Area 5's evil ruler, Hard Shell.In my spare time, that is the time I don't spend beating up old people, I've been nursing a rather painful and humiliating condition. I've been addicted to Blaster Master, a game I recently derided for having a less than stellar plot. It seems the sort of peanut gallery theatrics that Blaster Master celebrates are quite transcendental, as I've been spending the last two months jumping around in a tank (this is a magical jumping tank, not unlike magical Mexican jumping beans) and blaming everybody but myself for these countless deaths that definitely aren't my fault and are obviously due to a computer that blatantly cheats. The fact that I'm up against an unfair opponent whose systematic and obvious cheating goes unchecked is of little concern to me, since I would gladly turn the tables and cheat myself if I wasn't convinced I'd have to explain myself to Jesus at a later date. I'll be honest, in the decade or so that has passed since I last sold my NES to an unsuspecting group of people who answered my classified ad in the local newspaper, I have apparently lost all ability to play console games. Even now, as I play my illegally obtained ROMs of games I no longer own the original cartridges to, I just can't do any sort of good. When you stick a controller of any kind in my hand, it feels like I'm holding a brick, or to be more precise, a very ergonomic brick made of a mystical substance that renders the tiny brains inside my fingers retarded. I tried playing these antique games with a keyboard, but that doesn't help me fair any better. I can't even play Super Mario Brothers now without immediately getting killed by a Goomba in a mistimed jumping accident. Sure, I can play fairly decent at complicated games that require me to fly a plane off an aircraft carrier, dive bomb enemy vehicles, parachute out, climb into a jeep, run over somebody, jump out, and capture a base without too much difficultly, but stick a pit about 32 pixels wide in front of me and I'll immediately jump in as if though it were not a pit at all but rather some kind of alluring siren.

I'm not here to talk about my psychological inability to jump over pits, though. Besides, Rich would murder me for talking about pits too much since he's busy trying to jumpstart his own personal Pitfall! renaissance. The pathetic issue that has got me all hot and bothered this week is Hard Shell, the Area 5 boss of Blaster Master. Whatever mental defect it is that causes me to obsess endlessly about the miniscule and retarded things normal people fly right by has anchored itself firmly in the loins of our not-so-friendly Area 5 endboss. Getting to Hard Shell was quite difficult seeing as how I had to swim through underwater caverns and then navigate through an ill-placed base. But when I finally got to his lair, I couldn't help but marvel at his awesome presence. He (or possibly a she, I didn't get a chance to look under Hard Shell's carapace) was truly something else. Hard Shell's appearance was like the apocalypse, the monumental crab equivalent of a mushroom cloud. The only thing that could compete with this horrific monstrosity is a Richard Simmons nude centerfold spread, but I dare not imagine such ghastly sights for fear of causing irreparable damage to my genitals. Allow me to explain what it is about Hard Shell that evokes such terror:


Seriously, the claws on this beast were bigger than me! One pinch and I could easily be split into two smaller halves. Cripes, the pressure those things could apply would cause me to burst before it ever cut through. I'd explode like a meat grenade sending torrents of red in every direction.


If for some reason I got the notion to jump on Hard Shell's back, I would be severely wounded. His back is made up of cascading spikes, each of which slavers for the chance to taste my skin. Worst of all, should I be launched into the air with those claws, I would be turned into swish cheese if I landed on that jagged back.


Hard Shell is protected by what appears to be a grenade and bulletproof shell. Shooting him would do little good, unless, well, there is a trio of glowing green eyes – perhaps they represent a weak spot! But still, I would have to use precise aiming in order to insert my bullets and grenades into these eyes, and due to the pathetic range of my weapons, I would have to do it from roughly point blank range. With those giant claws, that could prove to be lethal. This carapace is also so strong that it completely withstands the infamous "pause the game after shooting a grenade" cheat.

This side by side shot shows how big and impressive Hard Shell is compared to me, the heroic champion of frog rescuing stupidity.Now the first thing I thought when this behemoth approached me was, "what kind of leadership skills does this giant crab have?" Really, this is a fair question. Logically, because Hard Shell is the endboss of this undersea outpost, he could therefore be considered the leader of the entire Area 5 employee base. Since he had an untold number of subordinates, he must have some leadership qualities that he is able to demonstrate. Maybe Hard Shell is extremely charismatic? Maybe he's great at inspiring his minions, or maybe he has immaculate organization skills, I don't know. Seeing as how fundamental differences in ideology prevented me from fighting Hard Shell in, oh, say, a political debate or roundtable discussion on the AIDs crisis in Africa, I was not able to fully understand or even glimpse the qualities that make him such a dynamic leader. The fact is that in an ideal world, you simply don't get to be the endboss unless you offer something unique to the evil hierarchy. I can't imagine Plutonium Boss, the sort of CEO of this underground organization, hiring somebody based entirely on looks. But really, I couldn't help but think that's exactly what he did. When I first confronted Hard Shell, not about his leadership abilities or anything personal like that (I wanted to hear his side first), I was shocked out of my Scooby Doo pajamas by his methods. This monster, this spiked beast that was the living manifestation of Golgotha, attacked me not with giant claws, menacing spikes, or anything even remotely intimidating, but with bubbles! He was shooting bubbles at me!


OH SHIT, IT'S A BUBBLE! OH SWEET JESUS, RUN LIKE HELL BEFORE IT KILLS US ALL!Folks, I've been thrown a curveball here and there, but this was like the bell curve of curveballs. What the fuck kind of evolutionary snafu would allow for such a hellish beast to exist, yet limit it to having the gayest attack imaginable? I suppose being the product of radiation would explain this unnatural and thoroughly idiotic development, but even then I have a hard time believing such insanity would actually happen. I even walked up to Hard Shell to see if he would use his natural physical gifts – the claws and the spikes – to shred me like an important Enron document, but no, he stood his ground and tried to bubble me to death. Jesus Christ, maybe it was all those years of Bubble Bobble, but I'm just not afraid of bubbles. And really, who is? Somewhere out there, maybe there is a kid suffering from bubblephobia because of some traumatic childhood incident were a soapy bubble flew into his eye and caused some minor pain, but the odds of that are slim to nil. So here I am, face to face with the most frightening thing ever, and it's blowing bubbles at me. Maybe this was meant to be some sort of profound commentary about judging others based on appearance, and I simply mistook it for an action packed tank game. Maybe. How else could such a thing be?

Well, in spite of the ridiculousness of Hard Shell's methods, I quickly learned there was some merit to them. The bubbles were not just poison, but a rare form of poison the armor I wear cannot protect against. Sure, radiation is of no concern with this suit, but toxic bubbles are a danger nothing can defend against! Physical contact with these bubbles caused one bar on my health meter to be subtracted, bringing me closer to death and the realization that nature works in extremely mysterious ways. I wasn't going to allow death to get the better of me, though. No way was my tombstone going to be marred with the harsh words, "Valiantly made it to Area 5, but succumbed to poison bubbles." I was going to fight this beast, and I was going to win. My offensive would need to be hard and absolute, so I went to the library to check out a copy of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." Unfortunately, since there was nothing about bubble attacks in it, I quickly returned it and told the librarian that she was running a house built on a foundation of lies. I was on my own, but it wouldn't be the first time.

My first battles against Hard Shell were hopeless. The more I attacked him, the more his bubble-shooting gland went into overdrive. Like being trapped in quicksand or getting raped, the more I fought, the deeper the grave I dug. I began to understand the Plutonium Boss' decisions, and just why Hard Shell was running Area 5. I was ready to completely give up and admit defeat, but I had an epiphany of sorts that changed the way I looked at this battle. Hard Shell was shooting bubbles at me, this much was certain. But how? Almost like nausea, the realization crept in. Maybe this wasn't a land battle at all; perhaps this fight was being waged underwater! To think, all this time I naively thought I had the advantage because of the fact we weren't submerged in water, but no, we in fact were submerged in water! When I entered the room Hard Shell was trapped in (the door leading to his lair was too small for him to go through, so the entire base must have been constructed around him), the background went black. Because of this, I have no way of knowing if I'm still in his base or if I'm completely submerged in water. The gravity and physics seemed identical to being on land, but that could just be to throw me off. Now that the truth was no longer hidden, Hard Shell would have to fight on an even level playing field. I was psychologically armed and ready.

As much as I'd like to dedicate this paragraph to telling you of my epic victory, he still kicked my ass. It certainly all goes back to my claims that I'm up against a system that employs such tactics as audacious cheating, knowing what I'm going to do before I do it, and looking the other way when I clearly fire off a direct hit. I suppose in the end this is just one more achievement that won't be going on my résumé. I'd hate to be in a job interview and try to justify why I never made it past Area 5 to the fabled icy depths of Area 6. But most of all, I just hate. This whole experience has left me jaded and bitter. I had little faith left to put into anything before Blaster Master, and I have even less now. The final deathblow to my will to live was a bubble. And like a bubble, all I have left to do now is burst. If anything, I probably deserve to die for writing close to 2000 words about a boss monster from Blaster Master.

We're Gonna Ragnarok Around the Clock

Howdy pardner, Taylor "Psychosis" Bell here once again to provide you with valuable information on a game you should avoid at all costs. However, I "changed it up" this week, since I first tried this game over a year ago. Shortly after that, for a college technical writing course, I turned in a paper that insulted both the game and the guy who talked me into trying the game. I have included that paper as part one of the article, and part two chronicles the fantastic experiences I had for these last few days trying to get the game to work again so I could write a review. The game I speak of is a totally awesome MMORPG called Ragnarok Online!

Ragnarok Online is a massively multiplayer point-and-click RPG, meaning you can play it without having to use cumbersome things like your keyboard or your brain. First you select a character. You can choose from a grand total of 1 starting class, and you can have 7 unique looks, so no matter how you look you'll have a lot of identical twins in the land of Ragnarok. Then you get to play the game itself, which is an absolute blast. First you find an enemy, meaning anything wandering around that isn't a player. Then you click on it, and your guy runs over and kills it. Or if your guy is weak, he gets killed by whatever it is you just tried to attack. Once you've done this, you've experienced the entirety of Ragnarok Online's deep and complex gameplay. If you click on enough enemies, your guy goes up a level, which means you are a little bit stronger and you can go click on some slightly different enemies without dying. You can get the same experience by going to the nearest park and kicking gradually bigger and bigger rocks. People in Korea can't do this, since rocks have been outlawed in Korea ever since a protestor hit Kim Dae Jung in the eye with one in 1996, but that's no excuse for this game getting played in America.

Read the review before I have to come over there and click your HP down to zero.

– Josh "Livestock" Boruff (@Livestock)

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