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Sunshine (DVD)

Starring: Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, The Human Torch and an assortment of other faces you'll struggle to place.

Rated: 15

Story: The sun is dying. A group of astronauts are sent to drop a special bomb into it to give it a jumpstart. They bicker, they chat, they do astronaut kind of things and then they stumble across the remains of the first ship sent to do the job. Rather than getting on with the task in hand, they decide to investigate.

Take a wild guess as to how well that goes...

Comments: A few years ago, a couple of films about astronauts traveling to Mars came out at about the same. I think they were called Red Planet and Mission to Mars but I'm not entirely sure and they were so forgettable that I can't even be bothered to check. They've pretty much blended together in my head. Looks like I'm not the only one that's happened to, though, because mix those two movies with a touch of The Core and a dash of 2001, and you'd have the first half of Sunshine. Throw in a little Sphere and a portion of generic slasher movie and you'd have the second half.

Yep, it starts off familiar and almost interesting and ends up familiar and rather silly.

What with the journey taking months and all the talk of heat-shields and such, the set up is obviously supposed to be more NASA than Star Trek. I somewhat suspect, however, that if NASA had a computer which controlled everything on one of their ships, they wouldn't stop it overheating by sticking it in an OPEN pool of liquid coolant. I hope that someone would think, "Hang on a minute... What happens if the artificial gravity stops working, or there's a depressurisation in the computer room? Maybe we need to look at this again. And while we're at it, let's send enough oxygen with the ship to last for the entire journey rather than faffing with putting a garden in there. Sure, the oxygen will be heavy but, since the bomb is THE SIZE OF MANHATTAN, who's going to notice a few extra gas tanks? And maybe we should teach all the crew members how to set off the bomb. You know, in case something happens to that physicist guy. We could even make it so there's a handy control panel or something rather than requiring a selection of bits and bobs connected together with crocodile clips. And..." The list goes on. (And that's not even examining the plausibility of the central plot device).

Apparently, scientists were brought in to consult on the movie but, as with Deja Vu, they were asked the wrong questions. The details of the bomb are of no interest whatsoever - all the audience needs to know is that it's a bomb that has to go into the sun. That way, it's essentially magic, and we can get on with watching Rose Byrne and some explosions. It's the details of everything else that should have been checked out.

I have to imagine that the primary audience of Sunshine is people with a scientific background. Even the kind of teenage boy who's going to watch this movie is liable to have some clue about space travel. Thus, having a spaceship full of ludicrous design choices is something of an oversight. It's what everyone's going to talk about; it's what will put them off buying the DVD. (Well, actually, the rubbish plot that relies on people identifying danger but failing to call for back up before going to investigate might do that, too, but that's beside the point). It's these 'little things' that should have been run past some science graduates. I don't care how the faster-than-light travel happens in Star Wars or how the Death Star works - I'm happy to accept it. It's the use of 'parsec' as a measure of time rather than distance that grates every time.

Thinking about it, though, Sunshine has to be applauded for at least trying. There are hardly any recent science fiction movies set close to the present day and involving relatively realistic space travel. There's those two Mars films and another couple of movies separated at birth - Armageddon and Deep Impact. Unfortunately, despite the lack of competition, Sunshine still manages to come across as derivative.

I wonder if we'll ever get a space-based film set in the near future that doesn't involve aliens, a rescue mission or the end of the world.

Conclusion: You'd be better spending your money on some energy-saving daylight bulbs - they're great. Sunshine isn't.

Explosions: One or two.
Scientists involved: Not enough.
Similarities to other movies: Quite a few.
Number of crew members whose names you'll remember before they die: Not so many.

Rating: 2/5.

Wii Zapper & Link's Crossbow Training (Wii)

Rated: 12+ but, to be honest, this seems to be more to do with the controller being vaguely gun-shaped than anything else. There's no gore and you don't get to shoot people - it's mainly shooting targets, goblins and skeletons. None of the enemies are scarier than the zombies you have to slap around the head using an EyeToy in Sega Superstars and that's rated 3+.

Story: Theory 1 - Nintendo are trying to hide the fact that their latest peripheral is merely a bit of plastic by packaging a game with it.

Theory 2 - Nintendo are trying to hide the fact that their latest game is very short and mostly recycled by packaging a bit of plastic with it.

Theory 3 - Nintendo are too busy counting money to bother hiding anything any more. This will all look like a bargain in a few months time once a motley bunch of other developers have knocked out a stack of full-price 'zapper compatible' games that aren't as good and don't come with a bit of plastic.

Gameplay: Shoot things! There are nine levels split into three stages each. Each stage is a minute or so long. Some stages simply involve pointing the cursor at targets and pulling the trigger. Some require you to turn on the spot to find targets by pointing off screen. Others involve using the control stick on the nunchuk to move about and hunt down targets. Holding down the z-button zooms the view; holding down the trigger charges up an explosive crossbow bolt. A bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal can be earned with a high enough total score on a level. Get a bronze medal and the next level is unlocked.

Save System: Automatic save after each level.

Comments: There are two ways to set up the zapper. The first involves clipping in both the wiimote and nunchuk, the second involves just clipping in the wiimote and holding the nunchuk normally. Neither is very good. Using the zapper with both hands, the trigger is too near the front end of the 'barrel' for the experience to feel natural, and it's not balanced properly for one-handed use, making aiming a constant battle against wrist strain. In both cases, the zapper is more unwieldy than holding the wiimote normally. It's also harder to reliably point at things. This is not a good start.

On top of that, the zapper doesn't work like a traditional lightgun. Rather than point where you want to shoot, you move the zapper to direct an on-screen cursor. There's a calibration screen in Crossbow Training that makes it possible to more closely match the position of the cursor with where you're pointing but it's not hugely convincing and is dependent on where you're standing. (I found I had to be a long way back from my TV). Unlike a lightgun, looking down the zapper to see what you're shooting is a complete waste of time. It's all about the cursor.

Essentially, the zapper doesn't feel like a gun, doesn't work like a gun and is less accurate than the wiimote on its own. You have to wonder what the point is.

Oh, and the plastic hinge on the clip that locks the nunchuk in place seems very flimsy.

If you've played Twilight Princess, then your first reaction to Link's Crossbow Training will be deja vu. Locations, enemies, sound effects and just about everything else have been entirely re-used. Considering how tired Twilight Princess felt at times, this is a problem. Unlocking new levels is a bit like opening your Christmas presents only to discover that they're last year's gifts that have been rewrapped.

Crossbow Training is also very short. Unlocking all the levels doesn't take much more than an hour. Getting a large haul of decent medals takes another hour. Obtaining platinum on every level will take longer but is liable to result in as much frustration as fun thanks to the scoring system. Shooting a target gives a set number of points but this is multiplied by the number of successful hits in a row. So, if there are 10 5-point targets, the first is worth 5 points and the last is potentially worth 50 points. One missed shot half way through a stage resets the multiplier and halves your overall score compared with a missed shot at the beginning or end of the level. This means platinum medals are as much about patience and memorisation as accurate aiming.

That said, Crossbow Training is enjoyable to play in quick bursts and the short levels make it addictive. The need to maintain a string of hits adds some depth, forcing constant balancing of risk versus reward. Is it worth trying for a difficult, distant target at the possible cost of a carefully built up x40 multiplier? As a demo game for the zapper, Crossbow Training is pretty decent. It's at least as good as Wii Play.

Wii Play is only an extra £5 on top of the cost of a wiimote, however. Since the Zapper/Training package costs £20 and the zapper doesn't really seem worth much more than a fiver itself, something doesn't entirely add up. True, the zapper can be used with other games but, if it doesn't work that well with this, what are the chances of it working much at all with anything more complicated? Most of the buttons on the wiimote are hard to get to and motion-sensing would be a real pain. (Apparently, these are issues even with the relatively basic Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles.)

Conclusion: Link's Crossbow Training is mildly fun for an hour or two but the zapper doesn't add much to the experience and is pretty uncomfortable.


Graphics: All the locations are ripped wholesale out of Twilight Princess. Everything looks nice, but way too familiar.

Length: Very short.

Rating: 2/5.

(Does the link suggest you spend more than £20? If so, just laugh and move along. Oddly, you might do better searching in the shops than online.)

Balloon Lagoon

Price: £15

  • Board.
  • Musical merry-go-round timer. (Requires 3 AA batteries - not included).
  • 4 fairground games.
  • 4 playing pieces (duck, submarine, whale & boat).
  • 72 scoring balloons.
Gameplay: On their turn, each player spins the merry-go-round and plays the fairground game it points to. Pressing the big button on top of the merry-go-round starts a tune and the player has until the tune stops to complete the game. Depending how well they do, they receive between zero and four little plastic balloons to stick in their playing piece.

The four fairground games are:
  • Letter Lake - Choose a word from a flipbook and then attempt to fish the correct letters out of a container using a magnetic rod.
  • Snack Hut - Drop six dice into the top of the hut. Keep some and put the others back in an effort to get four of a kind.
  • Frog Pond - Tiddlywinks with plastic frogs.
  • Tumble Tides - Choose a picture from a flipbook. Then press levers to spin wheels to try to match all four sections of the picture.
Object: To be the first player to fill their piece with balloons.

Game length: Somewhere between five and ten minutes per player.

Number of players: 2-4

Age: 5+, according to the box. This is probably about right - younger children need help to play. On the other hand, a four-year-old playing a five-year-old will be a more even match than a five-year-old against an eight-year-old. The games involve just enough skill to ensure an older child or adult will almost always win if they try.

Comments: All the fun of the fair without the risk of winning a goldfish.

Well, maybe. More like all the fun of a village fete.

A small village.

Where it rains a lot and they've run out of candyfloss. I grew up in rural Norfolk - trust me on this...

Balloon Lagoon has lots of colourful parts and interesting appearing pieces but there's really not much to it. There's no traveling round the board or interaction with the other players. It's simply a case of taking it in turns to play the fairground games. One of the games is basically rolling dice, one is a simple magnetic fishing game and one is a slot-machine with a lever for each reel. Given long enough, winning any of these three would be merely a matter of persistence. The time limit means that speed and a little concentration are essential. The other game, meanwhile, requires plastic frogs to be jumped into a pot and is vastly more difficult than the other games. Even adults need some practice to beat it and younger children find it impossible.

As with Scooby-Doo! Cyber Chase, the mini-game format is very attractive to children but the challenges themselves are somewhat lacking. Also, the single tune played by the timer quickly begins to grate. You could have more fun bouncing a ping pong ball into a jam jar or rolling marbles into a circle chalked on felt or dropping ten pences into a bucket of water in an attempt to cover the five pences at the bottom.

Conclusion: Looks more entertaining than it actually is. You know, like Great Yarmouth.

  • Kids see it and instantly want a go.
  • Mixes dice, fishing, buttons and jumping things. (All that's missing is pokemon and chocolate).
  • Cheaper than going to an actual fairground.
  • Less chance of rain than going to an actual fairground.
  • Doesn't include goldfish.
  • No real board game element.
  • Too easy for older children.
  • Too hard for younger children.
  • Tune makes you want to smash the game with a hammer after a while.
  • The balloons are fiddly.
  • Lacks longevity.
  • You could cobble together something more fun from random junk lying around the house (and you could hum The A-Team theme while doing it).
Rating: 2/5.

PlayStation Portable (PSP) Games Console

Price: £130 for the PSP Slim & Lite. You might be able to pick up the older, heavier version being sold off somewhere for a bit less but you'd probably be better going for the newer version anyway - it has quicker load times and can output to a TV.

Essentials: Memory Stick Pro Duo (required to save game progress and to store music and video) - £30 for 4GB or £20 for 2GB.

Alternatively, if you want to store several movies at once, can't be bothered to ever swap cards and have too much money, you could always go for 8GB at around £70.


  • Mini USB cable (for transferring files to and from PC or PS3) - £3.
  • Carry case - £10.
  • Screen visor - £5.
Comments: Christmas is almost here and my series of games console reviews draws to an end with the PlayStation Portable (unless anyone wants to send me a PS3... Anyone? Aw, go on...) The thing about the PSP, though, is that, judging by software sales, no one seems to buy it to play games. It's an MP3 player, movie player, internet browser and photo viewer that also just happens to run PS2 quality interactive entertainment.

I do wonder which features people are buying the thing for, however. On paper the functionality is fantastic but the reality is that the PSP is a bit big for everyday use as an MP3 player, movies have to be bought on UMD disk or somehow transferred to memory card in a suitable format, the internet browser is slow and requires a wi-fi hotspot and, as for photos, is anyone really going to bother?

So who's buying the console?

Gadget fans mainly, I suspect. The PSP looks great, has a superb screen, does all kinds of things and let's you play Grand Theft Auto on the bus (if there's not too much glare and you're not concerned about getting mugged).

I mainly play mine on holiday. It lets me take home console style games with me wherever I go. Far easier than lugging round a PS2 and TV. Of course, this means the PSP isn't much use when I'm actually at home - the style of game it tends to host is readily available for me to play on a big telly with a proper controller. Sure, it's handy just being able to pick it up and play when the kids give me a moment of peace but Grand Theft Auto doesn't work as well in five minute bursts as many of the offerings on the DS.

Short sessions aren't impossible, though. Like the DS, the PSP has a sleep function allowing games to be paused in a battery-saving mode which lasts several days. In normal use, the batteries last between four and eight hours, depending what you're doing.

Probably the biggest disappointment with the PSP is the movie playback feature. The picture quality is excellent but getting hold of something to watch is a problem. Buying a film on UMD rather than DVD means being restricted to always playing it on a PSP. True, the new Slim & Lite model allows output to a TV (with the right cable) but building a UMD collection seems as sensible as starting a music library on mini-disk. Putting movies on memory stick, however, is a real faff. Converting a commercial DVD would require the use of dubious decryption software and then some conversion software, such as PSP Video 9, to put the video files into a suitable format and resolution. Recording stuff off the telly onto DVD and then converting that is easier but time-consuming. Downloading films is less hassle but costs more than you might expect.

If you want to watch films on the move, you'd be as well to buy a portable DVD player.

Long-term, plenty of interaction between the PSP and PS3 is promised, with the PS3 streaming video over the internet to the PSP and the like. That might be good but would require proximity to a wi-fi hotspot. At the moment it's possible to download PSOne games for £3.50 each onto the PS3 or a PC and then transfer them to play on the PSP. There's only a small selection so far, however.

Original PSP with its rather chunky charger and a Joytech visor which screws into a couple of handy holes for attaching peripherals on the top edge of the PSP.

Where the Nintendo DS has something for everyone in terms of software, the PSP is aimed much more at experienced gamers. The best PSP games include:

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories - A proper, 3D Grand Theft Auto on a portable console! And, look over there, it's the Holy Grail as well!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories - Oh, and another one...
Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow - Third-person spy action which uses lots of buttons.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness - Clever, witty turn-based strategy.
Crush - Puzzle platformer where solving problems involves switching between 2D and 3D.

Other good games include: Final Fantasy: Tactics, Silent Hill: Origins, Daxter, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, LocoRoco, Capcom Puzzle World, a vast selection of racing games and various retro collections (notably Sega Mega Drive Collection).

Notice, however, that most of these games are inferior re-hashes of PS2 franchises or have been ported to the PS2 themselves. Many of them suffer from the fact that the PSP has fewer buttons than a PS2 controller and a single analogue 'nub' rather than two analogue control sticks. First-person shooters really struggle on the PSP, for instance. On the PS2, the left stick would be used to move and the right to look around. On the PSP, the face buttons tend to be used for looking, which is clunky and inaccurate. Also, the PSP is much less comfortable to hold over an extended period than a PS2 controller.

The PSP looks cool, has many impressive features and plenty of decent software. It provides so many possibilities in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, it seems that all of those possibilities involve some form of compromise. At any given moment, you'll find yourself wishing it was really an iPod, DVD player, PS2 controller or DS in your grasp.

Conclusion: A great machine that's still looking for identity and purpose.

  • Does everything - MP3 player, movie player, internet browser, PS2 quality games.
  • Large, high quality screen.
  • Plenty of good, cheap games.

  • Doesn't do anything as well as a dedicated machine would.
  • Awkward controls.
  • Lack of really startling software.
  • Getting movies onto memory stick is a pain and legally dubious (and you have to buy a memory stick!)
  • Not very rugged.
  • Playing one in a public place feels akin to writing 'Mug me!' on your back.
Rating: 3/5.

Screwball Scramble

Screwball Scramble box.

Price: £10

  • Obstacle course including tilting walkway, swinging crane, parallel bars, 2 mazes and catapult.
  • Timer.
  • 2 ball bearings.
Gameplay: Hit buttons, turn knobs and work little levers to guide a ball bearing round the course.

Object: To reach the end of the course as quickly as possible without the ball falling off.

Game length: Roughly a minute but it depends how much practice the player has had. Typically, grandparents will take all afternoon. As a kid, my record was twelve and a half seconds.

Number of players: Realistically, one. The instructions suggest taking turns to compete for the best time but that's almost certain to end in a scuffle if the players are children - they'll argue over what constitutes a turn and then accuse each other of cheating. No, this is all about one joystick ninja versus the machine.

Age: 5+ but even a six-year-old is going to have to put in plenty of practice before they make it all the way round. Playing it properly is probably beyond anyone much younger. They'll still enjoy hammering away at the controls to see what happens, though, and the game is durable enough to cope but you'll need to keep an eye on the ball bearings (choking and missile hazard!).

Screwball Scramble.

Comments: I had one of these as a child and really loved it. I suppose it's rather like a mechanical version of the platform games I was playing on my VIC-20 a couple of years later - simple, colourful and rock hard. Fortunately, however, it doesn't take five minutes to load off tape.

The boys, who have been born into an age of casual gaming and get impatient in the time that it takes a DVD player to spin-up, had a few goes at Screwball Scramble and then complained that it was impossible.

"Pah," I muttered and shoved them aside. "Impossible? I could do the whole thing in twelve and a half seconds when I was your age. Let me show you how it's done..."

Back in the day, I considered myself as something of a Screwball Scramble master. I rolled my shoulders, flexed my fingers and then launched the ball bearing on its way.

Well, sort of...

It turned out to be harder than I remembered. It was about a minute before I got the ball up the first walkway and, even then, I promptly rolled it right off the edge of the course and had to start again. I'm a little out of practice. The boys had wandered off to play Mario Party by the time I'd even made it to the second maze. I need to put in some serious training before the world championships.

My children do play Screwball Scramble occasionally - a loud toy with lots of buttons is always attractive - but, when I was young, the main draw was always attempting to shave a second off my record. I spent hours honing my skillz. Stupidly, however, the version we have now has no numbers on the timer and the divisions on the dial are obscured by the hand as it passes. This leads to confusion and a margin of error of two or three seconds. This takes away much of the incentive for repeat play.

Screwball Scramble timer.
Honestly... Imagine if they used one of these in Beijing next year.

It's the kind of game that kids are likely to ignore for months on end if stored on a shelf in its box but that will lure over the first child that passes if left lying out in the middle of the lounge floor. The second child that passes will then complain that it's their go and whack the first child over the head with it.

Maybe best reserved for an obsessive only child...

Conclusion: Fun for a little while but sloppy time-keeping wrecks Screwball Scramble's struggle for Olympic recognition. My dreams of gold medal glory are dead.

  • Oooh! Buttons!
  • Challenging.
  • Addictive.
  • Looks cool.
  • Doesn't need batteries.
  • Timer is hopelessly inaccurate... and noisy. You might want to buy a stopwatch.
  • Requires patience.
  • Liable to make you look more inept than usual in front of your children.
Rating: 3/5.

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End (DVD)

Starring: Johnny Depp, his clone army, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy, far too much computer generated nonsense, a very large number of crabs and very little actual piracy.

Rated: 12

Story: Captain Jack Sparrow's friends must travel beyond the world's end to return him from the land of the dead. They need him to help release the sea goddess Calypso so she can defeat the East India Company who are intent on wiping all trace of piracy from the seas.

Obviously, taking away people's right to be pirates is an affront to liberty and something to be frowned upon. Well, it is in the PoC version of history, anyway, where it's the East India Company (Boo! Hiss!) who go around murdering women and children while pirates (Yo ho! Hurrah!) do little more than drink rum in a boisterous fashion and double-cross each other.

Comments: Die Hard 4.0 is a fantastic example of both the modern action movie and of how to maintain a franchise even once its original premise has worn a little thin. Some of the stunts are pretty unlikely but they're always spectacular and never appear totally beyond the laws of physics. The story keeps things moving along swiftly, isn't over-complicated, provides just enough character development and throws up a stream of in-jokes and one-liners. It's excellent.

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End is a fantastic example of all that can go wrong with a modern action movie and of how to kill a franchise stone dead, bury it in merchandise and then set fire to it.

After the complex and meandering story of the second film, Dead Man's Chest, there were more than enough plot threads to see this one through to a climactic conclusion. Unfortunately, the movie is stuffed full of superfluous twists, asides and reversals. They're probably there to make it all seem clever and exciting but the actual result is closer to tiresome and dull. It drags on and on as all the characters compete to make themselves unsympathetic.

All this might be forgivable if the action sequences were any good. They're not. It was as if they were given a vast budget for stunts, just in case, but then felt they had to spend it all to avoid being given less next time. People walk through a maelstrom of explosions without a scratch, perform impossible acrobatics on ropes and dance their way through extensively choreographed sword fights. Usually in a storm. At sea. Up a mast. At length.

It's hard to care after a while. There ceases to be any sense of peril once it becomes apparent that the main characters are magically invulnerable. Harry Potter can get away with it because he is magic. John McClane at least makes jumping on the back of a fighter jet look feasible. Jack Sparrow just waltzes through the impossible, shrugs and then mumbles about sea turtles or something.

That's not even the end of the problems. There's lots of forced dialogue and dubious motivation to keep the unlikely love triangle alive. The sections where Jack struggles with madness make him seem more sane than usual. The ending's not great, the film's often not that interesting to look at and nothing holds together unless you can accept that, deep down, pirates are lovable rascals really.

All in all, it's such an overblown mess that it might make more sense if they'd lost any notion of self-control whatsoever and thrown in some aliens or dancing penguins or both or even dancing alien penguins. I don't know.

It would certainly have been worth cutting out more than a third of the film, however.

Conclusion: So bad that it has blighted the memory of the other two in my head. Makes we want to go and knock a point off my rating of the second one.

Explosions: Lots.
Plot twists: Too many.
Jokes: Too few.
Length: Too long.
Dancing penguins: None (sadly).

Rating: 2/5 if you've seen the other two, else 1/5.

Mutual Linkage II

Yep, it's that time again - time to reflect on the strangeness of the internet and to return some links that has had from other sites.

Last time, I mentioned a few of the phrases that have led anonymous web searchers to DadsDinner. Since then, the peculiar selection of information requested has only got more bizarre. A few people have definitely ended up at the right place, though - people needing a list of stuff to buy in order to prepare for parenthood, people wondering whether housedads should get pocket money and people wanting to know about cuddly Mario toys.

Others have had relevant questions that may not have been entirely answered.

For instance, someone asked 'Does an epidural really work?' To which the answer is 'Yes, it really, really does.' Someone else asked 'Can I get a mortgage during maternity leave?' To which the answer should be 'Yes, you can,' but is, in fact, 'Yes, but best not to mention it just in case.' As for 'Is there life after children?' - I can only say that I hope so. 'Numberjacks kids hate it', meanwhile, may be a question, statement or a desperate cry for help. Unfortunately, there is no help. Sorry.

Then, of course, there are the people who did not come to the right place. Whoever was interested in a 'pot-bellied orangutan' went away disappointed. So did the person who was 'looking for photos of very large women in plastic rainwear'. (I don't know how high up Google placed DadsDinner in the results from that search and, quite frankly, I don't dare investigate). Someone was trying to find out how to 'keep birds from getting hurt by immersion heater in bird bath'. That person was seriously lost... I did get excited when someone arrived searching for 'Jesus and physics' but it turns out that that was just my wife winding me up. A couple of people were after 'acrobatic sex' and someone else was enquiring about 'hygiene while using a toaster.' I'm pretty sure these weren't linked queries, however.

Most of the random Googlers in the last couple of months have been looking to buy a Nintendo Wii console and have found their way to my review. Sorry, all of you who've made it this far, but you're not having mine.

Someone has even started sending me riddles by Google query. They did a search on this:

'i have 6 coins laid out in 2 straight lines with one coin joining them. ie there are 4 coins in one line and 3 in the other. move only one coin and make 2 straight lines of 4 coins. you may not introduce any new coins.'

That's just vicious. I wasted a good fifteen minutes trying to work that out before I gave up and stuck it back into Google. Maybe it's a conspiracy or maybe it's just a clever way to get me to send you all to the Jokes Database.

Once you've wasted an hour or two there, you might as well give up on getting any work done and go and visit some of these nice people:

Still the best place to chat with other housedads.

at home dad

Housedad news and views. Peter, the editor, recently gave this site a plug, describing it as 'fabulously retro'. Little does he realise that I'm really living in 1998 and this is totally cutting edge...

The Road Less Traveled

Housemom turns breadwinner in rural California. See things from a different point of view.

Men at Home

Australian site for homedads. Lots of useful links.

Stay at Home

The UK based website for dads everywhere. News, articles, money advice, gadget reviews and places to share and rant. Definitely worth checking out. The article on the pros and cons of being a housedad is particularly informative.

Time for dads

Blogs, reviews, news and a layout that isn't from 1998. I feel inadequate now...

Did I miss anyone?

Want to get in on the act? Then put a link on your own site, click through and I'll do another one of these... when I get round to it.

As always, welcome to everyone, however you got here (even if it's from that dodgy looking Chinese favorstar place). Hope you find the site fun and useful.

All the best,


Halo 3 (Xbox 360)

Rated: 15

Story: Alien Covenant forces have landed on Earth in search of an ancient artifact and the swarm-like Flood aren't far behind. You are Master Chief, the last of humanity's elite SPARTAN warriors, and, aided by some renegade aliens and a large number of soon-to-be dead marines, you must save the world both from destruction and from assimilation.

Luckily, you have some big guns.

Gameplay: Shoot things. Hide behind a wall. Shoot some more things. Drive a little. Watch a cutscene. Shoot even more things.

Yep, the only complicated thing here is the plot. You run around in first person perspective and shoot a lot. Get shot yourself and your shields take damage. If your shields go down and you take several hits in quick succession then you die. Don't get hit for a few seconds and your shields replenish. There are no health packs to collect. There are no puzzles to solve. The only thought required is in how best to outflank enemies and in which combination of weapons to carry. For instance, it's possible to dual-wield, holding a gun in each hand, but this only works with less powerful weapons and means you can't throw grenades.

Occasionally, you get to drive a jeep or blow things up with a tank.

Save System: Frequent check-pointing but the game only saves when you quit. This could go badly if there's a power cut.

Comments: I can only assume that all the fuss over the Halo series has to do with the multiplayer. The first one was very pretty but hugely repetitive. The second had more variety and a bit more depth but ended half way through. This feels like a re-mix of the best bits from the first two with marginally better graphics.

The initial levels are disturbingly linear even compared to Far Cry Instincts. Unfortunately, it can still be quite hard working out where to go thanks to lots of little dead ends and decorative doorways, etc. The level design often seems like a succession of glorified corridors. Things pick up in the more open, vehicle-based areas as you speed around like a maniac in a warthog jeep but the lack of significant new weapons and enemies means it all feels very familiar.

Whenever the game does try something different, there's a lack of self-control. What's the point of mixing up the pace with a stretch of dark, creepy organic corridors when they seem to go on forever? The final escape shows what the finale of Halo would have been like without the twitchy vehicle controls and horrendous slow-down but, again, it drags on for far too long.

In fact, Halo 3 seems something of a backwards step from Halo 2. The second playable character, the Arbiter, is reduced to recurring sidekick status, removing much of the gameplay variation. Some of the depth has gone as well because the relative power of the weapons seems to have been tweaked for the worse. Previously, there were pros and cons to every combination; now, there's much more of a hierarchy of usefulness. What to carry involves less tactical choice than Halo 2 and simply becomes a case of hunting out the stonkiest weapons available.

Which is all quite negative...

Halo 3 isn't a bad game, though. It's generally fun, has high production values and the exceptional cutscenes make you want to see it through to the end. It's just that every other first person shooter has long-since nicked Halo's ideas and the series itself hasn't progressed much since 2001.

Essentially, if you've played Halo 2, then you'll know exactly what to expect. If you haven't, however, then you won't have a clue what's going on - go and play BioShock or The Orange Box instead.

Conclusion: It's Halo 2 in hi-res but not quite as much fun. At least the story reaches a conclusion, though. Good for a weekend rental if you've got a cold and don't feel up to much.

Graphics: Everything's quite pretty and there's a proper non-widescreen mode which is unusual these days. Much of the game feels too familiar to really make an impact, however. Occasionally descends into a succession of repetitive corridors. Parts of the last two or three levels are visually lacking.

Length: Short.

Rating: 3/5.

Die Hard 4.0 (DVD)

Starring: Bruce Willis

Rated: 15

Story: All the other Die Hard movies shaken together with a touch of cyber terrorism, a different national holiday and less hair.

Comments: The first thing I knew about a new Die Hard film was Bruce Willis in the middle of an explosion staring down at me from the side of a bus. My initial reaction was 'Yippee-ki-yay!' This was pretty quickly replaced by suspicion, however. Could I really have missed all the hype? Or had there been no hype because the film was dreadful?

I wasn't reassured by the title. Die Hard 4.0? That's a bit lame. I felt a shameless, nostalgia-destroying cash-in coming on.

Then I discovered that this is just the European title. In America it's called Live Free or Die Hard. That's much more like it. I was still concerned that Bruce Willis was too old, the plot would be a mess and everything would be cobbled together around a couple of outlandish action sequences but I was hopeful it would be OK. When the time came, I crossed my fingers as I put the disc in the DVD player...

Fortunately, I was grinning like a loon within minutes. It's a new Die Hard film and it's great!

Sure, it's a far cry from the original but it's a valid continuation of a series which has steadily expanded in scale from one sequel to the next. At heart, it's still the same. There are no pointless plot twists for the sake of it. This is one guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, cracking one-liners and kicking butt. Everything flows together extremely well and there's a steady stream of action. It's more over the top than it used to be but that's just down to a couple of decades of action film inflation. Blame The Matrix for altering our expectations.

As for Bruce Willis, if anything, he looks more the part than he did twenty years ago. It's now odd to think that he had hair in the previous movies. If you don't believe me, check out the music DVD hidden amongst the special features. It covers all four movies in five minutes and is very amusing (although it contains ten times more bad language than the film itself).

Some Die Hard fans may be offended that the swearing and gore have been toned down. This was almost certainly done to lower the age rating and let more teenage boys into the cinema to see the film. It does sanitise things a bit but, ironically, it's probably the teenage boys who will be most disappointed. Overall, it's really only a minor quibble against a movie that makes most other action blockbusters look poorly planned and uninspired.

Conclusion: Let's just hope that the new Indiana Jones film is this good.

Explosions: Frequent.
Plot: Slim.
Believability: Low.
Bruce Willis: Bald.
My grin: Very big.

Rating: 5/5.

Premonition (DVD)

Starring: Sandra Bullock

Rated: 12

Story: Linda, a housemom, lives a week in the wrong order, experiencing the days before and after a family tragedy out of sequence.

Comments: This is slick and tense but doesn't make much sense. In fact, it may even make less sense than Deja Vu but Premonition gets away with it better because it seldom pretends to make sense. The weakest scene is where a priest is drafted in to try and explain things.

There simply isn't a way to trace a convincing timeline from any perspective. Sometimes Linda's attempts to alter events she has already experienced succeed but then, on other occasions, these attempts cause the events. Maybe a point is being made that some things are pre-determined and that our free will is limited. Or maybe it's just a mess. Who knows? It's not awfully satisfying, though.

The cast are good (especially Bullock) and the cinematography is great but the script is broken.

Conclusion: There are worse ways to spend an hour and a half than staring at Sandra Bullock (unless you're watching Hope Floats, of course. That's worth battering yourself senseless with a frying pan to avoid).

Explosions: One very silly one.
Questions: Plenty.
Answers: Few.
Creepiness: Some.
Sandra Bullock: Lots.

Rating: 3/5.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (DVD)

Starring: The usual suspects but even Jessica Alba can't save it this time.

Rated: PG

Story: The Fantastic Four come to terms with their new-found fame while attempting to stop the Earth being eaten.

Comments: The Fantastic Four is turning into the archetypal modern superhero franchise. The first film was OK but took ages to get going and had too much angst and not enough smashing. This second film builds on that by taking ages to get going and adding more angst. Great. Rather than increasing the frequency of action scenes, it has more complex, CGI-heavy action scenes.

No, no , no , no, NO!

Less nonsense, please. More smashing.

Expect a third and final installment in a year or so. It will feature less angst, even more CGI and at least one of the main characters being turned evil. Someone will probably die.

None of us will care, though.

Conclusion: Watch Die Hard 4.0 again rather than this.

Explosions: Not enough.
The Human Torch: Irritating.
Invisible Girl: Bored.
Mr Fantastic: Ropey.
The Thing: All but forgotten.
Consuming question: What did they do to Jessica Alba's hair?
Note to makers of future superhero films: Faster pace, better plot, less angst, more smashing. Still. Thank you.

Rating: 2/5.

Nintendo DS Console (& DS Lite)

Price: £100 for the DS Lite. (The older, chunkier version is £90 but isn't widely available any more). You should be able to pick up the console with a bundled game for an extra £10 or so.

  • MP3 player cartridge - £20 (requires an SD memory card which isn't included).
  • Web browser - £30.
  • All kinds of other bits and bobs like carry bags, stylus spares, screen protectors, in-car chargers and cartridge cases - a few pounds each. (Screen protectors are a bit of a waste of time, though).
Comments: There was a conspiracy theory going around when the DS first came out that it was really just something Nintendo had cobbled together in a bit of a hurry to distract some attention from the fast-approaching PlayStation Portable and give them a little breathing space to design a machine that out-classed Sony's offering. Where were the multi-media capabilities and the cutting-edge graphics? Why did the games come on expensive cartridges rather than cheap discs? What was the point of downloading stuff over wi-fi if there was no way of storing it?

Sure, the touchscreen interface was a good idea but why two screens? Nintendo said it would encourage innovation. Great gaming minds considered the possibilities. They pondered wonderful new gameplay. They thought long and hard, and then, as one, developers around the globe hesitantly murmured, 'Well, you know, you could play the game on one screen and have a map on the other.'

And thus it was so...

Sony executives must have been pretty pleased. Their machine was obviously technically superior, could play music and movies and had all kinds of games from Wipeout to Grand Theft Auto lined up. What did Nintendo have? A gimmick-laden oddity with Mario, a brain training non-game and a dog-owning simulator. Sony must have thought they'd have an unassailable lead in the handheld console war by the time the proper Game Boy Advance 2 turned up...

An original DS, charger, stylus and game cartridge. DVD box for scale. (I would have used an original DS for scale, like I normally do, but I only have the one...)
Funny old world, isn't it?

Hardcore gamers and gadget freaks bought PSPs but their mums all bought DSs. And so did everybody else. If there ever was a GBA2 being secretly prepared in Nintendo HQ, then it's been indefinitely shelved. The DS has easily beaten the PSP in terms of sales, and soundly thumped it in terms of profit.

By keeping things simple, the DS reaches out to people who haven't played games before and to those who haven't played games in years. Its software line-up is laden with fun, colourful platformers, puzzle games, turn-based strategy games and tongue-in-cheek cooking simulators. These are supported by familiar franchises such as pokemon, Mario and Zelda which lure in the traditional Nintendo fans.

If you like the kind of game where you use big guns to shoot terrorists or you want a decent racing game which doesn't involve Mario in a kart, then the DS isn't for you. Indeed, even if you just like games with three dimensions, you're going to be fairly disappointed. The graphical capabilities of the DS would struggle to compete with the PSOne, let alone the PSP.

The appeal of the DS is the control system, however. It has plenty of buttons but the lower of the two screens is touch sensitive and can be worked using a stylus or a thumb strap. A few games miss the point, requiring the use of all the buttons and the touchscreen which really only works for those people with three hands but there are other games which are controlled almost entirely with the stylus. Chess pieces can be moved round the board with a couple of taps, for instance. In Trauma Centre, the stylus is used to perform surgery, lending itself to cutting, stitching and injecting. In general, though, games utilise the stylus to make control easier rather than to add significantly to the gameplay. Being able to use a pen rather than having to get to grips with a load of buttons is very appealing to gaming newcomers.

The DS has a few other nifty features. Closing the lid puts the machine into battery-saving sleep mode. In normal use, the rechargeable battery lasts eight hours or so but the DS can maintain itself in sleep mode for days. This means it's perfect for a quick go on the bus - there's no need to worry about finding a saving point before reaching your stop. Close the lid and it can go straight in a pocket. (The screens are also much easier to see clearly in sunny weather conditions than the PSP screen).

Some games (notably Mario Kart Super Circuit and Metroid Prime: Hunters) feature online play over a wi-fi internet connection. Metroid even has an option for voice chat. Other games allow local wireless multiplayer, so you can play with other DS owners in close range. In some cases, only one player actually needs to have a copy of the game.

The DS is backwardly compatible with the Game Boy Advance, providing access to a vast catalogue of old games. (Sleep mode doesn't work with GBA games, however).

The newer version of the DS, the DS Lite, is smaller, lighter and has adjustable screen brightness. It's slightly more expensive but is definitely the version to get. The only disadvantage of this version is that GBA cartridges don't fit snugly and protrude slightly from the bottom edge of the console. To make up for this, the DS Lite has a built-in cover for the GBA slot when it's not in use.

All in all, the DS is a great little machine. Whether you should get one, though, depends on whether you like the sound of the games. You really need to be a fan of cute platformers and puzzle games to get the most from it.

It's also worth pointing out that the decent games have maintained their price over time so don't expect to hoover up a load of old games at a bargain price. Mario games still typically cost £25 new - and that's online. It's £25 for a second-hand copy in the high street.

The best games include:
  • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time - A witty RPG with entertaining turn-based combat.
  • Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - Exploring and adventuring in a semi-sequel to the GameCube's Wind Waker. Good use of the stylus.
  • Dr Kawashima's Brain Training - Simple language, memory and maths games tarted up as exercise for your brain. It's addictive and also includes sudoku.
  • Pokemon Diamond/Pearl - Sprog1 got Pearl the day it came out and we didn't see him again for a week.
  • Wario Ware: Touched - A huge selection of frantic microgames designed to use all the features of the DS. Blow out candles, wipe off dirt and unroll toilet paper as fast as you can!
Other good games include: Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, Advance wars: Dual Strike, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Tetris, Nintendogs and a zillion platformers, such as Yoshi's Island and New Super Mario Bros. There's a startling lack of games developed by western studios, though. The DS would be perfect for real-time strategy, point-and-click adventures and some Tolkien-esque role-playing action but has almost no software in these genres.

Conclusion: The DS is great but it's not for everyone. If you want to play movies, music and portable versions of PS2 games, then you should get a PSP. The DS is about less adrenaline-fuelled games - the kind of games where you train a puppy. It's also cheaper, more rugged and has a much wider range of titles suitable for children.

  • Touchscreen provides an intuitive means of control.
  • Plenty of good games available.
  • Lots of games suitable for kids.
  • Lots of games suitable for your mum.
  • Plays all Game Boy Advance games.
  • Clamshell design protects the screens when not in use.
  • Lite version is particularly small and portable.
  • Lacks graphical power.
  • Unique features (second screen, touchscreen, etc) are often under-utilised.
  • Games are relatively expensive.
  • The volume control switch is a bit fiddly.
  • Poor support from western developers.
  • The game cartridges are small enough to be mistaken for chocolate mints.
  • My seven-year-old won't give mine back.
Rating: 4/5.

Scooby-Doo! Cyber Chase Board Game

Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game.

Price: £5-£15

  • Game board.
  • 5 plastic playing pieces in the rough shape of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Fred & Daphne.
  • 18 cards (3 snacks for each player, 2 samurai cards, 1 magnet card).
  • Flimsy spinner.
Gameplay: Players take it in turns to spin the spinner and move round the board the indicated number of spaces. They must stop at the corners of the board to complete challenges in order to collect snacks. If the spinner lands on the magnet rather than a number, the player doesn't move but receives the magnet card from whoever currently has it.

The not-very-challenging challenges are:
  1. Guess whether the spinner will land on yellow or orange.
  2. Spin a higher number than the player on your left.
  3. Pick one of the samurai cards at random and hope it's the one with the picture of the unbroken sword.
Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game contents.

Object: To be the first player to make their way back round the board to the start with all three of their snacks and the magnet.

Game length: Fifteen minutes.

Number of players: 2-5.

Age: 6+ officially but that's probably because most of the squares have written instructions on them. To be honest, though, even if you can read, the directions don't make much sense. There's no skill or strategy involved, so a three-year-old can play, given a little supervision.

Comments: There's the basis of a good game here somewhere. The idea of going round the board taking part in challenges to win prizes is great. Unfortunately, the realisation of that idea is somewhat lacking...

The instructions are unclear and confusing, the design is dreadful and the challenges are desperate and dependent on luck. The best thing in Cyber Chase is the picture of the Scooby Gang in the middle of the board. Everything else about the game looks and feels cheap. The board itself is sturdy but covered in dreadful artwork (most of which has little to do with Scooby-Doo!). The 'cards' are thin, basic and a little pointless. Even the playing pieces are moulded from such shiny, garish plastic, it's difficult to make out the lumpy detail. This is probably for the best, though - Velma looks like the granny in Tweety and Sylvester.

All in all, this would be a worthwhile bonus if it came free in a box of Cornflakes but, even if you see it somewhere for a fiver, think carefully before paying for it.

Scooby-Doo Cyber Chase board game cards.
That white thing on a blue background - that's a magnet...

Conclusion: If you have any creative talent whatsoever, you could make a better Scooby-Doo! board game than this (particularly if you already have the 3D game and re-use some of the pieces). You could even have proper Scooby-Doo! challenges like hiding in a barrel, gargling the original theme tune or eating a fifteen layer sandwich in one mouthful. Failing that, you could just get the kids to throw beanbags into a bucket while watching a Scooby DVD. It would still be better than Cyber Chase.

  • Mercifully quick.
  • Vague references to Scooby-Doo!.
  • Largely biodegradable.
  • The kids enjoyed the challenges.
  • Cheap construction and design.
  • Confusing and frustrating.
  • Doesn't include a free packet of Cornflakes.
Rating: 2/5.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales (DVD)

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins & Peter Woodward.

Rated: 12

Story: Some Warner Brothers executives agree to a cash-in movie to mark the tenth anniversary of the end of the original Babylon 5 show. Then they spend all the money on a wild weekend in Vegas. We're left with a couple of short B5 episodes that take place almost entirely in three corridors. Fans sigh.

Comments: Babylon 5 is one of the finest science fiction series ever made. It has complex characters who develop and change allegiance over time, an epic plot spanning five seasons and story-lines that favour cunning and communication, rather than invented technology, for solving problems. Babylon 5 is funny, dramatic and thought-provoking.

For those of you who don't know, Babylon 5 is an enormous space station in neutral territory which serves as a diplomatic and trade hub. It's run by humans but houses ambassadors from various alien races. Of course, half the ambassadors hate each other and, as the main story arc develops, their petty squabbles turn into a galactic war. The humans must steer their way through cultural differences and political situations in order to build a lasting peace.

It's great.

Unfortunately, everything set in the Babylon 5 universe since the original ended has been a bit rubbish. In the ten years up until now, we've had four tie-in movies, half a season of Crusade and the pilot episode of Legend of the Rangers. In the Beginning is an OK prequel movie but it only really re-tells lots of backstory already mentioned in the main series. The rest of the spin-offs seem to miss the point of Babylon 5 entirely. Its strength is in the characters, the diplomacy and the interaction of the different alien races. Taking these out just leaves Star Trek and there's more than enough Star Trek for anyone already.

The Lost Tales makes similar mistakes. It's set on and around Babylon 5 but there are only two and a half characters from the original show - Sheridan, Lochley and Galen. As for aliens, there's one Centauri character we've never met before and a passing shot of a couple of Minbari.

The first of the two episodes involves a demon, an exorcism and a priest with wavering faith. It mainly entails a lot of sitting around chatting about religion and is strangely confused. Lochley comes across as having more 'faith' than the priest but there's little understanding of what faith actually is. Faith is not about believing things which are against reason, it's a relationship based on reason and experience (both personal experience of God and what we've been told of the experiences of others). Without this understanding of the subject matter, the whole thing comes across as a little pointless.

The second episode is much more standard Babylon 5. President Sheridan is presented with a prophecy and must make a difficult moral choice between the good of the many and that of the few. There's some CGI space combat, some flying about in Starfuries and occasional touches of humour. The best bits, however, are the fond references to all the other old characters who aren't present. It's a reasonably good episode but the low budget is crippling. One of the sets consists entirely of two swivel chairs. I mean, honestly...

There are plenty of DVD extras but they're mainly interviews recorded on set. The memorials to Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs are worth watching, though.

The whole thing is essentially a bone to throw at desperate fans. It's not awful (unlike River of Souls) but it doesn't come close to satisfying the craving for some more 'proper' Babylon 5. I just have an urge to go watch the real thing again. Newcomers should, most definitely, not start here - rent the feature-length pilot, The Gathering.

Conclusion: Fans of the original series will feel a renewed pang of sadness at its passing.

Explosions: A few.
CGI: Shiny.
Sets: Not really.
Babylon 5?: Sort of.
Fond memories: Stirred.

Rating: 3/5.

Dear other Daves and non-Daves, has been up and running for over nine months now. You've had the chance to go all the way from the Making Babies section of The Housedad's Handbook to out the other side of the Maternity entry. (Tired yet?) In the meantime, the site's gone from twenty visitors a day to two hundred plus and I'd like to say thanks to all of you who drop by regularly.

I'm pretty happy with the way things are going but I was wondering what you guys want. Would a forum be good, for instance? Somewhere to discuss computer games without the fanboys, to swap gamertags and to reminisce about Spectrums?

I've had a suggestion for a dating service to link career women with housedad wannabes. I can't really see that happening but what features would you like to see on DadsDinner? What's great? What's annoying? What creaks?

I'm not promising to get round to changing things quickly. Let's face it, with three small children, nothing ever gets done quickly, but please leave comments below. (Don't feel you have to be a housedad to take part - everyone's welcome).

Speaking of comments, I don't normally get very many. One of my aims in setting up DadsDinner was to create some community but, so far, it's mainly just been me spouting about whatever springs to mind. I know from emails and conversations that some of you have a lot to say. Some feedback and on-topic comments would be great.

Posting comments is easy. Just click on the text at the bottom of any Stuff or Dear Dave entry. You'll need to choose an identity. If you've got a Google account you can use that. 'Other' lets you invent a name to appear next to your comment. You could leave an anonymous comment but why would you want to do that when you could call yourself KosmicKommentKing73? Also, if you make a habit of saying sensible/humorous things on a regular basis and always use the same name, everyone will know to pay attention.

One last thing, I've been contacted by a fellow housedad who's researching a PhD exploring 'the motivations and experiences of men who take on the role of carer for their children'. He's very keen to talk with other housedads (before February 2008!) to discuss their lives and views on parenthood. You can contact him at

Yours in a woman's world,


PS I was going to put this notice in Dear Dave but then I couldn't decide if I was fictional or not.

PPS Special thanks to the handful of people who've clicked through and bought items from Amazon and the other sponsors in the last couple of weeks. It's rekindled my hope that I'll recoup my costs some day.

Pixar's Ratatouille

Starring: Some stunning computer generated animation, a rat and Paris but not Mrs Incredible. (Drat).

Rated: U

Story: Remy has a special talent for cooking and dreams of creating new culinary delights. Only problem is, he's a rat. After a series of mishaps, however, he finds himself separated from his clan and loitering around the kitchens of a famous Parisian restaurant.

Alfredo Linguini works as a garbage boy in the restaurant. He's not a rat. He's just a total klutz who can't cook to save his life.

The pair team up in an unlikely fashion and, erm... do some cooking.

Comments: Yes, we actually went to the pictures and saw a recent release! But don't worry, it's not the end of the world or anything. This improbable event is explained by two facts:
  1. It was a kid's movie.
  2. The grandparents paid.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you're planning to have children but don't have any yet, go to the cinema now, while you still can.

Off you go.

For the rest of you, Ratatouille is a big improvement over Pixar's last effort, Cars, but it's not one of the company's best. Although the artwork and animation are excellent as always, the plot is crazy and revolves around rats and food.

Having had a mouse invasion in the house recently, seeing rodents scurry over kitchen work surfaces was a little too close to home. My mind kept turning to Rentokil and bleach.

On top of this, I'm not a foodie. I have plain cheese sandwiches for lunch every day. If I'm being adventurous, I add mustard but usually I can't be bothered. I'm just not fussed. Remy's obsession with new taste sensations entirely passed me by. This made the film drag occasionally, especially in the middle where the story wanders a little.

As for the moral of the film? Possibly, it's that 'rats are people too', but it was probably meant to be more along the lines of 'anyone can follow their dreams'. Or something. It's hard to tell. The maxim that 'anyone can cook' is held in high esteem by the heroes of the film and yet the events of the story seem to affirm that 'anyone with a special talent for cooking can cook (even if they're a rodent)'. Which isn't quite the same thing. Apparently, the ham-fisted and hopeless amongst us can only cook if they have a particularly talented rat tugging on their hair...

Still, the action sequences are fantastic and the scenery is beautiful. Just a shame about the script.

You might want to wait until it's being shown cheap on a Saturday morning.

Conclusion: Decent but more on a par with A Bug's Life than The Incredibles or Toy Story. Give it an extra point if you're really into food, rats, France or dumb plots.

Explosions: None.
Female characters: Two (and one of those is a short-sighted lunatic with a shotgun).
Food: Plenty.
Rats: Swarms.
Number of times I'm likely to be forced to watch this on DVD: Countless.

Rating: 3/5.

Stuntman: Ignition (Xbox 360)

Rated: 12

Story: You're an up-and-coming stuntman. Drive like a madman round various film sets to increase your reputation and unlock new jobs. Stunt your way through thinly-disguised imitations of James Bond, Batman and The Dukes of Hazzard (amongst others) and then watch the film trailer.

Gameplay: You get to drive all kinds of wheeled vehicles, from bikes to an articulated lorry. You have to follow a preset course round the sets, pulling off stunts, like jumps and handbrake turns, in the correct locations. Wander too far or miss too many key stunts and it's back to the start of the level. A high score requires stringing an exciting sequence together by adding extra stunts of your own.

Save System: Auto-save after every successful run. Since levels are typically only a minute and a half long, this is a game that can be played in quick bursts.

Comments: Videogames everywhere!

We've had Halo 3, Stranglehold, The Darkness, The Orange Box, PGR 4, Metroid Prime 3, Phantom Hourglass and BioShock already. Mario Galaxy, Kane & Lynch, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Ratchet & Clank: Future, Uncharted, Umbrella Chronicles and goodness knows what else are all turning up soon.

And that's before taking into account various revamped sports games, unknowns like Blacksite and decent also-rans like Jericho, Overlord and Eternal Sonata.

This is just crazy. Between the beginning of 2006 and the end of this summer, most of the seven current console formats (PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, GBA, DS, Wii & PSP) barely had a handful of games of real note each. If it weren't for the launch of the Wii, last Christmas might just as well have been cancelled as far as videogames publishers are concerned.

Not this year, though.

Suddenly, shop shelves are crammed with triple-A new releases at forty quid a time (fifty for the collector's edition). The result? Games like Stuntman: Ignition are in the bargain bin after only a few weeks. Six months ago, it would have had no competition whatsoever. Madness.

Stuntman isn't helped by the fact that any attempt to describe it makes it sound infuriating. It's a driving game but you don't race - you're told where to go and what to do and if you get it wrong you get shouted at. Great. What this description fails to cover, however, is the huge adrenaline rush of dodging through traffic, leaping a ravine, pulling a sharp turn and hammering through the ruins of a building that is floating past on a river of lava.

The levels are inventive and most are very short, so it's not a chore to repeat them over and over, learning where the key stunts are and working out the best ways to string them together. A small drift here or there is enough to alter your line and make each run different from the last. Unlike some games, it seldom feels like you're constantly having to re-do trivial challenges in order to practice the tricky bits. There's always room for improvement in every part of a level and only a couple throw in a gnarly, show-stopping situation right at the end.

Stuntman: Ignition is a fun, action-packed, grin-inducing game... most of the time. Unfortunately, the scoring system is broken. A spectacular drive with a couple of seconds where nothing happens in the middle will score less than a sloppy drive that misses key stunts but keeps up a constant stream of near misses and swerves. Although finishing all the levels doesn't involve too much frustration, getting the full five-star rating most certainly does. Even then, however, there's still always the feeling that 'just one more go' will do it and, importantly, restarting a level doesn't involve any loading - mess up and you're back in the action in a few moments.

I'm not a great fan of driving games and I normally hate having to replay sections more than twice. Nonetheless, I found Stuntman addictive and entertaining. It's definitely worth a quick rummage in the bargain bin. Then again, you may be too busy working out when to find time to play a dozen other games.


Conclusion: Old-school gaming, involving quick reflexes and memorisation, brought up-to-date for those of us with short attention spans, aging reactions and a desire to go barrel-rolling over ridiculous explosions while on fire.

Graphics: Competent. Looks great when moving at speed (i.e. most of the time) but can lack texture when examined closely.

Length: Short if you just want to get through all the levels. Much longer if you want to collect all the five-star ratings.

Rating: 4/5.

28 Weeks Later (DVD)

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, a couple of kids, a bigger budget and a horde of rabid zombies.

Rated: 18

Story: Mainland Britain is under quarantine thanks to the Rage virus. Once infected, victims go crazy within thirty seconds and start attacking anyone they can lay their teeth on. Thankfully (kind of), the virus has wiped itself out by killing pretty much the entire population. Rebuilding has begun, the American military has taken over, everything's going to be fine...

Comments: 28 Days Later was a slightly unusual zombie film. The apocalypse had pretty much been and gone before the story started, leaving deserted streets and the occasional fast, vicious zombie running about to leap out unexpectedly. There were no crowds of shuffling undead in sight. This made the film more haunting and scarier than certain other zombie films. It probably also made it a great deal cheaper.

The sequel has obviously had much more money thrown at it. This adds atmosphere on occasion, with characters wandering through vast empty stretches of London. Sometimes, though, it just means visual spectacle replaces inventiveness. 28 Weeks Later resembles Resident Evil - big explosions, hordes of zombies, a touch of moral dilemma and a nemesis that just will not go away. After the first few minutes, you pretty much know where it's going.

The first film unexpectedly changed tack about halfway through for some musings on human nature. Who's really evil? Scary, face-chewing zombies or scary, gun-wielding nutters who'd do anything to survive? The sequel poses the odd ethical question about the greater good but is really more interested in whether you've got enough popcorn.

Ach, it's predictable and a little silly but I liked it. Maybe that's just because it's set in Britain and so all the zombie mayhem feels closer to home. The strength of the first film was in making the viewer identify with ordinary people caught up in madness. It still pops into my head every so often, making me wonder what I would do if the whole world went down the tubes and friends could turn to monsters in a matter of seconds. Where would I go? How would I feel?

28 Weeks Later manages to retain something of that while adding more action. It's just not as original or memorable.

Conclusion: More entertaining to watch than the first one but with less to say.

Explosions: Like zombies. None for ages and then a whole load come along at once.
Gore: Some but I'm not sure how much - I was hiding behind my beer.
Tension: Lots.
Actual scares: Few.
Most important question to ask your double-glazing salesman: Is it zombie-proof?

Rating: 3/5.

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple Game

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple box.

Price: £13

  • Wobbly tree with three circular platforms around its trunk.
  • 24 plastic playing pieces (4 Winnie the Pooh, 4 Tigger, 4 Piglet, 4 Eeyore & 8 honey pots).
  • 1 four-sided dice.
Gameplay: The playing pieces are shared out between the players. The players take it in turns to roll the dice and put a playing piece of their choice on the tree. The dice determines which platform the piece must be placed on or whether the player can choose freely. If any pieces fall off the tree during a player's turn, then that player has to keep them.

Object: To be the first player to have no playing pieces left.

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple
Easier than it looks.

Game length: 5 minutes.

Number of players: 2-4.

Age: 3+ but any child over five is going to get bored very quickly. Also, a three-year-old playing against older children is almost certain to lose.

Comments: Ever wanted to knock Disney-fied Winnie the Pooh characters out of the top of a tall tree and then drop honey pots on their heads? Well, this might just be the game for you...

Tip'n'Topple involves similar skills to Buckaroo!. It's all about concentration and careful movement. It's a lot easier than Buckaroo!, though. If the tree is set up on carpet then it barely wobbles at all. It really needs to be on a hard, flat surface. (The top of the box will do). Even then, as long as everyone's paying attention, it's not difficult to play a whole game without any of the playing pieces falling at all. It is good, however, that the game doesn't end cataclysmically if someone does make a mistake. This allows small children to play the game (but makes it fairly dull for those of school age).

There are a couple of alternative game options but they only make things more complicated rather than more interesting. I suspect the best way to add longevity is to play the game with different playing pieces, such as other toys, common household items, fragile ornaments and prized family heirlooms. Another possibility might be to wear a blindfold. If you have really good insurance, you could combine the two.

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple played with alternative items including a TV remote, the Noo-Noo, a pokemon, Diddy Kong and Scooby-Doo.
Much, much harder than it looks.
Conclusion: It's OK but it's more merchandise than game. Its main value is in providing a supply of little plastic Winnie the Pooh figures.

  • Winnie the Pooh.
  • Quick and simple.
  • Can be used as a playset.
  • Disney version of Winnie the Pooh.
  • Bulky to store.
  • Too easy.
  • Pieces are likely to be played with as toys and scattered to the four corners of the house. Frisk children for concealed Piglets before they leave the room.
Rating: 3/5.

Little Children (DVD)

Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson & Jennifer Connelly.

Rated: 15.

Story: Frustrated housedad meets repressed housemom. They get together and have acrobatic sex while doing laundry. Meanwhile, their town is obsessed by the arrival of a newly-released sex offender.

Comments: I've been interviewed a few times about this site now. The only time I was really thrown by the questioning, however, was when asked if, in my experience, women are attracted to a man who's in charge of small children - the About a Boy factor, if you will.

Basically, the interviewer wanted to know if I get chatted up because of my kids.

I had to laugh.

On a typical visit to the swing park, I'm haggard, stained and already having two conversations at once with my kids. I have more likelihood of being abducted by chimpanzees than participating in a bit of flirting.

Then again, I don't look much like Hugh Grant.

Even if I did, though, I'm not in the market for any sexual tension. Like I have time to maintain a relationship with my kids, my Xbox and two women. Not to mention the small matter of that wedding ceremony where I promised my wife my love, loyalty and trust in front of God and a couple of hundred people. Nope, no kissing strangers by the swings for me...

Bearing all this in mind, the actions of the central characters of Little Children often seem improbable and foolish. The film just doesn't do the housedad cause any favours. Brad (Wilson) is only looking after his son because he can't work out what he really wants to do and he ends up having an affair with the first housemum that speaks to him (Winslet). Cheers.

The touches of reality amidst the madness make Little Children watchable, however, but the flow is frequently interrupted by the narrative voice-over. It's so obtrusive that it verges on self-parody. Redubbed in a sarcastic tone of voice, it would be hilarious.

The final message that it's always possible to change our situations without running away from them is reasonable but undercooked. All the characters spend the whole film making bad decisions before going totally crazy and coming out sane the other side in the last five minutes. After lengthy discussions of literature and some prolonged agonising, the sudden, fraught climax is jarring.

Conclusion: One of the main characters is a housedad, the other is played by Kate Winslet. If those both seem like strong selling points, then you'll be mildly entertained for a couple of hours.

If you're a housedad, then think twice before showing this film to your partner, her mum, your sceptical friends or, indeed, anyone you know. It's probably not worth it.

Explosions: None.
Book club meetings: One.
Unlikely turns of events: Some.
Kate Winslet: Plenty.
Actual chance in real life of getting two three-year-olds to nap long enough at the same time for their parents to have sex (acrobatic or otherwise) and angst-ridden conversation on a regular basis: Small.

Rating: 3/5.