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R. McDonald "rossmcdonald2" (Southampton)

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Scrabble Scramble
Scrabble Scramble
Offered by iAuctionShop Ltd
Price: £27.98

3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed approximation of real Scrabble, 26 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Scrabble Scramble (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Scrabble Scramble is essentially an attempt to distill the experience of a full game of Scrabble. It isn't really fully portable because you need a little space to spread out the board, timer and scorepad and shake the dice, but it is a little easier to transport than the full game. It's also quicker and a little more frantic, as it's played to a timer.

There are two real flaws with the game, one small and one large. The smaller is that the mix of dice limits you to making quite simple words. The large flaw is the one that many other reviewers have mentioned, which is that the game quickly gravitates towards the three letter scores in the corners and stays there.

Scrabble Scramble might be suitable for younger players, but it isn't really portable enough or fun enough to be much of a substitute for the real thing.

The Hoax [DVD]
The Hoax [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Gere
Offered by Direct-Offers-UK-FBA
Price: £2.44

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and watchable, 27 Jan. 2008
This review is from: The Hoax [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Hoax is a hugely entertaining movie that chronicles the true story of Clifford Irving (played by Richard Gere), a down-at-heel writer who hits on the idea of pretending that he's been contacted by Howard Hughes and asked to write his autobiography.

There's some enormous fun to be had in watching the increasingly brazen and outrageous lies that Irving is forced to concoct to keep his fraud going, and in his publisher's and Time-Life magazine's willingness to set aside their increasingly justifiable scepticism. It's a clever script, which makes some serious points about boardroom naivety and the almost religious reverence in which the great man himself is held before heading into some pretty dark psychological and political territory as the plot unravels.

Richard Gere is great in the role, and plays the consummate liar convincingly (including the startling impressions of Howard Hughes that he records for phoney interviews), but he's often upstaged by Alfred Molina, who plays his gormless partner in crime Dick Suskind.

It's a fine film with a fine set of performances, and the recreation of the period feels very genuine. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

No World For Tomorrow (Deluxe Edition) (Clean) (CD/DVD)
No World For Tomorrow (Deluxe Edition) (Clean) (CD/DVD)
Price: £23.76

4.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't disappoint, but not their best, 29 Nov. 2007
This is the fourth album in this stupendously ambitious (and brilliant) series, and though it's a long way from being the best, it's still Coheed and Cambria (despite the slightly altered line-up) and still a clear mile above almost everything else going. I love that each of these albums has its own unique and distinctive sound, despite the fact that each is a chapter in the same story. That said, the creative well is showing early signs that it may at last be running dry. The album does have an occasional tendency to fall into familiar patterns at times, and many of the tracks are sadly quite forgettable - you won't find another Time Consumer, or the wall-to-wall perfection of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3, or even the uncomfortable angst and complex structure of the most recent album. What you will find instead are a handful of excellent, hummable tracks - highlights include Feathers, Mother Superior and of course The Running Free (which was actually written for the new Transformers movie, though sadly it didn't make the cut). The high points of this album are definitely up there with the past glories, and definitely offer something new and distinctive - it's just that everything else is a little bland and over-familiar at this point. That's not to say it's bad by any stretch - it's Coheed and Cambria after all and this band doesn't really do `bad'. It's just that each of their albums inevitably has to be measured against the impossibly high standards of the previous ones, and this one is not quite up there.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)
Offered by My Bay Hospice
Price: £36.51

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for DS owners and Zelda fans, 20 Nov. 2007
Let's get this out of the way first. Phantom hourglass is the best game available for the DS by a clear mile, and among the best Zelda games of all. Nothing else to my knowledge comes remotely close. It's also in a completely different league to any previous handheld Zelda game, so if you felt mildly underwhelmed by the likes of `Minish Cap' on the Game Boy Advance don't worry because this is a complete departure.

Phantom hourglass is a direct sequel to Wind Waker on the Gamecube, though it isn't necessary to have played that game because the only things that really carry over are the characters and the art design. It really is amazing how faithfully the crisp, cel-shaded graphics that looked so impressive on the Gamecube are translated to the DS, and how well suited they are to this new hardware. What with all the cut scenes, character designs and the huge watery overworld, the amount of eye-watering content crammed onto this cartridge is simply breathtaking.

Having said that it resembles Wind Waker visually, the way the game plays is completely new and adapted for the DS and its stylus. You control Link by pointing at the screen, strike at enemies by tapping them and draw quick strokes to perform slashes and the spin attack. It's all very responsive, though the one move that doesn't seem to work so well is the forward roll, which is executed by drawing small circles at the edge of the screen (it's not used very much, however). All the familiar items return, but each and every one has been given a new spin by the touch-screen controls, whether it's tracing out a path for the boomerang to follow, tapping the screen to throw a bomb to a precise spot, or stringing the hookshot between two posts to make a tightrope. The many puzzles that you encounter feature novel designs as well, and often require you to take notes by drawing on the map. It all sounds incredibly gimmicky, but it isn't at all - it's deeply addictive, and a joy to play from beginning to end.

There are some criticisms I could level - the game is a bit easy, especially if you've played Zelda games before, and a bit short if you aren't out to collect everything or finish every minigame. The dungeon layout is inventive, but the different dungeons and islands all look more or less the same. But these are very minor quibbles. As you can probably tell by now, I loved this game to pieces, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2009 7:04 PM GMT

The Interesting Bits: The History You Might Have Missed
The Interesting Bits: The History You Might Have Missed
by Justin Pollard
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bathroom reading for intellectual households, 8 Nov. 2007
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Interesting Bits is a fun, haphazard collection of unusual and amusing historical trivia amassed by the author in the course of researching for the popular TV programme QI. Most of the stories aren't more than a page or two in length, and although they are organised under broad headings such as 'Magic' or 'a Bit of Politics' they leap around in time and place almost completely at random, making this the kind of book that you are more likely to enjoy dipping into occasionally than reading from cover to cover.

The fact that the author invites readers in the preface to let him know which tales are apocryphal, and that he doesn't cite references clues you in in advance that this isn't a very serious book (well, that and the fact that some of older stories involve pixies and fairies!), but then it isn't supposed to be. It's written in a wry and often witty style, and offers a genuinely surreal take on history. Well worth a look.

Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 [2006] [DVD] [2004]
Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 [2006] [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Edward James Olmos
Price: £9.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spoiler-free review, 17 Oct. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Like many other fans of this series, my opinion of season 3 is pretty divided. One thing I am sure of is that it delivers some of the absolute high points of the series to date, whilst at the same time suffering from similar pacing complaints to series 2. In practice this means that nearly all of the major, budget-blowing, plot-advancing spectaculars are clustered together on the first three discs, whilst the latter half of the season is simply not up to quite the same standard. To be fair, it never sinks below outstanding by comparison with any other series, but it can still be deflating to watch through a long string of standalone episodes that are merely very strong in a series that rarely delivers anything less than superlative.

But I don't want to stress this point too much, as the majority of the series is simply so awesome that it's very easy to forgive any deficiencies later on, and in fact this is probably my favourite season so far. And as you might expect by now, the ending when it comes (and this time you certainly do have to wait for it) is a complete bolt from the blue, completely restored my faith, and had me mulling over all the possible implications for weeks afterwards. Sadly it has been confirmed now that season 4 will be the last, but from the looks of it it's already shaping up pretty well, and at least the fact that the show's creators know they have exactly 20 episodes left to wrap it up should hopefully mean less flab and filler.

On the down side, the extras in this set are disappointing to say the least, and seem to consist solely of `The Story So Far', an episode length summary of the pilot and the first two seasons stitched together originally to accompany the television broadcast, with narration by the cast. It's completely redundant if you've watched everything up to this point, and if you haven't then you definitely shouldn't start here. That's all you get, aside from some admittedly very pretty menus.

But for the most part this is still the same one-of-a-kind, breathtaking, mind-blowing Battlestar Galactica that you know and love, and fans can breathe a sigh of relief that in this penultimate season, barring the occasional wobble, they still haven't quite dropped the ball yet.

Bioshock (Xbox 360)
Bioshock (Xbox 360)
Offered by Netro Enterprise
Price: £14.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shooter at heart, but possibly the most atmospheric ever made, 16 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Bioshock (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
To cut straight to the chase, Bioshock is a stunning, revolutionary game that does a very thorough job of living up to all the hype that's been building up around it for the past year or so. It's hard to think of any game that's ever managed to achieve anything close to this level of immersion in your environment.

The game plunges you - literally - into the world of Rapture, an underwater art-deco Utopia gone horribly wrong, and then forces you to explore and improvise like crazy as you fight your way through levels infested with splicers - the demented remnants of the city's genetically enhanced population. There are literally dozens of ways to approach almost every situation you encounter in the game, meaning that you can play through it multiple times without it ever unfolding the same way twice.

Bioshock's real strength lies in its unsettling setting and atmosphere more than its story (which has at least one really big twist and a choice of two moral paths to follow, resulting in different endings, but is otherwise pretty linear and straightforward). The scripted set pieces, the writing, sound design and voice acting are all phenomenal, and go way beyond anything you're likely to have seen or heard before in a game.

Gameplay-wise, Bioshock makes no bones about the fact that it's an FPS, though you have some unusual and creative weapons and abilities at your disposal. As is traditional for a console FPS, your character controls a little like a tank, which can feel a little frustrating as even the most basic enemies are extremely tough, agile, fast and vicious. Oftentimes you can stray into range of a turret or a camera, losing a good fraction of your health before you even figure out what is happening. The effect is that the gameplay can feel pretty tense and stressful at times, though on the plus side it forces you continually to think on your feet. To make up for the difficulty, there's an extremely lenient respawn system, which undermines some encounters a little since you can kill just about any enemy by slowly grinding away at its health and continually allowing yourself to die and respawn.

But none of this detracts much from the experience, and if you want to get a taste of where game design might be headed in future, or remind yourself why you own a 360, you won't go far wrong with Bioshock.

Babylon 5: Lost Tales [DVD]
Babylon 5: Lost Tales [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bruce Boxleitner
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.92

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Legend Returns, 3 Aug. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Babylon 5: Lost Tales [DVD] (DVD)
B5 may have been a groundbreaking series, but it hasn't had the best luck with spin-offs since it went off the air. Crusade was sunk by network interference before a single episode had aired, and the pilot for Legend of the Rangers didn't generate sufficient ratings to justify being picked up. This third attempt represents a new experiment in the way television is produced and delivered. The idea is to build up an anthology series as a series of straight-to-DVD productions, with each instalment focusing on a separate character from the B5 universe.

This first disk comprises the first two instalments, each of around 35 minutes. Segment one focuses on Colonel Lochley, and sees her confronting a case of apparent demonic possession aboard Babylon 5. Segment two sees President Sheridan travelling to B5 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Alliance, and confronted with a moral dilemma presented to him by the enigmatic technomage Galen, who was last seen as a regular in Crusade. Extras consist of a series of amusing on-set documentaries and interviews with the cast and crew.

The whole thing has been shot using high definition cameras and makes extensive use of virtual sets, with effects provided by one of the companies that worked on the Battlestar Galactica revival. In short, it makes full use of the latest technology and looks absolutely outstanding. J. Michael Straczinsky also seems to have advanced considerably as a writer in the intervening years, ensuring this is a wholly worthy addition to the B5 canon.

Most important of all, future instalments have not yet been confirmed by Warner Brothers and will be entirely dependent on pre-orders and sales for this disk. In other words, if you want to see more B5 in the future, you know what to do...

Final Fantasy III (Nintendo DS)
Final Fantasy III (Nintendo DS)
Offered by Gameseek
Price: £21.05

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very pretty and surprisingly playable, 12 Jun. 2007
Final Fantasy 3 is the only game in the series that had never been given a western release until now, but if you've ever played any versions of the old 2-D Final Fantasies, you will have a pretty good idea what to expect - lots of random battles, exploration, bosses and dungeon crawling. Although the underlying template of the old game is still in place, all of the graphics have been given a complete 3-D overhaul, making this one of the prettiest games to appear on the DS so far.

FF3's twist is the job system, which I can vaguely remember was also used in FF5. Each of the four characters starts as a freelancer (a generalist), but you can assign them to particular specialties, changing their abilities, appearance and the way they level up. This leads to some interesting choices in how best to customize your party, since characters learning multiple jobs will level up more slowly than those who specialize in a single class.

The plot is fairly unfocussed and generic compared with later instalments, though the characters have been given names and more personality than in the original version. In an interesting twist, the world you start in is not the world in which the majority of the story takes place.

You can control the game entirely with the stylus, but it's frankly a lot easier to put it away and use the face buttons. It also fails to make full use of the upper screen. This is definitely an old-school game. The difficulty curve is pretty steep, and there's at least one spot where you're unlikely to progress unless you've read the manual. But it's very playable in short bursts, and one of the best DS-specific RPGs to date (although a similar DS remake of the more epic Final Fantasy 4 is now in the works).

Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PS2)
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PS2)

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes frustrating but still as rewarding as ever, 6 Jun. 2007
This is a remake of the very first instalment of Tomb Raider, created to celebrate its eleventh anniversary (why eleven?). The upgrade features redesigned and expanded versions of the original game's four environments, and the fluid Prince of Persia-style (though not quite that good) gameplay mechanics of the most recent instalment, Tomb Raider: Legend. Lara even has a few completely new moves in this one, including a grapple-assisted wall run and the ability to balance on top of poles. The odds are that it's going to appeal most to people who either have fond memories of crawling painstakingly through the five PS1 instalments (and will find this one a breeze by comparison), or who just happen to like their games difficult and borderline frustrating.

Anniversary restores to the series the sense of isolation and scale, with some of the levels and puzzles so intricate that they can take hours to unravel. The second gate in St Francis' folly is a good example. To progress you need to find four keys to open four locks in a central hub area, but doing this can easily suck up three or four hours (though the sense of reward you get for finally getting it open is amazing). Although there are only four levels (plus Croft manor) it's still a lengthy and massive game. And although it's nothing like as unforgiving as the original, it does feature some of that game's faults, including leaps of faith, a sticky camera that is frequently going to kill you, and plenty of moments that are just plain unfair. This doesn't really stop it from being fun, however, and if you have a lot of patience and can get past these things there's something amazingly compelling about the puzzling and platforming that just about makes up for it. If the above hasn't put you off, then this is probably for you.

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