Metal Shark Player

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Candy Roundup

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

Zero

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.

SKOR

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

Mini-Review: Tastykake Limited Edition “Black & White” Pie

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Tastykake pies are remarkably consistent. Almost every standard flavor is delicious. When it comes to limited edition flavors, however, their track record is less impressive. Banana Split was just okay, and while Rita’s Mango did a commendable job emulating the flavor of Rita’s mango water-ice, the flavor just didn’t translate well to the pastry medium. Tonight I put a new limited edition pie to the text.

The Black and White pie is intriguing because it’s something of a mystery- what does “black and white” taste like? You would assume it’s vanilla and chocolate, but the box doesn’t say shit– maybe its white cheddar and caviar. Maybe I was looking for an excuse to buy it. Either way, I took this shot in the dark so that you don’t have to.

Please don’t. This shit sucks. It’s chocolate and vanilla pudding inside a pie crust. In fact, the traditional soft and flaky Tastykake pie crust is the best part by far. The flavor is one-dimensional, and its a boring, stinky dimension. It was not worth the money or the calories. Limited edition Tastykake pies are 0/3. Will I ever learn?

Written by metalsharkplayer

December 31, 2011 at 4:22 am

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Sriracha

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Sriracha is our Lord and savior. It is the North Star that guides lost sailors home. It is the watch dog that protects our children as they sleep in their beds. It is the woman you hold in your arms in the still of night. It is a hot sauce.

Sriracha originated in Thailand, home of many spicy things. There are many commercially available varieties but, when I talk about sriracha, I’m referring specifically to the sauce made by Huy Fong Foods, pictured above. Huy Fong Foods was started by David Tran, a Vietnamese chili farmer that sold chili sauce out of Saigon before fleeing in the late 70’s after the war. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1980 and founded Huy Fong Foods. The company is staffed only by eight members of the Tran family and sells a shit-ton of hot sauce. David Tran is an incalculably big boss and a credit to mankind. I’m sure other brands make excellent sriracha, but I’ve never had them so fuck you.

Sriracha is not complicated. It consists of chili, sugar, salt, garlic, and distilled vinegar, as well as potassium sorbate and sodium bisulfite as preservatives and, finally,  xanthan gum to keep all the ingredients from separating. That way, you don’t have to shake it up every time you use it. Thanks Mr. Tran, good on you.

In the back of your mind you might be thinking, “What the fuck is potassium sorbate? Why am I eating sodium bisulfite? Are these unnatural chemical additives that will give me AIDS?” Well let me tell you a few things: 1) The back of your mind is gay. 2) No, you won’t get AIDS, that’s a sexually transmitted disease.

I bought my first bottle of Sriracha during my first semester of college. Because my school’s dining hall food literally caused me to vomit every time I attempted eating it, I was forced to provide all of my own food for the first time in my life. As a result, I ate almost nothing but instant ramen. On the recommendation of Street Fighter legend Alex Valle, I purchased a bottle of sriracha to add some spice to my life. I knew I was buying the right thing because I had seen Asian people bring it into restaurants and add it to their food. At first, I added only a few drops. Any more was simply overpowering. I have never been a huge spicy food guy, always enjoying the flavor of chili based foods more than their capsaicin. The sriracha added a warm, garlicky layer to the broth, as well as a little tingle. To this day, I have not eaten ramen without it and the amount I use has grown. I now add it liberally, deliberately unmeasured. I enjoy the variance; no bowl of ramen is the same as the last.

My affair with sriracha did not stop with ramen. As I soon discovered, Sriracha is the perfect seasoning for everything that you put in your mouth. I am not exaggerating. Last week I found myself without any food in my apartment; I stole a piece of my roommate’s wheat bread and put sriracha on it. Fucking outstanding. I’ve added it to sandwiches, EasyMac, salads, eggs, fruit, and pasta. Cooking any kind of meat on the stove? Put some sriracha on and let it sizzle in. Eating something boring or bad? Put a bunch of sriracha on it. Just today I found a revolutionary new use: adding a few drops to my glass of tinny, disgusting tap-water. Now it tastes fucking incredible.

The beauty is in the ease of use. Twist open the top, squeeze the bottle, and your food tastes better. It’s empowering. I know nothing about cooking anything beyond eggs, toast, and frozen foods with instructions on them. Before sriracha, I would almost never fuck with the food that I am eating. Who was I to say that this tuna was boring? What the fuck did I know about herbs and spices? After finding sriracha, I add whatever the fuck I want to my food. I still don’t know anything about herbs and spices, but my overwhelmingly positive experience with sriracha gave me the courage to try shit out, which is how you learn. I made EasyMac earlier tonight and put paprika, Jane’ s Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper, garlic powder, and sriracha in it. I have added fennel and garlic to ramen to give it an Italian kick. I am now fearless with the spice rack, limited only by my imagination and what my roommate chooses to stock. Fear of the unknown is something humanity has been struggling with forever. Sriracha has murdered that fear and made it taste great.

Sriracha is a hot sauce, but it is also much more. It’s a man’s journey from war-torn despair to self-made prosperity. It’s a culinary Chinese army shovel. It’s the power of the sun in the palm of your hand. It’s our Lord and savior. Spread the good news. Sriracha.

Written by metalsharkplayer

December 13, 2011 at 4:21 am

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Review: Chunky

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Image

What the fuck is a Chunky? It’s candy.  It’s a an endangered species and it’s not long for this world. I’m going to explain why.

Recently, I realized that there were many widely available candies that, for one reason or another, I have never tried. At the convenience store today, I took one step towards rectifying that problem. I purchased a Chunky. I have, to the best of my knowledge, never had one before.

There are a few reasons why the Chunky might be passed over by a consumer:

  1. The Packaging. It’s boring. No mascot, no images, the description is very small and hard to see, and the use of only one real color (white and chrome are fake, they don’t exist) makes it immediately less eye-catching.
  2. Chunky Awareness. Who knows what a Chunky is? When was the last time you saw a Chunky commercial? How many lovable movie aliens have eaten one? It’s not even carried by many stores.
  3. The Size. It’s not a bar, it’s a square.It has more depth than a bar, but it takes up less space on the shelf. It’s not small enough to package in a bag or a box, not big enough to compete with the bars. There’s a reason billboards are rectangular.

So here is some Chunky Awareness. Produced by Nestlé, the package describes it as “Milk chocolate with peanuts and raisins”. The ingredients list confirms this claim, adding only “TBHQ (to preserve freshness)”. I tried, but I couldn’t taste the TBHQ. As mentioned before, the Chunky is a square. It is subdivided into four truncated square pyramids (three-dimensional trapezoids) connected by a thinner, but still substantial, chocolate base. This subdivision is a feature found on many candies, presumably to facilitate breaking the candy apart for sharing or saving. I almost never use this feature for either of these purposes. I wonder how this design came to be so prevalent. Did ornery customers demand segmented chocolates? Did manufacturers try to market it to consumers as a serious advantage over other chocolates?

My first quadrant was extremely disappointing. I thought it was dark chocolate at first because I didn’t taste any sweetness, just some cocoa flavor. The peanuts tasted like nothing and the raisins were just getting in the way. When a food sticks to your teeth, it has to taste extra good to make up for that annoyance or it’s simply not worth it. These raisins didn’t seem to be worth it. Sunmaid raisins (the gold standard by which all other raisins are judged) not only stick in your teeth, but you have to dig them out of a tiny cardboard box with your fingers. It’s a messy and annoying process, but they are fucking delicious so you don’t care. The raisins in a Chunky are not on that level.

So why is this candy still around? Who buys enough of these to keep them in production? Why didn’t I buy that Nutrageous instead? These are the questions I asked myself after eating that first quadrant. I stewed on it for so long that I decided I would write a review of this candy to let everyone know that they were not missing anything. Somewhere, someone would benefit from my misfortune. Then I took another bite. And another.

I was totally fucking wrong. The Chunky is not a worthless mistake, it’s an overlooked gem. The chocolate is the heart of its success. It is much less sweet than that of most candies today, and that’s what makes it unique. It’s an incredible medium between dark chocolate and the hyper-sweet, creamy milk chocolate that dominates the market. As a result, the flavor is much deeper than you might expect. It maintains a balanced sweetness, but nothing as bright as what Hershey or Mars products might have led you to expect from milk chocolate. The flavor has more body to it. The peanuts and raisins are very mild, serving as accents and contrasts to the chocolate, which is undoubtedly the focus of the Chunky. You taste and feel the peanuts and raisins only so that your brain can first forget the chocolate and then a moment later, experience it anew. For this purpose, the raisins don’t necessarily need to be as good as Sunmaid. They are part of a much larger operation and they perform their function perfectly. The Chunky is a carefully balanced equation and absolutely worth eating.

Unfortunately, the Chunky will probably never be understood and accepted for what it is. It is a candy out of time, losing its place in the current market. In a fast-paced world filled with much sweeter and more exotic competitors, the Chunky can’t keep up. What people won’t take the time to realize is that it was never trying to. Our modern expectations of packaged, processed candy don’t have room for the Chunky. It might fit better with what we expect from homemade or specialty candies and treats, but, due to the nature of its production, it falls short of most of those offerings. It’s not loud enough to compete with Hershey bars, not refined enough to compete with the gourmet market.

If you are looking for something a little more interesting than a Reese’s or Snickers, see if you can find a Chunky. Eat it slowly and think about me.

Written by metalsharkplayer

December 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Reviews

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