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}

Christmas Traditions

santas-keyYou’ll have to excuse my grinchiness(?) for this one blog post but I need to get my Christmas gripes out of the way before any festive spirit can prevail.

 

I’m a big fan of Yuletide traditions, I have a few of my own.

 

Every year the kids believe our Christmas tree comes on a slow boat from Norway, traditionally (and purely coincidentally) arriving the same day our local garden centre sell off their misshapen oddities at half-price.

 

I spend November planning an original, imaginative and crafty advent calendar, and then traditionally, on the 1st of December, text Janet asking her to pick one up from Poundland on her way home.

 

And I spend most of the year promising to take down last years decorations from the hallway and then traditionally, come December, gloat about how I’ve already decorated the hallway.

 

But there are some traditions I’m not entertaining.

 

The Black ‘midnight scuffle over a discounted TV in Asda car park’ Friday for one. Back in my day we had a word for Black Friday. Friday.

 

But I have a theory on this, because the rise of the Black Friday madness mirrors a far more troubling issue. Something we as a society really need to address. The demise of the bagsy.

 

There was no higher authority than the bagsy. Everyone knew where they stood.

 

You saw it, bagsied it, problem solved. No arguments, no stampedes, and definitely no wrestling a granny over a toaster.

 

And if it was perishable you licked it.

 

Life was much more civilised in my day.

 

Another tradition I’m not entertaining is the elf-on-a-shelf. Now I’ve no problem with people who want to out-elf each other on Facebook, it’s just not for me.

 

I have two kids and a questionable standard of housework. Any elf would need to burn the house down to get his mischief noticed.

 

There’s also no need for my kids to be spied upon when they already have a tale-telling brother in-house.

 

And they definitely don’t need to be scared into behaving. If I’m not getting any help over Christmas then I don’t see why the monster under their bed should?

 

But there is one tradition I’ve succumbed to that I wish I hadn’t. The Christmas list.

 

I hate the Christmas list.

 

There was no such thing as a list in my day. I remember writing a letter to Santa with a stub of a crayon; asking for a new crayon.

 

There was no toy catalogue to look through either. I made do with half-a-dozen pages at the back of the Kays catalogue, and when no-one was looking, sneaking a peak at the lingerie. Page 476 I think. Who am I kidding, it was definitely 476. And there was a nipple on page 481. I’m not proud.

 

The problem with the Christmas list is they already know what they’re expecting to get, and more pertinently what they then don’t. The unbridled joy of the surprise that I remember as a child has been lost, and that can’t be a good thing.

 

So next year the traditional Christmas list is being untraditionalised(?) Banished with Black Friday. Shelved with the elves.

 

And now I’ve got my gripes out of the way I can start looking forward to the traditions I genuinely love.

 

The night-time walk (and a drive in their jammies) around the neighbourhood looking at the Christmas lights. The trip to see Santa in his grotto. Decorating the tree as a family. The Christmas Eve sprinkling of glitter and porridge oats on our doorstep to guide Rudolph in, and leaving a magic key out for Santa.

 

But most importantly spending time with family and friends, because when I think back over my happiest Christmas memories they were all family affairs. Well, apart from playing with my sisters Girls World but the less said about that the better.

 

So if you’ll excuse me I’m off to buy some tinsel and mince pies.

 

Did I mention I’ve already decorated the hallway?

Parenting 80’s Style

babycareWhen it comes to parenting styles I’m a big advocate of the hindsight method.

 

You’ll need a second child to truly see the benefits, but then having a spare is never a bad thing, just don’t refer to them as such. Better to call them your eldest.

 

The hindsight method is a natural successor to the winging it method I deployed on Sonny, and before you start feeling sorry for him it’s worth bearing in mind he does get first dibs on new clothes. So, swings and roundabouts.

 

That’s not to say I didn’t try reading parenting books as an expectant father. I did. The problem was they grew up far faster than I could read. When I should have been saying, ‘this is what to expect next’, you’d be far more likely to hear, ‘so that’s where we went wrong!’

 

I’m not saying parenting books are bad per se, but what I am saying is at least check the publication date first, because advice changes. Attitudes change. What Supernanny tells you is right today might be so very, very wrong tomorrow.

 

This is what my mum and dad were reading when I was a child. Published in 1980. Just one generation ago.

 

And this is no ordinary parenting book either; this is an M&S parenting book, 80’s style …

 

fatherFathers-to-be

“Newborns rarely look as beautiful as in television commercials. A father-to-be who takes time to study photographs of how a baby looks immediately after birth will not be alarmed if, initially, his own baby looks like a red or purple wizened old man or woman.”

(Wise words indeed. This blog was very nearly called The Tales of Sonny & Yoda.)

 

hospitalIn Hospital

“However busy the hospital routine, take time to care for your skin, nails and hair to make yourself look presentable. Tie a new ribbon in your hair before your husband visits … If you begin in hospital, you are much more likely to continue when you get home.”

(Because you really don’t want to go sullying those earliest memories with yesterdays ribbon. You think I didn’t notice Janet. I did. Everyone did.)

 

ironingAt Home

“Have a nutritious breakfast with your husband, rather than a cup of coffee and a cigarette.”

(Coffee and a cigarette isn’t nutritious? Shit!)

 

“Use what time you have in the afternoon wisely, so you’re not too tired when your husband comes home … do not iron kitchen towels and underwear. If your husband is agreeable, iron only the parts of his shirt that show.”

(Agreeable? I was bloody livid!)

 

“Unless you are quite sure your plumbing can cope with the disposal of nappies, it is better to incinerate them.”

(See, there WAS more fog when we were growing up. And people mock me when I speak of the Great Nappy Smog of ’82.)

 

choresChores

“A two-year or three-year old will empty waste-paper baskets and wipe fingerprints and dust quite competently. Give him child-sized mops, brooms and dust-pans. Introduce each one slowly so that by about five a child can handle a vacuum cleaner and iron responsibly. Don’t be tempted to give money for the jobs done.”

(Clearly my mum skipped this chapter. I nearly lost a nipple leaning over a hot iron, although in her defence at thirty-five I probably should have known better.)

 

tantrumsTemper Tantrums

“He may look like he is trying to kill himself, but he will not. He may even lose consciousness, but, if so, he will begin to breathe again.”

 

“One of the worst aspects… is the current idea that a loving parent allows a child to make its own choices. In truth, this is proof of neglect, if not hatred. No truly loving parents expects a child to make a choice before reason and discrimination have been developed.”

(I have only vague memories of throwing a tantrum as a child. I can’t remember what the outcomes were either, but then why would I when I was probably dragged out of the shop unconscious!?)

 

disciplineDiscipline

“There is, as every parent is painfully aware, a school of thought that says ‘to smack is to fail oneself and one’s child’. The truth is that a small child is not reasonable.

The ideal way to smack a child who is flouting discipline is to put on a good act of anger without really feeling it. But if a parent actually feels irritation, it is not good leaving the situation until his temper has died down – the moment for effective action will have passed.

It is better to smack and be done with it. It is always better to smack than to indulge in a whining nag all day. The important thing to remember is that when smacking, aim for the bottom, legs or arms – never the head.

Turn a blind eye nine times out of ten rather than nag, but when taking aim the tenth time do not miss. The golden rule is: always be simple and direct. Expect to be obeyed.”

(Obeyed? I’d be happy with a half-hearted look up from their screens! And what happened to our ten count? Who was it that said, ‘you can’t smack any more. Oh, and you know your ten count, well that’s gone down to three!’

I’ll tell you something, if I ever find out who I’ll give him a good smacking …. sit down on the naughty step.)

 

favouriteFavouritism

“A mother or father who does not have some difference in affection for certain individuals is a rarity. It would be a happier world if every child could be sure of an equal place in their mother’s or father’s heart, but this deal is rarely realised. The way out is to meet everybody, including one’s not-so-dearest, as if one has never met him, or her, before.”

(So true. I have a favourite child, although it does change daily. I also act like I’ve never met them before, normally in the Supermarket when they’re having a sword fight with cucumbers.)

 

Nudity

“It is rare for adults to be so at ease with themselves physically that they are able to behave in a totally natural and asexual way when naked. More commonly the situation carries an atmosphere of being contrived and the presence of inhibition communicates itself to a child. This can have a reverse effect from the one intended.”

(Really? I can’t remember the last time I walked around naked in anything but an asexual way? Isn’t that what having kids does to you?)

 

homosexualityHomosexuality

It is not only people with an ‘innate tendency’ who can be attracted to homosexual relationships. People with anything like an ‘innate tendency’ are extremely rare and, when this is the case, there is a definite physical aberration. Such aberrations are quite different from a slight tendency to effeminacy in boys, or masculinity in girls. These are superficial and borrowed characteristics which are, therefore, rectifiable at an early age.

Children, youngsters and adults who are attracted to homosexual relationships are usually the victim of a simple idea, which may have stemmed from a parent: ‘I always wanted a son, not a daughter,’ or an idea which arises from a passionate attachment to or antipathy to one of other parent.

There is no doubt that many boys do have a profound fear that they are incapable of becoming men. If, subsequently, anything in their upbringing convinces them of failure in their own eyes this can result in boys playing a woman’s part in a homosexual relationship. Where girls are concerned, a dissatisfaction with their own bodies lies behind a desire for a homosexual relationship. This again is caused by a destructive idea, such as a fear of being considered inferior or of not being in control of events and natural physical functions, like menstruation. Left unchecked in childhood, such ideas may cause a girl to form a homosexual relationship.

(Wow. This was just thirty years ago. One generation.)

 

So if you are going to rely on parenting books it’s worth reading them with a huge vat of salt. If your instincts tell you otherwise, go with your instincts. And always keep a copy of the book, because if nothing else it might just give your children some material for a blog post.