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One of the most discussed topics on Twitter at this moment in time is that actor James Avery, who might be better known for his portrayal of Judge Phillip Banks on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", has passed away. Fortunately this was a false flag report and it's likely that uncle Phil is still living large and in charge! However, in light of the recent news scare, I have been prompted to reflect on my time as an autograph collector and took a glance at my collection once again.
I was a dissatisfied trading card collector before getting into the autograph scene. I can't quite remember what prompted me to try my luck at sending letters to celebrities, but I do remember one of my first successes being Judge Judith Sheindlin of the "Judge Judy" television programme in the United States. My letter of request was sent through her official website and I received a signed black and white photograph about 10 days later. I have since gone on to build a collection of roughly 70 signed photos, but lulled out of the hobby due to the majority of them arriving damaged through rough handling and questionable delivery practices by the Royal Mail. I didn't feel it was appropriate to dedicate my time to writing personal heartfelt letters to my adored celebrities and for the recipient to accept the cost of printing, packaging, and the like only for the middle man to ruin the experience. Yes I did complain to the higher-ups of the Royal Mail, but no I did not receive a resolution that was to my satisfaction as a customer. My last signed photo was mercilessly shoved through my letter slot on May 11, 2009 and I haven't sent any letters since then.
Storage was one of my primary concerns when first breaking into the hobby of collecting autographs. After all, photographs aren't small items by any means and can quickly spiral out of control if the hobbyist is building a collection "in bulk" per se. Many local department stores and national chain stores carry photographic material, but it is rare to find an acid free solution that is said to preserve and protect the photograph for a lifetime. In fact, a lot of what is available to most customers locally could end up destroying the photo over a lifetime! "Magnetic" and sticky adhesive albums should be avoided at all costs as the glue's unrelenting tension can bond to the photo over time and impregnate it with acidic chemicals that eventually distort the image to a yellowish colour. The storage solution that works best for me is a combination of acid free photo sleeves and a similar acid free style four ring folder, which were both ordered from a professional photo shop on the Internet. This allows me to store the folder upright, which effectively displays it as a part of my bedroom or home office's decor and keeps my autographs a part of my daily life. My signed photos also serve as great conversation pieces when guests come over and I needn't worry about unsightly smudges or dirty hands.
All autograph pursuits start by approaching the celebrity in person or by sending a letter of request through the post. I find the latter option is the one that suits me best as I prefer to organize my thoughts in writing as opposed to rambling incoherent sentences in a moment of awe. Letters should be formatted as polite, professional, and concise messages. Keeping a letter to one page or less is important as actors, sports personalities, and other famous individuals tend to live with hectic schedules and don't truly have the time to appreciate lengthy five page missives. Letters should also be organized by writing an introductory paragraph, a paragraph of appreciation for their work or achievement, and a closing remark that requests a signed object of some sort. There is a continued debate in the autograph world surrounding the effectiveness of handwritten versus typed messages, but I have usually had success with typed messages as I don't feel too confident about my handwriting. I'd prefer the recipient being able to appreciate my message rather than getting lost in the messiness of it all!
It is considered customary to include a self addressed stamped envelope with written requests, which is better known by the acronym "SASE". International autograph requests tend to create problems for stamped envelopes as a lot of us don't have access to the foreign stamps that the recipient's country will recognize as legal issues for postal use. This can be alleviated by purchasing an "IRC coupon" from many high street post offices. IRC coupons are used in exchange for the standard airmail rate in the recipient's country and are generally accepted in most stable populated nations. IRC coupons should be included with letters of request for the recipient to use upon posting.
Authenticity is obviously a concern for many autograph collectors. While there are no concrete rules to determine authenticity, collectors may purchase sample books and other authoritative sources that outline the genuine signature of celebrities or high status individuals. No two signatures will ever be identical, but the general "shell" of a signature ought to be present when determining what is authentic and what isn't. Some celebrities are known to use "autopen" machines that trace their signature onto an object, use a rubber stamp, or even employ secretaries to sign autographs. Catching unauthentic autographs can be a difficult process. However, it's all in the fun of the hobby!
The circle of life is one that will eventually come to a close on all of us. Celebrities can touch our lives in ways that enrich our free time for the better. A simple letter of appreciation to express one's thanks can do wonders for the soul, but receiving a signed item in return can be a mesmerizing sight. I cherish my handful of signed photos and don't plan on getting rid of them at any point soon. The James Avery scare of today has made me stop and think about the hobby once more. Maybe it's time to write my favourite celebrities again.
The collecting of postage stamps is one of the world's most popular indoor hobbies. It brings the hobbyist into closer contact with our outer world and exposes the excellence of nations that we may not even consider in waking moments. The hobby has also been the recreational pursuit of many world leaders; including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Stamp collecting has roots in British culture. The first postage stamp was released for use in Great Britain on May 6, 1840. The stamp depicted Queen Victoria against a solid black background and carried the value of one penny. It was issued as an "imperforate" stamp, which did not feature any "teeth" on the border of the stamp like many of us are familiar with today. It is currently one of the most sought after stamps in the hobby and carries a catalogue value of up to £4,500 for mint condition examples as of 2005. The value of stamps frequently fluctuates as condition and rarity play crucial roles in determining retail pricing. Many collectors feel damage significantly reduces the value of a rare stamp and may even make a common stamp worthless. Because of this, it is important to adequately protect and store a stamp collection during its lifetime if one is considering future resale value. A well-maintained stamp collection is also very aesthetically pleasing and provides a great presentation for all who view it.
Acquiring stamps is the first step in building a stamp collection. The most budget friendly method of acquisition is by saving envelope clippings from the post and "soaking" them in tepid water to remove the stamp. Collectors may also ask friends and family members to save envelopes that bear stamps in aims of building a larger collection. Unfortunately, the introduction of the Franking metre tariff and shipping labels has considerably reduced the number of postal used stamps in modern circulation. I know I can go many months without ever seeing a stamp on my mail despite the high volume of items that are shoved through my letter slot around midday. However, this is of great benefit to dealers and other retailers as customers seeking stamps come flocking to them in search of their elusive items. I find this is by far the easiest way of building a stamp collection, but I'm left in the lurch on many occasions as my local dealer's meeting and fair is only hosted on a quarterly basis. I do enjoy modern themes issued by the Royal Mail and willingly queue at my local post office to purchase the newest sets, but am never really aware about how much I'll be spending on the day with the seemingly always increasing stamp rates.
After some stamps have been acquired, then it is up to the hobbyist to choose an appropriate storage method. It can be a simple lumping of all material into a shoe box, but this doesn't allow any spectator to enjoy the stamps. The two most widely accepted storage solutions for stamp collections are hinged albums and stockbooks.
The album is a bound booklet where collectors may affix their loose stamps using stamp hinges. This is the most economical solutions as stamp hinges may be bought by the thousand for as little as a pound, but is said to be inappropriate for mint condition stamps as hinges tend to leave unsightly brown marks when removed. Stamp collectors may also use stamp mounts to affix their mint condition stamps in an album as these bound and protect the stamp without making contact with the adhesive gum. However, stamp mounts carry a higher unit cost and might be inappropriate for stamps only worth 1p from a collector's perspective.
Stockbooks are a somewhat new invention in the world of stamp collecting. They present stamps in an album-like fashion, but do so by holding the stamp in place under a strip of material. This is usually a more expensive alternative to albums as stockbooks tend to be fewer in pages and made of acid free materials, but preserve stamps in their original condition as the use of stamp hinges isn't required or even possible. Stockbooks can provide an excellent solution for those who are concerned about future resale value.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I was given by a stamp dealer was "choose a theme or country of interest early as you will never collect every stamp ever; it's too expensive and too time-consuming". This is true as briefly sifting through a Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue quickly reveals the true cost associated with the collection of rare and early stamps, which usually exceeds thousands of pounds. Fortunately, there are many themes and topics available for collectors who are unable to identify any countries that may be of interest. A collector may find stamps on animals, boats, chess, Disney characters, football, and much more.
Stamp collecting has been a great source of pleasure and personal interest for me. It has provided me with an abundance of geographical and political knowledge without the need for a more learned academic approach. The hobby has captivated my mind and I don't plan on forsaking it any time soon. No, not even Anne Robinson's snarly remarks can deter me!
"Monster Truck Madness 64" is an off road racing video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 by Rockstar Games. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
Based on the popular PC CD-ROM series, Monster Truck Madness 64 ports the premise of unruly racing carnage to the Nintendo platform. The title features vehicles seen in the second installment of the computer game which include "WrestleTrucks" portraying licensed professional wrestling characters formerly seen in World Championship Wrestling. It also includes the standard prolific monster trucks such as "Bigfoot" and "Grave Digger".
The gameplay of this video game keeps to its humble roots of simulated racing seen on the personal computer, though adds a few arcade like features to appeal to a younger audience. The enhancements are particularly noticeable in the head-to-head multiplayer option. Fans of the computer game may be familiar with the "Summit Rumble" mode which pits players in an open confrontation where the monster trucks must remain in a point scoring area while carelessly crashing into others in aims of protect their turf. In addition to this mode, players may also access hockey, football, police chase, and tag. The first two sport based modes play identically to one another and only feature cosmetic differences. A ball will drop into the centre of the display, and it is the player's objective to guide it into an opposing net to score a point using the monster truck. The latter two options serve as hidden features which become accessible after a series of successful in-game races. Single players will be met with single exhibition races and tournament circuits consisting of checkpoint style race tracks.
One aspect which immediately struck me in the game is its lack of customizable monster trucks. In the computer games, players were able to enter a "garage" and tweak attributes such as suspension, tyre treads, and top speed to acceleration ratios. This is absent in the Nintendo 64 release and immediately puts the player in control of the vehicle after selecting a monster truck. The handling of each vehicle is reminiscent of "professional" level difficulty in the computer game which saw me wildly spinning and meandering off course while attempting to turn at maximum speed. The controls could also be described as very sensitive. The slightest adjustment to the joystick yields a severe reaction and it is very difficult to control precise turns around slight bends in the course.
Weapons have also made their way into Monster Truck Madness 64. Represented by floating icons found near corners and bends in a racing course, players may simply drive into an item to equip it for use. This gives the game a "kart" like feel which arcade enthusiasts may enjoy. This does, however, break free from the dedicated simulation which was offered by the computer games and thus isn't something I particularly enjoyed. The level of control sensitivity multiples itself by high numbers after being struck with a heat seeking missile or after driving across a slippery oil slick, and becomes almost impossible to successfully progress without coming to a full stop and accelerating once more.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's monster truck. I enjoyed the visual presentation that this game had to offer. While limited to 10 popular selections, the race courses keep to what is seen on the personal computer, and monster trucks themselves are very well detailed which allows easy appreciation of their central themes. I didn't notice any obvious areas of slowdown in my racing experience and was quickly able to adjust to issues such as driving off course or rolling over; which immediately flips the truck upright instead of radioing in for helicopter assistance. The soundtrack is presented by overhead commentator "Army Armstrong". Players will hear his American style southern drawl which abruptly pops up after accidents or high flying jumps through the air. Otherwise, the soundtrack is limited to generic rock instrumentals and standard vehicle noises.
Monster Truck Madness 64 was something I received with both praise and negativity. It is not something I would uninstall my computer game for, though is amusing in a multiplayer environment due to the lack of modern Internet matchmaking for the PC CD-ROM release. I would be hesitant about recommending this video game to prospective buyers.
"South Park" is a first person shooting video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 by Acclaim. In the United States, the title received a guidance rating of "M" which deemed it appropriate for ages 17 and above. The video game is based on an American animated television series of the same name.
Assuming the role of one of the four South Park children, the player must battle his or her way through a series of five episodes which are broken down into a set of sublevels. In total the game offers players 17 stages of play which each build towards the climax of a stereotypical superhero plot where the character saves the region from devastation. Also included in a split screen multiplayer death match mode which incorporates unlocked South Park characters as players encounter them in the single player mode.
The gameplay experience remains consistent throughout each presented episode. For example, mutant turkeys bombard the player in the first episode and the South Park child must equip himself with a variety of comical weapons such as fart grenades and toilet plunger guns to eliminate the threat. As per the genre, weapons are found scattered throughout each stage and players may arm themselves simply by walking into a floating icon representative of the item. I found the level designs to be rather linear. The player will find him or herself assisted by a variety of directional signs which guide the player towards the stage's exit, though there are very few times when I actually required help in this area. While most level designs are based on rugged mountain terrain in vast open areas, the confinement of hills and other natural features enclose the player and provide a simplified sense of direction throughout the stage in play.
The graphics are presented from a first person perspective which focuses on the player's weapon being aimed at the centre of the display. South Park is not a visual powerhouse. Urban areas seem to suffer from a high level of distortion most visibly seen in road features. Stop signs, train crossings, and other accessories appear very jagged and blurry to the eye. Houses and buildings are acceptable in their design, however feature very solid colours reminiscent of the "fill all" option in a typical computer art application. The soundtrack is rather limited in its delivery as well. Most of what the player will hear is restricted to the purpose recorded audio specifically for the video game. This does make for a solid and fluid presentation, however some snippets are muffled and difficult to understand. This inaudibility is especially noticeable on "Chef" who is reduced to a bass heavy hum throughout most of the gaming experience.
South Park could perhaps meet an involved fan's desire to play as their favourite television characters through their typical off the wall settings. It is otherwise an average at best video game which didn't offer me much by the way of replay value. I would be hesitant about recommending this game to prospective buyers.
"Pokemon Stadium" is a strategy video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
Pokemon Stadium focuses on the battle sequence of Nintendo's popular licensed video game of the same name. Using the included "Transfer Pak" addition for the console's game pad, players may upload the vital statistics of their already captured Pokemon monsters from the red, blue, and yellow installments. Should players not own the Gameboy edition of Pokemon, however, they may select from a variety of pre-generated monsters to form a battle team. The gameplay experience itself is similar to that of the Gameboy game. Players must confront computer controlled gym leaders and trainers in aims of winning tournaments for further progression. This is done by entering the aforementioned tournaments which are restricted by the level of the player's Pokemon monsters. For example, the "Pika Cup" only allows monsters between levels 15 and 20, and the "Poke Cup" only allows monsters between levels 50 and 55.
Once a team of monsters has been selected and a tournament entered, it's off to the battle sequence. The gameplay experience is standard to what one may expect from a Pokemon release. The familiar interface presents four attacks represented by a designated button, and each monster executes commands in a turn based sequence. In between each turn players may recall a Pokemon monster to substitute it for another within his or her team, however this action requires one turn and the opponent may deal an attack on the more vital monster. This process repeats itself until all Pokemon monsters from one team have been eliminated through the reduction of hit point values to zero.
I found the game itself to be rather minimalistic. As the title focuses solely on the battle sequence of Pokemon, I soon became bored of what the game had to offer and is something I now very rarely play. There is little interactivity beyond pressing a button as directed by on screen prompts, and would likely not appeal to those seeking any form of challenge. It is, however, a strong visual package.
Seeing my Pokemon monsters in a three dimensional perspective is very pleasing to the eye. I found each Pokemon to appear as I expected it to as the monster conforms to both the Gameboy's suggested art and the popular television series. Each monster is also equipped with assorted gestures which accompany each attack. They are both nicely animated and feature solid detailing efforts. For example, fire based attacks will see monsters spewing crystal-like flames towards an opposing monster. What could perhaps be improved on is the lack of detail in the arena environments. While present, the spectators appear to be nothing more than ink spots in the distance. This doesn't necessarily affect my gaming experience but it is painstakingly noticeable. The soundtrack is also acceptable in its presentation. Ambiance effects such as the white noise roar of the fans and other suitable effects such as the burning ripple of a flame accompany each battle, but a rather annoying overhead commentator stands out as the most audible feature. His phrases are limited to dictating what is happening on screen, and soon becomes very repetitive due to the availability of only four attacks per monster.
I would perhaps recommend this game to Pokemon aficionados who truly adhere to the adage of "catch 'em all". The novelty of the video game soon wears thin and I don't find it offers much by the way of replay value. More casual gamers may want to give this title a miss.
"Wave Race 64" is a racing video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "K-A" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
Ranked as one of the top 200 games ever released for the Nintendo platform by its brand magazine "Nintendo Power", Wave Race 64 puts the player at the helm of a jet ski in the midst of a racing tournament. Like most racing games the objective is to reach the finish line in the shortest period of time. As an additional measure to this requirement, players must also weave through a series of floating buoys. These items serve as objectives similar to gates on a slalom skiing course whereby players are granted additional points for successfully passing through them. In this instance, however, players receive boosts of speed when a gate has successfully been cleared which continually increase until the "max speed" setting has been achieved. A break in the chain will reset the speed modification to zero and players may attempt to reconstruct the chain by passing through the next available set of buoys.
In this game, the player has access to four gameplay modes. The bulk of the game is concentrated into the championship mode which contains eight race courses. These courses also serve as hidden features of the title as they can be unlocked upon successful completion for play in the game's time trial, stunt, and two player versus modes. I found the stunt mode to be the least developed of the available options. While there is great potential to include graceful leaps and turns through the air, the mode is primarily focused on passing through stationary hoops scattered throughout each course. Each hoop rewards the player with a numbered score which is registered in a database for later reading and challenging one's self.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's character. It is clear that the developers went to great lengths to include breathtaking imagery. The animations are very smooth despite the high speed at which the game is played, and even at these high speeds I was able to notice the crystal clear waters and assorted aquatic features such as docks, beaches, and directional signs which accent the race in play. The soundtrack is rather simple in comparison to the graphics. For the majority of the experience, players will be treated to overhead commentary which compliments performance. This is accompanied by the white noise hiss of the jet ski's engine and crashing water ways below it. There are some musical scores present, though their volume levels are very low in comparison to the sound effects and can come across as barely noticeable.
Overall, there is little to keep the player immersed within this title except for the two player mode with a live human opponent. There are too few tracks in the video game and I easily completed it in its entirety within a single day. I would still nonetheless recommend this title to prospective buyers. It is a visual experience rarely rivaled on the Nintendo 64 console and provides a fun play despite its short duration.
"Mario Kart 64" is a racing video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "K-A" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
Serving as a sequel to the popular Super Nintendo release titled "Super Mario Kart", Mario Kart 64 returns to the track and pits popular licensed Nintendo characters against one another in a kart style race. In conforming to the genre, the races are fast, special items are in a great abundance, and the experience is fun to play through.
Mario Kart 64 offers two gameplay modes for single players and three gameplay modes for two or more. The bulk of the game is concentrated into the "Grand Prix" mode which contains three levels of difficulty distinguished by kart engine sizes; 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. After selecting a difficulty setting, the player will be brought to a driver selection screen which presents eight popular characters including Mario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong. From there the player must select a tournament, or "cup", to compete in which each include four different race courses. The tracks are arranged from shortest to longest, and the cups themselves are arranged similarly with the quickest tournament being the "Mushroom Cup" on the far left and the longest tournament being the "Special Cup" on the far right. Time trials allow any single course to be selected and it is the player's objective to race against him or herself to set the quickest possible time. The third included mode for multiplayer is the "battle" mode. Here, each active player is equipped with three balloons and must use special items against their opponents to dislodge them.
The racing experience is what one may expect from a kart based video game. Players must navigate their way through a series of bumps, hills, jumps, and other racing platforms while collecting items represented by multicoloured diamonds. Driving through these colourful objects will randomly generate an attack item, such as heat seeking turtle shells or slippery banana peels, and the Z button arms it. Successful use of these items will temporarily incapacitate an opponent which grants the player a competitive advantage in being able to pass the disoriented character. Despite being a fun gaming experience, I found it to be very short lived. Due to there only being a total of 16 courses available, I easily whizzed through the title in a single afternoon and felt little reason to play it afterward. The battle function when a second player is present continually breathes new life into the video game as the unpredictability of a human player is always challenging, however I do not feel compelled to play the game very often when on my own.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's character. While the player does not often see the faces of the drivers in play, I found the telltale characteristics of their attire to provide an easy enough way to identify them. Mario includes his typical red plumber's outfit and Browser is accented by a variety of spikes in his back, for example. The animation frame rates are smooth and I did not notice any obvious areas of slow down. The soundtrack provides an interesting listen though suffers from repetition on longer courses which is especially noticeable throughout the Special Cup. The musical scores are quick to loop, however the transition from end to beginning is soft and requires intentional listening to notice when a loop occurs. The sound effects are lively and light hearted, and are suitable for a kart based racing game.
As a single player video game, I would be hesitant about recommending Mario Kart to prospective buyers. The game provides too few incentives to regularly play it as players will simply be repeating tournaments and courses. It is otherwise an excellent audio and video package which could be found useful in a multiplayer setting.
"Cruis'n USA" is a racing video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998 by Midway. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
Cruis'n USA first saw mild success in the arcade. I remember the unit as being a full scale, sit down racing game complete with moulded plastic seats and a rather small steering wheel. When the video game made its way to the Nintendo 64, it was one of the first titles I picked up for the console and found the gaming experience to be very weak in comparison to the arcade version. While the title was successfully able to capture the race courses, vehicles, and general pandemonium, I found the visuals and audio suffered greatly.
As the name of the video game implies, the race takes place within the United States. There are a total of fourteen different race courses which span across realistic regions such as Death Valley, Beverly Hills, the Grand Canyon, and Washington, DC. The player will initially begin the game with four vehicles but will unlock additional vehicles such as an American style school bus at set intervals. The gameplay experience is typical to what one may expect from a racing title and does not stray from established traditions; it is the player's objective to maneuver through swarms of traffic and opposing vehicles in aims of reaching the finish line in the shortest period of time. There is little by the way of innovation in the race itself. The only aspect which immediately struck me as different was the ability to select a music track from a range of short snippets. This alleviates the typical repetitive soundtrack of most modern racing games, though the scores in themselves aren't all that pleasant to listen to.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's vehicle. This perspective can also be changed to a far away camera and a first person view. While the road and vehicles come across as acceptable for a Nintendo 64 release, I found the environmental accents to be poor. There is a distinct sense of flatness to the imagery which is most apparent while driving through the redwood forest. Upon crashing into a nearby tree, the object simply uproots itself from the ground and falls in a uniform linear fashion. I also found the game's frame rate to be very choppy. In more "detailed" areas, the game noticeably tugs along through a fragmented presentation which is difficult to play through. The soundtrack is likewise poor. Basic "screeches" and other wailing tones accent the vehicle, and short, looping fragments of music overlay the experience. The player is able to change these musical scores throughout the race, though there is little incentive to do so as they are all very brief in their duration and become annoying rather quickly.
Cruis'n USA may meet a racing enthusiast's desire to drive through realistic American locations. In general, though, this isn't a game which I would recommend to prospective buyers. It is standard fare in terms of the racing genre and is hindered by poor audio and video.
"Pilotwings 64" is a simulation video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "K-A" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
In this video game, the player assumes the role of one of six trainee pilots. It is his or her objective to complete assigned mission tasks, such as flying through rings, taking photographs, or using missiles to destroy hostile enemies, using different vehicles. Initially, the player has access to three different vehicles which include a hang glider, jet pack, and a small engine helicopter known as the gyrocopter. Each mode of transportation features a very unique handling system which is difficult to master in the early stages of the game. The gyrocopter, for example, is very easy to control but requires a considerably long time to decelerate which makes landing difficult. This is in sharp contrast to the hang glider which is very responsive to turning commands but may willingly crash into nearby objects despite its low flying speed. As players successfully complete missions they will gain pilot badges based on the number of points which they have received in the mission, and accumulating these badges grants access to more difficult levels of play which include more rigid piloting standards and mission objectives. These badges also unlock hidden vehicles in the game such as the more comical "human cannonball" mode of play.
While the gameplay experience is fun and engaging, I found the controls to be very sensitive. This is particularly useful for vehicles such as the hang glider which require quick and active responses to catch an updraft for additional speed, however I find the high level of sensitivity is most noticeable when using the jet pack. Even when using the heaviest characters who suggest better handling at the cost of excessive fuel consumption, my jet pack would willingly careen and slide all over the place when turning. Many jet pack missions require that the player stay elevated after starting and any collisions with buildings or the ground will incur a point penalty. Because the sudden turns led to immediate yet jerky movement, I needlessly found myself slamming into objects which did not allow me to progress to the next stage of play due to several penalties.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's character. Throughout my playing experience, I did not note any obvious areas of slowdown which is paramount to flight related simulations. Control commands executed themselves simultaneously with my issuance and I was able to see where my vehicle was traveling as it tilted and swayed through the air. The land below, based on regions in the United States, appears dazzling though is not fully experienced due to the high altitudes at which the player will travel. The soundtrack is somewhat minimalistic in comparison to the visuals. Short, repetitive rock-like instrumentals follow the player but are often drowned out behind the much louder hiss of a jetpack or rumble of a gyrocopter's engine.
Pilotwings 64 provided me with an exceptional gameplay experience. The simple yet quirky mission requirements are an excellent break from the perceived norm of the genre, and I had a great time playing my way through what the video game had to offer. I would happily recommend this title to prospective buyers.
"Hey You, Pikachu!" is an interactive adventure video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages. This game requires a NTSC console which must be imported from North America as the included audio equipment is not compatible with European PAL circuitry.
Hey You, Pikachu! bridges a great divide between video games and voice recognition software. While there are a few examples of the two intricate technologies merging, there are none which immediately spring to mind as being refined and well polished. That is not to say the title is without fault, as there is certainly a lot of room for error within the very technology which the video game is built on, but in practice I found the experience to be satisfactory yet very frustrating.
This video game is clearly intended for a younger child. Each in-game day begins with the player softly dictating "good morning" or "wake" into the included microphone. From there, players may converse with the yellow creature using simple commands such as "dance" which is rewarded with a brief jive; or other words which yield cheerful "Pika" replies. Also included in this title are 20 mini games which make use of the voice recognition technology. All of the included games could be described as minimalistic, and only require basic single or two word commands from the player. Of course the player may hurl any word, phrase, or lengthy missive at Pikachu, but the limited voice recognition technology only seeks out key words within the player's statements which trigger the game's functions.
In my experience with the video game, I found the voice recognition to be acceptable. I did, however, note several frustrating moments when my dictations were not recognized which inevitably led to several mini game failures. This was most obvious during the "Pokemon quiz" minigame. Here, players are shown photos of popular Pokemon creatures and must state their names. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of this minigame is very high and was not able to accurately pick up on what I was saying for several examples; "Kadabra" became "Abra", "Ivysaur" became "Vensaur", and "Sandshrew" became "Sandslash". For the most part, Pikachu is responsive to my commands and flawlessly picks up on the basic foundations of the game but even this requires clear pronunciation and generally articulate speech.
The video game is presented from a first person perspective which follows Pikachu during his day to day activities and games. The implemented visuals are not the best. "Distant" objects such as book cases and furniture within Pikachu's dwelling, which are no more than a few virtual paces away, appear blurry and pixelated. It is only when the player approaches these objects that the fog corrects itself and images become clear. Otherwise, the imagery used is passable and suitably depicts the Pokemon world. The soundtrack is likewise limited. There is little by the way of background music as the player will spend most of his or her time dictating words into the microphone. The only audible effects heard were Pikachu's gleeful outbursts which serve as a reaction to the player's voice after a statement has successfully been recorded.
This is a video game which I would be hesitant about recommending to prospective buyers. Some areas are very frustrating which undoubtedly impacts on the pleasure received from the title. It is possible that more involved fans of the Pokemon franchise would find joy in this game, but those seeking to test the waters of voice recognition technology may want to avoid this title.
"Excitebike 64" is a racing video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 2001 by Nintendo. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
I tend to get very worried when a vintage two dimensional video game is revived into a modern three dimensional platform. In most cases, the video game fails to meet its expectations and ruins previous conceptions along with my fond childhood memories. I remember being very hesitant when first picking up this video game, however felt it was worth taking a gamble on such a well delivered classic for the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
In this video game the player assumes the role of one of six motorbike racers. It is his or her objective to guide the character through a 20 track season mode with aims of becoming champion. The gameplay is reminiscent of the original Excitebike game with the player being required to bounce and bump their way over a series of hills and jumps within the shortest amount of time. This is accomplished through the minimalistic control scheme which sees the arrow keys guiding the tilt of the motorbike, A accelerating, B braking, R sliding, and Z turbo boosting. What I immediately noticed about the video game is its overwhelmingly difficult computer opponents. The sensitivity of the programming clearly favours a very dominant artificial intelligence and thus it is very rare to see the computer take a tumble on a bump. This can be very frustrating when first beginning the game, however as I progressed I found myself more able to deal with my very tough opponents.
To alleviate some of the strain, Nintendo included a 17 track tutorial mode to familiarize players with the controls and commands of Excitebike. I found it to be somewhat helpful in bettering myself for the rigid artificial intelligence, however it is through successful completion of this mode which brings forth a very pleasant surprise: a full version of the original Excitebike seen on the NES. After unlocking this I spent a great deal of time in a nostalgic trance and found the hidden feature to be how I remembered the original video game. Needless to say I was very pleased when I found this. Also, in aims of simplifying the video game, there is an included track editor which allows one to become more proficient with the turbo boost and slide commands.
The visuals of Excitebike 64 are excellent. Nintendo took great care to add a lot of finer details to the racing experience. For example, in muddy regions, the wet dirt will "cake" on to the back of one's motorbike and fling itself off in fragments when the racer reaches drier land. Racers themselves also animate very well and have a wide variety of gestures and taunts specific to certain events such as the painful jitters after miscalculating a landing and being sent flying from the vehicle. Unfortunately this alluring presentation is hindered by a poor frame rate. In periods where all competitors are near one another, the video game reduces itself to a noticeable choppiness which is difficult to pass. The soundtrack is typical to what one may expect from a racing game with the white noise hiss of the motorbike's engine, and a variety of bone crunching crash noises accenting each mishap.
While I'm very partial to the included NES version, Excitebike 64 provides an excellent racing package in its own respect. I can't bring myself to fault much of the gaming experience and continually find it to be a refreshing and fun play. I would happily recommend this video game to prospective buyers.
"WCW Mayhem" is a professional wrestling video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 by EA Sports. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "T" which deemed it appropriate for ages 13 and above.
Suffering from the constraints of a rushed development to meet a very hyped release date in the United States, WCW Mayhem was the first "WCW" licensed pro wrestling attempt by EA Sports. Its developers implemented many unique features at the time of release which include events such as venturing into the backstage area where wrestlers are allowed to pummel one another with foreign objects. Unfortunately, this aspect of the video game is very primitive and suffers from repetitive backstage imagery and object placement despite including customizable wrestling rings and arenas to reflect WCW's pay per view and weekly broadcasts. This also forces the gaming experience into a "hardcore" style of play by default where falls count anywhere and no disqualifications are observed. This may appeal to those seeking a more fast and furious arcade style video game, though there are very few examples of this in the wrestling genre and as a player I found the sudden change of pace to be rather out of place.
As with all professional wrestling video games, the objective is to pound one's opponent into defeat either by a 3 count pinfall or successful submission hold. This is accomplished by accessing one of three gameplay modes which include the "quick start" exhibition mode, the "main event" mode, and the "quest for the best" mode. The first two modes are identical with the only difference being additional match functions such as tag team bouts and battle royals being made available for the "main event". The latter option is similar to a career mode of play as the player selects one wrestler and competes in a series of matches to rank at the top of a competitive ladder. Successful completion of this mode also unlocks hidden characters which are then usable in the exhibition and main event modes. In actuality, each of the 54 active wrestlers suffer from a similar move list which is in itself restricted to three maneuvers for each of the four action buttons. I also noted the computer opponents to be very unresponsive. Even on the most difficult of settings, several opponents would willingly allow me to strike and throw them around the wrestling ring with little by the way of a reaction. This makes for a very easy gameplay experience and didn't engage my mind all that much.
The graphics are presented from an overhead isometric perspective, though will dynamically pan during powerful holds and maneuvers. Simple yet effective could best describe the visuals in this video game. The wrestlers appear similar to their on screen real life counterparts, though some of the more muscular men sport a jagged "blockiness" to their physiques which does them no justice. The animations are smooth and I didn't notice any obvious slowdown when playing. The soundtrack is likewise good. Mayhem is accompanied by commentary outbursts from play by play specialist Tony Schiavone, though his fragmented speech is often repetitive and sometimes makes direct references to Bobby Heenan who was not included in the soundtrack. Gene Okerlund is also present as a voice actor in the game though his presence is limited to ring introductions which overlay the looping, short winded theme tunes.
WCW Mayhem is perhaps a title which may appeal to more involved professional wrestling fans. It is a fast and frantic experience which turns away from the more methodical and strategic games which a lot of players may be used to. It is something I enjoy every so often, and thus is not a title I would recommend for regular play.
"WCW vs nWo: World Tour" is a professional wrestling video game. It was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998 by THQ. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "E" which deemed it appropriate for all ages.
In the world of professional wrestling, the feud between the "WCW" and "nWo" factions was one of the most memorable and lengthy processes. Week after week, professional wrestlers from the nWo side would wreak havoc for WCW competitors and drive attention towards themselves and their ideology of domination. This idea was brought to the Nintendo 64 console by THQ with questionable success.
The title features numerous modes of play. Players may select from the title "WCW vs nWo" mode which features an elimination style tournament with up to five wrestlers from each faction competing against one another, a single match exhibition mode with different stipulations including tag teams and handicaps, the "Challenge" mode which bears similarities to a typical career function as the player challenges other wrestlers in aims of becoming champion, "League" mode which is composed of a single round robin tournament with up to 16 superstars, and a "tournament" mode with up to 8 superstars competing on an elimination style basis. In actuality, each different mode is identical in its performance.
In comparison to other professional wrestling video games at the time, the roster of World Tour is rather small; 13 WCW wrestlers including "The Giant" and "Sting", eight nWo wrestlers including "Hollywood Hogan" and "Syxx", and 17 fantasy wrestlers based on competitors in Japan were implemented to create a roster of 38 playable characters by default. Successful completion of the "Challenge" mode unlocks a further four competitors.
Each wrestler also includes four different costume variations which can be set up prior to selecting him. For example, players may revert the newer black and white "Hollywood Hogan" character to his humble red and yellow roots as The Hulkster with a push of a button. After character selections are made it's off to the wrestling match.
Prior to each bout, a panning camera will present the wrestlers in the competition and they will each strike a taunting gesture. Unfortunately, the gestures are rather generic and limited to actions such as arms raising towards the ceiling above. In the actual match, taunting gestures can be activated by moving the analog joystick in any direction. These actions are more suitable for the wrestler in play and reflect what was typically seen on TV such as Hulk Hogan's muscular poses. Movement of the wrestler is controlled entirely with the arrow keys. Strikes are executed with the B button and grappling holds begin with the A button followed by a tap of an arrow and action button to execute a maneuver. This process continues until the player is able to successfully pin or force his or her opponent into a successful submission hold. Upon completion, the player is sent back to the main menu to select new options or proceed within a tournament setting.
What I noticed about the gameplay of this title is its rather sensitive computer opponents. There were many instances when my retreating paces would force opposing wrestlers to roll away from me or block against my backwards motion, and the situation reversed itself when attacking which saw their idle virtual bodies absorb all of my punishment with little reaction. Because of this a lot of the game could be perceived as being very easy. Once familiar with the buttons, players will be able to easily dominate their opposition without much effort even on the hardest settings. I soon grew bored of the title but do find it fun when wrestling friends are around as the game supports up to four human players within an exhibition match.
The graphics are presented from an overhead isometric perspective which looks down on the match in play. Each wrestler sports familiar costumes which wrestling fans would easily be able to identify on screen, though their facial and bodily designs aren't up to scratch. The character models sport a rigid and "blocky" construction which seems to be held together with a virtual adhesive; sort of resembling an action figure rather than a professional wrestler. The wrestling ring appears as it should and is complete with interactive ropes that bounce and turnbuckles which can be climbed for aerial moves. On the outside of this is the adoring audience which, while present, is very blurry and washed out on the display. The effect sort of resembles a "pixel walk" which continually scrolls up and down to suggest jumping and other excitement. The soundtrack is complete with some "whooshing" noises when a maneuver connects with an opponent, and generic soft rock recordings which accompany each wrestling match.
World Tour was a good attempt at bringing the action of WCW wrestling to the Nintendo 64. I didn't find it to be all that great in the end, however. The easy gameplay when combined with quirky visuals and average audio didn't make for the best video game. As a WCW enthusiast I do enjoy playing this game from time to time, though feel only more involved professional wrestling fans may find this to be a pleasing experience.
Released in 2006, the "Big Show" toy is a part of World Wrestling Entertainment's "Deluxe Aggression 5" set of action figures which commemorates the professional wrestler of the same name. It was distributed in the United Kingdom by Vivid Imaginations and was available in larger national retail outlets. I can't quite remember where I purchased this figure, though I believe it was in the now defunct Woolworths at the cost of £11.99. The toy is not currently in production and may not be found in retail shops today.
Action figures have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Even in my adult years, I still enjoy staging wrestling bouts using these toys as I enjoy the freedom and nonrestrictive ways in which these toys can be operated. The item measures just over 15 centimetres tall which allows seamless compatibility with earlier and more modern play sets through its similar size. The toy also features bendable elbow and knee joints which pivot on a visible screw. While I do find the visible screws somewhat take away from the alluring look which this figure could have featured, I do find it enhances the playing experience as punches and kicks can be guided more smoothly and gently without the need to hold the figure's arms and legs in awkward positions. Earlier wrestling figures were notorious in their flimsy construction and several have lost limbs in wrestling matches, however Big Show and his wrestling brethren from the Deluxe Aggression 5 series are still standing strong with no obvious wear or tear on the joints.
Realism is a personal factor of mine when considering commemorative action figures. Big Show features his well known single strap singlet characteristic of giant wrestlers, black boots, and black kneepads. This is typical to what is seen of him on television and is something I appreciate, however I find his facial features are very lacking. The action figure sports visible blue eyes which are stunning and overwhelm the facial region. Unfortunately, this is not accurate to the professional wrestler as the man himself sports dull green eyes.
This is a toy I would still recommend despite its faults. It has proven to be a durable object which has been put through several fantasy championship wrestling matches. Those interested in the title character would likely find this toy to be a suitable addition for their collection.
The "Patriot Paintball Pistol" is a replica of a modern paintball marker. The toy is said to be suitable for ages eight and above, and is available for purchase online at the cost of £15.99. It will also require additional paintball pellets at the cost of £3.99/80.
Packaged with 10 starter paintballs, rigid plastic eye goggles, and a marksman's target, the Patriot Paintball Pistol claims to offer "paintball with attitude". As a former player myself, I bought this toy as a gag gift in hopes it would prove at least somewhat fun for plinking targets without the need to equip the numerous items required to assemble a full scale paintball marker. The item arrived shortly after I ordered it but field tests were less than satisfactory.
One aspect which immediately struck me about the product is its very hollow construction. The toy feels very light in my grasp and I wondered if it would feature any sort of durability. My questions were soon answered after attaching the included clear plastic feeding chamber and loading the handful of starter paintballs. The pistol does not operate on batteries or gas, but rather is actioned by a spring which retracts while pulling a lever at the top of the unit. This pumping motion is required prior to every shot and will allow one paintball in the feeding chamber to roll into position. The lever is easy to pull back and requires little by the way of hand and arm strength, however the sliding motion was often too quick for me. I usually found myself tugging the lever with excessive force which undoubtedly put excessive pressure on the springs held within the pistol. It was also this force which led to the unit's demise. Within my first 10 paintball pellets, the cocking lever broke off of the pistol and I was not able to successfully repair it. The toy now serves me as a paperweight; albeit a very poor one.
In actual use, the Patriot Paintball Pistol is acceptable for a toy. My short lived experience with the unit yielded shots in excess of 10 metres. The paintball pellets burst into a thin, runny mess which have a viscosity comparable to a watercolour. The paintballs are also very small. Further investigation informed me that Patriot Paintballs are 0.50 calibre. This number is significantly lower than the standard 0.69 calibre paintballs which are compatible with traditional paintball markers. Because of this, owners will be forced into buying brand specific refills for their toy which can often be poor value for money. Additional paintballs for the Patriot Paintball Pistol are approximately 5p per paintball; double the price of a value brand 0.69 calibre paintball.
This toy is by no means a replacement for a modern marker, nor is something which could be deemed as durable or cost efficient. It is possible that this may appeal to a supervised youngster who is interested in the sport of paintball. I feel this is about the extent of the product's appeal and would likely prove to be a poor purchase for anyone outside of this market.