All 720 Pokémon, Graded. Part 11 — Nos. 100 to 110 (Electrode to Weezing)

Welcome back to All Pokémon Graded, the feature that continues to give you what you never asked for: letter grades for all Pokémon currently in existence. We made it to the triple digits! Time to roll that beautiful bone footage.
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250px-101electrode101. Electrode
Type: Electric
Best Name: Lektrobal (German)
Last time, I threw the book at Voltorb and its meta nature, so it’s natural to think I’d have more of the same in store for its so-called “evolution”, Electrode. Actually. I’m going to do a total 180 and nominate it for Mega Evolution status. “What are you talking about, Jess? That’s madness!” Actually, it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. You could have it potentially Mega Evolve to any of the different kinds of Pokéballs, and have it based on stats. Like, if your stats are all maxed out, it becomes a Master Ball, naturally. If you’re fighting a Fire-type, it becomes a Dive Ball and all its moves gain a Water type. Etc., etc. Tell me that’s not totally genius. In its current form, however, it tops out at a C-.
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250px-102exeggcute102. Exeggcute
Type: Grass / Psychic
Best Name: Nœunœuf (French)
I bet Exeggcute has the capacity to get pretty sadistic. For evidence of said capacity, look no further than the one in the back on the left. Its head is cracked open! Did its siblings turn on it when it decided it didn’t want to be part of a sextet and lobotomize it into acquiescence? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just to think of it. Still, pink is not an intimidating color, nor is the ability to be cooked. The one in the middle seems like it’s really enjoying its role as the leader. It is also the only one without any cracks in it. I think we have our prime suspect for poor Back Lefty. C
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103exeggutor103. Exeggutor
Type: Grass / Psychic
Best Name: Nassy (Japanese)
Exeggutor is allegedly based on a Japanese monster that is a tree with human heads, but I don’t buy that for a second, because if you want to draw a tree with human heads, then you draw a tree with human heads, not a palm tree with goofy-grinning coconuts. “Exeggutor” also does not quite sit right with me as a name. I understand “Exeggcutioner” would have surpassed the character limit of the day (a limit lifted only as recently as the current generation, with Fletchinder), but as it stands, the name makes it sound like it’s going to handle my affairs when I die, not crush my opponents. A big disappointment all around. D
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250px-104cubone104. Cubone
Type: Ground
Best Name: Osselait (French)
A good way for a Pokémon to get a boost to its mainstream reputation is to have a particularly depressing and/or morbid background story or Pokédex entry. No Pokémon ever pulled this trick off better than Cubone. According to the flavor text, the general idea is that Cubone loses its mother at birth and mourns that fact every day. There are numerous iterations of this idea, but the most chilling manifestation of it is the Diamond+Pearl/Black+White era Pokédex entry, which states: “When it thinks of its dead mother, it cries. Its crying makes the skull it wears rattle hollowly.” All of this often causes people to view Cubone as a woobie, but let’s not forget two key things here—namely, that its primary weapon came from its dead mother’s body, and that wearing the remains of others is super-creepy. B
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250px-105marowak105. Marowak
Type: Ground
Best Name: Knogga (German)
Notice that the skull that revealed the bottom of Cubone’s chin now envelops the entire head of Marowak. With evolution, the grief has now fully taken hold of the poor creature. Having become the very source of its sorrow, it is now locked in to the inevitable fate of enacting the same postpartum abandonment it once endured. A tragedy for the ages.

But seriously, I give Marowak situationally high marks because I’ve been enjoying its BREAK evolution in the TCGO of late. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of use out of it considering it’s technically a Stage 2 evolution, and it’s turned a few matches in my favor with the effect of its attack. Plus, how can you deny the awesomeness of an attack name like BONE REVENGE?? I submit that you in fact cannot. A
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250px-106hitmonlee106. Hitmonlee
Type: Fighting
Best Name: English
Of the two Pokémon you can potentially receive from the fighting dojo, Hitmonlee is definitely the weirder one. It’s focused primarily on kicking, but the way it’s designed, it looks like it can stretch all its extremities Dhalsim-style. So the legs don’t feel super-special as a result. The overall lack of features is creepy, however, and therefore intimidating. It feels like some eldritch nightmare that assumed a humanoid form and decided it really liked hitting things with its feet. Honestly, there could be worse things for such a spectre to decide it liked doing. B-
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250px-107hitmonchan107. Hitmonchan
Type: Fighting
Best Name: English
In English, Hitmonlee is partially named after Bruce Lee, and Hitmonchan is partially named for Jackie Chan. Because Jackie Chan is a world-class… boxer? Because of the hit Kids WB cartoon Hitmonchan Adventures? Because Hitmonchan was an affable yet talented film presence whose movies became increasingly goofier and reliant on magical MacGuffins while opening to diminishing returns? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to name it Hitmontyson, since Japanese developers already like modeling characters after him anyway? And yet, I can’t be too hard on the lovable scamp. The fact that it actually has a face humanizes it a little more, and its type-based punches make it a more versatile threat. Plus, tell me it’s not pulling off those frilly shorts right now. B+
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800px-kiyo_poBONUS GRADE: KIYO, THE FIGHTING DOJO GUY. In Red+Blue, you meet a guy in Saffron City who runs a fighting dojo. It isn’t an official gym, however, because Sabrina and her troupe of weirdos kicked his butt so hard that they revoked his dojo’s gym status and gave it to her. Don’t feel sorry for ol’ Kiyo, however, because he’s enjoying the revenge of living well: he shows up in X+Y starting a new dojo in Lumiose City, and as of this writing, fighting is arguably the best type in the card game, receiving tons of offense boosts in a format that currently favors raw power. Way to make good, Kiyo, old boy, you’re reaching for that dream. A
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250px-108lickitung108. Lickitung
Type: Normal
Best Name: Schlurp (German)
I get a little squicked out by tongues the way a lot of people claim to be disgusted by, e.g., the word “moist”. I know my tongue is definitely weird; I can inflate it into a puffy pink slab of muscle or I can flatten it out, and it’s got ridges and bumps and grooves all over it. It’s gross, but fascinating. That said, Lickitung is still only the third-most abominable tongue-centric creature I can think of off the top of my head, after Tung-Tung from The Tick (not to get too far ahead of my fledging episode reviews) and Gene Simmons. Depending on the Pokédex entry, the tongue can either cause a “tingling sensation” or paralysis, so use only as directed by a licensed physician. B
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250px-109koffing109. Koffing
Type: Poison
Best Name: Dogars (Japanese)
One of the various cosplay subgenres on the Internet is called gijinka, which is a sartorial anthropomorphization of a non-human anime character. It’s especially popular with Pokémon, since there are so many to choose from and so many possibilities for interpretation. I was introduced to the concept by a guy I used to work with named Sumner Bukoski, one of the co-founders of Titanesque Cosplay. He made the Koffing costume he wears in this skit from A-Kon 2015, which you should definitely watch, and which I dare not spoil, except to say 1) it makes me choke up every time, and 2) holy cow, that Attract attack really worked.[1]

None of this really has to do with Koffing itself, about whom I really only have to say that I think it’s funny that the sprite artist goofed and put its skull and crossbones above its face in Red+Blue. Good grief, those were some janky games. B
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250px-110weezing110. Weezing
Type: Poison
Best Name: Smogmog (German)
I feel really bad for Weezing, because it looks like it is genuinely suffering, like one of those failed clones in a sci-fi movie that has just enough life left in it to be able to say “kill me”. Koffing was so happy and carefree, but now it’s sad and tired, and is forced to be conjoined with its underdeveloped twin by some frightening ligature made of God-knows-what. (This is all driven home even harder in the anime, where Koffing’s voice is deep and guttural yet boisterous, while Weezing’s more than lives up to its owner’s name.) Perhaps this is the effect of all that smog it’s putting out, breathing its own secondhand smoke. Captain Planet was right, y’all: looting and polluting is not the way. Hear what Captain Planet has to say. C+
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Next time: Rhyhorn to Staryu


[1] You might be saying, “Jess, aren’t you the same guy who brought the hammer down on two innocent nerds for daring to have a Zelda-themed wedding?” To which my rebuttal would be that this is different, because the people watching the skit were there for cosplay shenanigans and got the, uh … ending as a pleasant and unexpected bonus. The people at the wedding were there for a wedding and knew in advance about the Zelda theme and that it would be at GameStop and chose to put themselves through it anyway.

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Posted in All Pokemon Graded, Video Games | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Tick, S1E1: “The Tick vs. the Idea Men”

Ah, the episode. The cornerstone of cohesive televisual storytelling. If an episode of a show has aired in the last ten years, someone has devoted a non-negligible amount of verbiage to it. Here at Cheese & Pixels, we’re going to reach a bit farther back and review all three seasons of one of my all-time favorite shows.

Loyal readers, you face: The Tick!

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The Tick ran for 36 episodes, from 1994 to 1996, on the Fox Kids Saturday morning block (back when cartoons aired on broadcast networks on Saturdays). It was created by wunderkind Ben Edlund, who is currently a writer on Gotham and my second choice for most depressing “creator disowns his work” discovery (narrowly edged out by Gary Oldman’s documented dislike of The Fifth Element).

Without further adieu…

Season 1, Episode 1: “The Tick vs. the Idea Men”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdeci6W3HyU]
“The Tick vs. the Idea Men” starts with a cold open explaining how the Tick came to protect The City. It doesn’t explain who the Tick is or where he came from[1] or why he can survive a 1970s death chamber. He just is the Tick, and he’s nigh invulnerable, and that’s that. This lack of explication is something you’ll have to get used to if you want to enjoy this show. Frankly, I find it refreshing. We live in an age of overwrought world-building and shared universes, and The Tick skipped all of that while still unambiguously defining its characters. Why does Chairface Chippendale have a chair for a head? No one knows, no one cares. This is a show that pushes the MST3K mantra to its limit.

As the Tick buses in to The City, we catch up with Arthur (voiced in the first season by Micky Dolenz—yes, that Micky Dolenz—and afterward by Rob Paulsen). Arthur gets fired for continually wearing his moth suit to work, but he spins it into an impassioned “you can’t fire me, I quit” speech. Again, the viewer may wonder: who was Arthur before the moth suit? I’m reminded of Bill Watterson writing in the Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book about his decision to not name Calvin’s parents, for the reason that as far as the strip was concerned, they were important only as Calvin’s parents. Similarly, Arthur is given no pre-moth-suit origin because in terms of the show, he had no meaningful identity prior to finding the suit. Only Arthur’s suit and new-found desire for adventure are relevant to the exposition, not his accounting career. And so Arthur leaves the firm, the Tick crashes into the concrete in front of him, introductions are made, and we’re off to the races.

Most of The Tick‘s season-one rogues’ gallery will make repeat appearances, but the Idea Men are a one-shot crew. Their main gag is that no one can understand what they’re saying behind their metal masks, which isn’t terribly funny but works to keep them more or less backgrounded so the show can tend to the work of establishing the Tick as a competent (if loopy) hero among a cadre of dysfunctional wannabes. Even news anchor Sally Vacuum’s monotone carries a hint of surprise that a superhero in The City was able to thwart a crime in progress.

Mayor Blank suspects the bank robbery is a practice run for a bigger heist, and his hunch pans out: the Idea Men demand a ten million-dollar ransom, threatening to blow up the hydroelectric dam if they don’t get it. At this point, there’s not much runtime left in the episode, so the Idea Men business is handled pretty briskly. (It helps that they’re not a supernatural threat or part of an organized crime ring.) After getting the ransom, they set off the bomb anyway, and once activated, it can’t be disarmed, so the Tick just runs out to the edge from the dam and holds it at arm’s length when it blows up, taking out the Idea Men’s escape blimp but miraculously damaging neither himself (understandable, he’s nigh invulnerable) nor the dam (bit more of a headscratcher).

Cheese & Pixels Rating: What's Gonna Be on the Next String Cheese Album? (out of 5)

While solid if unremarkable, “The Tick vs. the Idea Men” establishes the Tick and Arthur’s bona fides as a duo. It doesn’t begin to approach the level of surreality we’ll see in the remainder of the series. Indeed, as we will see even as soon as the next episode, The Tick begins flying its freak flag with gusto.

Stray Observations:

  • Is the Bi-Polar Bear joke funny or mildly offensive? Both? Neither? (I genuinely can’t tell.)
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  • “Rive Droite” is French for “right bank”.
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  • The Idea Men’s ultimate motive: “We thought we’d steal a bunch of money, and then we’d be rich, and we wouldn’t have to work anymore.” (Tick: “You CADS!”)
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  • I love the scene where Big Shot (a savage parody of the Punisher) shoots up the sign while tears stream down his face and his eyes and mouth twitch uncontrollably. It’s a great way of communicating to the audience, “We couldn’t show an erection on Saturday morning television.”
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  • Tick’s advice to Big Shot: “Guns and superheroes don’t mix. Seek professional help.” Timelier than ever!

First Appearances: The Tick; Arthur; Die Fledermaus; American Maid; the implication that Die Fledermaus and American Maid used to date, and that the split was not amicable; Crusading Chameleon (here called Caped Chameleon); the Human Bullet; Sally Vacuum; Mayor Blank; Big Shot; Arthur’s apartment; Arthur’s moth suit being referred to as a bunny suit.

Next Time: “The Tick vs. Chairface Chippendale”


[1] In the comic book, the Tick escapes from a mental asylum to fulfill his superhero destiny. Aiming for something slightly more lighthearted (though no less twisted), the cartoon wisely abandons this approach. I don’t know much about the comic, though I do know the initial run had a tendency to get very dark at times. I’ll try to insert relevant comparisons and contrasts where I can.

Posted in Animation, Television | Tagged | 1 Comment

8GR8 #05: Wintry Mix (8 Great Winter/Christmas VGM Tunes)

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Welcome back to 8GR8, where we take eight excellent video game songs that have something in common and put them in a list together. The Yuletide season is upon us, and Cheese & Pixels gets in the spirit the best way it knows how, with another octet, some of it specifically Christmas-oriented and other parts more generally winter-adjacent.
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1. Jazz Jackrabbit, “Holidaius”
Composer: Robert Allen
Platform: PC/DOS (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPl86qk5n5w]
In the 90s, it was common practice for developers of especially popular games to release a small pack of Christmas-themed levels, one of two early forms of what we now call DLC (the other being the expansion pack). Epic Megagames got in on the fun twice (in 1994 and 1995) with their Holiday Hare stages for Jazz Jackrabbit. Why not start with the amps turned up to 11 for this crunchy Yuletide medley? I’m not a fan of the sequel, but Alexander Brandon’s “A Cold Day in Heck” is also an aces wintertime tune.
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2. Gran Turismo 5, “CHRISTMAS TREE”
Composer: Mitsutoshi Satoh
Platform: PS3 (2010)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxISNMbXxAs]
From a rabbit named Jazz to actual jazz. If extra Christmas levels were gaming’s expression of the holiday spirit in the 90s, then the Christmas-day interface change is the 2000s equivalent. With every console now packed with an internal calendar, don’t be surprised if the game you boot up every day looks a little different this time, or if a tune like this replaces the usual menu music. This track blends seamlessly into any occasion. Play this powdery delight over that 45-minute Nick Offerman Yule log video, or at your next ugly sweater party. Better yet, cancel your ugly sweater party, because life is too short for ironic enjoyment.
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3. The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock, “Sliding on the Tundra”
Composers: N. Furukawa, Kennosuke Suemura
Platform: SNES (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00AseEenL98]
Somehow I doubt this game is about Fred and Barney finding gold on a mountain and watching their friendship get consumed by their naked greed and loss of sanity. So I’ll just never play and avoid the inevitable disappointment. I will listen to this song 20 times on repeat though.
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4. Daze Before Christmas, “Anti-Claus’s Theme”
Composer: Kim M. Jensen
Platforms: SNES, Genesis (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww6qP8r_Chw]
Boy, 1994 had all the Yuletide hits! One of the defining features of Sunsoft’s Daze Before Christmas, a game released in almost every English-speaking country that isn’t America, is Santa’s ability to turn into his devil counterpart Anti-Claus, who wears a blue short-sleeved suit and hits enemies with his bag instead of using his comparatively benign Christmas magic. This sounds like the version of “Jingle Bells” where you get roughed up by cigar-chomping street toughs wearing long-sleeved horizontally striped shirts and chapeaus.
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5. TalesWeaver, “Feliz Navidad”
Arranger: Jin-Bae Park (“ESTi”)
Platform: PC/Windows (2003)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sewOYrFzIrU]
If you think “Feliz Navidad” is corny and you wish there was an instrumental version that sounded like Mannheim Steamroller halfheartedly attempting shoegaze[1], then buddy, do I have the track for you. I found this gem on the blog of composer Winifred Phillips, a rather prolific composer whose work I’m admittedly not keen on—too much orchestral stuff for my taste. I have to give credit where it’s due, however; she does know how to root out the diamonds in the rough.
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6. Mega Man X4, “Frost Walrus – Snow Base (Inside)”
Composer: Toshihiko Horiyama
Platforms: PlayStation, Saturn (1997)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlF7Lkfdvn0]
If I have to put at least one “obvious” choice on this list, I’ll make it from this game, my sentimental favorite of the Mega Man X series. I like the snow/ice level tunes that sound like they were performed in an actual ice cave, and this one has that kind of Home Alone call-to-action frequency I can detect because I was the right age for it to be irreversibly branded onto my cosmic antennae.
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7. Snoopy Concert, “High in the Treetops”
Arrangers: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Minako Hamano
Platform: Super Famicom (1995)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-PJjgPOdc4]
This is actually “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi; I’m not sure what would necessitate a name change other than trying to dodge copyright, but I don’t know the whole story. For me, this is a discovery from the amazing Legacy Music Hour podcast, where cohost Brent Weinbach astutely observed that it’s largely based on the David Benoit smooth-jazz cover (originating from the 1986 album This Side Up). Listening to the two versions back-to-back is an eye-opener; the Super Famicom version’s breakdown is a lot funkier, but there’s more energy in the Benoit cover.
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8. Ski or Die, “Downhill Blitz”
Composer: Rob Hubbard
Platforms: NES, Genesis, PC/DOS, Commodore 64, Amiga (1990)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7N3yrz9g4s]
We started off with cheeseball hard rock, so why not bookend the list with it? And by a master of the form, to boot: no less a VGM luminary than Rob Hubbard. Ahh, the Ad-Lib speaker, the 15 frames per second, the 16 colors—makes me feel like a kid again, waking to the sounds of a dot-matrix printer grinding out an eight-foot banner, alerting me to the gift of our family’s first PC. Now there’s a ghost of Christmas past I’ll welcome a visit from any day.


[1] Not an insult, though I’m aware it sounds like it.

Posted in 8GR8, Music, VGM, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jon Benjamin: Jazz Daredevil – Well, I Should Have…*

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Jazz pianist Art Tatum asserted that there is “no such thing as a wrong note”. Tatum died in 1956, and therefore did not live to witness the release of Well, I Should Have…*, an album that puts that quote, along with a few other similar ones, to the ultimate test.

By his own admission, Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Home Movies, et al.) cannot play the piano. Most people probably feel that said inability would preclude them from recording an album on which they play jazz piano. That Benjamin has done exactly that despite lacking even a shred of talent for the instrument is admirable, if perhaps ill-advised.

There are a few hurdles that an album whose principal musician possesses no skill whatsoever must clear, the greatest of which is the possibility of the central joke overstaying its welcome. Luckily, the album is only 30 minutes long, and five or six of those minutes are occupied with spoken-word segments, so if you got only a basic idea of what the album is about and feared being saddled with an hour of insufferable plonking, you can rest assured that isn’t the case. I listened to nearly the whole thing in a single commute to work, which about lines up with what it merits and doesn’t give the conceit enough time to grow stale.

Another hurdle is approximating the qualities of jazz within the parameters of comedy without coming off as a total jerk about it. Jazz is just as much about feeling as it is about technical proficiency, which you know if you’ve ever been in or near a conversation where someone (possibly even you yourself), provoked by the mere mention of jazz, affected a stuffy voice and joked, “It’s about the notes that aren’t there.” It’s easy to poke fun at this idea because it is so nakedly pretentious on its surface. But when you listen to this album, and you think about what it does not do—indeed, what its star performer is not capable of doing—you begin to understand why a jazz musician would say something like that.

Jon Benjamin may very well not know anything about music theory or be a fan of jazz, but I can’t escape the feeling that there’s more to the story than is being let on for the sake of the joke, because there are times when he exhibits an uncanny acumen for where to strike the piano and when. One may argue that a broken clock is right twice a day, but unless I’m willing myself to hear something that isn’t there, this broken clock has a better track record than that. It’s actually shocking, the number of times this album manages to fade plausibly into the background. Benjamin’s “talent” reaches a climax at the beginning of the album’s best track, “It Had to Be You”, in which he goes a full minute at the beginning without sounding totally awful before taking it completely off the rails and making you laugh again.

As insane as it sounds, Well, I Should Have…* actually succeeds more often than not at sounding like a legitimate jazz album, even with Jon Benjamin banging on the piano like a five-year-old. Weirdly enough, one can even envision a future in which it is viewed as a polarizing work, with various factions either proclaiming its genius from the mountaintops or denouncing it as a flaming bag of dung. Astoundingly, the only true misfire on the album is the final track, “Amy’s Song (The Bum Steer)”, a 90-second rap about anal sex that will actually make you wish he would get back to playing the piano.

I can sympathize with a certain mindset that wouldn’t find this sort of thing very funny. I don’t imagine you’d smile about this sort of idea if you’re an actual jazz musician struggling to get your own work recorded or make a living off of what you love doing, and here comes this buffoon dropping into a studio, surrounding himself with skilled session musicians, and basically crapping all over everything that makes jazz important to you. It’s tough to tell whether the session musicians in the album trailer are in on the joke are not—if they are, they have godlike deadpanning skills, and if they aren’t, then hey, at least they got paid. Fortunately, I don’t play jazz for a living, and even if I did I have to think I would find this as hilarious as I do now. If you appreciate jazz, you might find this funny. But if you don’t, you might actually find it funnier.

Posted in Comedy, Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

All 720 Pokémon, Graded. Part 10 — Nos. 91 to 100 (Cloyster to Voltorb)

Welcome back to All Pokémon Graded, the feature where everything’s made up and the grades don’t matter. In today’s installment, we visit some old haunts.
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250px-091cloyster1091. Cloyster
Type: Water / Ice
Best Name: English
The English translation team’s wordplay game was totally on point when they named this one. Cloyster is menacing enough by appearance alone, but for me, a big part of a Pokémon’s intimidation factor is determined by: if it did something to a part of my body, would I still have that body part? And if I’m imagining that shell closing up on my hand, I’m then picturing not having that hand anymore. I have to hand it to Cloyster: it really knows how to flex its mussels. A-
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250px-092gastly092. Gastly
Type: Ghost / Poison
Best Name: Nebulak (German)
I can’t confirm this, but I feel like a lot of people my age spelled “ghastly” without the H in Red/Blue‘s heyday, and I wonder if Pokémon played at least a subconscious role in it. I could very well be wholly fabricating this memory, but I feel like it was a thing. It never occurred to me until I saw them one immediately after the other in the National Dex just now, but the round part of Gastly looks an awful lot like the inner core of Cloyster. Is that all we can expect from this short life? To hide in a shell and prevent people from knowing the truth we keep inside, until we die and float around the ether, stinking up the joint? Bleak. B
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250px-093haunter093. Haunter
Type: Ghost / Poison
Best Name: Spectrum (French)
Not really sold on the name. All ghosts are haunters! (Well, except the ones that aren’t, I guess.) Glad to see it take on a slightly more corporeal shape, though. And disembodied extremities are always a favorite design choice of mine. I like Haunter in the games because once Gastly becomes Haunter, it can learn the powerful Dream Eater attack. I wonder what dreams taste like. My guess? Cotton candy. Once again, the Japanese predilection for using simple English words as Pokémon names rears its head in hilarious fashion: Haunter’s Japanese name is simply “Ghost”. B
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250px-094gengar094. Gengar
Type: Ghost / Poison
Best Name: Ectoplasma (French)
Look, I know Gengar is supposed to be some kind of shadow-stealing ghost, and quite imposing at almost five feet with a bulky frame, but heaven help me if I don’t want to hug it until its eyes pop out. It calls to mind the kind of life-size companion doll you get for lonely children, like the My Buddy I had when I was three years old. Now, Mega Gengar? Not huggable at all. But assuming my arms wouldn’t pass right through regular Gengar, I’d love to put the big purple lug on a one-way train to Hugsville. Ghosts need love too! A-
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250px-095onix095. Onix
Type: Rock / Ground
Best Name: Rongseuton (Korean)
Is that an Onix in your Pokéball, or are you just happy to see me? Minor points off because I associate onyx the stone with black, which is not represented anywhere on its body (line work and shading excepted), even in shiny form, where a sleek black coat would do wonders for its BA factor. Lord knows it needs the boost. Historically, Onix has gotten kind of hosed in terms of being allowed to build a reputation. Even though it’s a hulking granite serpent, its trading cards aren’t very good and it can be taken down very easily by some basic elemental types.

If you need a prime example of this hosing, look no further than the anime, wherein Ash’s Pikachu defeated Brock’s Onix by setting off the sprinkler system, then using a Thunderbolt to zap its brains out. Rather than making it seem as though Onix was outwitted, however, it instead makes the show look dumb, because that is STRAIGHT BALONEY. Ground types are completely immune to electric attacks. In a fair and just world, the lightning would have bounced off Onix like a pebble, and it would have patronized Pikachu á la Mr. Hollywood before sprawling out on top of it to end the match. And thus would have been born the phrase “you don’t bring a Pikachu to an Onix fight”. Still, despite the hard-knock life, Onix’s performance issues are tough to overlook entirely, even though it is a massive boulder-snake, which is about as cool as raw high-concept ideas come. B+
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250px-096drowzee096. Drowzee
Type: Psychic
Best Name: Traumato (German)
Looks like a tapir that just crawled out of a fondue pot, or a mud bath. I wonder how relaxing a mud bath is. Similar spa-like activities I have never experienced that I would also like to participate in: hot stone massage, acupuncture, sensory deprivation. Recalling a tapir character in a similar capacity from the Famicom game Cocoron, I wondered if tapirs had a consistent connection to dreams, and it turns out they do. Creatures like Drowzee are called baku. According to legend (and Wikipedia), “they were created from the spare pieces that were left over when the gods had finished creating all other animals.” Yeesh. If I was a tapir/baku/Drowzee and I knew that factoid, my self-esteem would be in the toilet. So next time you think about throwing shade at Drowzee for taking so many resort vacations, maybe step back and think about that first. Ignore the haters, Drowzee, treat yo’self. B
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250px-097hypno097. Hypno
Type: Psychic
Best Name: English
Hypno has a big nose and a giant untamed tuft of body hair, and he’s never seen without his pocket watch. That’s right: Hypno is your grandfather who secretly spent your entire Chuck E. Cheese birthday party wishing he was at home tinkering with his train set. B- 
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250px-098krabby098. Krabby
Type: Water
Best Name: English
I’ll grant that there was a window of about one year in North America where Pokémon existed and SpongeBob Squarepants did not. But after that, if you didn’t name every single Krabby you ever caught Mr. Krabs, regardless of gender, then I think your odds of passing my background check are slim at best. C
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250px-099kingler099. Kingler
Type: Water
Best Name: Krabboss (French)
Another piece of common ground I hope you and I share, dear reader, is a love of seafood. I don’t know about you, but for yours truly, there are few culinary experiences more beautiful than cracking a leg or claw of king crab (with my bare hands—no metal implements for this fatty) and mining a rich vein of crab meat. I mean, look at that Kingler claw. Doesn’t that look incredible? I could never get a fix from surimi after that. Do I realize I’m salivating over a cartoon crab? Yes. Am I aware I just spent an entire paragraph grading a Pokémon on how I imagine it tastes and not any of its actual qualities? Yes. Am I going to shut up and move on anyway? It’s yes with the hat trick! B+
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250px-100voltorb100. Voltorb
Type: Electric
Best Name: Jjiririgong (Korean)
A Pokémon based on a Pokéball is the kind of ridiculous meta nonsense you would think the developers would roll out only when they really started to get desperate for ideas, like, say, the fourth generation. Nope. Right out there in Gen I. And you thought I had trouble wrapping my brain around Magnemite biology. My best current theory (NOTE: “best” does not necessarily imply high quality) posits that a Geodude was humping a Pokéball when a lightning storm cast an errant spark that gave life to their forbidden love. But then there I go, writing the very blurbs I cast aspersions on in the Magnemite piece. Doubt that tale will make it into the Pokédex. D
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Next time: Electrode to Weezing

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All 720 Pokémon, Graded. Part 9 — Nos. 81 to 90 (Magnemite to Shellder)

It’s time once again for All 720 Pokémon Graded, where we judge Nintendo’s famous creations on an academic scale and see which ones rise to the top and which are found wanting. In this installment, I reject Pokémon’s reality and substitute my own.
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081. Magnemite
Type: Electric / Steel
Best Name: Coil (Japanese)
This is where things start to get dicey for me, biologically speaking. So it’s times like this where instead of trying to wrap my head around the idea of a robot made of magnets, screws, and hovering apparatuses undergoing natural evolution, I retreat to my headcanon, which is as follows: Perfect Man visited Earth once already, and his voice was heard. The voice of Imperfect Man must now be made manifest, and I—wait, no. That’s the beginning of the Willie Nelson album Yesterday’s Wine. THIS is my Pokémon headcanon:

Pokémon are hard light holograms, making Pokéballs like flash drives, albeit holding a single Pokémon, so more like an Amiibo, I suppose. When you encounter a Pokémon in the wild, you’re really just seeing the data being transmitted at set intervals from a node hidden somewhere nearby (which also accounts for why you encounter one Pokémon in a given area more often than another, because the transmission intervals are set differently). So that explains not only the ghosts and the weirdos based on things like trash bags and ice cream cones and a set of keys, but also your legendaries, pseudo-legendaries, and alleged deities. That means written anything about them in the Pokédex is just flavor text. So e.g., Phantump isn’t actually made from the souls of children who died while lost in the woods, and Cubone isn’t actually sad that its mother died.

This isn’t a perfect theory—for one thing, it requires everyone on all continents to participate in a social construct on a massive scale involving no less than total commitment to belief in myths and supernatural phenomena, and anyone who chose not to participate would be at best excluded entirely from the most basic elements of society, if not ostracized and/or vilified—but it keeps me from wanting to automatically give any Pokémon not modeled on a carbon-based life form an F.

All that said, I don’t dislike Magnemite because it’s an unholy affront to nature. I dislike it for its astronomical encounter rate. I’m trying to trespass on an abandoned power plant here. You’re like little robo-gnats. Go away! C
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082. Magneton
Type: Electric / Steel
Best Name: Rarecoil (Japanese)
Attaching three Magnemites to each other is not “evolving”. It is building an erector set. D+
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083. Farfetch’d
Type: Normal / Flying
Best Name: Canarticho (French)

Considering some that came afterward (to say nothing of some from the same generation), it seems quaint to think that a duck wielding a scallion earned the title of Farfetch’d, as though this is the one that will finally make the barrier to entry too high for newbies and make them throw up their hands and say, “Nope! Too weird. I’M OUT.” I suspect the Farfetch’d moniker may in fact be a Western commentary on its Japanese name, which derives from their proverb “a duck comes bearing green onions”, meaning “something surprising but convenient”. In which case, “Contriv’d” might have been a more fitting name.

In Red/Blue, you can trade with a NPC for a Farfetch’d named Dux. If you’re a connoisseur of fine action cinema, your brain should go straight to Frank Dux, the protagonist of Bloodsport, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Sadly, there is no climactic scene in the game where your rival’s Pidgeot throws glass in Farfetch’d’s eyes and it has to fight blind. I will probably rate Farfetch’d way too highly because of this connection. B+
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084. Doduo
Type: Normal / Flying
Best Name: English
One of my favorite mythological creatures, for as long as I can recall, is the roc. It speaks to my love of simple yet elegant idea equations—in this case, give a scavenging bird an extra head and supersize it. You might see, then, why I’m not terribly enamored of this gawky ostrich-looking thing. The children are right to laugh at you, Doduo. These beaks couldn’t cut butter. C
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085. Dodrio
Type: Normal / Flying
Best Name: English
Now we’re talkin’. Mean faces are on point. These triplets are spoilin’ to Drill Peck some eyeballs out, and I don’t want to be the first guy to walk around the corner when they’ve gotta scratch that itch. What was once a wimpy kindergarten doodle is now a legitimately intimidating avian hydra. Three heads are definitely better than two. Solid work. B+
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086. Seel
Type: Water
Best Name: Otaria (French)
Not sure what’s up with the wolfpupy look, and even less sure of the unicorn horn, but I’m digging both choices. I could compare this Pokémon to a kiss from a rose on the grey, but that would be neither relevant nor funny. B
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087. Dewgong
Type: Water / Ice
Best Name: English
A lithe, elegant, majestic sea mammal … that still looks like a puppy. Underwhelming, not to mention a bit visually jarring. Still, a seaworthy companion, even if the cons of Ice types tend to outweigh the pros. Apropos of nothing, I’d like to see one disembowel a penguin, for nothing more than my personal amusement. B
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088. Grimer
Type: Poison
Best Name: Tadmorv (French)
Grimer—or Grimey, as he likes to be called—is a hillock of lilac-colored diarrhea with wide-open hypercaffeinated eyes and a mouth that never closes. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Grimer shut its mouth. Such behavior would dry out a lesser creature’s tongue, but Grimer’s poisonous liquid innards (and outards) keep it well-lubricated. Always looks like it’s doing an impression of Judge Doom melting in The Dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which was the first movie scene that ever gave me nightmares (at age four). B
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089. Muk
Type: Poison
Best Name: Betbeton (Japanese)
So, the way to evolve a mound of poisonous goo is to pour more poisonous goo on it. Roger that. Muk seems like the kind of guy who would talk to you at a party if he noticed you looked nervous because you didn’t know anyone there. Fun to chill with.[1] You can bet his farts will be absolutely vile though. I don’t have much to say about Muk, but 12-year-old me would like everyone to know that “Muk” spelled backwards is “Kum”. Clearly, the Ekans naming system is a powerful tool that must be kept out of the wrong hands. B
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090. Shellder
Type: Water
Best Name: Muschas (German)
Sticking your tongue out is very rude. Besides, what have you got to be impudent about? You should be smiling! You’re a clam, after all. You have a reputation to uphold. C+
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Next time: Cloyster to Voltorb


[1] This was originally “Netflix and chill” before my wife informed me that that phrase implies the eventuality of sex. I’m glad I don’t have to date anymore.

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The Levels of Super Mario World, Ranked

Super Mario World, the launch title for the SNES, turns 25 years old on November 21. That’s right: it can no longer mooch off its parents’ insurance. In honor of this momentous quarter-century, Cheese & Pixels takes a quick peek at almost every level in the game. (Excluded: Yoshi’s House and the Top Secret Area, which aren’t really levels in the traditional sense.)

Each link contains a YouTube video of that level, in case you don’t know or have forgotten how they go.

74. Back Door
Only cream puffs take the back door.

73. Yoshi’s Island 4
The only thing worse than a hot mess is a boring hot mess. Dry-land interlude with Pokey is somehow both bizarre and bland, and serves to highlight that there are, astoundingly, no desert levels in this game. Big 1-up potential in this level if you play your cards right.

72. Forest of Illusion 2
Very cramped. Lots of treading water waiting to move forward. Clever hidden exit, but mostly this level is a drag, and because of the key/hole, you have to do it twice.

71. Green Switch Palace
After Yellow, they tend to blur together.

70. Morton’s Castle (#2)
Arguably the lamest boss fight in the game. The bonus room at the beginning is really hard to reach.

69. Forest Ghost House
Both of this level’s exits are in the same general area; you just explore a little farther to get to one than the other. Lame.

68. Blue Switch Palace
Too much prep work for too little reward. At least it’s the last one.

67. Valley of Bowser 2
Not only does this level moves slower than a tortoise with a hernia, but worse, there are no real stakes to it either, unless you’ve somehow managed to make it this far without knowing how to run. And imagine how many times a person has to slog through this level trying to find the secret exit if they don’t know where it is (and it’s pretty well hidden)! At least you can bail out early if you have a Yoshi (via Yoshi’s Wings).

66. Star World 5
Too easy to bypass the P-Switch/block-chain shenanigans. Both the cape and Blue Yoshi handily break this level. I can’t tell, do you think they want you to have found all the Switch Palaces by this point?

65. Donut Secret House
Big Boo is somehow less effective as a boss than as a regular enemy.

64. Star World 3
As clever a puzzle as this level presents, I’m not sure it should comprise the entirety of the level. Even certain inanimate objects can reach the regular exit.

63. Donut Plains 2
Another glacially paced cave level, this one an autoscroller. It is nifty that there are multiple ways to reach the secret exit.

62. Star World 4
Crazy that it takes this long into the Star Road to get to some actual platforming. Unfortunately, easy access to Yoshi-based flight makes it a little too simple, including finding the secret exit.

61. Donut Secret 2
One of the few ice levels in the game. Underrealized. If you get all the secrets as you go along, you get your first glimpse of the Valley of Bowser heading into this level, which is surprisingly intimidating from the periphery.

60. Butter Bridge 2
Though it’s loaded to the hilt with Super Koopas, it can’t hold a candle to the manic frenzy of its immediate predecessor.

59. Vanilla Dome 1
For some reason, I find this an odd level to start the world out on. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t scream “vanilla” to me. Though I suppose that’s not fair, since none of the previous world’s levels scream “donut”.

58. Star World 2
a.k.a. Here, Have a Free Game-Breaking Blue Baby Yoshi, Which You Can Instantly Turn Into an Adult by Letting It Eat the Free Invincibility Star We Dropped In, and We’ll Even Let You Keep It If You Bail Out of the Level Early by Pressing Start+Select, Oh, and We Forgot to Design a Level After the First Screen, We’ll Fill It with Some Random Fish and Hopefully You Won’t Notice.

57. Mondo
The rising/falling tide is more of a nuisance than a challenge. If you can hang onto your Yoshi, it doesn’t get as hairy as the Special World levels normally tend to.

56. Red Switch Palace
Bit of an element of danger due to the rainbow shell chasing you. It gets easier to die as you reach each new Switch Palace, but never exactly hard.

55. Chocolate Island 5
Surprisingly short. There’s some fun to be had at the start, but this one flies by like a breeze, even compared to other, rompier SMW levels.

54. Way Cool
I would say only a coward would take the Yoshi’s Wings route out of here, but getting the Yoshi the level provides is enough of a puzzle that if you manage it, you kind of earned it. (Going back and grabbing a Yoshi from the Star Road, however, is 100 percent cowardly, no question.) Otherwise, this is a pretty nasty level, requiring some major calisthenics to avoid the Fuzzies if you’re not caped up.

53. Chocolate Secret
The real chocolate secret of Dinosaur Land? Bowser’s minions really really like American football.

52. Forest of Illusion 4
Oh, Fishin’ Lakitu, how can I resist your life-bestowing green fungus bait? Trick question–I can’t. I like how the bluish-green background gives the stage a humid feeling. Secret exit’s too easy to find, considering the possibilities.

51. Valley of Bowser 1
Good claustrophobic use of Chargin’ Chucks and Mega Moles, especially the latter. Though it’s never mandatory, it’s fun to seek out all the Dragon Coins in this level. There’s a 3-Up Moon in plain sight here–perhaps a mea culpa for the rough times ahead?

50. Donut Secret 1
Agreeable, as water levels go. Fun P-Balloon interlude. Love the physics of swimming with an item in hand.

49. Forest of Illusion 1
Love that Starman run. Love barreling through Wigglers for 2-ups. Nice measured P-Balloon use.

48. Chocolate Island 4
When I was a kid, I wanted to eat this level. Something about a chocolate cave just sounds so delicious.

47. Yoshi’s Island 3
This was the first time I noticed that the music contains an extra conga track if you’re riding Yoshi. First occurrence of the Star Block, which gives you a 1-up if you collected 30 coins in the level before hitting it.

46. Vanilla Ghost House
Green gas bubbles, woOoOoOoOoOo

45. Donut Plains 3
To get to this level on the map, you have to cross a bridge, and every time you do, a fish jumps out of the water. When I was little, my cousin Chris told me that if that fish ate you, you went to a special bonus level. I spent HOURS trying to get that fish to eat me before I realized I had been trolled. THANKS, CHRIS.

44. Iggy’s Castle  (#1)
I’ve always loved the first half of the level with the fences; the plodding smasher section, not so much. If you think I will not take the time to squeeze every last 1-up out of that fence segment, you don’t know anything about me. Raise your hand if you wait at the door to Iggy’s lair for the last smasher to come down and enter right before it crushes you. Now raise your hand if you didn’t know there was a smasher there. My best friend in elementary school tattled on me to his mom when I beat Iggy instead of him.

43. Awesome
I bet a lot of people think this level is not awesome, but it’s far from the worst, though it does make one kind of glad there’s not a snow world, and also that it’s the only level that generates projectile Cheep-Cheeps. The star in the second half makes for maximum run ‘n’ gun fun, but you have to have some discipline with it too.

42. Vanilla Secret 2
The green cliff aesthetic is unique to this level. If you have a cape and your turtle-pouncing game is on point, you and Yoshi can rack up quite a few extra lives, the opportunity to do so again shortly afterward with Spinys and a silver P-Switch notwithstanding.

41. Roy’s Castle (#5)
Debut of the block snake, i.e. the moving platform that consumes its own hind end as it moves forward. These, along with the giant spikes, would be used to greater, sometimes excessive effect in the New Super Mario Bros. series; here, it’s amazing they made it work at all. Roy’s shades and contracting walls make him slightly cooler than his bossmate Morton, but only by a fraction.

40. Cookie Mountain
Surely I’m not the only person who in 2006 highly suspected TV on the Radio were closet Nintendo fans.

39. Star World 1
The joy of spin-jumping, the agony of missing cool rewards because you couldn’t see them. Careful with the cape here.

38. Groovy
I.e., the level on the title screen. I always get a little wigged out when I get past the point the demo reaches. Something in my brain rebels against it, like “There shouldn’t be any more! It should fade out here!” It’s easy to see why they chose it for the title screen–it is a pretty tidy elevator pitch for what the game is all about. That second half, though–woof.

37. Vanilla Fortress
The first of four sorta-castles featuring the four dinos known collectively as Reznor (no relation) as an end boss, and wouldn’t you know, it’s an underwater stage. The Fishbones’ combination of implacable and obstructive can be quite irritating. There’s an alternate path that forces you to be small to take it—rather unusual for this game, which normally doesn’t force you to make such sacrifices, especially for such inconsequential gain.

36. Vanilla Secret 1
THIS is the level that should be Vanilla Dome 1, rather than inhabiting the secret path. I can’t explain why it fits better, I just think it does. Literal LOL at the Blue Switch tease in this level–like anyone with a cape and half a brain isn’t making it up to that secret pipe.

35. Chocolate Island 3
One of a handful of “find the secret exit or you’re not going anywhere” levels. There’s a wide berth underneath the goal and arrow signs pointing beyond it. It isn’t a subtle hint by any means, but it might help you make a mental connection to a much earlier stage…

Also contains one of the most purely fun bonus areas in the game.

34. Valley of Bowser 4
a.k.a. the Diggin’ Chuck level, where he hucks rocks at you with a hockey stick. Clever that you have to keep your Yoshi all the way through to be able to access the secret exit; not so great that you have to play literally the entire level twice. This is where I learned you can break turn blocks while riding Yoshi if you mount him while spin-jumping. There’s a pipe leading to an ice segment that takes you slightly backwards, yet is fascinating as a geographical link to Donut Secret 2.

33. Donut Plains 4
You can touch Morton’s castle from here if you stretch your arm a little. Is this really a necessary stop? Still, lots of nifty elements debut here, such as growing/shrinking pipes, parachuting Goombas, and the Amazing Flying Hammer Brother.

32. Lemmy’s Castle (#3)
Alas, poor Lemmy, we hardly knew ye, before thy skin was melted off in boiling lava, verily. Debut of Kamek, here called Magikoopa, in the role of a more-annoying-than-average mook rather than the ward of the infant Bowser.

31. Vanilla Dome 2
Kicking the beached fish at the beginning is more fun than it has any right to be. Regular path substantially tougher than secret path.

30. Choco-Ghost House
More neat premieres here, including moving pits and Boos that turn into concrete blocks. Amazing that the game continues to introduce fresh ideas and technical feats as far as world six (and beyond). Fishin’ Boo, your fire sacrifice ain’t appeasing this gaming god. So why are the two most yin/yang ghost houses, Chocolate and Vanilla, the only two with only one exit? Coincidence—or co-conspirators?

29. Chocolate Island 1
Love the Dino-Rhinos—the big lumbering ones and the little ones with the purposeful stride and the fire breath. Wish they were in more levels, but Nintendo’s always been good about having restraint with the cooler elements of their games. Some excellent cannon pipe work in this one.

28. Larry’s Castle (#7)
This level must have been an inspiration to many a New Super Mario Bros. castle designer. I like that you can ride the block snake’s descent at the end to a hidden lower area with goodies, though it’s a little mean that they stowed the midpoint down there as well. Magikoopa returns, though not in nearly as threatening a capacity. Arguably the best victory cutscene: Mario PICKS UP THE CASTLE AND DROPKICKS IT OFF-SCREEN LIKE A FRIGGIN’ BOSS, then faces the camera and does a V-for-victory mic drop. No one could touch Mario back then. People thought Sonic could, but he couldn’t. NO ONE could.

27. Yoshi’s Island 1
Solid “1-1” type level. Hits bullet points of bigger and better while managing several amazing technical feats. By the midpoint alone, we see: diagonal platforms, giant enemies, flying question blocks, spin-jumping to break turn blocks, and a diagonal pipe that fires you out like a cannonball. Maybe a little more telling than showing with the -POINT OF ADVICE- blocks, but it was a new console and times were changing.

26. Valley of Bowser 3
After some pretty harrowing levels, this one’s a breather, despite mostly being situated over bottomless pits. The only level to feature Timed Lifts. (Hey! You better watch out! He knows about Timed Lifts!) If you still have the blue Yoshi you can get in Valley of Bowser 1, you can easily beast-mode this level.

25. Donut Ghost House
What stands out to me about this level is the room with the big coin arrow. You can take its advice and follow it to a door where you get a bunch of coins and then reach the exit, or you can totally turn your back on it and find another exit. It’s hard to remember now, but that sort of thing didn’t happen in those days. In a different kind of game, one or the other direction might well have ended in a Sierra-type death trap. This would eventually grow into a more cohesive “gently screwing with you” Weltanschauung, though later games would sometimes take it to genuinely unnerving extremes.

24. Vanilla Dome 3
Home to one of my favorite subtle graphical touches: usually one skull of the skull raft vibrates harder than the others, giving the effect of a trolling motor. One of the few levels that rewards flying in more ways than just skipping over the whole thing.

23. Yoshi’s Island 2
Great 1-up setpiece at the beginning. The player is introduced to Yoshi here. Weird to see him speak English nowadays. What’s great about this level is that you can play it without doing the Yellow Switch Palace, but the blocks are dotted lines, suggesting that what should be there is missing, and in the process gently encouraging you to figure out how to fill them in. Nintendo’s impeccable design philosophy at work.

22. Vanilla Dome 4
I’ve always loved the starry night backdrop in this level despite it being in the dome world. Bullet Bill generators are lots of fun here.

21. Chocolate Fortress
Bowser’s greatest threat yet: LEAD POISONING.

It warms my heart to see Thwomp and Thwimp working together. Quite a father/son team dynamic they’ve got going there. It almost makes me a little sad when they’re trapped inside red or blue “!” blocks.

20. Yellow Switch Palace
Always good for two, usually three 1-ups. Seeing the island shift and grow to create the path to the Palace still makes my heart soar.

19. Wendy’s Castle (#6)
Introduction to the giant spikes, relentless in their crushing abilities. (You don’t even get invincibility frames!) They’re not quite as imposing here as in a near-future appearance, but they still demand to be felt. This level is quite stingy with power-ups; BYOP from the Top Secret Area if you have to, because you don’t get anything good until just shy of Wendy’s lair.

18. Gnarly
A gentle, yet architecturally intriguing introduction to the Special World. There’s a lot to unpack in this level if you’re willing to put in the exploration time, and you’ll get rewarded generously with 1-ups if you do, which you’re going to need. The message block teasing a “strange new world” for those who complete the Special levels makes me a little sad, since it always makes me wish it was actually a brand new world and not just a somewhat bizarre palette swap.

17. Donut Plains 1
Intro to both Cape Feathers and secret exits. This is where the game opens up wide. The isolated bonus area where you practice flying is one of the all-time great “learn by doing” segments in gaming history. Pitchin’ Chuck and Volcano Lotus are a scary combo, but did you know you can neutralize both his baseballs and its fireballs by hitting them with the cape?

16. Valley Ghost House
I forgot all about the brief return of the green ghost bubbles in this level, because there’s so much to wade through here with regard to finding the secret exit. It’s not so bad now, but when I was young, manipulating the block snake up to the top of the room and duck-sliding into the tiny gap before the P-Switch ran out and turned my hard-driven path back to coins was practically the thirteenth labor of Hercules. Not to mention you have to make a solid run with no margin for error in the room before just to get to the door that leads to that room—otherwise you get dumped at the goal, a hollow victory if ever this game had one. The difficulty both of finding the keyhole and maneuvering your way up to it hold up to this day; I can’t help but doff my cap to this maddening puzzle.

15. Forest of Illusion 3
Prepare for trouble, and make it bubble! A level better off rushed; it can really get out of control if you let it. Even to this day I adore the idea that you’re not leaving the forest unless you find that secret exit.

14. Outrageous
My vote for actual hardest Special World level, far more so than the infamous Tubular. Man, this one is a bear. Between the Bullet Bills, Wigglers, and the jumping Hot Foot flames, you have to be pretty incredible to get through this one unscathed. Yoshi is an absolute must for this one.

13. Forest Fortress
The first half of the level is much easier if you’ve unlocked all the Switch Palaces, and the second half is quite generous if you’ve mastered cape flight. This is the point where the game really begins to reward you for being on top of secret hunting.

12. Valley Fortress
Giant Spikes II: The Re-Crushening. This one’s a major toughie. No midpoint, either!

11. Ludwig’s Castle (#4)
Bonus points for being the only boss with attack mechanics unshared with one of his siblings, as well as the only boss with a chamber wider than a single screen. Another candidate for best victory cutscene, though the more I think about it, the more I think I like Larry’s the most. Did you know there’s a pipe leading to a bonus room in the black negative space outside the starting corridor? The short block in the ceiling just before the door with the mushroom sitting next to it is a fake. I had to look at Lunar Magic maps to learn that.

10. Forest Secret Area
Strap in: it’s about to be a fast ride! I’ve never figured out how to get the three 1-ups behind the goal.

9. Vanilla Secret 3
The dolphins are a blast, but young Jess found the Porcu-Puffer quite harrowing. If you don’t have Yoshi, stay out of the water! I like the line of giant coin arrows pointing to the right at the end—like I’m suddenly going to flake out and go back the way I came. “Well, I was thinking of turning around, but this giant horde of symbolically arranged treasure convinced me otherwise!”

8. Funky
Speaking of symbolically arranged treasure: YOU ARE A SUPER PLAYER !! This is usually the last level I play before heading off to Bowser’s Castle, and even here there’s something new to marvel at: the green berries, seen in no other level, which add 20 seconds to the clock. And you are going to need all that extra time, especially if you plan on dilly-dallying and/or taking in this level’s many charms.

7. Chocolate Island 2
The infamous time-based level, where the route you take depends both on how quickly you move and how many coins you get as well (there’s an excellent breakdown in the linked video). Blow through to get the secret exit; take a tad bit more time for the regular one. Might have been a more interesting gimmick in a castle or ghost house, but it’s astounding that they came up with it at all, much less successfully implemented it.

6. Soda Lake
Gets my vote for hardest level in the game. If not hardest, top three for sure. Nintendo is to be commended for exercising the restraint to only use Torpedo Ted in this level.

Here’s a fun literal interpretation of this level (warning: non sequitur-packed commentary).

5. Sunken Ghost Ship
By far the most atmospheric of the ghost houses. Swimming through the disappearing and reappearing Boos is tense, even with as much breathing room as they give you. Watching the gate to the Valley of Bowser rise from the sea is truly an epic moment.

4. Butter Bridge 1
An autoscroller with real stakes and tension. The danger here is palpable. Despite that, its layout is intuitive and elegant. Bonus points for inspiring this picture.

3. Cheese Bridge Area
Without question, the best hidden secret exit in the game. Not even a contest. As in Chocolate Island 3, the game gives you extra lives JUST FOR FINDING IT. This game really loves to hand out treats for bypassing goal markers.

2. Tubular
I’ve gone on at length about this level before, so I’ll just summarize what I said then: this level is just about perfect. No other level presents such a high degree of challenge with such elegance and brevity. It combines gameplay elements in a fresh and exciting way and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s hard but not close to impossible, and beating it gives you a satisfaction that many other levels don’t.

1. Bowser’s Castle
To the very last, Super Mario World throws new things at the player. New enemies abound here: the Mecha-Koopas, the living hopping variant of the fire-breathing statues, even Ninji from Super Mario Bros. 2 makes an appearance for no discernible reason. Plus, you get the dark room leading up to Bowser with the disco spotlight. The only thing that could have made this level cooler is having to play all the doors instead of just choosing two. (Best two choices: 2 and 8).

Then there’s the final boss fight, still one of the most intense, protracted battles in the series. Peals of thunder rip through the background, fire falls from the sky. Bowser appears in his now-famous Clown Car, a flying, bouncing monstrosity with an unsettling placid grin containing a pocket dimension that operates outside the laws of time and space (well, how else does he keep those all those giant balls in there?). Super Mario World carried the unenviable burden of showcasing the technical horsepower of a new console, and it cracked off new and impressive ideas in almost every level, rarely if ever missing a step, culminating in this incredible final showdown.

Boogie on, Super Mario World. Here’s to 25 more years of being a stone-cold classic.

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