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Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

Rated: 12+

Story: Link, an elf-boy with pointy ears, must rescue Princess Zelda, rid the world of darkness and confront an ancient evil. Again. This time the world of twilight is trying to invade the world of light. Link must track down the pieces of various ancient artifacts in order to unlock the path to an old enemy. Again. The twist is that sometimes Link is forced to take the form of a wolf. This is explained by an impenetrable back-story involving arrogant sorcerers and incompetent sages. Again.

Gameplay: The same as the previous three 3D Zelda games. If you haven't played Ocarina of Time, then go and download that from the Wii shop right now - it's one of the best games of all time. If you have, then Twilight Princess is just like it but with better graphics and not quite as good.

I guess, if you really want me to tell you, then LoZ:TP is a third-person action-adventure game. Explore towns, villages and countryside for quests, secrets and mini-games, then enter intricate dungeons full of puzzles and monsters. The ten-or-so dungeons are unlocked in turn as the story progresses and most contain a new piece of equipment, such as a bow or grappling hook, which opens up new areas.

Save System: You can save at any time. This keeps an exact record of your current equipment but only an approximation of your position and achievements. This is OK but can occasionally be frustrating if you have to quit half way through a complex series of obstacles.

Comments: OK, for fans of the series, here's what you need to know:
  • It's better than the second half of The Wind Waker...

  • ...but not as good as the first half.

  • The graphics are quite nice.

  • The Wii controls add nothing to the experience overall.

  • The GameCube version is almost certainly just as good.

For everyone else:

  • This is a great game.

  • Go and buy it.

  • Don't read the rest of the review because, although this is a great game, all I want to do is whinge about it.

Capcom did an amazing thing with Resident Evil 4. They took a successful series that had barely changed in years, ripped it to shreds, designed it afresh and created one of the top games of the last console generation. They could so easily not have bothered. They could have left everything alone and made Resident Evil 3.5. It would probably have been great. Taken in its own right, it might have been superb. Except it would have been impossible to take in its own right, impossible to ignore the umpteen previous installments and spin-offs - the game would have felt... tired.

Twilight Princess is Zelda 3.5.

A few niggles have been dealt with - it's now possible to save in dungeons (sort of), for instance - but very little has changed since Ocarina of Time which came out nearly ten years ago. Even then, where changes have been made, they aren't always for the better.

The sections where you play as a wolf are noticeably less fun than the other parts of the game. You can't use your equipment, the game mechanics are inconsistent and the graphics go grainy. It's a relief when Link finally gains the ability to change forms at will and you only need to change back into a mutt in order to solve the occasional puzzle.

The Wii controls handily make it possible to aim directly with weapons like the bow but most sword moves require shakes and prods of the wiimote or nunchuck. These are imprecise and cause far more frustration than immersion. The whole control set-up feels fiddly. I was longing for a GameCube pad on occasion.

The dungeons are the best in any Zelda game, expertly designed and full of the kind of puzzles which require a little bit of lateral thinking rather than endless block pulling. The exploration side of things, however, is less rewarding than normal. Much of the land seems barren apart from annoying, re-spawning monsters. The prizes for uncovering secrets and winning mini-games seem hardly worth the effort of bothering. It's only quite late in the game, with most of the specialist equipment available, that the exploration really opens up and becomes fun.

Maybe I'm being harsh. Most of these grievances (and a host of others) wouldn't have registered if I wasn't so familiar with the whole concept. Taken in its own right, LoZ:TP is a great game - its only real problem is in being a sequel that has chosen bigger over better.

Conclusion: A good game in a fantastic series. Possibly the best launch game ever. Challenging, absorbing and full of neat touches.

Er, but it's still a port of a GameCube game that's barely evolved from its nearly-ten-year-old predecessor on the N64. The next Zelda seriously needs some re-invention.

Graphics: Technically the best the GameCube(!) has to offer but the colours and design can seem drab.

Length: Very long.

Rating: 5/5.

Hot Fuzz (DVD)

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton and a whole of host of other people from Bill Bailey to Edward Woodward who aren't in it much and seem to be there simply to get their name on the box.

Rated: 15

Story: Nick Angel (Pegg) is a successful police officer from London who is sent to a new post in a quiet country town. He struggles to come to terms with the laid-back way of life and policing. He gets to know his new partner Danny (Frost). They bond. They watch some action films together. There are some murders. Everything goes Die Hard.

Comments: I didn't find Shaun of the Dead that funny. It had an amusing concept and was relatively entertaining, but wasn't that funny. This is by the same team. Instead of a very British zombie film, it's a very British action film... eventually.

Most of the first two-thirds of the movie is an amiable fish-out-of-water comedy about a city cop on a rural beat. (Translation: Amiable means amusing, not critically-offensive, but not actually that funny). It's OK. Then it turns into an over-the-top homage to Hollywood action films. It could be seen as a parody but it's really less silly than Bad Boys or Miami Vice - the setting of an English market town just makes it obviously silly (and very funny).

The cast is mostly excellent. Timothy Dalton gives the impression of having fallen on hard times but Pegg comfortably manages to be a hard-nosed cop rather than a slightly wet geek for a change. Frost could probably play the comic side-kick in his sleep. Everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves. It would be interesting to know, however, why Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy turned up for their minute or so each. It feels like some kind of bet or the result of a drunken night out with Pegg and Frost. ("Want to be in our new film?" "Yeah, all right, if you can finish this bottle of tequila while standing on your head...")

Like Shaun, Hot Fuzz has a fantastic central idea but not enough supporting gags to sustain it for the entire length of the film. There will be a point half way through where you wonder what all the fuss is about. The build-up to the punchline is eventually worth it, though.

Conclusion: Not quite as slick and funny as it should be, and I have a strange desire to go shopping in Somerfield's...

Explosions: Two.
Great ideas: One.
Not so great ideas: A few.
Gags: Not enough.
Time taken to get going: An age.
Crazy English people: All of them.

Rating: 3/5.

Heroes (TV)

Starring: A whole bunch of people getting their big break, with brief appearances by Malcolm McDowell, Captain Sulu and Christopher 'I-was-a-fool-to-quit-Dr-Who' Ecclestone.

Rated: TBC but I'm guessing it'll be a 12 on DVD release.

Story: A group of people leading disparate lives begin to discover that they have superhuman abilities. As they come to terms with these abilities, they learn that their lives are connected - they are all threatened by one of their own and by a conspiracy that seeks to bring a new order to the world. Their normal lives start to unravel. (No one wears spandex, though).

Comments: The first series of Heroes has just finished on Sci-Fi in the UK. It starts on terrestrial TV on BBC2 on Wednesday 25th July (2007) with a double episode. Set your videos/DVD-recorders/PVRs now!

This probably isn't the show you're expecting. It's different in both structure and style from how I imagined it having seen the trailers. It isn't about a group of heroes who get together and fight evil every week, emerging victorious just in time for the credits. It's about a number of individuals, mostly in different locations, who meander from one scrape to the next. They have special powers but they don't know what to do with them and they are keen to keep them secret. They very seldom do anything heroic. Episodes don't have self-contained plots which reach a conclusion - like 24 (only more so), the series is one continuous narrative.

There are more than half a dozen main characters, each with their own plot-thread, and so it takes several episodes just to introduce them all properly. Later episodes then focus on a subset of characters but this means it can be frustrating to watch the show at a rate of one or two episodes a week. Some episodes barely seem to advance the plot at all. Others leave a character in a cliff-hanger that's not returned to until the episode after next. Everything moves at a glacial pace, so the show is really about character development.

Fortunately, the characters are all likeable. It's shame, however, that some of their powers are so generic. Flying and fast healing? I think we might have seen those a few times before. Others, such as the ability to stop time, are more interesting and accompanied by excellent effects.

Heroes is a good show but it's never quite brilliant. It's always enjoyable to watch but never entirely satisfying. It always feels like it's going somewhere but never actually does. The build up to the finale goes on for weeks and then the conclusion is all played out in seven fairly confusing minutes. Gah! So close...

I'm still very keen to see season two, however. A little tinkering with the format, and it could be superb.

Conclusion: Worth checking out but you might want to watch it six episodes at a time. Consider waiting for the DVD.

Explosions: Yes.
Episode length: Too short.
Series length: Too long.
Episode pace: Moves like a greased weasel.
Series pace: Frequently loses sprints to tortoises.
Number of major characters: Hang on a minute, I'm going to need to use my fingers...
Spandex in patriotic colours: None.

Rating: 4/5.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest (DVD)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy and a waterwheel.

Rated: 12

Story: Oh, where to start... Suffice to say, if you haven't seen the first one, you won't have much of a clue what's going on. Then again, the complex justification for all the daring-do isn't hugely easy to follow even if you have. Basically, in order to save his fiancee Elizabeth (Knightley) from the gallows, Will Turner (Bloom) must bring a compass belonging to wacky pirate Jack Sparrow (Depp) to the sinister East India Trading Company. Sparrow, however, is rather busy trying to renege on a deal he made with the monstrous Davey Jones (Nighy). To this end, he needs the compass to find a key to unlock a chest which contains something unpleasant. Meanwhile, everyone double-crosses everyone else while attempting to avoid being eaten by cannibals and enormous sea monsters. Most of them try to snog Keira Knightley too.

Comments: I saw this sequel at the cinema when it came out a year ago but I rented it again recently and I actually enjoyed it more the second time round. There were a number of reasons for this:
  • I saw the first one recently as well so all the backward plot references made more sense.
  • I caught more of the one-liners.
  • I already knew it wasn't worth trying to follow the story too hard.
  • I'd had three glasses of red wine.
The effects are fantastic and the film contains some great action sequences. True, some of them are over-the-top and pretty silly but this is a rip-roaring adventure that leaves reality behind after about five minutes. It's a case of sitting back and letting it keep you entertained while the parts of your brain responsible for critical thought take a nap. (If you've been looking after small children for several years this zen-like state will be second-nature. Imagine the main characters as Teletubbies and you'll go to that happy place almost instantly).

The cast do a fine job. Bill Nighy is unrecognisable under a stack of make-up and CGI, and is a much more convincing monster than in Underworld. Surprisingly, it's Depp who seems to struggle, despite turning in the most memorable performance of the first film. It's not really his fault, though - the character of Captain Jack is simply wearing thin. Everyone, from Elizabeth to his crew of cutthroats, seems to love him in some way but he's neither a good man nor a good pirate. He lies and cheats to his own ends but is never ruthless enough to get his hands on any treasure. It was possible to sustain this moral ambiguity for one film; two is pushing it a bit. He needs either to be more blood-thirsty or to find a different profession. (I guess Accountants of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Tax Return doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

PoC:DMC is overly long and it has the usual problem of the second film in a trilogy - it starts in the middle of the story and doesn't make it all the way to the end. Oddly, it leaves you wanting both less and more. It is very watchable, though. I'll doubtless end up finding myself sucked in again when it comes on telly.

Conclusion: Funny, spectacular and silly.

Explosions: Technically plenty, if you include cannons firing. Otherwise, one.
Tentacles: Dozens.
Plot twists: Too many.
Historical accuracy: As if...
Does it beat the first one?: No.
Does it beat Cutthroat Island?: With a big stick.

Rating: 4/5.

(BTW Getting the kids to play Potatoes of the Caribbean is a good way to distract them for a few minutes. The game involves thinking of the names of TV shows, films and games and then replacing one of the words with potato or potatoes. Personal favourites include: Indiana Jones and the Potato of Doom, CSI: Potato, Bob the Potato, CSI: New Potato, Gone in 60 Potatoes & Legend of Zelda: Potato Princess).

A Scanner Darkly (DVD)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson & Rory Cochrane (Nice to see he got some work after CSI: Miami).

Rated: 15

Story: Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover narcotics cop whose identity is secret even to his superiors. While investigating a group of suspects in the hope of learning the source of a drug known as Substance D, he finds himself struggling to hold onto reality. Since it's not a very interesting reality, you have to wonder why he bothers...

Comments: This movie is based on a novel by Philip K Dick who was one of my favourite authors when I was a teenager (back when I still had time to read) so I was quite looking forward to it. I was expecting a futuristic conspiracy story set on one of the moons of Jupiter. Unfortunately, I'd got entirely confused over my PKD stories and was somewhat surprised to find myself watching a near-future conspiracy story set in a house full of spaced-out junkies. It wasn't entirely what I was in the mood for... (The story I'd been thinking of is The Mold of Yancy. You can read an amusing/scary analysis of its fore-telling of the Bush administration here.)

The first thing to note about the movie is its visual style - it's sort of animated. How can a film be 'sort of' animated, I hear you ask? Well, it appears they shot it all in live-action and then traced and shaded over the top to make it into a cartoon. This probably involved a lot of work. Which is a shame because, as with cel-shaded computer games, it frequently appears quite drab. Certainly it gives the opportunity for some striking effects but most of the time it just removes detail and texture, making scenes seem lifeless.

Not that there's much going on anyway. A large part of the film is junkies sitting around being hyper, depressed or paranoid at each other. There is an actual conspiracy taking place but it isn't very fleshed out and seems tacked on.

It doesn't take long to wonder if the movie is going anywhere. And it's not really. It does make the point that drugs are bad for you and big corporations aren't necessarily much better but that's not entirely startling news. I nearly fell asleep.

The whole thing feels like a waste of the decent cast.

Conclusion: I'd like to give A Scanner Darkly a high mark for tackling a difficult subject, for artistic style and for being based on something by Philip K Dick. Problem is, I wanted to watch the second half in fast-forward because I was bored. The review scheme says I have to give it a 1. (Cue five junkies rambling interminably about authoritarian abuse of objective integrity... At length... And nothing much else happening... And this conclusion dragging on... Until... ... ... It ends).

Explosions: None.
Rambling: Plenty.
Sense: Little.
Drug abuse: Lots.
Excitement: Not much.
Most memorable scene: A heated discussion over the exact number of gears on a mountain bike.
Really?: Yes.

Rating: 1/5.