Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Round-Up of the Seasonal Foodstuffs of Summer 2016!

A celebration of the limited time only junk foods that made the past three months the most awesome ever for poor diet enthusiasts all over America!


By: Jimbo X
@Jimbo__X

For some people, summer means trips to the beach and sunshine and fireworks and ice cream trucks. But for me, the summer season means one thing, and one thing only: limited time only seasonal foodstuffs

Indeed, the sweltering May through August window represents a primo opportunity for junk food and fast food manufacturers to grace the masses (and their ever-expanding waistlines) with some high-caliber novelty foodstuffs. There is really no need for "subtlety" at this point in the year - it's way too hot for that shit, after all. With everybody sweating out buckets, retailers and mass manufacturers can pretty much push out whatever insane, unhealthy gunk and goop they want and get away with it. Indeed, it's the premier time of year to roll out any and all ideas the PR handlers and market researchers have drummed up, no matter how ludicrous and unlikely to generate a profit - it being the end of the fiscal year for many companies, they pretty much have free rein to dump as much half-baked crap out into the market as they desire, without really having to worry about the financial consequences.

And ... as you will no doubt soon see for yourself ... when it comes to utterly ridiculous special edition novelty foodstuffs, there probably hasn't been - and perhaps, never will be - a crop of gimmicky limited-time online junk food as remarkable as the stuff we nommed over the last three months. Tie on your bibs, raise your trusty sporks and shed a nostalgic tear, if you must ... the following is a heartfelt ode to the crazy, kooky and sometimes crappy LTO foods that made the summer of '16 the downright wackiest ever.    


Burger King's Whopper Dogs!

When Burger King's grilled hot dogs went national last winter, there wasn't a whole lot of fanfare. While some pretentious snobs absolutely savaged the products, I just sort of thought the menu addendums were "OK." Not good, but certainly not bad, either - just kinda' there


The Whopper Dogs - which came out in that weird inter-phase between spring and summer - take the core idea of the grilled hot dogs to their next logical phase. If the standard hot dogs are Charmanders, than the Whopper Dog - of course, dressed up in all the accouterments of the flagship BK product - is the chain's Charmeleon. As Pearl Jam once declared, "it's evolution, baby." 


The amazing thing about the Whopper Dog, to me at least, was just how much it tasted like a standard Whopper burger. Yeah, it was a hot dog, through and through, but the Whopper mouthfeel - it's saltiness, it's gustatory texture, it's general flavor - totally resonated through the product. For years, I thought the smoky beef patty was what made the Whopper the Whopper, but after downing this sumbitch, I've had to change my tune: it really is the toppings (the onions, the lettuce, the pickles) that give the Whopper it's true essence. And - as weird as it may sound - I still got that holistic Whopper feeling, even in wiener form. Considering how poorly received the hot dogs have been, however, it's pretty much a given that the items are on the fast track to being shelved, thus making them something of a Pokemon GO era equivalent of the Arch Deluxe. Trust me, 40 years from now, your grandkids are going to be asking you what that "shitty Whopper hot dog" tasted like the same way kids today keep pestering their elders to know what New Coke was like. And so that future generations will know the truth as she did doth shine - yeah, these things really did taste a lot like a Whopper, somehow.


Ben & Jerry's Empower Mint Ice Cream!

So earlier this year, when 60-year-old men who still have ponytails thought Bernie Sanders actually had a chance at becoming POTUS, Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen sold a limited edition non-canonical flavor dedicated to Vermont socialist online, with sales going directly to the senator's destined-to-fail presidential campaign. This nationally retailed, limited time only ice cream is pretty much a re-do of that product, only sans the Sanders-branding. Because if there is one thing high-calorie dessert marketing definitely needs more of, it's fucking partisan politics. 


As you can see by the packaging material, however, the Empower Mint ice cream (get it?) doesn't officially endorse any one candidate. Instead, it's a product that promotes general participation in the representative democracy process, which by now, we all know is a crock of something that most definitely isn't sweetened, congealed milk in partially frozen form. 


Oh, and if the self-congratulatory, auto-fellatio about the morality of voting isn't grating enough, the package also takes a sly dig at the McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court ruling. Yeah, you tell everybody about the evils of money influencing politics, guy with a net worth of $150 million who actively campaigned for a presidential candidate who collected $228 million in donations


Oh, and for the product itself? Well, basically, it's just vanilla ice cream with thin mints in it. Except it's nearly twice as expensive as all the other thin mint flavored vanilla ice creams on the market, and you only get about half the serving size as you get from competing ice cream merchants, despite said products retailing for the exact same price. Yeah, it's a pretty forgettable food product, but as a mind-blind example of the worst of consumer capitalism, my goodness, does it ever do a fantastic job of demonstrating everything it piously rails against. 


Doritos Loaded Nacho Cheese ... uh, things!

Now here's a really weird one. It's not so much the idea that there are Doritos-flavored microwaveable cheese-wedge thingies on the market, as it is the marketers forgot to give the fucking things a real name. You can look all over the box, and nowhere does it give you any indication as to what a Doritos Loaded is, exactly. Not "cheese stick,' "not breaded snack," nothing. So I take it we are just supposed to called them Doritos Loadeds, in their plural form? Man, that's all kinds of awkward-sounding. 


Simply put, these babies are your paint-by-numbers frozen breastaurant entree offerings, ultimately no different than all the other dime a dozen jalapeno poppers and fried mushroom bits hanging out next to the Totino's pizzas in your preferred grocer's ice box. The variable, of course, is that they come coated in what appears (and tastes) like mulched up Doritos dust (which, judging by the runaway success of Taco Bell's DLTs, is a far, far more popular flavor than anyone would probably want to consider.) 


Admittedly, these things are pretty tasty. The Doritos taste is there, but the interior molten cheese is clearly the dominant flavor, as it should be the case with any frozen cheese stick permutation worth its salt. They are big, bulky and about a half dozen of them should fill you up unless you really are a gargantuan fatass, so I guess they are a pretty good monetary deal, too. There's also another, non-nacho cheese flavor on store shelves - I think it's pepper jack, but I could be misled - so if you want to get your, uh, Doritos Loaded on, at least you got options. 


Red, White & Blue! Twinkies!

Simply put, Twinkies are about as American as lying on your taxes and hating the ever loving dog shit out of the metric system. So naturally, the only way to make Twinkies even more American, of course, is to trot out some special edition Fourth of July-flavored snack cakes speckled with a whole hell of a lot of red, white, and blue. 


Yeah, it sounds like a winning prospect, but I have to say I am quite disappointed by Hostess' lack of effort on this one. Basically, the product is a standard Twinkie, only with a couple of drops of food coloring on the spongy exterior here and there. And the sad thing is, the blue shows up more green than anything else, effectively making the whole damn thing look like some kind of Christmas fruit cake.


Next to those Hershey bars with chicken pox sores on them, I don't think I have ever encountered a limited time only dessert product that looked this ugly. I mean, basically, the thing looks like a moldy-ass Twinkie - if somebody offered you this at work, there's no way in hell you'd put it in your mouth. Shit, without seeing the carton with your own two eyes, there's no way you would put this in your mouth ANYWHERE, for that matter. 


And for those of you wondering if there is any sort of special "kick" to the LTO, uber-patriotic Twinkie variation, you don't have much to work with. I assure you, despite the green and blue pockmarks all over it, the item tastes just like your standard, gooey, sugary, mushy Twinkie. Which, I suppose isn't necessarily a bad thing - I mean, I guess I'd rather have something that looks like crap but tastes pretty decent than something that looks pretty decent but tastes like crap, wouldn't you? 


Maple Bacon and Watermelon-Flavored Pop-Tarts!

OK, so technically, these are holdovers from Spring 2016, but there ain't no way in hell I'm eating root beer or orange cola flavored Pop-Tarts. Sorry, folks, but there are some co-branded products that are just too out there, even for me. 


Before we even get into the toaster pastries themselves, we've first got to talk about Kellogg's really, really misguided attempt to seem "with it." The back packaging cartoons are just about the cringeist shit you'll see in the breakfast cereal aisle, as they all hinge upon this really crappy, corporate-flavored attempt to nail the absurdist-hipster humor of overrated tripe like Tim and Eric and Bob's Burgers. Sorry guys, but turning Bob Marley into a fucking watermelon-flavored pastry doesn't exactly have me guffawing and going "man, those guys at Kellogg's REALLY get me and my culture." 


As for the toaster pastries themselves. I will give them credit for their aesthetics. The Maple Bacon one - which I am pretty sure has Bacon Bits glued onto it - has a very Duchamp minimalist vibe to it, and the hot pink and neon green watermelon paint job reminds me of the toenail polish worn by really trashy girls with '80s names like Heather and Tiffany. I will never, ever complain about either of those two things. 


And you know what? Taste-wise, these things are pretty good. The Maple Bacon Tart indeed has a nice syrupy interior flavor, which is augmented nicely by the crunchy, crispy faux-pork frosting on the outside shell. Furthermore the Watermelon Tart does indeed taste like a watermelon ... well, watermelon-flavored gum, anyway, which interestingly, makes for a far better toaster pastry taste than any of us probably ever imagined.  


Over the years, I've had some good Tarts and I've had some bad Tarts. Surprisingly, I'd consider both of these LTO offerings to be in the top 20 percentile of all toaster pastries; each had a distinct, atypical and pleasing taste and texture, and perhaps best of all, neither had that all-too-common overly sugary artificial fruit aftertaste that a lot of these toaster pastries tend to have. So yeah, all in all, I'd have to say I am pleased as punch (or, punch flavored Oreos, at the very least) at the unexpectedly high quality of these gimmicky cereal alternatives. And now? To hurry the hell on up and make Dr. Pepper Pop-Tarts a thing, so I can go ahead and check it off my bucket list. 


Burger King's Mac N' Cheetos!

Even if you don't like their menu offerings, you have to give BK some props for at least thinking outside the box. I mean, this is a company who, over the last year, has given us Dr. Pepper milkshakes, a hamburger the same color as Super Mario mushroom and a spooky version of the Whopper that turned your turds turquoise. Hey, if you're going to be a distant second, you might as well be a distant second that does some really, really crazy shit with your product lineup. 


Which is precisely why, as stupid and disgusting as it is, you can't help but smile at the fact that the Mac N' Cheetos exists. You can waltz on in to any Burger King in the continental U.S. and ask for a cardboard box filled with batter-fried macaroni and cheese - I mean, that alone is reason enough to justify American exceptionalism as a legitimate concept. But to top off said batter-fried macaroni and cheese with goddamn junk food seasonings? That, my friends, is why everybody in the world would give their left testicle and/or ovary to migrate to the U.S. of A.


As for the product's taste, texture and tincture? Well, in order, it's a.) very greasy and crispy on the outside, b.) really mushy and creamy on the inside and c.) about the same color as an overcooked cheese stick. Despite the namesake, I didn't really get that much of a cheesy taste from my order, and even weirder, I didn't really get a palpable Cheetos mouthfeel until I had already ground the appetizers into a mulchy, bicuspid-crushed purée neigh close to being digested. I'm not entirely sure how I am supposed to feel about that - or if nature even designed human beings to be able to ponder such - but by golly, I am nonetheless glad I was around to experience it. Hey, it's not everyday that you can say you literally ate "pure postmodern madness" for dinner, after all.


Cold Stone's Shark Week Frenzy!

I've never really thought of "Shark Week" as having that large of a cultural impact (in fact, up until recently, I've routinely confused it with "Lobster Fest" and nobody's felt the need to correct me.) Apparently, the annual Discovery Channel (or is it Animal Planet?) event has made enough of an impression on general society to facilitate its own limited time only tie-in foods, including 7-11 branded doughnuts that bleed crimson frosting on you.  


While Cold Stone Creamery's LTO "Shark Week Frenzy" ice cream ain't quite as awesome as gory pastries, it's nonetheless a pretty cool little offering. Using a chunky, aqua-hued sweet cream as its base (get it, it's supposed to look like the ocean!), the item is topped off with a trifecta of gummy sharks, all of which are hues that I am pretty sure real world sharks typically aren't. Although if there are indeed translucent yellow hammerheads out there, please do feel free to send me some a ZooBook


While the aesthetics are neat, it doesn't take a food Einstein to figure out the product's mechanical engineering shortcoming. Hey, do you know what happens when you put gummy candies on top of extremely cold items, including but not limited to freshly scooped, refrigerated ice cream? That's right, through the magic of reverse convection or some shit, the gummies transform from being soft, pliable and squishy foodstuffs into being virtually inedible clumps of sugar harder to chew than a Pet Rock. But then again, attempting to digest a damn near rock-solid gummy shark with razor sharp fins is guaranteed to make your mouth bleed a little - which, considering the property said dessert is anchored around - has to to be considered at least partially appropriate. 


White Fudge Marshmallow Twinkies!

There is a lot of Ghostbusters-branded limited supply product variations out there, including a special key-lime slime (or is it simply "key slime?") pie iteration of Hostess' flagship product. As fate would have it, however, that's not the only Twinkies tweak on store shelves made in honor of the controversial 'Busters reboot: enter, the White Fudge Marshmallow Twinkies!


As you can no doubt see for yourself, the product takes full advantage of its canonical connection to the original 1984 film, with its box art emblazoned by the smiling visage of the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. That alone makes it a vast, VAST improvement over the crappy Fourth of July Twinkies we discussed earlier, but just you wait: there is a HUGE surprise in store for fans of old school junk foods lurking right around the corner. 


Yeah, the box may say "Twinkies," but take a look at that unwrapped motherfucker: even though the exterior frosting is vanilla-ish, this thing is unquestionably the unpublicized, unstated relaunch of the long, LONG discontinued Chocodile. A rose by any other name is just as sweet, and if you give me a "Chocodile," I'm going to embrace it, no matter what the hell you decide to call it (and yes, I am aware that Hostess has officially relaunched the official chocolate-version of the Chocodile, too, so don't even bother sending me any emails about it.) 


So, yeah, it is pretty much your standard Twinkie (again, absolutely nothing I have any qualms about), but augmented nicely by a thin marshmallows undercurrent and a yummy, sugary shellacking of vanilla frosting. Tis truly a pity these things ain't going to be around for long; indeed, now may be the time to start raiding your nearest grocer, amigos and amigas. 


El Monterey Egg, Potato, Cheese Sauce & Sausage Breakfast Wraps!

El Monterey's lineup of frozen burritos are such a staple of the American bachelor experience that they seem too commonplace to even talk about. I mean, these things are so ubiquitous that writing about them feels like doing deodorant reviews. I mean, it's just fucking regular Degree - I like it, but I really can't give you any glowing hagiography, either, you know? Alas, the long running microwaveable 'rito brand's expansion into the ever-growing  breakfast wrap market is probably worth a few words, I suppose. 


As you can see by the ingredients list, pretty much everything except bacon is included inside the product. You've got scrambled eggs, you've got potatoes, you've got sausage, and you've got something called "cheese sauce," which makes me naturally suspicious. I mean, just calling it "cheese" would have told consumers enough to make an informed purchase, but that "sauce" qualifier makes me start thinking you fellas might be trying to pull one over on me. Like, instead of it being cheese, it is actually an artificial cheese paste, hence, the nomenclature "cheese sauce" to technically work your way around a potential consumer fraud suit. But since it lists real cheddar cheese as an ingredient - well, fuck, maybe I'm just overly paranoid about most things, folks. 


It's a pretty good sized burrito - about the same size as all of the other El Monterey wrapped goods, it appears. These do seem more prone to the dreaded "iceberg surprise," though: you microwave this thing for a good four minutes, the outer shell is all warm and stuff but as soon as you bite into the tortilla, everything inside is frozen solid. And folks, let me tell you - icy scrambled egg ain't nothing you EVER want to feel inside your mouth. 


Once you get the whole kit and caboodle nuked, though, you will find yourself a decent, if not too rudimentary, little breakfast novelty. The sausage and eggs are OK, but the cheese sauce feels very watered down. And it seems like no matter how long you microwave these motherfuckers, the potatoes never, ever get 100 percent hot all the way around. Despite the inclusion of small green chile and tomato chunks, there isn't much spice to the product, and the tortillas tend to get much musher than the brand's dinner-and-supper-time directed burritos. Still, soggy or not, these things are quite serviceable - for less than four bucks, you easily get enough 'rito to last you two or three mornings. Well, unless you are really, really fat - then I'd say these things ought to hold you for at least one Netflix movie. 


Taco Bell's Triple Double Crunchwrap!

Forget the Doritos Loco Taco, the single greatest advent Taco Bell has trotted out over the last decade has to be its proprietary Crunchwrap. It's such a simple, yet brilliant, menu addendum: it's technically just a grilled burrito, except instead of everything being rolled up in a cylinder, the whole she-bang and is laid out relatively flat in the shape of an easily portable and digestible hexagon. It's a feat of edible engineering that works just as well for sausage, egg and chipotle sauce drenched breakfast 'ritos as it does grilled steak and wild rice packed XXL dinner-time offerings. Which, of course, made the existence of the triple double Crunchwrap downright inevitable. 


The best way to describe the Triple Double Crunchwrap is that it's basically a hard shell tostado with a tortilla wrapped around it. As the name would imply, that means that instead of one circular piece of corn shell, you get a full meat, cheese and sauce coated "sandwich" of sorts inside a huge-assed burrito (well, a burrito variation is probably a more fitting word to use.) So, yeah, it's kinda' like a turducken, only, you know, Mexican-ized.  


As far as the ingredients are concerned, you know what you are getting here. Iceberg lettuce, diced up tomatoes and a whole shit load of sour cream make up the mantle, while the core consists of the usual mound of greasy, seasoned beef that's probably safe for human consumption. Interestingly, Taco Bell gives you the option of ordering a "extra spicy" version of the newfangled product, but all that means is that they squirt some chipotle sauce on it and call it good. If you are looking to add a flavorful, fiery twist to the product, you are better off just slathering the TDCW in a couple of packets of Diablo Sauce - or better yet, burying this sumbitch alive in some real hot sauce provided by a third party. 


Needless to say, this is one of the bulkiest Taco Bell products to come along in quite some time. At about $3.49 an order (although you can get one, plus two extra tacos and drink for $5), it's not too expensive, and it will definitely fill you up unless you are a tremendous fatass with a superhuman calorie threshold (meaning, essentially, you are among the 68.8 percent of the total U.S. adult populace medically defined as "overweight.") Granted, it's not the most interesting product to come down the pipes from Ma (Taco) Bell, but it nonetheless a fairly a tasty offering. It's nothing you haven't already experienced before, but it's still going to leave you grinning in a carbohydrate-induced stupor - and really, what's to complain about there? 


Little Debbie's Emoji Brownies!

And we wrap up our whirlwind tour of limited-time-only, summer 2016 foodstuffs with what has to be the most idiosyncratically "summer 2016" thing that could possibly ever exist in edible form. Practically everything about this product - from the "back to school" chalkboard etching on the far-left hand side to the almost anachronistically quaint "available for a limited time only!" biplane banner next to brand mascot - just screams "ephemeral." The same way Crystal Pepsi pretty much summed up early '90s consumer culture in one haphazardly-marketed gimmick, I assure you people 20 years from now will reflect on these suckers as the mid 2010s-junk food zeitgeist. Scoff if you want, but I guaran-damn-tee you that, one day, these things are going to be in The Smithsonian, right beside a cobwebbed iPad Mini 4 and a faded "I'm with Her" bumper sticker. 


I suppose the brownies don't really need any explaining - after all, these hexagonal beauties are pretty much the same thing as those Jack O' Lantern-shaped treats Little Debbie trots out every Halloween. Of course, what makes the products so interesting isn't what they taste like, but what they represent in sugary, cavity-causing form. Talk about a post-post-post-modern product - mass manufactured baked treats modeled after electronic pictographs meant to stand-in for fully-formed, declarative statements about one's temperament via mobile communications. You just know this shit is going to confuse the fuck out of people studying early 21st century history some day. 


Seeing as how, at last count, there are at least 454 billion emojis available on a standard Apple mobile product, the range of emotive brownies is limited to just four expressive treats: your standard smiley face, a winking face (which, depending on whether or not the icing is smudged, can look either flirty or downright sinister), a love struck six-sided, neon-yellow visage with hearts for eyeballs and, of course, a smirking brownie rocking shades, almost as if to be stating "deal with it," before you promptly chew him up into a fine, mushy paste. The funny thing is that there appears to be far more emojis pictured on the packaging art (including a smooching emoji) that aren't represented in official brownie form. Or maybe some emoji brownies are really, really rare, like exotic Pokemon or something, and are only included in every five boxes. Which, even if that isn't true, I'm simply going to circulate if it was, because by golly, if anything can unify this fragmented sociopolitical quagmire called the United States, it's the unbreakable bonds of trying to find uncommon Little Debbie's snacks. 


And what better way to conclude our limited edition novelty-food-a-rama than under the smiling facade of a frosting-imbued spongy brownie? Ultimately, these schlocky, instantly-dated odes to the contemporary symbolize not only what was fantastic about the season's slate of special edition gimmicky foods, but really, the inherent (if not under-appreciated) value of junk food as cultural commodities altogether. Sure, all this presidential election and police brutality and Black Lives Matter and ISIS stuff is grabbing all the headlines now, but 20 years, do you think any of us will really give that much of a shit about any of those things? In 1993, everybody was abuzz about the Branch Davidians, Lorena Bobbitt, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Yasser Arafat\Yitzhak Rabin peace accords, but NOBODY brings them up in casual discourse 23 years down the road. Meanwhile, people are still yammering on and on about the first Jurassic Park movie, Mortal Kombat II and Squeezit. The important, newsworthy stuff, as much as we hate to to admit it, has an extremely short shelf-life, but the seemingly irrelevant pop cultural and consumer cultural dressings of the day? Somehow, they manage to gain some sort of transcendent appeal, becoming these relics that are simultaneously of-the-times but also above and beyond their chronological trappings. While most global affairs - the wars and the riots and the political controversies and all that jazz - hardly ever directly impact us, pretty much all of us are going to share the communal bonds of eating and watching the same mass-manufactured and mass-marketed things. And when today's pre-schoolers are out of college, I can pretty much guarantee you that when they reminisce about the "good old days" of 2016, they won't be reflecting on Vladimir Putin or the mass shootings or the aborted Turkish coup or Zika - rather, they're going to rally around the only thing that truly welded them together as a unified culture: emoji brownies and deep fried macaroni and cheese from Burger King. 

Historians like Tacitus and Suetonious ain't got shit on me, folks. Do I have any regrets "squandering" so much time and energy on a round-up of low, low-culture consumer junk? Aye, regrets, I have none - indeed, I consider it an honor and a privilege to chronicle these most important issues, so generations both contemporary and not yet born can reflect on the otherwise forgotten beauty and the glory of what once was

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Top 50 TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine Games EVER! (Part One: Number 50 to 41)

Part one of a special five-part series counting down the best NEC's 16-bit system had to offer ... on both sides of the Pacific, no less!


By: Jimbo X
@Jimbo__X

When people think about video gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s, visions of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis seem to pop up almost instinctively. However, amid all of that late 8-bit and early 16-bit awesomeness, there was a third home console challenger, which despite never getting as much publicity or reverence as the Big Two, nonetheless managed to grace us with some of the greatest and most inventive 2D shoot em ups, action platformers and multiplayer puzzlers in the history of the interactive medium. 

While NEC's TurboGrafx-16 ran a distant third in the North American console race, its Japanese counterpart the PC Engine had legs well into the mid 1990s. Indeed, the pioneering 16-bit system (which actually used an 8-bit CPU, but no need to muddle with the technicalities) actually outdid Nintendo and Sega in many respects, creating a cult classic piece of hardware that even now, can lay claim to owning one of the best and most versatile software libraries of any console ever. 

As we've done with the Dreamcast, Sega CD, Neo Geo and Game Gear, we here at The Internet Is In America now pay tribute to the iconic NEC system with a special five-part series counting down the absolute best games to ever grace the TG-16 or PC Engine. And exhaustive doesn't begin to cover how in-depth we went for this undertaking - it took a full year, but eventually, we managed to get our hands on every single game to ever legally make its way to either system, thus allowing us to review and rank every title objectively across the entire field of PC Engine and TurboGrafx offerings. 

Before we hop into the countdown, let's go over a few ground rules, why don't we?

First, only games released on the proprietary Hu-Card format are eligible for the list. So that means, as awesome as they were, no PC Engine offerings only available in CD-ROM, Arcade CD-ROM or Super CD-ROM formats are included in the rankings.

Secondly, only officially licensed games released during the system's first hardware run (that's from 1987 to 1995, in case you were wondering) are considered. So no homebrews, ROM hacks, pirated ports or unlicensed mass-produced games got any consideration.

And lastly? Opinions are like assholes, and your asshole is probably different from mine. Don't like the final outcome? Then take it upon yourself to play every fuckin' game on the console like I did and craft a better countdown. I'm waiting, amigo. I'm waiting. 

And without further adieu, how about we get this show on the road? 

Number 50:
Rabio Lepus Special
(1990 - Video System)


With the PC Engine/TG-16, the line between fundamentally absurd and totally awesome frequently blurred. Few games on the console demonstrate that bizarre intersectionality between legitmately great genre games and the profoundly ridiculous as well as Video System's 1990 SHMUP Rabio Lepus Special, which has you commandeering some sort of outer space rabbit mech across a galaxy of all the tried-and-true horizontally scrolling menaces. While it's easy to take a look at the game's aesthetics and immediately write it off as a farce, Rabio Lepus Special is indeed a legit, hardcore SHMUP, complete with some of the most back-breakingly difficult level design in ANY 2D shooter. Factor in the title's great animations, catchy music and constantly challenging gameplay and you have yourself all the makings of a criminally underappreciated little gem. 

Number 49:
Toy Shop Boys
(1990 - Victor Musical Industries)


And here's another game you can add to the system's lonnng list of cutesy-looking shooters that will actually beat the shit out of you mercilessly if you don't take it seriously. Despite the kid-baiting premise (oh no, some evil motherfucker has stolen all the toys in town!), rest assured this game is pure-D, hot and heavy SHMUP action from start to finish, with enemy fire assailing you from every direction and each level capped off with a showdown with some sort of monstrous boss that's equally parts ludicrous and terrifying (ESPECIALLY that little cymbal-crashing monkey ... fuck him, a million times over.) If the inventive set pieces and beautiful animations weren't enough, Toy Shop Boys even throw in a really unique game play hook in that you can take control of one of three characters, each with his own special attack, on the fly, in turn giving the game a bit more strategic feel than the screenshots would suggest. And let me tell you, kids ... you don't know what fun is until you've taken a huge ass light saber to a giant RC car. You just plain haven't. 

Number 48:
Power Eleven
(1991 - Hudson Soft)


This is easily the best sports game on the PC Engine. While there are plenty of decent baseball and footy simulators for the console, Power Eleven is the only that really delivers the goods across the board. The graphics and animations are very good, the audio is great, the controls are tight and responsive and it's pretty much the only soccer game on the platform that actually allows for fun and nuanced defensive play. While the lack of any official FIFA license is a bit of a letdown, the game nonetheless packs on the features, including a great World Cup-like tournament mode and some rock solid multiplayer. It may not provide the most technical footy experience on the system, but it definitely delivers the most enjoyable one.  

Number 46 (tie):
Final Lap Twin
(1989 - Namco)
and
F-1 Pilot: You're King of Kings
(1989 - Pack-In Video)



You really can't talk about the PC Engine without getting into its robust line-up of racing games. While the console never really had that Super Monaco GP-like killer app, there were certainly a lot of good to almost great offerings on NEC's platform. Going hands-on with the entire library of PC Engine/TG-16 genre titles, I really couldn't decide whether I enjoyed Namco's Final Lap Twin or Pack-In Video's F-1 Pilot: You're King of Kings more. Neither game can really be considered the most technical racing sims on the system, but they definitely make up for the lack of realism with instant pick-up-and-play fun. Final Lap Twin effectively plays out like a souped up version of Pole Position - compete with the physically impossible hair-pin turns - whereas F-1 Pilot offers a more down and dirty, shunts-centric arcade racing experience. The career modes and tuning options are lacking, but as far as good old-fashioned, virtual fuel-chugging and rubber-melting fun? These two will satisfy your need for speed just dandy.

Number 45:
Salamander
(1991 - Konami)


Hey, you vividly recall playing Lifeforce on the NES, right? WRONG! What you played was bullshit compared to this MUCH better (and MUCH harder) port of the classic Konami SHMUP. Sure, this iteration isn't able to translate that awesome, super-hectic "play-by-play" from the arcade original, but in terms of graphics and sheer gameplay, it matches up with the source material quite admirably (and certainly way better than the halfhearted translation we got on the Nintendo.) We've all got our favorite - and least favorite - aspects of the game; personally, I've always been partial to the first level, which was probably the first video game to ever allow you to blast your way through cancerous polyps and shoot laser ring death at the stomach lining of a living planet. And as for my least favorite? You know, that damned "fire" level always bothered me quite a bit - probably because no matter how many times I play it, I ALWAYS forget about those little flaming dragon heads that cascade from the top of the screen. Oh, I hate those things. I hate them so much

Number 44
Override 
(1991 - Data East)


Eagle eye gamers will recognize this under-the-radar gem as a port of Last Battalion on the X68000. While the PC Engine definitely wasn't hurting for quality shoot 'em ups, Override manages to stand in a super-competitive field by offering one of the fastest genre games on the system. While there is hardly anything revolutionary about the game mechanics in Override (indeed, it plays out a lot like Gunnac, right down to its power-up system), this Data East release nonetheless offers a slick, smooth and polished shoot-em-up experience with excellent controls, beautiful visuals and ultra-satisfying, high-tempo, blast-or-be-blasted gameplay. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, so to speak, but why complain about a lack of innovation when the overall product nails the fundamentals so well?

Number 43:
Barunba
(1990 - Namco)


In case you haven't figured it out yet, there were a TON of great SHMUP games on the PC Engine. Not only can you safely add Namco's Barunba to that expansive list of top-notch horizontal and vertical scrolling shooters, the unique shoot 'em up also represents one of the more innovative genre offerings to be found on the console. The big variable here is the inclusion of a rotating, 360 degree shooting mechanic, which is easily controlled via the "II" button. It feels a little clumsy at first, but after a couple of playthroughs, the gameplay quirk quickly becomes second nature, transforming what was an already competent shooter into a surprisingly nuanced, strategic affair. Factor in the excellently designed levels, the vibrant visuals and some very fun and challenging boss fights and you have yourself a downright dandy - and addictive - little blast-a-thon. 

Number 42:
Mr. Heli No Daibouken
(1989 - Irem)


And here is yet another cartoony SHMUP that packs way more depth than it would appear at first glance. Brought to us by the fine folks at Irem, Mr. Heli is a really interesting shoot 'em up that almost plays more like a Mario-esque platformer than R-Type. You see, Mr. Heli is a game that is ALL about collecting gems and mechanical upgrades, which is facilitated by blasting granite blocks all over the environs. Rather ingeniously, the gameplay system allows you to blast barriers above you with a rocket attack and for the obstacles beneath you? You can actually "ground" your little heli-mech and drop a couple of bombs on the blast-able surfaces, Metroid style. It's a nice gimmick to be sure, but what puts Mr. Heli over the top is that it just doesn't rely upon that semi-platformer hook to carry the game; indeed, this is a great pure SHMUP experience as well, complete with beautiful graphics, wonderfully designed stages and, yes, plenty of challenging boss encounters. 

Number 41:
Coryoon
(1991 - Naxat Soft)


And one more stellar cute 'em up, because hot damn, were there ever a lot of them on the console. What makes Coryoon a superior shoot 'em up is two-fold; first, the graphics are absolutely incredible, with some of the best animations to be found on any game on the system. Secondly, the action here is just insane, with huge sprites bombarding you with nearly unavoidable enemy fire left, right, up, down and diagonally. While I'm not really a big fan of the more claustrophobic, limited-range-of-movement shooters a'la Air Zonk, this game manages to escape the pitfalls of that type of gameplay by throwing in tons of power-ups and a never ending shower of watermelons, apples and pineapples (not that it really serves any mechanical purpose, though - they just increase your score and do nothing to bring back your health.) Oh, and for those of you that immediately write-off the game because of the cartoony visuals? Rest assured, this game is H-A-R-D with a capital, bold-faced "H," complete with some of the toughest boss battles you'll find in ANY SHMUP on the console.


And that's that for part one of this month-long celebration of all things PC Engine! Be sure to check back in a few days, when we continue our epic, sprawling countdown of the best games to ever be molded in the shape of a Hu-Card. Before we call it quits, though, how about we take a quick diversion from the official countdown to explore some of the other pieces of software to make their ways to the TG-16 and PC-Engine? Hold on to your TurboPads, folks, it's time to take a look at FIVE RANDOM MAHJONG GAMES ON THE PC ENGINE!

Sengoku Mahjong!


This one is kinda' like that old kids' board game Guess Who? Well, actually, it's nothing at all like that except for the part at the beginning where you get to pick an avatar and two computer-controlled opponents. My favorite is probably the Arab-looking guy, but the pirate dude is a close-second. And hey! How come there are no African-American or Hispanic people to choose from? Don't the Japanese know your supposed to include a diverse portfolio of differing ethno-and-racial identities in everything that they do? Man, this game - and by proxy, the entirety of Japanese culture - is all shades of prejudiced.

Mahjong Haou Den - Kaisers Quest!


The screenshot above would lead one to think that Kaisers Quest is some sort of Dragon Warrior-like RPG, or perhaps even an early turn-based strategy offering a'la Shining Force. As it turns out, however, all that overworld stuff is just a needless coat of paint atop a really, really mundane virtual mahjong simulator. But hey, at least the cut scenes are kinda' neat, I guess.

Mahjong Gokuu Special!


Despite having the name "Gokuu" in it, no, this title has nothing at all to do with the venerated Dragon Ball license. And unfortunately, despite being programmed and designed by Sunsoft (the some folks responsible for Blaster Master, among other 8-bit classics) this game really doesn't offer you anything other than yet another indistinguishable mahjong sim like the 4,500 other games of the like on the system. Jeez, couldn't someone have mulled making a reversi game or something instead?jg 

Mahjong Gakuen Mild - Touma Soushirou Toujou!


So what is mahjong, exactly? Per, the Wikipedia, it's some old-ass Chinese analogue to Rummy with rules so convoluted, you pretty much have to go to mahjong school for eight years to understand how to play it. Since I'm not an expert on Japanese culture, I really can't explain why the pastime is so popular in the Land of the Rising Sun - or, why there are SO many video game versions of it on the PC Engine. My uneducated guess? Nobody ever exported games that are actually fun, like Don't Wake Daddy and Kerplunk, to them during the Reagan-era trade wars and everybody in the country is just pretending to like the damn game so it looks like they have something awesome of their own we Westerners are too feeble-minded to comprehend. 

Kyuukyoku Mahjong II!


And lastly, we come to Kyuukyoku Mahjong II, which I am pretty sure is the only semi-hentai mahjong title released on the console. Basically, it's the exact same as every other mahjong game on the PC Engine, but with an all-female cast that may or may not get nekkid at the end of every round. That, in and of itself, is pretty dadgum freaky, but the female avatars represented in the game look - well, not exactly realistic, as in they more closely resemble Keane paintings than graphical depictions of flesh and blood human beings. Still, if you just have to have yourself some video mahjong, you might as well couple it with perverted digital nudity - in fact, considering how uniform all of these damn games are, one has to wonder why more games didn't include that very hook to distinguish themselves from the madding Hu-Card crowds.