The Best of the First Half of Subpar Season XX

I’m running the Sub-Par League again this year. Instead of trying to put every update of the league on here, I’m just posting the games of the week I am most proud of writing. Enjoy!


Eddie Collins has felt like an outcast on the Bastards since day one. KungFu Grip and the rest of the team kept calling Cocky “Steady Eddie”, which especially hurt when the consistency Collins was providing was below-replacement level batting and fielding. That, in turn, caused his performance to drop further, and he was stuck in a negative feedback loop going into the series against Les Royales de Montreal.

Meanwhile, kalensc had been taking a hands-off approach to moderating his baseball team, only making one move all season: drafting Alex Rodriguez. Though not quite as poor as Eddie Collins had been for the Bastards, A-Rod had been far closer to A-Fraud (USER BANNED FOR RIVALS.COM PUN) than the 12th overall pick in the Super Draft. And with the Royales drifting further and further back from contention since the selection, the rabid fans of Montreal have blamed basically everything on Rodriguez, flipping cars, starting fires, and doing all other fun Montreal sport rioters do to protest A-Rod. He too was a man isolated in a team sport.

And so it was in the bottom of the 5th that the two of them found themselves near each other. Eddie Collins slapped a single, and stole second base. “Hey, nice wheels, Cocky,” A-Rod said to Collins. “Finally, someone around here that knows my actual name, A-Rod,” Collins replied. “What’s a guy gotta do to get as fast as you?” A-Rod said. “Oh, you know, the usual sorts of things. Rolling barrels, lifting imaginary pianos, lying on the floor while moving your legs like a wheel. And, of course, smoking three packs a day,” said Collins. “Huh. I never tried any of those. What do you say we hang out after the game and swap exercise tips? I’ve got some very useful and very legal substances that would give you a boost,” said A-Rod. “I’m already taking enough heroin for my asthma,” Collins said.

The game ended with little incident in a 6-4 win for the Bastards. At the Buntsville Tavern, Collins and A-Rod were sitting at the counter. “You sure your teammates don’t care if you skip out going to the bar with them?” Collins said. A-Rod shook his head. “Nah, my teammates don’t care even a little about me. Unless I carry them to the division, everyone in Montreal will blame me for their collapse,” said A-Rod. “I know exactly what you mean. The mean folk of Buntsville keep calling me a bastard and ‘steady Eddie’ and just generally not being nice. Do they think I want to go out there and hit like Bill Bergen?” said Collins. “Yeah, I can’t go one at-bat without hearing ‘merde’ from the crowd or even my teammates. Heck, some of them have accused me of injuring Pedro Martinez, who started our little spat by saying I have no personality!” said A-Rod.

“Oh, your team’s fans and teammates do that injury blaming thing too? Every week, someone new on the Bastards gets hurt, and they blame me for it!” said Collins. “That’s pretty awful. What actually happened to them?” said A-Rod. “Oh, I don’t know. For instance, I saw that Mel Ott didn’t have his humors properly balanced, so I got the team doctor to bleed him a little. And now I’m the bad guy for looking after my teammate’s health?” said Collins. “Yeah, I get you. I tried offering some Clear to Ken Griffey Jr., and he punched me in the face saying ‘this is for the Seattle Mariners!’ What a bunch of goobers. I’m so glad I could finally find someone who understands me,” said A-Rod. “Me too,” said Collins.

Suddenly, KungFu Grip and kalensc burst in through the Buntsville Tavern doors. “Heard a Bastard of mine was hanging out with the enemy. Can’t abide that,” said KungFu Grip. “I must ban any who would use a parachute account to avoid probation,” said kalensc. “Gah! It’s our awful owners! We got to get away, Cocky!” said A-Rod. “I’m sorry, A-Rod, but I can’t let the team down. I must turn myself in,” said Collins. “No! Don’t do it! They’ll tear you to shreds!” said A-Rod. “And while they’re doing that to me, make sure you get yourself out of here and pretend you were with the rest of the Royales all along,” said Collins. “Dang it! I can’t just abandon a friend like this! Wait, I actually can. I’m motherfreaking Alex Rodriguez. HEY KUNGFU GRIP, I FOUND YOUR BASTARD,” A-Rod yelled. “Thank you, mysterious friend! Hey, I think I recognize you. You’re a baseballer! How would you like to be a bastard?” said KungFu Grip. “Oh… he’s definitely a bastard. I’ll remember this, A-Fraud,” said Collins. “I’ll remember your team getting relegated, Steady Eddie,” said A-Rod as he walked away. “Yeah, you’re still getting banned, A-Rod,” said kalensc.


“Alright everyone, let’s get started,” SCRUM Master Moleboy said to his Beaverton Bonafides over the Teams meeting. “Today is the first day of sprint 1 of what the higher ups are calling Subpar Season XX, or SSXX for short. Whenever you’re talking, writing, or thinking about SSXX, remember to use that acronym instead to avoid confusion. Don’t get it confused with SSX, the mid-2000s extreme snow sports games, or SSXXX, the designation for Subpar Porn. As always, we’ll go around the room and ask everyone to give us their status. Starting with our starting pitcher. Juan?” Seconds passed in silence. “Juan, you’re on mute. Please, take yourself off mute,” said Moleboy. “Sorry, guys. A little distracted by my dog playing fetch with my wife and kids where he throws the ball and then they all cha—“ said Juan Marichal before Moleboy interrupted him. “Juan. Just your status, please,” said Moleboy.

“Oh, yes. Sorry. Uh, let’s see. Uh, sprint 1 is going alright. I’ve made it 5 and two thirds through the allotted work. On track to finish with at least the game tied if everyone does their job. I’m expecting a fly ball to be hit to left field soon. Anyone have the bandwidth to try and take that?” said Marichal. Moleboy unmuted himself. “Sounds like something for Rickey. Have you put in a JIRA ticket, or put this on the Kanban?” asked Moleboy. “Oh, jeez. I don’t think I did. I, uh, wasn’t anticipating Brian Giles of all people to hit a fly ball there, to be honest. Can’t we get the work done untracked?” said Marichal. “No. We need a ticket, or we’re going to go over our budgeted hours. Please put in a ticket for the fly ball explaining the task, and then I’ll decompose it for Rickey to get a hold of. Provided he has the bandwidth. Rickey, you in here?” asked Moleboy. While the other cameras had been turned off for this meeting, Rickey’s camera had been on the whole time, and had shown him attending shirtless. “Yeah, Rickey’s here. Rickey can’t make any promises—Rickey’s got 6 at-bats Rickey gotta focus on in this sprint,” said Rickey. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to let this go, and release this fifth inning with an error. Hope it isn’t too catastrophic,” said Moleboy. The Misanthropes would score 4 unearned runs in the inning due to the unticketed work. “This is why we have daily standups!” exclaimed Moleboy in frustration.

“Whatever, what’s done is done. Let’s try to close the game out strong. Big thanks to Robin Yount for taking on that work to get us from down 7-3 to 7-6 with that three run dinger. You’ve been awarded 10 Good Job Points, redeemable on the Beaverton Employee Website for all sorts of things,” said Moleboy. Yount came off mute. “Can you please just pay me more instead?” he asked. “No, this is psychologically proven stuff for better retention,” said Moleboy. “You know what else is psychologically proven for better retention? Teammates that can actually catch the freaking ball!” said Marichal. “Look, Marichal, at the end of the day, it is what it is,” said Moleboy. “That doesn’t freaking mean anything! I’m taking PTO for the next month,” said Marichal. “Well, guess that means the rest of you will have to start pulling more weight,” said Moleboy. “Or, you know, you could hire somebody else instead of forcing us to work unpaid OT to do it,” said Rollie Fingers, who had just given up the go-ahead solo home run to Vladimir Guerrero in the top of the 11th. “No,” said Moleboy.

Faustoan Bargain was quite pleased at his team’s hot start. “First, we plundered the coffers of Beavorton Bonafide Corps, and soon we will finish our pillaging of the great Camden and all of their construction equipment! It might’ve cost us Vladimir, but what’s one soul when you can have a ticket to the Super League? This deal with the devil was a true bargain. One might even call it a Firstian Bargain. Because we are in first. For being good. At least, I think that’s what’s the phrase is. Maybe it’s a Fastian Bargain? A Fistian Bargain? Ooh, a Feistian Bargain! That’s probably it. The Misanthropes will Feistian Bargain their way to the top!”

“tadashi, I told you to wake me if my alarm doesn’t!” Clown Fundamentals pleaded as she stumbled out of their bedroom, late for school. “Well, champ, maybe you should try pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and not give up three runs in the top of the first inning next time,” said tadashi in his classic deadpan delivery as a laugh track plays. A funky bassline plays as Clown Fundamentals starts trying to eat breakfast, a normal spread of cereal, milk, fruit, and… a Kit Kat bar? “tadashi, why is there a Kit Kat bar left out for breakfast?” Clown Fundamentals asked in bewilderment. “Heh, I love my Jim Kaat so much that I got the fun sized version of him for you. It’ll bend, but doesn’t break. Or is it the other way around?” tadashi wondered as a laugh track played and Jim Kaat pitched 8 innings giving up 7 hits and 2 runs.

The scene transitions from morning to evening as a tired Clown Fundamentals comes home. “Man, I’m so sick of school. Every one of my batters can get a hit, and I still can find a way to lose the game anyway! I’ll never be the big girl on campus now,” said Clown Fundamentals as the live studio audience awwed. She went downstairs to find tadashi watching a baseball game. “What are you watching and will it make me feel good?” she asked. “Oh, this? This is just a re-run of the earlier Centrists-Buzzsaw game. I’d turn something else on, but there’s nothing good on TV these days,” tadashi said as a laugh track played. “Well, whatever. Baseball is just an extension of school. You’re either the biggest girl on campus, or just some loser relegated to Ds and Fs,” Clown Fundamentals sobbed. Tadashi came over and put his arm around Clown Fundamentals. “You know, champ, sometimes, the truth is in the middle,” tadashi said, and the crowd applauded. Al Simmons then hit an RBI single up the middle to make the game 4-1. “Art imitates life,” he said, as a laugh track played.

“This game sucks. Why aren’t the Buzzsaw winning?” Clown Fundamentals asked as Mike Piazza hit a solo shot in the 7th to make it a 5-1 ballgame. “Patience, champ. See, life is like baseball. Sometimes, you gotta go for the small ball instead of the long ball, and be happy with what you have,” said tadashi as the Buzzsaw scored two runs in the bottom of the 7th off a ground out and a two out single. “Yeah, but I want to hit a home run and win at life by being the big girl on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said, annoyed that the Buzzsaw gave up another run in the top of the 9th. “Well, champ, maybe take what Al Simmons did there for inspiration. He’s just a catcher, a cog in the wheel like all of us. But when he hit that single in the top of the 9th, he decided to be the best cog in the wheel he could be and hustled to second for an extra base. Clown, you could be the best cog in the wheel if you wanted to be,” tadashi said as the studio audience cheered.

Clown Fundamentals thought about it as she watched the bottom of the 9th. “Maybe I could be the best cog in the wheel ever?” Her feelings gained conviction as she watched Chipper Jones score on a one-out double by Ernie Banks to make it a 6-4 ballgame. “Maybe I’ll be the biggest cog in the campus?” Clown Fundamentals thought in a voiceover. Then those feelings grew more after Hank Aaron hit a two-out RBI single to bring the Buzzsaw within one. “No more maybes. I WILL be the biggest cog on campus!” Clown Fundamentals thought. But just as she was about to tell the know-it-all tadashi that, Yogi Berra grounded out to end the game, and the Buzzsaw had lost 6-5 to the Centrists. Deflated and angry, Clown Fundamentals stormed out of the living room while yelling “Life is crap!” “Don’t you dare use that language, young woman! Or else mom’s gonna know and you’re really gonna get it!” tadashi yelled back. Clown Fundamentals stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry. “That’s it! No wins for a week!” yelled tadashi, and the episode ended.


“Welcome to Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ, mr. Oystertoadfish. Where the software is you, and the hardware is we!” said the front desk secretary of the Beaverton Bonafides to oystertoadfish. The owner of the San Juan Senadores was on another tour of the world. Last year, his mission was the world’s barbecue. Unfortunately, his assignment from the San Juan government this year is far more boring: modern business practices. As such, he traveled to Beaverton, the most forward thinking business capital in the world, to meet with the SCRUM Master: Moleboy. “Thank you,” oystertoadfish replied to the secretary as they started to walk through the building to Moleboy’s office.

The facilities in Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ were a little odd, and oystertoadfish must’ve shown it on his face as the secretary chimed in during the walk. “Oh, the workers here love their open floor office where every desk is a ping pong table. Most of them take breaks by playing ping pong with their laptops! And I know the drip feeds are a little odd-looking, but it provides everyone the nutrition they need to live without ever having to move!” the secretary said. Oystertoadfish decided not to look around anymore and instead spaced out until they arrived at Moleboy’s office. “And here we are!” the secretary said. “Thanks again,” oystertoadfish replied, as he opened the door shaped like a man’s face with very well-groomed facial hair.

“Oystertoadfish! My man, or oystertoadfish,” Moleboy said as the ambassador walked in. “Secret handshake!” Moleboy continued. He walked up to oystertoadfish and put out his hand. When oystertoadfish put his out to shake it, Moleboy instead started what appeared to oystertoadfish an odd dance and clearly expected oystertoadfish to do the same. Oystertoadfish instead let the moment pass, and said “Pleasure to meet you, CEO Moleboy.” “Please. CEO Moleboy was my father’s name. Er. I mean, I built Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ with nothing but my dreams, hard work, and fun! Can’t forget the fun,” said Moleboy. “No offense, Moleboy, but how does fun build a good business?” oystertoadfish asked.

“Heh, fun is why companies like Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ are taking over the world. See, the hot thing right now is what’s called a ‘work-life’ balance. Where you balance the amount of time and energy you spend on your job with the time and energy you spend on your life. Most people want that to be 50-50 at worst, and ideally 100-0 life-work at best. So what we try to do is make work SO fun that our workers want their work-life balance to be 100-0 work-life! After all, in prehistoric times, humans had to work 100% of the time in hunts and survival, so we’re naturally born to find work fun!” said Moleboy.

Oystertoadfish struggled to come up with a response. “Again, I truly mean no disrespect, Moleboy, but that sounds dangerous. If no one has a life outside of work, how do you expect them to have kids, or enjoy their hobbies?” he asked. “Oh, no need to worry about the kids part. We force all employees to sire as many children as possible in our special Romp Rooms. We completely support all LGBTQ+ employees, but anyone that comes to work for Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ knows that they have to have kids one after the other. They can have whatever sexual relationships they want outside of work,” said Moleboy. “Even asexual employees? And how do they find a relationship outside of work if the work-life balance is 100-0?” asked oystertoadfish. “Ha ha ha, well, oystertoadfish, it’s getting pretty late, and I gotta go back into the SCRUM to make sure our team can complete their sprint and the comeback against the San Juan Senadores. If they don’t, well… let’s just say they’ll be taken off of their drip feeds for a week and leave it at that. Secret handshake!” Moleboy offered his hand again, but oystertoadfish had already left Beaverton as fast as he could with a 12-11 victory.


“It’s just not my day.” Clown Fundamentals was feeling down. She had just flunked the test, and now her fantasy fantasy baseball team had the worst record in the Subpar League. “I’ll never be the big woman on campus at this rate,” she glumly said while kicking a rock. “Hey, kid, wanna be a contenda?” a mysterious voice asked Clown Fundamentals. “Wha? Zuh? Golly gee, me? A contender?” Clown Fundamentals replied. “That’s right, kid, a contenda,” said the mysterious voice, now coming out of the dark alley. “But you’re—“ said Clown Fundamentals. “Thassright, it’s me. Da ol’ champ,” said PASS THE MASH.

“Gasp! You were the biggest man on campus ever! I bet if I trained under you, I wouldn’t flunk the test, or have the worst fantasy fantasy baseball team, and I’d finally be the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Is gonna cost ya, kid. I don’ do nuttin’ for free,” said PASS THE MASH. “I didn’t think you did much of anything after the big incident 25 years ago,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Youse remember dat? Hoo boy. I guess my reputashon proceeded without me,” said PASS THE MASH. “Youse and errybody else don’t undastand. I was set up! Hoodwinked! Robbed!”

“Really? I seem to remember that you got into hard liquor and harder drugs, which was the cause of the incident. But I’m totally fine with that if you can just make sure that I’m the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Now dassa what I like ta hear,” said PASS THE MASH. “You’ll go far, kid.” An hour later, the two of them were in a nearby park with baseball gloves and a baseball. “Now, kid, in order ta be da big shot on campus, you gotta be willin to take a shot,” said PASS THE MASH. “I understand, Mash Sir! But, uh, what does that have to do with playing catch in the park?” said Clown Fundamentals. PASS THE MASH shook his head. “Kids dese days… listen, when you flunked the test, what happened?” said PASS THE MASH, tossing the ball to Clown Fundamentals. “I, uh, didn’t study for it?” replied Clown Fundamentals, tossing it back. “Wrong. You didn’t study for life. See, tests are like playing catch. You gotta come with a glove,” said PASS THE MASH. “Gosh, Mr. Mash, I’m already feeling better already!” said Clown Fundamentals as they continued to play catch.

The game of catch continued to last for a while as it started to get dark. “Mr. Mash, I think it’s about time for me to get home. I really appreciate you helping me take my mind off flunking the test and my fantasy fantasy baseball team, but I can’t be the big woman on campus if I keep running away from my problems forever! Thanks for everything,” said Clown Fundamentals as she walked up to PASS THE MASH, giving him the baseball back. “No problem kid. Hey… wanna see a glimpse of when I was da big man on campus?” said PASS THE MASH. “I would love to, Mr. Mash!” said Clown Fundamentals. PASS THE MASH threw the baseball straight into the window of a closed shop, instantly shattering it. He proceeded to then steal the shop’s merchandise before running away. “So long, kid! Hope ya get to be the big woman on campus!” PASS THE MASH yelled as sirens wailed. “Gee, it’s just not my day,” Clown Fundamentals thought as the police proceeded to arrest her.


Clown Fundamentals wasn’t able to prove that she wasn’t responsible for the petty vandalism that cops had arrested her for back in week 5, but the cops let her go if she was able to bring in the real criminal. She only had three weeks to work with, and had to run her sub-par baseball team, AND try to be the big woman on campus, AND prepare for the big dance that was coming up. Life was tough for Clown Fundamentals, and it was about to get tougher as her sub-par team continued to perform well below their talent level. But it was about to be her big break: the Buzzsaw were about to play PASS THE MASH’s The,Fightin’,CSVs in Camden, and she knew that she would have her chance to bring the once-contender to justice.

And she knew exactly how to find PASS THE MASH: by kicking a rock. “Gee, I’ll never be the big woman on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said, while kicking a rock. “Hey, kid, you wanna be a conte—oh it’s just youse again,” said PASS THE MASH. “Golly gee! It’s PASS THE MASH again!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Whaddaya want? I’m sorry for wat happened da last time, but it worked out pretty well for da both of us, I’d say,” said PASS THE MASH. “Yes, your team shot to the top of the Royal Division while mine, uh, started to get a better Pythagorean record. But, golly gee, mister. I’m still not the big woman on campus! I’d really appreciate it if you could somehow find the time to train me again. Please?” said Clown Fundamentals.

“Awright kid, but only because I got such a soft spot for da undadog,” said PASS THE MASH. “This is totally tubular! What do you have in store today?” said Clown Fundamentals. “Well, uh, this is a little embarrassing to say, but I only know how to play catch,” said PASS THE MASH. How on earth did this guy become a contender only by playing catch? Clown Fundamentals thought to herself. “No, that sounds great! I’d love to catch yo—I mean, play catch! I’d love to catch, uh, your spirit,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Ey dat’s what I like da hear!” said PASS THE MASH.

The two of them were once again at the park, playing catch. “Ey, I gotta ask, why you want to be a contenda so bad?” asked PASS THE MASH. “Well, Mr. PASS THE MASH sir, it’s because my great grandma was a contender, my grandma was a contender, and my mother was a contender. We have a contender lineage, and I’m the first one that’s in danger of failing to keep that going,” said Clown Fundamentals glumly. “Ey, don’t worry about it kid. Family is thicker than water. They’ll still love ya,” said PASS THE MASH. “I hope you’re right. They certainly don’t like their kid being a criminal,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Oh, jeez. Sorry about dat. I really needed that stuff though—no hard feelings?” said PASS THE MASH.

Clown Fundamentals smirked as she caught the ball back from PASS THE MASH. “Not anymore. Boys, I found the real criminal! He’s at the only park in Camden that’s not on fire!” she yelled into the baseball. “Wuzzat? What’s going on? Why you talkin’ to a ball?” PASS THE MASH asked. “Heh, this is a special baseball/microphone that’s specially wired to the police. You’ll be going to prison for your breaking and entering, I’ll be fully cleared, my family will love me, and I’ll finally be the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Hey, kid. Real contenda’s neva squeal,” said PASS THE MASH. “Real contenders never steal!” said Clown Fundamentals with a smirk.

As sirens started to close in around the duo, PASS THE MASH didn’t look too worried. “Why aren’t you running?” asked Clown Fundamentals. “Why should I? I told ya that I became a contenda through my catch skills, didn’t I?” said PASS THE MASH. “What on earth does that have to do with anything?” asked Clown Fundamentals. “Well, youse and the cops ain’t ever gonna ‘catch’ me!” said PASS THE MASH, as he bolted from Camden. “Drat! I was this close from finally clearing my name. But he didn’t escape with the win. Perhaps I couldn’t ‘catch’ him this battle, but I may ‘catch’ him in the war. The division war! Hmm, that might’ve been too strained,” said Clown Fundamentals.


Monicro awoke at the bottom of the 9th inning. She found her team was playing the Beaverton Bonafides. A decent team that appeared to be tanking for a high sub-par draft pick, not unlike her own grand ambitions. As such, she was not surprised to see her Bokononists carrying a 5-4 lead when George Brett walked up to the plate. Billy Wagner missed with his first two pitches, and served up a 99 MPH fastball that George Brett swung at, but as he made contact, Monicro had passed out again.

Monicro awoke in the top of the 6th inning. She found her team was playing the team owned by the only man who read every Super League update. With her team down 5-0, she realized just how much of an advantage actually reading the updates gave to those who read. Though Monicro knew her pitching core was key to her team’s success, her offense was no slouch either. She saw her core of Speaker, Sisler, and Gehrig load the bases. Then Johnny Mize hit a two-run single, Willie Keeler smacked an RBI single, and Enos Slaughter came up with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Bokononists down 5-3. “Slaughter…” Monicro thought to herself, as Enos made contact with the ball, and she passed out again.

Monicro awoke in the bottom of the 11th inning. Her Bokononists had been locked in an endless struggle against the hipsters of the Super League, and yet she had somehow slept through all of it? That couldn’t have been right. A little groggy, she braved the bizarre Portland corporate jungle that the Beavertons played in. Moleboy deliberately set up his team’s ballpark in a breakroom of Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ so his employees could have some fun entertainment to watch when taking a break (of only 15 minutes before being forcibly led back to their workstations by handlers). She started looking around for the best-groomed man in the building, Moleboy, when Orlando Cepeda struck a one-out single. Rickey Henderson advanced Cepeda when Monicro found Moleboy at the top of a staircase with a cheery sign saying “There are no elevators to success, you must take the stairs”. Moleboy saw her, and appeared to start hurriedly packing up. Seeing this, Monicro sped up. But George Brett made contact, and Monicro passed out again.

Monicro awoke before her team’s scheduled game against the Bonafides. She ate, got dressed, and drove over to Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ to meet up with Moleboy for the customary pre-game gyro lunch. When she got there, Moleboy had already set up the banquet. “Hey, Monicro! Great to see you. Hey, super funny story: You’ll never believe this. So, I was trying to set up a meeting with a new client for Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ, and, being the nice guy I am, I let the client choose the time. So, get this, he schedules a Teams Meeting at 8:30 PM! PM!” Monicro realized at that point that there was a punchline, and politely laughed. “So of course I immediately responded and asked if they meant 8:30 AM, but they didn’t get back to me. So the day of the meeting rolls around, and I send them a Teams Meeting invite at 8:30 AM, and you know what the client responds with?” Monicro shook her head after a few seconds, clearly having spaced out. “’Sorry, I’m unable to attend at 8:30 AM, can we please meet at 2 PM?’ Bwahahahaha!” Moleboy said. Trying to understand how any of this was funny or interesting, Monicro passed out.

Well, that’s all of the “good” ones for now. I’ll probably put up the best of the second half as well if I don’t get cold feet. Or think of anything better.

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Mario Strikers: Battle League

When reviewing a piece of art, you can split up your determination into objective and subjective. Some forms of art are mostly subjective–an abstract painting has very little appeal to it that can be qualified as “objective”, for instance. Some have a bit more objectivity to them: a book that has constant misspellings or improper grammar can cause a reader to lose their immersion. But even then that sort of objective theory falls by the wayside if the author is using those “objective” errors for a larger purpose, such as denoting a character’s accent or causing the reader to doubt the narrator. Similarly for movies, some cinematography techniques may make the watcher very uncomfortable or make the film hard to watch, but have their place in advancing the director’s vision.

Yet, when it comes to reviewing video games, the objective is most important. In two senses of the term. First is the objective we’ve been referring to, where a trusted reviewer is expected to list off facts about the game–i.e.: how much is the game, what platform is the game on, when does it come out, what sort of content is in the game, etc. The second objective that is important is that of a goal. What is the goal of the video game in question? What and how many objectives are there in it? And it is in these two objectives where Mario Strikers: Battle League, Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario Tennis Aces, and other Mario sports games have been cut down by reviewers.

Let’s look at the objectives of Mario Strikers: Battle League. From a goal standpoint, you have one goal to finish the tutorial, one goal split into 12 in conquering the 12 cups (6 easy, 6 hard) against the AI, and one goal to be on top of the online-play-only Battle League. The 12 cups are especially deceiving in terms of length because each one can be completed in a minimum of 3 games, and only a maximum of 5. I finished them in 39 games as I am very good at Strikers and only lost three times, each in the final cup. This constituted 3.5-4.5 hours or so of game time. I had already completed the tutorial in the demo, which was about another half-hour of game time. I cannot adequately say anything about the Battle League as its first week-long season doesn’t begin until June 20th, and I cannot climb the ranks in it until that starts. So. In one day of game time of about 5 hours, you can absolutely say that I have conquered each of the possible objectives in Mario Strikers. This has fairly earned a lot of ire from the gaming community as the game is currently $60 for 5 hours of objective-based gameplay. Let’s leave this type of objective here for now.

In terms of objective facts, here are the charged ones: the game comes with 10 characters, and does not have Daisy on the roster–a character who has been playable in both of the first two. There are only 5 stadium halves to choose from, and they are all cosmetic–no differences in gameplay come from choosing any of the 5. I have already discussed the objectives in the game’s objectives in that there are few and easily accomplished in a short period of time. Here’s an objective fact I don’t remember seeing mentioned, but is something that irks me personally: you cannot quickly chain games against the CPU outside of cup battles. You can only do one game at a time against the AI before having to go into another menu to choose the settings for a follow-up match. Last and most important: they removed the Waluigi crotch chop.

And so, with all of these objective facts piling one after the other on top of Mario Strikers: Battle League, it is very easy to dismiss it as a poor cash-grab. Something done with no love, no budget, and as quick a turnaround as possible for Nintendo’s summer party game. Next Level Games and Nintendo are spinning the upcoming DLC with additional characters and stadiums as some positive when past games had more characters playable at the start. In addition, those past games had much cooler unlockables with the Super Team and new characters in Charged compared to the lame unlock of additional gear in Battle League. How can this game possibly be good with all of these glaring objective problems?

As I said at the start, there is the subjective piece to enjoying art. For any individual, the subjective opinion is all that matters. I have played Super Mario Strikers for 16 and a half years since its release in December 2005 despite fulfilling all objectives in the game many times over, and it not having anything to offer other than playing the AI over and over and over and over. I love it. I do not care that reviewers at the time gave it average to below-average scores. It is my favorite game of all time. Battle League, unsurprisingly, doesn’t quite hit “favorite game of all time” status for me. But also unsurprisingly it is far, far better an experience than the below-average to average reviews give it credit for.

And that’s because the developers of Battle League, Mario Tennis Aces, and Mario Golf: Super Rush spent an extremely long amount of time refining the core gameplay of their respective games. This came at the cost of all of those objective problems against them that reviewers cite. I want to be very clear here: if you want a game that you can play for 16.5 years against the AI only, or a game with a lot of variety in characters, or a game with any sort of extensive single-player, do not get Battle League. I do not think you’re a worse person for not getting the game for any of these reasons. They are all very justifiable reasons to not spend $60. But if there’s one thing I want to be equally clear about: the gameplay of Battle League is extremely fun. It’s got a super-high skill cap, it’s very fast, and it just is flat-out fun. I have complaints with the core gameplay for sure–I don’t like how important items are, how hard it is to actually retrieve items from the boxes thrown on the field after earning one, I think hyper strikes are an awfully balanced mechanic that shouldn’t give 2 goals automatically for a timing minigame, it’s very hard to aim your hits especially when past games had you home in people as soon as you pressed the button, and it’s very hard to switch to the right person AND know who you switched to on the fly with the difficult-to-read player markers.

Yet, despite this: I love the game. It is the game I waited 15 years for since Charged. I did not love the core gameplay of the other maligned Mario Sports games, such as Mario Golf: Super Rush or Mario Sports Superstars, and didn’t play them much. Battle League is a game I expect to play for a while since it is a worthy successor to the Strikers series in terms of gameplay. The only problem is that I can only play the game as long as the online mode is active enough for constant games since, as I said, you cannot easily chain matches against AI. Only when you do quick play online do you get games in a row without menu action. And it is here where the objective problems will both hurt the game now as the negative reviews and lack of content will drive a good amount of potential players away, and will eventually kill the game compared to the original Super Mario Strikers or Mario Strikers Charged. It will simply have too much friction between games when I can play 16 games of Super Mario Strikers with having to navigate 20 seconds of menus and loading screens between them.

In terms of the other basic subjectives such as graphics and music, I think the game has fun graphics and pretty good animations. They’re very Punch Out!! inspired rather than Mario Strikers Charged inspired, so I, as a long-time fan, am a little underwhelmed with them compared to MSC. The music has a lot of great remixes of old Strikers and other Mario game music, but the character themes all blend together which is a real shame after how good the character themes in Mario Strikers Charged were.

Overall, I really love Battle League, and am deeply saddened that its objective flaws will hold back the titular objective of conquering the Battle League from being as fun as it should’ve been. I will still enjoy the online for as long as I can stomach it–I got very quickly too upset playing Charged’s online and had to stop after about 2 months because I cared too much. And then I will likely go back to playing the original Strikers. But that’s not this game’s fault.

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The Nuclear Family in EarthBound

Two years ago, I wrote about nuclear families in video games. In case you don’t remember the conclusions or want to read some 10,000 words on the subject, I went through every game I owned and asked a simple question: does this video game have a nuclear family? A nuclear family was defined as a father, mother, son, and daughter all living together under one roof. Of the 125 games I examined, there were 7 nuclear families, and only two of them were “normal” nuclear families (the other 5 were brought together via time travel).

I’ve played more games since, and none of them have had nuclear families, until I started EarthBound. EarthBound is a game for the SNES published by Nintendo, initially released in Japan in 1994, and then came out in 1995 in America. Literal books have been written about the localization of the game which is a pretty incredible tale. To cut it short, most video games back then were very self-contained. As in, all you needed to know in order to understand the dialogue, plot, themes, or any text/subtext in a game was in the game inherently. EarthBound was unlike any other game at its time in that it was set in the “real world” (America known as “Eagleland”), during a real time period (199X), and full of jokes and puns that referenced that real time and place. And even though the game was a commercial failure, EarthBound resonated with people who played it. Many indie game developers credit it as a main inspiration, kind of like The Velvet Underground for video games. I think the importance of family in EarthBound is a big reason for why it touched so many hearts.

The game was initially written mainly by a famous Japanese writer, Shigesato Itoi, and, despite the extreme amount of changes the head localizer, Marcus Lindblom, had made to Itoi’s original script, certain things about Itoi’s initial script were kept as unchanged as possible. Namely, the family dynamics in EarthBound are the same in the Japanese and English versions of the game. As an outsider writing about American culture, Itoi latched onto America’s idealization about the nuclear family, and used that iconic American dream as a major thematic element in the game.

EarthBound is about a young boy named Ness saving the world from an alien named Giygas who is attempting to invade and conquer the planet. Ness lives in the suburbs of the town Onett in his nuclear family with his mom, dad, and younger sister (Tracy). The mom is the homemaker while the dad is the breadwinner, and Ness and Tracy are both in school–you know, the perfect idyllic nuclear family in roles. And in practice? This is an idyllic nuclear family that loves and supports one another strongly.

I say idyllic, but the father never shows up in EarthBound. You never see Ness’s dad in person. Every time you call, he says how much he’s deposited in your bank account and then asks you if you want to take a break. If you don’t turn off the game for a while, he’ll call you and ask if you want to take a break–if you say no to this offer, he says “It doesn’t make me happy, but I understand your point that the fate of the world is at stake”. He is a very caring father that is stuck at work the entire time, as a parody of Japanese fathers in the 1990s who would never be able to get off work.

The mother seems a little aloof when you start the game. She’s obviously cranky that the meteorite crashes just by Ness’s family’s house, waking her and everyone else up, and it comes across in her early dialogue. But as soon as Ness gets the mission from Buzz Buzz to stop Giygas, she is instantly supportive of him going off to save the world. She covers for Ness when his school asks where he is. She answers every time Ness calls. She even prepares Ness’s favorite food and his bed whenever he visits home after leaving the house. Just look at this quote before she sends Ness off on the fateful night: “

No matter what anyone says, you're a courageous, strong boy.
'You're my very own natural born fighter...You'll go far...
'Remember to "Go for it!"
'But, I think you should change out of your jammies before you leave.

She does some quirky things, but she is an immensely supportive mother, and a great testament to the series titled “Mother”. Tracy is a supportive younger sister, but she definitely gets the least amount of dialogue. She is also an eleven year-old, so her support is the classic sarcastic sibling support where you know your sibling loves you but says things that are annoying as heck. She’s mostly supportive gameplay-wise rather than dialogue-wise.

Speaking of gameplay, well before cell phones were a major part of our daily lives (even in Japan where cell phones were ubiquitous by 2000 or so), EarthBound made phone calls a major gameplay mechanic. You can call your father, mother, or sister at any regular or payphone, and doing so is important! Calling your dad lets you save your game. Calling your mom cures you of homesickness (a very annoying status effect that causes Ness to waste turns in battle). Calling your sister who is working at a storage company called the Escargot Express lets you store and take back items. Ness’s nuclear family is a great support network for Ness as he goes all over in his quest to save the world, and the gameplay mechanics reinforce how important and valuable a family that can provide said support network can be. Without his family, Ness could not fulfill his mission. But even though Ness’s nuclear family shows how perfect the ideal can be, EarthBound does not shy away from the potential darkness in a nuclear family gone wrong.

The second set of characters you meet are the Minch family. They live right next door to Ness’s family, and are also a nuclear family with the father (breadwinner), mother (homemaker), and two brothers, Pokey and Picky. Pokey is the classic annoying kid in elementary school. The one that pretends to be your best friend and nice, but not-so-secretly stabs you in the back all the time. EarthBound gives a look behind the scenes as to how kids turn out that way. Obviously, naming your kids Pokey and Picky means you don’t actually care about your kids, but EarthBound is very unsubtle when it comes to what the Minch parents do to their children. On the night the meteorite crashes, Pokey forces Ness to go look for his brother Picky outside–though he knows that regardless of if he finds Picky or not, “when my dad comes back, we’re really going to get it!”

Ness and Pokey find Picky and bring him home to the Minches, which is right when Pokey’s father gets home. His mother was always there, but didn’t bother going to find her son Picky, and instead complains about her sons if you have Ness speak to her before this. Instead of letting either of them talk, Pokey’s father immediately says to his kids “both of you are really going to get it!” and Picky and Pokey run right upstairs knowing what’ll happen. Pokey’s father then blames all his troubles on Ness’s family by saying:

'By the way, I would be happy if you left sometime soon.
'I'm tired of your family living next door.
'We've loaned your father a lot of money.
'It may have been a hundred thousand dollars or more...
'Well, I guess it really could have been less,
'but because of the loan, my family and I now live in poverty!

Pretty awful guy, right? And the mom isn’t just passively letting her husband abuse her children–she encourages it. “My husband is too lenient with the children. Oh well, nice guys finish last! The story of our life…” she says. If you go upstairs after the incident and talk to Picky and Pokey, they both talk about how much pain they’re in. Picky seems to have “accepted” his situation while Pokey seems to have this bubbling ambition to get out of this awful family. Soon enough, he is able to, but is drawn to the absolute worst replacements for families because he grew up in the absolute worst family.

The first time Ness sees Pokey after beginning his quest in earnest is when he is attempting to rescue Paula from becoming a sacrifice to the Happy Happyist cult (a pretty obvious Ku Klux Klan “parody”–child abuse and the KKK in the first few hours of a Nintendo game rated Kids-to-Adults, wouldn’t expect that (though of course they changed the bar to a coffee shop with no alcohol)). Pokey taunts Ness by telling Ness to call him “Master Pokey” and that the leader of Happy Happyism has made him an important person. Pokey is clearly drawn to power, but specifically the power to “make” your own family in a sense.

After the cult, you next see Pokey in Fourside, the game’s equivalent to New York City, where he gets cozy with the richest man in town–Geldegarde Monotoli. Pokey again wants to be called “Master Pokey” and becomes the second-richest man in town. He has bodyguards and all sorts of money with which he uses on a power trip to “make” his own family. He even uses the money to give his father a neighboring solid gold office where his father never has to work again, presumably out of some hope that his father will love him for it. But if you talk to his father, all he has to say is that he finally got what he deserved as “every dog has its day”. He doesn’t care that Pokey gave him the wealth.

Ruining Pokey’s plans in Fourside has him turn to the final available alternative family in EarthBound: Giygas’s. Pokey becomes Giygas’s direct right-hand man. You don’t see what he does directly to hinder Ness’s quest until Ness confronts Pokey and Giygas at the end of the game, and Pokey explains everything he did. He explains “I only assist the strong and able” but that’s not true. He was so traumatized by the abuse he suffered from his parents and his lack of a true family bond he could trust that he flocked to even bigger bullies than his parents. And when Ness’s gang confronts him, he gives a very telling taunt that belies all his insecurities about family and trust:

'Do you want to scream for help here in the dark?!
'Ha ha ha ha ha!
'Why not call your mommy, Ness!
'Say, "Mommy! Daddy! I'm so frightened! I think I'm gonna wet my pants!"
'I know you have telepathy, or something, so just try and call for help,
'you pathetically weak heroes of so-called justice!
'No one will help you now!

I will come back to this taunt later and explain just how perfectly it backfires in EarthBound’s gameplay, and how perfectly it reinforces the themes of family and trust that EarthBound is built on. Again, very much like a novel in how EarthBound works, rather than a normal video game’s plot where people arbitrarily do things because it makes for an interesting game to play. Here, Pokey becomes the right-hand man of the literal embodiment of evil because he never had a family he could trust, not because he simply wanted to take over the world. He wants to take over the world so that everyone is forced to be a part of his family. When that doesn’t work with the Happy Happyists or with Monotoli, Pokey decides to destroy the world instead. But, as EarthBound is a surreal coming of age story, the children at the core of it must be given the chance to come of age in a world that still exists, so they succeed. But not everyone in Ness’s group are a part of a nuclear family like Ness and Pokey.

The main three other characters are in alternative families than the idealistic nuclear family. Ness’s first companion, Paula, is from a single-child family. Her mother and father run the pre-school in Twoson, and are a little strange. The mother is too focused on her work at the pre-school to chase after Paula when she is kidnapped by the Happy Happyists, and the father is initially advertising her to the city as a curiosity because she can use magic. He doesn’t even realize she’s missing until Ness visits the house hoping to see her since Paula used her telepathy to contact Ness where Paula’s dad finally checks her room and doesn’t see her. He immediately implores Ness to help. Suffice to say, they make very bad first impressions.

However… reading into what Paula’s parents say and do puts them into a much better light. During Ness’s first visit, Paula’s father asks if Ness is a part of a TV station. If he says yes, Paula’s father shoos Ness away, not wanting media monkeys or leeches. When Ness explains he’s not, Paula’s father says Paula will only meet with Ness, showing that he does respect his daughter’s privacy. Then he realizes Ness is Ness, and is very happy and wants Paula and Ness to meet immediately. When Ness saves Paula and you bring her back home, he is proud to send his daughter off to go save the world. He is very supportive… but not perfect. But at least he is supportive. Paula’s mother doesn’t get nearly as many lines, but she is also very supportive of her daughter when Ness brings Paula home. And the other kids in the pre-school have a huge amount of respect for Paula, which wouldn’t happen if Paula’s mother was badmouthing her child to them like the Minches might. So through context clues, it is clear that the single-child family of Paula’s household is a tightknit, supportive one, even if they might not seem like it.

Jeff is the second companion of Ness and Paula. The genius inventor is contacted by Paula in his dreams to rescue the Paula and Ness from Threed. At the time he is contacted, Jeff is in a boarding school. But even though he doesn’t have his parents around, he can rely on his roommate Tony and fellow classmate Maxwell for support. Tony gives him the literal boost over the boarding school’s front gate so Jeff can sneak out as well as the metaphorical boost to have him follow what Jeff heard in a dream, and Maxwell offers Jeff the same support Ness’s father does as the person to call if you want to save the game as well as the support in preparing for Jeff’s journey by giving him a machine to get stuff out of lockers. The boarding school also has a birthday party for Tony that you can crash and take all the cookies from, which would be a horrible thing to do, but is further proof that the kids in the boarding school are close.

Jeff makes it out of the boarding school and visits his father’s laboratory. Jeff’s father, Dr. Andonuts, does not recognize his son when he first sees him. But as soon as he does, Dr. Andonuts says

'I'm so glad you're such a healthy boy.
'Uh, those glasses look good on you.
'How about a donut?

Clearly, Dr. Andonuts is not father of the year. He sent Jeff away 10 years ago because Dr. Andonuts is a famous scientist and busy man without any time, he no longer is in contact with Jeff’s mother and you never hear about nor see her in the game, and he ends their first conversation with “Let’s get together again in 10 years or so”. But Jeff still managed to find himself a family at the Snow Wood Boarding School. And Jeff does get the support from his father in that Dr. Andonuts doesn’t force Jeff back to the boarding school but instead his father fixes a UFO for Jeff to ride in to rescue Ness and Paula with the machine that gets them all out of the locked dungeon they were in.

The final main party member of the group is Poo, the prince of Dalaam. We end up knowing the least about Poo compared to the other three. But, knowing he’s the crown prince, he’s obviously got some important parents. Too important to tell Poo that he must complete his training before anything else. If you use the phone while playing as Poo in his introductory segment, he’ll call Ness’s dad, who offers normal gameplay support after convincing himself that Poo is Ness disguising his voice. What a nice dad.

As you talk to NPCs in his segment, you find that Prince Poo used to be one of those princes that did nothing but sleep around with women (though they say he simply “played around” and you can play patty-cake with one of these aforementioned women because it’s a Nintendo game) but has since started taking meditation and his life seriously. So, really, Poo swapped out one way of trying to find a supportive family (by sleeping around) with another (a monk lifestyle), probably because his blood-related family couldn’t meet his needs. In his harsh ascetic training, he is asked “Are you sad? Are you lonely?” And while his family’s riches, women, and training helped temporarily fill the void in Poo at different, it is only as part of Ness’s group that he finally feels he has his family. Well, maybe not at first. He says this upon meeting the group:

I am the servant of Ness. I will obey Ness.
Ness! My life is in your hands

Poo doesn’t really see Ness’s group as anything more as a chore at first. But! Later in the game, Poo re-meets his old teacher during his monk training who says that Poo needs to go back with him to finish his training to learn the ultimate PSI. Poo doesn’t hesitate in doing so as you’ll see in the below quote:

'It is important that I study and learn the "Starstorm"...
'It will be most helpful to us.
'Once I learn it, I'll meet up with you, Ness.
'Trust me... I will see you again.

But as you can see, he doesn’t hesitate because he wants to leave the group. He goes and does it because he wants to help the group, and hopes that Ness and friends can trust him to carry this out. And because Ness’s group has felt this trust from others, they are able to confide their trust into Poo and wait for him to come back to support them. And in a dark moment, Poo returns and blows up an important bad guy with his new abilities. Poo’s final lines in the game show how much he’s grown as a person, and how fond he’s grown of his newfound family.

'Our travels together end here.
'I must return to Dalaam, and use this experience for the good of my country.
'Ness, Paula, Jeff...
'Let me demonstrate a strange power before I go. I realized this power as a
'PSI Farewell! Now!
'I'll see you again someday!

Poo and Pokey weren’t so different. Both of them never felt love or trust from or towards their families (Poo being shown distant from his family and they are never mentioned in-game, Pokey being physically far too close). Both of them tried to fill their emotional voids with materialistic debauchery (Poo filled it with women, Pokey filled it with money). Both of them then tried to fill their emotional voids with more substantial changes to how they live (Poo started learning asceticism, Pokey started helping the literal embodiment of evil spread that evil). And both eventually found their family (Poo had Ness’s group, Pokey had a bunch of minions and Giygas). It’s just what crowds they fell into that ultimately determined their fates.

Fortunately for the people of Eagleland, Ness’s family built on love and trust is able to defeat Giygas’s family built on fear and loathing. That, to me, is one of the big reasons why EarthBound and the Mother series as a whole resonate so much with the people who play them. There are many video games that have this as a moral, but none do anywhere near as good of a job as EarthBound does in portraying the message in a way that isn’t ham-handed, over-the-top, and ultimately kind of hollow. With EarthBound, you see the perfect ideal of a nuclear family with Ness, the absolute worst demons of a nuclear family with Pokey, the difficult-but-supportive tightknit young couple with a single child household with Paula, the boarding school raised kid that was able to make a family with those that surrounded him and not begrudge his father with Jeff, and the detached well-off kid that fell into the family he craved with Poo. All of these households are forced to literally fight because it is a video game, but ultimately the group that loves and trusts each other triumphs in the game as you wish it would in real life.

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Q&A: Under a Ladder, Over the Moon!

It’s been three years since the last Q&A press release–I don’t think that’s how the Barenaked Ladies song goes. And it’s been two years since they finished their most recent Q&A mix CD. Because of, uh, supply chain issues, yes, the duo hasn’t been able to put together their usual buffoonery. I’d say it’s pretty UNusual buffoonery if it’s taken them this long. Alright I admit it. I ran out of things to write about for this month, so I’m putting this together now.

He--he oh. I’m sorry. You go fi–you go fi. Oh man. It’s been a while. And using videochat to try and put this together is just making it–so dang hard. That’s right, A. It’s been a tough three years. Very little good music has come out since our previous mix CD. And we’re not saying that because we’re old! Music has definitely gotten worse as the bad guys have been getting driver’s licenses! I’m so grateful I don’t need to drive, living in a city, where you know you have to survive. You wouldn’t survive a Texas city. And proud of it! Alright, enough stalling, let’s talk about this.

So, the weird title. “Under a Ladder”. This is our 13th mix CD, and we didn’t want to just call it “Unlucky” to mirror our 7th mix CD being called “Lucky”. So I started thinking about “what is considered unlucky” for inspiration. At the time, I didn’t have own the black cat named Kitty that I own now, so it didn’t come up. And other unlucky things are just weird. Breaking a mirror, not knocking on wood (rest in peace Mighty Mighty Bosstones), stepping on a crack, just a lot of weird things. Including walking under a ladder, which is unlucky in the same way that it’s not kosher to eat pig meat: it’s to get you out of trouble. Anyway, it felt like the best superstition because…

This Ladder is Ours – The Joy Formidable

This ladder is ours! And we’re “going under” by listening to this mix CD. I don’t know, it’s very flimsy justification. Yeah. Not like any of our other mix CDs have good titles that make sense. Looking at you, Feist the Geist’s Heist. I’m very glad that mix CD was only ever played once, and I wasn’t there. Let’s focus on this mix CD. Always love to start with high energy stuff, and the loudest band in Ireland since U2 brings the energy. Elevate my soul, as they say. I found what I was looking for, and it’s this song. Though I would’ve liked to have Whirring on here. Too bad it’s 8 minutes long and impossible to edit. Ooh, good segue. This is the first mix CD that there has been “post-post production”. In order to fit everything in here, I had to cut some intros and outros. Like 30 seconds of this song’s intro was cut. Which I kinda regret, but, whatever.

Me & You Together Song – The 1975

Sticking with the early United Kingdom theme is this nostalgia bait track. I’ll admit that I never heard any songs from the 2000s that sounded like this. I was too busy listening to good Maroon 5 which doesn’t exist. Sorry? The videochat cut out for a second. Nothing! I was just mentioning the dream I had where we went to Winter Wonderland. This CD came out in the summer! Who can possibly remember anything that happened two years ago? You apparently remember this sound! Wrong The 1975 song.

Quarter Past Midnight – Bastille

What time are you writing this? 8 PM. Why? Oh, no reason. Yeah, I like UK music. So what? U OK? Boomer? Heh. Now that’s a topically funny reference. Bastille’s relevancy is only slightly older than that joke. I still liked Doom Days, even if I didn’t really like anything since. Ah well. This early part of the mix CD is just fun pop songs. Not much to say. There’s never much to say. Just listen! So can we just send the rest of this blank? No one would care.

Headlights – Morning Parade

Hey look! Another British pop song! Now this is a throwback. 2014 was only 50 years ago. Not that long. That’s the 90s. Close enough. This band never even qualified as a one-hit wonder, but they were close to breaking through with their debut album. Anyone signed to the same label as Coldplay got close. Hope they aren’t dealing with that morning parade all the time that the band was ironically named after. Morning parade is traffic, for the record. And it’s time to continue driving through this mix CD!

Magic – Wild Cub

Finally an American pop song that sounds like every other song on this mix CD! We did it, Reddit. The narwhal bacons at midnight and all that. Are there stairs in your house? Man, maybe we really should just leave the rest of this blank. But then what will you read late at night when you’re sad? Uh, poetry? Maybe? You hate poetry. Maybe. But I like poetic song lyrics, like “true words are fire, fire”. I’m 100% sure the songwriters on that Wild Cub album recycled the same 5 words for every song there. Not a problem if it was good, like this song was.

Gloria – The Lumineers

This is the first real tonal shift on the CD. We go from synthy, sleek guitar pop to acoustic, sleek guitar pop. Enough is enough, I said. At this point. Which is why I cut the song like 10 seconds or so. I’m cutting this segment 10 seconds or so! You can’t do that! This is text

Church – Coldplay

I thought you don’t like putting Coldplay on these? Yeah. Well. Whatever. You’ll see from this segment that I just wanted some slightly moodier songs, and I felt that transitioning from The Lumineers into them made the most sense. This isn’t even that moody! It’s a very upbeat Coldplay song that doesn’t use guitars! That’s very moody. It’s Coldplay, they’re the moodiest band ever. I guess you truly don’t know Coldplay after all. I always knew you were a fake fan. Yes, I am. If you’ve gotten this far, congrats. You know my dirtiest secret.

The Walker – Christine and the Queens

As someone who walks everywhere, I think about this song a lot. Specifically the part where Christine says she offers her chin to anyone who thinks she looked at them funny so they can retaliate. That is very weird. Uh, not as weird as you! Gottem. Is France part of the United Kingdom? I feel like it is. Oh dear. We’re actually going to start world war three by saying stuff like that. Well, it’s like they always say: make a cover of Love by Kendrick Lamar, not war.

Love – CHVRCHES (Cover of Kendrick Lamar)

Great saying. Love this cover. It was only done live once on a radio segment and never again by CHVRCHES. But that’s fine. We got the recording so it can last forever. Like the Echosmith song! Or the Naked and Famous song! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Plenty of time for those two bands soon enough. Let’s stay focused on Kendrick Lamar. The original is great, but man I love this cover. Just the way Lauren screams “love me” is so good. And the swelling synths–perfect. When I was trying to get through the early parts of the supply chain issues, listening and re-listening to this song got me through.

Push Pull – Purity Ring

And this song got me through a different tough time in my life. Two very strange throwbacks on this mix. Especially now that we’re two years of music since we put this out so there’s way less room for old stuff like this. But I like old stuff. Heck, I might put Tarzan Boy by Baltimora on the next mix CD. But you hate 80s music. All synth music is 80s music. Including this track. Also surprising you’d ever admit you liked a Purity Ring song. Yeah… but here we are.

The Water Beneath You – The Naked and Famous

And this ends the trilogy of synthpop with female vocalists. What an epic trilogy. Way better than the new Star Wars trilogy! I’ve seen one Star Wars: the final Star War. The one everyone loves? Nice. Yep. And everyone loves The Water Beneath You, the huge hit by The Naked and Famous. Not much else to say.

The City We Grow – Atlas Genius

I really like how we laid these songs back to back as we once again transition back to sleek synthguitar pop songs. Yeah, Naked and Famous don’t have guitars but Atlas Genius does while also having synths and a structure similar to The Water Beneath You. Pretty great sequencing by me because I am smart. I like it more than our weird narrative mix CDs. Yeah…


Today’s blog post is sponsored by Baltimora and their debut album “Living in the Background”. The next time you think of Tarzan, don’t think of Disney: think of Baltimore, Italy. Oh oh oh oh oh.

If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) – The 1975

Speaking of the 80s, The 1975. Pretty much the 80s in sound according to people who listen to 80s music. Which I do, but I know you don’t. Except for Tarzan Boy. Man, I think my next mix CD is just going to be Tarzan Boy for an hour and twenty minutes. What a song. But if you’re too shy to do that, let me know. Oh, right. This song. Had to cut out two minutes of intro and outtro on this one. Worth it!

Red – Pale Waves

Oh, and I know red is your favorite color. And I know you can’t see red. But I forget it all the time. Yeah, that’s just how it is for people who live with these hidden disabilities. I may look and act normal, but there’s always something a bit off with me compared to normal people, and there’s just not much I can do other than deal with it. Can’t really expect society to change for me, sadly. Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot more sympathetic to these hidden disabilities after reading Katawa Shoujo, a visual novel about dating disabled women. We are so far off track. Great reference to the literal English translation of “katawa shoujo”, which means something close to “a woman who is like a cart missing a wheel”. And I think you are wheely missing the point of these things. Isn’t it to just write 10,000 words that I’ll re-read in seven months and laugh about?

Lost Somebody – Echosmith

Thinking that way is how you lost somebody. Ah man! I hate losing somebodies! Why can’t I lose nobodies? Because Kingdom Hearts is not a documentary. Wrong! Kingdom Hearts does affect real life! Al Micheals was traded to NBC so ABC/Disney could get the rights to using Pete the Cat in a video game! Everyone knows that trade was made so that Pete the Cat could be used in Epic Mickey, not Kingdom Hearts. Uh. Uh. I’ve always said that the pandemic was hardest on Echosmith. They released Lonely Generation one month before the world was gripped by COVID, and the world could no longer be gripped by Lost Somebody, Diamonds, or, my favorite, Shut Up and Kiss Me. If it’s your favorite, why isn’t it on here? I was too embarrassed.

Lately – Metronomy

Lately I’ll call you when I do nothing, but I’ve been doing a lot and thus haven’t called you. Must be nice! Eh, it must be nice getting paid enough to sit around at home the majority of your workday. I’ll have you know I spent 15 hours working this week. That’s the most I’ve had to in 3 months! Brutal stuff as baseball starts back up. I’m going to ignore this and bring up the fact that Metronomy’s new album has a song that’s probably going on the next mix CD. Yeah, the band is consistent for getting one and exactly one song on my mixes. Except for She Wants The Bay on the first mix CD which everyone loved. Great point, maybe every mix CD should have two Metronomy songs. Maybe you should try calling me when you have nothing else going on. I can’t be the only one reaching out in this relationship.

Come On Out – Airborne Toxic Event

And I said “come on out”! Heh. That flows with what we were saying. Right? I did come on out. I came out to Washington for an afternoon accidentally. One day I’ll go to Texas. Maybe. Probably not. It’s just so diametrically opposed to every way I live. Texas has humans. Are you diametrically opposed to humans? I guess? I cut the last 5 seconds of this song when I found out that my final cut was a few seconds over and now it ends really abruptly. I have a lot more appreciation for editors in general after trying to edit this. Boy I freaking wish we had some editors on this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Runners – The Naked and Famous

I’ve been running every day the past 71 days in a row. Sure. Alright. Maybe not always running. Maybe I spent one day standing at a desk while holding a kettleball for an hour. And maybe you counted that day where I visited and we played spikeball for an hour and a half as your exercise. Hey! Spikeball has a lot of sweat and tears! And for you, mostly tears. Look, we can’t all be spikeball ambassadors, which I’m pretty sure is the name of the band that did “Unsteady”. Boy I freaking think this article is unsteady!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joy – Bastille

Going back to those times you call me, I do honestly feel joy when I see your name light up the screen. Thank you. Boy I freaking wish I felt joy writing this article!!!!!!!!! No deflecting allowed on this one. Fine. You’re welcome. It’s fun to talk. It has been a month and a half or so since we talked. You probably should call me. Yeah, but I just got this…

Frail State of Mind – The 1975

We all do. And just like the song says, don’t lie behind your frail state of mind. I’m trying. But I do struggle with “reaching out”, even if I’m great at responding when someone else reaches out. I do not miss the calls like this guy does so obviously I’m healthy. I hope you are. But it’s 10 PM on the start of your three-day weekend, and your only plans for the weekend are to buy a Mother Day’s card and a birthday present for your sister. I need all three days to pick that present out, can’t blame me. We aren’t…

Orphans – Coldplay

Great transition. I wanna know when I can go back and get drunk with my friends. You’ve literally never done that. I was extremely drunk when I performed this for my birthday. No, no you weren’t. Alright, fine, you’re right. I was sober. But whenever I’m outside, I do always think “I wanna know when I can go back and feel home again”. And that’s what this mix CD really is about. It’s not about being unlucky or whatever. It’s about making home where you can. Whether you’re over the moon or under a ladder. Thanks for reading! We have been Q&A! And live from New York! Its time to mix the love!

Intern, has the check cleared *this* time? No, of course not. Drat! Why are we even bothering to put this up? We have literally nothing else in the pipeline. Unless you want to finish that joke piece about a dude who became invincible after jogging for 71 days straight. Look, I’d love to, but I feel like I’d be lying due to those recent days I’ve been jogging indoors. You’d be lying regardless, since you cannot become invincible. That’s what you think. But I’ll prove you wrong one day. Maybe it just takes 15 straight years of blogging to do it. Or 15 straight years of not paying the intern. Great point. Let’s try that out.

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Oh, This Guy is a Gamer!

On virtual tour yet again, standup comedian Johnny Junkland is back with another rip-roaring set of 8-bit comedy that blows all that other 2-bit comedy out of the pixelated water. This time around, Peacock spent the big bucks to acquire the exclusive rights to broadcast, save for one clause in the contract that lets Mr. Junkland publish part of his upcoming script to this website. Thank you, Sir Junkland. But the Pungry is on another website! Ha ha. Without further unskippable cutscenes, please enjoy this exceprt of Junkland’s next special: Oh, This Guy is a Gamer!

Thank you, Mushroom Kingdom! The other day, I was thinking about the geography of the Mushroom Kingdom, and how little sense it dang makes. It makes about as much sense as equipping your mage with Excalibur. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* But seriously folks. The Mushroom Kingdom has too much room. Or, really, too little. What messed up ecosystem is able to fit a desert land right next to the freaking water land? Oh, don’t you try and tell me about the fertile crescent. I was too busy playing my Game Boy emulator on my phone when that topic came up in Social Studies. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter*

But it’s not just that, folks. The Mushroom Kingdom is a diaspora. No, I don’t mean diaspora as in “Spore 2”, that’ll never come out. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* But it’s truly a melting pot that accepts everyone. You got your Toads, of course. They’re ruled by Princess Peach, a human, because Queen Toad Elizabeth still hasn’t been seen coming out of Bowser’s clutches. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* And if the Mario and Luigi RPG series is to be believed, it hosts a whole bunch of other species in relative comfort. Whether you’re a Hollijolli Village resident, or come from New Donk City, or are in there by way of World 3, when you’re in the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re family. Only, instead of a freakin’ olive garden, it’s a koopa leaf garden! Unlimited Koopasta! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter*

But, folks, let’s not get distracted. The Koopasta has blooper ink on it, I know, but it’d be a real blooper to miss out on this important message I have. Just like how it’s a real blooper that so many people missed the tutorial pit in the Elden Ring! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* My point is this: *grabs the Master Sword out of the scabbard on his back* Zuh? How’d this get here? Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* *toss sword into the front row* Don’t try selling that, or you’ll end up with some Rupoors! Anyway, the point is this: the Mushroom Kingdom is diverse. They’ve got Toads, they’ve got Koopas, they’ve got illegitimate claims to the throne, and, yet–unless provoked by an Umbreon using Taunt in Rarely Used–the Mushroom Kingdom thrives in that diversity. Gamers… are the Mushroom Kingdom of society.

But here’s the thing we don’t need that the Mushroom Kingdom has: gamers claiming they’re better than the others. I can hear you all booing, and I know you’re not talking about the fedorable ghosts. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Look, my point is this. *pull out another Master Sword from the scabbard* Zuh? How’d this get here? And why’s there a glowing triangle on my hand? Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Enough fooling around, let’s drop some wisdom down. We need to start respecting all gamers. For every gamer you disrespect, I’ll respect three. And here’s why. Gamers aren’t an oppressed minority. They’re all around us. “Oh,” you might say, “this fella plays Pokemon Legends instead of Elden Ring. He ain’t a gamer!” My friend, it sounds like your elden ideas need to get rung into the new year–Pokemon Legends is a gameriffic game.

And you might say “Oh, well this person plays freakin’ Candy Crush instead of Dragalia Lost!” Well, my friend, I would say that Candy Crush qualifies someone as a gamer. Why? Why not? Why should we have to gatekeep gamerdom like it’s Heliodor Castle! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Wordle has proven that gaming is for everyone, and that’s great! So put away your inside jokes for an outdoor, welcoming community. Make the gaming kingdom as big and as welcoming as the Mushroom Kingdom, because, fellas, we got so much room in it.


I believe that is what gamers call cringe. I will continue to gatekeep by refusing to advertise this nonsense because I’m not a gamer.

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Mario Strikers: Battle League Overanalysis

Mario Strikers™: Battle League for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details

On February 9th, Nintendo put out a trailer for the upcoming Mario Strikers: Battle League, coming out June 10th, 2022. It is the third Mario Strikers game in the series, and first one since Mario Strikers Charged in 2007. If you know me, you know Super Mario Strikers is my favorite game of all time. Naturally, I am very excited to get another game in this series, and I have a lot of opinions on the three minutes of footage we got about the game.

First, I want to be very clear. I am excited. Super excited. I said that in paragraph one, but it bears repeating because most of the rest of this will be me pointing out differences between the original games and this one, and difference = bad. So let’s start with what hasn’t changed because no change = good.

The attitude, art style, and feel of Strikers has been retained, which is awesome. Strikers came out in 2005 but feels like a 90s game with extreme baditude, yet it never felt forced because you didn’t have a cartoon hedgehog swearing at you while shooting guns. Just like the other games, Battle League is 5 on 5 (4 in the field and one goalie, which is Boom Boom instead of Kritter, which is a CHANGE and is BAD (but consistent with Mario Sports Superstars’ goalie also being Boom Boom so eh)) soccer/football that plays a lot more like hockey with short possessions, short fields, lots of scoring, and even more hitting. It also has a stupid European name. “Mario Strikers: Battle League Football”. C’mon.

Beyond these base commonalities, there are quite a few things in Battle League that are similar to what previous Striker entries have. BUT STILL DIFFERENT! I’ll get to the stuff that the trailer pointed out as being explicit differences, but I want to talk about the “intangible” commonalities that I think add up to making Strikers extremely fun to play. Below are screenshots from gameplay of all three. The original Gamecube Strikers is on top, the middle is Wii’s Charged, and the bottom is the newest, Battle League.

Super Mario Strikers | GCN Gameplay | 1080p HD - YouTube
The Dark, Anarchic Mushroom Kingdom of Mario Strikers Charged | by Chris  Compendio | ZEAL | Medium
2022 - Mario gets back to soccer in Mario Strikers Battle League

The original Strikers has the camera zoomed-in on the action compared to Charged and Battle League, but the field size and relative size of characters are all pretty much the same in the three games. This small field allows for lots of shots and goals because teams can get the ball up the floor and immediately take a shot instead of having to do some sort of buildup like in FIFA. There’s a good reason why all three of these are screenshots of characters in the act of shooting. Also noticeable is the electric fence surrounding the fields came back, acting as a fun thing to hit opponents into and a way to keep the ball in play at all times. You can also see that item storage is the same between all three games–each team gets a maximum of two to hold onto. One thing that is conspicuously absent in Battle League in the trailer is that the characters do not have a number over their head indicating what player is controlling them. Perhaps this means there’s no switching what character you control, perhaps it’s a setting they chose to keep off for the trailer, but there needs to be some way to easily find your character mid-game, and the number system worked well for that. I think that’s enough dissecting stillness, these games are about action. What’s it like in motion?

In motion, there are a ton of differences. For one, the movement of Battle League has to be given a disclaimer. This is a gameplay trailer for people who have never played the originals. As such, the speed and chaos had to be turned way, way down compared to what I expect high-level gameplay will look like. It is very hard to concretely say that Battle League is infinitely slower than Charged and a quarter of the speed of the original, but that is my first impression. There’s a few actual mechanical changes that I can point to for backing this up rather than asserting this fear-based statement.

For one, the way a character passes the ball in Battle League seems inherently different to either the original or Charged. In those games, you pressed the pass button while holding a direction, and your character passed the ball to the nearest teammate in that direction. In Battle League, check out how the game opens in the trailer.

Mario wins the ball from Bowser and passes back to Peach in a way that looks like the original or Charged. Then, watch Peach. As soon as she gets the ball and dribbles upfield, she starts winding up a pass to Toad near the bottom of the screen. Unlike that pass from Mario, she’s able to use a small circle to aim where the ball will go, and the ball jumps off her foot with a bit of a charge. Both Mario and Peach passed the ball, but both did it very differently. I think it’s fair to say that both direct passing and freeform passing will be doable, giving Battle League players a lot of freedom in how they direct play similar to Mario Strikers Charged’s lob dribble mechanic (more on that later). One last thing about this five seconds of footage. Check out Toad. He doesn’t receive Peach’s freeform pass like how Peach received Mario’s direct pass. Peach immediately had full control of the ball after receiving it. The ball bounces off Toad’s side, and he never gets full control of the ball. Instead, he does the classic Strikers’ technique of pressing the shoot button while the ball is near him and takes a long-distance, easily-saved shot for the rebound.

That was a lot to get out of literally 5 seconds of footage, but it’s very telling stuff. I already mentioned earlier that items are back in this game, but they’re already shown to work a little differently from previous games. At 58 seconds in, Peach uses a large Green Shell to clear space for her in the offensive zone, and hits two opponents. Unlike previous games, the shell does not bury Bowser or Yoshi, which was always a cute touch, it just runs them out of the way. There’s also a large banana used that does much the same and a red shell was shown in the background that presumably hones in on enemies like prior games. The Bob-Omb is pretty different as well. At 2:28 in the trailer, Mario uses it, and the Bob-Omb walks through an opponent before blowing up. In past games, the Bob-Ombs arced in the air before falling and exploding. The main thing about items that didn’t get answered was how you earned them. If Battle League is like Charged or the original, a team will earn an item for either taking a charged shot or for having one of their players hit by a bodycheck or slide tackle while not possessing the ball. We’ll find out eventually, but there needs to be some kind of mechanic to dissuade teams from simply hitting opponents into the electric fence at all times.

Next Level Games has brought back the original version of the Super Strike with slightly more balance. Now called Hyper Strikes, a proper execution of charging a shot and then pressing the shot button with the correct timing will earn a team 2 goals instead of 1, just like in Super Mario Strikers. Charged had the ability to earn a team up to 6 goals, but felt like a roulette wheel against the CPU and absolutely pointless in high-level play because players were expected to be good at the minigame stopping them. There is a slight change, though. In the original and Charged, only your captain could launch a Super Strike and simply hitting them out of the play repeatedly prevented them (unless they’re playing the Super Team but no one likes the Super Team). Here, it seems anyone can do it, but they can only do it when your team collects an orb that randomly appears at random times. Who knows if this will end up being better or worse balance than the original–I never have liked them and keep them permanently turned off in the original.

That comment about only captains being able to use Super Strikes is a great segue to the next noticeable change. Battle League has no “captain system”. Team selection in the original had you pick one of 8 captains (or 9 if you want to play the Super Team but seriously go away) and then the other three teammates were one of 4 sidekicks. The original is weird in that character selection really doesn’t matter much, but it mattered a ton more in Charged. In Charged, you picked one of 12 captains, then filled out the other three teammates by selecting from 8 that you could mix or match (or really just taking 3 Boos). Your captains in Charged had special items associated with them which mostly drove why you’d pick, say, Waluigi and his wall over Daisy and her Crystal Smash even though they have the same stats. Here? Mario and Peach are on the same team. Yoshi and Bowser are on the same team. This was never possible before now. And it is currently very unclear if this means that there are intrinsic differences in stats between characters like Charged or if there are no intrinsic differences like in the original. Instead, we do know that there is a new mechanic that will affect your stats, and it’s…

The equipment system. Highlighted from 1:20-1:40 is the big, new, and original gameplay mechanic of Battle League compared to all these prior slight tweaks. You can outfit your playable character with four different pieces of gear, and each piece of gear will change your characters stats in slightly different ways. FOR INSTANCE, a no-gear Mario has 11/25 strength, 12/25 speed, 14/25 shooting, 10/25 passing, and 16/25 technique. One of the helmets bumps his strength up 2 points at the cost of losing 2 points in technique. Small stuff, but added across 4 pieces allows for some interesting min-maxing. More on my thoughts about it later. I do think that no-gear screenshot does suggest all characters will have intrinsically different stats, but the disparity between each character won’t be as insane as it was in Charged. Charged had players with 10 speed versus players with 3 speed and, uh, that difference in speed made power/offensive types unplayable save for the captains.

The other big new original feature of Battle League is, well, the Battle League. Charged was I believe the first Wii game with online play, and it was an instant hit despite being very simple. I’m trying to remember how exactly it worked, but there was a ranking system. Every week, that ranking would reset. Every day, you could play up to 10 ranked best two-out-of-three series to earn a number of ladder points based on if you won and how many goals you scored. You lost points in the ladder for losing and for disconnecting before the end of matches, which I did a lot (I am a very sore Strikers loser).

In Battle League, players can join an online or local club. We don’t know exactly what sorts of prizes these clubs will compete for (presumably for fun and official/unofficial tournaments), if there’ll be a ranking system, if there will be a MOBA draft system in picking characters (which sounds like a joke but is a real thing I was thinking about late at night while pondering the game!!), etc. Lots of questions. But it’s a neat idea that I hope is fun and that there will be chill enough people to play with because I really, really, really do not want to play ultracompetitive Strikers ever again. I think that’s everything in the trailer that I care to comment on, other than saying that Boom Boom as the goalie instead of Kritter is a little sad but has precedent from Mario Sports Superstars, so it’s onto random speculation about the game.

The game’s presentation has a fun understated element in field design. Each half of the field appears to be affected by the characters and color scheme chosen by the defending team. However, it does not appear that any half shown off in the gameplay affects the way the game is played. Mario sports games have recently gone far away from the gimmick fests of Charged or Baseball or even Sports Mix, so we’ll see if they continue that trend or if there will be some halves of fields that will affect the game as badly as The Wastelands. I personally want some freaking gimmicks.

Another area that was never the focus of prior Strikers games but was always there and yet not mentioned in the trailer is the single-player. People remember Charged’s single-player as an extremely brutal and difficult campaign that was super hard to unlock everything in, and the presentation was quite focused on the multiplayer (and the title is Battle League) so there just… might not be single-player. Which would suck! I love beating up CPUs, and Charged’s insane difficulty is pretty fun to battle against. Ever since Sports Mix, even the most difficult CPUs in Mario Sports games have been real easy to beat. Disclaimer: haven’t tried too much against the highest difficulty in Super Rush, so if they’re strong there, that’s my bad.

Finally, I’ll close with four pieces of mechanical speculation that I really hope got addressed. The first is one I’ve mentioned earlier. What will stop people from hitting opponents into electric fences over and over again? The second is tied neatly with that. What will stop players from taking a one-goal lead and then turtling? Turtling in Strikers is the strategy of possessing the ball near your goal box in a way that makes your goalie pick up the ball if it ever is jarred loose, and you can simply wait out the rest of the game this way. It’s really unfun to play with or against this strategy, and has always been a problem in Strikers.

The third and fourth are things that ended up happening in Mario Strikers Charged, and things I worry may happen again in Battle League. In Charged, the lob mechanic allows for insanely broken and unintended goals to be easily scored. Just watch this fun highlight reel of lobs and know that this is not at all how you’re supposed to score.

Super fun looking, right? Well, unfortunately, the lob mechanic was so refined that high-level game was all about executing it and stopping it. Check out a clip below of one of the best players in the world executing a lob glitch to score.

This meant that you had to play with speed characters in order to set up a lob goal or to stop them. The high-level stuff was all about this. Plus, Boo itself was so extremely broken that you almost never saw anyone use anything other than 3 Boos because he was fast enough to execute the lob goals AND passed the quickest AND had a special deke to dodge any oncomers or charge the ball quickly.

All of this is to say that I hope Next Level Games learned their lesson and make Battle League actually viable for more than just speed characters. Because it is super fun to use a slow power character and hit someone into a fence and then score with a strong shot. I have to think they have, and I am looking extremely forward to this game. June 10th can’t come soon enough.

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Local Man Has Started Calling Life a “Metroidvania”

Local man Jayden Schwartz has been on a binge of Metroidvanias lately. For those not in the know, a “Metroidvania” is a portmanteau of the names of two video game series: “Metroid”, and “Castlevania”. Generally, these games have you explore a desolate, hostile world by yourself as you attempt to escape it. Along the way, you’ll acquire new powers and go back to old areas to find more abilities in order to progress further, and so on. “And that’s why I think life is a freaking Metroidvania, baby,” said Schwartz. “Think about it. You’re born into the world with no innate skills. You can’t escape the hospital with your starting equipment. You’ve gotta scrap your way out by any means necessary–using your parents as a vehicle to get to safety like how Samus uses the SHAKTOOL in Super Metroid to get through a room filled with spikes.”

Schwartz had played Metroid Dread and Hollow Knight in quick succession, and was reflecting on the dreary, hostile journeys the heroes had to face when it struck him. “The nameless character in Hollow Knight is faced with many duplicitous characters that seem nice at first glance, but will happily take off their mask and stab you in the back when you least expect it. Nosk reminds me a lot of Stacy from 8th grade. Right down to spitting orange acid–though, in her case, it was Orange Crush that came out of her mouth when I told her I loved her.”

Schwartz also noted that you are required to learn and master new skills in real life and in Metroid Dread in order to progress. “Just think about it. When you graduate from high school, that diploma has the exact same function the Storm Missiles do. You need to present that diploma in order to get a decent-paying job but you’ll never use it as a way of defeating your boss because it’s not very powerful. I’m still mad that my manager Anthony made 3 times as much money I did (AKA, had three times the hit points) despite never graduating high school, but that’s why my diploma was super effective when I presented it to him. So effective that I got fired and had to respawn from my last checkpoint of my mom’s basement.”

“In short, life is like a freaking Metroidvania, not a roguelike. It has roguelike elements with the randomized character creation stuff, but you are expected to die a whole bunch of times before you figure out the mechanics you need to win. Here, there’s only one life, and you gotta make sure you’re going down the right alleyways at night in order to get the next upgrade before you head down them. Which is why I’m now down 100k in student debt and need to go down more dark alleyways in order to find a Geo stash,” said Jayden Schwartz.

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Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl Adds New “Grand Underground Railroad” Feature

Nintendo’s V1.13 patch of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, the remakes of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, adds a whole host of minor fixes and a few new things to the games, including the previously unknown “Grand Underground Railroad” feature, an expansion to the previous Grand Underground.

Originally, the Grand Underground only allowed players to dig up walls for fossils, shards, and other items, or catch a wide variety of Pokémon in Hideaways. The new Grand Underground Railroad addition now puts players smack in the middle of an intense war of ideology where they can choose to either assist the freeing of Pokémon from their status as slaves by joining the northern Unovan cause, or stay a member of the Pokémon-catching Sinnoh south and crack down on the fugitive Pokémon and trainers.

“Pokémon has always been a morally-grey series. There’s this tension between the very positive portrayal of capturing Pokémon as a friend for life that the games tend to reinforce, and the very negative treatment of competitive Pokémon trainers who abandon any Pokémon that aren’t perfect and push them to extremes for strength rather than for friendship. We wanted to play with this tension while drawing on the very real history of America on which the Unova region is based,” said director Yuichi Ueda.

The first time a player enters the Grand Underground after the patch is downloaded, they must choose whether to fight for Pokémon freedom with N or help Cyrus keep Pokémon in Sinnoh. If you choose to side with N, you can set up your Secret Base as a safe stop on the Grand Underground Railroad for huddled Pokémon on their way north. Players on the Unovan side can use all sorts of ball capsule stickers to act as a sign that their Secret Base is safe, and can leave healing items like Sitrus Berries for Pokémon heading north. They may also take a more active role in getting Pokémon north by personally escorting them through the maze-like Grand Underground past all the traps set by Sinnoh supporters.

For those who view Pokémon as tools for battle, they can join the Sinnoh faction and redesign their Secret Base to try and entrap the fleeing Pokémon. Imitating the sticker designs for safe spots on the Grand Underground Railroad and then putting Alert Traps, Reverse Traps, Flame Orbs, or the dreaded Warp Trap can do a lot to slow down and prevent the resistance from having their way. If being more active in crackdown is what you’re into, you can roam the Grand Underground in the hope of intercepting would-be fleers and sending them back via force using your own Pokémon.

“In order to up the tension of this new mechanic, we’ve put a hard cap on the number of Pokémon available across all copies of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. When all of a species of Pokémon are smuggled to Unova via the Grand Underground Railroad, that’s it–that type of Pokémon is effectively extinct in Sinnoh. We hope you enjoy the excitement of being the last line of defense keeping Empoleons in Sinnoh or being the miracle worker that frees them all,” said the other director of Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, Junichi Masuda. “And just so you know, this cap will prevent importing Pokémon from Pokémon Home into BDSP, so think quite hard before choosing a side. Have fun!”

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Music of the Spheres

I don’t know why I ever doubt Coldplay. Well, alright, I know specifically why I was doubting Music of the Spheres, the band’s ninth studio album. It was extremely easy to find reasons to think Music of the Spheres would suck before it released. Max Martin was the producer, Coldplay decided to team up with BTS for an easy hit with little effort, and Parlaphone was actually trying to advertise the album instead of burying it like Everyday Life. There were many reasons to be a cynic and see this album as one last attempt by Coldplay to reclaim relevancy, and I fell into the trap myself! I ordered the limited edition Infinity Station CD and it was stuck in order fulfillment for a week before I asked customer support to send it over. And, as always, the band didn’t let me down.

Music of the Spheres is Coldplay going back to the pop heights and fantastical, alien concepts of Mylo Xyloto and A Head Full of Dreams. They’ve been in a pattern of “extreme airy pop” and “relatively grounded music” since Viva La Vida. After Everyday Life comes a concept album about three bands in space, Coldplay, BTS, and “Electric Six” fighting against a soulless evil empire that’s trying to drain the galaxy of music in order to make them all work. Or something like that. If you think Coldplay’s done this before, you’re absolutely correct–Mylo Xyloto was a concept album about the exact same thing. It doesn’t really matter though, since the album mostly focuses on tuning each individual song into an earworm, and it does a great job at that.

Just like Mylo Xyloto, the album begins with an instrumental prior to the first real track. Okay, there is a robotic voice that says “Music of the Spheres” but that’s it. Then comes Higher Power, which was the first single off the album. I liked it on first listen, then didn’t really like it for a couple of months, but started liking it more the more I heard it. It’s just fun. Also, just like how Moses Martin did the backing beat on Orphans, Apple Martin provides the vocals that kick off the song when she counts down “Three Two One”. It also has this extremely awesome video of the hired aliens dancing through South Korea that I’ve embedded below.

Still waiting to see an unofficial dance video. Ambiguous Dance Company was hired by Coldplay to do it. They’re a South Korean dance troupe which should’ve tipped off to the world what Coldplay had in store with My Universe, but we’ll get there when we get there. Safe to say that Everyday Life was Coldplay’s Middle Eastern album, and Music of the Spheres is Coldplay’s South Korean album.

Right after Higher Power is Humankind, probably my favorite track off the album. It has a classic Wild Cub intro that builds synths, guitars, and drums before transitioning into Charlie Brown off of Mylo Xyloto. It also ends with the couplet “We’re only human/but we’re capable of kindness/so they call us humankind”–this is the cleverest lyric in the album, which tells you all you need to know about how dire the lyrics are. Regardless, the sound of Coldplay is always what matters more to me than their lyrics, and Humankind, just like Higher Power, is a joy to listen to.

As if to give the listener a break from the back to back adrenaline rush of Higher Power and Humankind is another instrumental titled Alien Choir. Not much to say. It transitions into Let Somebody Go featuring, of all people, Selena Gomez. It’s this album’s version of Fun from A Head Full of Dreams, a ballad about a bittersweet breakup featuring a random pop star you haven’t thought about for a couple of years (it was Tove Lo on Fun). Let Somebody Go takes a bit to get going, and features perhaps the stupidest lyrics in the album with “when I called the mathematicians/and asked them to explain/they said love is only equal to the pain”. Still, it has a nice ending where you can hear Chris and Selena “ooh”ing and musically sighing as piano swells, and you can just picture them doing their respective parts alone in front of a window as rain is falling outside.

Human Heart returns to the Gospel sound of When I Need A Friend from Everyday Life. This time, Jacob Collier and We Are King feature as they all croon and harmonize about how we all just try to hide our emotions but gosh darn it we’re human and still feel things. I… think it’s pretty boring, though We Are King’s vocals are quite beautiful. It’s not bad, but not interesting.

Thankfully, People of the Pride completely washes out what you’ve just heard. Based off an old Viva La Vida demo of a song called The Man Who Swears, the track has turned from an angry piano-based caricature to an angry guitar-based caricature with lyrics and sound that would fit right into a Muse album. It is the only song on the album that has not previously been done by Coldplay before. If it was just an angry guitar, it’d have fit in with A Rush of Blood to the Head, but the filter on Martin’s voice gives it an extra edge that nothing prior has had from the gents. And that energy and rawness (well, as raw as an extremely overproduced song by Max Martin can be) breaks through the absolutely hilarious lyrics about the evil overlord that is terrorizing these spheres by being “a man who walks around” and “takes his time from his homemade cuckoo clock”. It is closest to Major Minus in lyrical content and overall sound, I guess, but separates itself regardless of this comparison.

Up next is Biutyful, once again featuring Coldplay’s favorite hyperactive 27 year old Jacob Collier. I like this song’s lyrics the most for its constant homages to past Coldplay songs. “I hope they name you a rocket and take you for a ride for free” is a reference to X Marks the Spot from A Head Full of Dreams, “Summer sun after the rain… something for the pain” is very close to Up & Up’s couplet, “And I feel like a river, finally arrived at sea” is a deliberate happy ending for the speaker from Lost who left what happened at every river they tried to cross ambiguous. If you haven’t noticed, I have not at all talked about the song itself because it is also quite a unique sound. Not just the simple instrumentation, but Jacob Collier’s extreme high-pitched autotune voice make Biutyful sound a bit like from another planet… until the final line of the chorus being “on top of the world” lets that premise down. C’mon, Coldplay! Are you human, or are you dancer alien? I also get the way they sing “When you love me/love me/love me” stuck in my head easily. Pretty great!

Music of the Spheres II is the last short intro track on the album. It has some alien saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Music of the Spheres. Remember, everyone is an alien somewhere” backwards. Ever since A L I E N S off the Kaleidoscope in 2017, that final line has been Coldplay’s message to the world. Everyday Life tried to say it very directly. Here, the band uses a bit of trickery to get the message across again. I think it’s a great message. We are all human, after all.

My Universe is where the album climaxes in story, sound, and popularity. It hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 96 countries and achieved a “Billboard All-Kill” which means it defeated all five members of the Billboard squad within 30 seconds. Just like Something Just Like This with the Chainsmokers, all those cynical “Coldplay only did it for the money” takes were completely vindicated with this track.

However… Coldplay, and specifically Chris Martin, genuinely wanted to make this track. Not to be blasted back into relevancy, but because they wanted to make this song. Go back to Sky Full of Stars, co-produced with Avicii, and see all the quotes about how much Martin loved working with Avicii. Or with the Chainsmokers. Or especially with Jacob Collier recently. Coldplay is big enough to be able to do these collaborations and Martin is sincere enough to want to do them for musical reasons.

As for the track itself, it’s a very fun pop song that barrages the listener with constant stop-starts, changes in language, and a surprising instrumental burst at the end that you’d expect from some mid-2000s Eurotrash rather than from two of the biggest bands ever that are famous for their vocals. I think it’s a great track. My only complaint is that SUGA’s bridge should’ve been the final verse and Jung Kook’s pre-chorus with Martin and Jimin should’ve switched with it. SUGA just gets me so hyped for the explosion of the chorus that it’s a tiny let-down to hear another verse before it. But, overall, great track.

Infinity Sign made me very mad at Pitchfork. The reviewer there called it an insipid techno song that was only made to be FIFA menu music. I’ll admit that’s a great joke, but it’s also completely missing the point. The vocals to the first half of the song are provided by the South American crowds at Coldplay concerts who Chris always gets chanting “Olé”. It’s the concept behind Music from the Spheres–creatures across languages connecting via song–in practice. The second half of lyrics is Spiritus Sanctum repeated over and over, meaning the “Holy Ghost” of God which is commonly depicted as a dove. And, of course, doves are yet another old Coldplay symbol, most likely referring to the ones in Ghost Stories’ Fly On. In short, the reviewer was wrong about Infinity Sign being a shallow, vapid techno track. It holds tons of meaning to Coldplay.

Finally, the album closes with Coloratura, a ten-minute, self-described “slow burning tune” that sounds like Moving to Mars from Mylo Xyloto’s B-sides got stretched out. It’s got some very pretty instrumentation once Martin stops listing off things he saw on astronomy headlines, but is also my pick for weakest long Coldplay song. It doesn’t have the universal (heh) pathos and catchy hook of Up & Up, or the emotional core of Everything’s Not Lost from Parachutes. It’s down there with Hypnotised off the Kaleidoscope EP for overstaying its welcome. It isn’t unenjoyable to listen to, but not something I’ll come back to like Up & Up or Everything’s Not Lost.

And, just like that, the album is over. 42 minutes, with 10 of them spent on Coloratura, another 2 spent on intros, and one 4 minute song that is a meaningful but not that exciting instrumental. You’ll see that throughout this album is a lot of references to prior Coldplay songs, and I think that’s ultimately what makes Music of the Spheres the band’s worst album since Parachutes. Every song is good to great, don’t get me wrong, but very little of it is unique. Again, want to be very clear, this album is one of the nine best albums ever released. It just happens to be closer to ninth than first. The half hour of pop energy that is at the core of Music of the Spheres is awesome. There’s some real standout tracks like My Universe, Humankind, and People of the Pride, but it didn’t hook me as quickly as Mylo Xyloto nor A Head Full of Dreams. As I continue to listen to it while playing Super Mario Strikers, it’ll sound better and better, and I recommend you all do the same.

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Metroid Dread

Metroid Dread is the type of game you wish you could forget everything about and play again with no knowledge. It is also the type of game that is perfect for replaying over and over again. How is this possible? Check the name of the game again: Dread.

Metroid Dread - 100% Walkthrough Part 1 (Intro, White EMMI, Boss: Corpius,  Charge Beam) - YouTube

That picture above sums up the atmosphere of the first playthrough of Metroid Dread. You are helpless, alone, and running for your life from something you don’t understand with your only goal being survival. It is oppressive. There are terrifying enemies that will instantly kill you if they detect you, and they were built to detect things. There are numerous signs of previous civilizations in ruins. There is the best sound design I’ve ever seen in a game purposely mixed to instill fear. All you have on your side is an AI that can do nothing to support you except to order you to go from one hostile part of the environment to the next.

My first playthrough of Dread was genuinely the most tense and scared of a game I’ve ever been. Well, except for when I was trying to beat my friends in Mario Party. Every time I entered an EMMI zone, I felt my heart rate shoot up. Every time I put the game down, my heart rate stayed boosted like Samus after using the Speed Booster for at least a couple of minutes. I didn’t notice how hard I was gripping the Joy Cons while playing, but I saw my knuckles were getting white once stopping. The game perfectly builds the atmosphere of dread.

However, 90% of the way through the game, I found myself feeling… very undreadful. I found myself carving through the planet ZDR and not worrying about the enemies as anything but a roadblock. I found myself fighting a miniboss and feeling extremely confident since I had fought him before and had learned the pattern. I found myself feeling unstoppable as I navigated through terrain and locations that once pushed me through cumbersome detours and endless obstacles. I felt strong. And that is the biggest tragedy, and biggest genius, of Dread.

Now that I know that I become strong, the atmosphere of the earlygame is no longer as oppressive. I will no longer grip onto my Joy Con while trying to dash past EMMIs, nor get nervous about fighting a boss I didn’t expect because I have this foreknowledge. And that makes me sad! It is very rare for me to play any sort of scary game. I often play tense games that I want to win, like Super Mario Strikers, but I’m not actively afraid of anything in those games (except for the Super Team; oh god, are they EMMIs?). It is a little sad for me to realize that I will never be quite as tense ever again playing Metroid Dread.

But, if you remember, that is part of what makes Metroid Dread an incredibly good game. Not only does building up to that moment where you feel invincible in your first playthrough feel extremely earned because you’ve run the gauntlet and the game has story moments that reinforce that feeling of strength, but replays of the game will reveal that you were always this capable. This is due to the absolutely perfect controls in Metroid Dread. Samus is fast. She can aim wherever you want. She can destroy a boss in two hits instead of 30 missiles. But you don’t know that on your first playthrough. It takes multiple playthroughs to learn all the hidden tricks and skips that are possible to master Dread completely.

I cannot think of a game released by a AAA gaming studio these past ten years that manages to nail this evolution of game experience. Some games can create a terrifying atmosphere that makes you feel helpless as a character. Some games can create an experience that makes you feel like an unstoppable monster carving your way through things. Few are able to do both in the same game. Metroid Dread is an insanely good game and is able to do both. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone either looking for a very tense time, or for a game with an insanely high skill ceiling that has lots of replayability.

There are a few things I’d like to mention before ending my review. First up, the graphics are beautiful. Some people initially complained that the game being 2D gameplay with 3D graphics instead of 3D gameplay and graphics would immensely limit how it looks. I’m happy to say that the game is breathtaking. Every single room has some detail to it that makes it feel part of the planet, whether it’s a dismantled scientific lab, a breeding nest in the background, or some kind of crashed ship, there’s always something, and it’s great. I’m not a graphics kind of guy, but this game makes graphics worth commenting on. That said, the EMMI labs are very gray, monotone, and boring… when you revisit them looking for items–during the chase sequences, it was very smart thinking of the developers to keep them as uncluttered as possible to let the player focus on escape.

I briefly mentioned the sound design, which is perfect. The EMMI chirps combined with their foreboding and oppressive patrol theme stayed in my brain after I turned the game off. The music is sparse and not very memorable, but it does its job to add to the tense atmosphere. Just don’t expect it to fit when you’re going on item cleanup.

There are a ton of bosses. Most of them are very good and fun to fight. The game has a perfect checkpoint system that will let you retry extremely quickly should you die. And, in your first playthrough, expect to die a ton. Even as you find energy tanks to increase your health, you’ll find yourself dying in a few hits. My only real complaint is that you fight the miniboss a few more times than what feels necessary. Otherwise, all of them are really neat fights that will test your skills. Especially that second boss. They’re also extremely satisfying when you beat them. The final boss took me three tries, and I thought I’d never beat it after my first attempt. Just awesome stuff.

Finally, just my brief thoughts on the game’s length. It can easily be beaten under 8 hours on your first playthrough if you aren’t going for 100%. And if you’re the type of gamer who only views video games as only being worth the amount of hours per dollar you spend on them, that can feel like a ripoff for $60. I can somewhat understand, but you are not really the audience for the game. It is meant to be a short game. It is not possible to keep the intensity for longer than it does. And the game itself knows that based on how it handles the 7th and final EMMI you meet. As all rulers know, there’s only so long that fear can work on someone.

Bottom line, Metroid Dread is a beautiful game in many ways that ends up just being fun. It’s really strange that a game in which I died over 50 times managed to make me feel as strong as it does, or make dying itself fun. But thanks to the extremely generous checkpoints and progression from weakling to strongest thing in the galaxy, it does exactly that. I apologize for the dry video game review, but sometimes you just gotta tell the world that there’s a really good video game out there that you don’t want to miss.

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