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Gwyn Timmer (Herts, UK)

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Gretsch G6241FT 16 inch Hollowbody Flat Hard Shaped Case Black
Gretsch G6241FT 16 inch Hollowbody Flat Hard Shaped Case Black

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Potentially Good Case Ruined Entirely by Cheap Latches, 3 July 2014
The five star reviews everywhere convinced me to buy this case as I'd recently acquired a Gretsch 5420, and it's recommended for all the Electromatic series. But as soon as I got it out of the box and felt the flimsy latches, doubt set in. The other hard cases I own have latches that snap into place and holes for a protruding 'tooth' on the loop part to lock into. However, those on this G6241FT (manufactured by TKL) have nothing of the sort, just a shallow ridge for the loop to rest on. The worst part though, is that they're really loose-feeling - they don't lock into place at all, and there's almost no travel between them being fastened and unfastened, leading me to believe that the slightest of knocks would make them slip off. The handle also feels loose and these two things don't really fill me with confidence that the case can adequately protect the guitar.

Also of worthy mention is that the middle latch doesn't have a key-lock system, but a metal loop for you to put your own padlock through. To me, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the locks on most hard cases never seem too sturdily built. The rest of the case seems sturdy enough and the G5420 fits snugly inside, but it weighs 5kg empty and and a good 8kg with the guitar inside.

The 'Made in Canada' on the box it came in seems like a barefaced lie, as corners have obviously been cut in the manufacture of this case, though of course none of that has filtered through given the ludicrous £100+ pricetag. It would've got two stars as it is somewhat useable, but given that its size and weight mean that returning it would leave me with a net refund of about £20 and therefore that I'm most likely stuck with it, it gets just the one.


Tassimo Cadbury Hot Chocolate, 16 T-Discs (8 Servings)
Tassimo Cadbury Hot Chocolate, 16 T-Discs (8 Servings)
Offered by Perfect Cafe
Price: £7.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The reason it doesn't taste like Cadbury's is because it isn't, 3 Jan. 2014
I got a pack of these after trying the Milka ones, and the taste is exactly the same. So the only conclusion I can come to is that there must be one company that manufactures the actual chocolate mix and then the various chocolate companies just stamp their respective names on them. Which is rather disappointing.

And just to reinforce what others have said, there isn't enough in each pod (even after you've torn the thing open and tipped out the ridiculous amount that gets left inside each time), they're generally expensive, and the bundled milk pods are an unwanted extra. It only avoids a one-star rating thanks to the taste, which is pleasant enough (even if it's not Cadbury-esque).

Apparently the Suchard's chocolate is the best value, as it doesn't come with the rip-off milk pods, though I'd bet real money that it tastes just the same as the Cadbury and Milka variants.


World Rally Championship 3
World Rally Championship 3
Offered by media-4-u
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the Best of the WRC Games on the PS2, 2 Dec. 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
The WRC series in its PS2 incarnation was the official game of the World Rally Championship, and was developed by Liverpool-based Evolution Studios, from the original World Rally Championship in 2001 to WRC: Rally Evolved in 2005. Originally released in Europe back in November 2003, WRC3 is based on the 2003 WRC season.

When you start up WRC3 and get to the main menu, you're presented with the option to view the high scores, alter the audio/visual/control options, start a full championship season, do a time trial on specific stages, or start a quick race (random car, random stage).
The audio options offer the chance to change the pacenote style (number representing severity of corner/description of corner shape) and of course alter the volume of the co-driver's voice, sound effect volume and music volume. The visual options include unit display (kph/mph), tachometer display (analogue/digital), and the ability to turn on and off the various parts of the in-game display (split times/overall time/co-driver arrows/current country and stage/progress and split indicators/tachometer/speedometer/current gear). In control options, you can turn analog buttons on or off, adjust the level of force feedback, choose automatic or manual gears, and view the controller configuration for each player (though there's no option for custom button mapping, unfortunately).
Time trial is the usual affair of racing against the clock on a stage of your choice, and it's possible to have up to four players taking turns or two players in simultaneous head-to-head.
In the championship menu, you can choose to undertake a full season (you can even enter up to four players here!), compete in a single rally, or have a burn round the test track (which is an enjoyable mish-mash of a skid pan, jump section, hairpin section, chicane section and high-speed oval for testing top speed).

The overall look has been changed so that it no longer ties in with the TV coverage of the time, so gone are the Eurosport-esque Jeremy Hart-narrated intros to each country, to be replaced with a menu. Here you can select 'Country Postcard', 'Rally History', 'Environment' and 'Rally Location'. All are self-explanatory, save for maybe 'Country Postcard', which is a twenty-second introduction to the rally using in-game graphics and a voiceover by Jon Desborough. Once you proceed from there, it's on to shakedown, where you can test different setup combinations by driving on a small section of the upcoming rally as many times as you like, and once that's done it's on to the rally itself!

The in-game graphics are a leap forward after the previous games, and must've been among the best on the console in 2003 (they still look good in 2013, too). Like the two games preceding WRC3, the draw distance is something to behold and there isn't even a hint of slowdown. This time however, the visuals are much sharper and there's a vibrancy to the colours that wasn't there before. The cars are wonderfully modelled and shine and sparkle as they speed along, and the addition of a free explorer where you can view each car from all angles, open and close the doors and look under the bonnet in the car select section was also a nice touch. The driver and co-driver appearances are also faithfully rendered.
The cars take damage in a much more realistic way than in the previous two games, with it being very easy to smash up your car in a number of ways, from windows smashing, to the bonnet flying open and the windscreen getting cracked (both of which serve to obscure your view), to the gear box jamming and experiencing a loss of overall engine power. Your co-driver will inform you when a key component gets damaged in a big way, although it's never possible to damage the cars to the point where they won't run anymore, which might disappoint some!

In the previous two games the stages for each country seemed to be kind of 'generic', that is to say there were different corners coming at you all the time, but the scenery looked the same throughout. This time, however, Evolution Studios clearly went to town on making the stages as interesting as possible, and the game has you passing through towns, over bridges, ploughing through watersplashes and speeding past road signs that are specific to each country. The huge long flags being held aloft over the stages in Finland are also worthy of mention. There are also now surface changes within stages, so you get the proper asphalt-snow combination in Monte Carlo (rather than just asphalt roads with snowy scenery like before), a mix of snow and ice in Sweden, different types of gravel in Turkey and various hard surfaces in Germany.

Purists will be disappointed to hear that the complex setup options from WRC II Extreme have been done away with for something a lot more simple. What we're left with is just Suspension, Brake Bias, and Gear Ratio, with three settings for each. This isn't a gamebreaker, but more in-depth setups would've been nice.

The handling is a huge improvement on the previous two games. Gone is the digital steering, and though it still feels overly-light and not too realistic, the changes are welcome after the sometimes out-of-control feel of the cars in the previous game. Gone too are the "magnetic barriers" of WRC II, where contact with any kind of barrier at the side of the road was certain to latch on to your car and flip you round in the opposite direction. Unfortunately though, there's no option for adjusting steering sensitivity, though it is possible to switch between the d-button for slower steering and the left stick for faster.

The sound is something of a mixed bag. The engine sounds have been faithfully recreated from samples taken from each real-life World Rally Car, and the ambient noises provided by the crowd and such help add to the atmosphere. The pacenotes however, are something of a weak point. This time they were recorded by Petter Solberg's then-co-driver Phil Mills, but they come off sounding like a cut-and-paste job. They're very choppy and stilted, and can be hard to follow as a result. When playing other rally games, I always turn off the co-driver arrows to add to the realism, but find it best to keep them on for this game (incidentally, this was a problem present in all the games in this series).
As far as music goes, in the first game you got a couple of tracks by Faithless and in WRC II Extreme the Chemical Brothers also provided two (including the sublime Star Guitar, which worked perfectly as the menu theme). This time Primal Scream do the honours with as many as eight songs, though you won't hear the majority of them if you keep the 'in-game music' option on its default 'off' setting.

One criticism levelled at the game is that the jump in difficulty on championship mode from 'Novice' to 'Professional' is too great, though this can be countered with the evolutions that are unlocked for each car in the WRC class the more distance you drive in each one. There are five in total for each car, and each improves certain aspects of the car's performance, mainly speed, handling and durability (as in harder to damage).
On top of the evolutions of the standard World Rally Cars, there are 'extreme' concept versions of each WRC that have been designed by their respective teams. There are also further concept cars to unlock, with Peugeot having a rally version of the 406 Coupe, Ford presenting the Fiesta Rallye Concept, Mitsubishi chiming in with the Pajero Dakar, Subaru the B11S, and Skoda bringing the Superb Sonic to the table.

But the real thing that sets WRC3 apart from the games that came both before and after it is the fact that each of the fourteen rallies has a whopping *nine* stages to blast through. This will delight the rally enthusiast who wants to experience the endurance aspect of a full season (the increase to sixteen ralles for the 2004 season meant that WRC4 dropped the number of stages per rally to six, and Rally Evolved lowered it further to a very disappointing three). It also helped that there were as many as seven different teams competing in 2003, with Peugeot, Ford, Subaru, Hyundai, Skoda, Citroen and Mitsubishi all present and selectable (the real-life Mitsubishi Ralliart team actually only entered three of the fourteen rallies in the 2003 season, but through the magic of games you can give them the full season they never had).

In short, WRC3 is content-packed enough that those who're into driving games in general should find it enjoyable indeed. It also does things differently enough that those who swear by the Colin McRae Rally series should give it a chance. It's cheap enough nowadays that you won't lose much either way!


Wreck-It Ralph [DVD]
Wreck-It Ralph [DVD]
Dvd ~ John C. Reilly
Price: £6.99

2 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fundamentally Flawed and Badly Written Piece of Celluloid, 6 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Wreck-It Ralph [DVD] (DVD)
When my friend and I came out of the cinema having just watched this, neither of us knew where to start to make sense of what we'd just been put through. Both being long-time video game fans, I'd recommended that we go and see it on the strength of the trailer. But beyond the visual references to various games of the past thirty years, there's really nothing here to hold the interest of older gamers like us. There's actually very little to hold the interest of *anyone*, so confused is this mish-mash of seemingly good ideas.

The film starts out well enough, with the Fix-it Felix Jr. game rendered faithfully as though it were a real coin-op from the 80s, and the initial look into Game Central colourful and awe-inspiring. But after Ralph decides to get himself a hero's medal to prove to everyone in the Fix-it Felix game that he's not just a badguy, things take a turn for the worse. The Hero's Duty game environment is that of a generic sci-fi-inspired modern first-person shooter, and feels like it was put in the movie to appease the fans of such games, rather than because it was beneficial to the plot.

Nevertheless, Ralph gets his coveted medal, but ends up accidentally activating one of the deadly and voracious robotic bugs from that game, and stumbles into an escape pod that eventually takes him to the kart-racing game known as Sugar Rush. It's here that the plot flits and meanders between so many different plot points that it becomes almost impossible to follow (Ralph wants to get his medal back/Vanellope is a glitch/wants to be a real kart racer but doesn't know how to drive/Ralph isn't in his own game so it's declared out of order and might be taken away/King Candy has his own dastardly plans, as he is actually an embittered game character from years ago whose back story is thrown in at the eleventh hour/As Vanellope is a glitch, she needs to cross the finish line in a race, otherwise she can't leave the game/Bug from Hero's Duty has multiplied exponentially and poses serious threat to Sugar Rush world).

It ends up trying to cover too many characters and needing to tie up too many loose ends. That these are seemingly neatly tied up at the end doesn't vindicate it. Also, the fact that the entire second half of the film is set in the Sugar Rush game is a big weakness. With its retina-searing colours and endless depictions of sweet-like landscapes, it doesn't feel game-like in any way, and it's here that the movie lapses into bog-standard CGI animation territory. I was very interested to learn that the production had been in development hell for so long, as it has the feel of having been cobbled together with bits and pieces from various writers who've come and gone over a long period of time.

But the thing that really struck me was the terrible characters. Ralph and Felix are fairly likable, and their voice actors' respective performances suit the characters perfectly, but the film is ruined entirely by the two main female characters. Sergeant Calhoun has obviously been shoehorned in to provide relief from the ubiquitous and generic male space marine type, but is utterly objectionable. Bitter and sadistic, she freely smashes Ralph and Felix with her helmet/rifle butt/fists multiple times and fires on sight at Felix the first time they meet. There's even a particularly uncomfortable scene where Felix begs her to hit him so that they'll be saved from quicksand by some candy-vines that find the violence funny(???) and her inflicting injuries on him is seen as OK, as he can heal himself with his magic hammer. Honestly, what madman came up with that?! There's an attempt at back story and explaining why she's so callous, but she's devoid of any redeeming qualities, so it all falls flat. There's also a complete mismatch between her face and her voice; she looks like a girl in her twenties, but sounds like a middle-aged woman.

Then there's Vanellope. In the scene in which she first appears, she steals Ralph's medal and uses it for her own ends. Then, after witnessing her getting bullied by her peers, Ralph agrees to help her to get back what she stole from him(!). There's a 'cute' scene where Vanellope makes a replacement medal for him out of sweets, but she never apologises for stealing it in the first place. Yet she makes Ralph repeatedly apologise and demean himself for smashing her kart and stopping her entering the race, even though he did it on the knowledge that it might save her life! These are not the actions of a protagonist. She is irritating, brattish, selfish and entitled, yet when she's feeling depressed or being picked on, the viewer is supposed to feel sorry for her. She deserves nothing, yet ends up with everything, her disability becoming a super-power and the denizens of candy land suddenly remembering that she used to be their princess.

Modern films are full of characters like this, and this particular film left me once again lamenting Hollywood's fundamental inability to come up with characters that the audience cares about. Without such characters, no amount of rainbow-coloured gloss will make any movie anything other than ultimately worthless.

So the movie fails on all counts. Video game fans will inevitably be left disappointed, as beyond the visual cues to games past and present, there's very little to keep them interested. It's too convoluted for younger viewers, and not well written or funny enough for older audiences. What a shame.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 23, 2013 12:36 AM BST


NINTENDO DS LITE BLUE & BLACK CONSOLE
NINTENDO DS LITE BLUE & BLACK CONSOLE

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Buyers Beware, 17 Aug. 2013
After getting stung once already and receiving a 'refurbished' cobalt and black DS Lite that was being sold as an authentic original, I would advise caution when looking for one. These do contain some original parts and may well run DS and GBA games without any problems, but are not as well finished and reliable as the Nintendo originals. After looking around various online shops and auction sites, I'd advise anyone who's looking for a DS Lite to try and procure one from a high street shop instead. Particularly with this blue and black finish, ALL the ones I've seen on Ebay are fakes.

Here are the warning signs to look for:
- Look at the Nintendo seal of quality on the box. American seals are oval and say "Offical Nintendo Seal of Quality" (sometimes just "Official Nintendo Seal"). European seals are circular and say "Original Nintendo Seal of Quality". These Chinese/Hong Kong fakes always come in boxes that have the American seal

- Read the text on the back of the box. These often have spelling and grammar errors, and the spacing between the lines will be inconsistent. For example mine said "sleek, folding desigh" and "Color: Polar white" despite showing a blue and black console. There'll also be a small box that says "Product Serial Number" above it that'll be suspiciously blank

- They don't come with official UK adaptors (and indeed there isn't even space in the box for a UK-sized plug)

- Look at the screws that hold the casing together. Nintendo uses distinctive 'tri-wing' screws on its handheld consoles. If you see standard Phillips-head screws, it's been tampered with

- The buttons and touch screen don't respond as they should. The buttons on mine often registered two presses even though I'd only pressed them once, and the touch screen thought I'd taken the stylus off when I hadn't

- The manual that came with mine was extremely poor quality and monochromatic. Looked like a bad photocopy job (even though it was on glossy paper)

- White printing on the console will look overly-bold and unrefined (labels for start and select buttons, technical info on the back). Also, the info itself will be that of the North American consoles and there'll be no CE mark

- Crosshair lines on directional button not properly aligned

- Often come with a 'Rumble Pack' in the GBA slot (official DS Lites just have a plug for the slot, with no mention of rumble capabilities)

- Gaps between the edges of the touch screen and the casing

- Power and charging lights appear dull and poor quality

- Adaptor port not properly aligned with casing

It's a shame that the market has seemingly been flooded with these poor quality knock-offs, but hopefully this will help people assess the authenticity before they buy (or at the very least enable them to claim a refund on one already bought).


Final Fantasy II (PSP)
Final Fantasy II (PSP)
Offered by AllGoodDealz
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Japanese Language Option, 6 Jun. 2013
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
I couldn't find this information anywhere before I went and bought it, so I'm really just writing this to make it known that the UK copies of this game have an option to play the game in Japanese. When you start a new game, you can choose from English, simpler kana-only Japanese, and kanji-and-all full Japanese. Indeed, given that it was in Japanese first, why not include that option in the Western releases too? I salute Square for very admirably doing so.

Aside from that, this instalment always appealed to me as it's the only Famicom-era Final Fantasy that has proper main characters and the unique levelling system also piqued my interest. TOSE have done a marvellous job with porting the game to take advantage of the PSP hardware and it looks and sounds great!


The Seeds Of Love
The Seeds Of Love
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £5.53

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheesy, overblown, over-produced, lyrically suspect, and Utterly Magnificent, 30 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Seeds Of Love (Audio CD)
OK, so I was just trying to get your attention with that title. This really is a confusing one. Tears For Fears were massively popular when this album was released, as evidenced by them playing Knebworth in 1990 along with various heavyweights of the rock world and Cliff Richard. Being from Stevenage, I would've loved to have seen them then, but I was busy being 7 at the time.

So why, therefore, does no one talk about it nowadays? Many people seem content to yak on about how brilliant and influential bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet were, but they could only dream of writing songs like those on show here. This was one of those oh-no-what-have-I-bought albums when I first listened to it, but those feelings of doubt soon gave way to feelings of content. Content with having discovered, despite its big sound, what can now surely be described as a forgotten gem.

The album kicks off with the slow groove of the Oleta Adams-assisted Woman In Chains, an appeal for men to just, you know, be a bit nicer? It starts off sparse and slow, but gradually builds to a crescendo of good stuff (when those guitar arpeggios come in - oh!).
On to Badman's Song, an over-exuberant number drenched in organs, guitar solos and choral "ooohs" and it's here where dusky Spanish lion Roland Orzabal finally lays to rest some demons from the past (presumably his primary school days, and him finally forgiving the boys from class 628 after overhearing them calling him a "long-haired sissypants").

Everyone has surely heard Sowing The Seeds Of Love at some point, and it's immediately apparent as an unashamed tribute to 'them four from up north' (was the "politician granny" line some kind of obscure reference to Lennon's infamous quote about McCartney's "granny music ****"?). As an aside, if you see this song on the karaoke menu, don't bother (I'm sure there were more people in the pub before I started...?).

Next is Advice For The Young At Heart, and it's here that the album really starts to hit its stride. This is sadly the only track that has Curt Smith on lead vocals, but it's a belter, a light, summery feelgood track that's surely the best of all the songs that were released as singles.
This is sharply contrasted by Standing On The Corner Of The Third World - a brooding, contemplative number that highlights the cruel inequalities in the world, this was also the second track after Badman's Song in which poor old Curt was elbowed out of the way by Welsh Bass Wizard (as he's known in "muso" circles) Pino Palladino.

Standing On The Corner and next track Swords And Knives are the two that really define the album for me. A simple piano hook gets things started, but other instruments come in one by one and in the chorus the luscious cherry on top, the mixture of female backing vocal and Roland's lead. Perhaps it's the song's subject matter - war - that makes it so poignant, as it's pretty much the opposite of both the album title and title track?
The cutlery theme continues with Year Of The Knife, and some quick research shows that Orzabal was born in the year of The Ox, so who knows what the song is about.

In the closer Famous Last Words, Roland aptly sets the scene of loved ones sharing their last moments in the face of fiery doom to the tune of When The Saints Go Marching In (have you ever heard the other verses to that song? That's some scary ****!).

The extra tracks are a mixed bag. Tears Roll Down is much better in its later Laid So Low guise. Always In The Past is driven by an infectious bass melody topped with multi-layered male and female vocals and is probably the best of the four. Music For Tables is a slightly jazzy laid back piano-and-sax-driven instrumental that probably would never have fitted in to the main album. Johnny Panic And The Bible Of Dreams has the lyrics from Sowing The Seeds Of Love rapped 80s-style over the backing melody from Shout. Erm, yeah, it hasn't aged well.

In conclusion, I can never really decide which I like best, this or Big Chair, they're both so different. But one thing's for certain: of the three albums they made in the 1980s, this still sounds the freshest. I guess all those years holed up in the studio paid off! If you still don't own this lesser-known rich tapestry of goodness, I suggest you get it now. It's even worth it just for tracks 4, 5 and 6 in my opinion. And gather up all those Wham and Human League albums, pop them in a bin bag and leave them outside your nearest charity shop. Tears For Fears are far more deserving of being remembered as one of the big sounds of the 80s.


WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Arcade (PS)
WRC: FIA World Rally Championship Arcade (PS)

3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere between Sega Rally and the PS2 WRC titles, 29 Aug. 2012
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
If, like me, you expected this to be a PSOne version of the superb PS2 WRC titles, prepare to be disappointed.

On paper, it seems a decent enough prospect. There are four game modes, including Super Special (climb your way to first place over a number of courses), Grid Race (where you have to race each car on each track and win to unlock the later and bonus tracks, a total of 105 races) and the self-explanatory Time Trial and VS modes.

Options include the usual sound adjustments, a novel system for re-mapping the joypad buttons, and an option to have a male or female voice directing you! In addition to this, there are tracks from 14 countries around the world (Australia, Spain, Cyprus, Kenya, Germany, Argentina, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Finland, Monte Carlo and the UK) as well as an unlockable bonus track. These range from the smooth tarmac of France and Italy, through the rough gravel of Cyprus and Greece, to the snow sections of Sweden and Monte Carlo. Note that there is only one track per country and the weather on each track only changes in Super Special mode.

There are seven official World Rally cars, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, including the 2002 Ford Focus, Hyundai Accent, Skoda Octavia, CitroŽn Xsara, Peugeot 206, mark 2 Subaru Impreza, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII. The handling on all of them is very loose and generally feels ''off'' most of the time. Direction comes from sparse, over-enthusiastic Sega Rally-style vocal and visual directions (e.g. ''Easy right!'' accompanied by the corresponding arrow), and while there is the option to use the analogue sticks for steering and acceleration/deceleration, the control isn't actually analogue. The three views available are exactly the same as those in Gran Turismo, two different chase-car views, and a first person perspective. Likewise, the replay system after each race is identical to the one used in Codemasters' Colin McRae Rally. It shows the action from various changing viewpoints, but you don't have any control over them.

Being an arcade rally game, there isn't any freedom to explore offroad, and few opportunities to cut the course. Neither are there any set-up options. This would be acceptable were it not for the fact that the suspension set-up is the same all the time, that being very soft and bouncy. This is especially apparent on the tarmac stages, and it often feels odd tearing down those tarmac roads while your car merrily bobs and bounces along. Admittedly, I am writing this as someone who's used to rally games that lean more towards simulation, but I feel a set of simple car setup options would've added to the game. Inexplicably, however, there's NO option for manual transmission.

As a game that was released at the end of the Playstation's life, the graphics are detailed and well-modelled and the sound is adequate. It's a moderately enjoyable game, but once you get used to the handling and learn the tracks, there isn't much of a challenge and those hoping for a slightly deeper playing experience may tire of it quickly. It also gets repetitive, although completists might revel in covering the grid in gold in the Grid Race mode. Overall, rally fans who view the Colin McRae Rally series as over-complicated will be right at home here. But people who see it as the pinnacle will find a shallow, boring gaming experience. Either way, the game can no doubt be acquired so cheaply now that it's probably worth buying anyway.


Doolittle
Doolittle
Price: £8.83

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Certainly a great album, and yet..., 28 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Doolittle (Audio CD)
This has always been my least favourite Pixies album, so I'm often confused by the praise that gets heaped on it. That's not to say it's a bad album, nothing of the sort, just that it never really jumped out at me the way the others did, and doesn't come close to the fresh rawness of Surfer Rosa or the other-worldly and totally unique Trompe le Monde.

It has its great moments, I still marvel at their ability to come up with a great song from just a few words and a relatively simple arrangement, as with There Goes My Gun. I Bleed has the classic Black Francis/Kim Deal vocal combination and Debaser & Monkey Gone to Heaven are famous for good reason.

But I've never been able to escape the feeling that, compared to the other three albums, the songs on Doolittle are somehow lacking in depth. Silver has some haunting vocal harmonies, but doesn't really go anywhere. La La Love You is amusing, but a bit throwaway. Gouge Away is a good track, but something of an anti-climactic closer and makes me feel they resorted to the vocals-bass-drums verse arrangement one too many times. The result is what sounds like an album of very good songs that have been thrown together, rather than the more coherent and flowing records they made both before and after.

To anyone still wondering what the best Pixies album is, I'd advise you to ignore all the reviews here (including this one), go and get Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim, Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde and decide for yourself. And in doing so, you'll be acquiring a wealth of classic music by one of the most unique and influential bands of the past 25 years.


Wario Land 3 (GBC)
Wario Land 3 (GBC)

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Irritating = Challenging?, 25 Aug. 2012
= Fun:1.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Wario Land 3 (GBC) (Video Game)
Wario is flying his biplane. He crashes, right next to a cave. Inside the cave is a clockwork snowglobe on a pedestal. Because he has the audacity to touch it, he gets zapped inside. A "hidden figure" appears and tells Wario a hackneyed sob story about how it used to be the god of the clockwork snowglobe world, and blackmails Wario into recovering 5 music boxes in exchange for Wario's freedom.

Blackmail isn't the best way to get a player caring about the plight of an in-game character, just as tedious, frustrating gameplay won't keep them playing. Ah, where to start...

I bought this game after reading the countless positive reviews, and games with day/night cycles and open-ended structure usually appeal to me. The music sets the mood well, the graphics are good, and initially it looked like a fresh take on the Wario series.

Then, the niggles began to set in.

The main quirk of the Wario series is that unlike his arch-enemy, Wario is invincible. It's something that worked well enough in the previous game, but the changes made to the structure of the levels means that this time it's little more than a constant annoyance. Obviously, if the main character in a game is invincible, challenge has to be introduced in different ways to that of a standard platformer where death is possible.

Unfortunately, the tactic that was resorted to here is to make enemy attacks maximise the amount of movement inflicted on Wario. So whether it's being set on fire/being frozen/sent dizzy/being hit by one of those damned fish on the bridge level, you can be sure it'll send you respectively running/sliding/staggering/rolling back to the start of that section, or even the level itself. When I started out, it wasn't much of a problem, but such enemies are ubiquitous, and super-aggressive (those with projectile/charging attacks will often starting going for you the second they appear on screen) and getting sent back countless times just trying to make it to the top of a series of platforms or to the other end of a bridge is unacceptable for any game. I'm well aware many of the changes inflicted upon Wario are necessary for progression through the game, but they more often cause irritation than elation.

Boss fights have fairly interesting designs behind them, but the aforementioned game mechanic means they're almost always nothing but extremely vexing. Like the tortoise/hare battle where you have to jump on the hare to make him ball-shaped, and then shoulder-barge him past the tortoise-goalkeeper into the goal three times. But it's in a very confined space, and if you don't strike the hare-ball from a very specific point, the tortoise will save it every time. To add to the misery once you've made the hare all spherey, if you're on the wrong side, jumping over the hare is incredibly difficult, as the game's bouncy physics don't allow such moves to be easily made. If the hare knocks you goalwards three times, you're instantly floated up to a place from which you can't directly get down, and so have to go the long way round to start the battle again. It's the same scenario with the squid boss or the section where you have to barge through rock walls ahead of a giant invincible mole robot (it always catches up before you can get through them all), except this time if you so much as get touched by either of these enemies, you get ejected back outside and have to start all over again.

This leads nicely on to the levels themselves. They're set on a world map, which is based around the north, south, east and west sides of a volcano. Once a level is completed, or the player chooses to exit through the pause menu, it changes from day to night, or night to day (with accompanying changes to enemies and level layout). They are generally large, with many different sections, most of which only become accessible as one gains abilities through the four treasures hidden in each level. At first only one treasure chest is directly available and once the player has obtained it, the next level will open up. Then after treasures and subsequently abilities are learned, one can go back to get the previously-unobtainable chests. Often newly-obtained treasures will change the layout of a previous level, making new sections accessible (though these are often bizarre - blowing a hole in the side of the volcano/causing giant snakes to appear/turning a hill into a castle?!). The settings are varied, from forest to town to desert to swamp to ice cave to spooky temple.

But carrying on from my criticism of the enemies, the levels work very well in conjunction with the enemies to maximise annoyance. Often if the player falls, or is knocked into water, the platform above is just out of reach, or currents in the water won't let you go forward, forcing you to go all the way back around. But why can't I just jump straight back out? Is this "challenging"? Another example is where there are blocks that can only be broken by throwing a barrel/boulder at them, though there'll only be one present in the level, meaning it needs to be carried across platforms and through hordes of enemies. The only problem is, the game's twitchy physics mean that if, when you jump or move forward, the item being carried touches the ceiling or wall in front, Wario will instantly drop it and it'll smash on the ground, meaning you have to go all the way back to its 'spawn point' and start again. Is this the developers trying to add realism to the game? It's completely detrimental. It was at least fixed in Wario Land 4.

While I was playing it, I always got the feeling that the open levels and the freedom with which the player can go from level to level really aren't suited to the game. I appreciate that the developers tried to do something different with this instalment, but somehow this aspect of the game really doesn't work as well as it did in the previous games.

I realised after a while of collecting these treasures that I had no idea why I was doing it as the basic premise is incredibly flimsy and there's no narrative keeping things going. Wario Land II had amusing cut scenes that gave the player a general idea of what was going on. In this game there's nothing. You'll complete a level, there may be a small scene where the piece of treasure you just got opens up something new, you go to that level, get the treasure, it opens up something new, and so on and so on. This just meant that the only reason I was playing the game was out of obligation because it was something I'd spent money on. I certainly wasn't enjoying it, and as the plot is non-existent, it had no meaning.

In terms of appearance, the game is of the usual Nintendo standard. But the gameplay just isn't enjoyable and there's no incentive to carry on grinding through ill-fitting levels and irritating enemies to appease the utterly forgettable "hidden figure" who you don't care about anyway! It's entirely unfortunate, but the game has few redeeming qualities. There's no Nintendo magic here this time.


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