Review: Mario Party 10 on Wii U

Mario Party 10

Despite owning every single Nintendo console since my brother won a NES in a competition waaaaay back in the day, I’ve never actually got round to playing a Mario Party game. The fact that Mario Party 10 is obviously the tenth makes this some sort massive oversight on my part. The series started in 1998 with three N64 games, progressed to the Gamecube with a further 4 titles, a couple of the Wii and now the tenth on the Wii U.

There are some great party games about, and the Mario Party franchise has always lead the way. Most of the games were actually developed for Nintendo by a company called Hudson Soft. You might not know the name but if you’re of a certain age you’ll know their most recognisable game- Bomber Man. I have fond memories of playing 8 player Sega Saturn Bomber Man on a big screen in a pub about ten years ago.

Party games are best played with as many people as possible, and where in the past the only people I could game with were an internet connection away, now with a family full of small people, I have a ready made audience. So what did we make of Mario Party 10 then?

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I’m a big fan of digital download, especially for slot loading devices since Ned attempted to ram two discs into the Wii U once and almost ruined the Wonderful 101. We went off and make some cakes while it was downloading. Fortunately this didn’t take long as we’ve on a Virgin Media 150Mbps connection.

The first thing that I liked about the actual games in Mario Party 10 is that is makes all the participants use the WiiMote. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of aggravation we have over who gets the the Gamepad in Mario Kart when we all want to play at once. Anyway, there are 3 game modes, Amiibo party, Bowser party and the eponymous Mario Party. We’ve mostly stuck to playing Mario party, as there is the inevitable fight over who gets which Amiibo. It’s not pretty.

So once you’ve decided upon your character of choice (me: Mario, the Boy: Yoshi, Fifi: Princess Peach), they all hop in a car together and travel around the track/board together, taking it in turns to roll the dice and move the car around. Some squares you land on have bonuses or penalties and some lead to the mini games that are the meat of the game.

There are various sorts of games, from waggling as fast as you can, jumping on the head of the giant thingies (Goombas I think), swinging round on a giant roulette wheel, shooting bombs at a player on a boat, playing golf but having to avoid hitting bombs- there are absolutely loads of them. The boy is better at the fast waggle games, Fifi better and the co-ordination ones.

This is a lovely looking game too; the Wii U is a poweful bit of kit and that extra graphical grunt is used well in big colourful characters and lush scenery. It’s an ideal game for the kids to have a quick 20 minutes or half hour on after school because it doesn’t take as long to get into as some other games they like (the LEGO games for example, give the kids lots of great experiences but you really need to sit down for an hour or so at a time to get the most out of it) but also offers maximum fun in small manageable bundles.

Mario Party 10 is out now and rated PEGI 7.

How to save money for your wedding

When we got married almost 11 years ago now, we pretty much paid for our wedding ourselves- I think wifey’s parents bought her the dress and my parents bought me a suit. We paid for the rings, honeymoon, the venue, a sit down meal for 30 people and anything else I may have forgotten ourselves.

Off puffin hunting

Off puffin hunting

We already had a mortgage together and didn’t want to indebt ourselves for the rest of our natural lives to pay for one day but at the same time we wanted to make it memorable. There isn’t a thing I’d really change about it and I even think our choice of honeymoon location- Cornwall and Devon- was inspired because the last thing you really want to do after a long day of getting married and partying is to sit at an airport for hours with a hangover. It wasn’t long until we were wetsuit clad and surfing. We’re not the sort of people who like sitting around on the beach day after day (I still burnt myself really badly mind you) and this worked well for us as we visited Rick Steins seafood restaurant one day, went on a helicopter flight to the Scily Isles another day, went on a boat trip to spot puffins, walked across to St Michaels Mount, stayed in a 5* hotel (that gave 80% discounts on a Sunday night) and did I mention we stayed in a lighthouse cottage for a week of it?!

Still, even though we did it on a budget, we still had to save up several thousand pounds (my platinum wedding ring weighs a ton you know) and we did this in a very basic way by just shoving cash into an ISA until we had enough. We’ve never believed in buying stuff on the never never, and I think the interest free credit option we had for our kitchen from IKEA was the longest we’ve actually been indebted (although we did have the cash in our savings account which we were earning a pitiful amount of interest on). Given how poor interest rates are at the moment, and how poor they have been for the last few years, you’d be as well sticking your cash in a mattress. You could probably do worse than check out this handy guide from Legal and General to help you find the right investment option for you.

I’ve always found with saving money that the first bit is definitely the hardest. Once you’ve got a critical mass of money and can see it growing on it’s own, half the battle is done in my book. The trick today of course is to ensure you get an interest rate that’s higher than inflation, otherwise your money will actually be worse less…

Review: Dino Tales on iPad

dino talesWhen we were offered a code to try Dino Tales, an iPad app that costs a reasonable £2.99 on the Apple App Store, I thought I’d give it a go. It’s not the price that puts me off buying apps; it’s the bewildering number of them to chose from that’s the problem.

Dino Tales is a dinosaur based learning app. We don’t have a long track record with learning apps, the only one the kids have played with for any length is the Reading Eggs app. That however is much more of an outright learning experience, Dino Tales is a lot more gamey.

Dino Tales involves hatching dinosaurs, looking for shells, fossils and other things for your dinosaur to do. You can even decorate (“spray paint”) your baby dinosaur by using the berry blaster. You navigate your dinosaur around a 3d world via dragging a dinosaur paw across the arrows in the bottom left hand side. When I had a go, I found it quite difficult to control but this didn’t appear an issue for Fifi (6) or the boy (7). I think they’re more used to touch screen controls than I am.

As you stroll around the dinosaur landscape, certain things sparkle to indicate you can interact with them. On occasion though you can’t interact because you haven’t hit trigger points to make something active. Anyway, you have 6 baby dinosaurs to hatch, and each one of them has an adventure to run through and at the end your child gets to make an interactive book based on what they’ve done.

When I had a go, I stumbled around a bit and managed to get my dinosaur on to a wooden floating platform. Novice stuff I’m sure but the boy has more to say:

“When I started playing Dino Tales I wasn’t sure what to think. It isn’t as fast as some of the games I like to play but I liked it because it didn’t keep on asking me to buy coins or things to make it easier. My dad gets cross with me when I ask to to buy coins in other games! You can paint your little dinosaurs different colours which is very funny. I liked it when I got to go in the scary cave. I didn’ think it was scary but Fifi was very scared. I wasn’t scared.”

You can ask Darwin, one of the grown up dinosaurs, questions via a simple to use question building wheel that contextually helps you choose the next word in your question based on the ones you’ve already picked. I’ve managed to make that sound clunky but it is quite simple in practice and is good for finding out lots and lots of dinosaur facts. And there are lots and lots and lots of dinosaur facts in the game- the more your child plays, the more drawn in to finding out about dinosaurs they’ll become.

There is an in game mechanism for limiting the time that your child can spend on the app (if only more apps have this as it’s not baked in to versions of IOS earlier than IOS8), which is accessible via the parent corner.

I think we’re at a pivotal stage in the evolution of apps at the moment. The “freenium” model (free to play but with lots of in-app puchases) appears to be losing popularity as players begin to realise that a lot of games are now designed to  make it really frustrating without paying 30p to speed up to your next turn, or £1 to buy some food to feed your pet, or whatever. I know plenty of people who would gladly play for a game to remove all these begging requests, if only a paid version existed. By supporting games like Dino Tales which lets face it at under £3 aren’t going to break the bank, we not only let our kids play something that’s both fun and educational, we make a stand against this rotten model of gaming that’s ruining everything. When the boy recently came to me and asked to buy some gems to buy a monster in a game, I almost had a heart attack and was so relieved I’d turned in-app purchases off because the gems were £79.99. That is a disgrace.

Rant aside though, the age range for Dino tales is given at 4-11. I think kids towards the younger age will get more out of it; at almost 8 the boy enjoyed it but not as much as Fifi did. It made a nice change from the likes of Subway Surfer and other twitch games they always seem to play. Dinosaurs go down well with kids and this games went down well with ours.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses, and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

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Nutmeg

nutmeg[1]When it was suggested I take a look at Nutmeg, the online investment platform, it really couldn’t have come at a better moment, because for the first time in ages, we have a bit of cash sitting around thanks to our insurance claim finally paying out (burgled in November, the pay out came in early March). Before it gets spent we want to pop it away for a rainy day, like last summer where we had to spend almost £900 in the course of three weeks on wifey’s car. Yes, we’ll have to replace some of the things that got stolen but we want to turn adversity to our advantage a bit and make sure we’re a bit more secure going forwards.

One of the traditional issues in saving/investing is there isn’t really a middle ground. You can either stick all your money in a savings account or an ISA, which both have a frankly terrible interest rate at the moment, or you can start investing in shares and pay hideous transaction fees via a traditional broker or one of these online brokerages- either way you pay a per transaction fee, and it can get expensive enough to negate any profit you make. For a few years now though there has been another way, and that way in Nutmeg. Nutmeg has been around now for three years, is regulated by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) and was actually set up by a disillusioned stockbroker.

Nutmeg’s big selling points, aside from it’s lack of hard sell, is transparency in terms of fees and charges, coupled with low charges. To do this, when you invest with Nutmeg you don’t really invest in individual shares; rather you invest in something called an ETF. Without getting too technical, ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) are basically investment vehicles that are comprised of various assets, like shares, or commodities (gold etc). Each of these ETFs has shares that can be bought as an investment. By buying a share in an ETF you can have what is effectively a broad investment portfolio without having to buy the individual constituent parts. This makes transaction costs a lot lower.

It sounds a lot more complicated than it is (watch the video embedded above if you don’t believe me) and if you had a non-cash ISA back in the day, the chances are you had money invested in an ETF anyway. This form of investment has it’s benefits as it diversifies risk; of course in doing so it does limit the return but that’s par for the course with risk mitigation. What it means in practical terms for Joe Public is you can get a better return than you would from letting your cash sit in a bank savings account without either the aggravation, higher fees, or risk exposure of directly managing a portfolio of shares.

Once we’ve replaced the stuff that we need to replace from our insurance claim, we’re going to put some away as I’ve said and Nutmeg is looking more and more like the option of choice.