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Lost Planet (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16+

Story: Humanity is trying to reclaim a 'lost' colony. Quite why they're bothering is anybody's guess - the entire planet is covered in snow, monsters and annoyed people with guns.

Gameplay: Shoot things. A lot.

This is a third-person action game. Run through the linear levels shooting bug-like aliens and snow pirates then climb into a mech-suit and shoot them some more. There's a boss at the end of each level. Sometimes you need to climb things using a grappling hook. There are lots of very explosive barrels lying around.

You get the picture.

Save System: Auto-save at the end of each level. Quitting the game saves up until the last checkpoint but there's no definite way of telling when you've just passed one.

Comments: The Xbox 360 release schedule has been somewhat barren for the last six months or so. Besides sports games, licensed tat and Tom Clancy sequels, we've had Gears of War, Viva Pinata, Star Trek: Legacy, Battlestations: Midway, Bullet Witch, Crackdown and this. That's not a long list and it ranges wildly in quality. It does, however, explain why Lost Planet has done relatively well. People are desperate.

There's not a great deal to recommend here. I suppose you could argue there are plenty of enemies on screen at once and the explosions are quite spectacular but that's about it. Sometimes there are so many enemies, though, it feels like a chore shooting them all (especially as generators need to be destroyed to stop creatures re-spawning) and it's often easier to run past. Getting caught in a barrage of explosions means being thrown about all over the place while not actually being able to see anything - which is slightly less than spectacular.

The bosses are impressive but there are too many off them and they can be frustrating even on Easy difficulty. (Yes, I know I'm rubbish. I throw like a girl, too). It quickly becomes a case of pegging it through the level to get to the boss and then running round it in circles shooting the weak-spot, hoping to get lucky and not die.

The story doesn't make much sense and seems overly familiar. It's the usual Capcom tale of treachery, revenge and experiments gone wrong but less interesting and dressed up in snow and robot suits.

Bored now...

Conclusion: Fun to begin with but severely limited. You'd better really love shooting things.

Graphics: Technically very good but not very inspiring. It all depends how much you like looking at snow.

I use a VGA cable and a non-widescreen monitor. Using any available resolution other than 1280x720 caused heavy screen-tearing. Unfortunately this resolution only gave me the option of widescreen output so the image appeared stretched vertically. Annoying (and identical to Dead Rising).

Length: Short.

Rating: 2/5.

Troy (DVD)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana (Hulk), Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean

Rated: 15

Story: It's the Iliad re-imagined by movie executives. Paris (Bloom), a prince of Troy, makes off with Helen, queen of Sparta. Agamemnon, her brother-in-law and ruler of all Greece, uses this as an excuse to wage war against Troy. Achilles (Pitt) reluctantly helps him out in between moody bouts of angst. Vast armies clash. Odysseus (Bean) suggests building a horse. Homer spins in his grave.

Comments: They don't often make them like this anymore. An historical epic with a cast of thousands, lumbering dialogue and a tenuous link to the accepted story. Except, of course, since this isn't the Golden Age of Hollywood, there isn't actually a cast of thousands, there's just two blokes, a horse and a liberal amount of computer animation. It still feels like a trip back in time, though. You half expect Charlton Heston to put in an appearance at any moment carrying a couple of stone tablets.

Troy doesn't murder its source material as brutally as many other films, it just gives it a good kicking and leaves it for dead. It's not such a complete travesty as, say, the film adaptations of The Running Man or The Last of the Mohicans but there's been plenty of re-arranging to make things fit into a standard action movie mould.

And the gods have been taken out.

In fact, about the most fantastical thing which happens is that the Trojans are rather too trusting of Greeks bearing gifts. If you're going to make a film based on mythic poetry, why remove all the mythological elements? What's left feels like a World War II film in togas.

Half the cast struggle with dialogue which attempts to sound 'authentically' archaic but just comes across as wordy and awkward. Thanks to their training in Middle-Earth, however, Bean and Bloom do better than most. O'Toole spends most of the movie with his eyes so wide he looks like he's sat on a nail. Pitt is desperately miscast - he struggles to give Achilles the hidden depths which the script requires and occasionally looks a bit silly during the fights.

Despite all these issues, though, Troy isn't awful. It has massed battles like The Lord of the Rings, a beach assault like Saving Private Ryan and the epic scale of Gladiator. It's never dull but an expensive movie with a star-filled cast based on one of the world's most famous pieces of classic literature should deliver more than pale reminders of other, better, movies.

Conclusion: A missed opportunity lacking in spectacle and direction. It's OK to watch but check there isn't anything better on telly first.

Explosions: None.
Large, suspicious wooden horses: One.
Sympathetic characters: Not enough.
Artistic licence: Lots.
Brad Pitt in a skirt: Plenty.
Annoyed scholars of ancient literature: All of them.

Rating: 3/5.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii)

Rated: 7+

Gameplay: Hold the wiimote in every way conceivable in order to complete scores of five-second microgames. Shake a bottle of champagne and spray it, pump up a balloon, boogie, hand out leaflets, drink a glass of water - you name it. Get it wrong and you lose a life, get it right and things speed up and get harder. Half the fun is working out what you've got to do, the other half is flailing about like a loon.

There are also different modes to unlock and a few longer games.

Save System: Auto-save every time you finish a level or get a high-score.

Comments: This game uses the wiimote's abilities more imaginatively and competently than all the launch titles put together. It's great fun and a huge advert for the Wii... but you'll see nearly all of it in an evening.

There's nothing to stop you cheating and holding the wiimote normally rather than touching it to your forehead like an elephant's trunk or whatever you're supposed to be doing but where's the fun in that?

The longer games are OK but only a minor distraction. The most notable is Can Shooter. It's brilliant but limited and makes you wonder once again why there isn't a proper lightgun game for Wii yet.

Bizarrely, the multiplayer is only unlocked once the single player mode is complete. Also, there's no way to use multiple controllers. A single wiimote has to be passed quickly between players. Since some of the players are likely to be either young or drunk, this is asking for trouble.

Conclusion: Superb while it lasts.

Length: Very short.

Graphics: Vibrant and purposefully simple.

Rating: 4/5

Red Steel (Wii)

Rated: 16+

Story: Your girlfriend's been kidnapped by the yakuza. Get her back.

Gameplay: It's a first-person shooter that every so often makes you ignore your guns for no apparent reason and duel with a sword.

Save System: The game has checkpoints throughout each level but only saves at the end of the level. Madness.

Comments: The gunplay is average and involves constantly moving the wiimote forward to zoom. This is uncomfortable and annoying. The wiimote has to be pointed so far towards the edge of the screen to turn that I kept pointing it too far and losing communication with the sensor-bar. Even pointing at the middle of the screen the cursor leapt about for no reason.

The sword-fighting is just a case of blocking an attack and then flailing about. There's no impression of actually using a sword and I quickly wished I could pull out my guns and shoot.

Some of the cut-scenes are just story-boards with the occasional hilarious piece of animation.

All this, more bugs, unevenly placed checkpoints, unskippable dialogue, a daft menu system and some stupid motion-sensing gimmicks too!

Conclusion: Broken.

Length: Who cares?

Graphics: Poor.

Rating: 1/5

Wing Island (Wii)

Rated: 7+

Gameplay: You're a bird who flies aeroplanes(!?). Carry out missions such as delivering cargo, popping balloons, putting out fires and locating lost cows. Fly solo or in formation with four wingmen (wingbirds?).

Save System: Save after each short mission.

Comments: OK, let's get this straight, motion-sensing should make controlling a game seem more natural and add to immersion. Having to shake the wiimote in a certain direction in order to change formation in a flight game is no more natural than pressing a button but involves more effort and is much more likely to go wrong. Having to press a button AND shake the wiimote in a certain direction in order to change formation is just stupid.

The whole thing, from the presentation, to the gameplay and graphics, is strangely reminiscent of an early PS2 game with better anti-aliasing. Maybe it's just the familiar feeling of wishing there was something decent to play on a new console.

Conclusion: Trying to achieve anything involves a constant battle with the controls, especially when formation flying. The cut-scenes make those in Red Steel seem worthwhile. If this were a PS2 game, it would be obscure and straight-to-budget. Sadly, it might also be more fun to play.

Length: Short.

Graphics: Basic.

Rating: 2/5

Into the Blue (DVD)

Starring: Jessica Alba's bikini and Paul Walker's Speedos.

Rated: 15

Story: Four divers stumble on sunken treasure and a downed plane full of cocaine off the coast of the Bahamas. They swim about wearing minimal clothing and achieving very little. There are lots of fish. Then everyone suddenly wants them dead. Even the fish.

Comments: The last twenty minutes are OK. Up until that point, nothing happens. Seriously. There's swimming, some fish and plenty of sunshine. That's it. It's all quite pleasant to look at but the plot moves along at a mollusc-like pace towards an entirely predictable conclusion. There's seldom any doubt where things are going but the film simply refuses to get a move on. There's just more diving, more fish, more discussion of how best to get rich quick. It's like watching an inept one-finger typist try to hammer out 'xylophone' - after not very long there's a crushing inevitability to events and nothing to look forward to but excruciating frustration or a quick death. (And that's with a bit of fast-forwarding...)

So it just chugs along for an hour and a quarter and then all at once there's gore and action and dead people everywhere. After the harmless nature of the first three-quarters of the film, it's actually slightly shocking. Maybe that's some kind of point but it doesn't seem likely - it's more a desperate case of trying to wake the audience up. This is foolish, however, because anyone who's lasted this long simply loves watching Jessica Alba swim or has slipped into a zen-like state of fish worship. Either way, breaking the trance risks all kinds of trauma.

It's not even like the plot twists make any real sense.

After this and The Fast and the Furious I think I'll actively avoid films with Paul Walker in. Alba does fine but you have to wonder why she agreed to it all. The rest of the cast struggle to make their characters believable but that's the script's fault more than theirs.

If you want fish, watch a documentary. If you want Jessica Alba in a bikini, buy a calendar. If you want entertainment, try balancing your DVD remote on your nose.

Whatever you want, avoid this.

Conclusion: I watched it so you don't have to.

Explosions: One.
Opportunities for a nap without missing much: Many.
Fish: Thousands.
How they sold it to the execs: Jessica Alba... in a bikini... swimming...
Minutes of your life you won't get back: One hundred and six.

Rating: 1/5

Crackdown (Xbox 360)

Rated: 15

Story: You are a genetically-enhanced law enforcement agent charged with the task of ridding Pacific City of three criminal gangs by taking out the gangs' leaders.

Gameplay: Run, jump and drive round town in third-person, looking for the hideouts of the six generals from each gang, and then take them out. How you do it is up to you. Rush into the lobby guns blazing, ram down the back gates in a truck, go crazy with a rocket launcher or leap across the rooftops straight to the penthouse. Once the generals of each gang are dead, the kingpin's defences are weakened, making a successful assassination more likely.

Increase your speed and agility by collecting enough orbs scattered around in awkward to reach places. Increase your weapon skills and strength by killing enemies. Increase your driving abilities by nailing special jumps, beating time-trials and running enemies over.

Save System: Auto-save whenever you achieve an objective. You can save and quit at any time but stats and progress are remembered not location. Loading a save game means re-starting at a supply point. It seldom takes more than a couple of minutes to get anywhere, though, so this isn't a problem.

Comments: Initially this feels like a basic GTA clone. You drive around a bit, run into a building, shoot some goons and then move on to the next target. Rinse and repeat. There are no proper cut-scenes, not much of a story and no missions exactly. You have to track down likely locations for the gang leaders and then fight your way in. That's it.

Once you've upped your stats a bit, however, things get more interesting. Then you can jump around like a superhero and rain down explosive destruction from above. Exhilarating leaps between sky-scrapers become common place. Frantic fire-fights break out all over.

Your health returns if you don't take damage for a few seconds but so does that of the enemy and they get frequent reinforcements so you can never slowly pick them all off. A mad adrenaline-fuelled dash to the general is often the best approach followed by a tense, chaotic exchange of bullets to see who dies first.

This is much more than a GTA-clone. At times it feels like an evolution of Tomb Raider with nail-biting jumps over vast chasms where you will your agent to reach out just that little bit further. Other times it's like Spider-Man 2 or Hitman. Working out the best way to reach a target takes some exploring and a little thought. Lots of fighting is usually unavoidable, though.

It's where the game tries too hard to ape GTA where things fall down. The 'races' where you have to drive or run through checkpoints in a set amount of time are pure padding. Indeed, driving cars hardly seems worth it most of the time - leaping about can be quicker and is far less likely to get you in trouble for killing passersby.

There isn't a linear set of story missions like in GTA but essentially this just leaves twenty-one assassination missions. That's not very many and some variation would have been nice. Collecting orbs is a good change of pace but any sequel will need fleshing out. Still, Crackdown is excellent entertainment while it lasts.

Conclusion: Great fun but short and occasionally repetitive. Some of the ideas are under-developed.

Graphics: Great. They have a slight cel-shaded look about them which normally annoys me but it's hardly noticeable in the heat of the action. Huge draw distance.

Length: Short.

Rating: 4/5.

Mission: Impossible 3 (DVD)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise, Laurence Fishburne, the Irish bloke from Bend it Like Beckham, Tom Cruise, Shaun of the Dead, Tom Cruise & Tom Cruise.

Rated: 12

Story: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force use a mixture of guns, disguises and explosives to break into heavily guarded places on the trail of an Evil Villain. The Evil Villain then goes after Hunt and his love interest.

Comments: The original Mission: Impossible movie was three set-piece action sequences held together by some unconvincing nonsense. Everyone remembers the bit where Tom Cruise was dangled upside down from the ceiling. The sequel was just forgettable nonsense with motorbikes. It made everyone want to dangle Tom Cruise upside down from the ceiling. As a result, this third one didn't do so well. I, for one, just wasn't that fussed about seeing it. Turns out, though, that this is easily the best of the three.

The film is very well put together with dips in pace in just the right places and extraneous material stripped away. There's a tense, convoluted infiltration involving disguises, cunning and timing which is the series' trademark but there's plenty of explosive mayhem as well. The plot probably doesn't merit close analysis but it keeps things going nicely, has enough twists and isn't glaringly idiotic.

Cruise puts in his usual performance. He's decent enough but it would have been nice if some of the rest of the cast had got a bit more to do. Simon Pegg's cameo is notable because he gets to speak at some length without Cruise interrupting or running off with a determined look on his face. It's like a brief glimpse into a reality where Tom Cruise is just another actor. Weird...

Conclusion: An excellent action movie. Not iconic but entertaining from start to finish.

Explosions: Loads.
Stunts: A stack.
Impossible missions: None.
Improbable missions: One or two.
Tom Cruise: Lots.

Rating: 4/5.

Miami Vice (DVD)

Starring: Jamie Foxx (the taxi driver from Collateral), Colin Farrell (the not hugely memorable bloke from quite a lot of things).

Rated: 15

Story: Two vice cops go undercover in order to drive speedboats, act moody and meet women. There's something about exposing a law enforcement mole and taking down a drug baron, but everyone's really just in it for the speedboats.

Comments: I'm slightly too young to remember the TV series. That or there was a physics documentary on the other side. (Boy, was I a cool teenager...) Anyway, I've no real idea how much this has in common with the original but I suspect it's not a lot. Crockett and Tubbs are in it but characterisation is almost non-existent. Crockett (Farrell) is a womaniser, Tubbs (Foxx) is not. They are loyal to their friends and each other. Crockett is a little unhinged. That's about it really. They're reduced to generic action heroes and they could be anywhere half the time. Most of the film isn't set in Miami and some of what is in Miami takes place in a trailer park. At night.

So much for nostalgia. How about the action?

Er... It's nearly two and a half hours long but it's hard to think of an hour's worth of stuff that happens. There's plenty of moving around at high speed but not many stunts. The shoot-out at the end is a confusing mess.

The dialogue isn't up to much either. Everyone has a tendency to mumble nonsense at speed so I had to switch the subtitles on in order to follow things. I say 'follow' but the plot never really goes anywhere and just rattles along from one scene to the next.

Despite all these faults, however, the film is still somehow entertaining. It's atmospheric and full of sunshine, bright lights, loud music, expensive cars and speedboats. Don't expect much, or think about it too hard. Just let the chaos and craziness wash over you and enjoy a couple of hours in another world - a warm, sunny world where everything happens really fast.

Conclusion: It's rubbish but it's good-looking, fast-paced rubbish.

Explosions: Three.
Speedboats: Numerous.
Semblance of reality: None.

Rating: 3/5.

Golden Coin Maker

Golden Coin Maker box.

Price: £15-£20

  • Coin factory.
  • Chocolate melting unit.
  • 4 coin moulds.
  • Glorified plastic knife.
  • Embossing discs.
  • Net bags and elastic.
  • Foil sheets.
  • 130g milk chocolate chips.
How it works: Melt chocolate chips, mould chocolate coins, coat them in foil and then stamp them on each side with one of a selection of designs.

Golden coin maker contents

Comments: When Sprog1 turned six we decided to give him a pound a week. In return, he has to hoover the kitchen floor after tea. Sprog1 now makes much less mess eating but Sprog2 makes far more. Coincidence? I think not... Unfortunately Sprog1 has not learnt the value of money as we had hoped. He blows it all on the first shiny bit of tack he sees. If we manage to dissuade him, he just picks something else that's equally inappropriate instead. Then he takes it home and either breaks it or forgets about it. He simply likes spending money - he doesn't care on what. It saves on disappointment, I suppose, but it's somewhat infuriating.

One of his first purchases was the Golden Coin Maker. He'd seen the advert on telly and I think he got the impression that you turned the handle and chocolate coins cascaded out like magic. I can see the attraction in that. The truth, however, involves much more effort.

Trying to melt chocolate using a small plastic bottle full of warm water is less than effective. Having only four moulds means you can't even prepare plenty of blank coins in advance. Since the coins have to be left in the freezer for fifteen minutes once moulded, it takes at least half an hour to produce any coins at all. With more than thirty steps in the process to make each coin, even with practice the production rate after that is unlikely to exceed two coins every fifteen minutes. On our first (and only) attempt, I and the boys made six coins in an hour and a half, and that was with me actively involved the entire time.

Six coins.

In an hour and a half.

It wasn't even fun. It was frustrating and difficult. I could barely bring myself to eat my share (i.e. one) when teatime came. I wanted to frame it, hang it on the wall and show it to visitors as some kind of housedad badge of honour. Look! I survived the Golden Coin Maker!

Do not buy this. If you want the kids to do something creative but they only want edible treasure then here's a better plan:

For twenty quid you can buy an awful lot of pre-made chocolate coins and plenty of craft materials. Get the kids to make greetings cards and pay them with the coins. You will save a vast amount of money and they will get lots more coins for far less effort. You will not go mad.

Rating: 1/5.