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Babel (DVD)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, four tenuously related stories, some unpleasant stress and a strong desire to hit fast-forward.

Rated: 15

Story: Two Moroccan children play with a rifle as an American tourist couple go past. The Americans' children are unexpectedly taken to a wedding in Mexico by their nanny. The Japanese daughter of the original owner of the rifle struggles with being a deaf teenager in Tokyo. No one (including me) has a particularly pleasant experience.

Comments: None of the characters are very sympathetic - they're all grumpy and foolish. None of the stories is very substantial. Nothing much links together or has any purpose.

It might have been possible to get away with these things if the film wasn't both dull and stressful but everything is drawn out and there's the frequent possibility of very bad things happening to children. The fact that the stories are interleaved even though they are mostly days apart is confusing. Like so much of the film, this narrative device seems there simply for the sake of it. It certainly doesn't help relieve the tedium.

It's not like there's even any clear message. Maybe Babel is saying that one piece of stupidity or generosity can cause havoc for any number of ordinary people across the globe. Or maybe it's a look at all kinds of ways of living just to prove that everyone's miserable. I don't know and I pretty quickly ceased to care.

Conclusion: A film I only watched to the end so that it would be easier to forget.

Explosions: None.
Scene-setting shots with native music: Lengthy.
Focus: Meandering.
'No! Don't do that moments!': Almost constant.
Goats: Plenty.

Rating: 1/5.

Severance (DVD)

Starring: Danny Dyer (who looks kind of familiar), Laura Harris (the new girl from The Faculty) and Tim McInnerny (the thick one from Blackadder).

Rated: 15

Story: A psycho gatecrashes a team-building weekend. Hilarity almost ensues.

Comments: This had potential but, as comedy slasher films go, it's neither that funny nor that scary. The characters are office comedy stereotypes - spineless manager, arrogant git, joking waster, unattainable female, frumpy female, officious sycophant and decent bloke - so it's difficult to take their peril seriously. Then again, having them squabble a lot and then die horribly isn't that funny.

Feels like some students' final year project.

Conclusion: A good idea that's spread too thin. Could do better.

Explosions: A couple.
Laughs: Occasional.
Scares: Few.
Stereotypes: Everyone.
Entertaining moments which aren't in the trailer: None.

Rating: 2/5.

Apocalypto (DVD)

Starring: A jungle, some impressive sets and a very large crowd.

Rated: 18

Story: Shortly before the arrival of Europeans, some cuddly rural Mayans get rounded up for sacrifice by some nasty urban Mayans. There is plenty of gory death. It eventually all goes Die Hard with blow pipes.

Comments: This is an odd one. The dialogue is entirely in Yucatan, it's set five hundred years ago in the middle of nowhere, it starts out as an idyllic look at indigenous culture and vast amounts of effort have gone into making it look authentic but, in a surprise twist, it's directed by Mel Gibson and is an out-and-out action film. It's always intriguing or exciting, though, so no harm done.

Suspension of disbelief is an issue, however. By three-quarters of the way through the film, the main character, Jaguar Paw, should be dead. The only thing keeping him alive is destiny (that and the ability to run really fast in the dark despite being exhausted and full of holes). When so much time and money has obviously been spent on spectacular visual realism, it seems strange that the hero should turn out to be Robocop in a loincloth.

Conclusion: Cecil B DeMille meets John McClane... in a Mexican jungle... with a big knife.

Explosions: None.
Slaughter: Plenty.
Lucky escapes: Too many.
Assaults with a deadly frog: One.

Rating: 4/5.

Xbox 360 console


  • Premium console: £200 including 20GB hard-drive, wireless controller, headset & a dual composite/component AV cable. (Component works on HD tellies; composite is a slightly rubbish connection for normal TVs).
  • Arcade console: £160 including wireless controller, 256MB memory unit and composite AV cable.
  • Elite console: £260 including 120GB hard-drive, wireless controller, headset & HDMI cable.
There are plenty of bundles and deals around and you should really expect a couple of games thrown in as well at these prices.

Don't bother with the arcade console pack. A few games don't work without a hard-drive and a hard-drive will also improve load times in some games. The premium pack is a better deal than buying an arcade pack plus a hard-drive separately.

Don't buy second-hand. The design has changed slightly so that new consoles are more reliable. The disk drives are also (allegedly) faster and quieter. Microsoft have retrospectively extended the warranty of all 360s from one year to three years for problems involving the 'three red lights of death'. They'll fix or replace consoles with this problem for free but it's a hassle and takes a few weeks. For the amount of money you'll save, you're as well buying new.


  • VGA cable: £15 (for using a computer monitor).
  • RGB SCART cable: £15 (an essential purchase if using a non-HD telly).
  • Wired controller: £25.
  • Wireless controller: £33.
  • Wi-fi adapter: £60.
  • HD-DVD player: £130. (UPDATE: Now defunct.)
  • Media remote: £20 (but you can just use a normal controller).
  • 20GB hard-drive: £70.
  • 64MB memory unit: £23.
  • Annual subscription to play online: £40.
If you're wanting a console that plays HD movies, can store lots of downloads, you can play online and that connects wirelessly to the internet then you're looking at well over £400 for the full Xbox experience. Suddenly the PS3 looks like a bargain (and that lets you browse the internet, not just download things).

Comments: As I've said before, if you're thinking of getting into gaming then your best bet is buying a PS2 or second-hand Xbox and a pile of second-hand games. You'll be able to try out plenty of different genres of games cheaply. (Sadly, desirable second-hand GameCube games are hard to find these days). The latest generation of consoles is still expensive and the selection of games is limited (particularly for the PlayStation 3 and Wii). With Christmas approaching, however, if you have an aging console already, you may be thinking of upgrading. The supply of decent, new games for the last generation of consoles has dried up. For better or worse, developers have moved on to the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii.

First things first, the new generation of consoles are much more complicated than previous generations. There are screens and screens of menu options and it will probably take a couple of hours to get the 360 set up to take the best advantage of your AV system and to get familiar with it.

When you first get a game going, you may be a little disappointed.

The graphics aren't going to blow you away. They're impressive but, let's face it, your mum won't be able to tell the difference between the 360 and your last console. The increase in power is less obvious than between previous console generations - it's most notable in things like level of detail, draw distance and number of objects on screen at once. On a normal telly, even you may struggle to tell the difference between the best Xbox games and a mediocre 360 title. Hook a 360 up to an HD display and shove in BioShock, however, and you'll be amazed.

There are plenty of game demos available. You can even download them while playing other games. Most weigh-in at more than half a gigabyte, though, so you'll need to check your broadband connection doesn't have a usage cap. There are also music videos, game extras and small games to download for a fee. A limited selection of films can be downloaded but they're relatively expensive, you can only rent them and HD versions are around 5GB in size! You can put your own music collection on the hard-drive and use it as the soundtrack to games.

The machine itself looks nice (if you care) but whirrs incredibly loudly when in use, making more noise than my washing machine on rinse. It also gets very hot - hide it in a drawer to blank out the noise and you'll need oven mitts to pick it up afterwards. Seriously, give it plenty of room to breathe.

Hmmm... This isn't coming across as too encouraging. On the one hand, the 360 is expensive and has a number of flaws. On the other, of all the consoles I've owned, my 360 is the only one I've become emotionally attached to. It's provided me with a great deal of entertainment and relaxation. That's down to the range and quality of games available. Highlights include:

  • Oblivion - An enormous first-person fantasy role-playing game. There's a beautiful world you can roam freely, hundreds of quests and all manner of things to do.
  • BioShock - A first-person adventure. Trapped in an underwater '50s utopia gone bad, you must explore the wreckage, using guns and your genetic mutations to fight off the mad residents.
  • Hitman: Blood Money - Yes, you too can be a professional assassin! Oddly, however, this is as much a puzzle game as an action one. You have to figure out how to take down your targets as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. The levels are particularly imaginative, ranging from Mardi Gras to a red-neck wedding.
  • Gears of War - Third-person shooting. Bald marines take on the alien horde.
  • Saints Row - Gangster sim. Grand Theft Auto III with better graphics and most of the gameplay niggles fixed. Result.
On top of those, there's Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo 3, Kameo, Crackdown, Dead Rising, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Command & Conquer 3, a stack of Tom Clancy games, plenty of racers (most notably Burnout Revenge) and vast numbers of shooters.

Many other titles are on their way soon(ish), including: Fable 2, Fallout 3 and Too Human.

Of the downloadable games, most seem over-priced attempts to wring a few pounds from nostalgic gamers. Pac-Man really isn't as much fun as you remember. There are a few worthwhile offerings, however: Worms, Bomberman, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Geometry Wars, Puzzle Quest and adaptations of strategy boardgames Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

The 360 will also play many games written for the original Xbox. Each game requires a patch to be downloaded to make it work, however. (It's possible to send off for a DVD with all the current patches on it). Which games are compatible and how well they work is somewhat pot-luck. Check online before making any purchases.

Conclusion: Any console is all about the games.

At the moment, the 360 has the games I want to play - western role-players and third-person adventures - and there's almost nothing on PS3 I'm interested in that I can't get on 360. The Wii has some fun, novelty titles, a couple of good games and a pile of substandard ports and party games.

It's telling that when my 360 turned itself into a giant doorstop and Microsoft reckoned it would take a month to fix, I felt bereft. The Wii couldn't tide me over and I couldn't see the point of buying a PS3. I just wanted my 360 back.

  • Excellent selection of games.
  • Downloadable demos.
  • Acclaimed online service.
  • Premium console is good value.
  • Plentiful, cheap supply of older and second-hand games.
  • Warm and loud. Like putting a fan heater under your telly.
  • Reliability issues.
  • Expensive if you buy all the extras.
  • Requires an HD display and surround sound to really shine.
  • Few games for children.
Rating: 5/5.

Mario Kart DS Super Race Set

Mario Kart Super Race Set.

You bought more pokemon tack? No, no, it's Mario tack.

But it is tack? Oh, definitely. It was only £10, though.

That's not so bad, I suppose. But does it actually work? Just about.

Er... It's a slot-racer. You put a car on the track, you squeeze the accelerator trigger and the car goes round. How can it 'just about' work? The sections of track clip together nicely on a flat surface but the joints feel the strain a bit once you've got the bridge up and are working in three dimensions. There's plenty of fine adjustment of supports to be done. The wire brushes on the underside of the cars which allow them to take power from the metal strips on the track need frequent tinkering because they can be easily knocked out of line by spins and crashes.

Mario Kart Super Race Set.

Sounds like a faff. Can be. You'll be cursing it under your breath on occasion. Then it will suddenly work properly and you'll be away. The cars really whizz round and keeping them from flying off is quite a challenge. The way the cars spin out of control is very reminiscent of the computer games.

Speaking of which, do you get to drop banana skins and throw shells at your opponent? Sadly, banana skins and shells are not included. Not that staying on the track isn't hard enough as it is. Trying to race two cars by yourself when the kids have long since got bored is a particular challenge.

Are you sure you bought this for the children? They're actually quite taken with it. It's supposedly not for under-fives but Sproglette plays with it as a toy and doesn't mind the car coming off every couple of seconds as long as I'm there to put it back on. Sprog1 enjoys the racing. Sprog2 (who's five) finds it frustrating, though - he can't keep the car on the track long enough to really get into it.

Mario Kart Super Race Set.
Ooh! A whole nine feet of track! (DVD box for scale).
What happens if one of them sits on it by accident? It's doomed but, considering how much Sprog1 recently spent on Pokemon danglers from a toy dispenser in a desperate effort to get a pikachu, the cars are probably worth nearly a tenner as ornaments. They seem pretty sturdy. (I wouldn't want them flying off a table onto a hard floor, however).

Stocking-filler? Yeah, but it takes fifteen minutes to set up and adjust so you'll be wanting to put it together the night before as part of the last-minute Christmas Eve panic. Avoid trashing it in a mulled-wine-fuelled grand prix with your partner. The crash barriers, banner and scenery are made of thinner card than the packaging. Oh, and it requires 4 AA batteries which aren't included and you'll be needing a screwdriver to insert them. (I really hate that).

Yeah, the kids are much more likely to eat the batteries in excitement while I'm hunting around for a screwdriver during set up than they are to take them out of the controllers and snack on them in the middle of a game. Exactly.

I bet the packaging is full of annoying wire ties as well. Anything else? Some sets seem to have Donkey Kong rather than Yoshi but the box has pictures of both DK and Yoshi. That's the kind of thing small children can get really worked up about.

Mario Kart Super Race Set.

Pithy conclusion? Worth a shot if you have little Mario fans and you can find it cheap. (Check out GameStation). Otherwise you'd be better saving up for something more convincing.

Rating: 3/5 (but anyone charging £30 for it is having a laugh).

Deja Vu (DVD)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel

Rated: 12

Story: There's a major terrorist attack in New Orleans. Luckily, the US government has discovered how to harness the power of pixies in order to view events exactly four and a quarter days in the past. They get a local federal agent (Washington) to help them figure out where to point the pixies so as to catch the culprit as quickly as possible. This involves solving a separate murder, a ludicrous car chase, a couple of paradoxes and falling in love with someone who's already dead.

Comments: I don't usually bother with DVD extras. I find being told how a movie was made a bit like having a joke explained. I'm not that fussed about hearing the director muttering into a microphone about the creative challenge of their latest project, either. Extended scenes were usually cut short for a reason. And so on. I did start on the commentary for Deja Vu, though. I hoped that someone might point out a way in which it all made sense and thus take my headache away.

I was sadly disappointed.

The makers of Deja Vu are in denial. The commentary starts with three of them sitting around claiming it's not a science fiction film but a love story. One of them even claims it's science fact rather than science fiction. Twice.

Excuse me? If your story revolves around a technology that doesn't even remotely exist then it's science fiction. Having a plausible explanation couched in quantum physics doesn't let you off the hook - it just goes to prove that you don't have the faintest idea what you're doing. (And, sorry, having a love interest doesn't make it a love story).

By talking up the details of the science, Deja Vu is on a hiding to nothing. Those who know about the actual science won't be convinced and those who don't will just be confused. The makers would have been better off briefly mentioning that it's all down to pixies and simply getting on with things.

The evil robot in Terminator 2 is essentially made of pixies. Does anyone care? Not really. Its unlikely shape-shifting abilities are hurriedly glossed over. No one dwells on the mechanics or complications of time travel, either. It's all just a set up for some explosions and a few thoughts on fate and free-will.

Most good science fiction films rely on the fact that any suitably advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. How the machine works isn't really important - it's what's done with it that matters. Deja Vu doesn't embrace the pixies, however; it goes to great lengths to explain them away. You have to suspect the director and friends just didn't want the words 'science' and 'fiction' associated with them at the same time in case they got banished to a basement full of Star Trek fans by their literary buddies.

The film-makers did rope in some scientists to help but, unfortunately, they asked the scientists the wrong question. They asked, 'How might it be possible to look back in time?" The scientists gave a complicated explanation full of big words that was entirely speculation. The film-makers then regurgitated this speculation as fact in an effort at credibility.

What they should have done was handed over a script to the scientists and asked, 'Is this internally consistent?' That way, some of the enormous holes in the story might have been plugged and a few basic science errors corrected. The whole thing might even have made some kind of sense. Meanwhile, the technological plot device at the heart of the film could have happily remained powered by pixies and yet the overall suspension of disbelief required would have been greatly reduced.

The action sections are great and all the actors turn in passable performances. In the right hands (i.e. not those of science-phobic arts graduates), Deja Vu could have been a fantastic film. As it is, it's slick and entertaining but ultimately a dog's breakfast.

Conclusion: If you put CSI, 24, The Bourne Identity and Back to the Future in a box and shook them together you might get this. You'd probably be tempted, however, to close the lid and rattle the box about a bit more in the hope of getting something better.

Explosions: Big.
Scientists: Geeky.
Flux capacitors: None.
Understanding of science fiction: Minimal.
Pixies: Not enough.
Confusion: Great.
Headache: Enormous.

Rating: C+ out of 5.

Cranium Cariboo

Price: £15


  • Main game unit with treasure chest, ball holes and 15 trapdoors.
  • 15 double-sided cards for inserting in the doors. (One side for beginner, one for advanced).
  • 6 bouncy treasure balls.
  • Deck of beginner cards.
  • Deck of advanced cards.
  • Key to unlock trapdoors.

Gameplay: The treasure balls are dropped into the 'secret tunnels' at the top of the main game unit. The unit is jiggled to make sure the balls settle beneath a random selection of trapdoors. Players take it in turns to draw a card and attempt to match the card to a picture on one of the trapdoors. If they find a match, they get to open the door. If there's a treasure ball underneath, then they get to put it into the 'tumbling tidepool' container next to the treasure chest. When all the balls are in the tidepool, the treasure chest opens and the game is over.

Once doors are opened, they are left open.

The basic game has letter cards (A, B & C) which must be matched to the first letter of the word on a trapdoor, number cards (1-4) to be matched to the number of things on the door, colour cards (blue, yellow, green & red) and shape cards (circle, square & triangle). As an example, the door with four green apples on it can be opened with four different cards: green, circle, A and 4.

The advanced game involves letters (A-Z), numbers (1-10) and colours. The letter cards can be matched to letters anywhere in a word.

Beginner cards.

Balls, key and advanced cards.
Object: To find the last treasure and open the chest.

Game length: 5-10 minutes.

Number of players: 2-4

Age: 3-6 (although it's liable to be a bigger hit with kids at the lower end of the age range).

Comments: Why are the Harry Potter books so successful? Sure, they're well written and entertaining, but so are a lot of other books. What makes Harry Potter special? I think maybe it's that J.K. took all the old-fashioned stories I read as a kid - the ones about boarding schools, magic, fantasy worlds and groups of friends investigating mysteries - updated them and threw them all together in one big, well written, entertaining nostalgia fest. It's inspired.

Cariboo tries to do the same with games... and very nearly pulls it off.

Yep, this a game with bouncy balls, a key, moving parts, a shiny prize and pirates. It combines matching games, counting games, treasure hunting, lucky dip and opening and closing doors. Superb. Children see it and are immediately mesmerised. They'll play it over and over.

So why not 5/5? Well, although the concept is fantastic, the practical application is slightly lacking. If the game isn't jiggled just right at the start, it's very likely that balls will end up out of position, causing doors to jam and often forcing a restart. Even more of a problem, is that once several of the doors are open, it's far too easy to see which of the closed doors still have balls underneath. This makes cheating almost inevitable.

These failings are much more of an issue for the supervising adult than the children playing but they do detract from the game's brilliance. They leave it just short of greatness.

Conclusion: Flawed genius. Has near magical qualities for small children but suffers from a number of minor technical problems.


  • Mildly educational.
  • Much less effort to organise than a 'proper' treasure hunt but almost as good.
  • Numbers, hidden treasure AND doors to open. My kids went wild.

  • Can be fiddly getting the balls to settle properly at the start of the game.
  • Too easy to cheat.
  • Swapping between beginner and advanced is a real faff and takes a couple of minutes. This quickly becomes hugely irritating if you have multiple children and need to regularly change back-and-forth to keep them all happy. (Been there).
  • Visiting children want to take home any treasure balls they find.
  • Children left alone with the game will lose the key. ALWAYS. You will find it three days later in your Cornflakes. (It's not tasty).
Rating: 4/5.

Little Miss Sunshine (DVD)

Starring: No one much.

Rated: 15

Story: A severely dysfunctional American family go on a disastrous road trip in order to get their young daughter to the finals of a very dubious beauty pageant. They become slightly less dysfunctional. The pageant remains dubious.

Comments: Remember the old adage, 'Sticking a load of crazy people in a camper van doesn't always make a great comedy'? Well, it's true. Not only that, but if all the people are stereotypes, it apparently doesn't make for a great drama either.

Guest conclusion from my wife: 'Well that was kind of OK.'

Explosions: None.
Predictability: High.
Satirical targets: Too soft.
Actually funny moments: A handful.
Apparent message: Families are hell, but pre-teen beauty pageants are worse...

Rating: 2/5.

The Sentinel (DVD)

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Douglas wishing he was Clint Eastwood, Kim Basinger looking surprisingly well-preserved and the sexy one from Desperate Housewives.

Rated: 12

Entire transcript of the planning meeting: "Let's just do 24 - The Film with a dash of In the Line of Fire. Now... lunch, anyone?"

Comments: It's got Kiefer Sutherland as a member of the Secret Service trying to unmask a traitor in order to stop a plot to kill the US President. Haven't we seen something like this before? He even gets to mutter 'Dammit!' as the main suspect gets away again.

Unfortunately, in attempting to condense an entire series of 24 into two hours, the writers have emphasised the flaws rather than latching onto the good bits. Implausible character motivation and unlikely plot twists, ahoy! Meanwhile, there's not quite enough tension or action.

You wonder if the whole project was organised by Catherine Zeta-Jones just to get Michael Douglas out of the house. Sutherland may not even have noticed he wasn't on the set of 24. Eva Longoria seems to be in it mostly for window-dressing but at least she doesn't get almost eaten by a cougar...

Conclusion: More contained than a couple of episodes of 24, just not as entertaining.

Explosions: One not very interesting one.
Plausibility: Low.
Forgettability: High.
Typecasting of Keifer Sutherland: Complete.
Original ideas: None.

Rating: 3/5.

Payback (DVD)

Starring: Mel Gibson

Rated: 18

Story: Porter (Gibson), a remorseless criminal, is betrayed and left for dead after taking part in a successful robbery. Upon recovering, he sets out to get even and take back his share of the loot. He's not subtle about it.

Comments: This film is so old it's probably on ITV4 every other week. Still, thanks to having small children, I've lost a few years somewhere. I'm occasionally surprised the Millennium has actually happened already. So, here's a review from 1999:

This is a 'one man against the unassailable criminal organisation' movie. The twist is that the hero isn't a policeman on a mission or a vigilante with a grudge - he's a criminal wanting some cash and a bit of closure on a bad experience. He's John McClane without restraint - resourceful and brave but totally ruthless. The result is a take on the genre which is still fresh (and blessedly free of cheesy one-liners).

The most impressive feature of the film is how Porter remains sympathetic throughout. He's a thief, a thug and a murderer but, in some sense, he has principles. He is obsessed with payback but not on wanton revenge. He only wants 'his' money. He looks after his friends. He doesn't enjoy the violence. And it helps that the people who get in his way are dirty cops, thugs and monsters, so it appears he's fighting back as the world conspires against him. He's likeable and smart as well, allowing you to forget he's a complete psycho nutcase. Gibson pulls it off admirably but it's hard to imagine anyone else getting away with it.

That Porter comes across as a decent guy deep down probably poses plenty of questions about the perception of good and evil. Whether that's intentional or this is just violent, amoral fluff, is another question entirely.

Conclusion: An excellent action thriller... as long as you like Mel Gibson.

Explosions: Two.
Believability: Low.
Trail of corpses: Lengthy.
Mel Gibson: Plenty.
Inadvisable uses of a mousetrap: One.

Rating: 4/5.

Online rental tips

The internet is awash with reviews of online rental companies that read something like, 'This service is rubbish! I had ten Xbox 360 games in my queue but they sent me the four-year-old PS2 game at the bottom.'

Often these critical reviews are less to do with the stock levels of the company involved than with a mixture of misfortune and inexperience on the part of the reviewer. If you want to get the best from a rental service, then you need to use a little strategy. No one gets their top choice all the time; everyone gets their bottom choice on occasion. That's the nature of the system. Plan for it.

To go with today's review of LOVEFiLM, I've put together a few tips that should help maximise enjoyment and value for money when using an online games rental service. (Plenty of the tips apply to online DVD rental, too).

  • Only add games to your list which you really want to play. There's a temptation to bung anything which sounds half-decent into your rental queue. Resist. By all means, try something new, but choose carefully.

  • Don't add games you know you won't like. Which sounds obvious but... I've never got past level three of any game with Tom Clancy's name on it and yet I keep being impressed by great reviews and gorgeous screenshots. I keep renting them. I keep getting bored. I'm going to stop. (T.C.'s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 does look good, though. The reviews are great and the screenshots look gorgeous...)

  • Rent more than one game at a time. Three is a luxury but two is essential. Otherwise, if you rent a game you don't like and send it back straight away, you'll have nothing to play for a week or more.

  • Play one game at a time. Finish a game, send it off, play the next while the Royal Mail does its thing. You really don't want to keep swapping between two games, finish them both early on a Thursday evening and have nothing to play until Monday at the earliest.

  • Try a new game as soon as you get it. Yes, I know this contradicts what I just said but it's the single exception. If you don't like a game then it's important to find out and send it back as soon as possible. Don't wait until you've got another game finished and sitting on the shelf ready to post.

  • Never give a game a second chance. If a game hasn't got you at least interested within five minutes then proceed with caution. If it hasn't got you hooked after an hour or so then it's just not going to. Don't leave it a few days and try again - put it back in the envelope and get something else. There's no point playing a game that spends its entire time promising to be good at any moment when you can swap it almost painlessly for something that actually is good.

  • Don't add games just to make up the numbers. You'll need to add a certain number of games to your list to activate your account. If you can't manage this then don't bother renting. However, if your list drops below this level later on, don't panic. Chances are that nothing bad will happen except you'll have to wait an extra day or two for them to have one of your listed games in stock. This is less time than it will take for you to receive and send back a game added to your list for the sake of it.

  • Buy more consoles. As a housedad, time is limited, so why waste it playing rubbish games? Convert the money you save from renting into a new console. This way you'll have a wider choice of quality exclusive games.

  • Finally, whatever you do, don't give the kids any indication you've rented a game they might be interested in. They will want to see it. Then they will want to play it. Then they will want to keep it. This cannot end well.
Now go and give it a try. Enjoy!