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Jet Set Radio was released in November 2000 for the Dreamcast, and came very highly recommended by everyone in the games industry. The basic premise of the game is that you, the player, are a teenager living in the city of Tokyo-to, who is 'naffed off' with the rules and regulations forced upon you. You decide to rebel, and as a member of the GG's gang, your gang has its own unique graffiti 'tag,' and it is your aim to spray this in as many places as possible to mark your territory, or 'turf.' The other two gangs in the game live in different districts of the city and you want to spray in their turf, which of course they do not like. The police are also involved, trying to stop the 'kids' from ruining the city. Jet Set Radio is possibly the most original, unique and innovative game ever made. It has something which very few video games can claim to have: style. Every part of it is extremely stylish, from the unique 'cel-shaded' graphics that make the game look like a 2-dimensional cartoon within a 3-dimensional game world, to the superb menus, loading screens, and even the in game 'pause' menu; all these usually mundane, functional aspects of a video game have been heavily stylised to fit in with the graffiti theme, and are a joy to behold for the player. This game is certainly packed with plenty of the most luscious eye-candy. This game must also have one of the best in-game soundtracks of all time. The music is very diverse, and changes from Japanese 'bubble gum' pop to punk, to rock, to jazz, to funk and everything else in between. It really is an aural delight. The game is, at heart, an arcade game, as it is easy to pick up and play even for gaming novices. However, the levels get increasingly tricky with tougher challenges as the player progresses. It is also hard when the police turn up, as they have shotguns, and chase you, and will often jump on your bac
k bringing you to a halt. There are two main ways in which to collect points in the game. Firstly, when you spray graffiti, you are awarded points, particularly if you get the complex moves right (you are shown on screen the direction in which to turn the analogue thumb-pad in order to spray the paint in the right places). You are also awarded differing amounts of points for pulling off tricks, depending on their complexity. You can do these after 'grinding' along rails and other edges, as well as after picking up speed by skating downhill, etc. The tricks range from somersaults to 1080º turns, all of which are performed in the air, and are simple and great fun to pull of and watch (your skater even makes comments when you pull off tricks)! Sega have really utilised the online capabilities of the Dreamcast in this game. Players are able to visit the official Jet Set Radio web site and download other players' graffiti creations to their VMUs, as well as upload their own creations for other players to download. They can also download any image from any web site, to use as graffiti in the game, giving an infinite choice of designs. One of the game's star features is its built-in graffiti editor, which allows players to design their own graffiti 'tags' for use in the game. This facility has many features, such as hundreds of different styles of lettering, and basically the player can create any sort of tag they wish. Overall, Jet Set Radio is a classic. It is one of the best video/computer games ever made, and further shows that Sega are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making original, innovative, and highly playable games. The replayability value is high, and with its incredible combination of platform, action, skating, racing, dancing, grinding, art and tricks, there is certainly no other game like it. I think this game is also one that anyone would enjoy, regardless of the genre(s) of games yo
u usually play, as it is just so extremely playable, and such a great, fun game, which is after all the reason the majority of gamers play games.
Sky Digital is the most popular digital TV platform in the UK, with around 5 million households having a subscription. It started on 1st October, 1998, and has replaced Sky's analogue service which started in 1989. I have had Sky Digital for 2 months. The minidish and digibox which are required to receive signals from the satellite and decode the channels respectively are 'free', providing you agree to have your digibox connected to the telephone line. However, to get the 'free' deal, you have to pay an installation charge. Installation is simple; you can either arrange installation directly with Sky by calling 08702 404040, or through their website, www.sky.com, or alternatively with a local independent installer. In both cases, installation costs £40 if you choose to subscribe to one of Sky's channel packages, or £100 if you do not. You have to subscribe for a minimum of 12 months and after that if you decide to stop subscribing , the minidish and digibox are yours to own for the rest of their lives, and receive the 30-40 free to air and free to view channels (which includes all six BBC channels as part of your television license), and around 50 radio channels. You also get the use of many excellent interactive services such as Sky News Active and BBC Digital Text, as well as Open.... and PlayJam (more on these below). I think this is brilliant as you have never paid in full for the dish and box but you still own them after 12 months! The dishes and boxes are subsidised in the hope Sky will make their money back from you through interactive services, Box Office Films etc., as they actually should cost around £200-300 if you did not agree to have it connected to your phone line. I chose to use a local independent installer after doing a lot of research on the Internet using newsgroups and forums dedicated to Sky. This was because with a local installer, you can specify which make/brand of digibox you would like,
and the vast majority of Sky users said the Panasonic boxes are the fastest and most reliable. Therefore, I looked in the Yellow Pages, and the first local installer I rang said they could give me a Panasonic box no problems, and yes the installation would be £40, the same as with Sky. However, if you do decide to order from Sky, you will be unable to specify the brand of box, so it will be pot luck as to which you get. With a local installer, you can often have the box installed the day after you order, and you will be able to watch your chosen channel package when the viewing card comes from Sky, which is usually in about 2-5 days. I had no problems with the installation of Sky, and the viewing card came successfully, so the initial set-up was fine. I got a nice silver Panasonic TU-DSB31 digibox. With Sky there are various channel packages available ranging from £10-£34 per month. There are also many premium add-on channels such as Film Four and the Disney Channel. I chose to subscribe to the 'Family' pack, which for £16 per month, offers every single general entertainment channel available on Sky, but not the premium sports or movie channels. There are over 100 television channels and about 50 radio channels in this pack. There is a very wide selection of television channels to cater for all tastes: documentaries, kids, music, comedy, news, entertainment etc. The excellent thing about Sky is that it offers more channels than any other digital TV platform, as many channels are exclusive to Sky. There are some exclusive channels on cable digital and ON/ITV Digital, but only about 5, whereas I would say there are about 50 channels that are on Sky which are not available on cable or ONdigital. This was one of the main factors for me choosing Sky over cable or ONdigital, as some excellent channels such as [.tv] technology, 5 of the music channels, and some of the documentary channels are exclusive to Sky. Another factor is that
new channels are always starting on Sky. Companies setting up new channels prefer Sky as it has the largest potential audience of the four major digital platforms (the others being ONdigital, ntl: and Telewest), therefore advertisers are more attracted to channels which are on Sky, and will pay more for airtime, therefore channels got more money on Sky. In the last 2 months, about 1 new channel a week has launched, examples being Fashion TV, Game Network, Smash Hits TV, Kerrang!, EuroNews etc. All of these channels are exclusive to Sky, and will not be coming to other platforms at least for the foreseeable future. Also, Sky has unlimited capacity, as if more space is needed for new channels, a new satellite can be launched, whereas cable and ONdigital (which uses terrestrial aerials) only have a limited amount of bandwidth. The channels on Sky are of varying quality. All the documentary channels, IMO, are excellent, with the possible exception of the free-to-air einstein.tv. Many of these are Discovery channels, and all the programmes are very interesting and informative. The music channels are also great and cater for quite a wide variety of tastes, with channels for fans of pop (MTV, MTV Hits, VH1, The Box, Smash Hits, Play UK), r 'n' b (MTV Base, Kiss), dance (MTV Dance, Kiss), rock (Kerrang!, Q, MTV2), indie (Q, MTV2), alternative (MTV2, Kerrang!), classics from the last few decades (VH1 Classic, VH1) etc. There are also ten kids channels included in the Family pack, the only ones not being included are the 4 Disney channels. Nickelodeon is my favourite kids channel, with great US shows such as Saved By The Bell, Sister Sister, Rugrats and The Secret World Of Alex Mack. One of the great advantages of Sky Digital is the excellent Sky Guide (or Electronic Programme Guide, EPG for short). This is a TV Guide on your screen which is used via your Sky remote control. The channels are arranged into seven main sections: Entertainm
ent, Movies, Sport, Kids, Music & Radio, News & Documentaries, and Specialist. This is very simple to use, and allows you to look at listings at any time on any channel up to 7 days ahead. You can get a very useful description of any programme by simply highlighting it and pressing the 'i' button on your remote control. A new feature is the Personal Planner. This allows you to add a any programme to your planner by pressing 'select', and 1 minute before it is due to start a banner will appear informing you that 'programme XYZ is about to start on channel XYZ' and you can simply press select to go straight to it. You can also set the digibox to 'autoview' a reminder which means the digibox will automatically go to the particular channel. This is an excellent feature and is very useful for recording different Sky channels whilst you are out, and also for reminding you of a particular programme. I have used it a few times now and it works excellently. One of the things promised for digital TV back in the late 90s was interactivity. Well, this has at last happened, and many channels are now starting to have interactive features. For example, Sky News features the superb Sky News Active, which is accessed simply by pressing the red button on your remote control whilst watching Sky News. This features a split-screen of 4 different video feeds, one for the news headlines, one for the weather, and the other two for current 'hot topics' and/or special features, such as the general election, showbiz news or sports. You can also read news stories, election campaign news, weather news, sports news and money/business news, very simply using your remote control. Whilst you are reading anything, the main Sky News channel remains in the bottom left quarter of the screen. Other interactive features are Sky Movies Active (similar to above but for movies), Sky Digital Text, BBC Digital Text, Open.... (a shopping,
games, e-mail portal - by the way the games are free and do not go online so don't incur call charges - yay!), PlayJam (excellent free games, better than the ones on Open....), QVC interactive (shopping), Simply Shopping interactive. Also, launching tomorrow, Big Brother will be live and interactive on E4! This will be similar to Sky News active as you will be able to watch one of 4 different cameras, read news, take part in quizzes, and vote for who you want evicted! I can't wait! Also launching in June is Wimbledon interactive on BBC1 and 2 on Sky Digital only. This will allow you to pick from 5 different live tennis matches! Overall, I think Sky Digital offers good value for money and is an excellent, polished service. Sky have had 12 years experience in multi-channel TV, so they know what they are doing and in my opinion this gives the platform an edge over the smaller and not as good cable companies and ONdigital. With the large range of channels, interactive services, great picture and sound quality, it is a very attractive package indeed.
The WHSmith clubcard rewards you every time you spend over £1.00 at WHSmith. You get 1 point for every 10p you spend, and each point is worth 0.2p. In other words you get 2p back for every £1.00 you spend, or 2%. This is above the rate that you get at places such as Tesco and Sainsburys, where you only get 1p per pound, or 1%. However it is below the other major high street chain with a loyalty card, Boots, which offers an excellent 4%, with NO minimum spend and the points rounded up. One of the great adantages of Smith's card is that you can use as much or as little of the points whenever you want, instantly, against purchases at the till. With most loyalty cards, you have to wait a while for your vouchers to come and they are in fixed amounts. You can just use the card for £1 off, 47p, £5.69, or whatever you wish, whenever you wish. You can also sometimes earn bonus points on certain products, which can be worth anything from 50p upto a few pounds. My advice is that even if, like myself, you only occasionally shop at WHSmith, you might as well have one of these cards as you won't lose anything, and you will always gain on anything that costs over £1 (which, let's face it, is nearly everything these days!).
Toy Racer is a game in which you race miniature vehicles (there are a total of 24 to choose from) around 4 different locations within a house: the bathroom, attic, kitchen and kids' bedroom. This is only the third online-playable Dreamcast game to be released, after Chu Chu Rocket and Quake 3 Arena. However, Sega seem to have at last delivered their promise of "up to 6 billion players", extremely well through a 33k modem which many thought would simply not be up to the job of fast, smooth online gaming. Playing online is an absolute joy. It is unbelievably simple to get connected and start playing, and IMO is a far better experience than on a PC. You load up the GD-ROM, select "network" and the DC's modem starts dialing. This is silent, and within about a minute you are connected and it asks you to input your usual Dreamarena password. Once you have done this, you are taken to the "select a country" screen. You select your country, then wait as few seconds and you are in the main chat room area. Here, you can either join someone else's game, or create your own and wait for people to join. This is all very painless, and you get to choose which track, number of laps, and weapons you wish to use if you decide to create your own game. If you join someone else's game then you can only decide which car you want. You can chat to the other people in your game, which is a great feature, even though it is rather fiddly using the on-screen keyboard. The game itself features 4 tracks and you can reverse them to play them the othet way round, if you wish. You can choose to do between 1-5 laps. You then race aginst up to 4 others, and there are loads of power-ups littered around the track randomly. As with all games of this type, the power-ups make it a lot more fun - there are speed boosts, shells which make others or yourself go slower for 10 seconds (although it seems a lot longer!), fo
g, ice, tornados, guns etc. The graphics are OK, very smooth, but they by no means push the Dreamcast to its limits, as they lack detail found in other games such as Metropolis Street Racer, and generally do not really look anything really special. However, this may have been done to ensure the game has a fast framerate both offline and online, which it most certainly does. With most new games costing £39.99, £4.99 is a ridiculously low price for any game, never mind a new, online playable one. Therefore, I would recommend this game even though it only has 4 tracks, as for the price it's a bargain. However, had it been priced at £39.99 I would not have recommended it as there are loads of better racers out there for this price. It is also currently the only online playable racing game available for any console, which is something special. Sega and No Cliche have really astonished me with this game and the Dreamcast online in general, you really will be amazed by what it's like online. Sega have mastered the art of maximising the rather crude 33k modem, and it really behaves like a broadband connection it is that good. Keep it up!
McDonald's is the biggest fast food chain in the world. Started in the USA in the 1950s, it now has thousands of restaurants in over 100 countries around the globe. The first UK restaurant opened in January 1975 in Woolwich, London. The 1,000th UK restaurant was opened about a year ago now, so there will be over 1,000 reataurants in the UK. There are 3 in my town, Blackburn, one in the town centre which is the oldest and largest, a drive-through just near the football ground (what a brilliant place to put one-£££!), and another drive-through located out-of-town near a large retail park. Most medium sized towns seem to have about 3 branches, whilst smaller towns often have one and cities such as Manchester often have about 10! First a short history lesson. Who remembers McDonald's Cola? Yes, that's right, about ten years ago before they started having "the real thing" Coca-Cola, McDonald's only sold their own brand of cola, and always, almost rhetorically, asked you at the counter "It's McDonald's Cola, is that OK?", to which I for one always said "yes" as it was very good quality and I could never tell the difference in taste between that and Coca-Cola. I would be interested if anyone else remembers this, so leave a comment if you do! Right, firstly I will write about the food + drink McDonald's sell. They sell many different types of beef burgers, such as the Big Mac (2 burgers, 2 slices of cheese, and salad in a sesame seed bun), the Hamburger (just a plain burger), Cheeseburger (like Hamburger, but with a slice of cheese), Quarter Pounder (a plain burger weighing 1/4 lb) etc. The also sell burgers with different types of meat, such as the McChicken Sandwich and Fillet o' Fish. Burgers vary in price from 69p-£2. All burgers come with some kind of sauce or mayonnaise, but you can have them without if you ask. The only snag with this is you have to wait for about 10 minute
s whilst they make it specially, but my mum can't stand mayonnaise so she always orders a Big Mac without. The burgers are quite thin, but quite tasty. McDonald's also sell alternatives to burgers such as Chicken McNuggets and Fish Fingers. I quite like the fries at McDonald's. They are very thin and stringy, but also tasty and crisp, and are available in three different sizes, small (59p), medium (89p) and large (£1.09). There are many different meal deals available, the adult version being called "Extra Value Meals" and the child's "Happy Meals". Exra Value Meals are priced at £2.99 and include either a Big Mac, McChicken Sandwich, Quarter Pounder, Fillet o' Fish, Vegetable burger, or 6 Chicken McNuggets, along with a medium fries and medium soft drink of your choice, which in my opinion is very good value. These meals can be made "large" by adding 30p onto the price, which gets you a large fries and large soft drink. Happy Meals in my opinion also represent excellent value for money as they feature either a Hamburger, Cheeseburger, 4 Chicken McNuggets or 3 fish fingers, along with a small fries, a small soft drink and a (surprisingly good quality) toy or novelty. The only thing which is slightly annoying is that years ago when I was a child, they used to have great mechanical toys featuring McDonald's characters such as Ronald McDonald, whereas nowadays they always seem to have some sort of film/TV franchise, such as the Disney films, Smurfs etc. McDonald's always have some sort of special promotional offer on. This is currently a buy one, get one free offer which is on for a week (it ends on Tuesday). Every day, there is a different product which is buy one get one free, such as the Big Mac. This is a very good offer if there are two of you. The often have brand new products on special offer which last for about a month and then they don't have again f
or a while. Examples of this are the excellent potato wedges and twisty/curly fries which are both delicious and make a very welcome alternative to the usual fries. They also have new burgers on these offers such as the McRib. One offer which I thought would be the usual disapper after a month thing but hasn't, is the McFlurry. This is priced at 99p and has been around for about 6 months now, so I think it is here to stay. This is definately a good thing as these desserts are delicious. They are bascially made up of McDonald's delightful "Mr. Whippy" style vanilla ice cream. This is delicious in its own right on a cone, but combined with your choice of Smarties, Crunchie or Dairy Milk all crushed up an mixed in, makes it truly irresistable! This brings me on to the desserts. McDonald's don't have a very wide choice, as your selection is basically ice-cream based (McFlurrys - 99p; Sundaes (hot chocolate fudge/toffee/strawberry with optional nuts) - 89p, or an ice-cream cone (without flake 35p; with flake 45p), a pie (about 70p - though currently apple and cherry on special offer @ 49p each - watch out - these are VERY hot!), or a doughnut (about 70p - chocolate, cinnamon or sugar). These desserts are simple but very cheap and tasty, so I would recommend you get one to round off your meal. Onto the actual restaurants. The ones in town centres tend to be around 20 years old, so the decor is quite dated. However, the newer drive throughs, most of which opened in the 1990s, are very modern and contempory, and are extremely stylish decor-wise. Most restaurants are open from around 8AM to 12AM midnight, so the hours are very American in style. One thing which very few UK restaurants have is help yourself drinks + ice counters. When I visited the USA, EVERY fast food joint had these, and it was just the norm that they gave you an empty, unused cup, and you just filled it up as much as you wanted with any drink yo
u wanted. This was brilliant, and something I would love to see in all UK restaurants. The only branch I have been to in the UK which had this facility was the ultra-modern one at the Millennium Dome of all places! The staff are usually friendly, and the restaurants are usually very clean and fresh. However, quite often they get the orders wrong, as my mum has often had mayonnaise on her Big Mac when she always asks for them not to put it on. One time, many years ago, she wrote to them to complain about this and they sent her £10 to spend in the local branch! Overall, McDonald's is a very good fast-food chain. It is certainly cheaper than its main rivals KFC and Burger King, has restaurants everywhere, has fast service, drive-throughs, and you know what you are getting. Recommended!
I have been watching Challenge TV for about 1 1/2 months now. It is a channel entirely devoted to repeats of game and quiz shows, which were all originally shown on terrestrial TV. It shows a wide variety of shows, from 70s and 80s classics such as "Blankety Blank" and "3-2-1", and more up to date shows such as "Whittle" and "Family Fortunes". My personal favourite shows on this channel are "Candid Camera", which is from the good ol' US of A, and, as the title suggests, catches unsuspecting members of the general public with great set-ups, then when they are getting really confused and distressed by the situation they are in, they say to them something along the lines of "Can you see that yellow light over there? Well look into it and smile, because you're on Candid Camera!" to which the unsuspecting individual usually looks astonished and says "You're kidding" or "No way!" etc. It's great fun to watch their reactions, and as it's American, the stunts they pull are great and things which us British could not be capable of thinking of, such as inventing a machine which washes and dries garments whilst they are still on the person! This show is currently on every day from 7:20PM to 7:55PM. Another of my favourite Challenge shows is "The Crystal Maze". Having watched this show avidly when it was first shown on Channel 4 during the early-mid nineties, it is great seeing it again and remembering just how innovative, original and exciting the concept was. The idea is that there are 6 members of a team, and they have to complete mental, physical, skill and mystery challenges within time limits of between 2-3 minutes. Each time the win at a challenge they obtain a crystal. Each crystal gives them 5 seconds of time in the Crystal Dome. At the end, after being in the 4 different zones, Aztec, Futuristic, Medievil, and Industrial (later
changed to Oceanic), they go to the Crystal Dome and have to catch as many gold tickets as they can whilst avoiding the silver tickets. If they collect over 100, they get a prize of their chice, which is usually some king of extreme sport such as hang-gliding, and if they do not reach the target they get the consolation prize of a boxed crystal. The show was presented by the rather eccentric Richard O'Brien, and was later presented by Ed Tudor Pole, who I never really liked and thought he lacked many of the "quirks" of O'Brien. This is currently shown every day from 7:55PM-9:00PM. Another of my favourite shows is "Family Fortunes". This has been a very popular gameshow on ITV during the 1990s, and I still think it is great to watch. It is presented by Les Dennis. Two families of 5 compete to attempt to win (in the sries being shown currently) £3,000 and a car. They have to try and guess the top answers to questions in surveys asked by the show's producers to members of the general public. This is great as I always join in by trying to think of answers myself, and the contestants often some of with some hilariously funny answers, for example, last night one of the questions was "What might a husband borrow from his wife?" and a contestant quipped "shoes"! This is currently shown every day from 11:00PM-11:30PM. One unusual point to note about Challenge TV is the fact that it has presenters. Most channels do not have these, instead they just have a voice-over to introduce programmes coming up. The presenters on Challenge TV encourage the viewers to join in by e-mailing them and participating in competitions. This is quite nice to see as it is very unusual. Overall, if you like quiz and game shows Challenge TV is the ideal channel for you. Some of the shows are poor, such as Channel 5's pathetic "100%", but most of them are great fun to watch, and very entertaining.
MTV is a great music channel. The programmes it shows are quite varied, and range from MTV Select, in which viewers ring in and ask for a video to be shown, to concerts, to "Singled Out", a kind of noughties "Blind Date". In this show, a young, single person has to eliminate people of the opposite sex with characteristics they don't like, for example, blondes/brunettes/redheads, until eventually there are 6-8 people left. They then have to ask a particular person to do something, and then decide whether thay want to keep them or dump them. Eventually, 1 person is left, and this person should be their ideal partner, as they have been "singled out". The new couple then win a prize, which is always a bit rubbish, e.g. a trip to the cinema and a restaurant! The show is presented in a very youthful, wacky style, and is quite American in its presentation, which makes it very fresh and unusual. MTV Select is where viewers ring in, have a short chat to the presenter, and then ask for their favourite music video to be shown. They can also dedicate it to whoever they like. This is pretty much like the channel "The Box" but with the addition of a presenter and more adverts. MTV also has charts, such as the top 20 album chart, the European top 20, the dance floor chart etc., in which a presenter runs through the chart showing each video. Another interseting programme on MTV is "Making The Video". This is a half-hour programme which goes behind-the-scenes at a video shoot. This is usually very interesting an dwell worth watching if you like the particular singer/band. MTV also shows many concerts of bands, which are great. There is also "greatest hits" shows, which are pretty self-explanatory. There are also many other programmes, such as "An Audience With...", "MTV Bytesize" etc. One interesting thing about MTV is the fact
that it appears to be a breeding ground for famous stars of the future, as many famous presenters currently on terrestrial TV first started out on MTV, e.g. Cat Deely (SMTV Live + CD:UK), Richard Blackwood (Ch. 4 comedy show, pop star, and others), Sarah Cawood (Live + Kicking), June Brown (Planet Pop + others) etc. The reverse is also true, as many stars of terrestrial TV go on to become MTV presenters, for example, Donna Air (was on Byker Grove), and a Hollyoaks actress (can't remember her name, sorry). One annoying thing about MTV is that in my opinion it has far too many adverts. It seems to have a good 5 minute ad break about every 10 minutes, which does get rather irritating, but I tend to just flick through the other music channels so it's not too bad.
VH1 is a great music channel. It shows a lot of older songs from the 60s, 70s, and more prominantly, the 80s and 90s. It also shows some recent chart songs, but tends to have a few particular favourites, which at the moment seem to be "Overload" by the Sugababes and "Black Coffee" by All Saints, which are great tracks so I don't mind them being on a lot. There are all sorts of different programmes on it ranging from straight song/video shows in which they just play a mixture of songs back-to-back ("Non-Stop Video Hits" and "Solid Gold Hits") to excellent documentaries. These documentaries cover major stars such as Shania Twain (this was on recently and was excellent, a fascinating insight into her life), Madonna (brilliant - was on recently), Celine Dion, etc. These documentaries are called "Behind The Music". They are usually an hour long and feature interviews with the stars, their families and friends, clips of their hits, unseen backstage footage, concert footage, pictures of them in newspapers and magazines etc. They are narrated and the commentary is excellent. These shows are really worth watching, even if you are not a huge fan of the star. Another show currently on every day on VH1 is the "Millennium Classic Years". This is basically a nostalgic look back on a particular year from the 70s, 80s or 90s. It is an hour long and is presented well, with the presenter commenting on the hits from the particular year, and major news events which happened. In between the commentary, you get to watch a music video, and information on it scrolls along the bottom of the screen whilst it is on. Another great programme on VH1 is "Greatest Hits". This is half an hour long and features a particlular band/artist, and shows all of their greatest hits! Quite self-explanatory, really. "So 80s" is another good programme. It is on every day fro
m 5-6PM, and featires loads of hits from the 1980s. It is great to see these, and there is also commentary at the bottom of the screen which is very good for finding out about the songs and the artists. Overall, if you want the latest chart hits, watch The Box or MTV, but if you want mainly older, classic songs, and the occasional quality recent chart hit, then VH1 is a great channel.
The Box is a pop music channel which first started on cable TV in 1992, and is now also on Sky Digital. I recieve it as part of the "music and games", which I subscribe to as part of my NTL cable TV and telephone package, which costs just £3 a month. I have only had this pack for 2 weeks. The Box is quite different to the other music channels, as 99% of what it shows is pop music videos, the only times when anything else is shown are adverts, adverts for the Box, or "BoxTalk", which is an interview with a pop group/singer. There are no presenters, and no other shows such as documentaries. There is a rather large logo in the top right-hand corner, which is sometimes a little distracting, along with the names of songs appearing at the bottom of the screen, listed alphabetically by name of artist. Also, whenever someone phones to request a video, the video's selection number is displayed at the right-hand side of the creen, which can be annoying at times. The videos are all selected by viewers (at the rather extortionate price of 60p/min), and then shown non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Each song has a three-digit code number, which the viewer enters when he/she calls to select a song. I have not as yet ever phoned uo to request a song, as I feel it is very expensive, if they lowered the price I might consider it, but I doubt they will when they are raking it in! I have also heard that it often takes several hours for a requested song to get shown, as there are literally thousands of people phoning in all the time. In my opinion, despite these qualms, it is a very good channel as it does show a wide variety of pop/chart music, even though obviously some songs get shown more than others (the ones which are the most popular at the moment), as they get requested more. This leads me on to the Box Tops, which is the channel's very own top ten most requested songs. Currently at number o
ne is the rather unique "Stan ft. Dido" by Eminem, which has justr overtaken Britney Spears' "Stronger". You can see the current Box Tops chart on The Box's teletext service, which in my opinion is rather poorly designed both aesthetically and in terms of ease of navigation. It lists every song currently available for selection, which is handy, as well as frequently asked questions, details of new "fresh" songs, competition information etc. One of the best things about The Box is that it seems to get videos many weeks, and often months, in advance of their release dates, well before terrestrial channels get them and also before other extra-terrestrial channels such as MTV and VH1 (look out for my reviews of these channels coming soon!). This is excellent as you get to see videos really early, for example many videos which are showing now are not released in the shops until January next year! However, I suppose this could be a bad thing as one may tire of certain songs before they are released due to having seen them many times already! In terms of adverts, I feel The Box has significantly less than both MTV and VH1, as they seem to have a 5-minute ad. break about every 10 minutes, whereas The Box has them much less frequently, more like a couple of adverts every half an hour. However, I feel this is only fair and right, as they must make HUGE amounts of cash from all the phone call requests! Overall, The Box is a great channel and well worth watching if you enjoy watching music videos without all the extras such as presenters and other programmes. However, I advise you to watch the other musci channels as well in order to enjoy the best of them all, rather than just watching The Box with its endless videos.
When Steps released their debut single back in November '97, "5,6,7,8", the majority of people said they would be one-hit wonders and would never release another single after their novelty line-dancing effort. Well, here we are, 3 years on, after ten top ten hits, 2 number ones, 3 number one official videos, four sell-out UK tours, this is their THIRD album! Those people were certainly wrong! Anyway, Steps are my favourite band at the moment. I love their catchy tunes, which are well-written and excellently performed by Steps themselves. This is their best album yet, it is the pinnacle of their career. Below follows a brief description of each song, along with my score out of 10: "Better The Devil You Know" This was the better half of last Christmas' double A-side (the other side was "Say You'll Be Mine, a track off their last album "Steptacular"). It's a cover of the classic Kylie hit, and is very catchy, uptempo and a great song. 8/10. "Stomp" This is the recent second number one single. Quite a different sound for Steps, it is a '70s themed disco stomper, which is great to dance to. 8/10. "Summer Of Love" This latin themed uptempo track was a top 5 hit back in July. A great song, some excellent high notes courtesy of Claire, and again unusual for Steps. One of my favourite tracks. 9/10. "It's The Way You Make Me Feel" This was going to be part of their double A-sided Christmas single, but it's release has now been put back to January, possibly to give them a greater chance of getting a third number one as not many singles are released in January. Again, quite an unusual sound, this is a mid-tempo, ballady-type song, which is fairly good but not excellent. 6/10. "You'll Be Sorry" This is superb fast song. The music in it is excellent, and the ly
rics arer great. Top stuff! 8/10. "Learn To Love Again" This is quite reminiscent to Sonique. H is the main singer, it is an uptempo number, but I'd have to say one of the weaker tracks on the album. 5/10. "Never Get Over You" A great track. Uptempo, great Steps lyrics, catchy chorus, a bit ABBA-esque, a bit dancey. 8/10. "Hand On Your Heart" A slow, slushy ballad sung very well by Claire. I have never liked Steps' ballads as much as their uptempo songs, but this is quite good, better than the ballads on their first 2 albums. 6/10. "Happy Go Lucky" This is VERY Ace-Of-Base sounding. The lyrics are similar to Britney's "Lucky", about a girl who puts on a happy facade but is sad really. It is very annoyingly catchy, once you hear it, oyu won't be able to stop singing "and they call me happy-go-lucky" to yourself! 7/10. "Buzzz" This is the title track. Again, a different sound for Steps, a bit reggae-ish, very cool, and mid-tempo. A cool song. 8/10. "Here And Now" Very good vocals on this one. A bit '80s sounding, mid/up tempo, catchy song. 7/10. "Paradise Lost" My favourite track on the album (at the moment!). A superb mid-tempo song, about a holiday romance that has lost touch. Amazing lyrics, quite sad and poignant at times. Very different sounding, quite Latin flavoured. One of Steps' best songes ever IMO. They MUST release this as a single! 10/10. "Turn Around" A weak-ish song. Sung by Lee and the girls, this is pretty standard Steps fayre, but still has some good vocals and quite a catchy melody. Another Latin tinged track. I especially like it near the end. 7/10. "Wouldn't Hurt So Bad" Quite a boring ballad sung by Lisa and Faye. Again, I
am not keen on any Steps ballads, but I suppose this is better than the ones on the first album. 5/10. "If You Believe" This is the traditional closing ballad (there is one at the end of every Steps album!). It is well sung by Faye, and was written with the help of famous '80s pop star Cyndi Lauper. Possible their best ballad yet. 6/10. Overall, I would give this album 10/10, because there is such a wide variety of songs, and ALL the songs are of good quality, unlike on their past 2 albums where there were some "fillers". There are some different sounds for Steps, which are all excellent, but still retain that special, unique Steps sound for which they are so great. Buy it now!
Two weeks ago, I returned home from a week in sunny Spain, or to be more precise, the Costa Del Sol (look out for my review of this soon!). My family and I stayed in the Hotel Siroco, in the town of Benalmedina, and here follows my review of this hotel. The hotel has four storeys, so it is not too big compared to other hotels tailored for package holidays in Spain, but is nevertheless very spacious. The corridors are a good width, the foyer area is large, with a reception, lots of comfortable setees and chairs to sit on, a large bar, well furnished and decorated cabaret room, a shop and left-luggage lockers. As you enter, there are two small (we found they only fit about four people) lifts on your left. The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was how clean and tidy it was. I could tell that at this hotel they really make an effort to clean the rooms thoroughly. A neat little touch was the special polythene wrap around the toilet seat, which had something like "Freshly sanitised" printed on it, and you had to remove it before you could use the toilet. The bathroom had a toilet, shower, bath, bidet and sink. There were plenty of fresh white towels, as well as soap, shower gel and shower caps. The bathroom was fresh, clean, and reasonably modern. The room had three beds, which were very comfy indeed. There was an excellent TV, brand new, with fastext, which had around 12 channels (the only two English ones were Sky News and BBC World, however). There was a very nice balcony, with a great view overlooking both the hotel's two pools and the Mediterranean Sea! Excellent! There were two pools ajoining one another at the hotel, surrounded by plenty of deckchairs. Although I didn't go in the pools, they looked very clean and attractive, and my mum + dad went in and said that the water was "freezing" at first, but after a while they got used to it. There was also a table tennis table, which was
free to use. The restaurant was clean (as with everything else in the hotel), and large. The meals were always buffet-style, you just helped yourself to whatever you fancied. Our package was a half-board deal, so we had breakfast and tea included, but they served dinner/lunch as well. The standard of the food tended to vary according to what you chose, they chips were always rather cold so they weren't very nice, but there was often some unusual delicacies such as squid and veal. There was a *very* wide selection of fresh fruit, my favourite was the mouth-watering melon, which I always had two pieces of for starters! Again, there were some unusual fruits that you would not find in Britain. There were also drinks machimes for fruit juices and hot drinks, such as Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate and Cappucino. At breakfast time, there was only two cereals to choose from, they were cornflakes and sugar puffs, which I thought was a bit limited, but there was a lot of other things to make up for it, such as crossaints, pain-au-chocolat, apple pastries, lots of hot items such as fried, boiled, poached and scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages etc. One of the best things about the hotel was the fact that it was so cosmopolitan. We met people from Germany, France, Holland, Spain, America and the UK who were holidaying there! The staff were all Spanish, and they were very friendly and helpful. Overall, an excellent hotel, but not perfect, mainly due to the standard of some of the food.
Blockbuster is the biggest, best established (it was formerly called Ritz) and most well-known entertainment rental chain in the UK, as there is at least one branch in every town and city, and often two or three branches. Despite this, my local branch in Blackburn only opened last year, so we were very late in getting one. My local branch is well laid out, spacious, and fairly large. I have found the staff to have a friendly manner. One of the great things about Blockbuster is the "Quickdrop". This letterbox allows you to post your rental any time of day or night, without even needing to go inside the store, and in my opinion is a godsend when the store is busy. Be warned, though, that if you don't post your rentals before 11PM, you will be charged extra for handing them in late. Blockbuster is a superb place to go for ALL your entertainment needs. There is a vast selection of VHS and DVD videos, video and PC games, audio CDs, as well as confectionary, ice-cream and drinks. Below I will describe each of these in more detail. MEMBERSHIP It is free of charge to become a member of Blockbuster, all you need do is bring in 2 forms of identity, for example your passport and a credit card, and as long as you are over 18 years of age, you will be given a membership card there and then. You will be asked to give them a password which you have to say everytime you use your card. I found it very simple to become a member, it only took about 10 minutes. Also, you are given a really cool welcome pack when you join, which contains information and 6 money-off vouchers, such as rent 1 video, rent another free, and £1 off any rental. VHS VIDEOS Blockbuster have a VAST selection of VHS videos both old and new. They buy lots of copies of the latest films so they can guarantee they will have it in, which admittedly they always do, and they say if they haven't any copies left, you are goven a vouche
r to rent it for free next time you visit, which I have not as yet had the good fortune to try out. They call this their "Get it first time or get it free" guarantee. They have all the latest releases around the edge of the store in the form of an A to Z, which I might add are rather expensive at £3.50 for 1 night's rental (I think £2.00 or £2.50 would be a more reasonable figure), and then all the older videos (over 6 months old) are in the centre arranged in genre catagories, such as Comedy, Horror, Kids, Romantic etc. They also have a superb selection of EVERY Firnds, Simpsons, South Park etc. video, which in my experience no other video rental chain has. Older videos are cheaper to hire, mostly £2.00 for 2 night's hire, and Kids videos (which include films such as E.T. and cartoons etc.) are just £1.00 for 2 nights. One thing which Blockbuster lacks is a "same day returns" facility which my local video store does and I often take advantage of. This means that you can rent ANY film, including brand new releases, and if you are willing to bring it back before 5PM the same day, you can rent it for just 99p, which is excellent value, especially for a new release. I think Blockbuster should start to opertae a scheme like this, as everyone wins, the customer as they get a cheap video rental, and the retailer as they get a bit more money as the vast majority of people go to the video shop after 5pm in the evening to rent a video to watch in the evening. Also, my local video store operates a loyalty scheme, whereby you are given a card which you get stamped evey time you rent a video (including a same day return!), and once you have had it stamped 5 times, you get a free rental (which can be a normal overnight new release!). This is simple yet works very well, I have had about 3 free rentals from them over the past 2 years. DVD VIDEOS I do not as yet have a DVD player of any sort, so have never
rented nor watched a DVD movie, but I believe they are excellent and am very confident that within five years they will have replaced VHS in terms of pre-recorded movies (set-top boxes with hard disk drives, NOT recordable DVDs will replace VHS for recording purpuses, e.g. TiVo and Replay TV, and any others that come along). Having said this, I sometimes have a look at DVDs at Blockbuster, and must admit they appear to be far better value than VHS videos, as new releases often come out before the film is released on VHS, and they are the same £3.50 price. DVDs are like CDs in that they NEVER "wear out" like VHS videos, there is never a degredation in picture or sound quality, the reason being there are no physical moving parts touching a DVD like there is a VHS video, as heads are used to read the magnetic tape, whereas with a DVD there is simply a laser beam being shone at it. Also, you need never rewind or fast forward, as you can instantly skip to any part of a DVD, and when yuou have finished watching it, instantly skip back to the start again. DVDs also offer vastly improved picture and sound quality over VHS, as well as widescreen, DTS and Dolby sound all as standard. DVDs often have lots of extras such as a director's cut, behind the scenes footage, interviews with the actors etc. etc., so are much better value than VHS. Blockbuster now offer a very wide selection of DVDs, which are all along a large wall, and it is growing all the time, although as yet it is not as big as the VHS selection. VIDEO GAMES Blockbuster offer a massive selection of Sony PlayStation games for hire, and a smaller but still good selection of Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 games (probably because these consoles do not get as many releases and have not been around as long as the Sony PlayStation). Game rental is very good value in my opinion, as (this applies to all formats) new releases are £3.50 for 2 night's hire, with games over
about 6 months costing just £2.50 for a very good 5 night's hire. There is a very good selection of all types of games from RPGs to racers to platformers to adventures and everything in between. There are also EXCELLENT special offers from time-to-time, one of the best was in July when they had a deal whereby if you rented any PlayStation game you could get a memory card for just £1.99 (usual price £4.99), and as I had only just got a PlayStation and needed a memory card to save where I was up to in games, I swiftly took advantge of the offer! The memory card is see-through, which is cool! Also, in September, they ran an offer whereby when you rented ANY game on any format, you could rent a £2.50 game with it for just 99p! AUDIO CDs Blockbuster offer a fair selection of audio CDs, consisting mainly of new releases as well as a few older CDs. EX-RENTALS In my opinion, ex-rentals are where Blockbuster really shines and stands out from the rest of the pack. There is always a huge selection of ex-rental games, videos and DVDs, all in great condition, for ludicrously cheap prices. Let me give you some examples. V-Rally 2 for the PS, only came out last year, superb rallying game with loads of varied tracks and road-going cars, great graphics, and even a track editor, in great condition in its original box with handbook, guess how much.... £20? No .... £15? No .... £10 No .... £5 - Less £4.98!!! What a bargain! Also Super Mario 64 for the N64, also £4.98. Loads of other PS games, £9.98. Sega Dreamcast, only been out for 1 year, loads of games for £9.98 and £14.98 which would set you back £39.99 new in the shops! CDs, NEW, but out of the charts, loads for £4.98 and £6.98. Videos from £1.98, DVDs such as the Blair Witch project, costing £20 new in shops, just £9.98. It really is a bargain hunter's paradise at Blockbuster! And when the sales are on, WOW! Just you wait for the January sales to start, the prices ar
e even more ridiculous! You MUST visit Blockbuster if you are like me and love bargains! CONFECTIONARY Blockbuster have a wide selection of confectionary, from popcorn to Haagen-Dasz ice cream to chocolate bars to drinks, but it tends to be quite expensive, so I would recommend you buy from a supermarket (the Blackburn branch is just across from an Asda!). THE SCREEN Blockbuster publishes a free monthly magazine all about the latest film and game releases, which can be picked up in-store. It is quite thin, but is great considering it's free, and worth picking up. OVERALL Overall, Blockbuster may be slightly more expensive than other places on certain items, but it makes up for it by the bargain ex-rentals, huge choice, availability of the latest releases, and little touches such as the free magazine and Quickdrop box, which are probably passed on from the American stores. It's a Blockbuster!
Britain has been considering joining Euroland for some time now, and Blair is always threatening that he will do so. However, many polls have shown that the vast majority of the British public DO NOT want to join the Euro, and I am amongst them. I do not think we should join the Euro, and there are many reasons for this. Firstly, we would lose control of our economy to Brussels and the rest of Europe, and we would have to do whatever they said, which would be very bad indeed. Also, we would lose the sense of pride we have in our own unique currency, as I for one am very proud of our currency, just imagine what it would be like if future generations had never heard of pound and pence but only the Euro? It would be terrible! Also, all our vending machines, banking facilities and any machines which take money would have to be completely converted, which would cost a lot of money, and cause a lot of disruption and lost time to the country. However, I can see that there woulld be some good points to joining the Euro. One is that we would be a part of a very strong currency, maybe even stonger than the American Dollar, which would give us a high status. Another point is that we would be able to compare our vastly inflated, rip-off prices to other European countries easily, which would perhaps lower prices here to an acceptable level. However, we would still be unable to compare directly with the USA, which is where prices really are a lot cheaper, for example petrol is approximately 1/5th of the price it is here. Also, we would not have to go to the bother of getting foreign currency when we go on our holidays, which would be a lot easier. Overall, I would like my country to keep control over its money, and I would like to keep a pride about my own currency, but I can see the advantages that joining the Euro would bring. I suppose we'll have to wait and see how people vote when it comes to a referendum.
I had heard all about Vib Ribbon months before it came out and had been looking forward to it for ages, so when it finally appeared on Gamesstreet, my favurite online games store, I ordered it straightaway. This is one of the most unique, original and quirky games in years. The basic idea is that you, as Vibri, a bunny, have to press various combinations of 4 buttons in order to get past obstacles which are produced in time to whichever CD is playing (you can use ANY CD, and there are also seven quirky Japanese tracks included with the game!), in order to achieve as high a score as possible and make it through to the end of the track-whole CD. The graphics are VERY basic, certainly the most basic of any PS game, as they are simple, 2D, white lines or "vectors" against a black background. However, once you start to play this marvellous game, you will be so engrossed in the sheer fun and addictiveness of the gameplay that you won't give two hoots about the graphics! You will want to try EVERY track on EVERY CD in your collection, and you'll be digging out all your old 80s collections and suchlike, just to see what they play like! This is one of the great things about this game, the fact that it has INFINATE levels, and every time you purchase a new CD, you will be dying to try it out on Vib Ribbon! My only (slight) gripe with this game is that there is no option to save your high scores to a memory card. Surely it wouldn't have been that hard to include this useful feature? However, this game is simply a must buy, especially considering its bargain basement price!
Malcolm In The Middle has only been showing on Sky One for about a month, and already I love it. It is shown every Sunday evening at 8PM, and repeated the following Saturday at 5PM. Onto the show, it is kind of like a real-life Simpsons (which is another of my favourite shows and has been for years). The main characters are Mom (always stressed, VERY strict with her kids, intuitive as to what the kids are up to), Dad (laid-back), Francis (about 16 years old, likes girls, at military school hundreds of miles away due to bad behaviour, always on the phone to his Mom or one of his brothers as he is either in trouble or asking his brothers to do a favour for him, or his brothers asking him advice because they are in trouble with Mom, which is really funny!), Reece (about 12, always fighting with brothers), Malcolm (about 10, the main character, sky-high I.Q.) and Doughie (not sure how to spell this, about 5 years old, annoying little brother). Other characters are Malcolm's female teacher, Malcolm's best friend (can't remember his name, but he speaks really slowly, and gets out of breath all the time, which is funny at first but soon becomes annoying! Also, he's in a wheelchair), the girl at school who Malcolm has a crush on, and Mom's male work collegue who is really fat and dumb! Every week, the show follows a different event, for example tonights show was about a funeral which the whole family had to go to, even though they tried every way possible to get out of it, they had to go in the end. It was the Mom's Aunt's funeral. The show is superbly acted, the characters are strong and likeable, the script is very sharp, and the show is very witty indeed. I feel like I know the characters really well already, even though it's only been on for a few weeks. Also, it is nice to have a new, fresh programme, with new characters and new storylines every episode, as they are all new episodes as it has not bee
n on before now. Well worth watching!