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Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Wii)

Rated: 7+

Concept: Roll and jump a ball containing a monkey through obstacle courses by tilting the wiimote and thus tilting the onscreen landscape itself.

Gameplay: It's basically that simple. You have to race to the goal before time runs out without falling off. You can collect bananas to gain extra lives. There is a choice of monkeys with differing attributes such as size, speed and agility, allowing multiple routes through many of the levels.

There are also fifty monkey-themed minigames to play. These involve everything from golf to shooting asteroids.

Save System: Auto-save after every level.

Comments: I've hit upon a quick way for you to gauge Wii games. How they make you enter your name tells a very great deal. The simplest, quickest and most accurate way is for the entire alphabet to be displayed on screen and for you to point and click with the wiimote. Any game that's any good will use this method. A game that displays the entire alphabet on screen but then forces you to move a cursor from one letter to the next using the d-pad is obviously a lazy port from another system. A game which employs some funky motion-sensing method of text entry, however, just hates you.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz makes you scroll left and right through the alphabet by twisting your wrist. I found entering 'ED' awkward and tiresome. I had to do it each time I got a high score on each of the minigames. This drove me mad. Sega's method of compensating for this seems to have been to make at least ninety percent of the minigames so dreadful that I only wanted to play them once anyway. Some have controls so floaty that attempting to use the Force seems like a worthwhile alternative. Others are dull. The rest are as basic as a Flash game. Even the way the instructions are conveyed is so confusing that merely to describe it would be a lesson in confusion. The few games which do work aren't fleshed out enough. Monkey Target, where you have to collect bananas by paragliding and then land on a target for points, is excellent but there's only one course. Monkey Wars, a first-person shooter, miraculously has the best FPS controls on Wii but only three death-match arenas. You have to wonder why they bothered.

Luckily the main game still works. I would have liked to have been able to turn the wiimote sideways in order to hold it with both hands, though. The new ability to jump makes things more interesting but it still all boils down to rolling a monkey in a ball through a maze. (Now with added boss battles!) You'd be as well picking up the original GameCube game second-hand for a fiver. The control system in that is less immediate but more accurate. The minigames are actually decent. If it turns out you really like the concept you can always buy this later.

Conclusion: More of the same but with motion-sensing. In previous Monkey Ball games, however, the minigames were a highlight. In this they actually lower the score.

Graphics: Pretty in the main game. Frequently ugly in the minigames.

Length: Short.

Rating: 2/5



What is that? It's a thing.

More specific, please. It's a heavy-duty plastic thing. You know, for the kids...

What are they supposed to do with it? Whatever they can think of.

What, like sit in it, spin round a bit and then use it to batter other children? Yep, you've got the idea exactly. Or they could wear it as a hat:

Bilibo being worn.

How much does it cost? £15.

Fifteen pounds? For a misshapen plastic bowl with a couple of holes poked in it? Yeah, but I like to think of them more as melted down Tweenies. It adds value.

Now you're talking - I'd pay fifteen pounds a time to have the Tweenies melted down. Tell me more. Er... I didn't mean... Never mind. Bilibos can be used in water, sand and snow. They're good for carrying toys around. They stack for easy storage. Kids can sit in them, stand on them and hide stuff under them.

Do children actually do these things, though? Not as often as the manufacturers might have you believe. If your kids aren't particularly inventive you'll have to encourage them by suggesting new games. My personal favourite is balancing expensive electronics:

Looks like it would make a good downhill potty to me. Getting children to toboggan down the stairs while sitting in their own bodily fluids is not recommended for reasons of both safety and hygiene.

Spoilsport. How about spinning marbles round the inside? Ooh, that sounds like fun. I'm off to give it a go.

Hey, wait a minute, what about a conclusion? Oops, sorry. As versatile and fun as a (small) cardboard box but stronger, more durable and much more expensive.

Rating? 3/5

Fizz, Judy and Max make the mistake of standing too close to the radiator:Pink, green and red bilibos.

Star Trek: Nemesis (DVD)

Starring: The usual suspects and Tom Hardy

Rated: 12

Story: The crew of the Enterprise is sent to negotiate with the mysterious new Romulan leader. The main characters constantly tease and smirk at each other. There are frequent fan-pleasing references to Star Trek lore. It all ends with a lengthy space battle.

Comments: The Star Trek movies involving the original cast all had long, ponderous titles like The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home & The Undiscovered Country. The Next Generation movies have opted for punchier monikers like First Contact & Insurrection. Even the recent games are called meaningless things like Armada and Legacy. I think it's some desperate attempt to keep us interested and make sure we don't fall asleep before the end of the opening credits.

To be honest, I stopped watching the TV series after Babylon 5 came along. Star Trek seemed a bit shallow and tiresome after that. Still, I've seen the other movies and enough TNG to follow this without a problem. There's the odd reference to Voyager and DS9 which I haven't seen but nothing important. If you don't know what TNG stands for, however, you're going to struggle. This is a by-the-numbers sequel for fans and hangers-on. If you've been stuck in a Chinese prison for a long time and missed out on the new Star Trek then don't start here. Go and rent the series on DVD but make sure you watch B5 and the re-made Battlestar Galactica first. (Yes, they've re-made Battlestar Galactica and it's good. What were the chances of that? No cure for cancer yet, though).

Assuming you haven't had a Jack Bauer experience, you know the characters, you know the set-up and you pretty much know what's going to happen. It's still entertaining, though - certainly more so than any of the new Star Wars films. (Oh yeah, there's new Star Wars. It's rubbish). There's some exploration of whether it's nature or nurture which makes us who we are but it doesn't really go anywhere. Nemesis is not out to challenge - it's comfort viewing. It's one to watch when you're too tired to play a game but can't quite be bothered to go to bed. Grab a beer, lie down on the sofa and let it slip past your eyes.

As far as the cast is concerned, it's business as usual. Patrick Stewart is very professional about it all and his opening piece reminded me of playing Oblivion, which is always good. Most of the rest of them are going through the motions and dreaming wistfully of the big, fat cheque. Jonathan Frakes has turned into the Cheshire cat.

Amazingly, Star Trek XI is in production. They haven't decided on a title yet but they're going to have their work cut out making anyone care. Personally I'm looking forward to Star Trek: Food Fight, Star Trek: !!!!!!!!!!!! or Star Trek: Must Die. I'd stay awake for those.

Conclusion: As familiar and comfortable as a pair of old slippers.

Explosions: Some.
Smug first officers: One.
Ludicrous action sequences: At least three.
Fond memories of 1987: Plenty.

Rating: 3/5

Call of Duty 3 (Wii)

Rated: 15

Story: It's World War II. It's France. There's shooting to be done.

Gameplay: It's first-person. It's a shooter. Move with the nunchuk; look around with the wiimote. Shoot Germans. Occasionally do other things like drive a vehicle or spot targets for a tank.

Save System: Checkpoints at often random intervals.

Comments: Shovelware ahoy! I'm not a great fan of first-person shooters or World War II games so this was never going to go well but I was expecting better than this.

The controls are broken: Aiming is jittery. Button assignments feel wrong. Gratuitous motion-sensing elements such as setting charges and rowing either feel daft or fail to work. Driving the jeep is pure slapstick.

This is also the buggiest game I've played since Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. In an hour and a half, I experienced looping dialogue, invulnerable enemies, camera issues and getting stuck on scenery. I even fell through the ground into the Twilight Zone.

The story seemed to involve lots of soldiers. I failed to care about any of them. This was lucky because the grainy graphics meant I had a hard time telling whether I was shooting enemies or allies. Not caring meant I had much less guilt shooting everyone.

Graphics: Looks like an Xbox game... if you squint a bit.

Length: Don't find out.

Rating: 2/5

Excite Truck (Wii)

Rated: 7+

Concept: Race pickup trucks around undulating off-road courses and earn stars from stunts and race position. Earn enough stars in each race of a league and unlock the next league.

Gameplay: This involves holding the wiimote in two hands (with the buttons at the top) and tilting the ends up and down to steer. The buttons are used to accelerate, boost and brake. Boosting off a ramp or hill sends the truck flying. Tilting the wiimote forwards and back controls the trucks angle when flying. Some of the power-ups on the course give extra speed, others cause the terrain ahead to morph, creating enormous ramps or drops.

Save System: Autosave after each race.

Comments: It's a wacky racing game. If you like the kind of game where you drive around at high speed with a blatant disregard for the laws of physics, then you'll like this. If you don't, you won't. The motion-sensing Wii controls don't really add anything to the experience over using a joypad. The tilt works well (particularly in the air) but using the buttons at the same time feels awkward. Trying to achieve a mid-air spin is unnecessarily complicated. The morphing looks cool but is little more than a gimmick.

This was a launch title in the States and it still has that basic feel to it. There aren't many courses and progression can be frustrating at times. There are challenges to complete as well but they don't add that much. The gameplay is fun but sometimes you're left wondering if the number of stars you gain has much to do with how well you're driving. It's like they didn't have time for tweaking but polished up a preview version, slapped some menus on it and shoved it out the door. You have to suspect Nintendo Europe realised the game wasn't that special and held it over a few months to pad out the release schedule and maybe sell a few extra copies to Wii owners desperate for new games. (Remember, folks, it's this or Barnyard. Choose wisely).

Conclusion: Excite Truck is definitely worth renting for a night or two but whether it will hold your attention longer is debatable. You might want to dust off Burnout 2 instead.

Graphics: Good but sometimes lacking in detail. Everything moves fast and smoothly.

Length: Short.

Rating: 3/5

Okami (PS2)

Rated: 12+

Story: The land has been turned to darkness by the ancient monster Orochi. You are the embodiment of the sun god Amaterasu and must restore the natural world. You achieve this by recovering the powers of your celestial brush and using them to do everything from create bombs to make trees bloom. Oh, and I should probably mention you're a wolf... infested by an annoying talking bug... and you get sent on your mission by a tree.

At least it makes a change from being a baldy space marine, I suppose.

Gameplay: Run and jump around from a third-person perspective. Talk to villagers, solve their problems, fight demons, uncover secrets and explore your way through the occasional dungeon. It's just like Zelda except you're a wolf. (Correction for those who've played Twilight Princess: It's just like Zelda except you're a wolf ALL THE TIME). You also have to pause the action frequently to paint with the magic brush in order to create and fix things. The fighting is in real-time (apart from pauses to paint) but takes place in enclosed arenas that spring up when you encounter monsters.

Save System: Save points scattered around the world. This can mean lots of back-tracking to save. Occasionally a mix of boss battles and cut-scenes will mean you're unable to save for more than twenty minutes. Do game designers not have children?

Comments: The first thing that has to be mentioned about Okami is the graphics - it looks like a Japanese water-colour. Initially this is a very impressive departure from the norm. Panoramas are particularly stunning. Up close, however, backdrops are very bland and many areas are pretty featureless. The character models aren't that great either. After awhile the faded hues and murky textures just made me want to clean my TV screen in the hope I could make out a bit more detail.

The painting aspect is another idea that seems great to start with but again doesn't quite work out. The Wii is lumbered with a stack of ported PS2 games with poorly implemented wiimote functionality. Here we have a game that seems designed for the Wii but which is lumbered with the PS2 analogue sticks. What is going on? Making a bomb by drawing a circle with a line coming out of it would be fantastic using the wiimote to just point and paint. It would be like waving a wand. Using an analogue stick is like wrestling with a demented Etch-A-Sketch. Drawing circles of the right size and in the right place is particularly vexing. Trying to do it in one of the against-the-clock sections is infuriating. The painting quickly becomes a real chore.

One of the standard elements of games like this is having to return to areas you've previously explored once you've gained new abilities. These abilities let you unlock new areas and secrets. It's important to try and remember unusual scenery, such as a cracked wall, for a point in time when you have a way of dealing with it. In Okami, however, these 'secrets' are everywhere. You can't move for piles of leaves, flaming chests and glowing cracks. There's no way to remember them all - it's a case of back-tracking everywhere. Again, it becomes a chore. Also, since there are so many of these hiding places, the rewards within are slim. It doesn't seem worth it after not very long.

There are plenty of other niggles as well. Conversations are text only and... the... words... appear... on... the... screen... at... a... very... pace... Sometimes they can be speeded up slightly, other... times... they... can't... And it's not like the dialogue is generally that interesting anyway. Many of the quests are tedious, such as making all the trees in a village bloom. (Back-tracking and drawing circles - excellent!) The fights are quickly repetitive. Any time a puzzle seems in danger of becoming interesting, the annoying bug tells you what to do.

Despite all these problems, Okami isn't awful. It's charming and addictive. The main quest trundles along in nice little chunks, tempting you to see what happens next. If you want something to relax with for an hour or so last thing at night then you could do much worse. Which I suppose is pretty faint praise but sometimes there's a call for the gaming equivalent of Horlicks. Maybe it gets more exciting later on. I don't know. I played Okami for about twelve hours and I doubt I was a third of the way through. I just couldn't be bothered to keep plugging away at it, though. I began to feel that I'd have just as much fun reading a walkthrough and save myself a great deal of time.

I'm going to give it a three because there's not much else like it on PS2 and I know there are a lot of people who think it's great. Personally I would suggest hunting for Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy in the second-hand shelves instead. Psychonauts is another possibility or Kameo on 360 or Twilight Princess on Wii. Or you could just do the sensible thing and go into Cash Converter and buy a second-hand GameCube and The Wind Waker for next to nothing. (If you're really lucky you'll get the bonus disc with Ocarina of Time as well. Result!)

Length: Very long... Very, very long.

Graphics: Sometimes astonishing, sometimes featureless, always unique.

Rating: 3/5

Cranium Hullabaloo

Cranium Hullabaloo box.

Price: £15-£20


  • Hullabaloo electronic unit which requires 3 AA batteries (not included)
  • 16 illustrated, foot-sized pads which are different shapes and colours
Gameplay: The pads are spread around the room and the Hullabaloo switched on. The Hullabaloo then tells the players what type of pad to stand on, such as a square one or a red one or one with a picture of a musical instrument. It also tells them how to get there e.g. spin, zoom or skip. Occasionally there are extra instructions like making a funny noise or touching more than one pad at once. This continues for a variable length of time.

Object: To be standing on the lucky pad chosen randomly by Hullabaloo at the end of the game.
Game length: Under three minutes. The Hullabaloo automatically plays several games in a row but it can be switched off at any time.

Number of players: Officially 1-6 but more than one player can stand on each pad so a larger number of players is possible. If you have a big room and are confident in your first aid skills you could go for a dozen.

Cranium Hullabaloo contents.

Age: Officially 4+ but most three-year-olds will manage it and most two-year-olds will think they can. Children over seven will probably be too cool to play. Adults will prefer to be slightly tipsy.

Comments: If your kids are jumping around the room and bouncing off the walls, this is a great way to get them doing it in a more structured and educational way. The only problem is with understanding what the Hullabaloo is saying. It plays music constantly and speaks with an American accent, making it difficult for children to make out the instructions. An adult is required at all times to interpret. This is a shame as the adult nearly always ends up having to join in and leap and crawl and zoom when they'd much rather be trying to catch a quick nap on the sofa.

Children really enjoy it.

Cranium Hullabaloo in action.


Involves exercise.
Encourages listening.
Teaches colours, shapes and picture recognition.
Kids love it.


The spoken instructions are hard to understand.
Sometimes the instructions involve the players touching their noses to a pad. If the players in question are small children with colds then things can get pretty unpleasant...

Rating: 4/5 if you're not American, otherwise 5/5.

Reign of Fire (DVD)

Starring: Christian Bale (Batman Begins), Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco (Who was in GoldenEye apparently. Oh yeah, coming back to me now...)

Rated: 12

Story: It is twenty years in the future and the world has been turned to ash by dragons. Quinn (Bale) leads a community of survivors who have holed up in a ruined castle in Northumberland, trying to eke out an existence while avoiding being snacked on by marauding flying lizards. It seems all is lost. Then a bunch of American soldiers turn up with a stash of nylons and chocolate, and an unlikely plan for victory.

Comments: I seem to remember the posters for this movie showing dragons swooping over the flaming ruins of the Houses of Parliament. I imagined a desperate fight through the skies and streets of the capital, landmarks exploding left and right - kind of like Godzilla but in London AND WITH DRAGONS! How excellent... But, no. That bit, where the dragons take over, is told via a quick flick through the magazine clippings in Quinn's scrapbook. Drat.

For a few minutes it looks like we're going to get an interesting take on the post-Apocalypse movie. Normally we get something set immediately after the disaster (28 Days Later) or so far in the future that everyone's forgotten what happened (Waterworld). Twenty years is long enough for a new society, a new mythology even, to have arisen but short enough for everything to remain rooted in actual memories of our world. These people live a medieval life but re-enact Star Wars for the children. Forget the dragons, let's pretend it was a nuclear war and try to draw some truths about humanity from the aftermath - that would be a great movie... But, again, no. Dragons start turning up and we get a middle-of-the-road action movie. Set mostly in a quarry. Drat.

"But at least it has dragons," I hear you cry and, yes, it has dragons but... but... I'm sorry, dragons don't exist. For some reason my brain can cope with computer generated images of aliens and mummies, vampires and ghosts but show me a dragon chasing a helicopter and it's like someone is trying to sell me a Rolex for a tenner. We're told from such an early age that dragons aren't real, it's very hard to forget. This movie requires more than the suspension of disbelief; it requires the suspension of most higher brain function. Still, as long as there's plenty of tense, close-quarters battling with dragons... Er, yet again, no. The dragons fly fast and spew vast amounts of napalm-death everywhere. The humans run away and hide in holes (usually in the script). Drat.

That's not to say the movie isn't fun, it could just be so much more. It's only in the last half an hour that it settles on its direction and we finally get some proper dragon-slaying thrills. Is that enough to save it...? Thankfully, yes. Hurrah!

Conclusion: There are lots of good ideas here but few are followed through. Bale and McConaughey do well with what they're given, however, and keep things moving along. It's definitely watchable but the real fun is in thinking up all the better dragon movies they almost made.

Explosions: None.
Dragons: Some.
Napalm: Lots.
Opportunities missed: Countless.

Rating: 3/5

Iceland Home Delivery

The problem

My household goes through fourteen litres of milk a week. That's approximately twenty-five pints. Which is four enormous plastic bottles. Which is a lot of milk - an entire buggyful of the stuff. Milk is heavy. We don't have a car. I don't want to have to go to the shops every day.

The solution

Iceland home delivery! If you spend over £25 in one go, they'll pack your shopping for you and cart the whole lot round to your house for free.

I've tried internet shopping but it did my head in trying to hunt down bargains while the kids rampaged around me. I was clicking all over the place. This way I can take them on an expedition, tire them out pushing the trolley and avoid RSI at the same time. Since Iceland is just round the corner, it's actually quicker than going online as well.

Sure, the choice of fresh food isn't vast but it's not like I have time to cook anyway. Iceland is better than almost anywhere for stocking the freezer and there's a decent selection of things like bread, tins, cereal, alcohol and biscuits. With all that dealt with, it's easy enough to nip somewhere else for the unusual things and little extras.

How it works
  1. Go round the shop filling your trolley.
  2. Take it to the checkout.
  3. Assistants pack your shopping into plastic bags according to category (frozen, refrigerated or general groceries).
  4. You pay for it and arrange a two hour delivery slot (nearly always the same day provided you shop before lunch, the van isn't broken and it's not December).
  5. You go home.
  6. The bags get labelled and then stored at the correct temperature.
  7. Your shopping is brought to your door even if you live at the top of a tenement. (Although the driver will look happier if you don't).

The shopping gets manhandled a fair amount so I usually take easily crushed stuff home with me myself - eggs, fresh fruit, salad and yogurts. Everything else is fine.


I have had well over two hundred deliveries and I can only think of about four occasions when the delivery slot was missed. Two of those occasions were only by a few minutes and the other two involved the delivery being cancelled and re-scheduled for the following day. I've had a bag of shopping go temporarily missing once and received a bag of someone else's shopping once. One time a bag full of jars split halfway up the tenement stairs. (The driver really didn't look happy). That's a pretty stonking success rate overall.


You get to choose your own shopping...
...but it gets delivered to the house... magic!
Great choice of frozen food.


Limited (but adequate) choice of everything else.
Uses lots of plastic bags.
The bags have '...because Mums are heroes!' printed on them. (Grrr...)

Conclusion: Would struggle to live without it.

Rating: 5/5

Crash (DVD)

Starring: Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, a stack of other people

Rated: 15

Story: The lives of about a dozen people from a selection of ethnic backgrounds intertwine around each other (and car accidents) in Los Angeles.

Comments: This is a fast-paced drama which switches frequently between different characters and story-lines. The threads occasionally cross and there is plenty of tension but no over-riding arc to the story. The events of the script are there to explore the racial interaction of the characters and examine the differences between what they say to be politically correct, what they claim to believe and what they actually do when push comes to very big shove. The conclusions are never clear-cut since the characters are both complicated and sympathetic.

Perhaps the point is that we're all just people, often frightened and always flawed, and we all have our prejudices. Concern about being perceived as racist prevents open discussion of these racial fears and grievances, which merely perpetuates them.

Gripping. Only the implausibility of some of the chance meetings prevents it getting a 5.

Explosions: One
Provoked thoughts: Many.
Coincidences: Too many.
Headache from mental exertion: On-going.

Rating: 4/5

The Fast and the Furious (DVD)

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez

Rated: 15

Story: An undercover cop infiltrates the LA street-racing scene in order to catch some truck hijackers. He goes native. People open up the bonnets of cars and stare lovingly at engines.

Comments: If you were a car, this would be porn. You are not a car, so you'd better like Vin Diesel an awful lot if you want to enjoy this nonsense.

Interesting characters: None.
Explosions: I can't even remember.
Lingering shots of mechanical parts: Numerous.
Plot: The sound made by my brain as it hit the floor after dribbling out my ears.

Rating: 2/5

Vertical Limit (DVD)

Starring (sort of): Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn

Rated: 12

Story: Some climbers get stuck down a hole near the top of K2. Some other climbers go to the rescue, taking a few canisters of extremely volatile explosives with them. Very little goes well.

Comments: This is like every disaster movie you've ever seen except up a mountain in the snow. Worse, it's not like these guys got stuck in an earthquake or burning building or doomed plane - you can't help feeling they're all nutters who've only got themselves to blame.

Probably best watched with friends and beer. Place bets on who's going die next and how it's going to happen. (Hint: The smart money is on falling off, being blown up or falling off while being blown up).

Explosions: Some.
Avalanches: Two.
Insanity: Much.
Accidental Death: Plenty.
Chance of you caring: Small.

Rating: 2/5