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Coppit



Cost: £6.

Contents:
  • Game board.
  • 24 conical playing pieces in six different colours.
  • A six-sided dice.
Gameplay: Players take it in turns to roll the dice and move one of their four 'caps' in any available direction. Rolling a six brings an extra go. Blue squares and home bases are safe but caps on yellow spaces are open to capture by being landed on. It's possible to build up a stack of captured pieces under a single cap but a player capturing a stack containing some of their own pieces can release them. Enemy pieces returned to a player's home base are out of the game permanently.



Object: To be the last player with an uncaptured playing piece.

Number of players: 2-6.

Game length: Around half an hour.

Age: 6+. Younger children can play but will lose quickly unless given lots of advice.

Comments: I have fond memories of this from childhood and couldn't resist buying it the moment I saw it, hoping to re-live the joys of piling up a huge stack of captive cones, laughing evilly and then using them all as fake fingernails.

For once, my nostalgia wasn't entirely the result of pink-hued ocular enhancers. Coppit is a simple game that's somewhat reminiscent of Ludo but without the frustration and involving a fair bit more strategy. Since it's possible to have four pieces in play at once and each piece can have several movement options, there's plenty of room for tactical thinking. Six-player games are chaos.

Defensive play tends to be the most effective, so games can occasionally devolve into drawn out sessions of cat-and-mouse. The only real issue, though, is that it's possible for fool-hardy or unlucky players to be knocked out comparatively early in the game, leading to children stomping off in a huff. The trick is to turn this to your advantage - if you're cunning, you can engineer a hasty defeat for yourself and then slope off to read a book for twenty minutes while the kids cautiously keep to opposite sides of the board.

Conclusion: Ludo made fun (and slightly vindictive).

Pros:
  • Simple enough for small children to play but complex enough to keep adults on their toes.
  • Cheap.
  • Capturing opposing pieces is always satisfying.
  • Doubles as a fantastic set of gaudy fingernails.
Cons:
  • The most boring tactics can be the most successful.
  • May not keep all the children occupied for as long as you hope.
Rating: 4/5.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Wii)

Rated: 12+. Given that the film is a 12A and much scarier and more violent, this is somewhat bewildering. Certainly, any child who can read the book is pretty unlikely to suffer mental trauma from playing the game (due to the content anyway - the repetitive gameplay is perhaps a different matter).

Story: Teenage wizard attempts to keep up with his school work as the world crumbles in the face of the return of He Who Must Not Be Named.

Events whizz along at dizzying speed, though, re-told through a scattering of computer animated recreations of scenes from the film. If you haven't got a fairly firm grasp of the plot beforehand, you won't have the foggiest notion of who anyone is or what on Earth is going on.

Gameplay: Most of the gameplay revolves around three mini-games:
  • Potion making. Choose and pour ingredients with the wiimote in order to finish the recipe within the time limit.
  • Broom riding. Point the wiimote at a trail of stars on the screen to travel in the correct direction.
  • Duelling. Wave the wiimote and nunchuk in different directions to fire spells while dodging incoming attacks.
Beyond that, there's not much besides wandering the halls of Hogwarts to locate hidden crests using a mix of exploration and spell-casting.

Save System: Frequent autosaves.

Comments: Most movie tie-in games aren't very good but have the excuse that they were rushed to meet the release date of the film. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is different. It's not very good but there really isn't any excuse. The book has been out for years and Electronic Arts have five previous Harry Potter games behind them, meaning they've had a while to plan and haven't exactly been starting from scratch. The movie was even held over for several months, allowing plenty of opportunity for polish.

Clearly, however, there's been no long-term vision devoted to the series because Half-Blood Prince is little more than three mini-games coupled with a virtual tour of Hogwarts. Mix a potion, run down some corridors, play Quidditch, fight a couple of duels, run down some corridors, fight another duel, mix a potion, run down some more corridors. Repeat.

The potion making at least uses the motion-sensing controller well, as you pick up, shake and pour ingredients and then fan the flames under the cauldron, but the hardest part is trying to match the stylised pictures and colours in the recipe with the actual versions around the cauldron. It all wears rather thin very quickly.

The broom riding is initially exhilarating until you realise how little control is possible over events. It's merely a case of pointing the wiimote at the centre of glowing stars as they rocket towards you. There is, however, a modicum of extra fun (and difficulty) to be had by holding the thing like an actual broomstick. (Although you may want to close the curtains before putting the wiimote between your legs and waggling it.) Since nearly all the flying takes place in and around the Quidditch pitch, it gets repetitive even more quickly than the potions.

Duelling is more interesting but the controls aren't particularly accurate. In the heat of battle, movements can be entirely misinterpreted, leading to shields instead of fireballs. In the end, it tends to boil down to dodging about until the enemy is open to a stun and then running in to spam them with a succession of Stupefy spells.

There's not much else to the game. Hogwarts is open to explore but the story is nearly always advanced by making a potion, playing Quidditch or duelling. It's like they made a Harry Potter version of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto and forgot to include the missions. Thus, what would pass for a handful of side-quests in other games becomes the main event.

Collecting the crests hidden around the school involves a little bit of puzzling and spell-casting. Finding them all is more hard work than fun, though. There's plenty of traipsing along endless corridors required to complete the story as it is. Shaking the wiimote at everything which glows to harvest mini-crests to trade for proper crests becomes tiresome after five minutes. On the plus side, it's impossible to get lost, thanks to the ability to summon a friendly ghost to lead you to whatever destination is required. This cuts down on plenty of frustration.

Ultimately, Half-Blood Prince is sadly lacking and doesn't even have the charm of Night at the Museum 2. It's fairly harmless, however, and works well with jOG, making a rental worth consideration if you're a Harry Potter fan who fancies some mindless exercise (but the combination of frantic arm-waving and running on the spot this brings to duelling makes closing the curtains absolutely essential...)

Conclusion: A very small collection of mini-games connected by a very large number of corridors and a selection of dubious cutscenes.

Graphics: Hogwarts looks nice but its inhabitants don't. Dodgy animation, non-existent facial expressions and poor voice acting combine to unfortunate effect.

Length: Short. The main adventure can be fairly easily completed in 5 hours, even with a bit of sight-seeing along the way. Collecting the bulk of the remaining crests and badges probably adds two or three fairly laborious hours to that.

Rating: 2/5.

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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (Wii)

Rated: 3+.

Gameplay: Golf. Absolutely loads and loads of golf. Honestly, imagine any type of competition or mini-game you can think of involving hitting a small white ball with a club - if it doesn't involve killer whales, it's here.

The game is played by selecting the club you want to use, the type of shot you want to hit and taking aim with the d-pad. After that, it's a case of swinging the wiimote like an actual golf club. Speed and accuracy affect where the ball ends up and it's possible to curve the trajectory by altering your grip on the wiimote. When putting, a grid of moving arrows shows the undulation of the greens to help you aim your shot.

Various different options are available to alter the complexity and difficulty. On the easiest settings, the controls are simplified and the game shows you where your ball is going to go. On the hardest settings, shot and club selection become an arcane science and a mis-hit leads to disaster.

The game is compatible with the Wii MotionPlus add-on which tracks position of the wiimote as well as direction and speed. In theory, this should add extra realism.

The single-player career mode involves a full calendar of PGA events. Multiplayer options include normal golf for 2-4 players and a party mode of golf mini-games. There's also online multiplayer. On top of that, there's crazy golf, 2-player Capture the Flag, target practice and even Frisbee golf.

Save System: Stupid. Some of the modes don't allow the game to be saved at all, so if the phone goes halfway through your eighteen holes, then you're stuck. Others can be saved at any point but it's impossible to have more than one round in progress at a time. If you've saved the game in the middle of a one-player career round, there doesn't seem to be any way of starting a multiplayer game without finishing off the one-player game or wiping it. There doesn't even seem to be a way for two different people to have separate one-player rounds on the go.

This is madness.

As far as I can see, the only method of overcoming this problem is for each member of the household to have their own SD memory card to store their saved game on and to copy it to and from the Wii at the beginning and end of their play session. This isn't convenient and it has huge potential for catastrophe. Not exactly ideal.

Comments: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 is one of the first games designed to work with the Wii MotionPlus unit but I still don't have one. Happily, however, unlike Grand Slam Tennis, it's still a great game without it. The control options allow everything from fun pitch-and-putt for casual players to a marathon career challenge for hardened golfers.

With so many previous games in the series, there's a vast accumulation of modes and features, making it huge value for newcomers. The only downside is that the controls don't always feel as accurate as they should be - it's very easy to massively over-hit putts on harder settings and the Frisbee mode is prone to all kinds of spasms. It's as if the series has gone as far as it can without a more accurate wiimote...

Oh, hang on...

Conclusion: If the idea of playing golf in your living room excites you at all, then go out and buy this. The only thing likely to be better than Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 is Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 with the addition of MotionPlus.

Graphics: Less than you might hope for from the Wii but better than you've probably grown to expect. The courses are perfectly presentable and the create-a-golfer options are staggeringly comprehensive.

Length: Will last you until well after Tiger Woods 2011 comes out.

Rating: 4/5 without Wii MotionPlus (although the save system will drive you to distraction if you plan to share the game with anyone else).



Game mini-reviews

This time last year, the release schedules had been quiet for months and there was the prospect of nothing worthwhile surfacing until the autumn. By the time September arrived, even a Star Wars prequel game seemed like reason to rejoice.

Then the deluge hit.

I still haven't worked my way through all the decent games which were released in the space of a fortnight at the end of October. Since then, though, there's been a steady stream of quality titles and it appears that the usual summer lull may only last weeks rather than months. This generation of consoles is now established, developers have got a handle on them and a whole load of projects are approaching fruition - suddenly there's room to pick and choose.

Make the most of it. Another eighteen months and publishers will be jumping on the motion-sensing bandwagon of Microsoft's Natal camera, Sony's magic wand and Nintendo's inevitable HD Wii. There will be nothing to play but tennis games. Consider starting through Fallout 3 again to help eek out this glut of interactive goodness until 2014. (Not to mention the fact that, with all this competition, prices are bound to tumble, and waiting a few months to pick up the latest releases will save a big bundle of cash.) In the meantime, here's a mixed bag of older offerings to keep you going:

Tomb Raider Underworld (12) - Xbox 360 - If you've never played Tomb Raider before, go play Anniversary now. If you've played a couple of Tomb Raiders before, however, you probably know what to expect.

Yep, that's right - more of the same.

The plot, which builds on both Legend and Anniversary, is less than gripping but most of the locations are suitably epic and the emphasis is firmly on exploration and not combat. It's still not quite as good as the first one but it's getting there. 4/5.

Prince of Persia (12+) - Xbox 360 - POP: Sands of Time is one of the stand-out games on PS2, featuring a superb blend of acrobatics and sword-fighting in an atmospheric Middle Eastern setting. Every POP game since has messed with the formula and broken it in a slightly different way.

This reboot of the series is presented as an open world to explore but it's more an interlaced selection of linear routes. Getting from A to B is normally a case of pointing the prince in the right direction and then watching him go as you press a sequence of buttons with the correct timing. Almost all need to think has been removed. The game feels like an enormous interactive cutscene.

On top of that, the fights are repetitive tests of endurance and the experience is padded out by forcing most areas to be done twice. It still looks great and has plenty of charm but feels like a shadow of what could have been. 3/5.

Uncharted (15) - PS3 - The first level of Uncharted wants to be Tomb Raider, complete with jumping, climbing and puzzle-solving. Slowly, however, the platforming decreases and the number of bad guys with guns ramps up. Before long, it's all about hiding behind cover and pointing a shotgun at anything which moves. By the end, it involves creeping around in the dark shooting zombie Nazis. (Really.)

Despite some lack-lustre level design, the result isn't bad. It's just unexpectedly much more Gears of War than Lara Croft. 3/5.

Farcry 2 (18) - Xbox 360 - This is an admirable attempt to do something new with the first-person shooter genre. You're a mercenary in a war-torn corner of Africa and your brief is simply to assassinate a particularly loathsome arms dealer. How to do it is up to you. You must win friends, earn cash and explore the landscape, taking work where you can find it. The freedom is both liberating and disorienting.

Sadly, the game ends up with neither focus nor breadth of gameplay. It remains almost entirely about shooting people - there's merely lots of driving round in a jeep in between. 3/5.

Fable 2 (15) - Xbox 360 - Fable was, to my mind, the most over-rated game on the original Xbox. Billed as an expansive RPG packed with moral choices, it turned out to be a hugely confined mess where changing outfit could turn you from very good to fairly evil. The story was clich├ęd, the load times were enormous, the combat was unbalanced and almost everything was broken. Having chickenpox at the time I played it may have coloured my feelings but it's hard to argue that it wasn't hugely flawed.

Thankfully, the sequel does a great job of fixing things. Combat and exploration have been greatly improved, allowing some leeway to ignore the stuff which is still lacking, like the gimmicky communication system, the tavern games and some of the side quests. If you like role-playing games, there's plenty to enjoy. 4/5.

LittleBIG Planet (7+) - PS3 - I really can't see what the fuss is about this one. It's a very short 2D platformer that's frequently frustrating. Sure it looks good and there are lots of user-made levels but who cares how many levels you can download when the basic game isn't that interesting? 2/5.

Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction (7+) - PS3 - R&C 2 on PS2 was the best in the series. It was a great blend of platforming, shooting and racing. Unfortunately, that made it too similar to Jak 2 which came out at roughly the same time. Over the course of various sequels, Sony has made the Jak and Daxter games all about the racing while Ratchet & Clank has concentrated on shooting robots and aliens with increasingly more-outlandish weaponry.

R&C:FTOD feels like an HD remake of the last couple of PS2 games with added space pirates. Or maybe there were space pirates in the previous games. I can't remember. They've all blended together. It's still fun but I miss the variety of the earlier games. 4/5.

Right, now I'm off to hide in a bunker for a few months. I expect to emerge just after Christmas to find the world buried under copies of Wii Sports Resort, Modern Warfare 2 and a thousand DS pet simulators...

Max Payne (DVD)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis & Beau Bridges.

Rated: 15.

Story: Max Payne is a New York cop hunting the guy who murdered his wife and child. After some moody investigating, he discovers a link to the new narcotic, Valkyr. He goes on a gun-toting rampage of revenge. It snows a lot.

Comments: I have a strange affection for movies based on videogames. This isn't that unlikely, I suppose, given that I clearly enjoy both movies and games. The 'strange' part is that I keep being drawn to these tie-ins despite not a single one of them being that good. Hitman, Doom, the first Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 2 & 3 are all OK but nothing to get excited about. I only remember them because of the much better games they're based on. Worse, for every one of these mediocre efforts, there are a couple of real clunkers like Alone in the Dark. Being a follower of videogame movies is a bit like being a Norwich City fan - somewhere along the line you begin to wonder if it's really worth the effort...

Among the numerous mistakes made in converting games to films, one of the biggest is simply latching on to the wrong elements. The two things I can recall about the original Max Payne game are endless, grey, crumbling corridors and stylish, slow-motion gun play. The shooting was the whole point of the game while the drab, repetitive scenery was as much a technical limitation as an atmospheric device. It feels like every second game I've played since has had me creeping through warehouses, abandoned offices, derelict tenements and run-down hotels, thanks to a lack of imagination and a shortage of programming resources. That the film has almost no gun play for the first hour and instead concentrates on deserted streets and decrepit locations seems a bizarre choice. The feel is much more Condemned than Max Payne. By the time the action arrives, it's somewhat incongruous.

Throw in a wonky plot with an obvious twist, some dubious acting and a selection of side characters whose actions make no sense, and the result is hardly stellar. Oh, and there are strange hallucinations of Norse angels on a regular basis, seemingly for no other reason than to look cool.

Hey, never mind, maybe that Halo movie will get made one day and it will actually be good... In the meantime, watch Shoot 'Em Up instead of this.

Conclusion: Dark, bleak, predictable, slightly weird and occasionally a little tedious.

Explosions: A couple.
Snow: Loads.
Slow-motion shotgun moments: Surprisingly few.
Best bit: They didn't include the infuriating, flash-back platform sequence.

Rating: 2/5.

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