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The Nokia BH-501 is a stereo headphone set that connects wirelessly to a compatible mobile phone using Bluetooth connectivity. They facilitate mobile communication and music listening without the need for awkward trailing wires.
Inside the box you will find the headphones, a standard Nokia Wall Charger, user instructions and a warranty card.
Before you can use the headphones you will need to fully charge the battery.
The battery is charged using the supplied charger, which is a standard Nokia phone type charger. The battery takes around 4 hours to fully charge from flat. There is a Led on the headphones outer earpiece that shows red when charging and turns blue when fully charged. Unfortunately there is no battery life indicator so you have no warning that your headphones are about to fail. The headphones are powered by an internal, non-serviceable, rechargeable battery. The phone can be charged hundreds of times, however there will become a time when the headphones will no longer be chargeable and have to be thrown away.
On the subject of battery life according to the manufacturer the batteries are estimated to last around 11 hours for both music and talk time. I've not managed to match this estimate and have personally experienced around 6 to 7 hours on a single charge. As with all battery powered items the length of use can vary, I like my music loud and this would no doubt drain the battery at a higher rate. The battery, being rechargeable, also means that there will be a gradual decrease in performance as the batteries shelf-life nears.
Once fully charged the next thing you need to do is to wirelessly link your phone and the headphones together (known as pairing). This is a relatively straight forward task and involves turning on Bluetooth on your mobile phone, putting the headphones into discovery mode (by holding down a button on the left earpiece) and once "found" by the mobile entering five zeros on the phones keypad to link the devices. This process will vary slightly on different phone models but the principle will remain the same.
Once charged and paired the headphones are now ready for use.
The headphones are extremely light and sit rather comfortably on your head. They mount in a rather unconventional manner and hang over your ears with the main brace sitting on the back of your head. How comfortable these would be for somebody with a mass of hair or maybe a ponytail remains unanswered, fortunately I am thinning! The grip is good and the headphones don't slip due to little hooks that rest over your ear lobe. Probably not ideal for joggers though.
My only concerns about the headphones are the build quality. They have a lot of plastic joints and parts that could quite easily be broken if dropped or mishandled. Before purchasing these headphones I discovered that this is a common concern/complaint of the headphone owners.
The headphones have three buttons on the right ear pad. The main functions of the buttons are for turning the headphones on and off, answering a phone call and changing the earpiece volume.
When listening to music the controls on the headphones are solely for adjusting the headphones volume and unfortunately there is now way of changing the song being played or navigating your music library. With this in mind I found that making a play list on the mobile phone in advance to be invaluable. You can of course change your desired song from the mobile itself if required. As the only controls on the headset is volume up and down then any EQ changes to tone will also need to be made from the mobile handset.
Despite the lack of functionality the sound of the headphones is really good with quite deep bass tones and bright crisp treble. The volume is quite impressive too and can easily drown out external sounds such as traffic.
With a compatible mobile phone handset you can also use the headphones to make and receive calls. An incoming call can be answered or rejected by pushing the headset buttons or the usual handset buttons. The earpiece has an integrated microphone so you can answer your calls hands free. The quality of this microphone is rather good though it can also pick up distractive sounds if in a loud and busy location. Outgoing calls however need to be dialled in the usual manner from your handset.
So to conclude, a really good sounding set of headphones that are comfortable to wear, and have a good battery life. The only downsides are the lack of track selection function button, possible build issues and the non replaceable batteries.
Released in 2005 by Ignition Entertainment Zoo Keeper is a puzzle game for the Nintendo DS.
The story of the game is that the animals in a zoo were fed up of the zoo owner (curator) and started a riot! To prevent any more animal mayhem you are employed as a Zoo Keeper to keep things in order.
Playing the game
The rules of play are quite simple to learn.
The lower screen displays a grid of icons that represent zoo animals. To catch the animals you must get three or more of the same animal adjacent in a horizontal or vertical row. To achieve this you use the stylus to switch animals that are next to each other. Once three or more animals are in a row then they are caught and vanish off the screen.
When animals are caught and removed from the screen all of the animals above drop into their vacated spaces and further animals are added to the playfield to fill the grid.
The dropping of these animals may make further rows of animals form (called a chain) and these two will vanish from play.
There are five modes of play though all use the same play concept as mentioned.
The first mode is called Zoo Keeper. In this mode you must capture a set amount of each animal to progress to the next level. Each level requires more animals to be caught and gets progressively harder each level. Each level is competed against a timer that counts down on the side of the screen. For each animal you catch the timer is replenished a little. If the timer reaches zero then it's game over.
The upper screen shows little thumbnail pictures of the animals that need to be caught and underneath displays the amount that you have caught. Once you have caught the required amount of an animal its picture is greyed out. This is really handy as a quick glance can indicate which animals are still required to be caught. Occasionally a flashing icon appears on the screen that displays a fast scrolling image of all of the animals. When you tap on this icon it will stop on a random animal and remove that entire animal from the playfield, potentially causing a series of chains.
The beauty and frustration of the game is that sometimes you can't any potential moves to make and start to panic as the timer depletes. Fortunately in these occasions you have a limited amount of "hints" available. The hints are represented by a little pair of spectacles on the right hand side of the screen. Tapping on this will briefly highlight and animals that can be moved to catch others. You only have a limited amount of hints available (2 at the start) though more can be earned as you progress through the levels.
So the game continues in this manner, level after level, until your time runs out. The timer of each level depletes faster and the groups of animals are laid out in increasingly difficult patterns. In fact the time running out is a real panic situation as all of the animals start to throb and vibrate whilst the music plays a klaxon soundtrack!
And that is the games main mode explained!
Of the other modes there is a Tokoton 100 mode where you must catch 100 of a animal to progress to the next level, a quest mode where you are set an increasingly difficult set of task (such as catch X animals), 6 minute mode where you attempt to get a personal best high score within 6 minutes of play and finally 2 player mode where you can compete wirelessly against a friend.
Sound and graphics
The sound is quite limited. The background music in both the menu's and Gameplay is quite repetitive and can become annoying. Fortunately you can turn this down or off in the options menu. The sound of catching animals is a hearty plink sound and chains of animals being caught make a hearty spaceship whiz sound! The only other sound is the well pronounced female vocal sample in the game and pause menus.
Graphically it is very colourful and the sprites are all large and well defined. The animals have a very square and boxlike appearance but are easily identifiable. The menus are bright and vibrant and the font sizes large and clearly displayed.
Zoo Keeper is one of those addictive games that you keep returning to.
The games simplicity is its strongpoint and begs for "just one more go". It's both frustrating and fun to play and has hours of playability. Sometimes you can stare blankly at the screen looking for the illusive animal to catch and despite it being right under your nose you fail to see it until it's too late. It's that frustration that drives you to try again and again and results in a cartridge with great longevity of play.
"Dragnet" is the 2nd album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released originally on vinyl in 1979 on independent label Step Forward Records the album features the classic line up of:
Mark E Smith - Vocals
Marc Riley - Guitar, Vocals
Craig Scanlon - Guitars
Steve Hanley - Bass guitar & Vocals
Mike Leigh - Drums
The line up is important as it was the introduction to the band of Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley who together would remain in the band for more than a decade and became a formidable songwriter partnership that would mould and formulate the Fall's trademark sound.
Scanlon's guitar style differed greatly from that of Marc Riley (who months earlier had been the Bass player!) and offered a more sprawling and unique guitar playing style. This style of playing worked perfectly with the powerhouse distorted bass grooves of Steve Hanley and the resulting sound was fearsome.
It's worth mentioning that this album was very early Fall and the music was far more punk sounding and menacing than the albums that were to follow.
The original album had 11 tracks and it's those tracks that I will review here. There have been both re-masters and re-issues of the album released which generally feature tracks from Peel sessions, outtakes and singles of the period.
The album had been recorded in a few days and the quality of the recordings sound like they have been recorded in a garage rather than a studio but this adds to the overall ambience and charm of the record. It's also worth mentioning that any spelling mistakes are not typo's and are how Mark has spelt things!
The album starts with excellent "Psykick Dance Hall". Mark shouts "Is there anybody there?" to a resounding "Yeah!" from the band. The bass is funky and the guitar thin and at times sounding like ice cream van music. The song sounds like a demented seventies disco track and Marks sneering vocals sings a tale of a medium's dancehall and muses about his own legacy "When I'm dead and gone,
My vibrations will live on, In vibes on vinyl through the years, People will dance to my waves".
The album's second track is a far more dark and moody sounding song. "A Figure Walks" is a music loop that features heavy on tom drums and bass line that repeats and repeats for over 6 minutes. The odd cymbal crash here and there and some single string guitar playing all add to the ambience. Mark delivers a surprisingly musical lyric of being followed by a shadow!
We are on garage punk trash for the next track "Printhead" that crashes and smashes along with Mark delivering a lyrical angst that Johnny Rotten would have been proud of. The song seems to be directed at the band themselves and the publicity and self promotion that was a necessity as a minor label based band. This song encapsulates the indie scene of button badges, fanzine spreads and 1 inch music paper coverage.
A three chord "Dice Man" has a slight salsa drum beat to it and is a lively and fun song. Mark sings about taking chances and staying out of the safe zone which is as relevant now as it was back in 1979.
"Before the Moon Falls" is a medium paced song that once again has a muddy and slightly loose sound and is heavily dominated by tom tom drums. Lyrically I think this is Mark setting the agenda for the band and their quest to remain different and independent from other bands of the era. This is further enforced by the first verse lyric - "I must create a new regime, Or live by another man's".
Another song that is self referencing is up next. "Your Heart Out" has an odd two step beat and a pleasant high pitched riff throughout. It's a song that sung with mark sounding in good vocal spirit. In fact the lyrics are fantastic and despite being carefully written they sound almost ad-lib in their delivery.
The next song "Muzorewi's Daughter" is a song of two parts. The verses are all slow and similar in tone to the earlier track "Heart out". The most surprising part of this song is the chorus where the whole proceedings speed up into a crescendo of guitars while Mark yelps in such a high vocal pitch that it's advisable to tape up your windows!
The two chords "Flat of Angles" is a song about murder and confinement. The songs repetition is relentless. The drums crash as though somebody has tripped over the kit and the guitars sound thin and reedy but the song still manages to sound great.
The next song "Choc-Stock" like the earlier track "Printhead" is a punk song that is a song of self observance and ridicule. Mark shouts "Choc Stock come buy my pop stock" in a style that could easily be Del Boy Trotter knocking out 6 finger gloves in the market.
The Fall classic "Spectre Vs Rector" is up next. The lyrics are delivered as a series of scenes and parts and structured like a crime novel. The sound at the start of the track is really busy with a congested audio quality that sounds like it's been recorded in a supermarket car park! Suddenly, mid song, the sound becomes crystal clear and the song gets jauntier. The guitar playing on this track is unique and at times sounds out of key and flat but somehow it works - pure genius!
The last song "Put Away" is a great track to end the album as it is an upbeat pop punk song and full of musical cheer. The lyrics are pretty repetitive and despite the happy sounding beat it's a song about 366 day ("One year and a day") imprisonment!
The difference between this album and the bands first is remarkable. The sound has started to foray into experimental waters and this is undoubtedly a result of Craig Scanlon's unique playing style.
Marks lyrics are sung clearly and have less ambiguity than his later works and make this album instantly accessible. Despite the music recording quality sounding poor and rushed there is a great ramshackle charm and fun about the album.
To my ears the album ranks highly and should be placed amongst the bands best recorded output.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
With Christmas out of the way I decided to perform an early spring clean of the house! As part of the cleaning process I discovered an old Nokia mobile phone that had become redundant due to a contract handset upgrade.
I was originally planning on throwing the phone away but later discovered that the battery and phone itself have some seriously toxic chemicals inside and ill suited for landfill.
I'd read about mobile phone recycling sites both on Dooyoo and frequently in the Martin Lewis Money savers e-mail so I thought I'd turn the phone into some cash.
There were several companies offering phone purchase and recycling so I searched a couple of them for my phone model and found that one site was offering a little more than the others and I decided to use Mazuma (www.mazumamobile.com). I read a little about the company and apparently the phones are either professionally recycled or are used to assist developing markets such as Africa and India.
The selling process
I found the selling process to be really straightforward and easy to use.
The first step is to open the website and find the model of the phone that you are selling. This is easily done as the webpage offers you the option of searching by the phones unique model number or alternatively you can browse by Manufacturer.
You will need to confirm if the phone is in working or non-working condition. Obviously the amount paid for a broken phone is somewhat less than a fully functional mobile. Providing that your phone turns on and has a working screen and antenna then you should have no problems. My phone had slight cosmetic damage such as scratches from car keys in the pocket and scuffs from the occasional drop however these minor imperfections didn't affect the sale. You will also need to provide the phones unique identification number (IMEI) which will be checked against a database to ensure that the phone is not reported stolen. For those of you who are unsure of how to find this number then the sight has a pop up information box that will guide you in the correct direction.
Once the phone details have been completed the next step is to set up a personal account. This is free and only takes a couple of minutes and the usual details such as name, address and other contact details are required.
The final step is to confirm the details that you have supplied. Once confirmed the screen will acknowledge your request and assign a unique order number for the transaction. The details of this will also be e-mailed in a confirmation mail to your provided contact address.
That's the main selling process complete and within a day or so an envelope from the company will pop through your letterbox. Inside this letter is a pre-paid polythene mailing bag, a packing slip, a confirmation invoice and some postage and packing guidelines.
To return the phone to the company you must place it in the provided polythene bag and also enclose the packing slip so that the company can identify where the phone has come from. I found that the bag is very thin and flimsy so it is definitely worthwhile wrapping it in bubble wrap to ensure safe arrival.
There are a few things that you should do before packing the phone. The first is to ensure the phone has full charge. If the phone arrives with no charge then it will be considered non-working and valued accordingly. The second and most important thing to do is remove the sim card from the phone. If you forget to do this then Mazuma will remove and destroy it on receipt. To prevent confidential data loss it is also advisable to remove all data from the phones internal memory (such as contacts, email etc). This is easily achieved by returning the phone to its default factory settings. I managed to find out how to do this by performing a quick Google search; a few key presses later and all my data was gone.
Once your phone is sim-less, data-less and bubble wrapped you pop it into the polythene bag along with the provided packing slip and it is ready to post.
You have three options of posting. The first option is to simply post the envelope in a letterbox which is the simplest method though the downside is that you have no financial recourse should the mobile get lost. The second option is to take it to a post office and complete the provided proof of postage slip. This method will provide you with a small amount of financial cover should the phone go astray in the post. The last method of posting is to use either recorded delivery or special delivery. These will both increase the postage costs but will provide you with online tracking so that you can ensure your phone arrives.
My phone had relatively low value and my local Post Office was recently shut down so I put my faith in the Royal Mail and popped the envelope into the local post box.
That's the whole process complete and after posting your phone you can check the progress of the sale by logging into your Mazuma account. Within a couple of days I received an e-mail confirming the safe arrival of the phone and then a further e-mail to confirm that the order was accepted and payment had been made - excellent!
Two days later the cheque dropped through my letter box and cleared through my bank account without problem.
I have nothing but praise for the service. The website was clear and easy to use, the terms of service were reasonable and most importantly the speed of service was indeed impeccable.
Admittedly I may have got a little more cash for the phone if I had sold it on E-bay but when you consider the auction site's seller fees and postage then there would have been little financial difference.
It's not all roses though and due to the speed of technological developments you might find that your expensive phone has little or no re-sale value. Even in these cases you can still send your phones to the company for free and they will recycle them in an environmentally friendly manner.
Top quality service all round and I will definitely use them again.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
The Birthday Party Live 81 - 82 is a compilation CD of live recordings by the post punk band The Birthday Party.
The CD is a selection of songs that spans the bands short career and features live recordings taken from three concerts; London 1981, Bremen 1982 and Greece 1982.
The album features the following line up -
Nick Cave - Vocals
Mick Harvey - Guitars and Drums
Rowland S Howard - Guitar
Phill Calvert - Drums
The only addition to this line up is Jim Thirwell who plays Saxophone on the albums closing track.
There are 17 tracks on this album and the first 10 are taken from a gig in The Venue in 1981 (which was also the same Venue that the band played there last ever gig).
The first ten tracks have a great sound to them and have been remixed and re-mastered by members of the band.
The CD opens with "Junkyard" which is originally appeared on the album of the same name. The song is a slow grinding track and the thick condensed bass riff pushes this song along at a faster pace than its studio counterpart. It's a strong performance though does lose intensity and atmosphere due to the increased pace. The song used to be called "Junkyard King" and was a much faster rockabilly sounding tune, but it later mutated into this more grim and dark song.
Next up is the manic song "A dead song" which was always a live favourite and a crowd rib bruiser. The song is a fast tribal number and the drum tom work is really impressive and incredibly tight. Nick give's the song 100% and the guitar work is phenomenal with guitar wails and loops blasting out like a demented Zulu soundtrack.
Nicks deadpan humour kicks in as he jibes at the audience "Thank you, I like you hairstyle too!" as the band launch into a personal favourite of mine titled "Dim Locator" The song unlike the others is more restrained and has slowed down to a cool Jazz swing. The song's cymbals and bass conjure up a demented sleazy backing track whilst Rowlands lead riff nervously swerves in and out of the mix. It's a good performance though quite close to the studio version and offers little variance.
We're back in tribal land for the next track "Zoo Music Girl". The song is a rumble of Tom Drums and Rowland's trademark guitar howl. The song stops and starts like a game of pass the parcel and its aural ferocity is relentless. Nick growls "My life is a box full of dirt" as the audience all sing along with the chorus chants. Once again it's quite close to the studio recording though the guitars are slightly quieter on this version (which is odd as the remix was by guitarist Rowland and he must have broken the usual guitarist studio trait of turning everything up to 11!).
The band first hit (said in a very loose way) is up next. "Nick the stripper" which is a template for the Birthday Party sound; deep driving bass, tribal drums, howling feedback guitars and the bawling dulcet tones of Mr Cave. This version sounds so close to the original studio version that it could have been a record playing through the PA. It's a great song though and this version is fine.
The next two songs "Blast Off!" and "Release the bats" are live versions of these two songs that were responsible for the band attaining the gothic genre label. Unfortunately "Blast Off" suffers a little live as the Omen-styled samples that added edge to the studio track are not used in the live environment and are replaced with a tremolo guitar instead. It is an enjoyable wall of noise but lacks the tension and ambience of the studio version. However "Release the bats" is a different kettle of fish and we are back on swashbuckling audio territory here with a rumbling tribal song that is further improved by Nick's high pitched squawks and screams.
"Bully Bones" was a song that could previously only be heard as a session track from the John Peel radio show. The song is quite tame when compared to other tracks on the CD. It has a great bass groove and Nick delivery a restrained and musical vocal.
Rowland and Mick fill the song with some clever angular and sharp guitar wizardry and the song is a pleasant break from the previous aural assault.
A long version of "King Ink" is up next and this is a really slow and claustrophobic track. The drums are deep and muddy and the bass is locked into a tight riff. Nick's vocals are fierce and he cackles a depressing narrative of the songs imaginary subject.
Not dissimilar in sound from "Nick the Stripper" there is little contrast when compared to the studio version.
The last song from the London gig is "Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn" and the band fuse Jazz and tribal rhythms into a bedraggled and tormented song that could be Adam and the Ants after ten bottles of Tequila. This song sounds great and is only slightly bettered by the John Peel session version (which can be bought separately on a BBC CD).
The next six songs are taken from a 1982 gig in Bremen, Germany. They have apparently been taken straight from tape and have had no re-mastering. They lack the excellent clarity of the previous songs but are a good representation of the bands live sound at that juncture in their career.
"Big Jesus Trashcan" opens the proceedings and it is the most bastardised jazz swagger that you are ever likely to encounter. The studio version of this song is definitive and despite the great music and vocals on this version it does sound a little pale by comparison.
If you blink then you will miss the next track "Dead Joe" as its short. It's probably the fastest song on the album and features a two note riff where Nick spits and whines about the spectacle of a car crash. The guitars are much quieter on this track than the excellent album studio version and some of the songs tension and appeal is lost as a result. Fortunately Nick delivers a fearsome vocal and redeems the song a little.
The next song is a version of an early band single named "The Friend Catcher". The song used to be played by the band in their previous incantation The Boys Next Door and was a much zippier and poppy sound. Here we find the song slowed right down into a nervous and twitchy number. The bass is low and deep and the drums follow quietly in its shadow. The dual guitars add further depth and Nick's vocal delivery is fiery yet contained. The highlight of this song is the last 30 seconds where the guitars generate a wall of feedback that sounds like you've got your head trapped in a wind tunnel.
The next song "6 inch Gold Blade" is another slow song in the same musical vein as its predecessors. It is a good taster of the style that Nick would embrace and develop in his following solo career. The song lyrics sing a tale of murder and despair and the music adds to this imagery and conjures up a scary ambience.
The next track "Hamlet Pow Pow Pow" sees's the band once again in tribal jazz mode and everything is played to hideous excess. In fact it was no surprise that the bands career was short as they burnt with such brightness that they had nowhere left to musically explore. It's a fast and furious song and has Nick bellowing like he's swallowed a hornets nest.
"She's hit" brings the selection of the Bremen recorded songs to a rest and its quite appropriate as its slow moody charm is a great close to its sonic predecessor. The guitars wail in sorrow, the drums plod at a staggered pace as the bass guitar swings and gurgles in a moribund manner. Nick's vocals on this sound both tortured and isolated.
The albums closing track is belting cover of the Stooges track "Funhouse" which is taken from a 1982 gig in Athens, Greece. It starts with the bass riff that is punchy and locks into a solid groove. The guitars howl and growl over the top and feedback in a painful excess that the late Ron Asheton would be proud of. There are random saxophone wails from Foetus's Jim Thirwell and Nick's vocals are so loud in the mix that the whole track distorts! Despite the rough mix it is possibly the only track on the album that truly captures the bands devastating live experience.
The Birthday Party were one of the few bands that managed to capture the power and mayhem of their live shows onto their studio recordings and this live album suffers slightly as a result of this.
The selection of songs is good as they cover all of the bands styles and are presented in a warts-n-all manner. The audio clarity and production of the album is good too but despite all of this there is little difference between the majority of the live songs and their studio siblings. There is little talk between tracks which is a shame as Nick's dry sense of humour was an integral part of the live experience.
So is it worth buying?
If you are a fan of the band then it's a nice CD to have to remind you of their musical greatness. By contrast f you're new to the band then it acts as a good introduction as the CD covers songs from across the bands lifespan.
Greatest hits? No! Great songs? Yes!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
"The Light User Syndrome" is the 19th studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released in 1996 on Jet Records the album finds The Fall in a volatile mood.
The band featured the line up of -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, Keyboards
Steve Hanley - Bass Guitar
Karl Burns - Drums
Simon Wolstencroft - Drums
Julia Nagle - Synthesizers, Guitar and computer programming
Brix E Smith - Guitars, Vocals
The album is important as it introduce Julia Nagle to the band, has the last appearance of Brix Smith and is the first album not to feature long-term guitarist Craig Scanlon.
There are 15 songs on this album though there have been a couple of reissues with additional filler material released also.
The album opens with "DIY Meat". The song is fast and furious and has really jagged guitar lines over the top of a powerful looping bass. Mark sounds slightly close to the edge in this song his mid song cackle is quite worrying. Lyrically the song is about garden tents, graves and a handyman. Possibly about murder or road workers!
Next up is "Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain" which is driven by a heavy one note bass line, crashing cymbals and out of tune keyboards. The track is a twisted Krautrock style song and has lots of shouted vocal snippets creating an aural anarchy that is both threatening and entertaining.
A violent twisting synthesizer line drives the next song named "He Pep!" Julia Nagles' keyboard work actually holds this song together. The sound is large and overpowering and teeters on the brink of explosion. Mark shouts a lyric of being fed up of record companies and A&R staff and his anger and frustration is obvious throughout.
The anger of the previous track leads nicely into the next song "Hostile". The song has an unusual drum led beat that has an Arabian musical flavour. The lyrics are about a legion of the hostile being hunted down which could quite possibly refer to Joe publics perception of the band.
Karl Burns is given the lead vocal on "Stay Away (Ol' White Train)" and he delivers a deep and somewhat nervous sounding lead vocal. The song is a cover of an old blues song and is played quite shyly and close to the original and is complete with steam train whistle samples. It's an odd song that breaks the flow of the albums tensioned overtone.
A wall of city sounds and police sirens open the next song "Spinetrak". Mark opens the proceedings and declares "Let the sideshow begin" which is appropriate as it is the last track to feature the lead vocals of long time member Brix. In fact Brix sings her heart out in the chorus as Mark grumbles vocals about schizophrenia. The song has a distinct pop music flavour that was Mrs Smith's trademark.
The albums only single "The Chiselers" appears next and is re-titled "Interlude/Chilinism". Interlude is a short synthesizer driven introduction to the track which is a heavy guitar driven song that is has a catchy sing-along chorus and obvious choice for a single release. Towards the end of the song is a quiet section and the track is the closest thing that the band will get to performing a concept song!
The pop rock tone of The Chiselers leads nicely into the albums controversial song "Powder Keg". I say controversial as the tracks lyrics seem to relate to the horrendous Manchester bomb incident from 1996. The odd thing was that the song was released prior to the bomb event leaving Fall fans to further believe that Mark is a psychic and the tabloids amok with questions. The song itself is a great track that has an up-tempo groove and see's the band returning to classic form.
The thunderous bass playing of Steve Hanley opens the great song "Oleano". The track slowly builds and ends in a great pop crescendo. Mark sings about a ship with its leader being asleep in a bunk whilst the ship navigates a path to destruction. The ambiguity of the lyrics leave the song open to several interpretations as to whether the song is actually about a genuine historic event or are Mark's observations of the band itself.
The song "Cheetham Hill" sees the band returning to a more traditional pop flavour which is a jaunty song with a sing-along chorus. It's the kind of song that can divide Fall fans and cause arguments; some love the throwaway pop sound and arrangement whilst others would prefer the more experimental and challenging lyric.
The sound gets a lot more mechanical and industrial and the techno drum loops of the next song "The Coliseum" are vibrant and clinical. The song has some really great sounds blended into the mix and it scuttles along with a great pace. Mark sings "You have to have a good condition to get into the Coliseum" which I guess is his way of saying you've got to set yourself up before a fall.
Another cover version and this time its Gene Pitneys "Last Chance To Turn Around" and it's given a good pop treatment. The keyboards and drums are predominant in this song and the brass and trumpet crescendos are fantastic. Sadly Mark sounds a little muffled and nasal and by the time he's reached the third verse he's abandoned the lyrics and ad-libbing!
"The Ballard Of J. Drummer" is a strings and drums track and has a traditional arrangement. The snare drum rolls and overall ambience conjure up imagery of Bing Crosby's X-mas hit with Bowie.
The track "Oxymoron" takes samples of the earlier track "He Pep" and remixes the entire affair into a solid chunk of industrial pop that could quite easily be the work of Art Of Noise. It is the first track on the album to highlight the great programming and mixing skills of Julia Nagle.
The album closes in an odd manner with the cheesy pop track "Secession Man" which musically sounds like a demo track off an eighties keyboard. Mark sings about being a session man over a track adorned with brass stabs and jingling bell sounds. The track is as equally humorous as it is disposable!
The album is like a Woolworths pick'n'mix selection; there's a bit of everything included. There's pop, industrial, rock, traditional, techno and odd all combined into one package.
The absence of guitarist Craig Scanlon on the album is clear and the sound has taken a fatter techno garage rock sound. Mark is found singing in mixed moods and this adds to the intrigue and tension of the albums final sound. There is also a hurried and urgent feel to the production and as a result of this there are flaws and imperfections that make the album a bit of a rough diamond.
That said when the album does shine it can cause retina burn.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
About the game
Puyo Pop Fever is a puzzle arcade game for the Nintendo DS.
Published in 2004 by Sega the game further builds on the popular arcade game of Puyo Pop.
Based in the imaginatively named "Some other world"! You will adopt the role of a trainee magician girl called Amitie with the goal of defeating your opposition through a combination of magic spells and fever attacks!
The game offers three modes of play Single, Everybody and Endless mode.
In Single Mode you play against the artificial intelligence of a computer opponent, in Everybody Mode you can play wirelessly against another human opponent and the Endless Mode challenges you to survive play for as long as possible.
I'll review the game play of Single mode as the method, skill required and puzzles encountered are the same in all three modes (with the Endless Mode being the only exception as you don't have an opponent).
On starting Single Mode you have the options of playing three multi staged courses.
The first course named the "Run Run Course" is a three stage training course that will introduce you to the fundamentals of how to play the game.
The first thing for those of your unfamiliar with previous versions of the game is to explain that a Puyo is a small round coloured gel looking blob (with googley eyes)!
The game play takes place on the Nintendo's upper screen. Each player has a playfield that is six Puyo wide and several deep which will be similar to those familiar with the game Tetris. Small shapes made up of between 1 to 4 multicoloured Puyo will drop horizontally from above and start to stack on the floor of the playfield.
Using your control pad to move the shapes left or right and using the A and B' Buttons to rotate the shapes clockwise and anticlockwise the object is to interlock the Puyo shapes so that four Puyo of the same colour are touching. A graphic of the next Puyo that will fall onto the playfield is also displayed on the upper screen so you can carefully pre-plan how you will stack the shapes for best effect.
If the middle two columns of the playfield are filled to the top with Puyo then that player has lost and it's game over.
Matching four of the same coloured Puyo has 2 main effects. The first thing that will happen is that the Puyo will pop (hence the game name). This popping is referred to a chain. Once the Puyo have popped any Puyo that are stacked above will drop into the space they have created and potentially cause further chains.
Carefully planned strategic rotation and stacking can lead to a series of several chains popping that can cause great problems for your opposition.
How? Well the second effect of creating a chain is that a translucent Puyo is sent to your opponents screen. This translucent Puyo is referred to as a nuisance Puyo as it inevitably interferes with the Puyo that your opponent has already stacked and disrupting possible chains.
The game play detailed above describes the standard game of Puyo Pop; however this game offers a further twist on game play called the Fever attack. The more chains that you complete will add time a fever attack time bar. By completing chains quicker than your opponent will mean that you are passing more nuisance Puyo to their playfield than they are sending to yours. If you have lots of nuisance Puyo on your playfield it's not all bad news as you can offset you own nuisance Puyo and then enter fever mode.
In Fever mode your playfield is automatically filled with several stacks of Puyo. The Puyo have been stacked in a puzzle arrangement and if you drop the next Puyo into the correct place then you can create a series of chain explosions that will totally clear your playfield and add a severe amount of nuisance Puyo onto your competitor. A series of these puzzles will continue until either your time on the fever bar runs out, your opponent is beaten or you have laid your Puyo badly and knocked yourself out of the game! I found that in this mode that you can almost certainly win the game if you place your falling Puyo wisely although if it is placed wrongly then you have an almost full playfield that can prove difficult to clear.
If you successfully beat an opponent then an end of game screen shows your score plus details the highest amount of simultaneous chains that you have achieved in the game. If your score is high then you are prompted to enter three initials for the high scores list.
And that's the game explained.
I mentioned that there are other courses available in Single Mode and these follow the same game play but with increasingly more challenging computer opponents and rather more difficult puzzles to solve whilst in Fever attack.
Whilst the levels are increasingly more difficult there aren't that many unique levels to play and you may finish these quite quickly. Thankfully the game can be played wirelessly against another human player and this breathes a new lease of life into the game.
The only other Mode that I have not covered is the Endless Mode in which the main objective is to survive a continual wave of Puyo for as long as possible without having an opponent. There are three variations of play in this mode - Fever, Mission and Original. In the Fever game you must survive as long as possible whilst completing puzzle after puzzle of stacked Puyo whereas Mission mode gives you a continual list of challenges such as 'Clear 5 Puyo'. The final mode Original is based on the Original style Puyo Pop game and challenges you to survive as long as possible by keeping the playfield clear of Puyo without the option of a fever attack.
Sound, control and graphics
The musical soundtrack is a jolly and happy computer generated music that is combined with lots of enthusiastic voice samples that work well together and give the game great classic arcade feel. The voice samples used in training are clear and well pronounced and easy to understand and the jubilation of creating multiple Puyo chains is rewarded by a jingling audio feast!
Other than the menu's the game is controlled by using the D-Pad and the A and B buttons and the Nintendo's touch screen and microphone are redundant. The game does work well with these controls alone and the movement, accuracy and response are all impeccable.
The Sonic Team have done an excellent job on the graphics too and they are colourful, vibrant and animate smoothly.
It's is a fun game to play and the learning curve required to play is low so there is a great instantaneous appeal. The addition of fever mode breathes fresh life into a game that has been around for years. Gameplay is good and the computer opponents are challenging but pitched at just the right level and more importantly can be beaten. The ability to play wirelessly against a friend is a great option and opens a new level of challenge and gives the game longevity of play.
Being made by Sega the game has a polished quality to it. The sound, graphics and controls all work fantastically together which results in a game that is fun to play and has great repeat playability.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
"Levitate" is the 20th studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released in 1997 on Artful Records the album finds The Fall on the brink of destruction. This was the last album to feature the long serving band members Steve Hanley and Karl Burns following an on-stage bust up during their promotional American Tour.
The band featured the line up of -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, Keyboards
Tommy Crooks - Guitar and vocals
Steve Hanley - Bass Guitar
Karl Burns - Drums
Simon Wolstencroft - Drums
Julia Nagle - Synthesizers, Guitar and computer programming
The album is a mixed blend of styles and songs though the album is held together by the excellent programming skills of Julia Nagle. In fact it was only Julia that survived the American tour apocalypse and continued in the band for a couple of years after.
There are 14 tracks on the original album, which is what I have reviewed. There was a limited edition double CD release featuring an additional disk of songs released, however all forms of this album are currently unavailable due to the collapse of the Artful record label.
The album opens with "Ten Houses of Eve" which is a quirky techno drum and bass driven song that meshed garage rock and dance into a solid chunk of a song. The song, which was used frequently as the opening song at many of their gigs fails on record to catch the sheer power and strength of it's counterpart and sounds a little lightweight by comparison. It is a great song that could have been better.
A sample of ex-wife and ex-guitarist Brix E Smith stating "This is new, fresh from the womb" opens the albums second track Masquerade. The song is quite poppy and has jangling guitar and synthesizer combination that fights against a detuned piano loop and ends up creating an interesting sound. Marks vocals are on form too and I think the lyrics are about banks!
"Hurricane Edward" is the next song and it is stirs up quite a musical image. The synthesizer whirls around and the drums are thunderous and relentless and the result is a musical representation of a hurricane. The lyrical delivery is gloomy and sounds lost and slightly helpless, further adding to the hurricane theme.
The garage rockabilly charm of the next track "I'm a Mummy" instantly drops the albums techno driven theme and returns to a fifties trash rock song with a shrill lead guitar riff. Mark sings about being a mummy from the distant past and declares that he has only come back to life as he has a desire to meet Paul McCartney - totally hilarious and equally bizarre!
The next track is a bit odd. Titled "The Quartet of Doc Shanley" it's a song with a distorted sounding bass line (possibly synthesized) with lots of shouted vocal lines over the mix from Mark and Julia. There doesn't appear to be any logical topic to the song and Julia stating "If you're like me you're a complete and utter pranny you'll know what I mean when I say recipe" further confuses things.
Next up is the slow plodding instrumental track "Jap Kid". The song revolves around a melancholy piano riff, strings and a predominant snare drum. It loops several times around the same riff until it fizzles out around 3 minutes later.
Mark declares that the "House is falling in" and the manic track "4 1/2 Inch" has begun. Lots of cut and pasted drum loops are quickly joined with a heavy guitar and bass riff. The music crashes, stutters and sounds claustrophobic and out of control. Lots of shouting and obscured vocal snatches, cymbal crashes, reversed drums and haywire electronic riffs paint a vivid picture that could easily be the soundtrack to the bands pending implosion.
By way of contrast the following track "Spencer Must Die" is a far more casual affair that has a slow sliding bass line topped with jingling piano tinkles. Mark sings a mellow vocal that is both difficult to decipher and translate. It's a good song as it acts as a musical interlude and breaks the flow of angst ridden songs.
Next up is a cover of the Hank Mizell classic "Jungle Rock", which follows a similar style to the earlier track "I'm a mummy" but with the addition of keyboards. The drums rumble and the bass grumbles, whilst Mark's deadpan vocals give the track the bands unique flavour. A garage genre fuelled rock track at its best.
The temper of the album is raised further by the next song "Ol' Gang". Mark sings about walking the darkened streets and night and getting into fights. The music supports this theme well as the whole track is slightly distorted and edgy. The music has a bass heavy rock swing to it with a single note piano riff relentlessly plinking away and the final result is a claustrophobic and dark mood.
There is another musical interlude with the next track "Tragic Days". The song, if you can call it that, sounds like it's been recorded in a wind tunnel with a seventies cassette recorder. There is a lot of interfering noises and a few guitar chords here and there. This is an instrumental song in the loosest of terms. The song is part credited to old Fall guitarist Martin Brammah but it is unclear if it his him playing the guitar on this track.
The earlier instrumental of "Jap Kid" is resurrected under the name of" I Come and Stand At Your Door" which takes the earlier track and adds a vocal take from Mark. The song becomes more depressing and sad sounding as Mark croons the lyrics -
"I come and stand at every door
But no-one hears my silent plea
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead"
The albums penultimate track and album title track "Levitate" is possibly the most straight-laced track on the entire album. It's a medium paced song that is based around a rock guitar riff and has a typical verse chorus structure. Lyrically Mark cackles about debt and rising above others - "Come levitate with me". Despite its traditional structure the sound is very distinct and sharp and adds to the albums diversity.
The albums closing track "Everybody but myself" starts off with a live recording of the track where the audience have seized the microphone and are having a vocal free for all frenzy. The song cleverly cuts from the live chaos into a far more controlled studio recording that sounds somewhat sane in comparison to earlier album tracks. The song bounces along in a Madchester style theme of funky bass playing and stabbing keyboards that could have easily been transposed to a Charlatans track.
I think the keyword for this album is diversity.
There appears to be no underlying theme, concept or musical style throughout the album. The musical scrappiness, tension and desperation are what make this album a great success. It is admittedly a difficult listen and will put many people off the group for life!
More importantly the album marks an important phase of the bands career and acts as a suitable legacy of the greatness of bassist Steve Hanley who was to leave the group shortly after the albums release.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
About the game
Pac Pix is a puzzle game for the Nintendo DS.
Released in 2005 by Namco, the game is based around the successful pill and ghost munching arcade character Pac Man. For those of you who are reading this and do not know what the character should look like then the best way is to think of him is the shape of a round cake with a narrow wedge taken out!
The game is based inside the pages of a book! The book has been splattered with ghost ink which has led to an infestation of ghosts on each of the books pages. Pac Man has been despatched to restore the book by eating all of the offending ghosts but unfortunately as he enters the book he is turned into an inanimate character on the page. Pac Man asks for your help and using your stylus you must draw Pac Man pictures on the pages of the book that will magically animate and eat their way to victory.
So that's the plan - how does it play?
The game starts quite sensibly with a tutorial mode that will teach you the skills of drawing a Pac Man.
When you draw your Pac Man on the screen there are a few things to take into account. Firstly is the size of the drawing as the bigger the drawing the slower the Pac Man will move. Bigger Pac Man can eat more ghosts in one mouthful but cannot catch faster ghosts whereas smaller Pac Man can move faster and catch ghosts but be more difficult to control. Also in the latter levels there are areas that are size restricted and only smaller Pac Man can get through. You can have three drawn Pac man on the screen at any given time.
As soon as you have drawn your Pac Man it will magically become animated and start to move and chomp in the direction of his mouth. If the Pac Man goes off of the horizontal sides of the screen or the bottom edge of the touch screen then he will die.
To prevent Pac Man from dying you can control his orientation on the screen by drawing lines in front of him. Depending on the direction of your stroke made when you have drawn a line the Pac Man will move in that direction. Using these strokes carefully can keep a Pac Man on the screen and be used for navigating him towards ghosts and other items.
With these essential drawing skills mastered you can then start the game.
As I mentioned earlier the game is based around the chapters of a book. There are 12 chapters in the book and each chapter consists of several levels. Once you have completed all of the levels in a chapter then the next sequential chapter is unlocked. At the end of each chapter your progress is automatically saved which is great as you can return to the game as and when it pleases you.
For each level of each chapter there are three important criteria. Firstly there is an indicator that advises you of how many Pac Man you are allowed to draw in that level. The second indicator shows you the amount of seconds that you have to complete a level, this figure depletes and when it reaches zero its game over. The final indicator shows the number of ghosts to be eaten; when these have all been eaten the level is clear and your progress to the next.
The game is played over both Nintendo screens. The lower screen is where all of your drawing is done whereas the top screen shows the three aforementioned indicators and a tunnel (which I'll explain later).
The first chapter starts off easy enough with a few on screen ghosts to be munched to clear the level. Each level of the chapter gets progressively harder and you are introduced to several different ghosts that manoeuvre differently and prove more difficult to eat! It is also in the first chapter that you are introduced to the key icon and the upper screen tunnels.
A key icon is a small square symbol that once activated (by munching or shooting) unlocks a tunnel pathway on the upper screen that you can direct your Pac Man through to eat further ghosts and eat items of fruit that represent score bonuses. You can also periodically gain extra lives using this tunnel. The tunnel is a loop that runs horizontally along the top of the screen and if you despatch your Pac Man through the right hand entrance he will exit on the left hand side of the screen once he has proceeded through the tunnel.
So that is the basic principle of the game; clear ghosts from a chapter of a book to progress to the next. Sounds simple, so is that all there is to it? No; with the easier levels under your belt the future chapters introduce new levels of puzzle that require different strategy and game plan.
I don't wish to spoil the game play but it's worth a mention that the later levels will introduce lots of new objects onto the play area that make the game harder to progress. You will learn to draw weapon items such as rockets and bombs that you can use to shoot or stun ghosts with plus unlock tunnels etc. One of the most difficult items you will encounter are walls or small moving blocks that will send your Pac Man hurtling out of control in a different direction when collided with. There are also numbered enemies that need to be eaten in the correct order. If you eat these out of sequence then they will all reappear and require re-eating!
Finally you can access a set of gallery screens that show pictures of Ghosts that you have encountered through game play and brief descriptions of them. I rarely look at these screens but it does add a Pokemon style collectors twist to the game and I guess you can't say that you have completed the game properly until you have collected pictures of all the ghosts!
Sound, control and graphics
The sound in the game is actually quite good. The computer generated music is upbeat and jolly and also features a modernised version of the Pac Man music that was used in the original arcade machine version! In fact a lot of the movement, weapon use and bonus items all have the sounds closely modelled on the original version.
The control is done totally via the stylus on the touch screen. At first it can be difficult to draw a Pac Man that the system will recognise and subsequently animate but practice makes perfect. The tracking and stylus recognition is really accurate which makes game control a breeze.
The graphics are quite good. The ghosts and other enemies seem to have a little more depth and character than their original arcade counterparts and have been graphically smoothed so there is not a jagged pixel to be seen. The sprites are quite large and all of the menus, text and objectives are clearly displayed in a tasteful colour scheme.
Undoubtedly the game offers a unique twist on the old arcade favourite. The control mechanism was unique for it's time (the concept has been used in later Nintendo DS games) and is undoubtedly the games strongpoint.
It's enjoyable to play however game play does become repetitive quickly. I liked the way that the difficulty of the chapters are structured as they allow you to become comfortable with the controls and enemies, before introducing you to additional controls and more difficult challenges
My only minor gripe is that the game can become a little frustrating when the system occasionally doesn't recognise your drawing of a Pac Man but overall the game is a good fun arcade romp that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
Operation Vietnam is a war shooter and strategy game for the Nintendo DS.
Released in 2007 by Majesco, the game is based during the Vietnam War where you must complete a series of aid, warfare and liberation missions using your small team of uniquely skilled soldiers.
The game is mission based and follows a set story path. Fortunately your progress through the missions is automatically saved so you can play the game over a period of time without losing record of your progress.
You must complete the missions using your team of highly trained soldiers. The team consists of Doc, Hopper and Scopes and you! Doc is the medical man and is used to administer medical attention to your squad and in later levels to the Vietnamese civilians. Hopper is an expert in heavy arms and his weapons are useful for destroying powerful machinery such as tanks and army bunkers. Scopes is the sniper in your team and can assassinate the enemy from afar without raising alarm and also has the added usefulness of being able to identify landmines have been hidden in the jungle. The final soldier is you and you are armed with a weak powered machine gun that inflicts minor damage to the enemy. Fortunately the weapon can be fired repeatedly and proves useful for cover fire and distraction techniques.
You can switch between your four soldiers using the onscreen controls panel. Using this panel you can issue them separate instructions such as stay, follow me or take control. The importance of these instructions will become apparent later.
The game is quite easy to play and the game makes good use of the Nintendo's dual screens. The upper screen displays an overhead view of the battlefield and also displays the thoughts and dialogue of your soldiers. The lower touch screen displays thumbnail pictures of your four soldiers and meter bars that represent their current health levels. The lower screen also displays a small map of the entire mission and displays a little pin sized dot to illustrate where your soldiers currently reside in the jungle. The only other item on the lower screen are 3 boxes that show the counts of how many medical packs, grenades and air strike calls that you have available.
The game starts with your soldier being the only available team member. The intro movie explains the story that your helicopter has crashed in the Vietnamese Jungle and that your first mission is to navigate the jungle and locate your missing colleagues. Using the D-Pad and stylus you must find and liberate your colleagues from VC Camps.
The mission is quite difficult as the jungle is populated with enemy soldiers, landmines, explosive trip wires and lots of other booby traps that can prove fatal if encountered.
It's not all bad though as there are randomly scattered items along you route that can be picked up and used to assist you on your mission. Items such as grenades, medical packs, air strike calls and dog tags can all be found either exposed on the floor or hidden in wooden crates that you can open by firing at.
The most important of the power up items are undoubtedly the medical packs which are used for restoring health of your army members and are effectively the lifeline of the game. The packs can also bring a dying soldier back from the dead! The grenades are useful for destroying tanks, enemy barracks and machine gun bunkers. Air Strike calls are used to initiate air strikes on designated targets and are very useful for destroying high population enemy targets. The final item is dog tags that have no help in the mission other than to increase your score.
The jungle has lots of Vietnamese soldiers who will open fire as soon as they spot you. If you are hit by the enemies' fire then your health bar will deplete. When you are mortally wounded your player icon will turn red and can no longer be used in the battle until he is treated using a medical pack. If a wounded player is left for a period of time without medical assistance he will die and the whole mission will be lost. Once a mission has been lost then it must be replayed from the beginning, regardless of your progress through the game. The only exception to this rule is when you lose life during an end of level 'Boss Battle' where the game is restarted from the 'Boss fight'.
The key to a successful mission is stealth and picking off your enemies one by one. Using Scopes the sniper this can be achieved easily most of the time. The biggest issue with using scopes is that he takes a while to reload his gun and often sustains damage when engaging in conflict with several soldiers simultaneously. Stealth is not always an option though and in some of the VC Camps they have a golden gong alarm that once struck by a soldier will automatically awaken the camps guards and initiate a plethora of attacking enemy soldiers.
To attack the enemy you must first target them using the on-screen crosshairs. When the crosshairs are red you can then fire your weapon at the enemy. Different weapons have different payloads. For example a snipers rifle can destroy an enemy from afar using a single shot, whereas a machine gun may need several shots from a closer proximity to achieve the same effect.
The missions get progressively harder and require a little strategy and careful consideration of which team member you will select. An example of this is the pressure slabs that must be stood on to open gates. It's at this point that you must choose which members of your team will stand on the slabs and which ones you will take into battle. A common place to find these slabs is before the end of stage boss battles where you fight against powerful weaponry such as tanks. It is essential that you engage your most powerful team member when faced with such challenges. Another common control that you will encounter is slide switches. These switches can be used to open gates and also to free trapped prisoners from their captors. The switches are often hidden and require thorough investigation of the area to find them.
At the end of each mission you are presented with a score sheet that details your effectiveness in the mission, your progress is saved and the next mission objectives are displayed. This mode of play continues until the game is complete.
It is worth mentioning that there is only the ability for 1 player to play the game and there is only one save state too. If somebody else would like to play the game then the missions must be started from the beginning and all of the previous playing data will be permanently erased and lost.
Sound, control and graphics
The sound effects are quite low key. Throughout the jungle there is a quiet hum of insects and the odd calls of birds and other wildlife. The Vietnamese villagers make the odd squawk and cries of mercy when you encounter them, whilst the Vietnamese military make exclamations of vengeance and anger when engaged in battle. The gunshots and explosions sound okay whilst each of your soldiers has their own distinct voice and accent. The option to alter the sound levels is available from the main menu.
The controls are a bit hit and miss. The reason I say this is that the methods of engaging the enemy in battle involve using the D-Pad buttons for direction and aim. As the D-Pad only offers 8 absolute points of direction it means that to guarantee a hit on the enemy you need to align yourself with them and as a result of this end up putting your own life in jeopardy. The 4 main buttons are assigned usefully though and control air strikes, medical administration, gun fire and air strike commands. The touch screen is also used effectively to issue commands to your four soldiers. Despite the poor targeting method, the controls react responsively and do not suffer from lag.
The graphics are well drawn, though are maybe a little on the small side. As the game is displayed as a crows' view of the action then sometimes items are obscured and sometimes unclear as to what they actually are. Despite the graphic size the play are is very well structured and presented with the jungle, rivers and villages all being depicted well. The colour scale is very dark though not that surprising considering the game is set in the dark green fauna of the jungle!
The game play is quite limited as the plot follows a linear story line that once completed offers little encouragement to play again.
The lack of multiplayer modes also adds to the disappointment. My biggest bugbear with the game is the requirement to start a mission from the beginning if one of your soldiers is killed in battle during the game; it would have been more sensible to have had checkpoints along the way. That said, it is quite possible to complete all of the missions within a days play and using save checkpoints would probably have made completion time even shorter,
These gripes aside, it's quite an enjoyable game to play and the strategy required in the later levels makes it a little more challenging and engaging.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
Mystery Detective is a mystery solving styled game for the Nintendo DS.
Published in 2006 by 505 games the game is based around a female private investigator called MacKenzie who runs her own private investigation bureau aided by a mushroom (a fun guy to be with!) and her butler Cromwell. Mackenzie's Bureau is presented with a series of four increasingly difficult mysteries to solve and armed solely with the Nintendo Stylus she must solve the mysteries through a combination of thorough investigation and manipulation of objects that she encounters on her quest.
The game starts in a simple training mode in the bedroom of Mackenzie's office where a tired Mackenzie is awoken by her alarm clock. After feeding her pet mushroom named Funghi she attempts to open her bedroom door to find it is locked.
And so the training tutorial challenge is set; find the key and open the bedroom door.
It's probably worth explaining the layout of the dual screens at this stage as they are fundamental to game play.
The top screen shows a picture of Mackenzie and details of the current location and mystery whereas the lower screen displays a picture of the current investigation scene, a notebook used to record details of the current investigation, a hand icon representing a list of items you have touched(!) and a box that displays a list of the items that you are currently carrying.
So let's go back to the training challenge. Using the stylus you must click on objects around the room and search for clues. The first item you will find is a jewellery box. Once you have clicked on the box it will be added to your items collection. Selecting the item from you collection list will allow you to further examine the jewellery box and you will see that it has a skull decoration with one jewel eye, plus a couple of decorative studs on either side. Further hunting around your room by random stylus taps will uncover a loose jewel, which is also added to your items collection. It's at this point that you learn one of the games key skills; combining items to create new items. By clicking ion the loose jewel and then dragging on top of the Jewellery Box icon the jewel is then placed into the empty socket of the skull decoration. This doesn't solve the mystery though and after re-examining the jewellery Box and clicking around it's surface you will discover that one of the decorative studs is in fact a button that opens the box and reveals the key required to exit your bedroom.
Once out of your bedroom you are in your main office and the first of four mysteries to solve is presented to you.
The mysteries are played in order and you cannot progress to the next mystery until its predecessor has been solved. The first Mystery is called robbery and your first client a dizzy blonde called Penelope hires you as she claims that somebody has stolen the nice end part of her dreams! It's at this point you are also introduced to your rival Chloe is competing to solve the mysteries before you and could seriously do with a series of anger management courses. The characters are one of the games stronger points as each character is quite likeable and definitely enrich the storylines.
Also the sarcastic wit of Mackenzie shines throughout the game and whilst she may make polite and courteous comments on the lower screen scene the upper screen displays thought bubbles of what she is actually thinking!
Without giving the plot away, or spoiling the storyline, the first mystery progresses in a similar fashion to the tutorial mission with object interaction being the key strategy. The only differences in this level is that the mystery is set over a series of new locations and you will meet new characters that you will need to interrogate by selecting your speech dialog from a multiple choice list of sentences.
Whereas the logic in the tutorial was quite straightforward (i.e. fitting a jewel into a missing socket activated a lock mechanism) the logic in the actual mysteries is less so. For example a hole in a fishing net is repaired by swiping down cobwebs from a hot dog stall and a cake is used in conjunction with a pressed flower to make a robotic pillow! It is this lack of logic that really starts to make the game a chore. Alongside the need to click every area of a scene to find clues and objects their relevance and use in the game became unclear. At stages you find yourself randomly applying objects to each other in the desperate hope that something will happen. After feeding cake to my pet mushroom, using the fishnet on the cake, putting the daisy on the cake and so forth I came to the end of my tether and searched the internet for a clue to help me get to the next mystery. The solution was equally bizarre, I could have never thought of the solution without assistance.
I turned the cartridge off in dismay.
Sound, control and graphics
The music in the game is quite funky and similar in style to seventies soap drama music. The sounds made when you touch or utilise items is quite underwhelming although sound is not really that important in this genre of game.
As for controls you can use the stylus for all of the interaction with the game. The menus, navigation and object utilisation are all performed via a series of stylus drags or taps. The D-Pad and buttons can be used for most of the commands too if preferred. The game is really responsive and there isn't any lag or delay in control.
The graphics are really great and have bold and well defined scenes and characters that have a good colour tone and shading and give the game a sturdy and professional look. The animations work well and there is no issue with slowdown or delay.
I had real difficulty with this game's logic.
The game looks and sounds good and performs well but despite this there is a certain craziness and lack of sense that turns what could have been a good adventure game into a "click and hope" romp. Its not that I dislike this genre of game (I was a big fan of the Lucas Arts range of PC adventure games); my main disappointment was the lack of hints and the dubious solutions required to solve each mystery. The ambiguity of solutions resulted in higher stress levels as I played the game and elevated the urge to go on the internet and find a cheat solution.
Not a game for the impatient.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
Mario 3 on 3 Hoops is a basketball game for the Nintendo DS.
Published in 2006 by Nintendo the game features a selection of your favourite characters from Mario's World and battle those 3 players against three in a traditional game of basketball set over several different play courts and landscapes.
There are two main modes of play in the game; battle and tournament. The battle mode is used for a quick "one-off" game whereas the tournament mode is a cup challenge where you must win a series of three matches to win the tournaments cup.
Regardless of mode chosen, each game is played over 2 periods that last 2 and a half minutes each. At the end of the first period you change to the opposite side of the playing field. Despite this change you still play in an upwards direction and play towards a basket at the top of the upper screen.
The game starts with your chance to select your team of 3 players from a selection of Nintendo characters. There are about a dozen characters to choose from initially but more are unlocked as you progress through the game.
Each character has a specialised strength on the playing field. For example Donkey Kong has great strength and can barge the opposition out of the way and quickly win any engagement or tackle of the opposition whereas in contrast the slender Super Monkey Ball character MiMi may lack the power of the great ape but does have super fast speed and can easily whiz around the court without challenge.
Once you have selected your team the Nintendo then select its team of three from the remaining characters. And the game is ready to start.
The aim of the game is to accrue as many points as possible by throwing the basketball through the oppositions hoop within the 5 minutes of playing time.
The game is played on a court that varies from Level to Level, but familiar scenes such as Jungles, Beaches and traditional Basketball courts are all represented. The layout of the court is traditional with standard court markings and a basket at each end of the playing field.
In addition to the usual court markings there are several yellow squares marked by a question mark scattered across the court. The function of these squares varies depending on whether you have the ball in your possession or not. If the ball is in your possession and you dribble the ball on top of the square then you are given additional coins (I'll explain the relevance of these later). If you don't have the ball in your possession and active a yellow square then you will be presented with a random power up or weapon that can be used against the opposition to gain back possession of the ball.
So, a typical game may go something like this -
The whistle for the first 2 and a half minute period of play has started and the ball is dropped into play. You use offensive moves to gain possession of the ball and then run towards the nearest yellow square to dribble the ball on. Constant dribbling on this square adds coins to your characters counter. You then run to the basket and slam dunk the ball in to the net and it's a goal!
It's at this point that the importance of collecting coins becomes apparent; for each basket you score you get 20 points plus the number of coins collected. This means that it can be possible to score in excess of 50 points per basket.
After 2 and a half minutes is over the 1st period of play ends and the second begins.
The time remaining in each period is displayed onscreen as are the scores of each team. After 5 minutes of play the game is over and the team with the highest amount of points is the winner.
There are several ways of scoring a basket and this can range from long shots, power shots or a slam dunk which are all controlled by a series of different stylus moves.
Of course there are times when you will have lost possession of the ball and need to regain the ball or protect your basket from the opposition. This can be done through a series of defensive and offensive moves that are all styli controlled. To get the ball off the opposition you can swipe it from them with a horizontal styli swipe on the screen. The more power your character has the easier this move becomes. Gathering power ups such as tortoise shells to through at the opposition can be equally as effective!
So that's a feel of how the game plays. The key aspect is the selection of your team and their particular attributes. For the easier levels I found that having Donkey Kong or Wario in my team to be a good choice as their brute strength made swiping the ball from the opposition a breeze. This team of characters became less effective though as the game progressed and the computer controlled team of fast runners left my team perspiring and without the ball (or score!) for the majority of a match!
The tournament matches are a series of three matches that increase in difficulty. The game play is the same as detailed above and a successful run of three matches will win you a cup and may unlock further items or characters to play. The better score that you accumulate will result in a better cup being presented.
In addition to the main modes of play there is a challenges section that has a few challenges such as dribbling your ball and collecting stars against the clock. More importantly in this section is the practice and training mode that is essential if you haven't played the game before as there are numerous styli movements required to master the many offence and defence skills.
The final mode is Wireless play that enables you to play a battle game head-to-head wirelessly against a friend. The game offers DS Download or Multi-Cart play options.
Sound, control and graphics
The music in the game is computer generated, upbeat and laced with Nintendo character samples. The characters are all well represented and the Italian quips of Mario and the helium yelps of Yoshi are all present. The sounds really sparkle and compliment the graphics perfectly.
The controls are the trickiest part of the game in my opinion. The movement of the characters are done using the Control Pad however the players' offence and defence moves are all made by stylus swipes. This presented me with a problem as it means that you have to hold the console with one hand and control the characters movement at the same time whilst swiping the stylus across the touch screen with the other hand. It's not impossible; it's just a little awkward. Fortunately Nintendo have added the option to alternatively use the buttons rather than the screen for the offence and defence moves however this only covers a few of the moves and limits your on and off ball control. Once you have mastered the console balancing you will find that the controls are instant and perform brilliantly making game play fun and responsive.
The graphics are bright, colourful and wonderfully drawn and have that professional look that Nintendo's Mario titles are renowned for. The 3d landscapes and play court areas all move quickly with slowdown or jitter and the characters look like they have been transported straight out of a cartoon movie - fantastic!
Nintendo have done it again and produced another classic Mario title.
The combination of lush graphics, great music and most of all excellent playability make this game a guaranteed winner. My only minor gripe is the control system can take a while to adjust to and prove awkward at times. Problems aside, whether you choose to play a quick singles match, a longer tournament challenge or a wireless game against your mates the game still oozes fun.
A super hooper game!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
The Cookie and Cream is a platform and puzzle game for the Nintendo DS.
Published in 2007 by 505 Games the story is based around two cute rabbits called Cookie and Cream. The story goes something like this -
The two rabbits were looking forwards to participating in their annual Moon Festival when the sky went dark and the festival was cancelled. On their way home a bird flew to them and told them that they must go to a mysterious island called aptly Mysterious Island (!) where they must solve clues to find parts of the moon and restore normality. The Mysterious Island is laid with traps and obstacles that the rabbits must overcome.
Teamwork is the order of the day here and Cookie is sent off to explore the island (with the messenger bird attached to his hat!) whilst Cream is despatched to the trap control centre where he/she must control the obstacles that Cookie will encounter.
The scene is set, let's play!
The game makes good use of the Nintendo's dual screen layout and Cookie is displayed in the mysterious island landscape on the top screen whilst Cream is on the lower DS screen within trap tower.
The game progresses through a series of stages that are performed against the clock which counts down in the top screen. Should your time run out then your game is over. Within each stage there are floating clock items that when collided with will add extra time to your clock; however events such as being attacked by enemies or drowning in a lake will deplete your time.
I don't wish to document the whole game so I will explain the events of the first couple of stages as the game play continues in the same style throughout, although the mini challenges do become increasingly challenging.
The first stage is quite straightforward and you have 100 seconds to get from the start posts to the finish posts (called goal posts).
Cookie hops across the deliciously coloured 3d landscape and is confronted with a drawbridge that is in the up position and impossible to cross. In front of the drawbridge is a red button and when Cookie jumps on this button a mini challenge is presented to Cream in trap tower.
The first mini challenge isn't really a challenge at all and is simply a matter of tapping a blue button on the lower screen and the drawbridge is lowered and Cookie can proceed. It's worth mentioning that each mini challenge is performed against the clock and a small egg timer is displayed alongside the challenge controls to show you how much time you have left to complete the challenge. If you fail to complete the challenge then you can re attempt it by getting Cookie to jump on the button for a second time. This may make completing the stage sound easy as you can have multiple tries though this is not the case as you are still wasting valuable time off the main countdown timer.
Whilst crossing the drawbridge you will see a log that protrudes from the surrounding water and on top there is a clock icon. If you jump off the bridge and land on the log then the clock item will add extra seconds to your countdown timer. If you miss the log then you will fall in the water and lose seconds from your countdown clock and will be placed back in the position you were prior to the jump.
Fortunately Cookie has a bird on his hat and can glide through the air towards the intended destination. He also casts a shadow as he is in the air so it is quite easy to judge your landing point. Players of the old Nintendo 64 classic Banjo Kazooie will be totally at ease with the controls and note quite a few similarities between the two games.
Once you have collected you extra time power up and jumped back on the bridge you are then faced with a second challenge; there is a crocodile asleep in your path. Fortunately there is another red button to jump on and this time Cream in trap tower must pull a rope with the stylus which moves the crocodile safely out of Cookies way!
Scattered along your path are wildlife and predators. Luckily you can despatch these by a careful aimed jump on their heads! This serves two purposes; it clears your path and adds points to your score.
With the crocodile safely behind you there is a 3 tower that you must climb and at its peak there is a second power up clock that once again adds time to your countdown timer. Unfortunately it is at this stage that you first encounter a violent bird of prey that hovers over your head and saps some of your time. Avoiding this predator is difficult if indeed possible.
The bird of prey flies away and in front of you there are a couple of small islands that cannot be jumped across as they are too far away. Fortunately there is another red button that when jumped on asks Cream to rotate a small wheel with the stylus that raises logs out of the water that can be used to safely hop across the island. In this area there are also a couple more clock power ups that can be collected. Once you have jumped across the islands to the shore you have then reached the goal and the first stage has been completed.
At the end of each stage you are shown a summary of how long the stage took to complete, a record of your previous best time (if you have played the level before) and the amount of points scored in the level.
The next stage follows the same concept with mini challenges such as pushing buttons and cutting ropes as solutions. It's in the second level that the first element of strategy is introduced and there is a challenge where Cream must spin a wheel to a precise location to enable Cookie to progress. This kind of puzzle strategy is where the game really comes to life as the latter stage mini challenges require quick action and thought if you wish to proceed.
Once you have completed the stages in a level you are then faced with the obligatory boss level where the team of rabbits must work in harmonious unison to defeat the enemy. I find these levels the hardest as controlling both rabbits simultaneously can be really difficult. Once you have defeated the boss then the Level is complete and you can progress to the next level and its series of even more difficult stages.
There are forty stages in total and these are spread over 8 levels (called Worlds in the game) and these provide hours of entertainment.
So that's the game explained, but fortunately there is more!
After you have earned sufficient points throughout the stages you can use the points accrued to play fun mini-games. The mini games are quick challenges that you will have already encountered, such as boss levels, but they are still a nice addition to the cartridge.
It is difficult playing 2 rabbits at once, and luckily the game has wireless mode where you can play wirelessly with a friend and each player can control either Cookie or Cream. This mode of play brings a further lease of life to the game and makes game play even more fun.
Sound, control and graphics
The music in the game is your standard computer generated tune that is quite pleasant though in all honesty you'll be so engrossed in the challenges that you'll probably not notice it. The other sounds such as drowning, being attacked and flying are all quite good and add to the enjoyment of the game.
The game uses all of the Nintendo's controls to good effect. The main character is moved around the screen using the D-Pad and buttons whereas the mini challenges use the touch screen and microphone to good effect. The controls are responsive and work well, though can be difficult to use at times due to the multitasking required (particularly in boss levels).
The graphics are brilliant. They are really bright and colourful and all of the landscapes are vibrant and add a sparkle to the games appeal. On some levels the graphics obscure important items required for game progression though I expect that this intentional and adds to the games challenge.
The game has the right balance of puzzle and platform game and it is a joy to play.
Admittedly, the mini challenges can become a little repetitive after hours of play and the multitasking required in boss levels can prove a little difficult. However the game looks good and has great playability and longevity. Add to this the fun of team play in wireless mode and you have an enjoyable game.
Undoubtedly the most fun that you can have with a pair of rabbits!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
Cartoon Network racing is a kart based racing game for the Nintendo DS.
Published in 2006 by Game Factory the racing game is based around characters that feature in popular cartoons on the TV Channel Cartoon Network such as The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken. The game features a series of Championships and Time trials where the sole objective is to win the challenges and unlock further race courses.
There are 3 modes of play available; championship, time trial and versus mode.
In championship mode you compete in a rally against that consists of several races spread across a range of challenging domains, such as sand dunes, deserts, inside building corridors and good old fashioned racetracks. There are four rallies available with the Cowardly rally being the only available rally to play instantly with a further three becoming available and unlocked after winning a previous rally. Each rally stage has 3 laps and on completion of the stage you are awarded points depending on the your finishing position in the race, points are assigned in the same way as in formula one races (i.e. 10 points for the winner, 8 points for second place etc.).
Time trial mode is a simple dash across rally tracks with the challenge of completing the stage before time on the clock counts down to zero.
The final mode is versus and in this mode up to 4 players can compete in a dash race with only 1 cartridge required to host the wireless challenge which I think is far more fun than challenging the computer controlled racers.
I'll review a typical championship rally as the controls and tracks are similar regardless of the mode chosen.
The upper screen of the Nintendo DS displays the race in progress, lap information and details of your currently held power up (I'll explain this later). The lower screen displays an overhead map view of the race course and has small icons to show where each racer currently is placed on the racetrack which is really handy as there are no rear view mirrors available to identify your current position.
Before a race starts you need to select your character. Each character has there own strengths and weaknesses (such as weight, acceleration etc) so careful choice is recommended. There are several characters that are locked on the first play (such as the wonderful Mojo Jojo) that are unlocked on successful completion of each rally.
Once you have selected your character race starts with a 3, 2, 1 countdown and then your off!
Catching up with your opponents or retaining your lead can be achieved through a few methods.
Firstly there are orange speed-up arrows at various points on the racetrack that give you a momentary boost when driven across. Whilst these are handy as they give you increased speed they can also hinder you on the more winding tracks as controlling your kart under speed can prove difficult. The track also has blue corner slide arrows that when driven over can help you get around sharp corners with ease.
Secondly there are power-up cubes that when driven through give you access to a random power-ups that have several different effects; laying oil slicks, speeding up, firing missiles at your competitors and much more. The power up can be deployed by a single press of the NDS shoulder button and can be held on board until required. If you drive over a second power-up cube whilst still holding an unused weapon then the held weapon is replaced with a new random power-up.
The final way to catch up with an opponent is to drive closely behind them. Doing this causes a slipstream effect to build and after a few seconds you are given a power boost. This is a difficult technique to master as the power boost can often lead you to rear end crash into the opponent that pushes them further ahead and slows you down!
The stages of the rally become increasingly difficult as the terrain changes and the courses become more winding and difficult to navigate. It is quite easy to go from leader to last place by inadvertently crashing into an alcove and struggling to reverse your way back onto the main race track. Also if an opponent behind you fires a weapon at you, such as a missile, then a caution symbol is briefly displayed and you have a split second to manoeuvre out of its path, which is usually a fruitless exercise!
The racetracks are also littered with obstacles, such as cactus plants, boulders and hazards that your competitors have laid for you such as oil slicks. Colliding with these obstacles will slow you down and inevitably drop your position in the race leader board.
After 3 laps you cross the chequered finish line and a list of the current stage race positions and assigned scores are displayed. Following this is the main leader board where you previous scores are added to give your current overall position in the rally.
Once the series of rally stages are over then the final positions are revealed and dependent on the result might unlock a new rally or one of the non rally based mini-game extras on the cartridge.
Sound, control and graphics
The music is computer generated loops of Cartoon Network style music such as the Cow and Chicken theme. Unfortunately the music repeats too frequently for my liking and does start to become annoying. Thankfully the music volume can be adjusted in the options settings. The sound effects in game are good though and whirring speed ups and missile explosions are well executed.
Control of the game is straightforward. The menus are navigated by clicks of the stylus and the control of the vehicle is a simple matter of using the D-Pad for steering and the A and B buttons for forward or reverse gear selection. The steering is responsive and works well. Power Up use is controlled by a tap of the left shoulder button.
The graphics are cartoon styled and have bold and vibrant colours. The movement and feeling of speed isn't bad though some of the scenery does appear rather blocky and vector ridden in parts.
As hard as you try I can't shake the comparison with Mario Kart from my mind.
The race track, power ups and general structure of the game is almost identical to Mario Kart with the obvious exception of the cartoon characters. The game plays well and is great fun in multiplayer mode. That said there is a polish and finesse to Mario Kart that in my opinion Cartoon Network racing fails to emulate. With so little difference between the two then it all comes down to personal cartoon character preference.
I'll stick with Mario and Yoshi!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
About the game
Monster Bomber is a blend of an arcade shoot-em-up game and strategy elements.
Developed by arcade legends Taito and published in 2006 by Majesco, the objective of the game follows the clichéd storyline of protecting planet Earth from a swarm of descending aliens by blasting them out of the sky before they land on your bases.
Comparison to Space invaders is inevitable however the game adds a new level of complexity through the addition of power ups and downs plus a unique missile firing method.
The game has three modes of play; scenario and survival and multiplayer.
In scenario mode you progress through series of stages with set objectives (such as defeat a set amount of monsters). Each completed successful stage allows you to progress to the next level. The stages are layered in a pyramid style and you start at the bottom of the pyramid and progress to the top as each stage is completed.
Survival mode is a little different and offers a more "instant play" version of the game where your main objective is to survive wave after wave of alien invaders until your lives are lost.
As the Survival mode game style is included as in the stages of scenario mode I'll base my review on that. Each screen in survival mode has a defined objective, such as destroy a given amount of aliens or create a given number of chain reactions (I'll explain this later). Despite the objective the method of game play is always the same.
The game playing area is split over the two Nintendo DS screens. The top screen displays the host of invading aliens whereas the bottom screen has a strip of coloured squares that represent the missile fire buttons and also a grey area above that is used for missile trajectory. A line representing a protection shield separates the two play areas.
The aliens in the top screen slowly descend towards the lower screen and when they touch your shield line it is breached and the aliens can pass through the hole. Once an alien has passed through the shield area the game is over.
So how do you stop these multicoloured beasties invading? Simple by using the multicoloured buttons on the rear of the screen fire missile balls at the aliens. You can destroy an alien in a couple of ways.
The first way is to fire a ball the same colour as the approaching alien. To do this you touch on the coloured button that matches the alien colour and hurl the missile ball in the aliens' direction using the stylus to adjust the angle. If the ball hits the alien it is destroyed however if the coloured missile ball hits and alien of a different colour then it turns into another alien.
The second way is to fire a stronger missile ball at the aliens. To create a stronger missile ball you need to click on the coloured button that matches the colour of the alien that you wish to destroy and then hold it in place for a few seconds with the stylus to increase its powers of destruction. When the missile ball is fully charged you can then throw it at the aliens in the usual manner. The supercharged missile ball has a greater payload than its feebler counterpart and when it hits an alien of the same colour it destroys it and all of the other matching coloured aliens in its path. Should the missile hit the wrong colour alien in error then the alien is pushed up the playfield and away from the shield. If this alien collides with an alien whose colour matches the missile ball then a "Chain reaction" is created and all colliding aliens are destroyed.
You may think that using a powered up missile ball would make completing this game a breeze, think again! The powering up of a missile ball can take a couple of seconds and whilst the missile is charging the aliens continue their quest towards your shield. I find that the best time to use this weapon is when there are a large matching group of aliens sharing the same colour that can be eliminated in one large chain reaction.
The game gets further complicated as some aliens require more than one hit to be destroyed. They are sometimes armoured by oil drum coats that when hit explode and reveal the occupying alien.
The best part of the game is where you have a rainbow missile ball. To get this type of missile you must destroy a set amount of aliens. As each alien is destroyed a level meter begins to fill and when it is full up you can then use the rainbow missile ball (for a 5 second burst). The rainbow missile ball destroys an alien regardless of its colour and I find that in this mode you can frantically sweep the stylus back and forth the coloured missile buttons and destroy a couple of rows of approaching aliens before your weapon returns to its usual state.
Fortunately in addition to the rainbow missile ball there are also a large range of power-ups that descend from the top screen and can assist your game play dramatically. There are about ten of these power ups (such as freezing the aliens' movement) and they really do help clear a level. Unfortunately they are quite sparse and don't appear as much as I'd like in the game.
In addition to the power-ups there are also power-downs. These items, like the power ups, fall from the top screen and are activated when shot. These items really hamper your game play and have features such as faster invading aliens that really make the defence task impossible. When playing in multiplayer mode you can inflict these power downs onto your opponents.
Each challenge continues until the aliens have breached your shield line and then its game over.
It's worth noting at this point that up to four people can play this game in multiplayer mode and only 1 cartridge is required to host the game in download play mode. The multiplayer takes the same format as the previously mentioned survival mode, where the last player remaining is the winner of the game.
The game also has the usual save game, sound and difficulty level options available plus a good in-game tutorial.
Sound, control and graphics
The music is computer generated music that bubbles away happily in the background without effecting concentration or enjoyment of the game. The missiles are fired with a healthy retro laser sound and the noise of toasted exploding aliens is gratuitous!
The controls mainly consist of stylus swipes to hurl your missiles at the invading alien fleet. The controls work well although the frantic stylus swiping can get quite tiring on the wrist after a prolonged amount of playing.
The graphics are bright and colourful with the alien sprites being large and well defined. The menus are clear and intuitive and overall the game has a slight cartoon style to it.
The game play is quite repetitive and can become quite boring after a long period of play.
That said, it is a very well designed game and is quite challenging to progress through the levels, particularly in scenario mode. The frantic stylus action may exhaust the casual player although it's an ideal game to pick up when urges to indulge in an arcade game call! There is an element of strategy required in scenario mode and I this can prove tricky, however I found that rapid indiscriminate missile firing usually had the desired effect and cleared the levels regardless!
To conclude I would say that this is an enjoyable game as most of the levels didn't require a great deal of concentration to play and it's a great game for a quick alien bashing fix!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008