Tag: Reviews

Review – Fall Flavors

Well, here we are again. The mornings are cool and crisp. The trees are turning lovely shades of yellow, orange and red. And once again, some madman with a syringe is injecting pumpkin flavoring into anything he can get his hands on.

That’s right. It’s “Pumpkin Spice Everything” season again.

Pumpkin Spice.jpg
Image from everydaynodaysoff.com…or one of the other six people who claimed credit.

Just as a small preview of how this is all going to go, I should start by saying I don’t much care for pumpkin. Or rather, I don’t like “pumpkin flavor” or “pumpkin spice.” Pumpkin seeds are among the tastiest baked treats to enjoy on a cool day. How someone got it in their head to scoop out the garbage part of the pumpkin, throw away the seeds and then vomit nutmeg into it until it in no way resembles the taste of pumpkin, I’ll never know.

I don’t even really like pumpkin pie. Why? Because they baked it into a weird tofu-like slab that’s so far removed from real pumpkin I don’t why they even kept the name. It’s like someone did a cover version of pumpkin and really just phoned the whole thing in.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. If it tastes like nutmeg, feels like tofu and is randomly brown, I don’t know what it is. But pumpkin it ain’t.

Luckily, caramel apple is kind of a Fall staple, too, so at least failure won’t be a foregone conclusion for everything I tried.

Caramel Apple Twizzlers. So basically, you’ve got an apple-flavored Twizzler filled with caramel. Take good thing and stuff with other good thing to get good-er thing. Eat. Enjoy. Rinse. Repeat.

For the first three, anyway. After that, the flavor goes kind of off the rails and starts to taste really artificial. So if you’re the sort that’s capable of enjoying candy in moderation, then these should be right up your alley. If you’re the sort who tends to see a pile of candy as a personal challenge, you might want to skip these altogether.

Pumpkin Life Cereal. I picture this as being pretty much what would happen if you accidentally spilled a pumpkin latte into your bowl of Life Cereal and just decided to go with it. I don’t consider that a ringing endorsement, but if that description doesn’t scare you off, you’d probably like these.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. I picture this as being pretty much what would happen if you accidentally spilled a pumpkin latte into your bowl of Cheerios. Then you threw it out. And then you spilled a second latte into an empty bowl. And then you spilled a lye latte. And amidst all this crazy spilling, you got sort of distracted and actually started eating what was in the bowl.

I realize that when people are buying pumpkin-spiced anything there are probably certain expectations. First and foremost among these is that you’d actually be able to taste the pumpkin. And that’s fine, but this kind of ran in the opposite direction. The spice is overpowering – closer to a chemical burn than a flavoring.

But again, if that description doesn’t scare you off…sure.

Little Debbie Caramel Apple Oatmeal Creme Pies. These were probably my favorite food of the bunch I tried. And I think it had something to do with the organic nature of the limited edition. It’s not a drink with a tacked-on flavor shot. It’s not a cereal dusted with random spices. This was exactly like a tiny oatmeal cookie sandwich cosplaying as a caramel apple pie.

The point of limited editions is that they make sense in the context of a specific food. Caramel Apple Wther’s Originals make sense because it’s just adding some apple to your caramel. And Pop-Tarts, frankly, can get away with almost anything. But the more you’re aware that they just took an existing product (like, say, Oreos) and added pumpkin spice just to make some random girl in Portland squeal, the less it holds up.

That being said, the “creme” aspect of this was a little weird. It’s sort of like if you took the regular oatmeal pie creme and put it in a blender with caramel and apple. As long as I don’t have to clean the blender in question I’m okay with it, I guess.

Lindor Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate Truffles. And…the counterpoint. This is the textbook example of abandoning organic flavor use and just filling your candy with whatever. Or it would be a textbook example, but I refuse to believe a textbook on such a sad, sad topic could possibly exist.

I’m going to write this very slowly so everyone can understand it. I’d also advise candy makers to read it slowly. Otherwise, my typing speed is largely irrelevant. My point is, I need you to understand this – chocolate and pumpkin do not go together.

I understand the difficulty in making tasty confections when the well of ideas for stuff to stick in chocolate are pretty much tapped out. Lord knows there were enough warning signs when people tried selling me chocolate with air bubbles in it. But Lindor isn’t doing itself any favors by putting pumpkin in chocolate. Chocolate goes about as well with pumpkin as it does with cinnamon. Or hair clippings. In short, not at all.

Does that mean chocolate candy makers have to miss out on the fall fun? No. But maybe do that salted caramel thing people say is in any way different than plain caramel. You want Fall foods? Then do some county fair favorites. The fact that so many years have passed without a Fried Twinkie Milk Chocolate Truffle is nothing short of a travesty.

Taco Bell Pumpkin Spice Nachos. Okay. I made this up. These don’t exist. And the fact that they don’t is probably one of the more compelling forms of evidence that there’s a God out there who loves us.

Though, given the rate of things getting pumpkin spice versions, I’d say God will probably keep loving us for another year or two, tops.

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Review – “Journey” (PS4)

So I have Playstation Plus, which gives me somewhere in the area of four to seven free games on the first Tuesday of every month. I figure it’s high time I started using it.

Playstation Plus does tend to focus mostly on older games. As an intelligent person, I see the sense in this, as giving your game away for free on day one is a pretty crummy marketing strategy. As a gamer, grumble grumble, I want new free games.

There’s not much point in reviewing games that have been out for months or even years by the time of their free release. Reviewers have already said pretty much everything there is to say within a few days of any game being released. In the case of preview copies, reviewers cut that time down to about a week before the release.

All that being said, let me immediately break my own rule and review Journey.

journey

The Background. Journey first came out in Spring of 2012 and was developed by Thatgamecompany. And no, that isn’t a typo. That’s their actual studio name. Which I guess makes sense, because using no creativity whatsoever to come up with their name gave them plenty to spare for their actual games.

Though they haven’t made many thus far, they have a solid pedigree as the people who made that game where your little thing ate smaller little things (Flow) and that game where you controlled flower petals in a breeze (Flower). Again, none of the preceding things were typos.

Like the previous two games, Journey is a short game with no dialogue, no onscreen meters and only the barest of story lines. The graphics are stylized, looking beautiful without wandering too close to actual realism. Except for your character’s robe and scarf, which animate well and flow about in the wind believably. If nothing else, I can say that this title revolutionized scarf and robe physics in video games.

In the same way that Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball revolutionized…um…jiggle physics, except without the long sigh when you say it.

The Basics. The game starts you off as a nameless robed figure in the middle of a ruin-filled desert where you’ll spend most of your time playing. After climbing a small hill you’re presented with a view of the glowing mountain in the distance. And that’s…pretty much all there is to it. There’s no story or anything else to otherwise motivate you to go there, except that it’s constantly looming there in the distance looking all enticing and whatnot.

With so many games beating you over the head with your character’s motivations (which are oftentimes stupid or impossible to relate to) or throwing long, convoluted stories at you (which are oftentimes boring or impossible to understand), Journey was honestly a breath of fresh air.

The same objective is in sight almost the entire game with no need for detours. There are no sidequests to rescue supporting characters. No collect-a-thons to pad out the game time. Just a robed figure. A glowing mountain. And a desert between them.

There are some story pieces thrown in here and there in the form of visions and murals, yes, but because there’s no talking, almost everything you see is open to interpretation. While it’s fairly clear that something very bad went down from the paintings you find, that much is already clear to anyone who notices the ruins almost everywhere. The clues are subtle without being intentionally vague, meaning that any two players might have played very different stories on their way through the game.

The ending was admittedly open to some interpretation but by the time you reach that point you sort of get the idea that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fulfilling enough closure that you don’t feel cheated. And, as the title suggests, the point of it all was the journey – not the destination.

Or, at least, I think so. The cynical part of me says that a lot of the praise this game gets for being philosophically deep could have just been people filling in the blanks themselves. I suppose we’ll never really know.

The Rest. Gameplay itself is simple and straightforward. You have a scarf that lets you jump and glide through the air slowly. As you progress your scarf will grow longer, allowing you to jump higher and glide longer. You’ll slide down slopes in certain sections. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

There’s is a mechanic that seamlessly adds other players to your game as semi-permanent companions on your quest. I’ve heard it can be very fun and you can grow very attached to these people, but they’re an entirely optional experience. Unfortunately, I had a sum total of three people appear – two of which were too busy screwing around to move forward and one who kept me waiting ten minutes while they failed the same simple puzzle over and over again.

I inevitably left all three behind and didn’t look back, though your mileage may vary if you find people who are helpful and/or competent.

While I wouldn’t say the game is very challenging, I personally feel that it’s as hard as it needed to be. It’s enough to engage the player without bogging down the straightforward narrative. I don’t think the developers wanted the video game portion to detract from the story, if that makes sense.

The simple story and soundtrack get you very invested in a character you essentially know nothing about (aside from them being a robe and scarf enthusiast). The result is that you’re given swells of excitement, fear and hope as you get closer and closer to the summit. And it leaves you wondering why games that give you so much more emotional fodder to work with rarely provide the same highs and lows as Journey.

(Except for “The Last of Us.” I have paprika in my eye. I was making deviled eggs. Shut up! I’m not crying. You’re crying.)

That all said, I realize that a two-hour game with very little story and possibly less payoff for an ending might be a hard sell for some. I liked the cinematic feel of the game and its ability to get me to feel things, but I also understand that some of you are dead inside. And that’s fine. I mean, I guess it’ll just hurt less when your pets die.

Final Thoughts. I honestly haven’t come up with a concrete scoring system for reviews yet. (My best idea thus far is a sliding scale of “not fun at all” to “amazingly fun” atop a scale of “short” to “long,” but I have to tinker with it.) In the case of this game, I would even hesitate to rate it by the same scale as other games because it just is so fundamentally different as a playing experience.

The Verdict. Though not exactly rollicking fun to play, the game is nonetheless absolutely worth experiencing from beginning to end. Just prepare for the feels.

The Game-Changing World of Fast Food Hyperbole

Burrito

Did you hear about the new item at Taco Bell?

The answer to that question is probably “no.” Or rather, “yes, but there’s an even newer one than the one you’re thinking of….so, no.”

New items are big business now. They were always a thing, but now we’re hearing about these things years in advance, with all the hype and lead-up of a new hit comedy on a major network. And while the outcome (in both cases) is generally disappointment, it’s definitely starting to take up a larger and larger part of my online news feed as something people legitimately think is actual news.

And frankly, it’s wearing a bit thin.

I like new items. In fact, my wife would probably (correctly) say I have an unhealthy interest in them. What I don’t like, however, is the way they’re portrayed in the media – as good or bad in the way that cures for diseases and wars are, respectively.

In short, it’s a list article of the things I’m tired of hearing about new items.

1) I’m tired of hearing that (insert restaurant) has “gone too far.” No one’s denying the world might not have been ready for a bacon-filled sandwich with chicken instead of bread. But it’s fast food. It has the same ability to go too far as a snack-food company, a hardware wholesaler or a roadside sweetcorn seller.

2) I’m tired of hearing that a new item fundamentally changes things. It’s food. As long as it still goes in and out of the same holes, it’s pretty much business as usual.

The guys at Taco Bell didn’t have some eureka moment about putting Cheetos in a burrito after decades of research. They sat twelve guys together in a meeting and asked, “What else can we throw inside a tortilla?” And after three separate people were shouted down for suggesting Fritos, because they’ve already done that, this is what we got.

3) I’m specifically tired of hearing that something is a “game-changer.” What game? This is a matter of personal taste, but this expression gets tacked onto everything from a new taco with a flavored shell all the way to…well, that, but a third kind of flavored shell.

4) I’m tired of hearing about “new” items. Burger joints are especially disadvantaged here, because there are only so many ways to put things between two buns. It’s a similar story for putting things in, on top of and beside tortillas. In most cases, “new” is being pretty generous.

5) And I can’t stand hearing about old “new” items. Just because the reviewer wasn’t alive the first time cheese and bacon stuffed crust pizzas came around doesn’t mean it’s a new item. Is it still delicious? Sure. It was also delicious in 1978, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2011.

6) I’m skeptical when I hear a new item will make me a loyal customer. Specifically because “customer loyalty” is a joke. More specifically because I hear it most about new items at Burger King and Pizza Hut, which are, frankly, jokes in their own right.

Your mileage may vary on this one. But I’ve gotten food poisoning the last three times I’ve eaten at Burger King. At this point, I’m not sure if there’s anything they could put between two buns to even make me chase a rolling quarter inside, let alone actually eat there.

7) Most of all, I’m tired of the wait. I used to be able to see a commercial for a burger with twelve strips of bacon, get in my car and then eat one. The time between learning about it and putting it into my face was often less than forty minutes. And it was a good system.

Nowadays, companies announce items on social media. They open to limited markets in the worst places to live in America. And then, after a year of reviewers talking about it like the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, you might actually get to eat one. I’m not sure I’ll stay excited from one season of Game of Thrones to the next. I don’t know how they expect me to stay excited about the newest combination of two Spanish words at Taco Bell.

And just think of how disappointed I am, after ten months, when it once again fails to change the game.