Partnering with Tearfund

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (360)

Rated: 12+. (There's vast amounts of hack'n'slash but it's mostly against humanoid sand monsters that disappear in a puff of silica rather than collapsing in a bloody heap.)

Story: Set after the events of The Sands of Time, the Prince goes to visit his brother Malik in a desert fortress, only to arrive in the middle of an invasion. His forces overwhelmed, Malik decides to release the legendary army of sand contained beneath the fortress. Rather inevitably, this makes matters far worse.

It's up to the Prince to seal the army away again. This involves much leaping, a great deal of hacking and not quite enough witty banter.

Gameplay: Jump, wall-run, swing, jump, swing, wall-jump, swing, hack, hack, hack, hack, hack, hack, kick, hack. Repeat.

The Forgotten Sands is a very linear platform game. There's little exploration - it's mostly a case of getting the timing right to avoid falling to a spiky doom as you follow a path of leaps and handholds. Every so often, some monsters turn up. Dealing with them requires hammering away at the X button a lot.

As the game progresses, you gain abilities to freeze water, leap long distances at enemies and make crumbled bits of architecture reappear. These are all needed to get about the later levels. You can also rewind time to correct your mistakes.

Killing monsters brings experience points which can be spent on health upgrades, damage bonuses and special attacks.

Save System: Automatic save after completing every short section. This can unexpectedly prevent going back to explore, though. There's also a bug with the upgrades to watch out for.

Comments: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was one of the best games of the PS2 era. Everything about it was like a breath of fresh air - the free-flowing platforming, the exciting combat, the graphics, the frustration-avoiding time rewind, the likable characters, well-structured story and the amusing dialogue. Unfortunately, none of the games since has been as good. They've all managed to break some part of the formula while also having the disadvantage of seeming overly familiar.

The Forgotten Sands is clearly an attempt to get back to basics while cashing in on the release of the Prince of Persia movie. The complicated plots and fighting systems of the later games are ditched in favour of a near re-run of The Sands of Time. It's another leap and fight through another ruined palace to put right another lapse of judgement concerning another ancient magic. Quite simply, it's just another day at the office for the world's most acrobatic prince...

As such, however, the game is very polished. Taking on a horde of enemies at once is fun and platforming is still a breathless thrill. The problem is, if you've played all the previous games, The Forgotten Sands feels like a step back in time. This is maybe where the series should have been in 2005. The gameplay is more streamlined than The Sands of Time and there are some extra bells and whistles but it's almost the same game with HD graphics, a worse story and easier combat. There's nothing more. Trying to find the secret areas highlights how little exploration there actually is - looking around is a constant battle against the camera which is desperate to point to the next handhold and herd you inexorably onwards. Half the upgrades are worthless. Why waste experience points and magic power on other things when the shield ability makes you totally invulnerable? Niggly issues, such as trying to get levers to turn the correct way, are still present. Even better, the main way of replenishing health and magic now consists of going round smashing pots. Who thought that would be entertaining?


And yet... The Forgotten Sands is very enjoyable. The Prince of Persia magic is there. If you haven't played any POP games before, then you'll think it's fantastic. If you're a long-time fan, you'll enjoy it for the nostalgia value even while you're dreaming about the Assassin's Creed 2 team getting the next stab at revitalising the franchise.

Conclusion: The best movie tie-in ever or yet another workmanlike sequel? You decide.

Graphics: Initially great but rather monotonous after a while.

Length: Short.

Rating: 4/5 if you've never played a Prince of Persia game before but 3/5 if you've played more than one. That said, if you thought the last game was an interesting new direction for the series, you might just want to go cry in a corner...

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360)

I'm 'busy' playing this ready for a review but I felt the need to put up a warning about a game-breaking bug as soon as possible. I keep having all my upgrades vanish when I load a saved game. My extra health and powers disappear just like that.


I have discovered a way round it, however. If I quit to the Xbox dashboard BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE and restart the game, sometimes the upgrades reappear. It can take more than one attempt but everything eventually returns as long as I don't gain any fresh experience after the dodgy load.

I have no idea what triggered this problem but it's probably worth keeping an eye on your upgrades every time you start up the game. I lost several hundred points of experience before I noticed the issue and discovered a solution.

Feeling a bit grumpy now...

(Game not bad so far, otherwise. Feels like an HD remake of Sands of Time, though, with easier combat and a less engaging plot.)

Zombieland (DVD)

Starring: Woody Harrelson.

Rated: 15.

Story: As ever, zombies have taken over the world. A geeky student and a seasoned zombie-slayer team up to go on a road trip in search of family and/or Twinkies.

They meet a couple of girls and educate them about Ghostbusters.

Comments: I don't normally watch horror films but there's something about a zombie apocalypse that draws me in anyway. I think it's fond memories of laughing at Dawn of the Dead with friends as a teenager, combined with post-traumatic stress from too many Resident Evil games. As such, I was both attracted by the prospect of a 'proper' comedy-zombie-action movie and left feeling a little nervous (and NOT in a good way). There was every chance that Zombieland could be rather lame...

Luckily, it's genuinely funny in a fashion that even a cameo by Bill Murray can't spoil. The gags aren't over-played, the characters are likeable despite being amusingly dysfunctional, and there's just enough low-budget mayhem to maintain interest. Zombieland also knows its audience, with a remarkably geeky hero and obvious influences from video games. The result is very entertaining.

The main mis-step is an overly long detour into rom-com territory before the final reel. This is in odd contrast to the unnecessary levels of gore in the early stages, where the makers seemed to feel the need to prove they were making a real zombie film, not simply playing for laughs.

The failings are more than made up for, however, by the strong performances and the witty dialogue.

Conclusion: Worth watching even if you've seen one too many zombie films recently. (In fact, you might actually enjoy it better if you have...)

Explosions: None.
Important survival tips: Dozens.
Zombies: Loads.
Counts of excessive violence with a piano: One.
Bill Murrays: Also one. Thankfully.

Rating: 4/5.


DodoGo! (DSi download)

DodoGo! 'box' art.

Rated: 3+.

Price: 800 DSi points. (Around £7.)

Story: A storm has swept over a tropical island, washing away the dodo eggs and infesting the place with monsters. You must guide the eggs back to safety.

Gameplay: DodoGo! is a 2D puzzle game in the style of Lemmings and Mario vs Donkey Kong: March of the Minis.

Each level requires you to get one or more eggs back to a nest as quickly as possible, using a selection of tools to circumvent obstacles and traps. Direct control over the eggs is restricted to making them go left, right or stop. You start with a few planks to break falls and span pits but gradually move on to employ an assortment of items including springs, fans, blocks, ropes and exploding robots. These combine with stuff already in the levels, such as fires and creatures, to produce some fiendish escape routes.

Getting all the eggs to the nest earns a medal for the level. Ensuring they're happy and uncracked leads to better medals, as does beating a time limit, but a restricted supply of equipment in each level means things soon become tricky.

DodoGo! screenshot.

Bonus levels work more like a Tom & Jerry style mousetrap. There's no time limit but there's also no interaction allowed once the single egg is set in motion. Everything must be arranged to guide the egg around automatically, collecting tokens as it goes.

Completing bonus levels unlocks new egg costumes and jokers which allow hard levels to be skipped.

Save System: Automatic save after every level. Sadly, however, there are only two save game slots. If you have more than two people wanting to save their progress on the same DSi, you're going to have to keep copying the game backwards and forwards between the system memory and SD cards (with all the associated hassle and risk that that entails). This is plain daft.

Comments: Starting up a level near the end of DodoGo! is like knocking over a child's LEGO creation with the hoover. You just kind of stare in horror, swearing under your breath, wondering where on Earth to begin piecing stuff back together. Then, after a little thought and experimentation, things start to click into place. A plan forms. Eventually, through a combination of perseverance, luck, skill and pure genius, everything slots home. There's satisfaction and relief, your little charges are happy again and there are maybe only a couple of bits left over. Result.

Once it gets going, DodoGo! is an excellent puzzle game. Obtaining the highest rank in each level requires plenty of head scratching and precision but never seems impossible. The balance between success and failure is judged perfectly to make playing a compulsive experience. The bonus levels also help to vary the pace nicely.

Unfortunately, the first hour isn't quite as much fun. The initial stages are full of laborious tutorials. The touch controls, meanwhile, are slightly finicky, meaning some actions can take several tries to register. After a while, however, the tutorials thin out, the selection of tools becomes more interesting and practice helps somewhat with the controls. Nonetheless, the game gets by on cute graphics and the promise of things to come for slightly too long.

The game is much more fun in the later stages. The excellent level design comes into its own and smart touches become more obvious, such as the way you're allowed to look at levels for as long as you like before the timer starts.

DodoGo! also goes out of its way to cater for those of differing abilities. Only getting a single egg through to the nest allows progress through the game and players have a stock of jokers to allow them to skip really problematic levels. Despite this, children under eight aren't going to get far without lots of help. Nine or ten is probably a more realistic lower age limit for those wanting to get the most out of the game. Adults will find plenty of challenge.

Conclusion: Fun, addictive, pretty and makes your head hurt in a good way. Better than a lot of the full-price cartridge games out there.

Graphics: Clear and charming.

Length: That depends how clever and thorough you are, although getting the top rank on all the levels is bound to take an adult several hours. That said, the game does appear to have been clumsily truncated about halfway through, actively promising much more and then abruptly throwing up a 'Thank you for playing' screen. Expect a sequel soon.

Rating: 4/5.