Review: Splatoon on Wii U

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Team shooters are now one of the most popular genres in video games but provide something of a problem in family environments. Playing, either online or locally, against a group of your friends is brilliant fun but the vast majority of these games are 18 certificate and very violent with realistic graphics. Disappointingly I’ve already had to say no to our 8 year olds request to play games that his friends at school have been talking about, like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Battlefield 4. The school has even gone as far as sending a letter home reminding parents that they should ensure that their children play age appropriate games. You can read my thoughts on the subject here.

The crying shame is the fun in the multi-player aspect of these games has nothing to do with the gore, realism or violence, instead it’s all to do with the fun of playing with or against your friends. IN other words, it’s the competition that’s fun and this isn’t really available to younger videogame players. Enter then Splatoon from Nintendo. I’ve played multi player games since the days of Doom, Quake and Unreal Tournament (through to Ghost Recon, Rainbow 6, Halo, Destiny and so on) but hand on heart I’ve not had as much fun since the days of Unreal Tournament. In some ways the smaller levels remind me of Quake 3- everything is compact and frenetic and so much fun as a result.

Obviously given the rating of the game, shooting your opponents isn’t the main aim of the game, instead you have to paint the floor your team colour. The winner is the team who paints the most of the arena their colour before the timer runs out. It sounds simple and at it’s heart Splatoon is but obviously there are complicating factors that add strategy and long term appeal to the game. You can shoot your opponents with paint, turn into a squid(!) to zoom over the playing area faster, creep up on other players and do loads of things but the emphasis is on doing it quickly. The kids have had a ball, and given how fast it all is, I must admit I’ve not always won when I’ve played against the boy and Fifi.

Splatoon is a perfect half an hour game- it’s one you don’t have to set aside hours to play and derive great fun out of. Yes, you can spend the entire evening (or rainy day) playing if you want to, or you get engrossed in the game, but today a lot of games have tutorial levels that take an hour or so to play through, so it is refreshing to pick something up you can just play.

Splatoon is available to buy now, and you can pick up a physical copy of the game for under £30 if you shop around.

Review: Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U

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Yoshi first made an appearance in a Mario game way back in the SNES game Super Mario World. Mario could jump on the back of a Yoshi, who could shoot out his long tongue and capture baddies, turning them into eggs. Since then, Yoshi has gone on to feature in a string of games, included several of his own, and culminating in this platform-fest, Yoshi’s Woolly World.

Yoshi’s Woolly World sees Yoshi and his friends made of yarn, inhabiting a world likewise made of wool. All the scenery is textured like wool; you can grab loose threads and unravel obstacles, when Yoshi swallows a baddie, he becomes an egg like normal but it’s actually a woolly egg. The plot is simple- an evil wizard turns most of the Woolly Yoshis (it’s the name of the species as well as your character, more or less) into yarn and scatters them across the world. You have to guide your Yoshi to find them all and defeat the bosses. Simple but great fun! The wool effect extends past the graphics- the platforms are a bit soft, like wool, you can, as I mentioned, unravel blocks or platforms and more. It’s all cleverly integrated into a beautifully realised world.
PS_WiiU_YoshisWoollyWorld_UKV[1]Nintendo games might look super cute but for the vast majority of first person titles (that is those made or directly supervised by Nintendo) they are usually very tough. As a kid I remember getting hopelessly frustrated with Super Mario World on the SNES. I would have been 15 or so at the time and theoretically had the sharpest reflexes and best hand to eye coordination I’ll ever have but some of the levels would literally have you in tears they were that difficult. The first Yoshi title, Yoshi’s Island, also on the SNES, was equally as difficult and the recent 3DS version attracted some comment for how hard it was. Well, never let it be said that Nintendo don’t listen because Yoshi’s Woolly World has something called “Mellow Mode”, which cranks down the difficulty enough to let younger players experience the joyful worlds that Nintendo have created without having to result to being a passenger while Dad or an older sibling play.
This acceptance that we’re not all hardcore gamers is something I’ve noticed in a few Nintendo titles recently- Captain Toad Treasurer Tracker lets you fail miserably for a certain amount of time on a level, and then it will make you invincible. You can still fall off platforms so there is still a challenge on the levels that require precise timings but you don’t have to worry about the baddies hitting you, which makes a massive difference.
To be honest, at 40 I appreciated the ability to turn Mellow Mode off and on during play- I’d love to say I was able to put 4 or 5 hours a night in to playing the game on regular difficulty to get a proper feeling of how it plays but with three kids under 10, a full time job and other responsibilities, the chance to sink my teeth into a game for a long time in a short time frame is pretty much over. I ended up playing on normal difficulty and dropping it down in game to mellow when I got a bit stuck or wanted to get to the end of a level before bed time.
yoshiswoollyworld_ss1[1]Having said that, Yoshi’s Woolly World is pretty enough that it’s actually a delight to watch other people playing it. Watching my 6 and 8 year old play together (I hesitate to say co-op as it descended all too frequently into a battle to see who could get their Yoshi to swallow the other person’s Yoshi and all the tears that eventually involved) was a genuine delight. As a spectator you see a lot of the graphical touches and flourishes you don’t tend to notice when you’re busy avoiding shy guys or aiming for a target with a ball of wool. A lot of comment has been (unfairly) made over the power of the Wii U against the PS4 or the Xbox One but the only game on either of them that looks remotely as pretty as this is probably Rayman Legends and whilst it plays well, when it comes down to a battle of who can make the best platform games between Nintendo and anyone else in God’s whole creation, Nintendo are always going to win.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is out now on Wii U and an absolute delight to play through. You’ll find a stupid grin on your face frequently and will inevitably find yourself revisiting levels to collect all the yarn balls or flowers you missed the first time round. An essential purchase!

Review: Marvel’s Ant-Man with my daughter

ant-man-poster09-620x350[1]On Monday I was lucky enough to go to the first showing of Marvel’s new movie, Ant-Man, in 3D. It was two days before the European Premier, which is today, and I got to take my daughter along. In fact, it would be more proper to say that my daughter and I were invited; the film has a very strong theme of father/daughter interaction- Hank Pym and his daughter Hope need a reconciliation and Scott Lang is estranged from his family after doing a three year stretch in prison for burglary.

Scott Lang is a very very good burglar. Hank Pym knows this and rather surreptitiously recruits him to steal some technology from the company he used to run but was ousted from by Darren Cross (Kevin Spacey’s stooge, Peter Russo in the rather excellent House of Cards). So at it’s heart Ant-Man is a heist movie, with super-heroes, and more laughs than any dozen comedies I’ve seen in the last few years.

As far as the plot goes, it’s one of the better super hero stories- it makes sense for a start. Hank Pym was a top scientist who hung out with other top scientists way back, including Tony (Iron Man) Stark’s dad and various dudes from SHIELD. He came up with the Pym Particle, something that effectively allowed him to create a suit that let him shrink down to tiny size and back up again. He kept the disproportional strength of a fully sized person when he was little, which let him whack people when tiny. He refused to give his formula to the establishment and went into self imposed exile but now his protégé who hijacked the company from him has come close to replicating the formula and wants to sell it to the highest bidder. Hank needs a brilliant burglar to steal the formula and everything back…

Paul Rudd is brilliant as Scott Lang, he gives a really rounded performance as a cat burglar who wants to go straight but is thwarted at every step. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly also do a great job as a bickering father and daughter but for me, and many of the audience, Michael Pena stole the show as Luis, a rather rubbish criminal that Scott met inside. The two instances where he recounts where he got tip off from are so well done, they had everyone, including Fifi, in stitches. Edgar Wright may have ended up not directing Ant-Man, but you can see his influence throughout, especially in the two Luis expositions (one of which has the obligatory Stan Lee cameo).

The human element is to the fore though, and despite the obvious proliferation of CGI, the story is rooted in people, which is why it works so well. You feel for Hope’s frustration with her dad, Scott’s desire to provide for his daughter, and you want it all resolved properly.

It might be a 12A (I counted about 4 shits for what its worth) but it’s definitely the most family friendly super hero movie I’ve seen, the violence is restricted to the big set piece against Yellow Jacket at the end, which is exceptionally funny in it’s own right, but the film doesn’t suffer for it. Despite being laugh out loud funny in more places than most modern comedies but it still fits in with the Marvel Universe well, as the raid on an Avengers depot highlights. When Ant-Man duffs up the Falcon, Falcon makes the brilliantly observed comment, “Just nobody tell the Capt about this.” as Ant-Man makes off with a McGuffin.

Ant-Man works in the Marvel cinematic universe but is different enough from films like the Avengers to appeal to a wider audience. I’ve seen all the Marvel films now, and this is probably my favourite. It’s easily as good as the first Iron Man or the first Captain America and it’s just so much fun, you can’t help coming out with a big idiot grin all over your chops.

How to improve your golfing performance

Your golfing technique and performance doesn’t all come down to the equipment you use, instead you have to put the time and effort in to become the very best you can be.

Sure, you can buy yourself the most expensive clubs, ensure you have spare trolley batteries from Pure Drive Batteries and look like a well armed pro but you still need to work on that swing and get down to the gym regularly (yes, that’s right, it’s cardio time) if you want to master the game.

Let’s say you want to complete an 18-hole course in good time to get back to the clubhouse for drinks later. Stamina will help you zip round the course in no time, as well as improve your drive.

Golf is a sport. All sports require a certain level of fitness for you to excel at them and the easiest way to enhance your golfing performance is by improving your cardio. Fit a cardio workout into your fitness routine, two to three times a week, if you’re serious about improving your game. This could involve heading to the gym to use the cross trainer and sit down bike for 45 minutes or even heading out for a 30 minute jog in the evening while dinner cooks.

That’s the first step. Next you need to ensure your joints are supple and muscles are flexible to improve your swing – and avoid injury. To encourage this, a yoga class might help, if you can touch your toes after three weeks just think how loose your shoulders will feel and how fluid your swing should be as well.

Working your core and side muscles will improve your range of motion, which in turn allows for a longer back swing resulting in increased force and velocity. Here are some golfer specific poses to try out for yourself, if you don’t fancy signing up for a class.

Before starting a game you need to also ensure you are warming up to improve your overall performance. Golfers who enter the green and don’t allow themselves time to warm up and stretch are going to cause themselves an injury and upset the quality of their game. It takes around 15 swings for muscles to feel warmed up enough to go through a full scorecard.

Protecting your back will also improve your golfing performance, back injuries are commonplace in golf because people don’t ensure their flexibility and stability are in check. A great tip is to perform 80-90% of all training exercises standing up, to improve your core and upright stamina.

Finally, stay hydrated while out on the green – those who don’t top up their water intake while exercising will find that they feel sluggish after a few rounds. It’s also a good idea to avoid a big meal before any game – feeling full while doing any exercise is going to reduce the quality of performance.

Now it’s time to head to incorporate some cardio into your routine, dabble in some yoga and work on that core to improve your fitness and your performance out on the course. Don’t expect results immediately, it might take a couple of months to start noticing any drastic changes, keep going and you’ll soon start enjoying the game even more.