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Friday, January 22, 2010

Collection Oddities: Super Mario Brothers TV Tray

For my first Oddity of the new year I've decided to highlight something that could have been a completely normal and legitimate item, but didn't quite come out that way, The Super Mario Brothers TV Tray.

At it's core it's a normal light metal TV or lap Tray. When the legs are extended it's roughly 4" tall and measures probably 16" across*. At the time a TV tray was a perfectly reasonable piece of merchandise and something most homes had in the 80's so it was normal thing for Nintendo to market. What wasn't normal is to find an a drug addled artist to put an even more incoherent spin on the already clearly drug influenced world of the mushroom kingdom.

There's a lot of especially crazy stuff going on. That's not even taking into account the things you just accept about the mushroom kingdom, like mushrooms reading in the living room and stars making phone calls. There's honestly so much, I'm not sure I can't properly even mock it all, but that won't stop me from trying:

  • Crazy proportions everywhere, the crooked man in the crooked house had nothing on this place.

    Television screen seemingly made of paper, and while looking at that note that one of Bowser's claws in backwards.

    • Luigi coming from Doorway quite possibly designed by a drunk MC Escher.
    • Barber Pole in what should be a plumbing shop
    • Phonebooth inside house (or whatever sort of dwelling this can be called)
    • Lamp screaming (this is unfortunately very hard to see in my picture, but I assure you it's happening)
    • Toad, just look at toad. He's um...phallic.
    • And that thing on the wall that looks sort of like a muffin or a hair comb? That's half of a woman's face with fringe on the bottom. Seriously.

    And that's just the most obvious stuff, not even the things you have to think about like for example, Mario. I can accept that Mario has somehow managed to procure a giant NES advantage pad (it's a bit inaccurate, but you can tell what it is) and is using like a Power Pad. What I can't understand is why he's attempting to use it facing away from the television. I also can't understand why he's suddenly deaf to the cries of bascially everyone else, including the inanimate objects (IE the screaming lamp), and continues to pose happily with his giant prototype.

    In spite of all the awful there are some things about I consider good:

  • Old, bald, mentally disturbed and much scarier Bowser character design. This sort of Bowser pretty much disappeared by the time Mario 3 came out, so I'm always thrilled to find anything old with him.
    • Old, Italian Stereotype Mario and Luigi. I know it's insensitive, but I love how ridiculous and inappropriate their old designs are.
    • The NES Advantage, sure it's drawn inaccurately, but how often do you see something other than your standard NES control in merchandise?
    • The goomba. Look at him over there with his hands he shouldn't have peering in the window, adorable.

  • On the whole, there's a lot more crack than good. But, honestly we bought it for the crack just as much as we bought it for the "good". Sometimes I'm sad items of this caliber are no longer being created (officially at least, bootlegs are a totally different story), then I realize that it probably much better for everyone else this way.


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    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Retro Review Tuesday: Hatris

    After a long Hiatus I bring another Retro Review. With all this time between reviews I could have devoted myself to doing one of those great classics of gaming like one of the super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda Games. But  instead I decided to bring you Hatris.


    Hatris is one of those games that you can't quite explain the existence of. How did one person think this was a good idea, let alone enough of them to finance it, program it, market it and release it? I can't imagine the brainstorming session that came up with: You're two guys working in a hat factory where you stack hats on mannequin heads all day long! Regardless of how it happened, it did in fact to come to fruition. A small segment of the population was rewarded with the inclusion of hats in their puzzle game, which was the only thing that could truly bring these poor unfortunate souls any joy. Hatris was released in four flavors, arcade, Turbo-grafix, NES and Gameboy, I choose to go with the NES version as that's the version I own and first became familiar with.

    You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a game about chess with hats, but sadly that's just an unrealized dream.


    The title would lead you to believe that this game is just Tetris with hats. Which is the delusion I was operating under when we purchased the cartridge at a local game shop many years ago. However, in spite of being a puzzle game and being created by Alexey Pajitnov, the original creator of Tetris, it is nothing like Tetris. It's more like Dr. Mario or Yoshi's Cookie. Pretty basic puzzle game stuff.

    Controls are easy, this is an NES game so as usual things are generally pretty self explanatory. Start pauses, the D pad moves your hats around, A switches your hats, and B calls one of your hat workers to help you out.

    Graphics are adequate. Nothing good, nothing bad. They won't wow you, but they won't distract with their awfulness either.

    Soundwise, it's pretty lacking. It changes every level, but none of the levels have particularly memorable music. It's really generic early Nintendo music, repetitive, forgettable and often annoying. My biggest problem with the soundtrack stemmed from a background sound which every song track seemed to utilized and happens to sound like an alarm clock with issues, not the sort of thing that really puts you in a positive puzzle mood. Luckily you can turn it off in the options screen and substitute your own soundtrack.

    The Jukebox for music is self explanatory but why are you choosing a shop from what seems to be a mailbox and stage from a (maybe)soda machine.


    When you first start the game you're brought to a screen where you can select which "shop"to start off in. Which will change how many hats start the mannequin heads start with and what color the background will be. The level you start off which is pretty self explanatory and you can turn the music on or off. As I said earlier, you'll probably want to check the music out at least once, but I prefer it off.

    Assuming you start off with shop zero and level zero you start off with 6 empty mannequin heads and a selection of three hats, a white fedora, a top hat and a baseball cap. The object of the game is very simple You make a stack of 5 matching hats, and they get cleared off. You need to clear a certain number of hats to pass each level. Hats must be stacked vertically one on top of the other to be cleared. If you stack too many mismatched hats your stack will reach the top of the screen and it's game over.

    As one would expect with each level that number of hats you need to clear to move on increases. You'll also get three more more types of hat, bowler, wizard and crown, to contend with. For added fun with each round you clear the mannequin heads turn into new and often disturbing shapes, including, but not limited to : a vampire, Frankenstein's monster, a zombie Abraham Lincoln, and a decidedly un-politically correct Native American. Once you've gotten past the shock of all this new stuff it's time to focus on the important job of hat stacking.

    Not all hats are created equal, so some hats will drastically raise the height of your stack when stacked with dissimilar hats. The top hats and wizard hats are especially bad for as you'd expect just by looking at them. Crowns however can prove to be an even bigger problem, they're shorter when stacked with mismatched hats, but they don't stack well together. A stack of matched crowns is taller than a stack of matched wizard hats or top hats.

    I have some real questions about how this hat factory makes any money this system seem very inefficient

    It sounds deceptively simple, but honestly it can get quite difficult rather quickly,  just a few accidental hat placements can spell your doom. Luckily you're not all on your own at the hat factory, you've got two helpers. When you've got enough points you get a small head icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen. These heads correlated to either the top factory worker or the bottom factory worker, they're very similar looking though so it's kind of hard to tell which one is which. In any case when you hit the B button one of them will go onto the playing field and either switch 2 hat stacks (the bottom one) or toss out 5 hats from the bottom (the top one). In addition, as soon as you call them on to the screen the set of hats falling on to the field disappears so even if you aren't particularly in need of their other service you can use this to your advantage when a set of undesirable hats enters the field.

    At the end of level 9, for all your hard thankless work in the hat factory you get the supreme pleasure of seeing a vignette which involves the hat factory workers pulling a rabbit and later smiley face out of a top hat before running around the screen. Their aimless running continues until you hit a button, which then brings you to level 10 which just seems to be level one with a different background. I admit I'm not totally sure on that as I didn't make it past level 18 to see if I'd get a new animation.



    Hatris is a completely crazy concept, and not the fast paced addictive puzzle game you'd expect from a creative genius like Alexey Pajitnov. However that doesn't mean it's bad. It is fun and challenging, while playing it for this review I found myself getting sucked into playing it much longer than I had originally intended. I enjoyed the game but objectively it's very much in the middle in every category. If not for the ridiculous novelty of matching crazy hats, it would be a completely forgettable title.


    Don't forget to stop by our shop:

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Red Cross Charity Auctions for Haiti!

    First a quick note to say the laptop is back so it should be business as usual soon. So expect more reviews, collection updates, store updates and oddities.

    On to the matter at hand, by now every know about the terrible tragic earthquake in Haiti. Jen and I are regular donors to a variety of charities* and in most ordinarily we would have been happy to give as much as we were able to help the relief efforts for this tragedy. However, right now we're not in a solid spot financially Jen just switched jobs and is making much less than she was before so we can't really do that. However, we aren't letting that deter us, we still want to help so we started several charity auctions. We don't have cash, but we definitely have fun stuff.

    Our auctions are 100% charity auctions. We will make no profit from these at all. We want to help the people of Haiti, not make money so we're asking to you to take a look at our available items and buy something if it catches your fancy, it will be going to a great cause.

    Auctions currently include:

    A Sailor moon Laptop/Shoulder bag
    A lot of 40 Star Wars Miniatures
    A Vintage Mario and Zelda Lunchbox
    An Original Animation cel from Faeries by Brain Froud

    I plan on adding more as I find more things that would be a good fit. (We're trying for a variety of items $10 and up).

    If you're in a similar financial situation and are unable to buy anything then I ask that you please pass the word along to someone who may be interested and please visit a site such as to help without spending any money.

    Bother ourselves and the people you'll be helping extend our sincerest thanks for reading this and helping out in any way you can.


    *I feel compelled to point this out not because I want people to think of us as better people, but just to address some of the negativity around donating I've been hearing lately. We donate to charities normally. We're not just doing in now because we've been "guilted" into giving because the media tells us there's a tragedy. Every day in the world there is a tragedy. As just two people we obviously can not help everyone all the time, but we try to do what we can whether or not anyone "tells us to".

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    On Hiatus

    So I haven't updated this blog in quite sometime. I have a very good reason for that. We keep a blog in two places here on blogspot and on over on LiveJournal. On LJ quite a long while ago I made a note about being on Hiatus due to our laptop being down and now off being repaired. I thought I made a note here, but clearly did not.  So I'm doing it now a month late. I have lots of fun stuff I want to share with the world, but it's going to have to wait until the computer comes back. Until then I suggest checking out my twitter account as any new store stuff or anything like that's going to go over there.  Meanwhile be sure to check out some of our older entries, I tend to prattle on about things so there's a lot of good reading you've probably Tl;DR ed at some point. :)



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