Friday, 28 October 2011

Disney Universe PS3 Review

We were kindly sent this game and a smashing Press Pack prior to its release in order for my daughter and I to test. Unfortunately I forgot I only have one PS3 controller so we had to take it in turns. I would point out that I am the seasoned pro on the PS3 (well, for Final Fantasy anyway) and she is the die-hard DSi player, but that didn’t stop her.

The game is for 1-4 players and is of the action-adventure/(slightly) platform genre. It is aimed at the 7-12 age group. Having said that, my daughter, just having escaped th
e Tween and moved to the Teen, still considered it worth playing ;-) The thing that immediately grabbed her attention is the fact that you could play as characters such as Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Nemo (Finding Nemo), Sully (Monsters Inc.) and many more. This made the game appealing before we’d even put it into the console!

There are 6 Disney 3D worlds that you need to work through including “Pirates of the Caribbean” containing ships and caves and “Alice in Wonderland” which is exactly as you would expect it (yep - surreal). You would imagine these worlds would be a bit ‘twee’ but in fact, the premise of the game is that these worlds have been corrupted by a strange virus and now are inhabited by dangerous enemies and a variety of traps and hazards. Characters are trapped in the levels and you need to set them free again. Each world consists of three separate areas containing three relatively short but fun levels.

The graphics are well done, bright, attractive to a younger audience but, most importantly, you can easily recognise the character representations. You seem to wear a character costume. The style reminded me quite a bit of “LittleBigPlanet” although whether that was intentional given the target audience I am unsure. The costumes themselves can also be levelled up so that you can give out more damage to your foes whilst being better protected yourself.

With having an early copy of the game, we had no instruction manual included but that really wasn’t necessary. The gameplay is simple to understand and follow...if you’re younger than me! Despite numerous blue arrows, I still managed to get this wrong, much to my shame. It can also be rather generous to the player at times, although, again, I managed to disappear off the screen a fair few times. However, don't be put off by my blunders into thin air!

There doesn’t seem to be too much fine aiming involved in beating enemies which is great for younger players. Even if you do get killed off (by enemy or just walking in the wrong direction as I did), it seems that you don’t ever actually die. Your character simply reappears in the area you were and you carry on. I think this will be a definite bonus for younger players but perhaps a little less appealing for the older end of the spectrum who probably would like there to be a bit more of a challenge in the levels where you really could ‘lose’. There is no additional difficulty either as you work through the worlds but I guess that’s the price you pay for being able to unlock them early (more on that in a moment). It would be pointless unlocking a world where you had not ‘levelled up’ enough to beat the enemies within. Perhaps a 'difficulty' option at the beginning of the game where more experienced/older players would then have limited lives might have been good. It’s a minor grumble though.

Much of the joy of the game for younger players is that they will simply be pulling levers or moving objects into slots (again with a generous AI to help them not need to be too precise) and battling simple enemies (many of whom I noticed seem to lose their clothes as you begin to defeat them).

One of the other interesting things I noted in the game was that any foreground objects ‘vanish’ when you are behind them so you don’t have to worry that you are about to emerge from behind a boulder facing the wrong way and run straight into an enemy.

Additional features include small puzzle type missions in different areas. These are just challenges triggered by an item, such as a games console that appears in Wall-E’s world. You then go off and complete the challenge to win some reward such as gold or items. Gold – the cute currency in a well recognisable Mickey Mouse head/ears style - is abundant by the way. I am not sure whether you need to rush around to collect it all but I’ve not left it to see. I, personally, am a grabber! You can accumulate the currency quickly allowing you to unlock other worlds so that you can play them in any order you want. Most seem to unlock around 2,000 coins. However, it is still worth replaying worlds that you have completed as you will find new challenges and items, as well as the ability to earn those extra mini-game medals.

As I said, we could not test the co-operative play out but I am sure that would be fun working as a team, provided the screen did not get too crowded.

All-in-all, it’s a nice game for the age group it’s aimed at and provides enough to do to let you want to come back and have another try, play another character, reach that gold medal or finding hidden areas and objects. We would certainly recommend it.

Half term colds

Here you are looking forward to a week of not getting up early and having some fun as it's half term. Fair enough, in my case, I am still getting up early but without having to keep an eye on the clock ;-) School holidays are a joy...or are they?

The sniffle started as school closed and we go down with colds. Almost immediately I hasten to add. Every one of us girls in this house has had a runny nose, cough and felt groggy. I've gone to the extreme and decided to have a chest infection. I like to do things one better than the rest of the household you'll understand.

Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been too helpful. We've had such warm weather for the time of year (despite the recent rain) that the bugs and germs just seem to be happily breeding away. You only have to look at your friends' Twitter chat to see that most of us with school age children seem to be down with the lurgy :(

The trouble is that there is nothing you can do for a cold is there. We have stayed in the warm as much as possible but still tried to wrap up and take a few walks as, let's face it, being stuck in for a week is not good for your health! It's just a case of 'riding it out' and hoping it's all gone by next week when school starts again.

I did want to venture into town to do a few things but decided to try and do them online instead (such as ordering photographs). May I suggest to anyone with a fuzzy, coldy head to avoid any online activity involving money because your brain cannot cope with the simplest of functions at a PC when most of it is running out of your nose. I can confirm this categorically by the fact that I wanted some photos printed so (a) uploaded them to the wrong site then (b) uploaded them to the correct site but didn't read how much the postage would be so (c) could have stayed with the original site I uploaded them to and not wasted another 3.5 hours (yes, it took that long to upload 275 photos!) to then decide I will just go to Boots and get them done next time I'm out!

One good thing is that half term coincided with 3 year old's birthday as at least that means she has some new and exciting toys to play with whilst we are stuck indoors and littlest one has new things to chew and wipe her runny nose on ;-)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A few tips to make life with baby a little easier

When baby is ready for formula milk, particularly for night feeds, make up some bottles in advance with just the water in them and put the formula powder into some appropriate container (I use Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles and their formula pots that fit neatly inside) and take up to bed with you. When baby wakes, just add powder to water and feed. Saves all that messing around in the middle of the night boiling kettles, cooling bottle down, etc. Of course, you need to ensure your little one likes cold milk! Think about it, when you go out, you do this so why not do it at home?

If your baby prefers warm milk, make up bottles as suggested to 6oz then when they need a feed, boil a kettle with a little fresh water and add 1oz of hot water to the bottle with the formula powder. 7oz of instant warm milk without the fiddling.

If you have a wiggly baby like my two little ones both were, don’t bother buying lots of cot sheets and blankets. I have an airing cupboard full of them! Invest instead in a Grobag (or similar). Having a 1 tog and a 2.5 tog will ensure (in winter) that baby sleeps well during the day and at night. Remember though to check your tog against your room temperature. In summer you can even get a 0.5 tog for those cooler nights.

This has worked for me and I now have a very healthy, happy 10 month old :)

Any tips you would like to share, I would love to hear them so I can pass them on.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Choo-choo, mind the bump

It was our little girls' 3rd birthday yesterday and I'm pleased to say she had a fab day.

Despite the fact that she told her nursery school teacher the day before, that she would not be in the following day as it was her birthday (nice try!) she did indeed go to school and have a lovely morning being the centre of attention and having 'Happy Birthday' sung to her (I hear she sings "Happy birthday to me") :) She wasn't too wired either considering she'd only had a piece of birthday cake for breakfast. Hey, it's only one day a year!

We decided to opt for a train set for our main present for her and as she likes Chuggington, well, it was an easy choice :) The 'Over & Under Starter Set' was the one we went for.

The set is the wooden variety (you'll recall we do love a wooden toy in this household) and we got a bit of extra track for Christmas but ended up giving it to her as the actual set wasn't as big as it looked on the box! Where do these companies get their cameras from? I could make our back garden look like Windsor Park with the lenses they must use ;-)

We bought some extra trains and carriages too and she even has one that plays the Chuggington tune (well done Toys R Us for '3 for 2' on Chuggington extras). The only issue with it is that the trains cannot get down the ramp themselves without falling off at the end. The slope is too steep and doesn't connect with the track well enough to avoid a 'bump' that sends the train and carriages hurtling across the carpet. OK, possibly not 'hurtling' but falling over on their sides for sure! I think someone did this on a drawing board without testing it out :( Not a problem for our girl though as she likes to manually push the trains around the track so never actually lets go of them (unlike mummy and daddy who shove them along).

To say it was the best choice of present would be an understatement. She played with it almost continuously yesterday, making new tracks up and lots of stories about what the trains were doing, and went straight into the dining room at 6am this morning to continue her play. The minor glitch to all of this is her little sister is now staring at the set from behind a tightly shut baby gate as she's not allowed in I'm told.

As you can imagine, we are going to 'top up' the set at Christmas with some extra bits like a station and some junctions. I am beginning to wonder who likes this more - her or us! :)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Inch Blue just for you

I don't know about you, but finding shoes that (a) fit and (b) stay on for a speedy crawler about the house is a total nightmare.

You need shoes that you can undo enough to get little, often curled up, feet into and then comes the problem that your little one can undo velcro. Mine enjoys taking her shoes off at the most random of moments, often throwing them away as you turn to say "Look at the ducks" and you only realise she's deposited them on the pavement once you run them over with the pushchair! I've not lost any yet, but it's been close.

I don't want to buy Clarks crawler shoes as I prefer my girls to not have 'hard' shoes until they are walking. Call me odd, but I like them to stretch their toes and feel the ground beneath their feet when they are tiny.

I would like to share with you a little revelation in shoes for babies and toddlers that I have stumbled across. When I say that "I" stumbled across them, what I mean is that a friend very kindly bought them for my 10 month old and I finally put them on her yesterday and thought WOW, these are fantastic. As I put them on her again today for our outing, I threw her other shoes away! :)

The shoes are by Inch Blue and the ones we have are called Little Cupcake. You can just see them in the picture of her to the right but I've 'borrowed' a lovely photo directly from the site for you to see them in all their glory at the top of the page (I hope they won't mind!) ;-)

The great thing about these little shoes is that they are made of very soft leather, with a non-slip suede sole, so little feet can move in them, breathe and feel the ground. I also keep sniffing them as they smell absolutely gorgeous. Thankfully she doesn't have her father's feet ;-)

The shoes are made with elastic at the ankles so that you can open them up enough to get feet in, but they then close over nicely so that they aren't easily pulled off.

The designs are beautiful and you will probably have a very hard choice deciding what you want to buy for your little princess or pirate :) They are all hand crafted too so no mass production here which makes them extra special. They aren't cheap but then again, nor are many other purpose made shoes for little ones but the quality and ethics behind Inch Blue make them stand out.

You can buy shoes for children up to 6 years old and there is even a range of cute little boots too.

I know for certain I will be making at least one purchase for Christmas :)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sarcasm starts early

Our (almost) 3 year old has learned the art of sarcasm already and here is the proof.

Yesterday, my husband decided he'd had enough of CBeebies and switched over channels. Now, we all like CBeebies but there is only so much an adult can take in one day ;-)

Immediately our girl turned around and said "I don't want to watch your telly daddy, it is boring. I want my telly on."

Of course daddy said no. She continued to argue. Eventually he turned around and said "You must stop talking to me in that way, it is rude."

Without batting an eyelid she walked up to him and [insert high pitched, squeaky, sarcastic voice here] said "Shall I talk to you like this then daddy?"

1-0, slam dunk, game over!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Tormenting toddler and free baby

My 3 year old has decided that the best game is saying "No!" very loudly to her little sister who is 9 months old. As you can imagine, this is occasionally ending in tears (not mine for a change!).

The most common torment the toddler has thought of is holding her little sis by the forehead and not letting her get to things she wants, often accompanied by "but it's mine mummy and she cannot have it". Oh dear.

Yesterday, I was watching the news and was vaguely aware of this funny noise beside me that had been going on quite a few minutes. Now, if you have children you will realise how quickly you can 'zone out' of the noise and commotion around you when you're surrounded by it all day! Suddenly, little one started to cry. I then looked around (they were beside me by the sofa) and realised why. Toddler had her balloon on a stick and was repeatedly hitting her sister on the head with it, which she found great fun. I had to tell her off a bit but also try and keep myself from laughing. It just goes to show how much of the frantic nature of our household washes over me! ;-)

Another new thing that toddler does is remove her sisters hands from the coffee table when she is trying to stand up or reach for something. Yep, you can pretty much hear the 'splat' already can't you.

Yesterday toddler asked daddy why he had to go to work and couldn't just stay at home and play with her. He said we needed money for things like food and clothes and that's why he was at work. She replied that he, mummy and her needed money but her baby sister did not as babies were not allowed money. So, that's one less person he needs to worry about providing for then. If only we'd known ;-)

On the bright side, at least toddler has stopped asking us to 'throw her away' or 'hide her somewhere you can't find her again' when referring to her little sis :)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Getting those veggies in

I was thinking the other day just how much my 9 month old daughter enjoys those squeezy packet meals by a well known maker. To give you a clue, it's a girls name and the place you cook ;-)

Anyway, at around £1.39 per packet, it can add up to an expensive set of meals over a month! Yes, we do feed her other stuff but she really does like this particular brand, plus they are great when we are out and about geocaching too.

I had a look at what made them up and decided to cook something up myself based around the ingredients they contain. I thought I'd share the receipe with you as you can blend it all up for little ones or just mash for when they can have slightly lumpier food.

Vegetable & Pasta Pot

8 x carrots
3 x parsnips (small)
2 x tomato tin/packet (400g)
1 x cup pasta stars (age 7+ months)
1.5 pint beef stock (low salt)
Pinch mixed herbs
Pinch salt and pepper

  1. Chop all vegetables up and place in large saucepan with stock, herbs and seasoning. Cook until all vegetables are soft.
  2. Cook pasta until soft, strain and leave.
  3. Remove vegetable pot from heat and strain off half of the liquid but keep separately.
  4. Blend or mash vegetables up as required, adding additional liquid that you have set aside to get the consistency you want.
  5. Add pasta in and mix together.
  6. Spoon into 8 x 160ml pots for freezing.
I shop at Sainsburys and worked out this entire meal has cost me less than £2.50 to produce. That means getting 8 pots out of it gives me each meal for my little one at around 30p. Of course, your little one may not eat such a big pot and that makes it even cheaper per meal. Now, surely that's worth a bit of kitchen time! :)

Chicken & Vegetable Pot

1 x chicken breast, roasted
8 x carrots
1 x broccoli (whole stem)
1/2 an onion
12 x apricots (soft, dried and pitted)
2 x sweet potatoes
2 pints vegetable stock (low salt)
Pinch mixed herbs
Pinch salt and pepper
  1. Chop all vegetables up and place in large saucepan with stock, herbs and seasoning. Cook until all vegetables are soft.
  2. Roast chicken until cooked but make sure it does not dry out (I wrap in foil).
  3. Remove vegetable pot from heat and strain off half of the liquid but keep separately.
  4. Chop and add chicken to the pot.
  5. Blend or mash, adding additional liquid that you have set aside as required.
  6. Spoon into 8 x 160ml pots for freezing.
Again, using Sainsburys, I have worked out this entire meal has cost me less than £4 to produce. That means getting 8 pots out of it gives me each meal for my little one at around 50p. Still well worth the effort.

As an aside, blended up they both taste lovely so I think they may be on our menu for soup this winter ;-)

Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension (Wii) Review

We have been lucky enough to receive this game to review. The tween was excited to get it as she is a Phineas and Ferb fan and enjoys the TV show.

The game is true to the cartoon and all the characters from the show appear with some super graphics. The style is a puzzle/platform one spread over 6 different worlds and 25 levels. The player controls 2 characters which can be swapped around mid play. There are 10 characters in all to choose from. Of course, it is better to play with another person but the AI is excellent at controlling the other character so you are not limited to needing a companion.

The weapons are of the non-lethal type such as a carbonator, anti-gravity gun and baseball gun. Aiming is almost not necessary as the game seems to select enemies for you if you vaguely point in the right direction. Also, the enemies that there are, don’t exactly rush you. I have probably seen faster road-rollers ;-) Even if, heaven forbid, you did get caught by an enemy, there are so many health packs that you would be hard pressed to ‘die’ even if you wanted to.

You encounter a boss at the end of each world but these fights are very easy to deal with. In actual fact, the bosses moves are very predictable. There are also two mini-games enabling you to unlock additional features.

The controls for jumping can be a little off which surprised me. This didn't prove to be a problem for either of our game testers though as they compensated very quickly.

We did appreciate that the game is a 7+ in age group, so suspected it would be relatively easy for the tween to complete. However, we didn’t expect that she would have it completed in 4 hours from start to finish!

We decided to employ a nephew to have a go too as he was the target age group. He completed the game in just under 6 hours (not in one sitting I hasten to add!) without dying once, so this proved to me that it really is over simplistic.

I think that Disney have missed the fact that children, even as young as 7, are quite competent gamers nowadays and need a little more of a challenge. I suspect that a 3+ rating would be more appropriate.

At £17.99 on Amazon for the Wii version of the game, I would be rather annoyed if I had paid that and had my children asking what could they do next after a few hours. It’s probably worth a look at as a daily rental but not more than that.

Opinions expressed here are, of course, all my own.