Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Enigma Pinball (PC)

It’s always a heartbreaker to see a dollar store closing, but, on the other hand, it always means they’re going to be getting rid of a lot of stuff and at ridiculously low prices.  Take this case, where I stumbled upon a PC game for only 10 cents.  The front box artwork features an alien’s face beckoning us, and in the background mysterious red lights, or if you have a taste for theatre, you can pretend it’s a red curtain after some thrilling extraterrestrial performance, but I digress.

“Targets appear and disappear in the blink of an eye!” the box proudly states, which is a kind way of marketing the programmer’s bad design skills as a special feature.  But, let’s not stop there, there are a lot of fabulously absurd quotes to be read: “Whoa!  You have just turned on the most unusual and challenging pinball game ever!” which is one of the boldest lies I’ve ever seen; and how about “Want to get the full arcade effect?  Turn up the stereo sound full blast, set the game for multi-ball, and really go crazy.”  Well, I’ve got the disk in my hand; let’s really go crazy!

Here’s three separate title screen images… the official logo (sucks), the main menu (arbitrary), and the game menu (asinine).  So far, I’m thinking things can only possibly get better from here.

I would apologize for only having one screenshot of the game itself, but honestly this single image shows you pretty much everything.  As you can see from the game menu screen up above, the actual layout for the pinball table is incredibly lacking.  They didn’t bother building a decent game, obviously; the table seems only 15% complete, and the only features are the ball occasionally changing colors (hence the gold hue in the above photo) and being able to “tilt” the table (thus disqualifying and losing your ball) by hitting the space bar.  You’ll get extremely tired of this game within the first 5 minutes of playing it, and that’s a guarantee.

Above is an image from the supposed last page of the built-in tutorial; however, there’s a page 34 that they’ve “hidden”, asking why you’re still looking around, and then a page 35 where they give you a secret code.  This might be kind of cool, in a not-so cool way, but the secret code doesn’t even work… so I hate you Enigma Pinball.  I guess some things aren’t even worth 10 cents.

Overall Grade: D 

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Dinner At Home #1

So, we got the bright idea to save a little bit on spending, grab some cheap ingredients from the local grocer, and make dinner at home.  The results?  You’ll just have to find out for yourself…

As you can see above, a ragtag group of edibles I dubbed “The Usual Italian Dinner Suspects”.  I was then promptly called by an attorney and issued a lawsuit.  So, they’re now collectively known as “Food”.  We’ve got Healthy Harvest whole-wheat spaghetti, for the health conscious readers out there.  Also making appearances are traditional Ragu sauce, generic Ranch flavored croutons, generic grated Parmesan cheese, Dole salad mix, and whole-wheat bread.

Amanda admittedly did most of the cooking and preparation; I sat idly by thinking of Aquaman wrestling Jesus in mud.  Amanda isn’t a trained cook, although she has aspirations of the culinary sort, and has logged many hours in front of the television watching Iron Chef reruns.  Please don’t mind the mess that in fact is my family’s kitchen… we do our best.  Also, while I’m at it, pay no attention that I’m wearing a t-shirt with the visage of Wally Gator on it, okay?

The food… how’d it rank?  Honestly, not bad, and allow me expound upon that sentiment.  The salad is the undeclared victor of flavor; it’s both healthy, rather cheap, and delicious.  The spaghetti itself, while not bad… isn’t anything to necessarily write home about.  But, given the circumstances, I’d be wrong to complain.  It was relatively simple to make, and cheap and nutritious, so I can take the bad with the good in this case.  The bread, although not pictured, was a key addition to the overall meal.  We baked it, getting it nice and hot, spread a little margarine on it, and the rest was home dining heaven.

We were all smiles and content with our dining experience.  What should be taken from this isn’t that making food at home is always better, although it often can be and is, but the experience of making it and enjoying the labors of your efforts in the end.  It’s an extremely rewarding feeling, especially when sharing it with others, whether it is one significant person, or a small dinner party of guests.

As a small mini-review, I had the new Coca-Cola with Lime (or Lame) with dinner.  I like Coca-Cola, always have, and I’m a huge fan of lime, too.  In fact, at several restaurants, I’ve been known to drop a fresh lime or lemon in my soda for an extra-added boost in flavor.  I was pretty excited about this concoction, but I think they got the formula all wrong… it’s just too sweet.  Maybe it’ll grow on me, who knows?  In closing, I had a wonderful time eating dinner… thanks for participating and feeding me Amanda!  To those more ambitious readers, I’d definitely recommend having your own “dinner at home” extravaganzas.

Overall Grade: B+ 

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Soup 'n Salad Unlimited (Middletown, OH)

Allow me to introduce a place that needs no introduction… well, actually, it does so just scrap that opening altogether.  Never before in my life had I heard of a restaurant titled Soup ‘N Salad Unlimited until this one moved into the building where an Old County Buffet existed prior.  That aside, I was never stricken with a strong desire to dine there.  I figured, a bunch of bland soups and boring salad, plus gaudy old people fumbling around, no thanks!  Although my brash assumptions were quite accurate in the end, this place still has some undeniable charm that turned this critic into a fan.

Let’s tackle some general restaurant information first.  They do keep some pretty peculiar hours, that’s to say, they close earlier than most competing eateries.  On our first trip, Molly and I got adventurous and tried to take a back route, ended up lost, got there right before they closed, and settled elsewhere for a horrible experience.  No fooling around the second time, though, we got in and got formally acquainted with our surroundings quickly.  The place is big and rather nice inside, there’s a lot of room, and they allow you to seat yourselves, which is rare and very cool.

We took advantage of that option, and picked out a cozy little corner booth with lots of privacy from the other guests.  If you’ll look behind me, there are some Christmas decorations out, which I really liked.  Little touches like that separates places like this from the dozens of surrounding fast food joints.  The set-up is simple, you go up and get a plate, grab some food, eat, and then repeat the process until you’re content.  There were several sections dedicated to salad and pasta, an Italian section with spaghetti and pizza, a soup section, a huge dessert area, and a couple others.

I ate such a variety of food, that’s it hard to discern where to even begin a solid evaluation.  There were some things I really liked, other stuff that was too bland, and only a couple items I didn’t enjoy.  Stuff I personally enjoyed was brussel sprouts, cabbage, meatballs, and a baked sweet potato.  You could make your own salad, ranging from mundane to magnificent, with tons of toppings to add to the final product.  I had a few pasta dishes, too, which were average, and the Hawaiian style pizza wasn’t bad, just a tad too cold.

We weren’t too excited about their soup selection, and I remember us not being too fond of our choices.  Surely, they must have a few decent soups, which I’ll likely investigate on future treks.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my soda.  They’ve got a fountain and you get your own drinks, I choose Coca-Cola just to be safe and was rewarded handsomely with one of the arguably best soft drinks I’ve ever tasted.  The cup given isn’t that big, and I made many refill runs throughout my meal.  We were stuffed, but as always, if you’re at a buffet and paying good money, might as well sample the desserts!  I was honestly too full to properly undertake indulging our plate of sweets.  The amount of options was staggering, and I tried to get as much possible onto one plate.  There are a lot of generic items (like pudding), but several inspired choices (like pineapple upside-down cake) that so deservedly make the list.

Here’s another factor in the equation… this place is really cheap!  It’s only $5.79 per person for unlimited food?  Amazing!  I was right in that a lot of older folks frequent here, and that the buffet did contain some bland items.  However, for sheer value alone, it’s hard not to recommend this place.  Also, it wasn’t crowded at all when I attended, and the atmosphere was pleasant leading to a relaxed and comfortable dinner.  Albeit not the fanciest place, nor the biggest selection in buffets, I’d honestly suggest giving it a shot some random weekday night, you may just find yourself falling for it’s easygoing charm, delicious Coke, and past due Christmas decorations.

Overall Grade: B+ 

Saturday, June 18, 2005

TMNT – Hun toy

I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  When the new cartoon series debuted I was anticipating it severely.  Not only did we get to see our old favorite characters return, but we were also introduced to a whole new batch.  One of the standouts is this character, Hun, who’s Shredder’s right-hand man.  Hun commands Shredder’s army of Foot Ninja, the “vicious ground forces” of the Foot Clan.  Shredder handpicked Hun when he was a “young street punk” running with the infamous Purple Dragon Gang.  His character on the animated series is awesome… watching him follow through Shredder’s devious plans and battling the turtles themselves in hand-to-hand combat.

The toy?  It’s also very cool.  Hun’s hulking size is demonstrated well, as he’s just huge.  He’s got his original Purple Dragon Gang tattoo, which is a nice attention to detail.  The left arm features “Dragon Punch action” which is the popular old school gimmick where you can pull an arm back and hit a button to release it giving the illusion of the toy throwing a punch.  Hun also comes with two snap-on “Dragon Arm Gauntlets” that are great.  They look extremely cool, and are simple to put on or remove.

This really is a great piece, and a nice villain toy to accompany the hero turtles for battling action.  Hun’s not the most dimensional character in the series, but he’s a great brute force presence, and the toy is an excellent representation of the animated version.

Overall Grade: A- 

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Red’s (Ross, OH)

My friend Steve told me about a ridiculously tiny place that served these monstrous hamburgers.  One day we embarked there together, he was eager to show me this place and I was very eager to see it firsthand.  Now, it’s not your typical restaurant per se, let us establish that fact immediately.  In fact, it’s located inside a dingy little convenience store in the middle of nowhere.  The counter is near the back, and you order your food while standing alongside beer marketing standees and crates of assuredly near expiration Gatorade.

Standing on a floor that screams to be mopped, you try to stare at the chip or candy aisle to avoid direct communication with the employees.  The group working on this particular day was all female, ranging from 17 to 29 years of age I’d wager, and all extremely hyperactive and loud.  In fact, I saw them all occasionally stealing bites of food themselves, which was kind of unnerving.  I decided against ordering a drink, and bought a Snapple from the store portion instead, where I was promptly helped by one of the aforementioned girls a few feet away at the other register.

So, we finally get our food, and we sit in this little designated area amidst stacks of cases of sodas, while some lame sports documentary airs on an old television set in the corner.  This was one of the weirdest locales I’ve ever had a meal in… and that covers a lot of ground.

Anyway, let’s talk about the food!  Steve and I both ordered the bacon burger and fried mushrooms.  Steve had told me in great length about this sandwich, and how they literally covered the thing in bacon.  He wasn’t kidding!  I’d never eaten this much bacon in one sitting… period!  And if you find that hard to believe, can you fathom they actually offer a double bacon burger on their menu?  The fried mushrooms were pretty swell, complimented nicely by dipping them in ranch sauce.  It’s rare when I can’t finish a meal, but I just couldn’t complete the burger while keeping my sanity intact.  Overall, I’d recommend this to those in the surrounding area, or the more adventurous type looking for a bizarre eatery.  I intend on returning one day, and maybe I’ll conquer the bacon burger in our fateful rematch…

Overall Grade: B+ 

Monday, June 13, 2005

Wind Up Walking Dinosaurs

I can truly not explain why I was so fascinated by this toy as I walked passed it.  I’m admittedly fascinated with dinosaurs, which is a horribly bad thing to say in social situations.  However, I can’t help but be interested in these remarkable creatures.  Since my youth, my favorite dinosaur has always been the Ankylosaurus.  Today I get one of my very own!

The box artwork isn’t shabby, complete with generic volcano and lush tropical vegetation.  The toy itself looks really great, as the picture above shows, especially considering I only spent a dollar on it.  The walking mechanism is another story altogether.  You have to wind this thing up extensively, and then the dinosaur does a circular pimp strut until it’s movement dies out much akin to their real life counterparts.  This may be the best dollar I spend all year.

Overall Grade: A 

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Planet of the Apes – Ari toy

Tim Burton’s variation of Planet of the Apes was met critically with shame.  Although the original film and its subsequent sequels are vastly superior, I didn’t altogether dislike the new version.  The merchandise that arrived in stores nationwide during its release was pretty hit or miss, mostly the latter.  If you’re at a place that sells toys and they have a markdown bin or section, there’s a very good chance you’ll find at least one or two figures from this series in there.

The character of Ari is “strong-willed chimpanzee” that’s a “human rights advocate” and a “righteous challenger of all who would question her ideas”.  She’s the rebellious daughter of an ape government official, which holds the “unpopular view that apes and humans can live in harmony”.  Introductory filler out of the way, how’s her toy?

In all honesty the toy doesn’t look bad.  Unfortunately it doesn’t move well, so you’re pretty much stuck with a desk decoration with this one.  I particularly like the design work on her clothing.  She comes with an unremarkable “battle flag” that’s easily discarded.  It’s hard to really recommend this to anyone, but if the movies mean anything to you than you can probably find this toy pretty cheaply.

Overall Grade: C 

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Riley's (Greenhills, Ohio)

This is one of my personal favorite restaurants.  Located snuggle in the comfortable community of Greenhills, Ohio.  Riley’s offers breakfast and dinner items, and has a bakery containing a wealth of fresh goods.  An older crowd, mostly senior citizens and families, generally frequents the restaurant.  I tend to feel like the youngest person there whenever I go.  However, the staff is always very accommodating and cordial.

The atmosphere inside is always pleasant.  As you can see up above, this place has tons of cookie jars absolutely everywhere as decoration.  Any place that has Batman, Superman, Racer X, and Spider-Man on their wall is fantastic.  The interior and ambiance are always refreshing and welcoming, and it’s comfortable any time of the day.  I’ve been seated in almost every section (except a special dining area reserved for large groups) and I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite.

The food here is really the specialty.  The first couple times I had meatloaf, but lately I’ve been addicted to their sandwiches.  If you like hamburgers, I’d strongly recommend both the bacon cheeseburger and the mushroom burger.  They’ve also got a beef BBQ sandwich that’s a personal favorite.  For those more health inclined, they’ve got a variety of salads.  In the past, a handful of my friends have become obsessed with Riley’s chicken fingers, which are delicious.  They also have a large variety of side items, including loaded potato salad!  Every single day they have a daily special dinner at an affordable price, which on this occasion I ordered and got roasted chicken.  I wasn’t expecting an entire chicken, though!  To drink I suggest Cherry Coke.  The food here is really top-notch.

I really can’t say enough about this place; it truly defines my ideal restaurant experience in terms of service, food, and atmosphere.  It’s a nice change from fast food, fancy bistros, and loud sports bars.  Sometimes it’s nice to seek out little places, where quality and customer satisfaction really are important.  Thank you Riley’s!

Overall Grade: A+ 

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Hulk – David Banner toy

I’ve got to say that The Incredible Hulk is my all-time favorite comic book character.  Thus, when the film Hulk came out, I got up early that morning, drove by myself to catch the earliest matinee showing.  I was in a relatively empty auditorium, with a couple families and random moviegoers.  I had chills watching my beloved childhood favorite come to life.  A lot of people really don’t like that film, and many point to the character of David Banner to take issue with.  I thought he was eccentric and great, and when he mutated into an evolving abomination of mass and texture I was giddy.  Toys based off of the movie sadly didn’t strike a chord with me… except this one.

This toy comes with interchangeable arms and legs, and you can see both variations above.  It’s a really cool concept, although not entirely unflawed.  The toy looks cool, but changing the limbs wasn’t a pleasant process.  You’ve really got to apply a lot of force to maneuver the pieces properly, and the toy’s rough exterior surface isn’t favorable on hands.

This is the first and most assuredly the last time an action figure is released with Nick Nolte’s facial resemblance.  That in its own right warrants purchasing it.  I believe it’ll be remembered as one of the more bizarre movie tie-in toys.

Overall Grade: B+