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Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple Game

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple box.

Price: £13

  • Wobbly tree with three circular platforms around its trunk.
  • 24 plastic playing pieces (4 Winnie the Pooh, 4 Tigger, 4 Piglet, 4 Eeyore & 8 honey pots).
  • 1 four-sided dice.
Gameplay: The playing pieces are shared out between the players. The players take it in turns to roll the dice and put a playing piece of their choice on the tree. The dice determines which platform the piece must be placed on or whether the player can choose freely. If any pieces fall off the tree during a player's turn, then that player has to keep them.

Object: To be the first player to have no playing pieces left.

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple
Easier than it looks.

Game length: 5 minutes.

Number of players: 2-4.

Age: 3+ but any child over five is going to get bored very quickly. Also, a three-year-old playing against older children is almost certain to lose.

Comments: Ever wanted to knock Disney-fied Winnie the Pooh characters out of the top of a tall tree and then drop honey pots on their heads? Well, this might just be the game for you...

Tip'n'Topple involves similar skills to Buckaroo!. It's all about concentration and careful movement. It's a lot easier than Buckaroo!, though. If the tree is set up on carpet then it barely wobbles at all. It really needs to be on a hard, flat surface. (The top of the box will do). Even then, as long as everyone's paying attention, it's not difficult to play a whole game without any of the playing pieces falling at all. It is good, however, that the game doesn't end cataclysmically if someone does make a mistake. This allows small children to play the game (but makes it fairly dull for those of school age).

There are a couple of alternative game options but they only make things more complicated rather than more interesting. I suspect the best way to add longevity is to play the game with different playing pieces, such as other toys, common household items, fragile ornaments and prized family heirlooms. Another possibility might be to wear a blindfold. If you have really good insurance, you could combine the two.

Winnie the Pooh Tip'n'Topple played with alternative items including a TV remote, the Noo-Noo, a pokemon, Diddy Kong and Scooby-Doo.
Much, much harder than it looks.
Conclusion: It's OK but it's more merchandise than game. Its main value is in providing a supply of little plastic Winnie the Pooh figures.

  • Winnie the Pooh.
  • Quick and simple.
  • Can be used as a playset.
  • Disney version of Winnie the Pooh.
  • Bulky to store.
  • Too easy.
  • Pieces are likely to be played with as toys and scattered to the four corners of the house. Frisk children for concealed Piglets before they leave the room.
Rating: 3/5.

Little Children (DVD)

Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson & Jennifer Connelly.

Rated: 15.

Story: Frustrated housedad meets repressed housemom. They get together and have acrobatic sex while doing laundry. Meanwhile, their town is obsessed by the arrival of a newly-released sex offender.

Comments: I've been interviewed a few times about this site now. The only time I was really thrown by the questioning, however, was when asked if, in my experience, women are attracted to a man who's in charge of small children - the About a Boy factor, if you will.

Basically, the interviewer wanted to know if I get chatted up because of my kids.

I had to laugh.

On a typical visit to the swing park, I'm haggard, stained and already having two conversations at once with my kids. I have more likelihood of being abducted by chimpanzees than participating in a bit of flirting.

Then again, I don't look much like Hugh Grant.

Even if I did, though, I'm not in the market for any sexual tension. Like I have time to maintain a relationship with my kids, my Xbox and two women. Not to mention the small matter of that wedding ceremony where I promised my wife my love, loyalty and trust in front of God and a couple of hundred people. Nope, no kissing strangers by the swings for me...

Bearing all this in mind, the actions of the central characters of Little Children often seem improbable and foolish. The film just doesn't do the housedad cause any favours. Brad (Wilson) is only looking after his son because he can't work out what he really wants to do and he ends up having an affair with the first housemum that speaks to him (Winslet). Cheers.

The touches of reality amidst the madness make Little Children watchable, however, but the flow is frequently interrupted by the narrative voice-over. It's so obtrusive that it verges on self-parody. Redubbed in a sarcastic tone of voice, it would be hilarious.

The final message that it's always possible to change our situations without running away from them is reasonable but undercooked. All the characters spend the whole film making bad decisions before going totally crazy and coming out sane the other side in the last five minutes. After lengthy discussions of literature and some prolonged agonising, the sudden, fraught climax is jarring.

Conclusion: One of the main characters is a housedad, the other is played by Kate Winslet. If those both seem like strong selling points, then you'll be mildly entertained for a couple of hours.

If you're a housedad, then think twice before showing this film to your partner, her mum, your sceptical friends or, indeed, anyone you know. It's probably not worth it.

Explosions: None.
Book club meetings: One.
Unlikely turns of events: Some.
Kate Winslet: Plenty.
Actual chance in real life of getting two three-year-olds to nap long enough at the same time for their parents to have sex (acrobatic or otherwise) and angst-ridden conversation on a regular basis: Small.

Rating: 3/5.

Overlord (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16

Story: You are the aspiring evil overlord of a fantasy realm. You must travel to different parts of the land to pacify the locals and defeat all the heroes who ganged together to defeat your predecessor. Along the way, you need to collect the stolen magical components of your tower and amass enough gold to forge new armour. You'll also need cash to buy some pot plants to keep your girlfriend happy.

Gameplay: You run around in third-person, hacking at enemies and casting spells. The main emphasis, however, is on controlling the small army of goblin minions that follow you around. Among other things, you can send them off to fight creatures, find treasure, obtain items and work levers. As the game progresses, you get to control more minions and gain access to different types:
  • Brown - good fighters.
  • Red - immune to fire and able to throw fire themselves.
  • Blue - can heal other minions and travel through water.
  • Green - immune to poison and able to jump on the back of larger monsters.
Knowing which minions to use is the key to every situation.

Save System: Annoying. The game saves automatically if you move between areas. It also saves the first time you find each of the teleport gates scattered around the landscape. Some areas take half an hour or more to work through, though, and there's no simple way to force a save. Worse than that, upon loading the saved game, all your minions have been returned to storage and there aren't always handy summoning points to get them back.


Dear cousin Sauron,

After our recent conversation, I have decided to follow your example and set myself up as evil overlord of a generic fantasy domain. Things have been going well. I have amassed a small army of faithful minions and we have roamed the land together, bringing a new age of darkness to the world.

I started small, freeing some slaves, smashing crates belonging to the peasantry and then forcing a number of the local women to wear bikinis. Then I bought some pot plants. After that, I moved up a notch, dispatching the monstrous rulers of several kingdoms and keeping their stolen treasure for myself rather than returning it to its rightful owners. I met a girl, I fell in love, she sent me to fight some zombies. We bought some new carpet.

Eventually, I killed some villagers just for the fun of it and because their limited repertoire of one-liners was beginning to get on my nerves. No one seemed to notice much, however, and they'd been replaced by a new set of identical villagers when I returned five minutes later.

I'm beginning to think that I should have been a hero all along. Maybe I could polish up my armour and put my gremlins in pixie outfits. What do you think?

PS Unlike you, I did manage to rid myself of a group of troublesome halflings. Mine were evil halflings, though, so I don't know if that counts.

It would be easy to describe Overlord as a cross between Pikmin and Fable. Because it is. It looks like Fable, it starts out playing like Fable and then you collect some minions and it turns into Pikmin in Fable clothing.

Given the game's influences, it's a shame it isn't a bit better. Nothing is desperately broken but nothing is really that great either. There's just a feeling that the game lost its way somewhere along the line. Most obviously, a lot of the time, it's hard to tell that your overlord is particularly evil. I can't really see Sauron agreeing to rescue a damsel's luggage, for instance. An exploration of the nature and motivation of evil could have been educational. Instead, we have comedy evil without malice or repercussions or, indeed, much evil. What's the point?

If the game was consistently amusing, then it might get away with it but it's just too long. There are too many sections that feel like padding. This is a particular problem at a point about an hour or so into the game. (You know, suspiciously round about where the demo ends). Up till then, the script is witty, it's fun trashing things with your minions and the basic combat is adequate enough. Unfortunately, it's hours more before the next variety of minion appears. With only a small number of brown minions and not much spell power, there's very little strategy to be employed. You're left to trawl through linear dungeons, bashing halflings and getting your minions to smash vast quantities of barrels to obtain treasure.

It's only once you've unlocked all four varieties of minion that the puzzle and strategy elements of the game really take off. The problem is, you could complete Pikmin in the time it takes to get hold of them. That's rather a while to persevere before things get going.

On top of this, the camera is often unhelpful and the controls are difficult to tame. Given time and space, it's possible to send groups of minions left, right and centre to set up a cunning plan but trying to do it in the heat of battle is like herding toddlers in a toy department. They go all over the shop. Often, there's not much to be done except rush the enemy with waves of minions and hope for the best.

Overlord does have its moments. It's occasionally hilarious and having a horde of minions to command is entertaining. It's especially satisfying when some careful planning pays off. If only the level design was sharper, the controls were better and a few riskier decisions had been made at the concept stage...

Ho, well, there's always hope of an improved sequel, I guess.

Right, I'm off to genetically splice some other games and make my fortune. Watch out soon for Grand Theft Halo, Tetris Raider and Brain Training: Cute Puppy Edition. At least one of them is bound to be great!

Conclusion: A good idea that doesn't reach its full potential. Only fantasy fans will bother to plough on to the end.

Graphics: Competent. The distant camera position means it's difficult to make out detail on the characters, however, and the background scenery lacks visual impact. It's all just too similar to Fable to really impress.

Length: Long.

Rating: 3/5.

Scooby-Doo! Haunted House 3D Board Game

Scooby-Doo Haunted House 3D board game box.

Price: £15-£20

  • 3D mechanical haunted castle.
  • A stack of little plastic bits and bobs to attach to the castle.
  • 5 flimsy cardboard figures with plastic bases.
Gameplay: Players take it in turns to spin the spinner built into the board and then move the number of spaces shown. Some positions of the spinner indicate that the ghost on top of the haunted house must be pushed down after the player has moved. This activates a random selection of the traps around the house. Stairs shake, flooring wobbles, furniture moves and a cage goes up or down. If playing pieces fall off or get knocked over they have to go back a few spaces. Players whose pieces are trapped miss their turns until another activation of the mechanism frees them.

Object: To reach the top of the house and unmask the villain.

Scooby-Doo Haunted House 3D board game.

Game length: 15 minutes. Setting up the game for the first time takes at least half an hour, however. The game also requires a certain amount of dismantling to get back in the box again when it's finished with. This means there's about five minutes of set up for the first shot after the game comes out of storage. Thankfully, additional shots don't require any more work.

Number of players: 2-5.

Age: Officially 4+ but this is really just a glorified game of Snakes and Ladders with plenty of snakes and no ladders. If a child can spin a spinner, then they can take part. Activating the mechanism without manually knocking off playing pieces or bits of trap is tricky, though. Young children will need someone to do it for them and one player probably needs to be at least seven so they're capable of fixing up the house when required.

Comments: Initially this was a little disappointing. The game involves as much construction as a Lego set when it first comes out of the box, the rules are unclear and jogging the table results in a cascade of little plastic pieces. Sprog1 got the game last Christmas and we played it a few times but then it went back in the box and we've only just got round to playing it again.

The game seems a lot better now the boys are a little older and able to play it without making it fall apart. By adding the rule that a player can keep going to the next space if they land on the same space as another player, the game is less frustrating. (It's still possible for everyone to get stuck for a while trying to climb the first set of stairs, though). There's not much to the gameplay but the game looks cool, involves Scooby-Doo and everyone gets regular opportunities to set off the traps.

As this kind of game goes, Scooby-Doo! Haunted House isn't awful but only fans of the show are likely to really appreciate it. It's too fiddly and dependent on luck to be worth anyone else's time.

Scooby-Doo Haunted House 3D board game close up.
The snake stairs. Very annoying.

Conclusion: Better than playing Mousetrap but not as good as watching
Sarah Michelle Gellarthe live-action movie.

  • Scooby-Doo.
  • The traps actually add uncertainty and entertainment.
  • Can be used as a playset.
  • Doesn't require batteries.
  • Impresses visiting children (and occasionally adults).
  • Copes surprisingly well with a toddler sitting on it.
  • Takes ages to put together the first time.
  • Sometimes frustrating.
  • Rules weren't play-tested.
  • Doesn't pack away easily.
  • Falls apart regularly.
  • No strategy involved whatsoever.
  • I always seem to end up being Velma or Daphne.
Rating: 3/5.

Battlestar Galactica (DVD)

Starring: The guy who does the origami in Blade Runner, the love interest from Dances with Wolves and a whole stack of other people who aren't bad but just can't compete.

Rated: 15

Story: The exiled robot slaves of humanity, the Cylons, return home to the twelve colonies of Kobol after an absence of forty years. They hold something of a grudge. After some serious Armageddon, all that remains of humanity is a small fleet of civilian ships led by a single military battlestar, the Galactica.

They run away.

Their only hope is the lost thirteenth colony - Earth.

Comments: The history of film and television is littered with decisions which must have seemed like no-brainers at the time but which later turned out to be a little iffy. ('Another Star Wars film, Mr Lucas? But, of course! Why not make three?' or 'I tell you what, let's hire Ben Affleck.') Then there are other decisions which seem insane even now but richly paid off. ('I know! We'll bring back Dr Who with Billie Piper as his assistant,' or 'All right, you've talked me into it, let's give this whole Buffy thing another try. I suppose the film wasn't that bad...')

Re-imagining Battlestar Galactica is definitely in the latter category. I have no idea what they were smoking when they came up with the idea but I'm very glad they went through with it. Forget the seventies version. This is tense, gritty war drama with a big slice of politics, a dash of religion and regular, spaceship-sized explosions. Fantastic.

Admittedly, after watching the first episodes, I wasn't too sure whether I could be bothered with any more. The initial mini-series is impressive enough but it's a bit of a downer since it deals at length with the end of human civilisation. Also, Season 1 is a little by-the-numbers at the beginning but this changes as the conflicts and schemes amongst the survivors start to build and the Cylon threat becomes more complex. Some of them look human; some of them even think they are human. The military command and democratic government of the fleet must try to work together against the threat of terrorism. Resources dwindle, the fighter pilots get tired, the story arcs build and the civilians start complaining there isn't enough hot water. Then, whenever things seem to settle down, there's a new twist. Everything continues to crank up during Season 2 with more discoveries and revelations. The first four episodes of Season 3 are as frantic and entwined as anything 24 has to offer. (There's also the bonus that they reach something of a conclusion rather than everything just unexpectedly rattling off in a different direction).

One of the strengths of the show is that very little is ever black and white. The Cylons have a legitimate fear of humanity. The humans cannot see past their prejudice against 'the toasters'. The leaders of the fleet often have to make difficult decisions that serve the greater good and they don't always get them right. It's all refreshingly mature.

If there's anything to be said against the show, it's that some of the characters are a bit annoying. The pilots, Apollo and Starbuck, need a good slapping on occasion. This is off-set, however, by the performances of Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama and Mary McDonnell as President Roslin. They do an exceptional job at keeping everything together.

If you start now, you might just about manage to catch up before Season 4 starts on Sky One after Christmas. Of course, if, like me, you're with Virgin Media and don't get Sky One any more, you might want to pace yourself or you'll be left with plenty of time to curse Rupert Murdoch and all his minions before the DVD release. (Sort it out, people!)

Conclusion: Drama, political commentary, big fights and spaceships. What's not to like?

Explosions: Loads.
Stunning CGI space battles: Frequent.
Duff episodes: Surprisingly few.
Dodgy haircuts, flared trousers and disco: None.
Chance of me finishing this review before skiving off to watch the rest of Season 3: [To do].

Rating: 5/5.

Phlat Ball

  • £10 for a big one (6" ball, 9" disc).
  • £5 for a small one.
Contents: It's a ball! Except you can squash it flat and throw it like a Frisbee. After a few seconds, the internal sucker cup comes unstuck and the thing pops up to become a ball again.

Gameplay: Roll it, throw it, kick it, sit on it, play hot potato or just take bets on when it's going to pop.

Age: Officially 5+ but it depends what you're doing with it. It's quite heavy and has hard edges when flat, so little children aren't going to want to play catch with it much. (The smaller Phlat Balls might be better for this but I don't know for sure because we only have large ones). On the other hand, the deforming nature of the thing makes it unsuitable for being kicked around hard by older children.

Serving suggestion.

Comments: You're supposed to throw this to a friend and have it pop in midair so it changes course and is more difficult to catch. Getting the timing and distance right is tricky, though. Thanks to its hard edges and tendency to try to nip your fingers, catching it as a Frisbee isn't much fun. Trying to get it to accurately travel far enough to pop without clonking anyone isn't much fun either.

Nope, the real fun is in squashing it flat in the middle of the lounge and watching a young toddler peer at in excitement and anticipation before wetting themselves in fright as it pops loudly and leaps into the air. Ah, memories...

The Phlat Ball is waterproof, meaning it's not going to be destroyed by difficult environments, but there still aren't many suitable places for playing with it. If you take it to the beach, it ends up full of sand. If you take it to the park, it ends up full of cut grass. If you leave it lying around the house, it inexplicably ends up full of Lego. Thanks to all the nooks and crannies of the folding mechanisms, getting it muddy would probably be a disaster.

Once you're aware of its limitations, however, the Phlat Ball comes into its own. Working out how to have fun with it without bruises or getting sand in anyone's eye is part of the game. Favourite uses in this household include launching unsuspecting small toys skywards, imprisoning Power Rangers and scaring the wits out of smaller siblings.

Conclusion: Doesn't really work as advertised but there's still plenty of enjoyment to be had.

  • Folds flat for easy storage in a backpack.
  • Lends itself to creative experimentation.
  • Kids love the random popping.
  • Isn't as good at being a ball as an actual ball nor as good at being a Frisbee as an actual Frisbee.
  • A little expensive at full price.
  • You wouldn't want to have to clean it.
  • Catching one with your face is very sore.
  • Inside one is the second most likely place in the house to find your missing mobile phone (after the tumble drier).
Rating: 3/5.

God of War 2 (PS2)

Rated: 18

Story: You are Kratos, an irritable and savage warrior of Sparta. After traveling ancient Greece in the first game, smashing lots of heads, re-writing mythology and battering Aries with a bridge, you've been newly promoted to God of War. Being a few hundred feet tall, you decide to wreak havoc on the world by stomping on cities and leading the Spartan army to domination.

That plan lasts until about the end of the first cutscene. Then you're back to normal size and must travel ancient Greece re-writing mythology again. Unsurprisingly, this involves smashing lots of heads.

Gameplay: God of War 2 is a third-person action game with block-and-lever puzzles, platforming and a heavy emphasis on fighting. It's just like the first game, in fact, with some extra weapons, even bigger bosses and almost as much frustrating, instant death. There are also a couple of into-the-screen flying sections but they're not that great.

On the plus side, you get to smack Perseus in the face a lot.

Save System: There are regular checkpoints that you return to when you die but progress can only be saved in certain locations that are often half an hour apart. Several times, I spent ten minutes hacking my way through a horde of enemies only to get stuck because I didn't see a lever or know where to go. I would have liked to come back another time (you know, when I wasn't already supposed to be in bed) but I had to keep going because I couldn't save. Grrr.

Comments: Yep, more of the same. I enjoyed the first game well enough but the endless minion mashing combat was wearing thin by the end. I was dubious about whether I could be bothered with the sequel but, with my 360 broken and PS2 releases fading away, I wasn't left with many other options. Fortunately, teeth-grindingly lethal platform sections and repetitive hack-a-thons aren't as frequent this time around. Less fortunately, the game is longer, so the actual numbers of these sections feels similar to before.

The puzzles vary wildly in quality. Some offer Tomb Raider levels of exploration and thought. Most, though, are more a question of laborious trial-and-error. Others have obvious solutions but incredibly tight time limits. They all feel a little old fashioned.

In a similar fashion, the bosses are very traditional - find the pattern, open up the weak-spot, hit it, repeat until dead. Some bosses also require a button matching sequence to finish them off. These are occasionally infuriating and the one at the end of the final battle drove me barmy.

The cutscenes are entertaining and keep interest going but the story suffers from second-part-of-a-trilogy syndrome. There are constant back references to the first game which I didn't entirely follow and then the thing ended without a conclusion.

Visually, the game is spectacular, with epic settings, huge draw distances, enormous enemies and plenty happening on screen at once. Much of the incentive to continue comes from wanting to see what's coming next. Some sections do drag, though. This was exacerbated for me because I'm no good at this kind of game - I can't remember button combos or time them right. (Devil May Cry told me I was rubbish pretty quickly and offered me a secret easy mode. Even then, I couldn't manage my way past the first boss). This meant I was doing a lot of manic button bashing for a large part of the game. Personally, I could have done with a little less head smashing and a few more decent puzzles.

Conclusion: It's a tough call. God of War 2 has plenty of great moments but they're padded out with tedium. If you've played the first one, you know exactly what to expect.

Graphics: Given the impressive level of detail and sense of scale, you could probably convince people this is a PS3 game (on a normal telly, at least). The graphics engine does struggle to keep up sometimes, however, resulting in occasional slow-down and quite a lot of tearing.

Length: Medium.

Rating: 3/5.

Aquadraw Deluxe

Price: £20.

  • 90cm x 90cm Aquadraw mat (only about 60cm x 60cm is for drawing).
  • Two pens.
  • Two plastic stencil sheets.
How it works: You fill the pens with water and they can be used to draw on the mat. The mat is made of two layers, white on top, blue underneath. Wherever the top layer gets wet, the blue shows through. Drawings fade as the water dries, and the mat can be used again. The mat folds up small when not in use.

Age: Officially from 18 months but even children younger than that should be able to get something from it under supervision. Once kids are approaching school age, they'll be wanting real pens and paper, though.

Comments: Our local nursery has paints set out for the children to use whenever they like. The kids go over, paint a picture and someone other than me gets to clear up the mess. This would have been excellent if Sprog1 had ever taken advantage of the set up. Instead, he spent all morning doing jigsaws and then came home and wanted to paint. Grrr... If I ever I gave in, he invariably ended up slopping seven colours of paint on the same spot and creating a black spludge. Then he was finished in two minutes and I was left with a quarter of an hour of slimy tidying. Double Grrr...

Aquadraw was the answer. Sprog1 could scribble away to his heart's content, even in the lounge while I relaxed on the sofa, and there was no tidying and no artwork to leave lying around drying. Result.

If your kids have more artistic talent than mine, they might become frustrated, though. The quality of pictures shown on the box is realistically unattainable. The water 'bleeds' if the pens are pressed down too hard and they're quite thick anyway, so precision is tricky. Over time, the mat gets water stains as well, especially if large amounts of water are used, such as if a pen leaks or a bowl for handprints is knocked over.

This is more the level of actual drawings...
Handprints don't work that great, by the way. It's worth just sticking to the pens. I also found that the kids had moved on before they were capable of using the stencils themselves. (Gave me something to mess about with, though).

There are colourful pictures round the edge of the mat and outlines of letters and numbers for kids to practice their writing. These seem more to make the thing look attractive and educational than anything else, however. It would really be more useful having a larger drawing area.

There's now a small Aquadraw industry with colouring-in pictures and Thomas the Tank Engine themed sets and rainbow mats and goodness knows what else. This set will probably serve your needs best, but it's worth looking around.

Conclusion: Not perfect but a great way to encourage small children to draw without fear of them turning themselves and the house purple.

  • No mess.
  • Large drawing area.
  • Even very young children can sit in the middle of the lounge and draw.
  • Mat is large enough for two children to draw at once.
  • Doesn't leave you with enormous piles of paper covered in scribble.
  • Young children may try and suck on the pens. (Ewww!)
  • If your child is slow at drawing, half the picture may have vanished before she's finished...
  • ...but if she's prolific, she may have to sit around waiting for clear space to materialise.
  • Mat can degrade slightly over time.
  • Monochrome pictures.
  • Quite expensive for what you get.
  • You can't show the pictures to your wife to prove you haven't just shut the kids in a cupboard all day.
Rating: 4/5.

Nintendo Wii console

Price: £180 including one wiimote, one nunchuk, composite AV cable and Wii Sports game.

  • RGB Scart cable: £20 (an essential purchase).
  • Wiimote: £30.
  • Nunchuk: £15.
  • Classic controller: £15 (for use with GameCube and retro games).
  • GameCube memory card: £10.
  • Internet browser: £4.
  • LAN adapter: £23 (for connecting to a wired network).
  • SD memory card: A few pounds.
Comments: The Wii is an attempt by Nintendo to take consoles in a different direction. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are graphical powerhouses with major multi-media capabilities; the Wii is about fun games for all the family and intuitive controls. As such, the Wii's processing power is more in line with the original Xbox than the 360. This is still pretty powerful, though. Only hardcore gamers are going to care and Nintendo's hoping that they'll pick up a Wii as their second console to complement a more 'serious' purchase from Microsoft or Sony.

The plan seems to be working. Nintendo can't make Wiis fast enough.

Many Wii games are controlled using just the wiimote (which looks like a TV remote control). A sensor bar you sit on top of your telly can tell where the wiimote is pointing for moving cross-hairs, etc, and there are also motion-sensing components so the wiimote can be used like a golf club or tennis racket. For some games, a nunchuk attachment can be connected to the wiimote. This has more buttons, an analogue stick and its own motion sensors. Unfortunately, some of the buttons on both controllers are awkward to get to. Also, poorly designed games use shakes in different directions to replace button presses. This adds no immersion whatsoever, can be imprecise and, frankly, is just plain annoying. Motion-sensing only makes a game better when the player's movement is required to mimic 'real life' movement, such as swinging a sword or bowling a ball. Anything else is pointless. Very few games have got it right so far.

GameCube games and some downloadable games require a GameCube or classic controller to play. These are sold separately. Fine if you already have a full set of GameCube controllers but expensive if you're new to Nintendo and want to try out some of the GameCube's excellent multiplayer titles. You'll also need a GameCube memory card.

The Wii itself is very small - about the size of three DVD cases - but there is also an additional power block that tends not to get displayed in publicity photos. This, combined with the wired sensor bar, makes the Wii difficult to unthread from the matted cabling behind my telly and a faff to move round the house. The sensor bar means that a video-sender isn't much use either.

Photos can be read from an SD memory card and there's some software for playing around with the images. The results can't be saved back to the card, however, so it's a bit of a waste of time.

The Wii can connect to the internet over a wireless network and there's an internet browser available for download. This works surprisingly well even on a normal telly and I wish I'd had it to entertain me during all the sleepless nights I had when the kids were small.

As ever, a console is only as good as its games and this is where the Wii really falls down at the moment. There are hardly any that make worthwhile use of the innovative controller. Many Wii games feel like they'd actually be easier to control with a GameCube pad. Like the EyeToy camera for the PlayStation 2, developers seem to think the Wii is great but none of them appear to know what to do with it. The best games available include:

  • Wii Sports - Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling and Boxing. Genius on a DVD. Not much more than a tech demo of the wiimote's abilities really but this is a game that will even get your mum leaping around breaking your light fittings once she's had a couple of sherries.
  • Wii Play - A selection of minigames which come bundled with a wiimote. Great fun but, once again, very limited. Good for getting children used to the wiimote.
  • Wario Ware: Smooth Moves - A vast collection of microgames which display more imaginative design than much of the rest of the Wii's back catalogue put together. All over in an evening, though.
  • Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - A lengthy and excellent action adventure. Just like every other Zelda game, however, and motion controls feel tacked on (because they were).
  • Super Paper Mario - Platforming adventure that, like Zelda:TP, began life on the GameCube.
  • Paper Mario - Witty and fun role-playing game that first saw release on the Nintendo 64.
So that's two sets of minigames that are too insubstantial to justify a stand-alone release, another set of minigames, two GameCube ports and a N64 game. For a console that's been out ten months, that's not hugely promising. I guess there's also Mario Party 8 (another game which looks suspiciously like it began development on the GameCube), Trauma Centre: Second Opinion (a port of a frustratingly hard DS game) and the mildly entertaining Excite Truck.

On the way, there's Metroid Prime: Corruption, Super Mario Galaxy and, erm, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. I'd be willing to bet good money there's also a huge stack of minigame collections incoming, closely followed by a skipful of shoddy tie-ins to CGI movies. Can't wait.

Honestly, if it weren't for my kids' large collection of GameCube games, then our Wii would barely have been used for months. The only places to find more GameCube games these days, however, are GameStation's second-hand racks or on eBay. Even then, the decent ones are still pretty expensive.

Conclusion: Lights will flicker up and down the country this Christmas as a million Wiis are switched on. Whole families will wave their arms about like lunatics for a few days. Everyone will have a great time. By Easter, though, the thing will be covered in dust and the kids will start demanding a PlayStation 3.

  • The only console you're likely to get your gran playing this Christmas.
  • Easy to control.
  • Fully backwards compatible with GameCube.
  • Lots of quality retro games to download.
  • As much fun as an EyeToy...
  • ...But when was the last time you actually played with your EyeToy.
  • Lack of 'proper' games.
  • Cost of extra controllers quickly adds up.
  • Limited internal memory.
  • Retro games are relatively expensive.
  • Wiimote eats batteries.
  • Not as easy to control as they'd have you believe.
  • Not as portable as it looks.
  • Can be dangerous in the hands of small children or drunk grannies.
Rating: 3/5.

Related Links:

Review: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Review: WarioWare
Review: Microsoft Xbox 360 console