- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
For those that have visited Paris, they will know that enjoying a lukewarm coffee and soggy croissant outside a Parisian street side café can be an expensive breakfast. For the hero of Broken Sword, American tourist George Stobbard, it nearly cost him his life. Not because the food was awful though, but because he narrowly avoided a bomb blast intended for a fellow patron... So begins Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. The game was originally released on the PC in 1996 and ported to the Playstation a couple of years later. It was a "point and click" graphic adventure, so-called because you move the mouse around the screen, point at items and click to pick them up, combine them or solve puzzles. The Gameboy Advance version is largely the same, though changes have been made to the control interface because of the obvious lack of a mouse. The opening scene of the café bomb attack is shown in slide show format - the graphics there are colourful but not animated. Compared to the cartoon-like intro of the PC version this is a little disappointing, but is due to hardware limitations of the Gameboy Advance. After the dust settles, you take control of Stobbard as he tries to figure out who planted the bomb and why they killed "the man in the grey suit". Following clues left at the scene of the crime will lead George on adventures around Paris, and eventually to other European countries, in a bid to unravel the mysteries of "the Templars". The game controls are straightforward, the d-pad moves our man around the screen, the A button interacts with the world and you can access your inventory with L. Interesting items are highlighted on screen by a large icon, which changes depending on the purpose of the object. If George can only look at the item, a magnifying glass appears over it; if the item can be manipulated in some way a cog icon is shown; if the item can be taken, a "pick-up"
; hand appears. When stood next to another character, a mouth icon is shown indicating that you can talk to them. By talking to people and picking up items, the story unfolds and George is led deeper into a mystery that spans centuries. It is a gripping tale, well told, with some humourous moments, interesting locations and lively characters. There is a lot of text to read though, with the Gameboy not capable of large amounts of speech. It wasn't a problem for me, but if you have a short attention span the game may drag. You can save anywhere though, in one of 3 save slots, which is handy for when the battery light turns red. As far as graphics go, each location is well depicted - the backgrounds have a hand drawn look to them and the characters are all well animated. Occasionally the main character can look a little blocky, though this only happens when you move very close to the "camera". My only real graphical criticism is due to the tiny size of the screen - items that may have been visible in a higher resolution PC monitor become indistinguishable from the background when everything is squeezed into 240 by 160 pixels. The icon system makes up for this, but you still need to actually "examine" most items rather than knowing what they are by looking at the screen. This can make some of the more illogical puzzles even harder to solve. Sound effects and music are nicely done, from the traditional lively accordion music of the Paris streets, to the menacing tones used later in the adventure when things start to get hairy. Without the atmospheric sounds, the adventure would be a more hollow experience, I think. As for how the game is played, the basic mechanic goes as follows: Enter an area. Find a dead end. Search for items in the area. Manipulate the items found and talk to any people until a new area opens up or a new item is available. Repeat. Some of the puzzles are fairly logical, while others
will have you tearing your hair out. On more than one occasion I had to resort to "try every item with every other" until I found the solution. A more serious gameplay problem is that the game has been released with several critical "bugs". The adventure, while mostly linear, allows you to tackle some puzzles in a different order. Unfortunately it is entirely possible to get stuck if you solve the puzzles out of the order the designer intended. The game doesn't tell you that you have done anything wrong, but items disappear from your inventory and people stop talking to you! The only option is to restart your adventure and solve the game in a different order. Another bug I experienced was caused by revisiting an area (I was desperately trying "everything with everything" at this point) and the game wasn't expecting me to go there - so it locked up and I had to switch the Gameboy off to restart. For a game that has been converted from a stable PC version, these sorts of bugs are almost unforgivable. I say "almost", because despite the faults, BS: TSOTT remains as good a game as it was on the PC. If you have played and finished the PC version, I wouldn't recommend this, as there is nothing new apart from the control scheme - the puzzles are identical. For GBA owners... well, the £30 asking price is cheeky - the game is 6 years old and can be bought for peanuts on the PC - but if you see it cheap or second hand then it is worth playing through. It certainly suits the handheld format. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the bugs.
Beautiful and hypnotic are not words used to describe video games very often, but they describe Rez perfectly. Pure cyber waffle is how best to describe the plot though, but it at least gives Rez the freedom to create a game world that doesn't kowtow to the games industry's current obsession: ever more "realistic" game worlds, often at the expense of playability. The story is something about the far future and an enormous computer network that you must infiltrate. The computer has become burdened by the sheer volume of information that exists in the network - it has an identity crisis caused by the inability to understand human paradoxes, finally the central processor "Eden" goes into an electronic coma. Your task is to journey to the network's heart, find Eden and wake it from its sleep. This is made more difficult by the ever changing network as it tries to fight off viruses and cyber hackers. Rez is straight forward to play; as the character you control floats through the ether of the net, viruses will appear in front of it. You lock on to one with a cross hair and button press, and destroy it by releasing the button. By moving over multiple enemies with the button held down, you can lock on to up to 8 viruses simultaneously. On the surface then, this is not much more than a 3D "on rails" shooter - a modern day Space Harrier, of sorts. What is unique about Rez, though, is the way that the soundtrack, the visuals and the gameplay are so closely integrated. When you lock on to an enemy it makes a drum beat, destroy an enemy and a sine wave is heard. Lock on to multiple enemies and destroy them to create a melody. Each level starts out almost silently, then the pulse of the music increases in intensity, the layers of sound grow until you aren't just destroying the baddies to stay alive, but to keep the music from failing too. Explosions as viruses
are wiped out creates clouds of colour against the dark background of the network. Not that it means the network "areas" are dull - each one of the 5 areas has a unique theme, from ancient Egyptian architecture to what can only be described as "the creation of life". Noticing the themes is not always easy, given that the style of the graphics is remarkably abstract, but never less than breathtaking. Though the viruses themselves are solid looking enough, levels consist only of wire frame borders and objects. As you glide through the network, walls fold in on themselves, pathways emerge out of nothing, giant caverns open up revealing mountains and valleys, all throbbing to the rhythm that you help create. In each area there are 2 other types of thing you will see apart from viruses. The first type is bonus pick ups. These are green, red or blue and will boost either your score, your number of overdrives (a destroy-everything-on-screen smart bomb) or your personal "level". The latter is, most basically, the number of lives you have. Each time you get hit, you drop a level until finally getting hit at level 0 means "game over". However, like with so much of Rez, your level has been given more meaning, and with each level your on screen avatar morphs into a different state. Each new state reveals a new animation for the way viruses are disposed of. Plus, of course, new sound effects for the same. The second type of object you will see are "Network Openings". These floating cubes have to be targeted and shot 8 times, upon which they boost your "analyzation" level by 10% and the "layer level" by 1. The former is vital for progressing into the deeper parts of the network, while the latter adds new layers and melodies to the soundtrack. At the end of each area is a boss, which you must destroy using the age old approach of finding the weak spot and attackin
g it. The boss creatures show no less imagination than the rest of the level, swooping through the field of vision in serpent shapes or attacking with what seems like hundreds of missiles. Dispatching the boss opens up the next area for play, until eventually you must fight for the freedom of Eden. Rez has several game modes, though not all are available at the start. "Play" is the standard Area to Area game mode, and only one of 2 modes available right away. "Traveling", the other mode open from the start, is the same as Play, but you don't take damage and can't open up new areas - it is "perfect for chilling out". "Score Attack" is opened up after finishing the first area. Here you can try for the best score possible to put your name on the hi score table. Finally, "Beyond Mode" is opened after you wake Eden. This contains an extra level and some other bonuses. There are, as far as I can tell, 3 ways to criticise Rez; that it is too short, that the music is rubbish and that it is too weird. The first "criticism" could really be a compliment, as wanting more is an indication that something is enjoyable. With only 5 main levels, Rez may seem a little short. It is not until you realise that the game is not about beating it as soon as possible, but about playing it purely for the enjoyment it gives. Also, unlocking all the hidden secrets will take a very long time and a great deal of skill. Areas in Score Attack, for example, have different virus attack patterns to the regular game, subtly changing the way the levels progress. If you are not a fan of anything that might be described as "dance music" then you may not get on well with the soundtrack. For Rez is trance music; relentless beats, electronic bleeps and sampled effects. You either love or hate it, though this game could make followers of the second school of thought learn to love it.
The final point, that Rez is "too weird", is a sign that Rez is doing something different and original. In this age of at least 2 FIFA games a year, I don't think that is such a bad thing. United Game Artists (UGA, previously of Space Channel 5 fame) and publishers Sega, must be credited for having the vision to release a game that is so very playable and at such a striking tangent to the dross of mainstream gaming.
PCs and games are not a great mix. Switching on a PC, 3 things come to mind: work, the internet and "when is it going to crash?" Without a doubt, games playing is best left to consoles. With this in mind, I have heard much about, but never actually played, the famous PC game "Half Life". Therefore, I don't know what the differences are in this Playstation 2 release, nor whether it has been improved much from the PC version. What I do know though, is that this first person shoot 'em up is old skool tough and downright enjoyable. Even if it is knocking on a bit. The job agency never told me about THIS! ··································· Playing as Gordon Freeman, starting a new job in Black Mesa, you are introduced to the game as Gordon is introduced to his new job; the commute from his home in the residential building to his office deep in the bowels of the company's research plant. You can peer out of the monorail in any direction, but cannot move until the security guard opens the door outside your laboratory. The intruction manual, complete with its photo of Gordon's coffe-stained letter of acceptance, hints at the corporate nature of the company, where everything is on a "need to know" basis. As such, you are pretty much in the dark when you finally take control of our man and begin the days task. Your colleagues hint at an imminent experiment, and eventually you find your way to the science lab after putting on your protective suit. Without wanting to spoil too much, the experiment has "unfortunate consequences", an explosion causes you to black out and when you come round the Black Mesa complex is not a safe place to be. Strange creatures are killing your friends and co-workers and, unarmed, you make it your first mission to escape the lab... ······················ As it's a PS2 game, I will address the most importan
t points first; loading times and rubbish NTSC to European conversions. Then I'll blabber about the graphics and gameplay, before summing it all up and randomly awarding a mark (4 stars probably.) What's the loading like? ······························· Not too shabby, but not perfect either. There is quite a long load in at the start (maybe 20-30 seonds) then in game there are pauses of 10-15 secs every few hundred meters you walk to load in the next section. Though it seems to load more or less after you finish each area "set piece" rather than in the heat of battle, thankfully. However, the breaks for loading really spoil the flow of the game and the atmosphere it works so well to build up. A big "LOADING" message pops up right in the center of the screen, obscuring the cursor and generally looking sloppy. I wish it was a bit less obtrusive - maybe a spinning disk in the bottom corner or something subtle like that. Compared to the only other PS2 game I have bought (Grand Theft Auto 3, which, after the initial loading has virtually none in-game) I'd say Half Life's loading is "annoying". Is the conversion a "Capcom job"? ······························· Thankfully not. Unlike the Survival Horror-peddlers latest atrocoties against fluid gamplay and using all of the available screen space, Half Life zips along in what can only be described as "nearly full screen". There is no option for 50/60Hz though, and I didn't see any sort of widescreen settings either. Still, any ex-Dreamcast owners are not in for a nasty surprise. Graphics. What're they like? ·························· Crisp. The textures are a bit samey, but everything looks very sharp. Lightning effects are used sensibly even if they do look slightly dated; the torch effect, for example, is atmospheric but not very realistic. The enemy models are ok and the
weapons look fairly cool. The variety of NPCs is a bit limited - 2 or 3 scientists, the same gaurds and half a dozen baddies pop up regularly. Apparently all the character models have been improved from the PC version, but sometimes they look a bit weird. Don't know if the limbs are off somehow, or if the "fish eye" lens effect does something, but the humans don't always look "right" to me. Will it make me sick? ································ The frame rate, or how choppy the game appears to run, can vary a fair amount. If you get motion sickness, then I suggest opening a window and turning the lights on - and don't play for hours without a break. When there is nothing happening and you are in a narrow corridor, the frame rate is smoother than melted Sean Connery. When there are people about, or guns firing, it drops slightly, maybe to 20-30 frames per second, but never dips to "sluggishly unplayable" - this isn't Perfect Dark levels of chug. As an example example, in the opening section of training you start in a station, with no one about. The frame rate is very high and everything moves as if coated in olive oil. As soon as you walk to the next section, the frame rate drops a fair bit before anything has really changed on screen - I guess this is because the game has loaded the next bunch of scientists into memory and it has to lose out somewhere. Overall the frame rate is good, certainly not unplayably poor, but it is not consistent and this could bother some folk. I hear voices ·················· There is some weird stuff going on with the character voices at the beginning of the game. Quite frequently they stutter or glitch together. This does get better later on though, as if the programmers realised how to sort it after the first few sections. In fact, the voice acting is generally pretty good; the soldiers comments and scientists' whimpers
add a great deal to the atmosphere. Sound effects are the usual bangs, crashes and explosions. You can use them to your advantage a lot of the time though - listening out for baddies is just as important as watching out for them. Gameplay, what about the gameplay?? ···································· The world is viewed through the eyes of Gordon the scientist. Using the default set up, the controls are move forwards, backwards and sideways with the left analogue stick, look around with the right one. Ladders can be climbed, gaps can be jumped and buttons can be pushed. At various stages, paths are blocked by objects and puzzles must be solved before you can progress. Progress is fairly linear, although some puzzles require a small amount of backtracking. One point worth noting is that unlike many games, Half Life contains just one giant level - apart from the interupption of a loading message, there are no pauses in the action. You are never formally briefed on what your mission objectives are - you just have to guess by what your colleagues say to you and by what is going on around you. This is good in so much as it gives the game an exciting, edgy feel, where you have to think on your toes. But it can leave you scratching your head sometimes and wondering "what the hell am I supposed to do now??". You can save at any point in the game, either to memory card or to a "quick save" slot in memory. The latter is lost when you turn off the game, but is useful if you just want to have a back up of your progress for when you inevitably bite the bullet. As I said, this is a tough game - be prepared to get killed a lot in it. It never seems unfair once you get used to the way it all works, but can be frustrating in the beginning. Losing control ·················· The default controls, which use the analogue sticks, are pretty tricky. My shooting skills were first honed with
a pad on Goldeneye, the N64's tri-pronged input gizmo seemed to be made for it. Later, I turned to the mouse/keyboard option for playing Quake 3 on the Dreamcast. This allows turning on a penny and shooting rockets at any angle in the blink of an eye. Compared to these 2 options, the Dual Shock 2 is a poor third. There are, however, plenty of customisatoin options for the controls - you can configure it pretty much anyway you like. Also, there's an auto aim feature. It may be cheating, but it eventually proves to be useless anyway; later on the baddies move so quickly that it becomes impossible to turn fast enough to target anything. The only way to play the game for me was with a mouse. Using one (a Microsoft optical mouse, which is the best sort for use on the carpet) was as simple as unplugging it from the PC and plugging it into the USB port that Sony included on the front of the PS2. Auto-detected by Half Life, the default configuration was pretty good. Using the analogue stick in one hand for strafe, forward and backwards meant it was even better than having a keyboard. Although whichever way you do it, moving in-game objects about is very awkward. Luckily there aren't too many block shifting puzzles, so it never really hampers the enjoyment. Is Half Life worth the cash? ······························· It probably is, certainly it will last you a fair old while, as it is tough, yet gripping all the way (apart from the last few sections which let the side down a bit.) There are three difficulty levels and a 2 player co operative mode, which is a sort of side story to the main game. The 2 player mode can also be played solo, swapping between characters in a fashion similar to speccy classic "Head Over Heels". Playing through the main game on Normal difficulty first time will take 10-15 hours, depending on how good you are. That's 10 hours of pure gameplay, not padded out with cut scenes or r
ubbish "plot enhancement" bits - any cut scenes are handled in game and you are free to view them (even miss them!) as you like. Half Life deserves the plaudits it got on the PC, it's a great game that and has stood the test of time well. The only thing that stands against it, is that PS2 Half Life is in danger of being swamped by a fair number of very good and very new action games. While it is able to hold its own, I can't help but feel that it should have been available on a console a lot, lot sooner.
Dressing up a traditional role-playing game in fancy graphics is not a new concept, just ask Square. Yet "Golden Sun", from Nintendo and Camelot Software Planning, is the first of its type for the Gameboy Advance and, like so many other graphic showcases, is not quite as great to play as its looks would have you believe... Role-playing games (RPGs), in particular console RPGs, can only ever have one plot - you must save the world from some evil force. Golden Sun doesn't break this tradition. In fact, it doesn't break an awful lot of traditions and, especially if you are an RPG veteran, it will definitely have a large "been there, done that" feel to it. It is almost as if Camelot had a list of RPG constants that must be included. While playing GS you will encounter: · A "save the world from evil" plot · Awful dialogue · Random battles · Villages with coins and stuff hidden in pots · Characters with big heads · More awful dialogue I'm not sure why the dialogue is so bad - it could be a poor Japanese translation - but it is both cringe inducing and tedious to read. The characters repeat what each other says, and it was never very interesting in the first place. Most of the larger plot explanations are incredibly dull, taking minutes of button pressing to skip through, the entire time nothing of very much interest is actually said. That these sections aren't totally skippable is a crime - it is by far the worst part of the whole game and it sucks the life out of any character the main players might have had. Second worst is the "yes - no" choices you are presented with which, with 1 exception, make no difference to the outcome of a conversation. Anyway, onto the game play. Things start off by entering the name for the main character, the default being Isaac. I won't bore you with the details of the opening few scenes, but suffice to say
it all ends up with your character and his friend leaving their home village to go on an epic adventure. The game world is made up of 3 parts; the map view, villages and dungeons. All three are three-quarters over head view, with only the lead character shown on screen. The map view is used when travelling between villages and dungeons. You can zoom out slightly to get your bearings a bit better. The whole thing is generally bland and linear, however, that won't need to use this feature much. Whilst travelling the wild paths between locations, you can be attacked at any time. A white swish of the screen indicates the start of the battle, and then the usual turn based combat screen appears. Your party faces up in a line at the bottom of the screen, the attackers line up at the top. You input the moves you want to make, then everyone takes it in turn to run over to the opposition, smack them about then run back to their line of chums. The battlefield looks especially good, making use of the Gameboy's hardware to show the attacks in a sweeping pseudo 3D. Spell effects are really pretty, with particle effects and huge explosions lighting the screen up like fireworks. Although the spells start out rather mundane, so you don't get to see the graphical wizardry until you are well into the adventure. Tactics are the name of the game in the battles, perhaps not in the initial skirmishes but later on you will need to master the complex magic/familiar system the game employs. Your crew have limited magical ability on their own, but when they are coupled to "Djinn" (magical creatures that you find on your travels) their abilities increase many fold. By finding more Djinn you can become a fighting force to be reckoned with, if you can figure out the best way to combine your new pets. Each represents the four "elements" - fire, earth, air and water - and some spells are only available by having different comb
inations of the four. In all truth, it is probably harder to explain than to figure out. The villages are full of the usual sorts of things - empty houses that occasionally reveal prizes when searched thoroughly, people pottering about repeating the same line over and over again (usually some hint as to where you should go next) and shops to buy weapons, armour or supplies. There are a few puzzles that can be solved in most villages for extra rewards; most of them require the use of a magic spell or two, some require little more than venturing a bit further off the beaten path and some require you to play mini games for prizes. The village graphics are far more detailed than the world map ones. There is even a fair amount of variety between the different locations, all adding to the adventuring atmosphere. Although it is a bit strange that all the villagers are the same in every single place you visit. Dungeons are shown in the same detail as the villages, though by their nature they are darker and drearier affairs. Most are chock full with cute and clever puzzles - something that is missing from other modern RPGs and I was pleased to see the return of. Although most are a variation on the "move a block" puzzle, they are all fairly well thought out and the map layout is quite good. My final criticism would be the game's length - it seems a little on the short side. Now that "criticism" is really a compliment, I suppose, because it means I after finishing the game I was hungry for more. However, the ending is rather sudden and has a rushed feel to it - almost like the developers were told to get it out the door before a particular deadline. When I reached what turned out to be the final battle, I assumed I was only half way through the adventure, as so many of the plot lines lay unravelled and so little seemed to have actually happened. Paving the way for a sequel, I don't doubt. As i
t stands, Golden Sun fills a gap in the market - it is a well put together RPG with some excellent moments. What let it down are the dire script, a non-existent plot, its rather abrupt ending and forgettable characters. However that doesn't detract too much from the overall package and I would still highly recommend it. Golden Sun is available now on import from Australia (I got mine from www.dvdcrave.com)and America. It plays on a GBA from any region and has a battery back up save for up to 3 games.
The little Internet Explorer icon that sits on my desktop is starting to gather dust. Although I used it everyday for many a year, it now lies redundant thanks to this beauty. Although most people would mock you if you suggested using something other than IE for "smurfing the web", Opera is actually usable. And it does a lot of things a lot better than Explorer. Which means it is light years ahead of Netscape? Good Features -------------- The big thing that Opera boasts about is its speed. To be honest, I haven't really found surfing, i.e. loading and display of web pages, a great deal quicker. What I have found though is that Opera tends to start a bit faster and without dragging my laptop to a complete stop. For me, the best bits of Opera are the mouse gestures and the all-in-one window. There is nothing worse than a load of popups all clogging up space on the main Windows task bar. This never happens with Opera, as all the windows are contained within the browser. The mouse gestures are used to do everyday tasks that normally require button clicks. So, instead of moving all the way to the back arrow and pressing back, you just hold the right button down and move the mouse left a bit. Absolutely brilliant for lazy people! Similarly, there are gestures for forward (right button then move to the right) refresh (right button and move up then down) close window (right button held, move down then right, in an L shape) plus many others. After playing with these for a few hours, you will not be able to use IE's clunky user interface. In fact, I wish all software featured these gestures. I keep trying to close Word documents by dragging down then right. You can also use Opera as an email client or news reader. As an email client it's ok, you can even import your settings from Outlook Express, but it is not much better than "functional", although all the gestures are still i
n there. The newsreading isn't as good, see "Bad Features" for details. Overall the compatibility is very good. Well over 90% of web pages I have tried it on work as expected. This is over several months of using it, not just a quick blast for the sake of this review. The level of customisability is also excellent. It is very easy to configure the file types that Opera will be associated with, whether it is the default browser or not, how image downloading should be handled, your privacy settings (and how to deal with "cookies") plus other aethetic touches. I particularly like how easy it is to change all the button graphics if you have an artistic talent! Bad features -------------- As a newsreader, it is pretty awful. The list of news group articles appears in one window, clicking on one opens up a new window with the message in. It isn't as good as a dedicated newsreaders multi-pane design, that's for sure. Due to its single window design, you lose a chunk of "screen real estate" because Opera needs its own task bar with all the web pages you have open on it. This can be turned off or moved to one of four positions, but it is not completely mobile. There is a big gap along the top row, next to the menu items, that I would love to move it to, for example, but cannot. In Internet Explorer, it is possible to move bars and buttons where you please, a shame that the Opera people didn't copy that idea. Also, the free version has a giant advert slapped in the top corner that can't be removed. The fully licensed version is $37, which deos seem a trifle expensive considering they are competing with a free browser already (IE.) The compatibilty problem is a pain when you chance upon a page that doesn't work. As this doesn't happen too often, it is forgivable, but still annoying. Pages that don't work too well are those that use IE specific HTML
(the stuff code that web pages are written in), very badly written HTML, or some pages that use plugins that are designed for Internet Explorer. Sometimes it crashes as well. Not as often as Internet Explorer, but it still happens. Luckily, when it does, you are given the option of restarting with all the previously opened pages as they were. Handy if you had a load open at once. Summary -------- It is very hard to think of faults with Opera though. It is a very proffesionally put together web browser. If you are expecting it to behave in a completely different way to IE, then don't. It feels very similar. The differences are in the "neat touches" that have been added. Once you have been using it for a while, it is very difficult to go back.
This is the only game I have ever seen proper grown ups play and enjoy. And it stars a monkey shaking maracas, a bee with a tiara and a cross dressing leopard. No, really. Now harder to find than dodo eggs, at least in the UK, Samba De Amigo is based on a Sega arcade game of the same name. It involves the crazy task of shaking electronic maracas in time with Latin-flavoured songs (think Ricky Martin and Tequila, not the impossible to learn ancient language) to achieve a sort of super-funky high score, while impressing your friends and relatives with your smoothness. Samba is a sheer joy to play. You feel like an idiot at first - after all you are stood, maraca in each hand, looking at a screen full of dancing animals - but soon the music gets you moving. Everyone I have shown this to has immediately said "this is GREAT!" and wanted to play more. A plentiful supply of alcohol in the fridge may also have helped, but I still play this one player to beat the "challenge mode". This isn't a novelty game without substance. It is a genuine classic. You can move the maracas freely, but they only register 6 positions. These correspond to high, middle and low, on both left and right side. On the screen are 6 donut shaped things, arranged in a circle with 2 high, 2 in the middle and 2 low. From the centre of the circle of donuts appear blue balls. Each one moves from the centre to a donut, and when it reaches you have to shake the maraca in time and at the right position. For example, a blue ball goes to the top right donut; you must shake the maraca in your right hand in a high position when the ball arrives. Do this and a little "yeah!" appears, miss it and you get a "boo!" Too many boos and it's game over. Get all yeahs and you achieve a "PERFECT!" score. It is more difficult to explain than play. The hard part in playing is getting the rhythm right, as the blue
balls start off fairly easy to hit, but later levels and on harder difficulty settings, they become impossible! Your mum might just about be able to manage easy or even medium difficulty, but try hard and she'd be throwing the maracas at you in frustration! There are various modes too, some better for beginners, some for experts. Training Mode is good to start off with, as this allows you to keep playing without getting "Game Over" for missing to many balls. Arcade and Original are the standard Samba De Amigo game, you play through 1, 2 or 3 songs in a row and try and get the highest score. There are 3 difficulty levels and it can be played 1 or 2 player. Party mode is ok if you have some friends that are at a decent standard of maraca shaking, but is too tricky for the beginner. Also you really need 2 sets of maracas to get the most out of it. This mode has various mini games, but it doesn't seem as much fun as just shaking the maracas to the music. Challenge Mode is a 1 player game that sets various challenges, such as achieve a score over 400,000 points, or get a perfect on a certain song. As a reward, you get more tunes and sound effects unlocked for use in the other modes. In all there are 23 songs, 14 are "real life" ones, such as Tubthumping, Macarena, Samba De Janeiro, etc. and 9 are taken from old Sega video games. You only start off with 6 though. The rest have to be unlocked by playing the challenges or in arcade mode. Typically the game goes for £100+ on eBay now, making me wish I had bought a few PAL copies last November. However, there are cheaper ways of buying it if you are determined. I bought my copy from a US online store, www.tronixweb.com, for about $40 and it works fine on a Dreamcast with a mod chip or with a "boot disk" (a disk that you load first that will then let you play American and Japanese games.) Recently though, I have see
n it cheaper at around $20 to $30. Maracas are harder to come by. The original Sega ones, at least, are impossible to find. Luckily, third party maracas can be bought from some UK based import stores, although even these are rare nowadays. I recommend www.ink-4-less.net, as this is from where I got my first set. They are about £30 from there. I also bought a second set from www.lik-sang.com and, although cheaper, the shipping was pricey, so all in all it probably worked out the same. These sets are called "Cha Cha Amigo" maracas and work pretty well. The detection of the movement is accurate and they have flashing lights too! Only downside is that they need a good shake to register sometimes. Get those arms pumping! With two players the fun is more than doubled, although you will need a fair amount of space, as the maraca shaking can get quite wild. I haven't damaged anything with them yet though. All in all, this is the best party game ever. The great 1-player bonus modes add a lot to the single player longevity too. Just don't let anyone catch you playing it on your own. In fact, if they do, they'll probably want to have a go themselves!
This game was something like 20 years in the making. I remember reading previews when jokes told with Ronald Reagan puppets were still funny. Or so it seemed. When finally released last year this game got rave reviews and everyone said it was The Best Thing Ever. Well, nearly a year later, how has it fared? "So-so" is the answer. It is a game that all Dreamcast owners should play through, but you will need the patience of a saint, the coffee of Starbucks and a will of steel. It is very slow to start, never really picks up and has a disappointing end. Doesn't sound great so far, eh? Off set against the tedium are some true Great Gaming Moments that are not to be found in any other game. What other games offer the player the opportunity to spend hours searching through sock draws in their virtual house? Where else can you play perfect arcade conversions, even if the arcade games in question are from the mid-eighties? And how can you even think another game would give you the chance to purchase cans of coca-cola from exquisitely detailed vending machines? As I'm sure you'll agree, these alone are reasons to get the game, but there's more! OK. I can't keep that level of sarcasm up any longer without doing myself serious long-term harm. In Shenmue you play the role of Ryo Hazuki, who is the son of a martial arts expert. In the opening sequence, Ryo's dad is killed by a mysterious guy who is after a mirror. Ikea doesn't sell magic ones, it seems. The sequence is "shot" quite spectacularly, and this is the same for most of the game; it has a real movie-like feel to it. Every cut scene advances the story along a bit more, as Ryo seeks out to avenge his father's murder. Once the game proper begins you will discover the first major flaw: the controls are awful! If you read my op on Resident Evil, then you'll know I am not a fan of the turn-on-the-spot-then-walk-forwar
ds style of control system. Shenmue takes this to new, previously undiscovered levels of awfulness. Rather than turning on the spot, left and right make Ryo do a sort of "half shuffle" sideways and also rotate a bit. Forward then makes him walk forwards in the direction faced. The problem is that neither are responsive at all. You push a direction and it takes a moment to initiate Ryo's motion. After you let go he keeps moving for a while. It is just horrible, and quite possibly the worst 3D control mechanism ever. The analogue stick isn't used for motion at all; instead it makes our man look around. The environments are spectacularly realised, so you'll make use of the look about option a fair amount. This is the main draw of Shenmue - the wonderful graphics. Never before in a game has a "real life" location been depicted with such detail, it is even more surprising that most of it is interactive. True, most of the interaction consists of "Open sock draw. Hmm. It's empty. Move along" but at least the thought is there. It is a very atmospheric game, not in a scary way like Resident Evil, say, but in a being-in-Japan sort of way. The second draw of Shenmue is the plot - finding out how Ryo gets his revenge! To be honest this is all a bit trudging. You first have to go around questioning people, asking them if they know anything about the men that killed Ryo's father. The questions are all stock; you can't choose what is said. Similarly most characters give you the same answer - "dunno, mate" or a variation on the theme. It is only when you ask the right person that the plot advances and you move on asking a new set of questions. Luckily, some of this leads to the funniest moments in gaming history. Not, you understand, intentionally funny, but instead due to the dodgy translation, terrible voice acting and moronic outbursts from all the characters inv
olved. My favourite comedy moment is when Ryo has to find out about some sailors. He goes around his hometown asking people "where do sailors hang out?" like a lost member of The Village People. None of his neighbours seem to bat an eyelid, instead pointing out the Ryo should "check out the bars, late at night". I haven't laughed so much at a video game since? well, since ever. On top of this, there is a character in the game, Tom, who is supposed to be of African-American decent. Quite why they couldn't actually get somebody authentic to do this guy's voice is beyond me. Instead they have the voice of a guy who crosses from Scottish, to some sort of pseudo-Indian, via North America and goodness knows where. It is toe-curlingly bad, but adds to the general air of kitschness. Just don't take it too seriously. The genuine good bits are in there too. The old skool arcade games are fantastic, you can spend literally hours in the virtual arcade in Ryo's home town beating your hi scores. There is a whole fighting game built in too, with Ryo having access to dozens of "special moves", which need to be worked on in various places around the game world. ("Let's get sweaty!" our vengeful chum says, rather strangely, when you happen upon a spot that is right for a bit of karate practice) I don't want to say too much about the surprises along the way, as that would spoil the.. er.. surprise. Suffice to say it has a bit of love interest, some crazy kung-fu fighting, Chinese gangsters and loads of sailors. If Shenmue were a film, I think it would be "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon". It has a similar sort of pacing, with some great action sequences spaced far apart by some really dull bits. And the end is a big let down in a "yeah, is that it?" sort of way. All of it has a definite martial arts feel to it though, and they both look gorgeous, Shenmue though has the
added bonus of terrible dialogue and an unintentionally hilarious script. I can't wait for the sequel!
Written by a Russian, published by a Japanese company, bought by me, aged 13, in the UK in 1989. Tetris. One of the greatest games... ever is truly multinational and fantastically addictive. This is a review of the original Tetris, that was given away with the Gameboy upon its release. The new DX added a few thigns, such as hi score save, butis pretty similar for all intents and purposes. Even now I boot Tetris up to have a quick blast, some 12 years later. In fact, I just "splashed out" for another copy from eBay it's so great. Now Mrs Quirky and me will be able to enjoy the greatness that is 2 player Tetris. Mmmm. Linky. Tetris is one of the only games that girls seem to like. Must have good taste! :o) So, what's it all about? Well, for all the hermits out there, Tetris is an old skool puzzle game. It comes in two 1-player flavours on the Gameboy - "A Type" and "B Type". They are both pretty much the same apart from A Type goes on forever (potentially) and B Type has a set goal. You start off in A Type with an empty "bucket" and from the top of the screen blocks fall. The blocks are made from smaller squares of four, arranged in all possible combinations. This gives rise to 7 blocky buddies: Skinny 4 in a row block (everyone's fave) Fat all together block L shaped block L shaped block's mirror image A squished S shape Squished S's mirror image Mr T. These blocks fit together, or not as the case may be, and when a horizontal row is formed, it disappears. Any gaps in a row cause it to stay on the screen - the entire world can see that you have messed up? The idea is to keep the falling blocks from causing a pile up and reaching the top of the screen. When this happens it is Game Over (man) you get to put in your hi score, and then start all over again. Determined not to make the same mistake twice? In B
Type, you have the target of clearing 25 lines. This is made tougher by the screen already starting off with half filled rows that you must complete. When you reach 25 lines a load of little on screen characters do a funny Russian-style jig. Very odd. On the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, this was a load of Penguins running around Red Square instead. They don't make 'em like this anymore! There are various difficulty levels, determined by how fast the blocks fall. The faster, the more difficult, as it gives you less time to react. The plus of this is that at higher difficulty settings you get a bigger point bonus for double, triple and TETRIS rows (a Tetris is when you clear 4 rows together, only possible with our good friend Mr Tall and Skinny Block) Multiplayer is also great. I haven't played it for a while, but it has Luigi and Mario in there pulling weird faces and bleeping encouragement. When you clear more than 2 rows together, some indestructible blocks are sent to your opponent's screen. The winner is the player who manages to avoid the screen filling up. This is a spectacular example of gameplay over graphics. Although I have loads of the latest Gameboy Advance games, I often return for a quick blast of the old block buster!
After the news that Ciao was cutting its payments, it was only a matter of time before Dooyoo did the same. But surely our favourite opinions site wouldn't let us down! The good folk at Dooyoo wouldn't cave in and cut our precious 5p per read. Would they?? Oh yes they would! As of midday, Wednesday 24th October 2001, DooYoo no longer pay per opinion, and the payment per read was cut to a measly 3p. This is still treble what Ciao pays, but is still a kick in the teeth for people who aren't the "big hitters" around here (achieving 50+ reads per op). Midday Wednesday came and went and I was still recieving 5p per read. I originally said "Can't last for long though." and it didn't... by Friday I was earning 3p per read. I have to say that having my miles end in 30, 40, 80, etc. doesn't look quite as nice. In fairness, the crown value is going up from £1 to £1.50 per crowned op. However, now that DooYoo has to "make significant cost reductions in order to meet [their] stringent targets" what chance that these will be even harder to come by? The people in charge will no doubt put pressure on the crown givers to be even harsher when considering headgear-worthy ops. The new scheme will, according to those who make the decisions, not really affect us until we have over 20 reads on each crowned opinion. Well, as I only have 1 crowned opinion and there are many, many excellent writers who do not get the crowns they deserve, I think this will have a BIG impact. I hope that people who said they wrote here not for the money really meant it! So, in summary: we are losing out 10p per posted op, 2p per read, but gaining 50p every crown... Personally, I'd rather they kept the crown the same, and just ditched the 10p per op. To read what dooyoo have to say about the new scheme, click the "Community" tab at the top of the page. From there, click in "d
ooyoo news" about halfway down the page. I have also noticed that it is on the fornt page as well now. Oh well, 5ps were nice while they lasted...
Finally, I have completed this blasted game and I can return to normal life. Those were my first thoughts as the end credits rolled across my TV screen. For the last 2 weeks I had been playing Resident Evil Code Veronica almost every spare waking hour, trying to work my way through its tricky puzzles and flesh-eating zombie filled levels. I hadn't really enjoyed all of it, at times it is extremely dull and I wanted it all to be over, but when it was over, I couldn't help but feel a little bit sad. I was going to miss the action sequences and the thrill of finding out what devious plot twist was coming next. I was going to miss the atmosphere created by the tense music, which really compliments the action. Most of all I think I was going to miss the sight of Claire Redfield's little bum wiggling when she walks down a spooky corridor. What I wasn't going to miss, however, was the down right tedious sections of gameplay, the stupid inventory system and the terrible controls. This is a game that will drive you mad with its superb atmosphere and plot ruined by unresponsive controls and plodding backtracking. Now that I have finished it, I am very wary of giving away too much of the plot, or revealing the answers to any puzzles in my gameplay descriptions. I will try and avoid this by being as vague as possible, so don't worry too much about that. Plot ---------- Code Veronica, as part of the ongoing "Resident Evil" saga by Capcom, follows on from the end of Resident Evil 2. The main character, Claire "Perfect Posterior" Redfield, is following on her mission to find her brother, Chris, and bring down the evil zombie-making corporation "Umbrella Inc". McDonalds have nothing on this lot - the anti capitalists would be up in arms if they knew the devious lengths that Umbrella go to to make a bit of cash. After being caught snooping in an Umbrella lab in France, C
laire is knocked out and dumped on an Umbrella prison island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. You just know what is going to happen next... the island becomes *gasp* overrun with zombies and monsters and Claire must fight her way to freedom! Describing any more would be to spoil one of the biggest draws of the game; finding out what happens next. Needless to say, Claire makes a few friends on the way to escape, as well as a few enemies. Puzzles need to be solved, various doors need to be opened and scary monsters have to be shot before you can finally escape the horrors... Gameplay Mechanics ------------------- The gameplay hasn't changed one iota from the first Resident Evil game on the Playstation all those years ago (1996, facts fans!) You move your on screen character around using the digital pad - left and right rotate you on the spot, forward walks forward in whatever direction you happen to be facing. It takes a while to get used to, and when you do the movement of your hero isn't exactly responsive. Turning round seems to take forever, so trying to avoid the undead can be a real chore. To fire a weapon at or attack an enemy, first you must hold down the right shoulder button, upon which your character stops and the weapon is raised to the "ready" position, then press "A" to do the business. This means no running and shooting at the same time, though one slightly new feature is a "quick turn" that allows you to turn 180 degrees in a flash. Still, I would rather be able to run off from the hordes of undead while blasting at them. Most of the puzzles in the game are of the traditional "pick up object A, use at position B. Repeat." There are a few variations on the theme - some are quite nifty - but most of the game involves a lot of gophering about with vases, medallions and other such bric-a-brac. A lot of the doors unlock with anything but a set of keys. I have no idea
what the architects of the buildings were taking at the time, but it can't have been legal. Manipulating which items to carry and when to carry them is an important part of the game. Your inventory only holds a small number of objects, and you will not always know what you need in advance. More often than not you will take the wrong puzzle object on a wild goose chase and spend hours trudging to a door, only to discover you should have trudged there with something else. Infuriating, but part of the "game". Aarrgghh! On top of this, the puzzles have a very familiar feel to them; some of the objects have even made an appearance in other Resident Evil games. Are the designers running out of ideas? With announcements of Resident Evil "remakes" for next generation consoles, I think this might be the case! As you are not going to finish this in one sitting, the game allows you to save your progress. This is done by typing out your location on a typewriter, a neat touch that has been preserved from the original Resident Evil. Each save takes up 9 blocks and 15 can be stored on a VMU. Saving is only possible in certain locations, which adds to the fear factor, as you know that if you should die then you will have to re-do all the hard work put in since the last save. For me, this can lead to the biggest annoyance in the game: the ammunition situation and when to save. Let me explain... When you first start the game, you are given a gun and a limited amount of ammo. As you progress you pick up more ammo and more weapons. However, the first time you play a section of the game, you don't really know what to expect. So you blast everything that moves and are usually struggling through with your last 5 bullets. This is all fine until one point, about half way through, where there is a giant, seemingly unstoppable zombie thing. I tried many a time to kill it with my last 5 bullets, but alas it was
impossible. I was forced to restart the whole game, only shooting zombies that were in my way and avoiding the rest. The reason? Well, I didn't save at the right time, so I had saved the game too far past "the point of no return"... This smacks of sloppy design to me. Surely, as you have reached far enough to find this giant monster, they should give you a fighting chance? Having to restart, because earlier on you didn't know what was coming, so couldn't prepare yourself, seems a bit mean to me. This also happens a few more times later on. There are numerous occasions where, unless you are psychic or read a "walkthrough" guide, you have to start from a much earlier saved point to re-jig your strategy. If that save point is quite a long way back, or too far down the road of "Wrong Strategy" then you are faced with replaying a large chunk of the adventure again. Graphics --------- The graphics are pretty special, one of the best bits. Locations are very detailed and realistic, sometimes a bit too grim though with blood stains and gloop on the walls. This is rated a "15" after all. The "camera" is usually fixed to one spot in the room, but pans across to track your characters motion. Some rooms have several viewpoints, which switch depending on where you are stood. This allows for some hair-raising moments, as zombies hide just out of view, until a camera switch shows them in all their horrific glory. It also leads to some frustration, as you can't see a zombie or monster off screen, you know it's there, but you can't shoot it or run past easily. There were also various times that I got eaten, stabbed or stung purely because I couldn't really tell which way I was facing due to the camera angle. The game runs full screen and is optimised for the PAL region. This means that the detailed character models are well animated and there is no sig
n of "jerky" background graphics. The only time there are borders is when a cut scene happens, and this is to let you know that you are not in control of the characters. These movies and in game cut scenes move the story along nicely. The pre-rendered movies are quite good, but I preferred the cut scenes that used the normal in-game graphics. In these the picture quality seemed less grainy and the character animation smoother, you can see the faces move as they talk, and expressions change with mood. When released last year, this was the prettiest game around and it still stands up well today. Sound --------- As I have already mentioned, the music is very good. While you wander around the game's locations the music always sounds as though something really bad is about to happen. It really helps keep up the tension, even during dullest "wander backwards and forwards trying to solve puzzles" moments. Then, when the inevitable Scary Event happens, the music steps up a gear, making you even more nervous! I think that the overall game would be a lot poorer were it not for such a good sound track. The sound effects are ok too, though they haven't really changed since the ageing Playstation original. Zombies moan, groan and go "splat" when you shoot them. The weapons all have their own sound effect when you fire. Footsteps sound different depending on what you are walking, clanging on metal walkways and thudding on concrete paths. The other baddies have their own spot effects too, though usually little more than variations on the zombie noises. The voice acting in the movie and cut scene bits is, surprisingly, pretty good. The Resident Evil series is famed for its terrible voices, sounding all too wooden and with pretty poor scripting. This time round the acting is not going to win any Oscars, it's extremely hammy, but more than bearable. The characters do say some cliched and silly thin
gs - does nobody proof-read these scripts? - but that the lines are delivered in more than a monotone, we should be grateful. Oh well, this is a game, not a film, right? Lastability --------- I bought the game when it was released last year, so you could say that it has lasted me a long time. However, I was so annoyed at it the first time through, due to having to restart, that I didn't complete it until recently. Upon completion you are awarded a grade, based on how fast you finished, how often you were eaten and other statistics. I received a rather embarrassing "D" grade ("Quirky must try harder and disrupts other zombies with his talking in class") The thought of improving your rank may spur you on to play though again, but for me, now it is completed I can't see myself returning to it. There are some bonus mini games for completion too, and I think you get others depending on what your rank is. Summary ----------- I am unsure how to mark this game. If you can overcome the irritating parts, then the story, atmosphere and some of the trickier puzzles make it worthwhile. It is split into 2 disks, and this almost divides the level of enjoyment in two as well. The first disk is excellent; I really liked it. The puzzles are better; you feel like you solve them rather than stumble on the solution. Level design seems more complete, varied and better looking. The plot has more sinister twists and there are more scares. The second disk is not up to the same standard really. The gameplay involves less strategy and more blasting, so if you hadn't saved enough ammo in the first half of the game, you would be stuck. The puzzles are a lot more linear, little more than "take object A to B"; the tricky bit is getting there with so many baddies. Finally, the plot seems to just come to a fizzley end with no real conclusions. Overall this is a game that you really ought to play.
As part of the Resident Evil series it is probably the best, it certainly looks the part and has some good characters. Just try to ignore the frustrating controls, the familiar puzzles and the occasional bit of hammy acting. Instead enjoy the atmosphere, the plot and the feeling of taking part in your own horror movie.
Gadgets and gizmos are great; video games are even better. So quite possibly the greatest things ever are video game gadgets and gizmos. These are what Lik-Sang sell, so they must be the best online gaming shop there is, right? Well, yes, they do sell fantastic stuff, but getting the gadgets to your front door has its own problems... Being based in Hong Kong, Lik-Sang International can sell all the latest consumer electronic goods that come out of Asia months before they appear in Europe, if they even do appear here at all. Established in 1998, the web site has not always been the friendliest to casual surfers. Originally you could only purchase goods via international money transfers, which were inconvenient and had expensive bank fees. Nowadays they accept most forms of secure Internet payment, for example credit card, PayPal and WorldPay. Navigation ----------- The web site is easy to navigate. The top of the page has a link to all the major video game console categories, from Gameboy to Playstation 2, and latest news and information is presented in an uncluttered way in the middle of the screen. Selecting a console category takes you to a break down of the types of items available, such as controllers, cables and memory cards. Also on the page is more of the latest news (usually Lik-Sang's supply details from Japan) for that console, as well as a list of some of the newest games from Japan. Clicking on one of the sub-categories takes you to the catalogue. Each item has its availability listed next to a small picture. Clicking on any of the items in their catalogue brings up a page with more details on that item. From here you can add it to your "shopping cart", in the traditional manner, before carrying on browsing. In case you want to find something in particular, there is a search function that works pretty well. There is also a news list to be added to, or you can register for email alerts fo
r updates on selected products. In short, this is a well laid-out web site with all the functionality you could want. Stock ----------- The best thing about Lik Sang is what they sell. They sell gaming peripherals and shiny new Japan-only devices that you just wish you could afford to buy in the UK and a fair amount of weird stuff that you never even knew you wanted until you saw it here. All the prices are really good too, but watch out for choosing too much as it soon adds up! A lot of prices are reduced for bulk orders; this is the company that many UK based import places use as a whole seller. Indicated stock levels are usually accurate, allowing you to know whether that import console is in stock now, or if you'll have to wait a few weeks. Ordering ----------- After you finish browsing, clicking on the shopping cart icon at the top of the page takes you to (shock!) the shopping cart page, where all the goods you want to buy are found. From here you can remove items or continue to the checkout. Prices are given in US dollars, but there is an option to display the price in the currency of your choice. These are based on a recent exchange rate, so can vary when you reach the final stage of the purchase, but it isn't more than a few pence normally. The next step in your purchase is to create an account, which is the usual deal: put in all your address details, choose a password and away you go. After creating your account, you can log in when you like to finalise the purchase. The next step is a biggy. As Lik-Sang is based in Hong Kong, the method of getting the gear to your door is very important. They offer 4 methods of shipping, depending on the weight of the goods you order and their value. I will talk more about this in the "Shipping" section. After choosing the type of delivery, the next step is to select your payment method. Although there are several option
s, I am afraid that I have only used credit card, so cannot comment on the others. However, I am sure that the system used is fairly similar, so I will describe how it works for credit cards. Payment ----------- After choosing credit card, you are taken to a secure server page, powered by WorldPay. As WorldPay is an international eCommerce company, with a UK branch, it is also possible to pay using pound sterling. This is an advantage, as it means you don't have to worry about extra commission charges for using dollars with your UK bankcards. Also, it is an extra piece of mind, as only certified companies are allowed to trade using WorldPay (in case you were wary of ordering from Hong Kong.) The next part is rather odd. After finalising the payment, you receive an email from Lik-Sang saying you should confirm that you have paid. I can only imagine that, as WorldPay is a different company, everything is not fully automatic. So, you go to the web site via a link Lik-Sang send you, log in, and select the paid-for order. From here you have to fill out a form saying, "I have paid for this order using WorldPay", and click OK. This is probably just to speed things along. I am sure that if you didn't do this, then the folk at Lik-Sang would eventually notice you had paid (e.g. when they got an email form WorldPay saying their account had been credited by you) but it's best not to leave it to leave it to chance, eh? After this, for your first order, they need to check your credit card details, to prevent fraudulent use. This delays things by a day or so (depending on the swiftness of your bank - I am with the occasionally snail like NatWest and it took less than 24 hours) but is well worth it for the added security. Finally your card is debited and the goods despatched. As previously mentioned, I have only used credit card. I imagine that for PayPal, etc, the system would be identical. After paying v
ia another means, you would tell Lik Sang that the funds are in their account, and then they would finalise your order. Shipping ----------- An important part of the order is choosing the shipment method. This isn't like ordering from Amazon.co.uk - they can't use Royal Mail from Hong Kong! The bog standard and cheapest is ground (sea) shipment. This is by far the slowest though, isn't available for all orders, and goods can take anywhere from 4 to 6 WEEKS to arrive! Only use this one if you are feeling mean and don't care when the stuff gets to you. The next choice is to ship using airmail. This is faster, taking anywhere from a week to 30 days but is more expensive than shipping by sea. The next option is EMS Speed-Post, which is the Hong Kong equivalent of Parcel Force, from what I gather. It takes an average 4 days to reach the destination country and costs a bit more than normal airmail. An advantage over airmail is that you can keep track of your order online. Nice little messages like "The item arrived at its destination country on 11-AUG-2001 and is being processed for delivery to the addressee" keep you informed. Finally, the last shipping option is to use a courier service. You can select UPS or Fed-Ex, depending on the package size. These arrive within a couple of days, but is the most expensive. Again these orders can be tracked online. As you can imagine, with such large distances involved, the problem with all of these methods is the cost. Delivering to Europe from Hong Kong is expensive - a typical order will cost $30-$50 in shipping alone. To make the best of it, it is well worth ordering a load of stuff at once, as then the shipping is not such a high percentage of the total cost. The rates also seem to have a large initial cost, which then goes up slowly for extra kilos making it better value to order more. However, this brings me on to the second problem in ordering fro
m the Far East... the dreaded UK CUSTOMS Customs ----------- When importing goods from overseas, Duty and VAT must be paid on all the items that are in excess of your personal "Customs Allowance". This is a rather mean £18 for goods from outside the European Community. The current duty rate is 2.2% and the VAT rate is 17.5%, so you will have to allow for this in your budget for the final price. For goods marked as "gifts" the allowance goes up to £36. Although I have not asked stuff to be marked as a gift by Lik Sang, I am told that they will do this. It is bending (er, breaking?) the rules a bit, but sounds like a useful tip. The UK Customs office seems to randomly check goods, so if your order is not in a giant box and comes in via air or sea freight then there is a fair chance you will get away without paying the extra. However, ordering a giant parcel or choosing the courier shipping method guarantees that you will have to pay. Not only this, but also some couriers actually charge you extra for the privilege of shopping you to the Customs officials! To make things worse, sometimes you will have to wait a very long time while the men in suits decide how much to charge you. So although the "3-4 days" shipping promise may be true in that it reaches Blighty in that time, you could have to wait a few extra days while it sits in a warehouse awaiting approval. None of Lik Sang's products are dodgy or illegal - but anything from that part of the world does come under extra scrutiny. It may even be worth paying the extra to couriers to make sure your stuff is delivered within a decent time frame. Overall ----------- Lik-Sang is one of those online shops that you can't visit too often; the stuff they have is just too tempting! The web site layout makes it easy to find what you are looking for, or just to browse the latest products. Payment is straightforward and secure and t
heir customer service is good; replying fairly promptly to email requests and keeping you informed of your order progress. The downside is the giant shipping costs and the related problems with Customs. If you are prepared to wait or can order a fair amount at once, then this is a treasure trove of video gaming delights.
I wasn't sure about zoos, the last one I went to a few years ago wasn't very clean or well maintained and I just felt really sorry for the animals. The last thing they should be seen to do is to exploit animals for entertainment. Also, given that Spain is hardly well known for its fair attitude towards animal rights, I was a little bit hesitant about visiting "Zoo Aquarium de Madrid". Luckily, Madrid Zoo was nothing like my expectations, it was clean, well maintained and every possible step was taken to ensure the safety and comfort of the animals. Info ===== Situated in Casa del Campo, the green parkland area just to the west of Madrid, the zoo covers 20 hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 square meters) and was opened in 1972. Since then other additions have been made, namely a "Dolphinarium" (opened in 1987) and more recently an Aquarium (opened in 1995.) The Dolphinarium is used for the protection, breeding and exhibition of Dolphins. It has a large main pool, where the dolphins are normally housed, and 2 smaller covered pools for training and medical purposes. The Aquarium is inside a giant glass pyramid building and is home to many species of tropical fish, plants, and (one of my faves) sharks. The main area of the zoo is divided into different "zones"; each zone contains only animals from a single continent. This is a great idea; it really prevents you from just seeing random animals dotted around in a haphazard fashion. For example, all the animals from Asia are in enclosures on the east side of the park, while all the African animals are on the west. Apart from being a showcase for wild animals, the zoo is also concerned with the study and conservation of species that, in the wild, are threatened with extinction. It also receives animals from other zoos. The latest of which being a pair of Koalas from San Diego Zoo. In total, Zoo Aquarium de Madrid is home to aroun
d 5,000 animals from over 500 different species. OK, that is the facts. Obviously to list all the animals and describe them in detail and such would be a bit silly, so instead here are some of my personal favourite bits: My fave bits ============= Dolphin show ------------- Anyone familiar with the dolphin shows in places like Florida or California will immediately know what to expect here. 4 dolphins give the show, assisted by 2 dolphin trainers. One trainer supplies the fishy rewards, the other gads about in the pool. The dolphins perform pirouettes, jumps out of the water to thwack balls with their tails, push the dolphin trainer about with their snouts and carry out all sorts of other dolphiney tricks. The seating for viewing the show is above water level, and from the terraces you cannot see the dolphins as they swim. However, there are steps that lead to an area next to the water tank and from here it's possible to watch everything from dolphin-eye view. Although traditional and somewhat cliched, the show here was still highly enjoyable and the dolphins seem to enjoy performing their tricks as much as the crowds enjoy seeing them. In all there are 8 dolphins and the ones that take part vary from show to show, so they don't become too tired. Bird of prey show ------------------ A relatively new addition is the bird of prey exhibition (started in 1998). Taking place around a specially built lake, the birds are set free to fly from a bird handler on one side, to a handler on the other. There is seating all around the lake, and at the start of the show everyone is told that it is imperative they should sit down. The reason for this is immediately clear, as the giant birds swoop across the water and literally skim the heads of the crowd as they fly between their handlers. Unless you work with these animals, then this is the closest you could ever come to seeing a condor, bal
d headed eagle or vulture flying freely. It is a breath taking experience, but more than slightly scary. When well-trained and highly skilled animal handlers demonstrate the care and respect they have for the birds of prey in this way, the results are very beautiful and spectacular. As you can tell, I really enjoyed this bit of the day. As with the other shows and feeding times, it's best to check the timetable so that you don't miss out. The shows are all pretty busy, so it is well worth getting there at least 15-20 minutes before they start to grab a seat in the shade. Red pandas ----------- These have to get a special mention, as they are the cutest little animals I have ever seen! Covered from head to toe in dark red fur, apart from their snowy white face, they look a little bit like foxes. Their coat is darker though and their legs and faces stubbier, making them look much sweeter. Their enclosure had plenty of grass and a few trees, which they seemed to love to climb and sleep in. Although nocturnal by nature these were still quite lively in the afternoon sun and definitely won the award for loudest "awwww!" of the day. Other good bits ================ As well as the above, there are some other Nice Touches that the zoo has... Firstly, there is a heap of information. Literally everything you ever wanted to know about each animal (but were afraid to ask?) is written on a little board in front of each enclosure. On top of this, as you can imagine with such a huge number of species and the sheer size of the place, there is an enormous amount of things to see. And you can usually see them very well... In general, each enclosure had a large piece of open ground, surrounded by a moat, then a few shrubs and a chest high fence. This gave a very good view of the animals and they had plenty of space to walk around in without being mithered by the public. For some of the less ferocious an
imals, the moat and fence were closer together, to give an even better view. Meanwhile, for extremely dangerous or agile animals, there was a larger moat or even, in the case of the white tigers, a glass screen. While not offering quite as good a view, this was obviously necessary for the safety of the animals and the visitors. For fans of plant life, each tree, shrub, bush or flower that was not indigenous had a label describing its origin. Although I wasn't too bothered, I could imagine my mum (a keen gardener) having a field day. Bad bits ========= The zoo is extremely good, but for the sake of a balanced review, I have to make a note of the bad points. These wouldn't prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending that you go, but they did but a slight dampener on certain parts of the day. Gorilla enclosure ------------------ The biggest flaw, as with all zoos, is that some of the animals just looked a bit sad and lonely in captivity. The gorillas especially looked very depressed. Although they had a large pen, with grass, a pool and tree stumps and branches for playing on, I was upset to see these noble creatures sitting around looking bored to tears. Maybe it's because they look so intelligent, and being locked inside a cage goes against their very nature. Whatever, they didn't seem to share the same happy and lazy lifestyle enjoyed by many other animals in the zoo. To make matters worse, there were some idiots tapping on the glass walls and taking flash photos, despite the large signs asking them not to. This was probably the worst part of the whole day, and be warned that if you were to go, the gorillas may well upset you too. Also, we went in summer. It seems that in winter the animals aren't outside as much and you have to look at them inside their winter enclosures. I'm not sure how this works though, the enclosures did seem more like animal stables, so be warned t
hat it may not be quite as spectacular in wintertime. Tacky sea lion show -------------------- Although the other shows mentioned above were great, the sea lion show was awfully tacky. The reason the other shows were so good is that the animals were the centre of attention, doing pretty much what they would in the wild, albeit with a bit of coordination and special training. However, the handlers of the sea lions, while undoubtedly skilled zookeepers, wanted to be the centre of attention. They seemed, to me at least, to be a bit patronising towards the animals. The "comedy" antics between the handlers and the animals were supposed to entertain and I felt like we were supposed to laugh at the sea lions' behaviour, rather than enjoy watching their natural grace. This was the only time that I felt the animals were being even slightly mistreated. Fortunately the sea lions did seem to be having fun too, so I didn't mind that much. I just wish it hadn't come across as being so cheesy. Info in Spanish ---------------- Although there is a lot of information, it is mostly in Spanish, so unless you have a your own personal translator (mine got bored after the first 2 times I asked her to translate something), you won't be able to appreciate it all. The animal names are in most languages though, plus the new aquarium has most things written in both English and Spanish. Sadly, you won't be able to find out exactly what a "bongo" eats without consulting your dictionary. Finally, not really too bad a point, but it's all really knackering! The sheer size, coupled with the heat (we went on a hot summer day) means that you are completely worn out by the end of the day. Take plenty of bottles of water too, the drinks are expensive but there are free drinking fountains dotted about the park. We took giant sandwiches, so I don't know how expensive the food is, but I woul
d imagine "very" is the answer. Conclusion =========== Zoo Aquarium de Madrid is a fantastic day out. I really enjoyed it, despite not usually being a huge fan of zoos. There is so much variety in the number of animals to see, plus the bird and dolphin shows are great. Don't let the bad points put you off, they really are minor compared to how great the rest of the things are. Also, that's my list of personal favourites, there are a dozen other things that are just as good, but you really should go to see for yourself. I don't think the zoo would normally be very high on a visitor's list of "things to see in Madrid" but it is definitely one not to miss. Prices: Adults 1,855 pts. Kids 1,500 pts. (3 to 7 years) Open from 10.30am 'til 9pm Web site: http://www.zoomadrid.com
I recently received a letter from Natwest.com telling me how straightforward their "all new" service is to use. I can only assume that they have never tried to use it over a 56k modem, if at all. Judging by the number of other unhappy punters on Dooyoo, this is not an isolated case. Moreover it doesn't look like they have improved much since some of the other ops were written last year. I've had a Natwest account for a few years now and as I was moving abroad, I decided to sign up for the online version. This was just to keep tabs on my account and make emergency transfers, if necessary. After receiving the bumf in the post last year, I signed up and waited for the forms to arrive. I filled them all out, returned them and waited again for a plethora of secret PIN numbers and code words to be sent to me through the post. When I was ready to go, I went through the rigmarole of thinking up a 12-letter password, filling out a glut of online forms and doing some strange random typing thing. It was all a bit long winded, but as it was all in the name of security I did it. Anyway, I was told to wait for a few days, as they needed to verify me in their system. A few days later I rechecked my account, only to find I had forgotten my 12-letter password (d'oh!) After much brain storming it finally came to me, but not until I had tried and failed 3 times and had to ring up their customer services to ask them to release my now-locked account. They warned me that if I failed 3 more times, my online account would be erased and I'd have to start from scratch. Nice and friendly then, especially considering how easy it is to make a typo. Well, all went drably for a year or so; I rarely checked my account online as it took an age to load anything. Occasionally it would crash my entire PC due to the weird Java security gubbins they use. Ultimately what made me leave it dormant though, was the fact that wh
en it "worked" there wasn't a lot to see. I could just check my balance, I couldn?t look to see what direct debits I had, what standing orders there were, or any other banky things. The options were there, but it just brought up a page that said "Sorry, not available at this time. Please ring this number..." Hardly what I was after, is it? Well, back to today. Here I am living in Spain, nary a Natwest branch nor cash point to be seen, so the only hope I have to check my account is online. A few weeks ago, I braved it again, only to find they have changed the login system. Oh god. After the last effort I was very wary, and rightly so. They have ditched the 12-letter password from before, plus the pins they sent me, and all that other stuff. I had to sign in using all the old stuff first time (copy and pasted from a file on my PC, not very secure, but how else am I supposed to remember it all?) and then they gave me a new user name. I had to think up a new pin and password, again at least 12-letters long. This was starting to get tiresome. Considering how open to fraud the basic debit card is, this seemed to be sledgehammer and nut time. OK, having got my new details, I retired from the site. After all, it was useless and doesn't even tell me what I want to know. Then, this very morning, I received the letter from Natwest, boasting about another new initiative in their online system. They tell me that: "We've made OnLine Banking more straightforward" (Incidentally, the letter was sent to a wrong address, despite me advising my branch 3 months ago that I had moved. Obviously the online section and the rest of Natwest are communicating with each other as slowly as the web page takes to load...) I am not entirely sure for whom this is meant to be straightforward for though. I have just tried to log on, and their "new" site is a shambles. First, just try goi
ng to www.natwest.com. It takes an AGE to load even the opening page. Finally it loads, and I clicked on "log in." Another giant wait later and a confused login page appears, with a heap of tick boxes and form fields as far as the eye can see. After navigating through this beauty, I was faced by a section to put in my pin and password. Or rather, I had to put in a part of them. For example "enter the 4th, 2nd and 3rd numbers of your pin" and "enter the 8th, 12th and 5th letters of your password" As if remembering the blasted things in the first place isn?t difficult enough, now I have to be some sort of Carol Vorderman-esque alphanumeric whiz kid. Sheesh. OK, I write down all my details on a bit of paper, count on my fingers, and away I go. At least, away goes the page. "404 not found." I try again, and this time, joy of joys, it logs in. And the 5-minute countdown timer begins. If I remain "inactive" for 5 minutes, the system kicks me out. I click on "statement" to see what new and improved things they have added and wait for it to load. And wait. And wait some more. "404 not found" Arrrggghhh! By now the countdown timer is ticking towards a time out, so I click on another random option. Same palaver, the page refuses to load. The timer reaches 0. I get kicked out. Natwest Online is rubbish, plain and simple. I can't recommend it in any way shape or form. It's too faddy about passwords, the user interface is messy and then, when and if it eventually loads, the information is not always available. It may be secure, but it seems too secure to even check your own account! Sadly, this is the only way for me to view my funds without paying expensive phone bills. It looks like I'm stuck with it for now, but if you have the chance, don't choose this waste of time. UPDATE Well, since writing the above, it
looks like Natwest have got their act together somewhat. The site still only works with Internet Explorer, the password stuff is still a conundrum for those half-asleep but now... things work! My biggest complaint was the load time on a standard modem. Previously, you had to wait forever for the site to show itself, then it would boot you off because you had been "inactive" for too long. In reality, you were just sat there patiently watching Internet Explorer's little icon flutter about as the page downloaded. Now the site is still far too graphics heavy, but it does seem to load a lot quicker. This is probably down to faster servers keeping up with demand (or possibly, agitated customers no longer using it so for those that still do, it seems faster!) There is still the 5-minute timer, which psychopaths can change to 2 minutes, but with a faster loading site it isn't such a problem. The second important change is that now I can access all my standing orders, direct debits and all that guff. Hurrah! To change any of this, you have to type in letters from your password (again) but at least it's there now. I think if there are any more changes, I might add an extra star... Oh look! Another change! This one isn't such a biggy, just a cosmetic overhaul. The layout of the account page is now a lot better looking. They still have the awful yellow log in pages, but they have ditched the cheap-o looking buttons for a more standard-looking Windows style. Once logged in, the pages looks a lot better than before, with menus and submenus down the left side and help and print page icons in the top right corner. Obviously someone at Natwest has realised that it is probably a Good Thing to have their web site behave a bit more like standard Windows applications, rather than the hacked together affair they had previously. There are still problems; it doesn't always let you log on, telling
you that the service is unavailable, and they don't seem to reply to emails, but the site has improved since I wrote my last opinion. I would now mark this as 3 stars, although I would still be hard pushed to recommend it to a friend.
I first tried this piece of software a couple of years ago, but it wasn't very good. It continually hogged system resources and often caused my Internet browser to crash. Worse than that it didn't even get rid of the adverts like it was supposed to! After a friend told me about how good it was recently, I decided to give it another shot and downloaded the latest version. I am amazed at what an improvement they've made... The Web site ------------- OK, first thing first - the web site. It seems aimed at corporations, as the page isn't exactly riveting. This isn't a problem though, corporations are where the WebWasher (WW from now on) people get their revenue, for private users like you and me, WW is free! I don't begrudge them a drab web site as long as the information is up to date and the product works well. Anyway, head to the "Download" section and you are faced with 2 options. The freebie version that we are after, or the "Enterprise Edition" for businesses. Clicking the "download WebWasher" link takes you to the obligatory licensing page. Click again to say you are going to use it at home or for educational purposes and you are faced with yet another option page, which operating system you use. As I have an Internet connection from Windows, I chose just that. There are also WWs for Linux and the MacOS, should you use either of those. Finally, after 4 pages, you get to the files. Select which server to get the file from (none are particularly slow) and then WW starts winging its way onto your PC. The software is just over 1 Megabyte, and takes about 10 minutes to download on a normal modem. Installation -------------- Once you have the file on your hard drive, you just have to double click the icon and watch the installation process fly. You can install in English or German only, no other language options exist. The final installed program
takes up a fairly measly 1.33MB. You are given options to place an icon on the desktop and quick start menu, and also choose to have WW run on start-up. I chose the desktop icon only, as I wasn't confident enough in the product to have it auto-starting yet. Operation --------- WW sits between your web browser and your connection to the web. Every time you ask for a page, WW behaves as the "proxy" and gets it for you. On the way it analyses the HTML (the stuff web pages are made of) and determines which parts are advert and which are content, it removes the ads and leaves the rest alone. Once started, the filtering begins straight away. I really noticed the difference in the amount of advert clutter that disappears from web pages. The makers claim that your web surfing speed will also increase, but I can't say for sure if this is the case. I assume that it must be faster, as the adverts are not only removed from the pages, but are never downloaded in the first place. When WW is running, there is a little "W" icon in the system tray. Every time the washer springs into action this icon turns from white to blue. Clicking on it toggles the washing action on or off, just in case you feel like being told what to buy again. For statistic fans, you can view how much data has been received, how many adverts have been filtered, what malicious advert cookies have been rejected and numerous other "washed" items. Interesting in a train spottery way. Rather cleverly, an option is added to the right click menu in Internet Explorer (or Netscape if that is your chosen browser) that allows adverts that WW misses to be added to the filter list. Next time the page loads you won't see the offending ad. A handy feature, but thankfully one that you don't really need very often, due to the built in filters working so well. If you find that WW is filtering things you d
on't want it to (and I haven't yet, it seems to be very "intelligent") then there are options to change the fussiness of those built in filters. Selections can be made based on whole URLs, domains, scripts, pop up windows and animated pictures. There is a myriad of options, however most don't seem to do much, so it is probably safest to stick with the given defaults, as they seem to work extremely well. Some problems -------------- Of course, life isn't perfect and neither is WW. It certainly has a few bugs, nothing major enough to stop me from recommending it, but still annoying. The first problem is it's apparent inability to stop certain pop-ups from appearing. I wish there were a way to add them to a list like the adverts, but sadly there isn't. I have tried playing around with the various options but as with most free stuff the instructions are a bit vague. Maybe it is due to the advertisers being clever, but I have a feeling it is more likely due to an oversight in WW. Humph. Also, if you have a lot of different logins for different web sites then WW could give you some problems. It occasionally, and in a rather random fashion, removes the handy user names and passwords that Internet Explorer keeps for you. While this may be due to my preferences being too strict, it does get a bit aggravating. Overall -------- I really wasn't expecting much after my previous experience of WW, but this new improved version seems to be a Godsend in this age of "spot the content over the adverts." It also doesn't install a load of its own spy ware onto your system, as some people may fear. I checked my PC after installing WW, using Lavasoft’s "Ad-Aware" program, and nothing was found. I recommend this to anyone who regularly gets annoyed at how many adverts there are cluttering his or her favourite web pages. This opinion i
s based on WebWasher running on Windows 98 and 2000.
Until this game, I always knew Tony Hawks to be a slightly amusing comedian who appeared regularly on celebrity panel game shows and had provided the voice for the vending machine in Red Dwarf. Now here he is rolling around on a skateboard performing all sorts of crazy tricks! An amazing career change, plus he's American now. And he looks completely different. Hmmm. Anyway, that isn't important. What is, is that this game may as well be glued into my Gameboy Advance. It is incredibly good, and I will try to explain why. For those folk who have just emerged from their cave, THPS2 is a skateboarding game. You select a skateboarding "dude" and go out onto the mean streets to perform tricks for points and prizes. You always move forwards without having to press anything. Tricks are performed by either tapping or holding A or B, or with a combination of buttons and direction controls on the D-pad (the cross shaped control pad on the GBA.) Great video games are made from a combination of lots of factors, but the basic controls have to be spot on. Luckily, Tony doesn't let us down here. They are far easier to use than to explain. At first you think you can get away with random button bashes to pull off your tricks. This is okay for a while, then you realise there is some timing involved. Eventually you'll get the hang of most of the common moves and want something more. Soon after you'll notice that some tricks can be strung together for massive score multipliers. Finally, persevere long enough (and you will) and the elusive "special tricks" will be under your control, able to be executed with a flurry of button presses that beginners would think impossible. This simple-at-first-but-with-hidden-depths control system is just... perfect. Every time I play I think I can beat my best score, and the more I play the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to play...
get the picture? It's super addictive stuff. Skateboarding always appealed to me as a youngster. I have a not-quite-visible scar above my left eye from a particularly nasty crash. This is another Good Thing about THPS2; the crashes look really, really painful. A good job too, as you will be doing a lot of crashing at the start. Whenever your little skating man (or woman) messes up a move, they come a cropper in a beautifully animated way. And then red splodges of blood gush from their head, arm or leg. I defy anyone not to wince the first time they see a "rail balancing" trick go wrong, and the skater end up legs akimbo over the bar. Ouch. So much could have gone wrong with this game if the graphics had been horrible. Fortunately they aren't - they are the best the system has to offer. Each skater is modelled in 3D, with their baggy trousers and hoodies small, but perfectly formed. The background is fixed to an isometric 3D view, and if parts of the level obscure Tony and his mates then the offending walls go transparent. This is a good compromise over the full 3D worlds of the Playstation original. After a while you won't even realise that it's in anything other than some sort of "Tony Vision" as your eyes adjust. After playing this solidly for a few weeks, I started to see the real world in "Tony Vision". I would see a bench or a railing and think: "hey, that is ideal for grinding on, I just have to press B to jump up there and...." Shortly after this I thought I had better take a break for a few hours. So, everything is perfect? Well, nearly... the only real complaint I have is with the sound. It's probably more to do with the limitations of the GBA, but it is the weakest link. I always switch it off anyway, to save batteries, so it's not really a problem. One other titchy minor niggle I have is that some of the tasks that you need to perform s
eem absolutely impossible. Anyone with the game who tells you they have found the hidden tape on the New York stage is lying, I swear! Although, given the standards of the rest of the game, chances are I just need to practice some more. So, I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone with a Gameboy Advance. Not only is it a "show off to your mates" type game, but also brilliant in its own right. Just don't try any of the tricks you see in here at home.