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The 90's Guy (North Devon, England)

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Descent 2
Descent 2

3.0 out of 5 stars Descending Into The Mines Of Average, 27 May 2015
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Descent 2 (Video Game)
For anyone who is not entirely familiar with game cases for titles on the original PlayStation console, allow me the pleasure of enlightening you.

Around 1997, in order to make the games more uniform like, the front inlays were fixed to feature, along the bottom, a black strip with the word "PlayStation" written in white. For Platinum re-releases it was a grey strip with the writing in a darker shade of grey. So if you find a PlayStation game without that black or grey platinum strip on the inlay, it can mean one of two things: 1) It's a counterfeit, in which case get a bomb disposal squad on it now!, or 2) You've got yourself one of the earlier PS releases; and it certainly shows here in the graphical presentation of Descent 2.

As a sci-fi 3D First Person Shooter, the aim of Descent 2 (a game developed by Parallax Software and published by Interplay Productions) is to blast your way through up to 30 levels of robot invested mines. From spaceship styled corridors to lava filled pits, you must find keys to unlock doors, and then take out the bosses before seeking out the escape tunnels before you end up like a piece of chicken that has been left in the fryer for ten years.

The game comes in three difficulty levels, from the easy rookie mode up to the hot shot hard one; and the challenge of each level is solid, forcing you to keep moving a large portion of the time due to the various naughty robots firing at you and the mine destruction countdowns that start after beating a boss. Help is at hand though. By finding and releasing the guide bot, it will help you seek out the keys and bosses, which is just as well given how big some of the levels are. Not bad for an early PSone game.

There are numerous weapon pickups to find as well. You start off with a laser (fired with the L1 button), but you'll soon get to play with other arsenal such as the plasma cannon and (my personal favourite) the Vulcan cannon, mowing down the bots like you would mow an overgrown lawn. Meanwhile rockets can be used (R1) for when the bosses are giving you grief or for when the corridors get really jam packed.

Descent 2 was released sometime before the introduction of the PlayStation DualShock controller, but even so the control setup here does feel somewhat unorthodox. The d-pad only controls the direction in which your ship is facing. You actually have to use the face buttons to move it around the corridors: Triangle for forwards, X for backwards, etc. Furthermore the ship will move up and down depending on the direction it is facing. The weapon controls feel natural, but everything else certainly isn't. It does take some getting used to, and it can prove costly when you lose lives in the early stages of the game as you attempt to get to grips with the layout. Fortunately you do get to grips with the controls eventually, and it's not something you'll dwell on every minute.

Besides the enemies keeping you honest, Descent 2 has other noteworthy positives. The music comes in a sort of sci-fi techno style and works well in creating the futuristic atmosphere that you play in. Also there are numerous short FMVs scattered throughout the disc, all of which are reasonably detailed (for a PSone title) and run nicely, which is a good thing. Even better so when you consider that the likes of Driver and Syphon Filter were released a couple of years after this, and their FMVs were just plain terrible. Finally, despite a limited number of lives, the game is somewhat generous in allowing you to move onto the next level, even when you failed to get out of the previous one before the mine destruct sequence reached zero. Hmmm...

Descent 2 has a few good things going for it. Unfortunately it's the bad things that stand out more and swamp your attention. The opening FMV aside there isn't much of a story to engage and entertain you. Also, the lighting in the levels can be hazardous to the sense of sight. Bumping into walls and losing your way can be a frequent occurrence (even with a headlight upgrade), and can prove costly in terms of exiting the levels in time as all your hard earned points end up being flushed down the drain.

But the biggest drawback is the generally repetitive action. Pretty much all you're doing is finding keys, shooting some bad guys and seeking out exit tunnels. Even with the varying scenery there are times when you'll wonder if you're actually playing the same level twice in a row. It can get rather tedious after a while. Indeed, I was fairly relieved when the last level was finally completed, and I have no doubt you will be too if you do decide to give this game a try.

The solid FMVs, decent sci-fi music and sturdy challenge all earn Descent 2 for the PSone a handful of marks. However the lack of a strong storyline, dodgy lighting and generally repetitive gameplay mean that it will earn no more than a six from me. If you're into retro sci-fi gaming and have already taken out the Doom titles, you may very well enjoy this. Otherwise it should be left to float around in space...alone...where no one can hear it scream.

Final Score: 6/10

Louis van Gaal: The Biography
Louis van Gaal: The Biography
by Maarten Meijer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dutch Sir Alex Ferguson? You Decide, 14 Jan. 2015
(WARNING: The review of this book may or more likely will contain spoilers!)

What kind of football manager is Dutchman, Louis Van Gaal? Well once you've finished reading Louis Van Gaal: The Biography, your answers could be as follows. A creative thinker; one that knows exactly how his players should play on the pitch at any given time. A loose cannon; an argumentative competitor and thorn in the side of national and international journalists. Or, quite frankly, one very successful manager with more trophies than a hunter's forest cabin.

Written by Dutch football commentator, Maarten Meijer, the book covers van Gaal's football journey right up to the summer of 2014. From his birth on 08/08/1951 to tragically losing his father during childhood. His playing days at Ajax, FC Antwerp and Sparta-Rotterdam to his early "management" stint at AZ-Alkmaar assistant coach. The book continues with his managerial successes with Ajax and Barcelona, his failed first run as coach of the Netherlands, his managerial comeback with AZ before finally concluding with his appointment as the manager of Manchester United.

While the book was not written by van Gaal himself, it is clear from the off that he is a man who knows exactly what he wants and is not afraid to try different footballing routes in order to get it. He has a non-nonsense approach to training his players and keeping them in line with his visions of how the club in question should be run. To put it another way, he appears to be a Dutch version of Sir Alex Ferguson; and like Sir Alex's Autobiography this book at times inspires drive and determination.

This book can be difficult to read. It includes many foreign names of players, coaches, football newspapers and magazines; mainly Dutch but there a quite a few German pronunciations in there as well. One or two names will be familiar to even the most casual of football observers, like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, but other names will be far less so. With no obvious way to pronounce them you'll find yourself wasting several minutes covering even a single page due to some (Double) Dutch tongue. I suppose those countries can't really help it if the words and names are spelt the way they are; and if you happen to be a native of Germany or the Netherlands, or at least speak their respective languages well, then it's not so much of an issue. Still, I just-can't-help-but-moan.

So is van Gaal the minty fresh mouthwash that Manchester United require to rinse out the terrible six-weeks-under-the-dusty-sofa-chicken-curry taste left by David Moyes? Only time will tell. For now if you're highly passionate about football and don't mind the persistent challenge of foreign name pronunciations, then Louis Van Gaal: The Biography is not a bad book to bury your head in.

FIFA Football 2004 (PS2)
FIFA Football 2004 (PS2)
Offered by Quick Discount Sales
Price: £4.58

3.0 out of 5 stars Off The Ball...And Now Off Target, 24 Dec. 2014
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
I received FIFA Football 2004 on the PS2 as a Christmas present back in the day, and it ultimately turned out to be the only FIFA title I would own for that console. In its own right it was pretty good. But compared to the Pro Evolution Soccer games of the time, FIFA 2004 was lagging behind in numerous departments. Today? It's not even worth talking about...Well OK, I'm gonna talk about for a bit so you don't have to.

The 2004 edition was filled to the brim with teams and divisions from around the world. The list even included the English divisions 1, 2 and 3, nowadays known as the Championship, League 1 and League 2 respectively. Up to this point EA Sports' only English focus was that of the Premiership and the (clears throat) national anybody who was a fan of Watford, Swindon Town or even Torquay United would have been drooling at the prospect of playing with them here.

FIFA games were renowned for their out-there gimmicks in the late 90's and early 2000's, and 2004 was no exception. For this edition it was Off-The-Ball control. The idea was that you could use the right analogue stick to control a teammate who did not have the ball and move him into an ideal position. Then you could use your player who was on the ball to complete the perfect pass. The theory was put clean through on goal, but the execution was blazed well over the bar. It was very difficult to focus on two players at the same time, especially if they were at opposite ends of the TV screen, and your focus was to make sure the off-the-ball player was not offside and in a suitable position to receive the pass. But by the time he was sorted your man on the ball had been dispossessed, and now your team were scrambling back to defend the counter. In the end you were better off forgetting about the whole feature, it was that flawed.

The graphics were good for late 2003. The player movements were smooth and they looked like who they were supposed to look like. Ryan Giggs looked like Ryan Giggs; David Beckham looked like David Beckham (samurai hair and all); and Thierry Henry looked like a piece of ball handling scum. Team kits were accurate too, from the Adidas stripes on the Real Madrid shirts to the black panels around the sides of the Manchester United ones. Further realism was noticeable from the way players appeared to discuss tactics prior to kick off, and from the way they celebrated goals which were far less cartoonish than those seen in some of the PSone FIFAs. All in all, a thumbs up here.

Gameplay was a mixed bag. Constantly sprinting (holding down the R1 button) would tyre your players out quickly and make them less effective in the latter stages of the game, so patient passing build up play was required. Free kicks took a bit of skill to master as well, as you had to take into account the distance to goal and strike power as well as whereabouts your foot wanted to strike the ball (all indicated with an icon and metre at the bottom of the screen). Good realism there, but it was mostly undone by the open play finishing. On the six yard line with only the keeper to beat and most times the ball was smothered; but several strikes from outside the area would find their way into the bottom corner. It was either one or the other, and soon feelings of déjà vu would come into play.

Most of FIFA 2004's gaming longevity came from the career mode where you had the chance to buy new players to strengthen your squad, improve player stats through training, and even enjoy the occasional bout of promotion if you were playing with a lower league club. However it simply lacked the punch of a Diet Coke with lemon served in a tall glass with a few ice cubes, and felt rather shallow compared the Pro Evolution Soccer's master league mode. Overall this is nothing more than a slightly above average football title. One for the FIFA collectors, but no one else.

Final Score: 6/10

Ultimate Mortal Kombat (Nintendo DS)
Ultimate Mortal Kombat (Nintendo DS)
Offered by AllGoodDealz
Price: £17.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "It's Official. You Suck." [BLEEP!] You, Game!!, 23 Dec. 2014
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Do you have ANY idea how long it's been since I've played a Mortal Kombat title? I mean prior to playing this one which I am about to review, that is. Let me put it this way...Sonic the Hedgehog was in his prime; John Major was the big cheese at No.10; and yours truly was in the middle of the innocent enthusiastic adventure known as "primary school." I shouldn't have been allowed to play MK games...but I did. However, with Ultimate Mortal Kombat for the Nintendo DS, any hopes of a triumphant return to playing the series after such a long hiatus went out the window after about two fights.

UMK is a package consisting of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (a slightly more up to date version of MK3) and Puzzle Kombat, the latter I'll be covering in a little while. With UMK3 you have your choice from around 20 fighters (a couple of which need to be unlocked), and a choice of 4 difficulty settings. Basically it's the higher the difficulty, the more fights you have to attempt to plough through. The insane fist throwers include acid flemmed ninja, Reptile; metal-armed muscle man, Jax; and one-tough-cookie woman, Sonya Blade.

For every fight (best two out of three) you can watch the action on the bottom screen whilst a list of your chosen fighter's moves is displayed on the top screen. If, like me, you prefer the action to be the other way round you can swap these screen commands around in the Options menu. While the moves have varying degrees of complexity to pull off, being able to check the button combos is useful as it helps to increase your repertoire of sorts for the fights, and it only takes a quick glance (perhaps more suitably before a round begins) to gain a piece of familiarity with them.

The motion capture graphics are a nice piece of artwork, and the large amounts of bloodshed will certainly satisfy those who follow the Mortal Kombat series like it's a highly controversial religion. However, things start to unravel in UMK3's gameplay department. The difficulty is set too high, with no options anywhere to change them. The opposition appear to know what your plan of attack is before you've had a chance to think it up. In one fight I played, every time I tried to use a flying kick with Scorpion on Sub Zero, the latter would always respond by using a move where he would shoot his ice beam up into the air and have it land on me. This unwelcome setup makes it virtually impossible to complete certain fights with certain competitors, and forces you to constantly switch fighters every time you get "Finished off."

There were even times when the CPU opponent would beat several shades of red (and at times green or black!) out of my fighter before I even had a chance to press any buttons to attack. Apparently, from what I've researched on UMK3, these were all AI glitches that originated from the game's original console release on the likes of the SNES and the PSone when the developers tried to refine the gameplay. That sounded like a nuisance for the time and unfortunately it's still a nuisance now, like desperate customers in a Marks & Spencer store before Christmas.

It's not all doom and gloom for UMK (though given its intended content those two words should actually be more like complements). Puzzle Kombat provides welcome relief to the astronomical stresses caused by UMK3. Not too dissimilar to Columns, the aim is to rotate and place coloured blocks on your grid and then use matching coloured MK symbols to make them disappear, causing havoc on your opponent's grid in the process. The elements of strategy and the eagerness you feel in waiting for the appropriate blocks to fall both add up to create an enjoyable mode, and the more cartoony looking MK characters here are charming to an extent.

Overall I'm giving Ultimate Mortal Kombat a seven, but only because the Puzzle Kombat game is quite addictive and could possibly stand on its own as a worthy DS game card. Otherwise this is one great big piece of flesh tearing, blood soaking frustration. Flawless victory? Do me a favour UMK!

Final Score 7/10
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2015 10:17 PM GMT

Megaman 3 NES
Megaman 3 NES

3.0 out of 5 stars Sliding & Canine-ing For Round 3, 9 Dec. 2014
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Megaman 3 NES (Video Game)
My trainer is giving me some words of encouragement whilst the mild copper taste of my own blood is being washed out of my mouth with a squirt of ice cold water. Meanwhile another trainer is massaging a small amount of Vaseline on a stinger of a cut just above my left eye. The first two rounds with NES Mega Man have indeed left me bruised, but I refuse to just lie down. The bell rings; I'm up off my stool and standing upright again; and I shuffle towards the centre of the ring to fight in Round 3 with the Mega Man series. Mega Man III if you will.

The story goes that Dr.Wily and Dr.Light have seemingly patched up their differences and are working together to build a large robot called "Gamma." This robot has been designed to act as the defender of the world, apparently allowing Mega Man to retire to a life of P&Q (peace and quiet). However, bad robot shenanigans have once again arose and our weapon-stealing hero will have to put his pension claim on hold for just a little bit longer while he deals with the situation. "Now I wonder who could be responsible for all this naughty robot stuff?!" he said in the most sarcastic tone of voice the human ear will ever imagine.

As like the previous MM games you have to play through a series of levels, defeating the bosses at the end of each of them before challenging the final extra-strong mint level. Each successfully defeated boss will grant you access to another weapon to use later on. With the exception of the last one, the levels can be played in any order you see fit. A nice bit of free roaming structure there although once you've discovered which weapons work best on certain bosses you will find a preferred route through the game.

Since the second NES outing, a couple of small extras were added to MM III. One is that Mega Man has a sliding move (hold Down on the D-pad and then press the A button) which allows him to negotiate tight areas that normal running cannot handle. With repeated usage you'll find that the slide move actually gives you a brief burst of speed, which is quite useful for anyone looking for a fast completion time. The more cautious gamers though won't be so embracing towards it.

The other is Rush, a robot dog that our hero can use to negotiate tricky situations such as high jumps. Originally starting off with just a spring board move, Rush will pick up other abilities as you complete the levels. Both Rush and the slide move add a shade more variety to the gameplay, but only a shade. That's an issue I'll cover in just a moment.

For the most part the levels are firm but fair in terms of what they throw at you: tiny platform jumps, larger enemies that require a few more shots to take out, and trajectories both from the sky and the ground to keep you moving a lot of the time. Frequent appearances by the somewhat mysterious Proto Man will also keep you on your toes. The bosses (such as Spark Man and Top Man) don't have quite the same charm as the bosses from the previous MM games, but the weapons you can obtain from defeating them can increase the feel good factor. In particular, Shadow Man's Shadow Blade is a weapon that'll help you out of more jams than a warehouse full of strawberries.

The problem I have with MM III is that as far as the NES series goes, it's just more of the same. Running, shooting, grabbing pickups and obtaining weapons. It was fine for the first two games, but for this third title you would've thought Capcom would've at least tried one outside-the-box idea. You know? Something to give No.3 its own identity in the series, like wearing a dress made out of meat in public. Alas, that's not the case.

Overall Mega Man III is more for the MM fanatics and fans of cartoonish futuristic blasters. The sci-fi styled 8-bit music is catchy and the challenge is certainly welcome, but there is nothing here that makes it radically different from either MM I or MM II. Still...happy blasting.

Final Score: 7/10

Punch-Out!! (NES)
Punch-Out!! (NES)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rocky Balboa's Favourite Game...Possibly, 30 Nov. 2014
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Punch-Out!! (NES) (Video Game)
On the surface the cult NES favourite Punch Out (also known as Mike Tyson's Punch Out in the US) appears to be just a button bashing boxing game; a beat-'em-silly title that requires no more thought than the whereabouts of the A and B buttons on the NES controller; a coloured-red, padded glove affair that does nothing more than make your right thumb stronger than a cannonball after six months in the gym. Play the game with that train of thought however, and you'll be veeeeeerrrrry sorry.

You play the role of Little Mac, a young boxer with a big heart. Under the guidance of Doc Louis, an enthusiastic if somewhat out-of-shape boxing coach, your goal is to fight your way up through the rankings to the title bouts in three circuits: Minor, Major and World. Each fight consists of three rounds, where victories can be earned by Knockout, Technical Knockout (three knockdowns in a single round), or a favourable judges' decision if the fight goes the full distance. The bouts get tougher as you go along; so much so that I would recommend listening to a Katie Melua album before and after plays...this album in particular.

The controls are simple to learn. A and B control left and right body jabs respectively, while holding Up on the D-pad whilst using the two buttons controls head shots. You can also press Left and Right to dodge, and Down to block. However, the controls are the only thing that is simple about Punch Out. It's a mixture of trial-and-error as well as strategy: when to dodge attacks; when to block; when to throw a head or body shot, etc.

Figuring out the opponents' punching repertoire and weak points doesn't take Sherlock Holmes with a needle in his arm. It's the execution of your plans of attack (and defence) that will have you tearing your hair out like a Trichotillomaniac. While the game's difficulty curve is relatively steady, the latter fights can prove to be quite tough, even with knowledge from previous bouts and a lot of gaming experience. A lot of times your boxer will be knocked down to the canvas either due to mistimed dodges or overzealous attacks. You'll know what's coming next but still take a pounding simply because you didn't quite hit the sweet spot with that Left or Right D-pad press.

This can be especially frustrating on the World Circuit. Lose a fight and you'll at least get a rematch; but lose a 2nd time and you'll be sent back to the beginning of the circuit. The long pass codes you have to enter on the main screen to resume play from the first fight of a particular circuit can hardly be called a God send, but at least you won't have to start the game all the way back from the very beginning...unless of course you fancy starting a new game.

OK, I've talked long enough about this negative. Let's move onto some plus points. The presentation of Punch Out is bright and chipper for a NES title. The graphics in their own right are nice and colourful. Also the character designs of the opposing boxers are quite amusing, even if they do have an obvious and unfair size advantage over you. Glass Joe is laughably awful; King Hippo will raise a few smiles with his beer belly and weird face; and Don Flemenco's showboating dance moves are worth a small round of applause before you punch him senseless. Oh, and Mario referees the bouts. Can't beat a bit of Mario presence.

The biggest complement I can give Punch Out is the strong scent of one-more-go perfume it sprays on you. It convinces you to keep plugging away and plugging away until you find that correct combination of dodging and punching for a specific boxer; and when you do finally floor your opponent for the KO (or at least the TKO), a great sense of achievement splashes over you. The plan came together, and just like the A-Team, you loved it.

Punch Out for the NES -which by the way is also available from the Nintendo eShop for the 3DS- is a teeth gnashing challenge of a boxing game, but one that also comes with reasonable strategic paddling water. If your reflexes are good enough to catch an adrenaline fuelled chicken in a McDonald's slaughterhouse, you'll certainly get your kicks...sorry, PUNCHES...out of this title.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Close Up: The Autobiography
Close Up: The Autobiography
by Kelly Brook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Close Up? I Don't Think I Have The Face For That, 4 Nov. 2014
(WARNING: The review of this book may or more likely will contain spoilers!)

One might say that Kelly Brook is like a tropical fish in a tank: nice to look at...but that's about it. With this book "Close Up" the woman with the unfortunate habit of getting fired from TV presenting jobs so quickly and easily attempts to prove there is more to her than just a pretty face. However, some 286 pages later, I'm not convinced.

Some of the events covered in the book include Kelly dealing with her father's cancer and death whilst a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing in 2007; her early life and her time at the Italia Conti performing arts school in the hope of becoming a serious actress; stumbling into modelling through the trailer-trash Samantha Bond agency; her disastrous six-month stint as a presenter on The Big Breakfast; and a couple of fists flown during some of her relationships. There isn't too much elaboration on that last one, but she certainly didn't do herself any favours by laughing off those incidents in a TV interview.

One problem I had with "Close Up" is that the chapters are quite drawn out. At 286 pages this is not physically the longest book I've ever read. However there were many occasions where I would finish reading chunky paragraphs and then turn the page in the hope that the chapter would be nearing its conclusion, only to find a load more chunky paragraphs to plough through. Other books I've read were laid out and paced nicely, allowing you to take breaks at regular intervals if your eyes or jaw were getting tired. This one simply is not. Reading it can be tiresome.

Another issue I had was with Kelly herself. Despite her efforts to prove that there's more to her than just a few lads' magazine covers, she comes across as being quite shallow. For one thing she dedicates this book to her chest. Let me type that one more time..." She dedicates this book to her chest." I've never read any Katie Price books before, but I shudder to think how shallow they are. Another is that on page 65 she mentions that she would just hang around the Samantha Bond agency in the hope that some work would turn up...Really?! She was relying on magic?!

Generally I was unimpressed by her attitude the whole time, and not even the more challenging events in her life could convince me to be more sympathetic towards her. Indeed by the last 50 pages I was more or less skimming through the book as opposed to solid reading and taking in the meaning of the words because of lost respect...that plus the copy of the book I had was a library book and it had to be returned the next day.

If you're the type of person that feasts on autobiographies for breakfast (no pun intended, Ms.Brook), than there's no doubt you'll find some fascination in reading "Close Up." However for anybody looking for respectable depth far up north as opposed to northern central will be disappointed. Well, time for me to get back to tidying the shelves.

New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS)
New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS)
Offered by Frostfall Games S.à r.l
Price: £18.79

5.0 out of 5 stars It's Not "New" Anymore, But It'll Always Be Super, 2 Nov. 2014
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
New Super Mario Bros. was released on the Nintendo DS in 2006, and while the game isn't exactly "new" anymore (it's eight years old at the time of posting this review), it still feels like a fresh, lively, modern, up-to-date take on Mario's 80's youthful exuberance. Even if you're too young to recall the plumber's whippersnapper days, like me, you'll still see this platformer as an excellent title in its own right.

The front page of the tabloid newspaper (just a bit of creative writing there!) reads that Princess Peach was kidnapped by King wait, I read that wrong. It says that Princess Peach was kidnapped by Bowser Junior, a childish reptilian with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The article continues by saying that Mario let out a hefty déjà vu sigh before commencing pursuit of Bowser Jr. across eight different worlds in order to rescue the princess. Tsk! Tabloids. They'll print anything these days.

OK, so NSMB is a mostly 2D platform game paying tribute to NES Mario, but which game exactly? Well I would say it's a balanced mixture of SMB1 and SMB3, with a hint of Super Mario World for the SNES thrown in there as well. Mario finds himself running from left to right across the screen, stomping on goombas and koopa troopas on his way to hitting the flag poles, taking the occasional warp pipe trip in the process. Very much SMB1 influenced.

But like SMB3, slick presentation is present with a string of useful power ups, and maps of levels that need to be completed with the option to take different routes from time to time. More on that stuff in a moment. But it's all brilliant. Anyone who's been playing Super Mario games since the NES era will see NSMB as a worthy tribute to that gaming period of time. Anybody who hasn't, and this is their first Mario title, will still see it as a piece of platform heaven.

Like I mentioned earlier, Mario pursues Bowser Jr. across eight different worlds, and these worlds have some good theme variations, from the desert sands and pharaoh-requested pyramids of World 2 to the Christmas-esque snows and slippery ice of World 5. Every level you play through from start to finish feels different, throwing up its own challenges. Example: One level in World 3 sees you negotiating the cloudy skies over a series of swaying mushroom platforms, some swaying more heavily than others. The challenges are so widely varied and exciting you'll face every new one with great relish. Oh, and did I mention the music in this game? Fits like a glove. The tunes have a familiar vibe to the NES Marios but with a more upbeat toe-tapping jazz vibe to them, and they add more to the liveliness of this title.

The levels are jam packed with all sorts of power-ups to help you get through the game. The classic fire flower provides the fireball-throwing abilities to give pyromaniacs the mother of all wet dreams, whilst the mini mushroom shrinks you down to the size of a mouse, allowing you access to very small warp pipes and other areas. Great variation there. Meanwhile some extra fun can be obtained through collecting the big Mario coins. There are three in each level and a lot of these coins have a puzzle element in terms of obtaining them, especially in the later worlds. Some require clever timing with the jumps. Others require specific power-ups in order to reach them. These coins can be used to unlock other areas of worlds, such as extra levels to play through.

The puzzle element to collecting the big coins adds another layer to NSMB's gaming circus, and adds yet another positive to an already long list of positives. Just running through to the end of the game will keep you ticking over for a while, but pursuing every single one of the game's big coins will certainly keep you clocking up the gaming miles. If you're a hardcore Mario fan then that can only be a good thing.

But if all the mushroom fondling and castle climbing does somehow become too overbearing for you, then you'll certainly get a buzz out of the timeout teasers, the mini games. Available from the main menu, you can choose from a nice selection of short term teasers, from puzzlers to reflex testers. Mini games available include Snowball Slalom, where you roll a snowball along an obstacle filled course as fast as you can; and Picture Poker, a Mario themed card game that requires a bit of luck, but at least you won't be playing against Lady Gaga.

My personal favourite is Whack-a-Monty, a fast paced wrist strainer where you have to whack as many Monty Moles as you can within the time limit. They're all fun games that add longevity to this DS title; more still when you take the wireless 2-Player game into account. With friends you can play against each other in the ultimate star-collecting Mario sibling rivalry. Nice.

There isn't much to criticize about NSMB. However if I had to be super nit-picky I'd say that the directional controls do feel a smidge slippery at times. It's not bad enough to make you say "Oh come on! I could've made that jump!", but it may still cost you the occasional power-up. Also many if not all of the mini games are recycled from Super Mario 64 DS, so anybody who's own that game and is hoping for something majorly different in that department will be disappointed. But uh...that's about it.

OK, I acknowledge that this review is beginning to drag on for some, so let's just draw up the conclusion now. New Super Mario Bros. overall is a brilliant DS game that provides bundles for the best of both worlds. It's a worthy nostalgic tribute to the NES Mario games, but at the same time it convincingly proves its own identity with its own bright ideas and challenges. A definite yes-yes to all DS and 3DS owners. It's just a shame you can't play as Luigi.

(sly tone)...or can you?

Final Score: 9.5/10

This Is Me
This Is Me
by Michelle Collins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars This Is Good, 9 Oct. 2014
This review is from: This Is Me (Hardcover)
(WARNING: The review of this book may or more likely will contain spoilers!)

At 242 pages long, Michelle Collins' book "This Is Me" is by far the shortest autobiography I've read so far. Because of that I wasn't expecting too much in the way of details, just basic run-throughs of the high profile acting roles she has had up to the point of this book's release. How wrong I was. To me the book is a bit of a slow burner. Apart from nearly being turned into KFC (Kentucky Fried Collins) in a fire during childhood once, the first 50 pages are not really attention grabbing, though readers in their teens/early 20's may be fascinated by some of Michelle's childhood adventures like renting colour TVs and playing out in the streets; a stark contrast to the hi-tech world of today.

After that though, the pace picks up quite a bit. The remainder of "This Is Me" contains several points that keep the pictures in your mind flowing some time after putting the book down. These points include her first acting experience at the Cockpit Youth Theatre on Lisson Grove in Marylebone; her audition struggles with several rejections; her big EastEnders role as Cindy Beale; an apparent suicide attempt whilst in Cyprus filming the TV show Sunburn; and another big soap role as Stella Price in Coronation Street. There's even time for one or two surprises, one of which being that she met Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell in EastEnders) several years before she got to Albert Square.

In spite of some of her past mistakes (which as human beings we're all prone to making), Michelle comes across as a level-headed and respectful woman. For starters the two pages worth of Acknowledgements at the start of the book feels more like 20, she loves so many people. She has had a string of dodgy dates and failed (humiliatingly at times) relationships in her life. But rather than trample over and get vengeful on the men that have let her down, she has consciously chosen to keep talk about the relationship subject light, making it clear in the book that she doesn't want to come across as being a spiteful woman. An honourable piece of thinking, though any Heat magazine buyers looking for some hot juicy gossip in this area will be disappointed.

Also she talks about having a strong work ethic. She hasn't always been in the right frame of mind around acting roles but has simply chosen to "get on with it"; get stuck into her work; and never wanting to be idle for even a second. I can relate to her in that area. Whenever I have a less-than-perfect day at work, I'm always thinking of ways of making the next day better for me; writing down what to do, how to do it better and when to actually do it. I just hate the thought of leaving something in a bad way and not being able to do anything about it.

Overall the stir-fry of childhood memories, acting adventures, political dabbling and charity participations (particularly Oxfam and Barnardos) make "This Is me" a pretty good read. Whether you wanted to b**** slap Cindy, ask Stella for a pint, or get Michelle's POV on the acting roles in between, you'll find this a good page turner.

Super Mario Bros 3 Nintendo NES
Super Mario Bros 3 Nintendo NES

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Third Time's The Charm For Mrs.Mario's Boys, 5 Oct. 2014
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Well really the saying "Third time's the charm" is used for when success is achieved on the third attempt after the first two have proven to be fruitless. But in the case of Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES, it's more like "Hit for six off the third straight ball." SMB1 offered high doses the platform genius with its mix of elegant platform negotiating and iconic head nodding 8-bit music...with the occasional bit of Goomba stomping. SMB2 offered a tasty replayable dream of character swapping, beanstalk climbing and Bob-omb throwing. As for SMB3? Well there are two key words for this game's success: Variety and Flexibility. More on those later.

In SMB3 King Bowser is looking to make another attempt rule over the Mushroom Kingdom with a sharp-clawed iron fist, and he's got a checklist. Brat-like koopa kids? Check. Very loosely bolted airships? Check. Kings transformed into helpless animals? Check. Kidnapping a ditzy looking blonde in pink threads? Full house. Unfortunately for Bowser, the player him/herself has a checklist of their own, and it only contains one item. Unleash two plumbers to save the day? Check.

SMB3 consists of a laaaarrrrge number of levels stretched across eight worlds. The worlds all have varying themes, such as World 3 being a sea world with lots of water and swimming segments, while World 7 is a pipe world consisting of more pipes than a plumber's dream. Each world is laid out in the form of a map -a first for the SMB series- with levels scattered around the place. One by one you walk up to these levels, select them, and then proceed to stroll on by its many challenges: moving platforms, pipe travelling, enemies the butt-ugly side of David Gest; all before collecting cards at the end which eventually convert into extra lives. The end of most of the worlds see you hijacking cannon-riddled airships and defeating the Koopa kids before finally retrieving the magic wands that are required transform the kings from animals back into their old selves.

Now remember those key words from earlier? Variety and Flexibility? Word of warning: I may be using those words a fair bit in this review, but I do think they do the job best in saying everything that is right about SMB3. Breaking up these levels from time to time is some small but fun extras, like some mushroom huts where you have the chance to pick up a new item, and some slide matching games for extra lives. It adds to the variety of SMB3 and greatly increases the replayability of the game, especially the curiosity factor when it comes to those other two chests in the mushroom huts.

The left to right scrolling level layouts (and at times vice versa) are very much similar to that of SMB1 but with a bit more polish. As well as sporting more detailed graphics, it also sports more variation in level structures; pipes, pits, how many different enemies you come across, as well as different coloured backgrounds, like a bright blue or a sunset orange. Don't get me wrong, the levels in SMB1 were fun to play through, but there wasn't too much in the way of differing background and foreground structure and at times it could feel like you were playing through the same level two or three times in the same playthrough, especially in the latter stages of the game. Not so in SMB3. Every level feels different and throws up its own challenges and secrets, the latter of which I'll let you discover for yourself.

The best thing about the levels is that you don't have to play them all if you don't want to. The word? Yep! Flexibility. Some areas of worlds allow you to tackle one level or the other in order to progress to the next part of the map, and some areas you can just disregard altogether. A good example is in World 6. After you've completed level 4 you have a choice of two routes: either taking on Level 5 or 6. Level 5 is trickier with a puzzle like element to it, but if you are brave enough to tackle it and then successfully complete it, you'll gain access to another mushroom hut. "The greater the risk, the greater the reward" you could say. But you know what? To me every single level is pure fun, and I'm happy enough to sit down and tackle them all in one sitting...Yes, I can be THAT extreme at times!

The large number of enemies you face also adds to the variety. The familiar Goombas and Koopa Troopas returned from SMB1, while the Bomb-ombs made their way over from the "different" land of SMB2. They returned to join a series of new enemies (from the perspective of the late 80's that is) such as Boomerang Bros. whose preferred weapon of choice is an Australian throwing stick; and the ghostly Boos that haunt many of the game's castles. Fortunately Mario's battle options come in the form of the traditional fire flower and starman pick- ups...and more.

Yes, more variety is added thanks to some additional power-ups. One of which is the feather, which with a bit of a run up gives you access to the skies for short periods of time. Highly useful for getting over tough segments in levels and scouting out secrets...that's the only hint I'm giving you. The other power-ups come in the form of costumes. One of my favourites is the frog suit. This suit allows you to glide through deep waters with ease, although it can be a handful on dry land. Nonetheless, it's a cool costume.

There are a lot of items to pick up, so you'll be thankful for the inventory box that you can access from the world maps. Just press B to access it, then A to select the item you want. It's possible to hold around twenty items at any given time, so after a bit of play you'll find yourself with some flexibility on you in terms of plans of attack. Very handy indeed.

SMB3 is a joy for every solo games player out there. However if you don't fancy going at it alone and you've got a second NES controller at hand (or for 3DS users just press Y whilst holding down the L and R shoulder buttons), you can select the 2-Player game where Mario and Luigi can take it in turns to tackle the levels like overzealous rugby players. This game is not exactly strenuous, but taking in turns is still convenient for giving your thumbs a bit of a break after levels, so you could say that is a good thing.

Having gone off to visit an Arabian vibe in SMB2, Super Mario Bros 3 feels a like a return to the routes of SMB1, with the points scoring and the mushroom/fire flower collecting and all. However at the same time this third outing added so much more to the platform mix that it pretty much has its own identity in the SMB series. Overall it's brilliant, and I can say with confidence that this is my favourite Mario game ever; one that you need to play ASAP if you haven't already done so.

One more thing before I go. Can you collect 50 coins and complete Level 1 of World 1 in less than 2 minutes? I bet you can!

Final Score: 10/10

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