Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Legend of Zelda Collector's Fun Box

Here at Ashton's Blog, we like to be diverse with our blog posts, so here's something we haven't done yet: a product review.

Several months ago, maybe even a year or so, it was announced that there would be Legend of Zelda trading cards released.  I've always had a soft spot for trading cards because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards from when I was a child and the Fleer X-Men cards from when I was a teen. Being the Zelda fan that I am, this announcement excited me.  It also brought me dread, because the last thing I need is something else to collect.

I first saw the LoZ Collector's Fun Box at Walmart a few weeks ago.  This was the first I'd seen of the trading cards and thought it would be a cool start to the collection, especially since it included a pin. After much deliberation, I decided that I had room for one more collectible in my life and bought it.

As you can see, it includes over 30 items!  The first thing to catch my eye was the pin.  The second thing to catch my eye was the 8-bit Link just below the pin.  I'm all about some old school LoZ and liked the promise of having some in this box.  It also says it comes with a poster, foil cards, decals, and tattoos.  So let's open'er up and see what's inside!

So there's the poster featuring some Twilight Princess art.  I like it!  It's not huge, but it fits perfectly at my desk at work and is a nice backdrop for all my figures (I'll post a pic at the end).

Up next we have the pin.

As you can see, it's a gold wingcrest.  My first thought was to put this on a guitar strap, so I did.

This is what pushed me over the edge and made me decide to buy the Fun Box.  Most places sell lapel pins for at least $5-$7.  At $10 for the box, which includes four packs of cards and a poster, I couldn't pass it up.

There are two other pins available; Link's shield and the Legend of Zelda logo that's on the box.  I prefer the crest, so that's the one I went with.

The main purpose of this box is to give some extra fun stuff to go along with the trading cards.  So here are the cards...

The packs contain six cards and either a decal or a tattoo.  Each box also comes with one Midna gold foil card.  I couldn't wait to rip open the packs of cards, so that's what I did.

The cards have art from Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and A Link Between Worlds.  These were the five most recent game releases (with OoT and MM being reissued and updated on the 3DS), so I guess it makes sense that the cards feature those games.  I'd have liked some stuff from the other games, too, but I guess they can release those in later series.

Here are some close ups of some of my favorite cards.

Here's one of the tattoos:

And one of the decals (or "stickers," as we call them in Mississippi):

Final verdict:

I'm a fan of this set.  The pin is the highlight and the cards are fun and bring back nostalgia of trading Ninja Turtles cards on the playground in elementary school.  The biggest problem I've encountered is a lack of individual packs of cards in the wild.  I haven't been able to buy any of them anywhere.  I could order some on Amazon, but where's the fun in that.

If you have the collectors' bug like I do and are a fan of the Legend of Zelda, you should get this.  Hopefully we'll see more series with art from earlier games and Breath of the Wild, but for now, this is well worth ten bucks!

Bonus pic of LoZ merch with the poster in the background!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Legend of Zelda: a small retrospective

The Legend of Zelda released in Japan on February 21, 1986.  It wouldn't make its way to the States until the next year, but 2016 is its true 30th birthday, so this is the time for a little reminiscing...

My experience with video games started early in life, mainly because my grandpa loved them.  I remember playing Pitfall, Outlaw, Mouser, Pole Position, and E.T. on his Atari.  There was a convenience store by my house (I grew up way out in the country...two convenience stores were all we had) that had a Super Mario Bros. arcade machine.  My grandpa would take me there to play it all the time.  I also always ended up renting Gorgo.  That movie ruled.

Gorgo was the British Godzilla, for those who are curious.

One Christmas, my grandparents handed me a gift that would change my life forever.  I tore off the wrapping paper to discover a Nintendo Entertainment System, and with it, Super Mario Bros!  I was shocked and excited that I could now play this amazing game in the comfort of my own living room, and play it I did!  Constantly.  (As an aside, my grandma told me that my grandpa had the NES for a while before Christmas and would take it out everyday while I was at school and play it!)

I just thought I was obsessed with video games.  It wasn't until a couple years later that my life was truly changed.  Pawpaw (my grandpa) called me to tell me about this new game he just rented that had a little green dude with a sword fighting all these crazy monsters.  I couldn't wait to see what he was talking about!

So I finally get back to their house and this is what I see:

Just look at this cartridge! (Kids, a cartridge is what games used to come on) It's so shiny!  And gold!  Oh, the gold!  I had never seen such a thing in all my six years of life.  Thirty years later and it is still a sight to behold.  And then when you actually put the cartridge in and turn it on...

This screen combined with the music really sets the mood for what is an epic adventure.  Then you get the back story:

Come on, Nintendo.  Don't make me Gannon-ban you.

Awesome!  We get to be the hero who rescues a damsel in distress, but who also is pretty heroic herself, seeing as how she was proactive in trying to keep Ganon (misspelled here as "Gannon") from getting the Triforce of Wisdom.  Such a simple concept, but perfect for six year old me.  Okay, let's play! what?  Kids, back in the day, games didn't hold your hand.  Most of the time, they didn't even acknowledge that you had a hand.  Or an arm.  LoZ just thrust you right in the action with no direction on where to go, no weapon...all you had was a choice: north, east, or west.  Or, if you were brave, a random cave entrance in the rock in front of you.  If this game came out today, there would be a one-hour guided intro that told you how to do everything you needed to complete the game.  Back then, we were expected to figure it out, take some chances.

Link starts out facing north, so most people probably went that way (I don't know if that's true).  If you did go that way, you encountered these weird things spitting rocks at you.  And you had no way to fight them.    As I'm sure most people know now, the best course of action (unless you're one of those people who do crazy things like attempt to beat this game without a sword) is to enter the cave, where you meet this guy:

I know we're always told not to take candy from a stranger, but what about a sword?

And so the fun began!  I'm not really going to go into much more detail about this, because there have been thousands of reviews of this game in the last thirty years.  I want to spend the rest of this post just hitting on some high points of the Legend of Zelda, specifically its merchandise.

I don't know if it's just because I grew up in the middle of nowhere in south Mississippi, where the nearest Walmart was over thirty minutes away and "going to town" was something we planned a week in advance, but it seems like merchandise for video games or movies or cartoons was hard to come by.  In third grade, I bought a little cross at the Santa Shop and used it at recess as Link's sword.  I remember making my own t-shirt of Link fighting an Octorock.  It was awful.  I wish I still had it.  One day, however, I got this:

The Legend of Zelda Game Watch.  This was what dreams were made of!  I don't remember when I got it, I just remember loving it and playing with it a lot.  I really do wish I had more specific memories of it, but alas, time, like waves on the seashore, has wiped away those little episodes from my mind.  This, though, still lives on in my thoughts...

The Legend of Zelda Maze Game.  When I was a child, much like today, I wasn't crazy about doing outside stuff.  Granted, I loved riding my four-wheeler and playing football in the backyard, but that was about it.  Before I got the "sword" that I mentioned above, recess was not my favorite.  The slide was too high for me climb (I'm still scared of heights) and I actually loved the seesaw until I managed to fall off while I was at the top.  But then I got the LoZ Maze Game.  I sat for hours under the tree next to the swings and attempted to navigate the little ball from the top corner to the opposite bottom corner.  It wasn't hard, but it didn't matter, because it was the Legend of Zelda!

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a game changer.  It was one of my favorite games in cartoon form!  And it had Capt. Lou Albano!  I was pretty excited to have this show in my life.  Things got kicked up a notch when at the end of the first episode they showed a preview for The Legend of Zelda, which was coming on Friday!  My mind melted.

I. Love.  This. Show.  Even today, 27 years later.  Is it mainly because of nostalgia that I love it so much?  Probably, but I'm okay with that.  Look, we all know that unless we're talking about Batman: The Animated Series, the cartoons from our childhoods just don't hold up.  This is no exception.  If I didn't have such fond memories of watching this in the morning before school while eating Pop-Tarts or Fruity Pebbles, I'd probably have a hard time getting into it today.  But I do have those memories and I love this show.

I, like most people my age, had a subscription to Nintendo Power back in the day.  When A Link to the Past came out, they did a comic every month that was loosely based on the game.  The comic was collected in a trade paperback many years ago, but unfortunately sells for way more money than I'm willing to spend.  Since I'm missing more than half of those issues of Nintendo Power, I had given up hope.  Until last year...

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by Shotaro Ishinomori was finally rereleased with a new cover!  When I was a kid I used to copy so many pictures of Link from this series.  Looking through it today I still want to pull out the ol' mechanical pencil and get to drawing!

Things have gotten much better for collectors over the years.  Gone are the days of lucking up and finding a measly little LoZ maze game.  Now you can walk into any store that sells pop culture merchandise and find LoZ coffee mugs, puzzles, t-shirts, socks, playing cards, lanyards, toys, statues...I could keep going.

Action figures are my poison of choice.  I've tried to rein in my collecting habits by buying only action figures of DC characters, Star Wars, and Legend of Zelda (unsuccessfully, by the way, especially since Hasbro seems to be releasing classic X-Men characters as part of their Marvel Legends line).  Here's my current Link display in my office at work.

As you can see, there's no shortage of Link action figures or figurines these days.  There are tons more that I want, but I do have a family to provide for.  I guess I shouldn't spend all my money on a little pointy eared guy with an awesome sword.

Thanks for looking back with me at some of my favorite pieces of merchandise from one of the greatest franchises ever!  As next year brings us what is sure to be the biggest and most highly anticipated game in the series, here's hoping for some more awesome merch!  Comment with your favorite memories or memorabilia from Legend of Zelda!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Merle Haggard and Prince

So I'm not really good at waxing philosophical or sentimental or any of that, so this is probably going to be a disjointed mess (but isn't life, usually?).  Actually, I'm not even going to attempt to get deep right now.  I had two paragraphs about the frailty of life and a loving God who has a plan for us, but now isn't the time for that post, so I deleted them.  Now is the time to celebrate two of my musical heroes.

I've cried twice in my life because of the death of a celebrity.  Both of those times were this month.

On April 6, the last great country singer died.  Merle Haggard was my favorite singer/songwriter/guitarist.  If you were to ask me put together a playlist of what country music should be, I would just list his albums.  His music was country music.  He wrote songs for the common man, the working man, the incarcerated, the heartbroken, the love-struck, the fun-loving.  His voice was thick and smooth like molasses.  He could pick the fire out of a guitar.

I went to my first concert when I was in third grade (so 1989, maybe?).  It was in Biloxi at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.  I got to see three country legends, all of whom have since passed on: Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Merle Haggard.  My first Father's Day gift after having my son was a ticket to see Merle Haggard at Champions Square outside the Super Dome in New Orleans.  At 76 years old he could still go.

Mainstream country music is a hot mess right now.  There aren't many gatekeepers left.  These new "artists" are just flat out terrible and don't care the least for country music.  If we're not careful, country will be lost to the masses.  Merle stood up for real country music.

The older he got, the better he sounded.  Here he is singing as good as ever and playing a beautiful, smooth guitar solo.

Today, we lost the most talented musician to ever sing/write/record/perform/breathe/exist.  Prince could do it all.  If you heard an instrument on one of his albums, chances are he played it.  You've heard the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none."  That didn't apply to Prince.  He was the master of all.

My favorite song to play is "Purple Rain."  Prince changed the way I think about guitar.  When I was learning to play I listened to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  My grandpa taught me to play with songs by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.  All of those artists (and especially my grandpa) had an influence on my style.  But Prince changed things.  There's something about his's so effortless, yet he put everything he had into it.  He milked the notes for all they're worth, but was so fast his fingers were like lightning.  I strive to be just a tenth as melodic as he was.  (I had to go back and change those last few sentences to make them past tense.  I'm still not okay with him being gone...)  This weekend when I play "Purple Rain" I hope I can do it justice.

Here's an early version of "Purple Rain."  It's so raw and...I don't know.  It's just good.  I don't know how long this video will be up on YouTube, so watch it while you can.

Here's a bonus clip from when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Prince owned all that night.

2016 has been cruel to entertainment so far.  Here's hoping she's finished.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Daily(ish) Randomness #7 - Nuclear Jitters

So I'm back after going on vacation and being sick for a few days (and also being lazy).  Hopefully I can get back in the habit of posting somewhat regularly.

Today we're going back in time...

June 1962.  The previous year, the Soviet Union had tested the Tsar Bomba, a 50 megaton hydrogen bomb that was, and still is, the largest bomb ever detonated.  President Kennedy had been emphasizing a missile gap between the States and the Soviet Union, with the USSR winning (that wasn't actually the case, but, you know, politics).  With the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis just around the corner, tensions were quite high.

Joe Orlando was a well-respected comic artist, writer, and editor.  He worked with Wally Wood at EC, was a cartoonist for Mad (and later associate publisher), and editor (among various other things) at DC.  He also designed the famous box art for Sea Monkeys.  For the June 1962 issue of Mad, Orlando had drawn a comic that perfectly captured the fear felt by most Americans.

Kids these days will never know what it was like living with the threat of nuclear annihilation.  Admittedly, neither will I.  Things had calmed down considerably by the 1980s, except for a brief period after Reagan's election, but I was too young at that point to remember anything about it.

But anyway, Joe Orlando was incredibly talented in many different ways.  He captured the zeitgeist of the time and the fear felt by the population.  And he didn't even use dialog!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily(ish) Randomness #6

No one wants to be cramped in a small apartment all day, right?  Well, back in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, a lot of people in big cities lived in cramped apartments.  Everyone knows that sunlight and fresh air are good for one's health and immune system, including Dr. Luther Emmett, who wrote in his 1884 book The Care and Feeding of Children that it was important to "air" your child to "renew and purify the blood."

So in 1920 we have the Boggins' Window Crib.

And here are a couple actually in use:

Totally safe, right?

I hate that I missed out on this with my first son.  However, I have another one due in June, so maybe I can convince the wife to give this a try...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Daily(ish) Randomness #5

Today's post is nothing new to Star Wars fans, but I always find it amusing.  Greedo is one of the coolest looking characters in all of the Star Wars films.

He appears only in A New Hope and doesn't really do much (I've never read any Expanded Universe so I don't know what adventures he had EU stuff doesn't really count anymore anyway) except get shot.  He doesn't even get a shot off, regardless of what George Lucas would have you believe.

Now for the main reason we're here today - this behind the scenes shot of our favorite bounty hunter who doesn't fall down a hole and die:

Yes, friends, that's Greedo in high heels.  For some shots, Greedo was played by Canadian actress Maria De Aragon.  Like I said, this isn't news to fans of the series, but there's no denying that there's just something funny and amusing about seeing this character rocking some heels.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Daily(ish) Randomness #4

Some things are up for debate: Muhammed Ali is the greatest boxer of all time.  The Beatles were the greatest band of all time.  Ghostbusters is the greatest documentary of all time.

Some things are definitely not up for debate, such as the fact that the Fender Telecaster is the greatest guitar ever made in the history of guitars.  Here are some vintage ads for Telecasters.

Normally I'd encourage discussion in the comments, but there's nothing to discuss.  Telecasters are the best.