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Gogo's Crazy Bones

A three-pack of Gogo's.

Cost: £1 for a small packet.

  • 3 ugly, little plastic creature-things.

  • 3 stickers of different little plastic creature-things (also ugly).

  • A sticker album can be bought separately for under £5. Be aware, though, that there are different generations of Gogo's, so make sure you get the right one.
Gameplay: Gogo's are the modern alternative to Panini football stickers. Children wander round with an enormous stack, trading them in a vain attempt to complete the full set. As a bonus, they can also play a number of games with the Gogo's:
  • Traditional - Throw 5 in the air and score points according to which way up they all land.

  • On Line - Throw Gogo's at a line and see who gets closest.

  • Bowling - Throw Gogo's at a group of other Gogo's to see who knocks over the most.

  • Battle - Stand Gogo's in opposing lines and take turns to flick extra Gogo's at each other's line in an effort to knock it over.

  • The Bomb - Draw a circle and put Gogo's inside. Stand back and take it in turns to knock each other's Gogo's out of the circle by throwing more Gogo's.

  • Airbone - Throw a Gogo up in the air and try to pick up as many other Gogo's as possible before catching the first one.

  • Basket - Try to bounce Gogo's into a box.
The full rules aren't hugely clear but, for added bickering, players can play for keeps. Maybe Gogo's are really a cross between Panini stickers, marbles and the dullest toys to be found in Kinder eggs.

A big pile of Gogo's and stickers.

Object: To amass an album full of stickers to impress friends, and a bucket full of plastic creatures to spread over the lounge floor in an attempt injure unsuspecting parents who happen to wander in without shoes on.

Game length: A few minutes (proceeded by half an hour of comparing collections and followed by several days of squabbling over whose Gogo's are really whose).

Number of players: 2 or more.

Age: 3+.

Comments: My right index-finger has started feeling sore underneath the nail just from thinking about Gogo's. I played the Battle variant of the game with Sprog1 a couple of weeks ago and, quite frankly, it was painful. Flicking oddly-shaped lumps of plastic with enough force to result in any hope of them travelling in a straight line quickly became a form of torture. I had to keep swapping fingers. Finally losing was merciful release.

Apart from that, Gogo's aren't so bad but I can't entirely see the point of them. It's like playing Marbles with plastic cubes. Sure, they bounce a bit and don't roll away, but they're fundamentally not suited to the task in hand. Even the 'Traditional' variant is unsatisfactory because some of the Gogo's are so oddly-shaped, it's hard to tell which way up they are.

Nonetheless, all three of my children are now deeply proud of their bucket of Gogo's and regularly sort and inspect them. Go figure. My main consolation is that the packets aren't £2 each.

A Gogo.
Pound coin for scale. (Also bear in mind that this was the least ugly Gogo I could find.)

Conclusion: Mostly harmless.

  • Relatively cheap to get started.

  • Encourages kids to make up their own games.

  • Enhances bartering and negotiation skills.

  • Can be played outside.

  • Doesn't involve a TV screen... yet. (Expect a Gogo's simulator on Wii any day.)
  • Cons:
  • A black hole for pocket money.

  • Can be easily lost or stolen in the playground.

  • Should come with fingernail protectors.

  • Annoying apostrophe.
  • Rating: 3/5.

    Grand Slam Tennis (Wii)

    Rated: 3+.

    Story: You're an up-and-coming tennis player attempting to win the four Grand Slam tournaments.

    Gameplay: Create your own player (complete with daft haircut and designer gear) then go play tennis by swinging the wiimote. Timing dictates which direction the ball goes. A combination of button presses and angle of swing determines the type of shot played. Using the d-pad sends you towards the net or baseline. The Wii moves you automatically towards the ball unless you attach the nunchuk to do it yourself.

    The Wii MotionPlus unit can be used to give more accurate control.

    Save System: Regular auto-save. (Not that you're likely to achieve anything much worth saving.)

    Comments: The main feature of Grand Slam Tennis is that it's the first game to utilise the new Wii MotionPlus accessory. This clips into the nunchuk port of the wiimote and allows the Wii to reproduce proper 1:1 movement. A normal wiimote detects how fast it's being moved and in which direction but Wii MotionPlus introduces position detection. With WMP, the Wii can tell where the controller is, not just what you're doing with it. This should make the hand movements of your character on screen follow your own perfectly. Thus, in a tennis game, shot selection merely becomes a question of holding the wiimote in the correct position.

    Except I don't actually have a WMP unit, which makes this review somewhat tricky. Then again, if you're thinking of renting the game, you probably don't have one either. Also, even if you do buy the game with a bundled Wii MotionPlus, you're unlikely to have extra units for multiplayer. It's still worth knowing how the game plays without WMP.

    The short answer is that it's really hard.

    Frustratingly, punishingly, exasperatingly hard.

    Even on the 'easy' difficulty setting.

    In my first hour of playing, I won two games. (That's games, note, not matches.) On easy. Nonetheless, this left me sweating and with a worrying pain in my elbow. I gave up trying to play the game in any fashion approximating real tennis. I sat down, rested my arm on a pillow and flicked the wiimote with my wrist. This didn't make much difference to my success rate but I felt it reduced the likelihood I'd need surgery afterwards.

    There's more depth to the tennis than in Wii Sports but the difficulty is off-putting. It's easy to hit the ball but computer opponents return any kind of standard shot without fail and so rallies go on forever unless you take big risks. This normally ends in ignominious defeat rather than success.

    The only break from the tennis is to play more tennis, either against legendary players or with 'amusing' altered rules. There are no mini-games to practice skills. This is bizarre, since even Wii Sports has some and in many ways they're the best bit. Despite all the licensed players and tournaments, without WMP, Grand Slam Tennis doesn't really offer much more than the game you got bundled with your Wii. It's also more annoying.

    Conclusion: Rather than renting this, you'd be as well to dust off Wii Sports, unless you really, really have to play against Andy Murray at Roland Garros instead of your mum's Mii in Nintendoland.

    Graphics: The stylised, cartoony graphics are pleasant and do the job well. Creating your own ugly no-hoper with poor fashion sense is always fun.

    Length: Until your elbow starts to feel sore.

    Rating: 2/5.

    Movie mini-reviews

    In another three months, all my children will be at school and I'll be a housedad of leisure, able to spend many happy hours watching daytime TV and then blogging about it to my heart's content. For now, though, I seem to have less time than ever. The boys are staying up later, Sproglette isn't being distracted by her meals for so long and the summer holidays are almost upon us.

    So many films, so little opportunity to wryly slag them on the internet...

    Ho well, to keep you going, here are some quick thoughts on what I've seen recently:

    Dungeons & Dragons 2: Wrath of the Dragon God - A straight-to-TV sequel which was clearly made on a fraction of the budget of the original. The enormous spired city of the first film appears to have been replaced by a single castle, for instance. The action also takes ages to get going. The many references to the source material will help D&D fans persevere but others will struggle to soldier through a first half full of long names, haughty characters and tedious mythology. 3/5 if you have a fondness for 12-sided dice, else 2/5.

    Frost/Nixon (15) - A film about an interview doesn't sound promising. Nonetheless, the performances of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen bring alive the duel of words as the ex-President and the chat show host fight for their reputations and careers. There's maybe too much padding devoted to David Frost's financial difficulties but the movie is still enthralling. 4/5.

    The Day the Earth Stood Still (12) - Keanu Reeves arrives on Earth as an alien in a human body, intent on saving us from ourselves. Unfortunately, since he talks in a monotone and can't persuade his face to do anything but frown, someone shoots him. This makes his pet giant robot very angry...

    The film isn't a classic like the original but it's passable if you can put up with Keanu behaving like an emotionally stunted version of Al Gore. (Concentrate on Jennifer Connelly or something...) 3/5.

    Quantum of Solace (12) - Oh my goodness. What on earth have they done? An incoherent plot, a host of second-rate characters and a string of action sequences in which the camera angle.................. jumps...........
    .................. every....................
    inanefforttoincreaseexcitement... th....... at actually
    mak........................... es things
    difficult...... to foll........

    Daniel Craig remains great as Bond but this doesn't feel much like a Bond movie. After only two films, the series is in desperate need of another reboot. 1/5.

    Eagle Eye (12) - Shia Labeouf comes home from work one day to discover his apartment full of terrorist equipment and the FBI leaping in through the windows. A series of phone calls from an anonymous woman helps him escape but, as the extent of the caller's influence becomes apparent, he quickly finds his life channeled along a path he'd rather not take...

    Eagle Eye is one of those action films that basically boils down to one long, fast-paced chase. It's tense and entertaining but no one stands still for a moment in the hope that this will stop you from thinking too hard about the plot. Honestly, the whole thing wouldn't be much more unlikely if it involved aliens, giant robots and possibly unicorns. It's fun, though. (WARNING: Contains dubious facial hair.) 4/5.

    Chaos (15) - A bank heist movie with Jason Statham playing the cop and Wesley Snipes playing the robber. I can barely remember anything else, apart from a couple of disastrous plot twists and Snipes' inability to act. It's so forgettable that I may not even [TO DO] 2/5.

    The Core (12) - More science fiction hokum as a team of geonauts pilot a vessel into the centre of the Earth in a desperate attempt to kick start the planet's slowing core. Surprisingly, however, a decent mix of characters and plenty of melodrama keep events interesting. Worth watching if you stumble across it late at night on ITV3, even if you've seen it before and should really have gone to bed already... 3/5.

    Happy Father's Day! Watch out for the inevitable selection of game mini-reviews coming soon.

    Labyrinth board game

    Labyrinth board game box.

    Cost: £15.

    • Game board with 16 fixed maze tiles.
    • 34 maze tiles. (One more than fits on the board.)
    • 24 treasure cards.
    • 4 small plastic figures to use as playing pieces.
    Gameplay: The treasure cards are divided face down between the players. The maze tiles are laid out on the board. Without showing each other, the players look at the treasure card on top of their piles.

    On their turn, players must take the maze tile which is currently 'spare' and insert it at the edge of the board so that an entire row of tiles shifts along one space and a different tile slides out the other side. They can then move their playing piece along any open pathway. If they reach the treasure depicted on their card, they can discard the card and take the next one. This becomes their target on their next go.

    Tiles cannot be pushed back in where they've just been pushed out. (It's best to insist players leave the tile where it is next to the board until they know exactly what they're going to do with it, so they don't forget where it came from.) If a playing piece is on a tile that's pushed off the board, then the piece is placed on the opposite side of the board on top of the tile which has just been inserted.

    Labyrinth board game contents.

    Object: To be the first player to discard all their cards and return to their starting tile.

    Game length: 20-30 minutes.

    Number of players: 2-4.

    Age: 7+. This seems about right. Players younger than this will struggle with the game's puzzle element.

    Comments: Labyrinth is a very deceptive game. Sometimes it can seem trivially easy as a lucky run of cards brings a succession of treasures close at hand. Then you turn over the princess card and discover she's surrounded by a whole host of corner tiles that are facing the wrong way. Gah! The result can be five turns taking a devious route round the board followed by purposefully shoving yourself off the side. Then again, perhaps there is still an easy way and just another couple of minutes staring at the board without blinking will reveal it...

    Labyrinth is one of those rare games which is both fun and challenging for the whole family. The rules can be explained in a couple of minute but figuring out the next move can take as much brain power as each player has to give.

    At some point, Labyrinth is liable to make your head hurt but in a good way. It's very satisfying spotting a cunning move which will link up two spaces half the board apart. That said, it's usually possible to find a simple route that only takes an extra move or two, so even younger players can win if they're lucky.

    My only complaint is that there isn't much direct interaction between players. Without knowing where opponents are headed, it's extremely hard to mess things up for them on purpose. This means less competition and strategy than there could be. On the other hand, though, the potential for older players to gain an advantage through vindictiveness is reduced.

    Overall, the way that the game produces such entertaining puzzling from such a small set of rules is a triumph.

    Conclusion: Superb.


    • Quick and addictive.
    • Simple and yet complex.
    • Really very good.

    • Can slow to snail pace if everyone starts thinking too hard.
    • Interaction between players is limited.
    • Planning even a move ahead is more luck than judgement. Trying to come up with a strategy beyond that is next to impossible.
    • May, on occasion, make nine-year-olds look smarter than you.
    Rating: 5/5.

    BOOM BLOX Bash Party (Wii)

    Rated: 3+ in terms of content. Children under seven seem to struggle with the controls, though.

    Story: There isn't really even an attempt at a story this time round. The levels have circus, space, pirate and hero themes and are populated by wacky animal blocks but nothing ties them together.

    Gameplay: BOOM BLOX Bash Party is probably best described as a puzzle game. The majority of levels consist of arrangements of blocks that have to be demolished in a certain way. For instance, it might be a case of removing all the point blocks from a tower without knocking off the penalty blocks or of destroying a castle to make the gem blocks inside hit the ground. The means provided for achieving goals varies from level to level. Balls and bombs can be thrown, chemical blocks explode when combined and a floating hand allows blocks to be grabbed and pulled.

    Throwing is done by aiming with the wiimote, locking the cursor by holding a button and then flicking the wiimote to launch. Grabbing is accomplished by locking onto blocks and moving the wiimote as if pulling the block about. Some levels involve light-gun style shooting, others allow blocks to be fired like sling-shots by pulling back on the wiimote.

    Save System: Automatic save after every level.

    Comments: I just re-read my review of BOOM BLOX from last year. I was sorely tempted to change the title, add in a few phrases containing the words 'more' and/or 'extra', re-post it and then slope off for a cup of tea and a few chocolate digestives.

    Of course, that would have been bad and wrong but it's hard to avoid the fact that BOOM BLOX Bash Party is very similar to BOOM BLOX. (I decided just to cut-and-paste a few bits here and there...)

    BBBP provides a virtual recreation of the joys of knocking down teetering stacks of bricks by throwing stuff at them. It's great fun lobbing a baseball at just the right angle to knock two chemical blocks into each other so they explode and set off a chain reaction of demolition. The large number of different bricks and objectives keeps the experience fresh throughout, with everything from crazy golf to zero-G levels. Fortunately, the concepts remain simple even when the levels are complex, so anyone can pick up and play. Also, the developers have a much better idea what works this time around, so there are far fewer of the fiddly Jenga inspired 'grab' levels.

    The structure of the game has been opened up so that it's usually fairly easy to complete a level well enough to unlock the next one. It's also possible to progress by simply paying Boom Bux collected during the game. This takes away lots of frustration but attempting to get a gold medal on every level still maintains plenty of challenge.

    Creating your own levels has been made easier and it's now possible to submit levels for them to be made available to everyone online (not merely people whose friend code you have). This means there are hundreds and hundreds of levels already available to download, play and rate. The process is surprisingly quick and easy - I was trying out something decent within seconds. If anything, BOOM BLOX Bash Party is a better advert for user-generated content on consoles than Little Big Planet, despite all Sony's hype.

    The only real issue with BBBP is the cheap, soulless presentation of the single-player game. The animal blocks range from ugly to evil and have less charm than even the most minor character in any of the LEGO games. Quite how this happened with Steven Spielberg involved is a mystery. I can only imagine it's too increase the satisfaction of blowing them up and then dropping a big tower of blocks on their heads... This isn't a problem in the multiplayer, though, and that's where the real longevity lies. My boys have been busy for a while with the co-operative levels and the competitive levels can get extremely vicious. For three or four players, there's very little to beat it.

    Conclusion: One of the best puzzle/party games on the Wii returns with more levels and extra features which make it a definite step up from the original.

    Graphics: Basic but vibrant. The occasional judder that featured in the first game seems to have been eliminated.

    Length: Medium.

    Rating: 4/5.

    Tropic Thunder (DVD)

    Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey & Tom Cruise.

    Rated: 15.

    Story: The filming of an action movie based on a 'true' story from the the Vietnam War goes totally pear-shaped. As a result, the director decides to go for a Blair Witch approach and a bunch of pampered Hollywood actors find themselves wandering the jungles of South East Asia dressed as GIs and waving fake guns.

    Unsurprisingly, they blunder into a load of locals with real guns...

    Comments: A touch of humour can do wonders for a trashy action film. Some proper jokes and a sense of fun are an effective means of papering over the holes in the plot and easing the transition between daft excuses for explosions. Tropic Thunder proves, however, that a touch of action can also do wonders for a trashy comedy film.

    The jokes are generally reasonably funny with a handful of truly hilarious moments poking fun at the movie industry. A couple of recurring gags are a little tiresome, though. (It's particularly hard to tell whether we're supposed to be laughing at the idiocy of Tom Cruise's character or simply at Tom Cruise. In some ways, that's incredibly clever. Sadly, it's pretty excruciating to watch.) As a standard comedy, the film would be OK but instantly forgettable. Happily, the action scenes are more entertaining than in a fair few action movies I've seen recently, picking up the slack whenever the humour starts to wear thin. The final product is both fun and exciting.

    Ultimately, your reaction to Tropic Thunder is likely to depend on how you feel about Robert Downey Jr's character. His performance carries the movie in places and so you'll need to be able to see the funny side of a white dude playing a white dude playing a black dude who acts like a stereotype of a black dude invented by a white dude who has lost sight of the dude he really is...

    (Oh, and the best bit is actually the spoof viral-video planning meeting that's in the bonus features.)

    Conclusion: All comedy films should have more explosions. Maybe even My Best Friend's Wedding could have been good with a couple of air strikes and a truck full of AK-47s.

    Explosions: Loads.
    Funny jokes: Enough.
    Very confused dudes: Two.
    Life-saving uses of a TiVo: One.
    Tom Cruise embarrassing himself: Slightly too much.

    Rating: 4/5.

    LOVEFiLM DVD Rental

    Aqua beads

    Aqua beads box.

    Cost: This set costs around £15 but there are all manner of theme packs and refill kits ranging from between £5 and £20.

    • 1200 little balls (in a selection of colours) which look like they're made of plastic but that go sticky in water.
    • Snap-shut case divided into compartments for the different colours of bead.
    • Dropper pen.
    • 4 sheets of patterns.
    • Pattern holder with a see-through, dimpled cover for arranging the beads on.
    • Small bottle with a spray nozzle.
    • A couple of sticky pads to turn designs into badges.
    How does it work?: A pattern sheet is inserted into the holder so that the pictured beads line up with the dimples. The pen is then used to pick the beads up one at a time and drop them into place where the pattern shows. Beads are picked up by stabbing at them and dropped with a push of a button.

    Once the design is complete, it has to be sprayed with water and then left to dry for an hour before being turned over, sprayed and left to dry again. The water dissolves the surface of the beads so that they fuse together.

    Aqua beads starter set contents.

    Object: To create bead charms and pictures.

    Age: 4+ officially but Aqua beads are even more fiddly than Hama beads, so you might want to hold off for a bit.

    Comments: Sproglette's supply of art materials is beginning to take over the kitchen. She has paint, chalk, pens, felt, beads, lollipop sticks, pipe cleaners, stickers and goodness knows what else. It's all shoved up the corner of the room in a precarious heap next to the ever-growing pile of creative designs she's producing. I really don't have a clue what to do with it all.

    This being the case, I was less than thrilled when she decided to spend some Christmas money on yet another box full of highly-spillable craft items.

    Still, at least it wasn't sparkly make-up... this time...

    Aqua beads can actually produce some nice little designs:

    but they're fairly fragile and water soluble. Getting them wet, handling them with wet hands or leaving them in a trouser pocket on wash day is liable to end in misfortune. This could be construed as a feature in miniature bead replicas of gremlins or the Wicked Witch of the West but generally isn't too practical.

    As far as creating stuff is concerned, having the pattern underneath the beads means even fairly young children can produce complex multi-coloured designs. It can be hard to see the pattern through the dimpled plastic sometimes, however, and moving a bead that's fallen into the wrong position is very difficult - if it's in amongst others, then it's sometimes necessary to take half the picture apart to get it out again. It is possible to build 3D shapes, though, and since the beads are bonded with water, they can be stuck together wherever the craft session has been taking place. (Unlike with Hama beads, for instance, which have to be transported over to an iron.)

    Perhaps the biggest issue with Aqua beads is that once a design has been sprayed, it's a couple of hours before the board is dry enough to be used again. A prolific artist will require more than one board.

    It's also worth considering Bindeez. These are more expensive but the dropper pen is semi-automatic rather than single-shot:

    Conclusion: OK but not entirely convincing.

    • No glue or heat required.
    • Patterns can be copied directly.
    • 3D designs are possible.
    • Creations don't take up much space.
    • Requires slightly too much patience and concentration.
    • The included designs are somewhat odd.
    • Fiddly.
    • Slow turn-around time.
    • Must be kept away from water. (Probably best not leave the beads in direct sunlight, feed them after midnight or drop a small Kansas house on them, either...)
    Rating: 3/5 on a good day but I'm living in fear of some kind of freak accident involving an Aqua bead penguin, a glass of water and the lounge carpet. That could be a real 1/5 experience.