyder’s, leaving a little to be desired when presented as a standalone snack; pairs well with water, which I guess isn’t really a negative if you’re looking to be healthier! Still, there are people out there saying they’re using these as meal replacements, which provides me both comfort and distress that I could definitely have worse eating habits than I do already.


Beware the foods that tell you they taste great.

By no means is that a condemnation of all marketing that professes good taste, but it’s definitely a red flag that they’re spending marketing money and package space to tell you something subjective that you should really find out for yourself. I understand that this emphasis on these cookies allegedly tasting great is because competition in the field is lacking in this aspect, and Toto founder Sydney Webb states in a video on their website that “Ingredients matter, and so should taste!” Yes, YES, way too many of these healthy food brands sideline taste as not even a secondary or tertiary consideration while putting the sole focus on how they’ve used dates and chicory fiber; Sydney continues, “And so does enjoying the things you’re eating every single day. A life without sacrifice should be possible.” YES!!! Old people clinging to Facebook scream and cry that the newer generation’s proclivity for excess and hedonism is what’s wrong with the world these days, but my stance is that the higher level of petty indulgence seen in younger peeps is a simple reaction to the obvious reality of the world around us where it’s a constant struggle to fight for any crumb of enjoyment in life with it rapidly becoming obvious that our future is being stolen from us in regards to personal freedoms, financial security, and a thriving environment that supports continued human life, so if I want to have a smoothie with chocolate and frosting I will have it and nothing short of finally doing what you want and killing me will allow you to take it away. But, where she dives off the cliff is a few seconds later where she claims “these cookies are, dare I say, better than the real thing.”

I wish these cookies had a little more stability..

The whole story behind Toto is that Sydney has been suffering with the effects of an eating disorder, Crohn’s Disease, and colon cancer for over a decade, stealing away her childhood favorite Toll House cookies and reducing her diet to just a few gut-friendly foods, and eventually setting out to make her beloved childhood treats accessible again. Plant-based and vegan, gluten-free, good source of protein, adaptogenic thanks to the addition of reishi and turkey tail mushrooms, ‘superfoods meet super taste’, the package is very relaxed, playful, and fun, coming into opposition with a lot of the more cold scientific or hippie-dippie food products in the same display, which drew my eye and my credit card as this seemed to be something different. Woman-owned company with a pretty explicit focus on women as their audience, powerful TikTok girlie vibes that ooze southern California and west Los Angeles energy that was strikingly obvious and wonderful to confirm when I looked that they’re based in Santa Monica.

“The texture is…truly unlike anything you’ve ever had in your life” which is a pretty deceptive statement that does not proclaim anything positive, and rather just implies it with misdirection and letting you fill in with your assumption that that’s what she means when the reality is that the texture is completely abhorrent. And, I hate to break it to you Syd, but yeah it does taste like Lenny & Larry’s in a way if you’re not focusing on it; I can notice the differences with Toto as the oat flour really comes through to bring that oat taste, and the almond butter and coconut sugar is unmistakable here compared to Lenny & Larry’s chicory root fiber in a positive way, but I think what it is is the flax meal and pea protein shared between the two rendering an odd softness that’s still dry and mealy in a way that’s just not appetizing or in ANY way reminiscent of Toll House cookies. The two I tried are the Birthday Cake and the Sea Salt Chocolate Chip, and I genuinely barely could tell the difference between them aside from the latter’s chocolate chips being melty, which, positive points to that there at least. I think that Toto’s position as just being a cookie that’s not necessarily GOOD for you, but compliant with eating disorders and diseases in a way that still tries to be good and fun, works very well in its favor.

I want to like them, I really do, so I went out and bought another Birthday Cake and the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, which also tastes almost entirely like the others with only extremely minor difference, so I could try eating them Sydney’s favorite way by microwaving them for 20 seconds. Definitely better, some kind of chemical reaction must be going on as the flavor is different enough, but the aftertaste kicks in and reminds me of what it tasted like before. The softer texture certainly works better heated as it felt more natural, and the chocolate chips melting was a good effect that you never think you’ll miss until you try other cookies where they’re rocks.

Sydney, I love your story, I love your motivation, I love your entire set of ideals, I love that you use your corporate account to complain about your dog shitting, but please continue working on your recipes because if this is the best taste that can be rendered possible I’m afraid that there’s not much hope left for the rest of us. I think these would do better to just be a little more firm, and leave the gooeyness as an option made possible with the recommended microwaving; I’d love to try smaller crunchy cookies, seeing as that direction worked positively for me in regards to Lenny’s & Larry’s, and I think Toto cookies can do it so much better.

The 'Shroom: Issue 207
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