Metal Shark Player

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Quick Review: Hostess Fruit Pie

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This shit sucks. The filling is passable but the crust is repulsive. I wouldn’t eat this if you payed me 5 dollars to do it. Stay Tastykake for convenience store pies.

UPDATE: I tried eating just the filling to get my money’s worth, now I have painful indigestion.


Written by metalsharkplayer

August 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Amazing Spider-Man

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This is less of a review and more of a discussion/analysis. If you want to know whether I think you should see the movie, then I’ll tell you: yes.

The Amazing Spider-man

I enjoyed Amazing Spider-Man a lot. More importantly, however, I thought it was a good movie. It succeeded in places a lot of recent superhero movies have not, and I think it makes a strong argument for a new paradigm of superhero movie entirely. The film is not perfect, but before I get to its flaws, I’m going to talk about what it does right.

Amazing Spider-Man establishes a comic-bookish surrealism very early in the film and never lets up on it. Even before Peter Parker gets bitten, the audience is aware of the exaggerated nature of things. The first scene after the prologue, the first time we see the Peter we will get to know for the rest of the film, he gets his shit kicked in during recess by the resident bully/jock, Flash, in front of the entire school. There is no administrative action taken. Flash doesn’t get expelled and put in remedial school for assaulting a student. This is not a world of realistic actions with realistic consequences. Parker’s romantic prospect, Gwen Stacey, is not only dressed entirely too sophisticated and tastefully for a modern day high school girl, but she is an intern at one of the most prestigious and advanced scientific research companies in the world, OSCORP. Again, she’s in high school. This girl is a superhuman already, no powers necessary.

Once the powers get involved, though, the film shows zero restraint about using them to remind you of just how crazy, how exaggerated, how super this world really is.

After coming home from the lab where he was bitten (which he got into by observing a person put in one relatively simple password into a door), Peter catches a fly between his fingers in front of his Aunt May’s face. He then grabs an enormous amount of food (“He even took the frozen macaroni and cheese!”) and locks himself in his room for the night. When his alarm wakes him up in the morning, he slaps it, half asleep. It explodes into pieces. He goes to brush his teeth and squeezes the tube of toothpaste with such strength that all its contents shoot onto the mirror, in a relatively uniform blob. Groggy and unfazed, Peter goes to turn the faucet on and instead ends up ripping the handle off and causing a massive leak to start spraying all over the bathroom. He grabs a towel to stop the leak and ends up ripping the rack from the wall. After covering the leak with the towel, he tries to turn the shower on and rips that handle off too. Finally, he stops to think about what just happened and very carefully eases the doorknob open to leave the bathroom.

That’s seven different superpower mishaps in the span of three minutes, most of them occurring in the last forty-five seconds. It doesn’t stop there, either. It never stops. Peter Parker continues to accidentally destroy stuff for the entire length of the film. There are almost never consequences, either. We never see the faucet being fixed, the dry wall being patched up. Later in the film, a stray football almost hits Peter in the head as he is talking to Gwen in the stands. He rockets the ball back to the field instantly, without even turning his head to look. The ball hits one of the field-goal uprights and puts a massive bend in it. People are confused for a second and Peter gives a “whoops” face, and then they cut to another scene and everything is forgotten. Rarely do these moments ever function in the plot or work as character development opportunities. Their purpose is only to establish this tone of “superness”. This is a superworld with superactions and sometimes no consequences at all.

Everything in this movie is on steroids. This is one of the major developments in superhero movies that Amazing Spider-Man embodies so well. Most superhero movies up until the past few years have put incredible powers in the hands of real people in very real worlds. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an example of how this can work very successfully. Batman as a superhero and a universe is also one of the more naturally gritty and realistic (his power is being rich), and that plays a big part in making those movies work. Most of the X-Men movies are examples of how that style can fail. When you tell your audience “this is a gritty world with serious guys and serious drama” it becomes hard to explain why everyone is wearing skin tight leather suits, elaborate metal helmets, and shooting laser beams out of their eyes.

The original Spider-Man was significantly more towards the realistic side of the scale as well. In the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film, one of the more famous sections was Parker’s discovery of his own powers. He puts on his glasses in the morning to find out they obscure his now-perfect vision, and then looks in the mirror to see that he is as ripped as Bruce Lee. Then, at school, he accidentally provokes a fight with Flash and then punches him so hard that he flies 35 feet into a teacher carrying a lunch tray, which spills all over Flash’s face. If this scene had happened in the new Spider-Man, the spectating students would have cheered for a moment and then the scene would end. In the original, there is no cheering. Everyone looks at what just happened and says to themselves “How the hell did that just happen?” Then they look at Parker, scared and confused. “You really are a freak,” says Flash’s lackey. These are realistic consequences to an unrealistic action, and the first two Spider-Man movies get great mileage out of this model.

Captain America: The First Avenger was the first movie to achieve the “over-the-top” tone with reasonable success. It does so a little slowly, though, and it takes the viewer a while to realize that we are living in the world of an old-time adventure serial and that these Nazis are more out of Indiana Jones than Saving Private Ryan. Once you do, though, the movie becomes much more enjoyable. The moment for me was when Captain America is inside the Red Skull’s ship and sees rows of bombs with “New York”, “Washington”, and other cities’ names painted on them.

Amazing Spider-Man tells the audience right from the beginning “This isn’t going to be realistic; this is going to be ridiculous.” It delivers. One of the greatest moments that this tone allows is when Spider-Man is fighting the Lizard in a science classroom at his high-school. The Lizard is the scientist, Spider-Man is his student, har har, that was a good one, we like it already. Then, after throwing Spidey through a wall, the Lizard notices some beakers and flasks filled with bright liquids on a table. He mixes them together and creates a bomb which he then throws at Spiderman. The scientist, using his scientist skills.

Another great moment I want to mention continues a theme that was very strong in the original Spider-Man films (no, not responsibility, although Uncle Ben has some words about that here too): Spider-Man is the people’s hero. Sometimes the Daily Bugle (which, after featuring so prominently in the other films, makes no appearance in AS) gives him enough flak that people start to see him as a menace, but usually they are on his side, shouting encouragement and helping him out on occasion, often in his darkest hour. In Spider-Man 2, there is a particularly great scene where Spider-Man, already exhausted and injured from a bad fight with Doctor Octopus, must use every ounce of his strength to stop a train from flying off into a bay. The feat leaves him unconscious, with his suit ripped and bloodied and no mask. The passengers on the train save peter from falling himself and then carry their savior inside (there’s a birds-eye shot of him crowd surfing with his arms spread wide, #jesus), where they lay him down. Upon waking up he realizes he is maskless and expresses concern (wordlessly, of course. This is one of Tobey’s greatest strengths. He barely has any lines sometimes and we know exactly what he is thinking). The people swear to not reveal his identity and then attempt to defend him with their lives when Doc Ock returns. They are powerless to stop him of course, because that wouldn’t be realistic.

The first time the Lizard strikes the populace in Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man saves a child from a falling, exploding car. Later, Spider-Man must go to the OSCORP building to stop the Lizard from releasing a virus that will turn the entire city into lizard-men as well as to save Gwen. Unfortunately, Spider-Man is exhausted and injured from a bad run-in with the police where he was shot. He is trying to do his web-swinging, wall-crawlin’ thing to get the building in time, but he is falling all over the place and obviously needs help. The father of the child he saved earlier happens to see him and also happens to be the head of a massive construction company with cranes on every street in-between Spider-Man’s current location and the OSCORP building. The city is being evacuated, but this man sees Spider-Man in trouble and orders all of the cranes to turn and create a path with which Spider-Man can easily swing to the building. This is already very, very ridiculous. Spider-Man seems to be doing well but ends up slipping and falling, even with the crane-bridge in place. Luckily, the captain of the construction team is operating his own crane in the exact spot where Spider-Man fell and catches him.

This is the scale of events in Amazing Spider-Man. None of this could ever, ever, ever, happen in real life, and it doesn’t take away from the greatness of it at all.

One aspect of the film that creates both great moments and strange ones is its speed. At two hours and sixteen minutes, Amazing Spider-Man is not a short film, but it is, by necessity, a fast one. The movie is really two stories squished together and somewhat intertwined: the story of Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man, and the story of Spider-Man taking down the Lizard. Characters and situations develop and change at an incredibly rapid pace in order to fit these stories into one movie. As a result, the greatest moments are often when the writers found ways to accomplish things very quickly.

My favorite example of this is the scene where Peter reveals to Gwen that he is Spider-Man. Peter has just excused himself from his introductory dinner with Gwen’s parents, during which he managed to get into a heated argument with her father, the police chief, over Spider-Man’s intentions and role in society. Gwen is consoling him when Peter stops her and reveals that he has “been bitten”, which indeed he has, by a radioactive spider. “So have I,” Gwen responds, obviously with a more romantic interpretation of Peter’s words than he had intended. Caught off guard, he stutters and fidgets just when we, the audience, need him to say the right thing, something, anything. “I wish I could just… I can’t. It’s hard to say.” When he regresses into merely shaking his head and slumping over on the balcony, Gwen gives up and walks away, frustrated. The audience feels like doing the same. Then Peter catches her skirt with a strand of web, and pulls her, twirling, into his arms. Now she is lost for words, impressed with his powerful, wordless declaration of his feelings and bewildered by the sudden realization that her new boyfriend is Spider-Man. They kiss.

One action is all it takes to explain everything Peter needs to explain. In just over a minute, Gwen and Peter are solidified as a romantic unit and Peter, who we have known as a secretive loner, confides in someone for the first time since Uncle Ben died, possibly for the first time in his life. We and Gwen experience both the frustration of watching Peter shy away from himself and the joy and amazement of seeing him rise up and declare his identity. That’s fast, but it works.

There are some places, however, when fast just doesn’t seem right. Peter goes to a pretty average looking high school, takes pictures of stuff, is a little socially awkward, and skateboards. We are never given reason to suspect that he is particularly bright, beyond a nifty motorized lock on his bedroom door that he controls with the remote from an R/C car. Then, all of a sudden, he comes up with an algorithm that Dr. Collins, an obviously gifted scientist that has been working for decades on the subject, could never work out. While Peter certainly got help from the materials in his father’s old briefcase (his father and Collins used to work together), it is not clear just how much help he got. Even if he just copied the formula directly from his father’s notes, which is perhaps the most believable and likely explanation, he shows no signs of discomfort or confusion while working with Collins in his lab; he seems to keep pace quite well.

How did he get so smart? These events do occur after he receives his powers, but super-intelligence has never before been listed among Spider-Man’s capabilities. He doesn’t display a particular aptitude or interest in such dense scientific theory anywhere else in the film, showing only a practical, handy, type of intelligence in building his web-shooters.

If Peter got into intense scientific theory and mathematics over a period of time, or was shown to always have a soft spot for it, his success might seem more within his character. It doesn’t strike me as inherently beyond his capabilities, just that, well, it happened a little fast. The development of his physical skills and acrobatics seemed equally rushed; one montage and he goes from accidentally destroying bathrooms to swinging around the city. I don’t know that there is a simple solution to these issues, but the film operates at a breakneck pace and some parts work better at this tempo than others.

The problem at the heart of the speed issue is that, again, there are two pretty distinct stories in this film. Peter’s confrontation with the Lizard is a fine story, but it is not so essentially tied to the coming-of-age, self-discovery story that is far more dominant and compelling in the film.

If you removed the Lizard from the film it would become a very different type of superhero movie, entirely about identity and probably a more psychological, less action packed, less traditional story. That’s not really Spider-Man. It occurred to me that, in order to tie the Lizard story to Spider-Man’s own development, they could have killed Gwen Stacey instead of her father. In case you didn’t know she was killed in the comics by the Green Goblin and it is widely recognized as one of the defining moments in Spider-Man’s history. This “solution” is far from perfect though, as it doesn’t seem entirely within the Lizard’s character to be that ruthless, and the ruthlessness is what makes it work. So, I don’t know how to fix it.

Luckily the movie is far from ruined by any tempo issues. It successfully goes over-the-top in the tone department and successfully plays it safe in the basic story and plot construction. It uses classic techniques to great effect. Early in the film, Peter asks Dr. Collins about one of the many strange devices in his lab. He explains that it is a device built to disperse any gaseous chemicals over large areas, even an entire city (Really? That’s funny, this movie takes place in a city). It had been deemed too dangerous and now it “sits here, gathering dust.” Yeah, right. In the final act it becomes both the weapon with which Collins plans to turn the city into lizard-people and the vehicle Gwen and Peter use to cure those already infected. Quite the device.

There is also an excellent “tending the wounds” scene with Gwen and Peter, a heartless businessman that values money over human life, a tough-love police chief that starts out thinking Spider-Man is a menace before growing to respect him, and lots of other old standbys that don’t feel like they were put in out of laziness, but because they are very effective.

I haven’t talked much about Uncle Ben, but Martin Sheen does an excellent job, as does Sally Field as Aunt May. One thing I particularly liked is that she figures out Spider-Man’s identity pretty quickly, all by herself. I cannot stand it when movies make characters exponentially dumber than they should be, especially when it concerns things that they know very well, like their nephew who they have been raising for fifteen years, or, as in Gwen’s case, their father. When Peter starts to avoid her, she knows exactly why, because she is not a dumb-ass. There is such an incredible precedent for making characters dumb-asses about these types of things that this movie deserves applause for not falling into that horrible trend.

The epilogue, that is, everything that happens after the Lizard incident is resolved, is quite slow. It drags on, even. This is the only point in the film that isn’t at Mach three, and it stands out. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, intentional or not. It was certainly noticeable though.

The film ends with Peter coming late to an English lecture. “I had a professor once, who liked to tell his students that there were only ten plots in all of fiction,” the teacher says. “Well I’m here to tell you he was wrong. There is only one: Who am I?” Including this in a film that plays so hard to traditional story structures and devices was bold and fitting of its over-the-top nature, but I disagree, seeing as this movie alone had two. Still, the self-awareness is charming. In fact, the whole movie is. I liked it.


I wasn’t sure how much I could enjoy this film, given that it was a reboot of such a recent franchise. I enjoyed it a lot. Does this mean reboots and remakes and rehashes of all sorts of intellectual properties are acceptable? I don’t know. If there really is only one story, then maybe it doesn’t matter if you call it Spider-Man or not. The quality of the film may be entirely independent of the material it is based on and whether or not that material has already been made into film. I think it might get a little boring watching Spider-Man origin stories though.

Amazing Spider-Man is what I like to call “cheesy”. I’m introducing this as a new term because I’m not sure if people use it in the same way I do. It seems like most people interpret cheesy as a bad thing, but I don’t feel that it is good or bad, just a thing. Eighties action movies are often cheesy, but they are also often awesome. The same goes for eighties hair metal, eighties pop, and a lot of other things from the eighties. Cheesy just means that it embraces the traditional, the tried and true, and is unashamed of doing so. Amazing Spider-Man is very cheesy. Hollywood can do cheesy right.  I think Amazing Spider-Man is a success, but I’m not sure if modeling other reboots on it will work. Spider-Man’s source material is some of the most suited for a popular commercial film and this movie played to those strengths.

Basically what I’m saying is that Michael Bay will probably still ruin Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fuck you Michael Bay.

Written by metalsharkplayer

July 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

General Update

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You may have noticed I have not been writing candy reviews recently. This has partly been because I simply haven’t encountered many more new and inspiring candies, but it also has to do with the fact that the experience of eating candy bars rarely goes hand in hand with writing analytic articles. It was beginning to feel like work, and that’s not the point of candy. I will probably continue to write those kinds of articles, but they will no longer be my meat and potatoes. They will be my fats and sugars. I will not start writing about meat and potatoes, though.

I am going to try to start writing more things about more things. Games, movies, cultural phenomena, whatever tickles my fancy. Let’s see how ticklish I am.

Written by metalsharkplayer

June 18, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Candy Roundup #2

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More relatively obscure candies:


I have seen the Caramello on display many times before, but never have I witnessed anyone purchase or eat one. This Cadbury confection keeps the design simple; the Caramello consists of just milk chocolate and caramel. The bar itself is decisively divided into four truncated square pyramidal (three-dimensional trapezoidal) chunks, each with a semi-spherical indentation rising from the base. This shape, while hard to describe, is rather unique and oddly appealing to both the eye and touch. The segmentation, a candy phenomenon which I have previously expressed curiosity over, actually did help me minimize the noise I made while extracting the bar from its wrapper (I enjoyed it during a production of Euripides’ Trojan Women by my school’s senior acting company).

If the Caramello gets one thing right, it’s the caramel. The caramel is excellent. It’s sweet, with the right balance of brightness and warmth, and a surprising depth for this price point. Unfortunately, you wont be able to enjoy this caramel nearly as much as you should.

The chocolate used in the making of this candy is unacceptable. It should not exist, let alone be used for a food item that functions as a treat. It is waxy, flavorless, and far too plentiful. A thin coating of this outrageously shoddy chocolate might be acceptable if it housed a massive reservoir of the delectable caramel, but the Caramello is not apportioned so generously. Instead, I found myself fighting to savor as much caramel as I could while trying to bypass or ignore as much chocolate as I could. It wasn’t an easy task.

I can’t recommend the Caramello. It is not a horrible eating experience but, when you consider how good it could be if the chocolate were decent, it becomes a very disappointing one.

Oh Henry!

This bar probably had the greatest reputation of any that I have reviewed thus far, being that I had heard of it before I bought it. It’s made by Nestle and the ingredients are pretty standard: peanuts, caramel, and fudge in milk chocolate. Oh Henry! takes the next step from segmentation and just gives you two entirely separate pieces in the same package. Do they sell smaller, individually wrapped Oh Henry!s? (Look at that punctuation!)

I figured that it would be almost impossible for this bar to taste bad given the Nestle name and classic ingredients.I was right. Oh Henry! does not taste bad.

That’s about the highest praise I can give it, though. It is, without a doubt, the most boring candy I have reviewed thus far. Nothing about it is displeasing. Nothing about it stands out at all. The flavors are all so mild and agreeable that they become hard to distinguish. The Oh Henry! manages to just barely get passing marks in every category. When I take a bite, something about it tells me that I am, in fact, eating candy–but I couldn’t tell you what that something is. It’s perplexing.

The Oh Henry! serves, for me, as a kind of benchmark. This is the absolute minimum a candy should do. All decent candies accomplish what the Oh Henry! does, and all candies that do not are failures.Where then, does the Oh Henry! fall? Is zero a positive or negative number?

I cannot recommend the Oh Henry! to anyone but the individual most curious to experience its paradoxes. It goes back to the goals of the candy consumer. You eat candy to experience the exceptional, not the barely acceptable. The fact that it is only just barely acceptable makes it, by that definition, unacceptable. It remains useful only as a measurement for those of us in candy academia.



I have reviewed Butterfinger imitations before, but the Clark takes the cake in multiple regards. Made by Necco, of Wafer fame (I haven’t had those either, expect them along with the intriguing Sky Bar at some point in the future), the Clark is both the best tasting imitator and the one most similar to the Butterfinger.

For some reason, I never know a Butterfinger clone when I see it. The package reads “Chocolately Coated Peanut Butter Crunch”, but only upon my first bite did I know what they meant by it. The Clark is similar to the Butterfinger in almost every way. It’s crunchy, it sticks in your teeth, it’s not greasy (unlike some other peanut butter based candies), and it tastes good. Does it taste as good as a Butterfinger? No. Sorry. It’s not quite there. The Clark is decidedly milder and more reserved, more conservative than the Butterfinger. The flavor doesn’t explode with the same reckless abandon. It’s older-fashioned; it’s your grandpa’s Butterfinger. I was so struck by this notion of age that I did some research and my suspicions were confirmed: the Clark predates the Butterfinger by a few decades. It was popular in World War I. So, maybe it’s your great-grandpa’s Butterfinger. Unfortunately, the toned down intensity does not make room for a perceivable increase in depth of flavor or any previously hidden undertones.

I can’t imagine a scenario where I would prefer a Clark bar to a Butterfinger, but it might exist. The Clark is undoubtedly a successful candy, but it’s not a great one. With such direct and, dare I say, superior competition, it’s no wonder that the Clark is as unheard of as it is. It’s an interesting piece of living candy history but, from a typical candy consumer standpoint, there’s just no room for the Clark.

Written by metalsharkplayer

March 5, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Candy Roundup

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I will be reviewing a few peculiar candies here: Zero, Skor, and Reese’s Crispy Crunchy


For a sweet so unpopular, this bar is surprisingly common. I picked it up at a Wawa. I’m a pretty big fan of white chocolate, so the description of “CARAMEL, PEANUT and ALMOND Nougat covered with WHITE FUDGE” got me pretty excited (though I am forced, again, to comment on the peculiarities of capitalization in candy descriptions. Why capitalize just the “N” in nougat?).I was disappointed.

This candy bar is a travesty. The coating looks and feels like plastic. Both the nougat filling and the white chocolate coating are sickening, sweet in an unnatural and repulsive way. The Zero is remarkable in that it is one of the few candies in my life that I have discarded without finishing simply because it was disgusting. I was only able to take one bite. For this reason I feel compelled to differentiate this candy from all others I have reviewed thus far.

Candy is, by definition, a treat. It is bought and consumed with the expectation that it will be distinctly delicious. When I review candies (or other treats), I hold them up to that standard. The Tastykake “Black and White” Pie failed to meet that standard and so I deemed it unsuccessful. I didn’t dislike eating it, in fact, I enjoyed it. However, I did not enjoy it enough for it to be considered a treat. It was just another thing I ate that day, nothing special. That is why it is a failure. Flix Mix took failure to another level by both tasting worse and costing more. Still, I wouldn’t classify eating Flix Mix as a negative experience. I would rank it pretty close to neutral, but if Flix Mix was free and contained zero calories, I would eat some.

Zero is a distinctly negative experience. I would not eat this if you paid me to do it and it burned calories. This is not just a failure by the standards of treats, but by the standards of any edible foodstuff. Eating the one bite that I did made my day worse. Under no circumstances should anyone buy, consume, or mention the Zero out loud.

*Interesting to note is that the Zero is made by Hershey, the same company that makes Cookies ‘n’ Cream, one of the greatest candy bars of our age and an incredible testament to the viability of white chocolate in production-grade candy.


As with many of these candy bars, I didn’t know that Skor existed before I started looking for obscure candies. Skor is also a fine example of what I had hoped to find when I began this practice: A fine candy of a type and flavor previously unfamiliar.

It may look like a primarily chocolate experience but don’t be fooled! Skor describes itself as “Delicious Milk Chocolate/Crisp Butter Toffee”, but if I wrote the tagline it would be “Toffee: The Movie: The Ride”. The thin layer of chocolate does add a nice contrasting texture and serves as something of a lubricant (to use a word I really didn’t want to associate with candy). The star of the show, however, is the hard and potent toffee core. I feel it’s too substantial to be labeled as “Crisp” but I wouldn’t call it crunchy either. Snappy is the word that comes to mind. The flavor is buttery but also intensely sweet, with a certain warmness akin to caramel; it took me aback in my first bites and was what I looked forward to in my last. The acuteness of flavor allowed me to enjoy one regular-sized bar over multiple sittings.

Toffee is something I have tasted before but not often on its own. If you are as inexperienced with it as I, the Skor is, I think, a good way to further acquaint yourself with it.  Skor didn’t change my life, but it certainly earns its spot on the shelf. I’m sure I will have it again in the future.

Reese’s Crispy Crunchy

Reese’s are my spirit candy. They dominated my childhood and are known amongst my family as “my bag”. I love them. As a result, I have had favorable impressions of most Reese’s spinoffs. The small foil wrapped ones, the Mini’s that come in bags, Reese’s Bites, Reese’s Eggs, Christmas trees, Big Cups, Reese’s Pieces, and, of course, the immortal Nutrageous, I like them all. So when I saw the unfamiliar Reese’s Crispy Crunchy, I knew I had to try it and see how it compared to its ancestors.

The first thing I noticed after opening the wrapper was that it was melting. It wasn’t particularly hot in the store or the classroom I was eating it in shortly after purchase, but the bar was so structurally compromised that, in peeling back the wrapper, I accidentally peeled back a corner of the bar with it. I have since found evidence of other people experiencing the same melty problem. Why does this bar have  lower melting point than others?

Upon biting into the Crispy Crunchy, I immediately was struck by its similarity to a Butterfinger. Now the name makes sense. The second thing that I realized was that it wasn’t nearly as good as a Butterfinger. It’s flavors are dark and muddled, mixed together in a gooey mess. It also suffers from the common pitfall of low-quality peanut butter-based candy: greasiness.

Overall it was a very mediocre experience. The only things saving it from total failure are the barely distinguishable but always reliable flavor of Hershey’s chocolate and Reese’s peanut butter. It’s a disappointing addition to the growing stack of Butterfinger imitators that don’t make the grade.

That’s It.

Be on the lookout for an article discussing female aesthetics in the next week. Or month. Or maybe year. I don’t know how big it will get. Or how lazy I am.

Written by metalsharkplayer

February 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Gunstar Heroes

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Sega Genesis, 1993

Gunstar Heroes is an oft overlooked gem for the Sega Genesis, a console with many such games. Its informed design eases you into its complex and clever mechanics and it provides an uncommonly exhilarating experience in its more challenging moments.

It is a side-scrolling shoot ’em-up that, with the exception of one level, places you in control of a man with a gun. You are the member of some kind of team/family of space rangers on a mission to retrieve some powerful gems from minions and mercenaries working for an evil military leader of some sort… or something like that. The story doesn’t matter much and the cut-scenes are short and illustrative. The villains  make dramatic entrances, grand gestures, and are animated very expressively, exaggerated to the point of humor and satire. This is almost certainly an influence on the later Metal Slug series that adopted a very similar dramatic style. The lively characters add charm and entertain the player during breaks from the intense action.

One of the first and most important decisions you must make when you begin the game is between two subtly, yet drastically, different control schemes- “Free Shot” and “Fixed Shot”. Both allow you to aim in all eight directions, but one allows you to move while firing, moving you in the same direction of your fire, while the other forces you to stop whenever you fire, allowing you to shoot in any direction while stationary. This choice has a huge impact on the game and cannot be reversed later.  There are jump and attack buttons as well as a button that allows you to activate or deactivate either of the two weapon elements you are currently carrying.

To complete each level you must use lasers, flame throwers, plasma, and little green triangles to mow down enemy hoards and defeat bosses, all while avoiding enemy fire. The gun system works in a format you may have seen before in other titles like Jewel Master (another Genesis sleeper): the four “elements” can be combined in pairs to create new weapons, making for 10 unique types of fire in addition to the four base elements. I am a big fan of this system because it adds an element of discovery and experimentation to a game otherwise focused on quick reactions and precise execution. Most weapons function in very different ways. For instance, the flame thrower emits a constant and powerful flame a short distance in any direction. Combine the flame with the homing green triangles, though, and you will shoot a fire wave that you can control with the d-pad and stays on screen as long as you hold down the fire button.

These weapons are what I will call “significantly different”. They are suited to very different situations and require the player to adopt different play-styles. In Metal Slug, the machine gun shoots a fully automatic stream of  bullets while the rocket launcher shoots slower but more damaging missiles one at a time. Their range and usage is identical, the only difference is that the machine gun’s damage is done at a constant rate while the rocket launcher’s accumulates in bursts. The difference between these weapons is not significant- they don’t change how you play the game. As a result, the weapon variety in Metal Slug isn’t really as varied as it might appear. This is not true of Gunstar Heroes.

As you try different combinations you will find that you like some better than others, but all of them have their uses. In fact, the levels are often designed to facilitate the use of certain weapons while making others significantly less useful. This forces you to learn how to use different weapons as you encounter different types of enemies and stage layouts. This, in turn, distributes the learning curve across the game better- even once you have mastered your favorite gun, the levels and bosses force you to learn and adopt different strategies to succeed.

While gunplay is the obvious focus of the game, you also possess a basic set of melee attack capabilities. Pressing the attack+forward or back when close to an enemy will allow you throw the enemy across the screen and leaves you invulnerable for the length of the animation. Down+jump performs a slide that has a long active period and hits enemies multiple times. Your jumping attacks vary depending on whether you chose free-fire or fixed-fire modes. In free-fire mode, pressing jump while you are already in the air performs a belly flop attack that does not alter your trajectory and that remains active until you land. In fixed-fire mode, jumping and pressing jump again while you are still rising performs a jump kick that simply adds a hitbox onto your normal jumping sprite. It has decently long duration but will not remain active for the entire jump. If you jump and press jump again while falling, you will perform a dive kick that alters your trajectory and can damage enemies. All of these melee attacks are extremely useful. Throws do a lot of damage (often killing lower level enemies), make you invulnerable, and will send enemies that survive to the other side of the screen, getting them away from you and into range of your gun. The jumping attacks and slide are vital to movement in harder stages and difficulty levels, especially in fixed-fire mode. They provide some of the only ways to continue moving forward while clearing out enemies. All of the attacks do reasonably good damage, but they are absolutely not a substitute for guns. Their range is simply too limited and they cannot kill enemies nearly as fast.

These melee/movement options are one of the defining features of Gunstar Heroes. At its core, the game is about balancing 3 objectives: move forward, kill bosses, do not get hit. To move forward you must kill the enemies in front of you, to kill the enemies in front of you you must fire your gun, and when you are firing your gun you cannot move. Additionally, you have to move to avoid enemy fire. The game could function with just walking and firing, making the player master the art of choosing when to move and when to fire, where to stop and where to go. The melee attacks/movements add another option to this same scenario. They are the compromise between shooting your gun and walking forward, allowing you to “push” your way forward. Giving the player these strong movement options allows the game to crank up the number of enemies and bullets on screen without becoming impossible, but it also adds an element of magic to the game that blows it wide open.

Every problem, every layout of bullets and bodies has multiple solutions (they are mostly randomly generated as well). Gunstar Heroes is not about finding the “right” answer to problems, it’s about finding any answer and executing it quickly enough to avoid damage, kill things, and move forward. It’s a fast-paced, bullet-laced dance of death and explosions. It is constant improvisation and adaptation. Eventually your skills become twitchy and unconscious; to succeed at the highest level, they have to. Stage 5 is the pinnacle of this phenomenon and, as a result, the game. The level throws so much shit at you that moving forward becomes a privilege that you must earn by shooting, jumping, throwing, and kicking until you are a hurricane, steadily moving forward as you obliterate everything in your path. Your skills are forced to rise to meet the challenge you face and they both transcend what you thought was possible. This is what great games do. This is Gunstar Heroes.

UPDATE (6-18-12):

I have finally gotten around to playing the game in Free Shot mode– it is a much worse game. The combination of being able to fire while moving forward and the incredible power of the jumping belly flop attack exclusive to this control mode makes the game too easy. The belly flop is far more useful than the Fixed Shot mode’s jumping attacks, so useful that simply spamming it becomes a viable tactic.

Even more overpowered in this mode, however, is the lightning+homing triangles combination shot. Once you acquire this weapon combo, there is no reason to ever trade it for another. This weapon functions by very quickly targeting one enemy and zapping him with unavoidable lightning. You can simply hold the button down and it will continue to damage the enemy.  In Fixed Shot mode, since you cannot move forward while firing, this weapon is not always the best option as it can only hit one enemy at a time, leaves you vulnerable, and you cannot progress through the level unless you stop firing altogether. In Free Shot mode, however, running through the level while holding this button down is not only possible, it is one of the best tactics by far. Combining it with the belly flop will get you through even the most frenzied of areas– Stage 5, the highlight of the game in Fixed Shot mode, is rendered pointless and tedious by the belly flop/homing lighting combo.

Once you acquire that weapon combo, the game is effectively over. You win. Until then, the game is about as good as Fixed Shot mode. Most weapons are challenging to manage in Free Shot mode; where you want to shoot and where you want to move are not always the same, and negotiating those two goals within the control scheme is the heart of this mode– until you get the homing lightning gun, that is.

Written by metalsharkplayer

January 5, 2012 at 2:07 am

Mini-Review: 5th Avenue

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It’s a shitty Butterfinger.

Written by metalsharkplayer

January 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm