Hoosier Dad

I’m not one for new year resolutions, what with me being willpower intolerant and all.

 

Don’t mock me now, it’s a genuine medical condition. The nurse diagnosed me as such at my over-forty health check. I think. She definitely mentioned something about willpower, the rest was a little hazy. To be honest I was still reeling from her suggesting my blood sample was 90% butter.

 

Then there’s the blackouts. Just this morning I came over all dizzy at the thought of a banana for breakfast. Weirdly I regained consciousness in a café with a full English breakfast in front of me?

 

Despite this chronic condition I’ve still set myself some goals for the year.

 

I’ve already started my learning to draw journey. Yep, I’m calling it a journey. If you’d seen my previous artwork you’d realise I have an X Factor producers wet-dream worth of sobbingly sad back stories for it to qualify as such.

 

Last weekend I went on a ‘Can’t Draw, Won’t Draw’ course at the Lowry. They confidently claimed they could teach anyone to draw. Anyone! I went in with a genuine fear I’d be the asterisked disclaimer on their future marketing. I left having increased my drawing ability of a four-year old to that of a six-year old … ish.

 

trainer

 

Now you might see this as a badly sketched trainer. For me it was the equivelant of nailing a Whitney Houston ballad. What can I say, it’s been emotional.

 

As such I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few thank you’s. To my family for never losing faith in me. To my friends for all their encouragement and support. To God, obviously. But most importantly to Janet, who when I was at my lowest artistic ebb inspired me to carry on by not only paying for this course, but also some time ago giving me this profound and thought-provoking quote when looking at my artwork …

 

“What the f*ck is that meant to be?”

 

2015 will also be the year when I step away from social media.

 

Facebook shouldn’t be a problem, it’s become little more than a portal into the racist minds of people I once considered friends anyway.

 

Twitter however might be more of a problem. I admit I’m a little addicted. I realised this when I overheard this conversation,

 

“Where’s daddy?”

 

“He’s gone for a Twitter!”

 

Seriously, when your five-year old considers Twitter a synonym for having a poo you really need to take a long hard look at yourself.

 

And then there was this,

 

“Yay, it’s a Daddy bath! Daddy runs the best baths!”

 

That’s because Daddy gets distracted by Twitter, forgets it’s running and gives them an infinity pool. Regularly.

 

And my last goal is to listen to more new music, and encourage the boys to do so too.

 

I love music. I thought I had good taste. I was convinced I’d pass this on to the kids.

 

Then I joined Spotify.

 

Sonny immediately set up his own playlist. It’s largely made up of songs he hears me singing around the house. Now I’d love sit back and smugly tell you it’s full of Radiohead, The Smiths, Arcade Fire and Prince. It’s not.

 

Let it Go – Frozen.

Deeply Dippy – Right Said Fred.

The Frog Chorus – Paul McCartney.

I Want to Break Free – Queen.

Reach for the Stars – S Club 7.

Boom Boom Boom Boom – Venga Boys.

Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot – Denise Lasalle.

 

This is what goes around in my head. This is what comes out of my mouth. Every day!

 

I’m nothing but a muso charlatan; and not of the Madchester variety, because that would be way too cool for this embarrassing Granddad of pappy pop.

 

But if nothing else, Spotify at least gives me a grasp on some new music. Enough to hold my own when discussing it with the younger hipster dads on the playground. Or so you’d think.

 

Last week I told one such dad that I really liked the new Hoosiers album. He looked at me dismissively.

 

“No seriously, it’s really good, nothing like their old stuff”, I said.

 

Hozier. I meant bloody Hozier! He’s cool, right?

 

How the hell do I claw that one back? I could chase him across the playground tomorrow shouting,

 

“Hozier …. I meant Hozier …… HOZIER GOD DAMN IT!”

 

But that’d be the actions of a sad and desperate man. Instead I’ll stick with being forever known as Hoosier dad. Because everyone knows being desperately sad is better than being sad and desperate. Don’t they?

Battle for the Fridge Door

rudolph-footprintI can’t draw.

 

That’s not me being modest or defeatist, I set the bar unbelievably low before reaching that conclusion.

 

If you imagine how low you think I set it, then keep going. Nope, further, further still, a bit more and there it is. Squint and you’ll just about see it.

 

Some time ago my sister, while looking at some artwork on the fridge, commented on how Luca’s drawing was ‘not bad’. He was eighteen months old. I drew it.

 

Last week, after being inspired by Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, I decided to have a go myself. Guesses of who I’d drawn included Morgan Freeman, Margaret Thatcher and Jackie Chan. It was a self-portrait.

 

Yesterday Luca asked me to draw him a rocket ship he’d seen on Mr Maker. Our recycling bin is now full of phallus drafts, the best/least offensive of which is hanging in our front window; like a festive cock and balls.

 

So when I say I set the bar low, I mean ‘not bad for an eighteen-month old’ low.

 

Never learning to draw is one of my biggest regrets in life, which is why I’m trying really hard to encourage the kids to be artistic. Thankfully they don’t need much encouragement, but herein lies another problem; what to keep?

 

For my 40th birthday I was presented by my mum with a huge folder of artwork from when I was at primary school. It turns out I peaked artistically at six.

 

What if this is the case for my boys too? Could they have peaked already? Am I throwing away now what will later prove to be their greatest masterpiece?

 

It’s a daily dilemma, not least because they produce so much of the damn stuff.

 

Left to Janet we’d keep every piece of tat they produce. She once commented enthusiastically on an autumnal picture of Luca’s. He’d brought it in on the sole of his shoe. I kid you not.

 

But left to me we’d keep next to nothing. On the last day of term I’m tempted to swap their school bag for the recycling bin. The shelf-life of their art mirrors precisely that of the paper bin collection schedule anyway.

 

cheerio-necklaceAnd it’s not just the quantity that’s a problem but the quality too. At this age it’s sometimes difficult to know if it’s art or just spillage from last nights pasta bake. That mornings spilt breakfast or a Cheerio necklace. It was the latter, apparently.

 

But I’ve found a compromise. The fridge of Quality Control.

 

Everyone’s happy. Janet has an ever-evolving exhibition to cherry-pick her favourite pieces to keep. I get to impose a strict ‘one on, one off’ policy and then fill the recycling bin with a clear conscience. And the boys think they have a huge fridge to showcase their best work.

 

Little do they know they have competition for space. You see there’s a new kid in town. A forty year old kid who’s set himself the challenge of learning to draw. A middle-aged doodler determined to fight for that fridge space.

 

I’ve given myself a year, and if by then I’ve not wiped the fridge door with them I’ll hang up my HB for good.

 

I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good after my Santa was mistaken for a donkey, but suddenly Luca’s footprint Rudolph isn’t looking quite so smug as he was last week.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

captain-toad-coverDespite the Toad Brigade being a mainstay of the Super Mario series they rarely get a lead role, more likely to be seen loitering like lost tourists or offering words of wisdom like wizen weary travellers.

 

When Captain Toad arrived, laden with a backpack and miners lamp, he could have been forgiven for thinking his time would be short lived. In a world where running and jumping are key his inability to do either didn’t bode well.

 

But after landing a few cameo levels on Super Mario 3D World he’s only gone and landed himself his own title, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

 

On Super Mario 3D World these levels made for a welcome break from the usual chasing around. It required a more measured approach, navigating platforms and secret passages to collect the green stars.

 

As much as I enjoyed these levels I had my doubts they’d be enough to warrant their own game. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is every bit as good, if not better.

captain-toad-1

The premise remains largely the same, but instead of collecting five green stars you have one golden star to reach, with three gems to find along the way.

 

It’s a puzzle platformer in the truest sense. Because you can’t jump you need to think carefully about how you approach each level, and it’s as much about controlling the camera angle (which you do with the right thumb-stick) as it is navigating past Walleyes or throwing things at Goomba’s.

 

There are over seventy levels to complete split over chapters, each with an end goal, three gems to find and a special challenge to complete too. There’s also bonus levels that actually feel like genuine bonuses so I’ll not spoil the surprise.

 

This is what I love about all the Mario titles, because where Sonny and Luca love to complete a level to open the next, I can then go back and find the gems they missed and complete the challenge.

captain-toad-2

The difficulty of the levels feels just about right and because there’s no time limit you can approach them at a more leisurely pace, taking time to explore and often finding hidden gems by carefully manipulating the camera angle around the level first.

 

It also plays and feels unmistakably like Super Mario, from the wonderful soundtrack and ingenious level design to the beautiful graphics and usual cast of enemies.

 

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is right up there with my favourite games on the Wii U and sits perfectly alongside the other Mario titles.

 

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is due for UK release in January 2015.

 

 

{I was sent this game for the purposes of this review. All words and opinions are honest and my own}

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric

sonicAs a gamer of a certain age the early nineties were a golden era. Legendary characters born, classic titles released, and more pertinently less buttons to press!

 

Mario was king but there were plenty of others vying for his crown; and none more so than Sonic.

 

Fast forward twenty years and time has been far kinder on some than others.

 

Mario has grown old gracefully. He’s improved with age and remains as relevant today as he ever was.

 

Poor Sonic however has stumbled from one mid-life crisis to another, visited one too many cosmetic surgeons, and in his latest adventure, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, decided the way to stay down with the kids is to don a pair of snazzy trainers and a snood? Think Paul McCartney in suit and Converse.

 

The plot, for what it’s worth, revolves around a snake-like creature called Lyric who wants to destroy the world with chaos crystals. To stop this from happening Sonic and his friends must put aside their differences and find the crystals first. I think.

 

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t aware they’d fallen out, but if it was over the direction the franchise was taking I’m wholly behind whoever thought this way was the wrong way.

 

Remember the speedy platform style that made Sonic feel so fresh and exciting in his earlier adventures? Well keep hold of those memories because the main gameplay here is about exploring, solving puzzles and fighting bosses.

 

That’s not to say there aren’t still elements of the fast style for which Sonic became synonymous, there are, they’re just so badly executed you can’t help feeling they were a contractual obligation the developers fought long and hard to have annulled right up until deadline day.

 

And this epitomises everything that’s wrong with the game, because it all feels rushed. From the graphics and level design to the boss fights and puzzles.

 

The overall feel is one of monotony. Like they’ve created a level and then cut-and-pasted it again, and again, and again, and again …

 

Each character has their own ability but the level screams out who to use where. And then, just in case you miss the obvious, the characters can’t wait to spell it out in often cringe-worthy sound bites.

 

The whole script reminds me of when I try and talk to my nephews about dubstep or Snapchat. Like it’s been written by a middle-aged executive who thinks he knows what the kids find cool, the proverbial drunken dad dancing at a wedding.

 

The cut scenes stutter onto the screen when you least expect them, the camera angles often defy logic, and to say the framerate drops are irritating is being kind.

 

To be fair to the developers they have got the soundtrack right and I believe some of the later levels do get a little better, but if you manage to play the game long enough to reach them I can only doth my cap.

 

I appreciate the game is probably aimed at a younger audience than previous games, but even Sonny and Luca found it repetitive and boring.

 

The frustrating thing is I really wanted to like this game. So much so that I played it with very low expectations, and yet still it managed to disappoint.

 

I hate to say it but it may be time to put the hedgehog out of its misery. If not, then at least let it hibernate long enough for the next developers to have a clear idea where the franchise is going, and then give them lots more time to get it right.

 

Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric – £44.99. Wii U, Sega.

 

 {I was sent this game for the purposes of reviewing. All words and opinions are my own}