Thursday, October 24, 2019

Halloween Cereals 2019

As is usually the case with Halloween, Christmas, Summertime, etc. all the big corporations find different ways to ingratiate themselves into your grocery list by offering strange seasonal fare you would otherwise never consider purchasing.

You see this sort of thing with all sorts of brands: everything from tea and coffee to snack foods and soda and even kitty litter! Now, I'm definitely a mark for this sort of thing in general, but one product that I seem to key in on is cereal.

I mean it's not hard. I love cereal! I don't eat it every day, but if I see something new and different I can't help it but buy a box.

Usually, you can expect to see some Autumn or Halloween themed cereals on offer at this time of year, but I must say that there wasn't much to be had. Gone are the days that every cereal company kicked out some pumpkin spice variant or kids' cereals spookied up their usual best-sellers.

After weeks of waiting and nearly giving up all hope, I walked into a grocery store the other day and found that they suddenly had a display of three General Mills seasonal cereals! I scored a box of each and the following are my thoughts on them.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios

This is the biggest surprise for me, personally, and although I was more looking forward to the other cereals on this list I had to try these first.

Now, these certainly aren't new: they've been on the market since at least 2016. I'm fairly certain I've seen them on Canadian shelves in the past, but I've always passed them over. I don't know what it is, but Cheerios have been cranking out new flavours left and right the lately and they're almost always sub-par. Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are on high-rotation in my house, so its hard to pass up those for something different or limited.

This time around, however, the box completely caught my eye. It wasn't like the old orange box I remembered, and honestly it sold me on at least trying the cereal this time around.

On opening the box I was immediately smacked in the face with the smell of - wait for it - pumpkin! This may seem like a dumb thing to point out, but if we're being honest with ourselves how often does "pumpkin spice anything" ever actually taste like pumpkin? Can you even tell me what pumpkin spice tastes like?

No, you can't!

It's a melange of spices that any company can tweak and change at their will. It usually involves cinnamon and nutmeg, but I can honestly say that I've never had anything that actually included freakin' pumpkin in the mix!

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios actually tote this fact right on the box, stating that it is made with real pumpkin purée mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. A pumpkin spice recipe that's actually in writing! It's a nice touch and it pays off.

I'll admit that one of the reasons I wanted to try Pumpkin Spice Cheerios first was because I assumed I wouldn't actually like them. As I said before, these new flavours of Cheerios rarely land. Pumpkin Spice, though, just have a hint of pumpkin flavour and a dash of spices. There's nothing crazy going on here, which is nice. It almost tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios that had a light dusting and definitely seems light on the sugar. There's actually less of the sweet stuff in this box than Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon.

I've had two bowls to date as I write this and its actually even grown on me, so I think I would give this a recommend, provided your into pumpkin spice and you're not a total Halloween Grinch!

Count Chocula

The Monster Cereals from General Mills have been around since the 70s and were on any grocery shelf in the US up until 2010. There have been several different kinds, but the flagships have always been Count Chocula and Franken Berry. Boo Berry has become one of the strongest in the line up, with Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy being offered only occasionally since the late-80s, early-90s.

In 2010, General Mills started offering the cereals only seasonally. The staples are Chocula and Franken and Boo Berry, but in 2013 and 2014 all five were actually released.

Now what about up here in the wilds of Canadia?

It wasn't until 2014 that General Mills - after seeing the greymarket created by people near the border driving and selling boxes of their goods here in Canada - decided to bring the cereal to our great country. For whatever reason instead of going for the three main cereals, same as in the US, the only two on offer here were Count Chocula and Boo Berry.

I wasn't completely broken-hearted by this decision, but I was definitely unhappy with it, as well. More to come on that.

The truth is I'm not a big fruit-flavoured cereal guy and I never have been. I think Fruity Pebbles was the only one that I went for with any regularity as a kid. Now, chocolate cereals? You've got my attention! So, easily my favourite of the two since I first started buying them again in the mid-10s (we can say that now, right?) has been Count Chocula.

I've heard the controversy that they've changed the cereals and they're very unlike their original versions, but I never - and I mean never - had these as a kid.

I feel certain that they were available in Canada, but either my parents wouldn't buy them for me or they just weren't available in my neck-of-the-woods. I know that I always wanted to try them and my parents weren't known to be completely against sugary cereals, so I have to assume it was a limited availability issue.

As a result, I love Count Chocula! I get my requisite box each Halloween, share it with the fam, and have a few bowls of that chocolaty goodness. If the texture or flavour of the cereal and marshmallows doesn't stack up the original I am blissfully unaware! I really enjoy them and that chocolate milk created by the cereal is deee-vine!

Franken Berry

And here we are! I've been searching different grocery sites off-and-on over the past few weeks and I've found ghost-listings for Count Chocula and Boo Berry, so I figured things would continue status quo this season, but suddenly a few weeks ago I found a listing for Franken Berry instead of his ghostly compatriot! I was absolutely in shock as this is one of the few "bucket list" items that I wanted to experience from my youth!

As I mentioned, as a kid I could never find these cereals, but being a child of Saturday morning cartoons I was bombarded with commercials for them as I watched channels like ABC or CBS.

I grew up loving the Universal Monsters and seeing these cereals immediately created that connection in my mind, which was literally explored by General Mills and Universal in 1987. My favourite of the monsters has always been Frankenstein's creature, so of course Franken Berry was the cereal I wanted the most.

Alas, it was not to be.

I have to assume these cereals were available in Canada, but that didn't mean they were all over the country. In fact, a lot of times that would mean they were only really widely available in Ontario and West. Here in Atlantic Canada, whether it was due to population or transportation, we often got slighted by different brands. Growing up on an island certainly didn't help matters!

I can remember many times scouring the cereal aisle looking for Franken Berry or any of the Monster Cereals, but never in my lifetime did I get to try this most coveted of cereals... until now!

As I said before, fruit cereals aren't really my jam... and unfortunately that statement remains true with Franken Berry. I didn't dislike it as much as others I've had, but I certainly can't say that this one trumps Count Chocula for me. I'm still floored that I actually got to have it, though! One thing I would say is that it tasted an aaaaawful lot like Fruity Lucky Charms to me, which I picked up as a promotion this summer. I'd almost like to do a side-by-side comparison to see if there's any funny business going on here.

The story doesn't end there, though!

I'm not going to act like I'm the first person to do this - I know I can't possibly be - but as I was sitting and having breakfast with my kids I thought to myself, What would be the perfect way to cut some of this sugary strawberry flavour, when it donned on me: mix Franken Berry with Count Chocula!

I have created a monster, Count Franken Chocoberry!

I actually don't think I can go back to just eating one of the cereals. I've experimented with different ratios and I think a 2/3s Count Chocula to 1/3 Franken Berry gives the best results. It curbs the incredible sweetness of the Franken Berry with the slight - and I emphasize slight - bitterness of the chocolate in Count Chocula.

So, it turns out this Halloween wasn't a bust for cereal! Or at least for me. I didn't manage to get anything new, but you have to work with you've got in getting the most out of the season.

Halloween is only a week away, folks! If it takes mixing together sugary kids' cereals, do what you've gotta do!

Hope you enjoyed,

Friday, October 18, 2019

VHyesterdayS: Halloween Anniversary Edition (1997)

In honour of the spooky season today we're going to talk about the Anniversary Edition of Halloween released by Video Treasures (a.k.a. Anchor Bay) in 1997 on VHS!

I realize now that the clip above appears in 4:3, so you can't tell that its widescreen. If you look reaaallly close you can just faintly see that it's letterboxed. Consummate professionalism...

It's hard to write about John Carpenter's Halloween, because it's all been said time and time again. It's a film classic and its antagonist, Michael Myers, is a horror icon. Halloween became the archetype and best-in-class of the slasher genre and it is still held in the highest of regards to this day.

I personally watch the film every October. My tradition is usually to watch Halloween followed directly by Halloween II, as I love the story the two combine to create. I've eschewed that tradition this year in lieu of focusing on some other titles in the Halloween franchise, but I had to take in the original to kick off October.

And what cooler way than on VHS!

This was probably the best way to watch Halloween in 1997. To my knowledge the DVD wouldn't be released until 1999 and this was the first edition of the film to be presented in widescreen.

And the film looks great on this copy. I actually have never owned a DVD of Halloween, which seems crazy, but I went straight from VHS to Blu-ray. I can't say how the VHS actually stacks up against the DVD, but I can say that its as close to DVD quality as a standard VHS can get.

There is some slight VHS blur, for sure, but the colours and blacks look awesome. I've watched VHS copies of the film where you can barely make anything out in the night scenes, but in this edition there are no issues in that department whatsoever.

The audio quality is digitally mastered and sounds great. I watched with my headphones on and I could hear everything crystal clear. The music and sound effects really pop.

The only gripe I have with this copy is that on the box it states that the film is shown in its "cinematic entirety", which I understood to mean that it included the additional scenes added for the broadcast television premiere of the film on NBC in 1981. Video Treasures did do a VHS release of the Halloween Extended Edition in 1989, so I kind of assumed this would include those scenes as well, but that's not the case. I think what they mean is that you could see the film in widescreen, so nothing was cropped.

So, that was kind of a bummer! The Blu-ray that I have of the film doesn't include these scenes either, so I'm in the market for a home video release that does. I think it would be super cool to watch the TV cuts of Halloween and Halloween II, which also had additional scenes included in its broadcast premiere. It might be the most complete way to enjoy their whole story!

That aside, this is still a really cool release of the movie. It's hard to suggest it, though, for a few reasons. The main one being that if you want to watch a proper widescreen release of the film, you have so many crisper options. Being able to watch widescreen on VHS isn't all its cracked up to be. I have my VCR hooked up to an old 4:3 CRT, so you end up watching the flick letterboxed on the top and bottom. Maybe if I'd hooked it up to a widescreen LCD TV it would've been more enjoyable, but I prefer a CRT for my tapes. Unless you have one of those cool widescreen CRTs, like a nice Sony Wega, it's probably recommended you just get the DVD or Blu-ray.

Now a VHS Extended Edition copy, that would be pretty cool. Maybe I'll keep my eye out for one of those in the future.

Oh, I almost forgot! This edition came with a special feature! This sort of thing was pretty much unheard of 1997, but at the end of the tape they included the film's original trailer. I'm sure this has been uploaded in one form or another to YouTube a million times, but here's the copy I garnered from my tape.

That's it for another episode of VHyesterdayS. It's October and a great time to break out some of your favourite spooky movies and for a nostalgia overload there's no better way than to watch them as you probably did for the first time... on VHS!

Keep it spooky,

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - Garfield's Halloween Adventure

What was it?

Garfield's Halloween Adventure was the fourth Garfield television special directed and produced by Phil Roman and written by creator Jim Davis. It was the second Garfield program created by the Film Roman company after Garfield in the Rough. The previous two specials, Here Comes Garfield and Garfield on the Town, were developed by Peanuts TV special producers Mendelson-Melendez.

The show featured the usual cast of Lorenzo Music as Garfield and Gregg Berger as Odie, with a brief appearance of Thom Huge as John Arbuckle, and included C. Lindsay Workman in the role of the Old Man. The music was handled by the usual writing team of Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette and performed by velvet crooner Lou Rawls.

This time around Garfield convinces Odie to go trick-or-treating with him, a ploy to help the devilish orange cat garnish twice as much candy, candy, candy! But his greed leads him to a brush up with more than just kids in spooky costumes!

When was it available?

The Halloween special first aired on October 30th, 1985 and was followed promptly by an airing of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which was typical of CBS during this era. I can confirm for certain that it ran up until 1989 and I'm sure it was played for many years after that, but I don't know when the special officially stopped airing on CBS. It's likely it ceased to be shown in 2000, which was the year that A Garfield Christmas was last seen on live television.

It was released individually on VHS in 1992 and later on DVD in 2004 with specials A Garfield Christmas and Garfield's Thanksgiving. It was later released again on DVD in 2014. This release had the same specials listed in the 2004 disc, but included Garfield on the Town and Garfield in Paradise. It also has a new individual DVD release from 2018.

Image result for garfield's halloween adventure dvd

What about today?

You can stream Garfield's Halloween Adventure on Amazon Prime, which inexplicably has it listed as available since 1996. It's also on iTunes and probably any other streaming service you can think of. The easiest place to watch it, however is on YouTube. You won't get quite the same visual fidelity, although I'm sure it can't be that far off, but one thing you can get on YouTube is an airing of the show with it's original commercials intact!

As is always the case with YouTube links, I can't attest to how long this one will be live, but there are several versions of it floating around.

Oh, and there's that 2018 DVD!

Why do I remember it?

Garfield's Halloween Adventure was required viewing for any Halloween celebrations when I was a kid. I mean, it aired in conjunction with It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown every year! That's high marks.

I wrote about A Garfield Christmas last year, so I knew I had to give the Halloween special the same treatment, but the story is pretty much the same here. Inexplicably, CBS just dropped this show off it's Halloween specials list and it suddenly became difficult or expensive to find on home video.

Luckily, nowadays, it isn't difficult to get your hands on a copy of Garfield's Halloween Adventure, but why the Charlie Brown specials still air and not these is mind-boggling.

One thing I will say about Garfield's Halloween Adventure is that it is legit scary for kids. I believe Jim Davis has said in interviews that they sought to make it something that would genuinely frighten children and they certainly succeeded. Even for this 30-something grown man there is some creepy stuff to be found in this special.

From the monstrous trick-or-treaters Garfield and Odie encounter, to the Old Man covered in warts telling his ghostly tale, and finally the pirate ghosts searching for their hidden treasure, this isn't a light-hearted affair. I considered letting my five year old watch it this year, but decided against giving him those nightmares just yet (although I'm certain I would've watch it at that age).

Image result for garfield in disguise

As was usually the case with Garfield specials, the music here is on-point. I personally prefer the songs in A Garfield Christmas, but that's not to slight the great Halloween-y tunes present in this show. Lou Rawls' voice is perfectly deep to deliver these tracks and I'm glad that they really leaned into the spooky mood.

The TV special was adapted by Jim Davis into a book that was published in 1987 under the title Garfield in Disguise, which was also the working title of the TV special. The story is pretty much the same, but with some slight changes and a different ending tacked on. In the book, Garfield steals a pirate's treasure ring and the ghostly spooks chase after he and Odie until they return it. It was apparently story-boarded and considered for the TV show, as well, but was ultimately dropped, likely to make the 24-minute run-time required for a half hour slot.

I can't let October slide by without taking in Garfield's Halloween Adventure. I hope someday that it makes it back to broadcast television, but regardless it will always be a blast from my past!

Hope you enjoyed,

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987) - Nintendo Entertainment System

This one has been a long time coming.

First off, readers of the site might - if you try reaaaaally hard - remember that I wrote a review for the original Castlevania during Halloween... 2014. Pretty much right after I wrote that piece, I actually had designs to play its sequel and the years just kept flying by without me devoting the time.

Here we are five years later and I've finally done it!

Now, that's not all. If you'll take a quick trip back in time with me for moment, you'll see a young RyHo, sitting in front of a dusty old Nintendo Entertainment System in a cabin near a lake. It's summer and it's nighttime. After spending the day swimming it's time to find something to while away the long, hot night.

The young lad's cousin has an assortment of games that he's never played before. One of them is Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. With no manual to aid and a cousin who knows next to nothing about the game, the youth tries and tries again, but can't make heads nor tails of how to even play this title. It's not like the Castlevania game he's used to, but all the spooky monsters and bright vibrant colours keep him absolutely enthralled.

That was my first attempt at playing Simon's Quest, circa 1990 or so. This game has been a monkey on my back for approximately 30-effing-years.

This feels good.

I played the game on the new Castlevania Anniversary Collection, which released in May of this year in conjunction with developer Konami's 50th anniversary, alongside two other collections: Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection and Contra Anniversary Collection.

I've had the thing on the NES Classic since 2016, though, and I could've picked it up on just about any Nintendo Virtual Console since 2007, so I have no excuses. Not to mention the fact that copies of the game fall out of NES collector's pockets constantly there's so many of them around.

Be that as it may, I took the plunge and made Castlevania II part of my Halloween 2019 celebrations and I'm so happy I did!

Most people think of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the first of the Castlevania "Metroidvania" titles, but the fact is that it all started with... Vampire Killer?

Oh, you never heard of that one? It's considered an alternative version of the original game, which released in Japan and Europe for MSX2 PCs. It landed on European shelves before the series made it to the US and would receive its branding under the "Castlevania" title.

Simon's Quest is the second Castlevania game of this style, which hit shelves in Japan in 1987 and in the US in 1988. That said, since most people don't even know Vampire Killer exists, many would consider this as their first open-world CV game.

All of the classic elements are there: an open, non-linear environment for the player to traverse and new weapons and upgrades that can unlock previously unreachable areas of the map. The player is just plunked in the middle of a town with no idea which direction to traverse and they must speak with the villagers to gain clues on where their adventure should take them.

The game brings back the hero of the original title, Simon Belmont, who after having defeated Dracula has found out that the Master of Darkness managed to place a curse on him before his demise. In order to remove the curse, Simon must find the five parts of Dracula (I dunno what the townsfolk did to the dude after the first game, but shit got dark), which are holed up in five different mansions around Transylvania, and resurrect the monster... so he can kill his blood-suckin' ass again!

As I mentioned, you can go anywhere you want in the game - no levels here- but in true Metroidvania style certain enemies will be too tough to deal with unless you've completed a certain area, retrieved a new item, or upgraded Simon's strengths.

Simon still has his trusty whip to aide him in his quest, which you can upgrade throughout the game thanks to finding hidden gypsies. Yes that says gypsies and I don't mean like kinda hidden. Whoever developed this game doesn't like you and didn't want you to complete it.

This is among a handful of titles for the NES that I usually refer to as the "Nintendo Power sellers", because they garnered subscriptions to the famous magazine like Evians in the desert. Not only are many of the required items and clues hidden in the most devious of places, even if you have all the right pieces to the puzzle the game requires you do the strangest things to progress.

Like, if you have the Blue Cystal, which you need to magically drain a river at the beginning of the game, what would you think? You'd equip it in the menu and hop in, right?


You'd equip it and kneel next to the water for several seconds until the game revealed the hidden path.

This kind of stuff cropped up in The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, as well. I'm sure it was all a scheme of sorts. You should see my conspiracy board sometime!

So, if you can find the right path, get the right items, figure out all the crazy hidden secrets, survive the mansions, and defeat Death and Lady Camilla, you can take on your old pal, Drac and say bye bye to that curse!

Provided you finish your quest in under 8 "video" days. If not, you die anyway. Yeah, that's what we used to call "Nintendo hard" back in the day, kids!

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the "day and night" mechanic, which is surprising, because it will drive you mad as you enjoy this perfectly wonderful game! Every night at 6PM in the game, which by the way you don't have a handy pocket watch or anything so you have no idea when, the game flips you into night. It pretty well just means that the colours get spookier and the enemies get harder, ya know, in case you weren't having enough troubles as it was.

All in all, Simon's Quest is a great game that I wish I had just tasked myself with completing a long time ago. Although I came of age with Symphony of the Night, which is certainly a much more playable Metroidvania, there's a lot to enjoy here. The only issue I would take from the game is the repetition.

They reuse a lot of enemy sprites and the music isn't very varied. I remedied the music problem by listening to Dino Drac's Halloween Jukebox (I can't promise if that link will work after October 31st or not), which I couldn't recommend enough, by the way! As for the enemies, they spice things up by giving them outlandish different colour palettes and I just can't get mad at a game that lets me fight nuclear green skeletons.

Once you get into the groove of deciphering all the crazy stuff the townspeople say and you figure out the trick to finding pretty much all the secrets (just throw Holy Water everywhere... that's it. That's the trick) you'll realize how much fun you're actually having. Just make sure you have that copy of Nintendo Power handy - you know, the one with the beheaded Dracula on the cover (how did they sell this thing to kids?) - and you'll be right as rain!

Like I said, there's no lack of ways to get your hands on Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, but I couldn't recommend the Castlevania Anniversary Collection enough, which is loaded with other awesome games from the series for the price of a pizza ($26 CDN, to be exact). Oh, and the Anniversary Collection also includes Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, which is the October 2019 Game of the Month for the Cartridge Club! See, win-win.

Keep it spooky!