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Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (PSP)

Rated: 15

Story: You're an operative for an American security agency so hard-core that it doesn't officially exist. You have to investigate a mysterious terrorist threat by shooting bad guys in numerous locations around the world. There's the usual entanglement with an old flame, a bit of off-the-rails revenge and a smidgen of ethical quandary.


I mean, honestly, when the main element of suspense in the plot is over what kind of weapon the terrorists have, you know that straws are being clutched. If this were a movie, it would be straight to Channel 5.

Gameplay: Third-person shooting. Much of the time is taken up by aiming from behind cover and then popping out to shoot henchmen. Stealth is an option. There are occasional boss battles, a few puzzles, infrequent gun-emplacement fuelled massacres and the obligatory sniper sections.

Save System: Auto-save at the end of each mission only - so be prepared to leave your PSP in sleep mode. Annoyingly, the save doesn't occur until after the cutscenes for the start of the next mission, which is frustrating if you're in a hurry.

Comments: My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20 and it came with four games on tape. One of them was a Frogger clone and two of the others I've forgotten entirely but easily the best was called Blitz. It involved dropping bombs to level a city before your plane crashed into any remaining skyscrapers. You can play a very similar game here. My mum really quite enjoyed it. She could get to grips with it because, although it was hard as nails, it only used one button. Tellingly, the first computer game my mum has played since then is Wii Sports.

My mum really wouldn't like Syphon Filter.

Dark Mirror is for people who play games a lot. It's the kind of game that gives you three different types of optical visor and a flashlight. One of your main guns has four different types of ammunition. Every button on the PSP is used, some twice. I've been playing computer games for twenty-five years and I kept getting confused over the controls the whole way through.

It's not that the controls are bad. Apart from attaching to cover being fiddly in the heat of battle, the controls work very well. The game is just complicated. My mum wouldn't know where to start and wouldn't want to.

But, then again, you're not my mum and you're probably wondering where I'm going with all this. Well, to cut the meandering short, if you're new to videogames then this isn't a good place to start. It looks cool but is a real struggle to get to grips with. If you've played plenty of games, however, you'll have probably seen it all before, only a bit better. For all the complications, Dark Mirror still seems strangely basic, from the lacklustre plot to the lengthy corridor sections. It has its moments but, after a while, it just becomes a chore.

Conclusion: If this were a PS2 game, it would be quickly forgotten. Absence of competition on the PSP makes it more memorable but still doesn't make it that special.

Graphics: Technically adept but lacking imagination. The endless, samey corridors begin to grate before the end.

Length: Feels longer than it actually is. (Never a good sign).

Rating: 3/5.

Mouse Trap

Mouse Trap game - original.

Price: £15

  • Gameboard
  • 4 plastic mice
  • Ball bearing
  • 26 plastic pieces of convoluted and difficult to assemble rodent catching apparatus
  • 52 cardboard cheese pieces
  • 6-sided dice
  • A very important elastic band that will either snap while you're playing or die a long, lingering death in the box before the next time you need it.
Gameplay: Players take it in turns to roll the dice and move their mouse round the outside of the board. Some spaces give cheese pieces, others allow an extra bit to be added onto the trap. There's a small loop of spaces at the end of the trail. One of these spaces allows the handle to be turned to set off the trap. If a mouse is caught on the cheese space by the trap, then that player is out. When turning the handle, a piece of cheese can be spent in order to roll the dice in an attempt to move an opponent onto the cheese space.

Object: To be the last mouse left on the board after the trap has been built and all the other mice have been caught.

Game length: Fifteen minutes if you're lucky. Half an hour if you're not.

Number of players: 2-4

Age: 6+ apparently but I wouldn't entirely trust anyone under eight to put it together without breaking it. Aside from the construction, however, there's not much else to the game apart from rolling the dice and very occasionally turning the handle. My two-year-old can cope with that.

Comments: Sadly, the man from Rentokil didn't turn up with one of these. Which is a shame, because it might be fun with live mice. I could have watched them scurry around in fear of giant bowling balls and little plastic divers. Then, after the trap had failed to work for the third time, I could just have bored the little critters to death by forcing them to play a hideously ill-conceived boardgame.

I thought I had fond memories of this game from childhood but, on closer examination, I discovered most of these recollections were of the trap being difficult to put together, hard to reset and prone to going wrong. Everything else was just rose-tinted nostalgia.

Admittedly, the game has changed over the years and the board is slightly easier to put together than it once was. The addition of the cheese pieces is almost entirely pointless, however, since it's nearly impossible to run out of them. Little has been done to make the gameplay entertaining.

The first half of the game is really just a drawn out way of putting the mouse trap together. Nothing interesting happens.

The second half drags on forever. The mice circle round six squares, waiting for cosmic forces to intervene, the planets to align and the trap to actually be sprung. Since this requires one mouse on the cheese, one mouse on the 'Turn Handle' square and the absence of mechanical failure, it can take a considerable length of time.

To be fair, it's great when the trap does work. The kids enjoy setting the thing off a few times once the game is over. Even that's a certain amount of effort for not much reward, though.

For £15 you can get a decent marble run. Do that.

Conclusion: Mildly more fun than rat poison.

Mouse Trap game - original.
Look! A mouse on the handle and a mouse on the cheese. The torment is almost over!

  • Kids are fascinated by the whole concept.
  • Fills adults with the warm glow of nostalgia.
  • Setting off the trap is always entertaining (when it works...)
  • Fiddly.
  • Fragile.
  • Frustrating.
  • Temperamental.
  • The rules are complicated but the gameplay is barely more involved than Snakes and Ladders.
  • Doesn't kill actual mice.
Rating: 2/5.

11:14 (DVD)

Starring: No one really. Sure, some famous people turn up but they only get a handful of scenes each to work with.

Featuring: Patrick Swayze, Barbara Hershey, Hilary Swank and Rachael Leigh Cook. (That's more like it).

Rated: 15

Story: A number of individuals in a small American town make some bad choices and suffer the worst case scenario consequences on the dot of 11:14 PM. At first, their lives appear unconnected but all their stories are tied up together. Events are retold from five different perspectives, time rewinding at the end of each.

Comments: This is one of those films like Memento and Lucky Number Slevin which makes a fairly basic or unlikely story more interesting by presenting it in a confusing order. The story of 11:14 is both basic and unlikely but revealing most of the details backwards does, indeed, make it much more interesting. Each of the stories starts a few minutes earlier in the evening than the one before and they only make full sense when considered together. It never feels like information is being purposefully withheld just to add drama, however. The format is excellent.

The content is more of a problem.

11:14 doesn't really have anything to say with its flashy story-telling, except maybe that being a callous, law-breaking imbecile can go badly on occasion. But anyone who hasn't worked that out already will probably have their head explode from having to concentrate too hard before the end of the movie anyway. On top of that, the motivation of some of the characters seems hugely unconvincing at times. The film is full of people doing stupid things. You may well find yourself shouting at the TV. Warn your neighbours to ignore phrases along the lines of:

'Fool! That's a loaded gun!'
'For crying out loud, just tell the truth!'
'Look at the road, you idiot!'
'Don't stick that there, that's just asking for... Ewwwwww!'

There are some bits that aren't for the squeamish.

11:14 is diverting while it lasts but it's the unpleasant and improbable scenes which stick in the memory. What I really want to see is the episode of CSI where they try to work out what happened. Now that would be amusing.

Conclusion: An average tale superbly told.

Explosions: None.
Unpleasant injuries: Two.
Really unpleasant injuries: One.
Lies: Several.
Crimes: Dozens.
Subsequent police investigation: Almost certainly confused...

Rating: 3/5.

Leapster console by LeapFrog

Price: Around £50 but can vary wildly. Games are £15-£20.

Contents: Leapster console with touch-sensitive, back-lit screen and attached stylus. The older model comes with a game on cartridge. The newer model seems to have a stripped down version of the same game built in.

Gameplay: The cartridges available for the Leapster tend to provide a handful of educational mini-games themed around a film or TV licence. The graphics and gameplay are on the level of a Flash game.

Age: Officially 4-10 years. A precocious three-year-old could probably handle many of the games on easy settings. I suspect any child over the age of five would much rather have a DS.

Comments: Sprog2 got this a few months before his fourth birthday and it kept him quiet for a long time. Essentially, it's a handheld games console for younger children that has a heavy emphasis on education. The games tend to involve basic maths, letter recognition and memory tests. Any adult playing them is liable to boredom, drowsiness and possible brain death but they offer the kind of simple, repetitive puzzles and tasks that pre-schoolers seem to enjoy. The touchscreen gives them a more immediate and understandable means of control compared with a mouse or thumbstick.

The instructions in the games are spoken, meaning children can get on and play without needing an adult around to read for them. The downside is that the volume needs to be turned up high enough for the player to hear. Some of the games involve constant verbal questioning. This can become wearisome for anyone else around.

Slightly annoyingly, the console switches off automatically if left paused for more than about three minutes. This saves on batteries but means someone (i.e. you) will need to stand around pressing a button every so often to keep the thing alive if your child needs to go to the toilet in the middle of a game.

The games that seem to have gone down well with Sprog2 are Finding Nemo, Letters on the Loose, Thomas and Friends & I Spy Challenger!. There aren't that many to choose from, though. Easily the best game is the bundled Learning with Leap.

Also available is the Leapster L-Max console. This plays normal Leapster games but it's possible to buy more expensive versions of the games which have extra content that can be played by plugging the L-Max into a TV. Both types of games can also be played on the Leapster TV console which doesn't have its own screen, just a touchpad.

Conclusion: This looks like it should be a waste of money but really does seem to teach kids something while keeping them quiet.

  • Improves writing and fine-motor skills.
  • Very educational.
  • Varying difficulty settings for differing ages and educational levels.
  • Keeps small children still and relatively quiet for the entirety of long train journeys.
  • Gives older siblings the opportunity to play their Game Boys in peace.
  • Surprisingly durable.

  • Small selection of games.
  • Many games are impossible to play with the sound turned off.
  • Battery intensive.
  • Heavy for a handheld.
  • Realistically, only suitable for a fairly limited age-range.
  • Geared for an American audience.
Rating: 4/5.

Mario soft toy

Price: £8

(Luigi, Toad, Yoshi and Donkey Kong also available).

Comments: You know how supermarkets have sweets next to the till? They're supposedly there in order to tempt you into a last minute impulse purchase but sometimes it feels like they're really there to keep you busy arguing with your children so you don't realise how long you've been waiting in the queue. Well, GAME have discovered something even better than sweets - they've started putting Nintendo-themed soft toys by the till.

This is genius. Evil genius.

It was bad enough going in there with the children before. It's been a long time since I've had peace to hunt around in the bargain bins without one of my offspring running over with a copy of Pokemon Dash! or Mario Party 37 or something in a pink box with pictures of princesses on it. Now, though, even if I do find something to buy, I've got to run the gauntlet of the cuddly Marios before I can pay for it. I turn my back for a second and the kids have loaded their arms with half the population of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's a minor miracle I haven't had to cough up for the entire set twice already.

I wouldn't mind so much but both the design and manufacturing quality are at the limit of acceptability for officially licenced merchandise. It looks like they've stuck Mario's head on top of a generic body pattern and there's white stitching visible all over the place. Still, it's obviously Mario and that's all the kids care about. Personally, I find it resembles Bob Hoskins dressed as Mario more than it resembles the plumber himself.

It's a shame Nintendo's minions didn't try as hard as they did with this Pokemon soft toy that Sproglette found in a charity shop recently:

Gengar soft toy.
The world's most evil blackcurrant, I choose you!

And that's nothing compared with this Wario that the wife knitted for Sprog2's birthday:

Knitted Wario soft toy.
You have no idea how long this took to make...
Conclusion: Would be great at half the price or twice the quality.

Height: Eight inches.
Fabric: Unremarkable.
Stuffing: Bulging.
Likeness to the actual character: Passing.
Expenses spared: Most of them.
Pester potential: Huge.

Rating: 3/5.

Mutual Linkage

The internet is an odd place. It's pretty strange when you're clicking around, taking in the view, but you only realise just how strange it is when you start adding stuff to it.

One of the pieces of information I get from my webhost service is a list of phrases people have entered in Google which have somehow brought them to There's nothing to identify the people involved; there's simply a list of phrases and the number of people who've used each one. I am left with a peculiar snapshot into the lives of others. I know they had a need for information and I have a vague idea what they were looking for but I can only guess whether I was able to help them. Some, those seeking a 'pink t-bar scooter' or 'pokemon', probably gleaned a little useful knowledge. Whoever typed in 'copiously sick' almost certainly found something to read as well. Sadly, the person searching for 'numberjacks underpants' and whoever had a query involving 'potholing wear nappy', went away disappointed.

Of course, there have been a few sensible questions about maternity leave, so hopefully I was able to answer them. Oh, and I'd like to believe that whoever wanted to know where to buy a golden coinmaker took my advice and didn't.

One of the other major pieces of information I have is a list of external links which have been used to reach DadsDinner and the number of people that have used each one. Thanks to all those who have created these links. It seems only polite to link back. Two of the biggest links have been from Guardian and Herald articles I've already covered in the publicity section. Here is a list of other sites which link to I'm not going to to do full reviews, just give a flavour of the sites. After all, if you like the sound of things, all you need to do is click...

If you're a housedad and only follow one of these links, make it this one.

The site has recently been given an overhaul with a new look and new content. The main draw of the site is still the forums, though. There are plenty of active members (and they're actually housedads not mums looking for advice on how to handle their blokes). The banter is friendly and people are always ready to give help and advice on any subject from nappies to cabling.

at home dad

This guy's been doing it for years and has even written the book. A good source of advice and links.

The Road Less Traveled

This is the blog of a Californian mum who has moved to a rural area and is attempting to adjust. She's honest, thought-provoking and funny. Her life is at once very similar my own and at the same time very different. It's always good to see what she's been up to. I like her.

Nodrog's Gruntlings

The blog of a guy called Dave. (No, not that Dave). I've known Dave a very long time. I helped him carry his stuff into halls on his first day at university. He brought Angel Delight, a beanbag and a science fiction collection. I was impressed. I knew straight away that this was a man who knew where his towel was.

He's now a dad and a trainee minister in the Church of Scotland. Join him for a random mix of thoughts, theology and humour.


The parenting site with everything - articles, reviews, advice, local information and an absolutely vast forum section. I haven't investigated too hard - I know I could lose days following some of the threads.

Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist

As I said, the internet is odd. What were the chances of the busiest link to this site being from the word 'of'? No really. The word 'of' in the blog of a slightly scary American woman who thinks housedads aren't a good idea. (Which is a shame, 'cos her husband's one). Go and marvel. Oh, and hello to the scores of people who came this way. Welcome.

Did I miss anyone?

If you have a link I've missed, then let me know.

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 before Christmas. (Copy the banner for extra points!)

However you got here, I hope you find the site useful and fun. Keep coming back and don't forget to tell your friends. Cheers!

Tumblin' Monkeys

Tumblin' Monkeys box.

Price: £10

  • A Ker-Plunk-style cylinder cunningly disguised as a palm tree.
  • 30 little plastic monkeys with hooked tails.
  • 30 plastic sticks (10 orange, 10 blue, 10 green).
  • A 6-sided dice marked with colours rather than numbers (2 sides orange, 2 blue, 2 green).
Rules: The 'tree' has five levels. Six sticks (two of each colour) are threaded through holes around the side of each level. The monkeys are tipped in the top of the tree so that they are suspended by the criss-crossing sticks. Players take it in turns to roll the dice and remove a stick of the corresponding colour from the highest level that still has a stick of that colour. If a player makes a monkey fall out, they get to keep it. If there are no sticks left of the right colour, the player doesn't have to remove a stick that turn.

Object: To be the player with the fewest monkeys once all the sticks are removed.

Tumblin' Monkeys.

Number of Players: 2-4.

Age: Officially 4+ but a three-year-old should be able to manage it under constant supervision. Even six-year-olds may well have difficulty setting the game up by themselves, though.

Comments: Yep, it's another variation on Ker-Plunk and this is probably the most irritating one yet.

The most obviously annoying thing about it is the length of time it takes to set up. Threading the sticks through the holes takes ages, not helped by the restriction of two sticks of each colour per level. Each turn of actual gameplay is rapid, however, and most of the time spent playing the game is taken up by the supervising parent reminding each child that it's their go and they should really get on with finding and rolling the dice.

Even with close supervision, there always seems to be plenty of careless waving around of the sticks. They're not sharp, as such, but anyone catching one in the face wouldn't be too happy. This being the case, it would be unwise leaving children under seven alone with the game. On the other hand, it's difficult to see children much older than that being entertained by this for long. In Ker-Plunk there's much more skill involved, since any stick can be chosen. In Tumblin' Monkeys there's either a choice from two sticks or no choice at all. What's the point?

  • Involves monkeys.
  • Time consuming and fiddly to set up.
  • Outcome is almost entirely random.
  • Provides children with a large supply of pointy sticks.
Conclusion: Getting whacked in the chin by Pop-Up Pirate is more fun.

Rating: 2/5.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand (DVD)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Vinny Jones and Kelsey Grammer's new hairstyle.

Rated: 12

Story: Someone invents a cure for mutants. The mutants get a bit stroppy.

Comments: This is better than the other two but you'll need to have watched them in order to understand what's going on. (Bummer).

There is half a decent idea here. Even the X-Men themselves baulk at the possibility of any mutants being forcibly 'cured'. Their powers make them who they are. Do ordinary humans have the right to control mutants? Surely these 'normal' people just need to put aside their fear and resentment, and embrace those who are different?

The film tries to set up a moral quandary. The problem is, it's hard to be that sympathetic. If I knew someone living round the corner could decimate half the city just by thinking hard and clicking their fingers, I'd probably not be very liberal-minded about it. Realistically, I'd want some serious 'curing' done. I suspect this isn't the message the film-makers were trying to get across...

Jackman can't believe he has to live with the silly hair again (especially since Berry can't be bothered with hers this time round), McKellan really is fed up of waving his arms about in front of a green screen and only Stewart and Jones can muster any enthusiasm. Stewart is almost certainly just happy it's not Star Trek; Jones gets to break through walls with his head.

Explosions: Yes.
Ropey plot: Yes.
Too many characters: Yes.
Impressive CGI effects designed to justify the films existence: Yes.
Same as before?: Oh, yes.

Rating: 3/5.

The Marine (DVD)

Starring: A wrestler, Terminator 2, a couple of beautiful women and a chainsaw. (Yep, break out the beers and switch off your brain!)

Rated: 15

Story: Die Hard... in a swamp.

Comments: A fun action film with a generic plot, plenty of stunts and a lack of polish. This is one to just chuckle at, late at night. Let's face it, any film which feels the need to reference Goodfellas, The Terminator and Deliverance by name is a little desperate but it rises above its straight-to-video potential by delivering some really big explosions.

The oddest thing about the film is its unexpected prudishness. The film builds up to a married couple having sex then shies away from it without showing anything as explicit as you might expect in a daytime soap. Later it feels the need to slow motion a scene involving a man being acrobatically garroted with a chain. It's like the makers know this is really for thirteen-year-old boys (who are too young to watch it) but they'll get the graphic violence past the parents as long as no one takes their clothes off.

It's a strange world.

Explosions: Loads.
Plot: Virtually none.
Subtlety: None.
Believable characterisation: Less than that.
Chance of a sequel: Er...

Rating: 3/5.

Blood Diamond (DVD)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Basil Wallace.

Rated: 15

Story: During the civil war in Sierra Leone, a white, Rhodesian mercenary chases after diamonds while a black native searches for his scattered family. They end up working together.

Comments: Want to watch an action film which makes you feel bad about the situation in Africa while giving no solutions and implying that there may not be any?

Thought not.

How about if it features Leonardo DiCaprio calling everyone 'bro' all the time in an impressive but somewhat unpleasant accent?


Ho, well...

Explosions: Some.
Guilt: Loads.
Answers: None.

Rating: 2/5.

Fantastic Four (DVD)

Starring: Jessica Alba in a very tightly fitting outfit and, er... some other people I didn't pay much attention to.

Rated: PG

Story: Four astronauts get caught in a cosmic storm and develop superpowers. They have angst and bicker. Eventually they get to smash things.

Comments: This is mildly entertaining but why can't superheroes just be superheroes any more? Why do they have to have angst and rubbish love lives? Why does the first film in the series have to focus on them coming to terms with their power? Why can't they just start out flying around smashing things saving people? Why? Why? Why?

Explosions: Considering it features a man who flies around on fire, not as many as you might expect.
Predictability: Larger than The Thing.
Mr Man most closely impersonated: Mr Tickle.
Silliest superpower in cinematic history: One that makes Jessica Alba invisible.
Note to makers of future superhero films: Faster pace, better plot, less angst, more smashing. Thank you.

Rating: 3/5.

Thank You for Smoking (DVD)

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes & William H Macy (always a good sign on the cast list).

Rated: 15

Story: Nick Naylor is the king of spin. He is the spokesperson for the US tobacco industry and it's his responsibility to make cigarette companies look well-meaning and responsible rather than greedy and evil. He's surprisingly good at it. As his son begins to question what it is exactly that his father does, however, Nick is forced to examine and explain his own 'moral flexibility'.

That doesn't turn out how you might expect...

Comments: Cigarettes are bad for you. It's undeniable. Cigarette companies are making money peddling an addictive substance which kills people. Why would anyone want to be their spokesperson?

Naylor does it because it pays the mortgage and because he's good at it.

And he is good at it. He never makes the mistake of claiming smoking is healthy. He draws attention to the positive economic aspects of the industry, attacks his opponents' arguments from unexpected angles and presents a reasonable, likeable face for the tobacco business. His aim is never to convince his opponents that smoking is good but to leave those listening to the debate with a positive impression.

It's just scary. I start gagging if someone lights up in the next street. If I ever tried smoking myself, I'd probably cough up a lung instantly. And yet, Naylor makes the whole thing seem not so bad...

This isn't a film about smoking. It's a film about spin. If something so dubious can be presented in such a good light, what else are we being talked into? I guess it's not just that, spin isn't about positive persuasion, it's removal of the negative; spin is damage control. Even sound decisions often have some negative consequences - spin erodes our ability to make tough choices. Spin can be as dangerous as smoking. Think of Thank You for Smoking as the best public health warning ever.

Amazingly, the film manages to present Naylor as sympathetic. Yes, he's self-serving but you'll want him to succeed even as you hope his cause will fail. Whether this detracts from the message, however, or just makes it scarier, I'm not sure.

Thank You for Smoking never comes across as worthy. It requires some thought but it's fast and funny, too.

Worth watching.

Conclusion: Great for sharpening your debating skills. Not so good if you're in the mood for mindless action.

Explosions: None.
Smoking: None.
Guns: A couple.
Alcohol: Some.
Fast talking: Lots.
Merchants of death: Three.
Assaults with a deadly nicotine patch: One.
Induced cravings: Cigarettes and cheese.

Rating: 4/5.