Monday, July 14, 2014

My (Son's) 20 Favorite Video Game Characters

This list was written by my 10 year old son Elias
I'm not really into video games that much anymore. Back in the day, I could throw down some Atari 2600 for hours, but modern games, for the most part, just don't do it for me anymore. Now my kids, on the other hand, eat - breathe - sleep video games! I encouraged my older son to do some writing and come up with a video game post for the blog. He worked on this last fall and we're just getting around to posting it...but here is 10 year old Elias' list of his favorite video game characters:

20.Fox  McCloud (Star Fox Series) So far, we don’t  know that much about Fox, but we do know that he is a great pilot and will not stop at anything (no matter how many times he does) to save his planet from devastation, whether it be Anderos (Star Fox 64),or Wolf (Star Fox). However, in the Super Smash Bros. series, we get to figure out more about him, and now we know that he isn’t just a pilot, but a worthy fighter as well.

19. Meta Knight (Kirby Series) Meta Knight may not be a main character, but that doesn’t mean he is any less awesome. Meta Knight is a little more mysterious than your average video game character, being Kirby’s friend in the TV show, “Kirby Right Back at Ya!” and his enemy in many games like Kirby Super Star. In Kirby’s Epic Yarn, he was being controlled by Yin Yarn, an evil sorcerer. One thing about Meta Knight is his name. Whenever I say Meta Knight in front of someone they think I mean Mennonite!” Apparently, a Mennonite is an Amish person. Anyway, Meta Knight definitely has some powerful tricks up his sleeve, and is certainly strong for his size.

18. Samus (Metroid Series) I will say that Samus is definitely the toughest girl around. Her robotic suit makes her a little similar to Mega Man. In terms of power, Samus is full of it. In the first Metroid game, it doesn’t give us a lot of information about why in the heck she’s going through a ship shooting Astro bugs, but we get some knowledge on that later on. Her graphics have been great in certain time periods.

17. Captain Olimar (Pikmin Series) Captain Olimar leads a life of danger, no doubt. But imagine: you’re a refugee from another planet, who will die by poisonous gas within 30 days, and the only way he can get home to your wife is by using tiny little sprouts to get your ship parts back and kill giant monsters. Sound easy? I don’t think so. That’s what I like about him. He is one of the bravest video game characters, and he uses his resources to his advantage.

16. Princess Zelda (Legend of Zelda Series) What makes Zelda so special? Her powers. And the thing is that she can teleport. In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, one of her attacks is teleporting. And I really wonder: why doesn’t she just teleport out of her cage when Gannon decides to capture her. I cannot say that I know why. But that isn’t her only power. She can also shoot fireballs and control where they go. So it is pretty obvious who would win in a battle between Princess Peach and Princess Zelda.

15. Prince Fluff (Kirby’s Epic Yarn) Prince Fluff seems a little weird, being that his name is Fluff yet he was turned INTO yarn. Prince Fluff is a likable character because he and Kirby get along and they also get into mischief. They have little scenes between levels, and it’s really cute. Kirby could summon helpers in previous games, but now he has made his first official friend.

14. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog Series) Sonic is a definite classic, but he used to be a jerk, as the Sega commercials clearly stated: “Sega does what Nintendon’t”. The company was desperate for buyers, but eventually joined Nintendo. Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games were the first published Sega/Nintendo series. Sonic games are now released for Nintendo systems, and Sonic was a special character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl along with Solid Snake. Sonic is a character you will like if you play the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, but you shouldn’t play newer versions until you get used to Sonic.

13. Wolf (Star Fox Series) I’m probably or absolutely the  biggest Wolf fan, because he isn’t very popular, but he is plain AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t resist him and neither will you once you be him in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He is the last unlockable character, and is Fox’s enemy. It is honestly not common for someone to take a good look at him and not like him. His appearance is just appealing, and the gear and weaponry makes him heavier than expected. Wolf is definitely the most awesome looking video game character.

12. Maxwell (ScribbleNauts Series) You can’t really know Maxwell that well because he doesn’t talk at all. But he is likable in the fact that whatever you want, he will make it, and Maxwell is the purpose of all of the possibilities in every ScribbleNauts game.

11. Starfy (The Legendary Starfy) Starfy is a lesser known video game character, but is adorable, nonetheless. He had two sequels in Japan, The Legendary Starfy 2 and 3. Starfy is not playable in any of the Super Smash Bros. games, but he is an Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

10. Mega Man (Mega Man Series) Overall, Mega Man is a pretty basic character. He is kind of similar to Samus (see:18). He doesn’t have many attacks in previous games, just the Megabuster, a simple gun that shoots out of his robotic hand. However, in the new Super Smash Bros. (to be released in 2014), Mega Man will be a special character, and will have a various weapon system based off all of the bosses in the Mega Man series.

9. Pikachu (Pokémon Series) Pikachu is one of the most iconic video game characters ever. He is Ash Ketchum’s best Pokémon, and has helped him win most Pokémon battles. However, in the Pokémon games, Pikachu isn’t much of a help to anyone’s party. Many Pokémon fans wanted a Pikachu on their team, but they soon realized that there was much more powerful Pokémon, like Alakazam. But Pikachu is surely a classic, and extremely adorable, and he definitely deserves the ninth spot on the list.

8. Sora (Kingdom Hearts Series) Sora is one of the easiest video game characters to get used to. A lot of talking and videos are in the Kingdom Hearts series, which helps gamers get to know him. The Kingdom Hearts series consists of an odd mixture of characters: Final Fantasy and Disney. However, Sora is not a Final Fantasy character, but he is considered a Disney character. Kingdom Hearts plays of Disney a bit more than Final Fantasy, using Disney worlds and characters (and Donald Duck and Goofy at your side) while Final Fantasy adds a different drawing style and minor characters. Sora’s weapon is one of the most memorable weapons in video game history: the Key Blade. When I first played Kingdom Hearts, I loved the Key Blade so much that I looked all over the internet to buy one. The Key Blade changes into different forms for most worlds that you complete. The Key Blade may be what makes Sora such a likable character.

7. Captain Falcon (F-Zero Series) In the F-Zero series, we don’t get to know much about Captain Falcon because he is really just a car driver of the future. We don’t even get to see anywhere lower than his face. However, in Super Smash Bros. Melee/Brawl, Captain Falcon is a playable character and even has a couple of stages based of his game, such as Big Blue (Melee) and Port Town Aero Drive (Brawl) . F-Zero fans used this character a lot in battle and people soon found out how awesome Captain Falcon is.

6. Rayman (Rayman Series) What makes Rayman a likable character is the adventures he takes you on. Rayman Origins was the first Rayman game that I ever played, and it is the best. The Rayman series is very creative, which I think is really missing in newer games like Mass Effect and Call of Duty. Rayman may just save the imaginative games, because it is a well known series that still produces games.

5. Link (Legend of Zelda Series) Link is very popular indeed, made in 1986 along with Metroid, Kid Icarus, and Super Mario Bros. What makes Link so cool is that he will just fight every evil thing that gets in the way of saving Zelda. I liked Link so much, I tried to get a Link costume, and I wanted an exact replica of the shield. Sadly, I couldn’t find any, so I was Dipper Pines from Disney Gravity Falls. The thing with Link is, you don’t even have to play the games to like him. I only played Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and I’m not even close to finishing Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. And he’s on the fifth spot!!!

4. Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid Series) Snake is BY FAR the coolest old guy EVER! He is really brave, uses high-tech weaponry, and was the start of good graphics. In 1998 people were like: “Have you SEEN Crash Bandicoot? It has great graphics!” Well, people ate there words when they saw Solid Snake. Even though he is, like, 63 or something, he can take down a bunch of giant robots with his hands, feet, and pistol. I found out about Snake when I played Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Then I started playing the series, and the games are remarkable. With many games that are a bit realistic, there is just something that makes Metal Gear Solid special.

3. Sly Cooper (Sly Cooper Series) Sly is just undeniable, and he is just too good to miss. He is an Italian raccoon thief who pick-pockets and is in love with a fox who is a cop. He is definitely unique, and what I like about characters sometimes is based off their weapon, and Sly passes all inspections. Memorable weapon, the Cooper Cane, great reflex and climbing skills, and uses smooth talking and Smart Alec language.

2. Mario (Mario Bros. Series) Mario isn’t really one of my favorite characters, but without him, none of these other characters would have ever existed. In the 80’s, video games reduced exercising, and grown-ups weren’t on board with that. But when Mario came around, GROWN-UPS were playing it! So video games went back in business, and eventually produced the games that some of these characters are from.

1. Kirby (Kirby Series) He’s cute. He’s powerful. He has the ability to inhale enemies and copy their powers. HE IS BY FAR THE BEST VIDEO GAME CHARACTER EVER! If you play the Kirby series, or even look at the box of “Kirby: Superstar Ultra”, you will find that it is physically impossible not to fall in love with him. His bright, pink, puffy appearance tells you in an instant that Kirby is near. Seriously, go to GameStop and look at the “Kirby: Superstar Ultra” box. You’ll see what I mean.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

The UTZ Potato Chip Factory Tour

The closest thing we have to a tourist attraction in our sleeply little town is the Chip Trip or UTZ Factory Tour as it is most commonly refered to. If you're not familiar with UTZ chips, then you aren't from this region of the country. They are some tasty snacks only distributed to Pennsylvania and the neighboring states. They are a common missed item of home sick people who have moved out of the area. My personal favorite is their crab chip, covered in Chesapeake Bay seasoning. My brother, who moved west is a big fan of their BBQ flavor and always makes it a point to pick up a couple bags when visiting home. 

 It's somewhat of a tradition for the kids and I to hit up the tour near the beginning of summer. Sometimes the tour can be packed with a bus full of people but most of the time you get the whole place to yourself.

On this late June day, we were just about the only people at the tour. The tour gallery is located at the UTZ High Street production plant, the largest of their four facilities in Hanover, Pa. You're visiting a real working factory, not a visitor center like some other tours so you need to be careful in the parking lot for trucks coming and going.

The tour gallery is made up of two areas:
The first area consists of displays and memorabilia relating to the UTZ company. 

Here is also a small, theatre that runs a 15 minute video about everything UTZ. On the day we visited, the movie was not running.

The main attraction in the first area is this giant display of everything UTZ makes. I'm not sure if this is what the company makes right now, or if it's all their products over the years. The display is very up-to-date so I'm guessing it represents what is currently/recently in production. 

The next part of the tour is the actual factory itself. Photography is not permitted of the factory floor. I tried not to snap a pic of any of the proprietory elements of the tour. The tour is self guided and one big long hallway with windows looking down on the actual working production lines making potato chips. Although the plant also makes pretzels and cheese curls, only the Chip manufacturing is visible from the tour.

Each stop on the tour is narrated by pushing a red button to activate a recording. The recordings walk you through the entire process from raw potato to bagged and boxed product.

Each of the stops along the tour also feature a little ramp for the little chip fans in your party to get a better view of the factory floor. 

The tour ends in the giant warehouse that stores all the chips waiting to be delivered the next day. From there you return to the main room where a free bag of fresh UTZ chips is on the house! There is seating and a soda machine also available to compliment your snack.

We've been to the factory several times, but this past trip we were able to see a huge shipment of potatoes being delivered in a pretty cool custom designed truck. The kids were particularly enthralled in this. 

Two blocks away from the High Street facility is the UTZ Factory Outlet Store filled with incredible deals on a wide variety of snack items as well as UTZ merchandise and plenty of free samples.

The tour is free and open Monday - Thursday, the store is open 7 days a week. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Disneyland Guests "Sing Let It Go"

Disney put out this video where they had guests at their California park sing the (now) Oscar Winning song from Frozen. I love this video because, not only is it a great song, it shows what Disney Parks do best and that's allowing people to let their guard down and just be a big kid!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

11 Favorite Films From 2013

Once again, for your interneting pleasure, a list of my favorite movies that I saw for the first time last year. Most of them are recent flicks, but there's a few oldies tucked in here too. And yes, there is more than one animated film on the list...
Argo (2012; dir. Ben Affleck)
Political thrillers aren't usually my thing, but this tight little flick had me gasping for air and on the edge of my seat. What's more is the playful undertone of the whole film about a government plot to rescue a handful of Americans during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. Ben Affleck masterfully directs and stars along an all-star cast. The film won the Best Picture award at last year's Oscars.
Batman Begins (2005, dir. Christopher Nolan)
I'm going to go on record as saying that "Batman and Robin" is still my favorite Batman movie, but I was finally able to bring myself to watch this darker more adult reincarnation of the Caped Crusader and I really liked it. I plan on hitting up the other two in the Dark Knight trilogy very soon.

Blackfish (2013; dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Who knew CNN had a film releasing arm? Well, they do and they put out this utterly fascinating and deeply moving documentary which chronicles the horrible lives of the many killer whales who play Shamu at Sea World. I'm not really an animal person but after watching this jaw-dropping film I wanted to go out and hug a whale. I found the inhumane way animals are treated appalling and the behind the scenes look at amusement parks utterly enthralling. Blackfish was just added to Netflix Streaming.
Frozen (2013; dirs. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
Frozen is, perhaps, Disney Animation's return to perfection in the art of animated film making. While 2009's The Princess and the Frog was beautifully hand animated, it lacked in the story department. And 2011's Tangled was wonderful but felt a little tinged by modern, sarcastic humor and computer animation. Now we come to Frozen which is computer animated but absolutely lovely to look at. The animation compliments a story that is full of twists and turns, great music and some solid laughs. This is the only film I saw in the theater this year that I wanted to go back and see again almost immediately.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984; dir. Steven Spielberg)
Hard to believe I didn't see Indy 2 until almost 30 years after it came out. I probably don't need to tell you - it's great fun. At this point I should see Last Crusade in 2018.

Iron Man 2 (2010; dir. Jon Favreau)
This is the year that I really embraced the Super Hero movie, especially the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I've loved all the Marvel movies but this one especially struck a cord in me. Tony Stark's (Iron Man) father in this movie is an obvious homage to Walt Disney - done so well! 

The Noose Hangs High (1948; Charles Barton)
I've seen a ton of Abbott and Costello's films but this one stood out a really good outing for the boys. There's a ton of their top-notch routines hung on a pretty solid story about A&C getting mixed up with the mob.

Planes (2013; dir. Klay Hall)
Here's something of a rarity in today's movie marketplace - a low key animated film. Disney wasn't trying to make a huge blockbuster film with this Cars spin-off, in fact they were making a direct-to-DVD movie. Without the pressure to produce a mega blockbuster, Disney turned out an almost quiet and very charming little cartoon...and it still went on to make them a ton of money. (There's a sequel on the way this summer.)

Rock of Ages (2012; dir. Adam Shankman)
If you were around in the 80's then you can't help but at least tap your feet to this jukebox musical which takes at least a dozen and a half chart topping tunes from the Me Decade and weaves them into a rock and roll saga. Great cast, great fun!

Scooby-Doo! The Mask of the Blue Falcon (2012; dir. Michael Goguen)
These Scooby-Doo DVD movies keep getting better and better. In the gang's 19th animated flick, they find themselves wrapped up in mystery at Comic-Con. Not only are they so many neat references to the entire Hanna-Barbera stable of characters, the film also cleverly parodies comic book culture, modern adaptions of classic properties and the current state of internet users obsessing over every detail of a movie before it comes out. This cartoon is much more sophisticated than you'd think.

This Is The End (2013; dir. Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg)
Probably the funniest movie of the year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Superhero Memories

I've never really considered myself much of a Superhero fan. When I was little my cartoon and comic book tastes gravitated always towards the funny animals. I'd take Yogi Bear over Superman any day of the week. With the recent explosion of Superhero movies coming out of Hollywood, I had still kept some distance from most of the fare offered. I had seen some of the older Batman movies, and Superman Returns and even the first Spider-Man film, but I still didn't really pay much attention to the genre. Then came the 1-2 punch of Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Thor only a year later to be completely blown out of the water by how awesome The Avengers was. With Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel this Summer, I found myself way more into the comic book movies than I ever was before. It got me thinking about the handful of Superhero stuff that I did like as a child...the few things that made an impression on me. And with the release of the new Thor movie this past weekend (It was awesome!) I thought it would be a good time to unveil this list of my Top 10 Childhood Superhero Memories...

Spider-Man (1967-1970)

 This was the first Spider-Man cartoon which I wasn't alive for the first time it came around but I remember catching it early in the morning and, for the first time, being drawn in by the storytelling instead of the slapstick and laughter. This is the show that gave us the classic "Spider-Man" theme song too! Growing up, the only time I saw this show was if I was able to wake up early enough on a Saturday morning. In Baltimore, Channel 2 ran reruns of Spidey at 6:30am, an hour and a half before the network cartoons started. It was always a treat if I could sneak out into the living room and watch Spider-Man sling his webs through New York with the TV sound turned down real low so I didn't wake my parents up.

Spidey Super Stories (1974-1977)
Spider-Man would also pop up on segments in The Electric Company, a show designed for graduates of Sesame Street. This show was awesome because it was presented like a comic book with the different scenes taking place inside panels of a comic book. The real-life comic book motif was played out more by having Spider-Man only speaking in word bubbles above his head. This Spidey was a web-slinger of very few words but the other people in the stories could read the bubbles above Spider-Man's head. In these stories, Spidey didn't fight Doc Oc or the Green Goblin, but instead dastardly villains like the Spider who sat down beside Ms. Muffet. There was also a print version of these stories in The Electric Company Magazine which I'm sure I read every issue at least 100 times!
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983)
I LOVED this show and never missed it on Saturday Mornings. Spider-Man joins forces with Firestar and Iceman to stop various Marvel Super Villains. Spider-Man would do his thing while cracking jokes and tossing off one-lines, while Firestar shot fire everywhere and Iceman would surf around on a path of ice he shot out of his hands. Apparently, Iceman is also a member of the X-Men, which I didn't even know the X-Men was a thing until those movies started coming out in 2000. I don't know if Iceman makes an appearance in any of the X-Men movies past or future...but if he does I would watch the crap out of that movie! I loves me some Iceman!
Superman: The Movie (1978)
Superman II (1980)
Back before HBO or VHS, if a Superman movie was on TV - you dropped what you were doing and watched it. You just did because it was Superman and we showed respect to our elders that way back then. I think these are still really the gold standard in Super Hero movies, funny and exciting and easily accessible to children. Later, when we had HBO, I easily caught these two movies a million times each. They are still great films and fun to watch. (I've still never seen Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and I hear I'm not missing much.)
Fantastic Four (1967/1978)
I don't remember much about this show except that I loved it and thought the drawings were really cool. There were actually two versions of this show; a 1967 series from Hanna-Barbera and a 1978 version from DePatie-Freleng. I'm not sure which ones I saw, possibly both, but whenever I could catch it I was on board! This show is so ingrained into my memory that I was excited when the recent movies came out.

Batman (1966-1968)
 As with most people my age, this version of Batman was THE version of Batman and so much so that when the Michael Keaton movie came out in 1989 I was just like, "What is this crap? That wasn't funny at all!" Besides the cool costumes, crazy villains and bright colors...I loved how they put the action words on the screen during a fight scene. That was the best!
SuperFriends (1973-1986)
My #1 TV nerd memory of this show was that it was the first time a cartoon that I knew from Saturday mornings came to strip syndication after school. So, it was a nice change of pace from all the old Popeye and Casper cartoons we had for our viewing pleasure in the afternoons. Not pictured above, but the Wonder Twins would make the best Super Hero movie out of them all!
Wonder Woman (1975-1979)
Simply put: Wonder Woman's invisible jet remains the single most coolest prop ever built in the history of television.
Hostess Comic Book Ads (1977-1982)
My only exposure to (then) second-string Superheroes like Captain America, Flash, Green Lantern and Iron Man were in one page ads that ran in all the comic books...including the talking animal comics that I read. In each of these comics, a noted Superhero would use tasty Hostess Apple Pies, Twinkies or Cupcakes to overpower a super villain. Who needs all the gold in the world when you can have a bit of golden & delicious Hostess Cupcake? Even an 8 year old me knew this was a ridiculous concept...and I ate up every page of it!

Spider-Man for Atari 2600 (1982)
As with any Atari game that I owned, I played it one hundred million times in my youth. As it turns out, this one was the very first video game based on a Marvel Comics property. In it, you would sling webs and try to get your three pixels that represented Spider-Man up to the top of a skyscraper to defeat Green Goblin.  Did I say I played it a hundred million times, now that I'm looking at the picture I'm sure it was closer to 30 zillion billion times. What a great game!
Now's the part where I ask you to share some of your Super Hero memories in the comments section......

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