Super Mario 64 DS

Back in 2004, when I first heard about Super Mario 64 DS, I was amazed. It felt like I was living in the future. The fact that a portable console now have the power to play a fully 3D adventure was almost unfathomable to me. It made me so excited to get a Nintendo DS and when I did and I played this, I was addicted. I was very deeply immersed in this game – much more, in fact, than I was in the original Super Mario 64. Though as this is a remake, I suggest that you read my earlier review first. Anyway, let me go over both the good and the bad changes that this version of the game makes.

Good Changes:

  • The graphics have been improved and every character and creature now fits the standard level of quality associated with Super Mario character designs. No more really blocky or weird looking characters.
  • Luigi, Wario and Yoshi are all available as unlockable playable characters with a role in the story. This is awesome. Every character is unique and I especially enjoyed playing as both Luigi and Wario.
  • There are several new levels sprinkled throughout the game. One drawing from Super Mario Sunshine, one from Luigi’s Mansion and one even has a returning boss from Paper Mario! Very cool references and throwbacks.
  • The existing levels have had some new stars introduced – although some of them are, admittedly, at the expense of one of the originals. These tend to be the less exciting ones, however.
  • There’s a selection of touch screen-based mini-games to be unlocked – many of them quite fun. These include quickly sorting Bob-ombs based on colour, drawing trampolines for falling Marios and spotting faces hidden in crowds.
  • There’s also a simple, but enjoyable, multiplayer mode where you fight other players over stars in certain levels.

Bad Changes:

  • This game was designed to be played with a + shaped D-pad, while the original was made to be played with a control stick. This means the original controls slightly better – but only slightly. This isn’t the game-breaking change I often see it made out to be.
  • The powers of the Flying Cap, the Metal Cap and the Invisibility Cap are now divided between the characters – rather than just having Mario able to do them all. I wish all the characters could have done them all. They have enough other abilities to make them unique.

As you can see, the changes are mostly for the best and the negative ones are relatively minor. Personally, I think that this is one of the best games on the DS. On my first playthorough, combing through the game and getting 100% was really satisfying and picking it up now, it’s still very fun! For a long time, I considered it the definitive 3D Super Mario experience – though as of 2018, that has changed…

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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Fire Safety

I’m back! You may have noticed a lack of posts last week and there’s a reason for that – and it’s a little more exciting than me being too tired or busy to write anything. Although before you get your interests piqued, there is a strong emphasis on the words “a little” before “more exciting.”

On Monday evening, when I returned home from work, I plugged in my laptop’s charger so that I could use it. Unfortunately, the light did not turn on on my laptop and it seemed the charger was not working. I thought that maybe it wasn’t plugged in properly, so I took hold of the cable to look a little more closely – then I heard a fizzing sound and saw that part of the wire was on fire.

I dropped it, since it was near my hand, and it fell on the floor. I took a tentative look at it, concerned that that little fire may have spread, but instead I just saw the wire laying severed – each end smoking peacefully. I’ve had a few laptops over the years and a few more laptop chargers, but I’ve never known anything like this to happen.

Naturally, I ordered a replacement right away. When it arrived, it didn’t actually fit my laptop despite saying it would online, so I thought about sending it back, but then decided against it when I saw how pathetic the packaging was – this clearly wasn’t created by a business with many customers. They probably needed that ¬£10 more than me. So then I ordered another one and now here we are.

I sometimes have weeks where the ideas for these blog posts don’t come so readily, but ironically I had loads of ideas last week. But it doesn’t matter, now that I have a new charger I can get back on track and continue to provide you with what I hope you will regard as top notch internet content.

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No Shave November

I don’t like facial hair. Well, no, that’s too broad a statement. Let me rephrase that: I don’t like facial hair growing on my face – on anyone else’s face, sure, that’s fine, but I think it looks as good on me as it does on most babies. I’m very envious of those who do not grow it, because mine seems to grow at about a hundred miles an hour – not literally, thank goodness, because that would be a living hell for anyone and, maybe, everyone. But it does seem excessively fast.

With this in mind, I’d like to mention that I am going to do No Shave November this year. This will be the first time in my life that I’ve grown out my facial hair beyond the level of just being stubble, which I am sure will be interesting to some, as I’ve been encouraged to grow it out by a few people before. I’ve even been told that it might make me look handsome – who knows? So, if you want to give money to charity because I’ve decided not to shave for a month, click here! That sounds like a bit of a non-sequitur… but do it anyway.

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 7 by Yusei Matsui

Volume 6 ended with the cliffhanger of looming exams and Volume 7 starts with those exams taking place. Once again, these are represented as epic battles between the students and large monsters. Though I generally don’t find exam storylines to be as exciting as other, I do have to admit that this is a clever way of portraying the in a visual medium.

However, once the exams are all wrapped up, the action moves to a tropical island resort. Here the students plan out the perfect assassination – something which could they’re sure could never go wrong. I really appreciated this change of setting as keeps the story nice and fresh (rather than just always being in the classroom.)

I have to say, this volume does just about everything right. There’s a lot of comedy and affability from Koro-sensei, but also a lot of high-stakes drama. I really enjoyed the big attempt on Koro-sensei and the consequences of that (I won’t spoil anything) and by the end, things are much more serious than they have ever been in any volume up to this point. It’s hard to stop reading. But at the same time, some of the moments in this are some of the funniest so far. There’s a good mix.

So, if you’ve read up through the first six volumes and are wondering whether or not to get the next, definitely do it. This is such a good instalment and I regret not instantly starting to read the following volume when I finished it. I’m reading something else now, which I’ll force myself to finish first. It’s by no means bad, but Assassination Classroom is just in this sublime realm of its own.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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The Best Stories are Balls of String

I’ve been thinking about what makes a story a good one and I’ve come up with something that was never really taught to me when I studied Creative Writing. A lot of people think of plots as a simple progression from point A to point B, which you can visualise as a piece of string. But I think this is far too simple, in fact, as you can probably tell from this post’s title, I think the best stories are, in fact, balls of string.

Know what I mean? Perhaps not, so allow me to unpack that metaphor for you. One string is one person’s story, going from point A to point B and each novel is going to contain quite a number of characters. All of these characters should have their own complete and distinct stories which intersect with the main stories, until you have a whole ‘ball of string’ of overlapping stories and ideas. The prospect of two of the different characters’ stories intertwining should be as exciting as introducing two old friends.

I’ll admit, it might not be quite a ‘ball’ of string, maybe more like a tangle, but ‘ball’ sounds more interesting. A perfect example of a novel which does this is Les Mis√©rables, which is one of my favourite novels – there are so many characters in it and their lives are all connected in different ways. While this approach may not work for every type of novel, I still think that it’s something worth keeping in mind. If you think of a character and have an idea for the story you’d like to tell with them, it would then be good to come up with another character whose involved with that story, but who’s on a different story of their own. At very least, this will make the world of your story a more believable one.

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Apple Pie Jewellery

Take a look at this incredibly cool and stylish bracelet that I have. Where did it come from? Why, it’s a piece of Apple Pie Jewellery. It was created by a dear friend of mine who happens to be very good at creating jewellery. Not only does she provide bespoke designs, such as the one I have here, but also a fantastic range of pre-made items. And where can you find this amazing jewellery range? You can find it here.

With Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably looking to buy gifts for the people you like and buying from the Apple Pie Jewellery Etsy shop will ensure that the gift you buy is nice and unique and not just something you’ll find in any Poundland or wherever you usually buy your jewellery. And I get it: Poundland is affordable and our economy is awful – but I feel as though the Apple Pie Jewellery prices are all pretty decent as well.

I hope that does a good job of persuading you – in previous jobs I’ve persuaded people to buy products I have much less interest in and this is something I genuinely want to be successful! You know what to do.

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Halo 2

In the video game world, successful games nearly always get sequels – so the fact that Halo 2 was released a few years after the success of Halo: Combat Evolved is no big surprise. Still, I am pleased that it did get a sequel because while the first game was pretty good – this one was even better. I know that some people go so far as to consider this one of the greatest games ever made – is that how I feel too? Well, you will have to keep reading if you want to find out.

In every way, this game is better than its prequel. First, there’s the story. The first game focused mainly on the conflict between the humans, the Covenant and later the Flood. I have no issues with the original story – but I have to admit that it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking (though I did really like how the Flood were used.) This time, the Halo universe is much more fleshed out, because in some of the levels you play as the Arbiter, an alien who fights for the Covenant. Honestly, I found him a more interesting character than Master Chief – partly, because he receives a much greater degree of character development. All of a sudden, the war is much more three dimensional and the world more believable. Sadly, the ending leaves a lot to be desired (it pretty much just ends all of a sudden) and it wan anti-climax for me, but I feel that it was probably their way of luring people into a sequel… not that I agree with it.

In terms of gameplay, it’s much the same as the first game: a first person shooter with a sequence of somewhat open levels to get through. One of my issues with the first game is that the levels were clearly copy and pasted to make them bigger, which meant that they were easy to get lost in and that they could get monotonous. Thankfully, none of the new levels in this game have that problem. Plus, as well as being better designed from a gameplay perspective, they’re also much more aesthetically pleasing. I guess graphical capabilities had improved in the few years that had passed.

I should also mention that this game originally had online multiplayer via Xbox Live, which was a new and unusual thing at the time. These online services have been discontinued, but it does highlight that this was quite an innovative game for its time. (Though it does also highlight the fact that online content in games has a very short life span…)

Overall, I definitely understand why people have such a high opinion of this game. It’s fun to play, it controls well, it looks good, has a nice soundtrack, an engaging story and provides a perfect escape into the world of sci-fi. Definitely worth giving a try.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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An Update on Finger Puppet Show

Regular readers will have probably realised that it has been quite a long time since one of these blog posts ended with “(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)” and the reason for that is because I have not updated it in over a year now.

It’s a shame, because I wasn’t planning to take such a long break – it just ended up happening that way. When I was creating my 500th strip, it ended up taking up a lot more time than I expected. It was silly of me, really, because my idea for that strip isn’t really that good, but it’s creation is still going to be very time consuming. I actually thought I’d get it done right on time to post as part of a regular update, but when it ended up taking longer than planned, I made a strip which said that it might take a little longer than usual before the next update…

Sadly, after I had acknowledged that there was going to be a gap, I used it as an excuse to be lazy. At the time, I was working in a call centre and had a ridiculously erratic schedule which made it hard for me to do things in my free time. Thankfully, I have a good job again now and I’d easily have time to continue my webcomic – and this is something I want to do. I’m committed to resuming it before the end of the year, hopefully sooner rather than later and I’m a little ashamed in myself for letting it get so out of hand – so I do apologise to the very small number of people who enjoyed reading it!

Okay – disregard what I just said. I just looked at my webcomic and it seems that I last updated it in May this year. My memory is really getting bad these days… I feel less bad about the gap now, because it’s less than half the size I thought it was! It is true that the call centre job slowed me down though and I still aim to get back on track ASAP!

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Fitness Instructor

I don’t really do all that much exercise – just a few runs throughout the week. I should probably do more, but a lot of my time is taken up with eating ice cream and pizza, so there’s not much more room in my schedule. Anywho, for today’s blog post, I wanted to share the story of the greatest fitness instructor I ever knew.

Earlier this week, I was out on an evening run. Quite often I will go through the woods on these runs – they’re quite peaceful and actually I find it less tiring to run in complete darkness. The wooded area that I run through isn’t too far away from the train tracks which run through Corsham and as I was running along, a train drove past me. The noise of the train caused a rustling in the bushes as, presumably, an animal had been scared by the sound.

It was at that moment that I met them. The fitness instructor I referred to in the introduction of this post. You may wonder what a fitness instructor was doing in the woods, so I’ll be honest with you, the fitness instructor was this ambiguous animal. And in what sense was it a finess instructor? you ask – well, allow me to explain.

As the scared animal ran out of the bushes, it stopped right in front of me, so I narrowly avoided it as I moved around it. Once I had passed it, I heard that it was starting to run after me. Rather than risk getting my ankles bitten by an angry badger (if it was a badger) I decided to quickly sprint so that I could outrun the creature – and I did. Never before has any living being persuaded me to run so quickly, which is why I consider this the best fitness instructor I have ever had.

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

After the first two novels (which were both very good), Arthur Conan Doyle started writing short stories about Holmes and Watson. Despite my love for the full length novels, I actually feel that short stories are a better format for their adventures and the first twelve of them are collected in this book. Here are my reviews of each of these books:

A Scandal in Bohemia
As much as I love him, I have to admit that Holmes does have some rather negative attitudes about women and in this story, he kind of gets his comeuppance. This is the story which introduces us to Irene Adler who never actually appears again in any of the original stories, but who has been used a lot by later authors. Personally, I think it’s one of the best Sherlock Holmes short stories and I really enjoyed its unexpected ending.

The Red-Headed League
Another of my favourites – in this one, Holmes and Watson are approached by a red-headed man who tells them of his successful application to join The Red-Headed League, which pays him quite well to simply spend four hours a day copying out the contents of an encyclopedia. Naturally he’s suspicious – especially when he shows up one day and finds it has disbanded without explanation. An enjoyable, lighthearted tale.

A Case of Identity
A woman comes to see Holmes to help her in regards to the disappearance of her fiance. It seems like quite a run of the mill mystery, but I’m sure you won’t guess what’s actually happening in this one. It’s quite out there, really, which I like. It may be a bit shorter than some of the other stories, but it’s still good.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery
This is more of a ‘straight’ murder mystery after the previous two stories had Holmes and Watson investigating rather more bizarre cases. Holmes is called in to try and defend a man who appears to be guilty based on the evidence so far. We get to see Watson’s wife for the first time since her introduction, we get to see Holmes making side remarks to Inspector Lestrade and I felt like the story and solution were all quite satisfying. Classic Sherlock Holmes.

The Five Orange Pips
An alternative title for this story could be “Sherlock Holmes vs. the KKK” because that’s basically what happens in this story. It’s a little darker than the average Holmes story, but I really like the premise. What I particularly enjoyed about it, is the fact that we get to see that Holmes and Watson (and, of course, Conan Doyle himself) were on the right side of history, in regards to racism.

The Man With The Twisted Lip
A woman comes to Holmes to tell him that her husband has disappeared. He was last seen looking distressed in the window of a known criminal – who then denies he was ever there. I don’t think anybody is likely to guess exactly what happened to him, because the resolution of this story is so bizarre, but it’s also quite comical. We also get a glimpse of the kind of things Holmes gets up to when Watson’s not around, which I appreciated.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
A nice Christmassy tale which all starts when a client comes to Holmes to tell him that he has been erroneously given a Christmas goose that he never ordered. This ultimately turns out to be part of a much larger case. I like the Christmas setting and, while I don’t want to spoil anything, I like that this story gives us a bit of moralising from Holmes.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band
This is actually the one which Conan Doyle himself thought was the best Sherlock Holmes story. It’s a good one – although I don’t quite think it’s the best. A woman tells Holmes that her sister died after a bizarre experience a couple of years ago and is now worried because she has had that same bizarre experience. The ending is quite dramatic. I liked it.

The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
This might just be the best story in this collection – or, at very least, a contender (a lot of the stories here are pretty great). Watson finds himself with a patient who has recently lost his thumb under some concerning circumstances, which ultimately leads to Holmes getting involved. While some of the stories are quite lighthearted, I find this one pretty darn disturbing and it has some rather violent imagery too. Really tense, really suspenseful, interesting and satisfying!

The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor
Unfortunately, what may be the best of these stories is followed immediately by what is probably the worst. Holmes investigates the case of a woman who disappeared on her wedding day. I didn’t think the general premise was that interesting and the resolution wasn’t particularly exciting either. Nonetheless, this is still an enjoyable read because it’s full of that Holmesian charm! It’s entertaining to read about Holmes interacting with Lestrade and his client. I think Sherlock Holmes is generally one of those characters who I’ll always enjoy reading about – regardless of the story he’s in.

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
While the previous story is my least favourite in this collection, that brief dip in quality is instantly rectified with ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet’ – in it, a man has found himself responsible for a very valuable gem (the beryl coronet) and wakes up one morning to find his unreliable son holding it in his hands (with some gems broken off it and missing) and he asks for Holmes’ help in finding out where they are. What I like about this story is that you’re given a house with several people in it, you’re given a crime and you’re given their alibi and you can kind of piece things together yourself. I’d figured out what really happened before the end and that felt good.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
The anthology ends with another rather menacing story. A young woman has been given an opportunity to work as a governess for exceedingly good pay, but has been told she needs to cut her hair short and do various other bizarre things on a regular basis, making her, understandably, concerned. It’s really hard to figure out what’s going on in this one and it’s one of the darker stories in the collection. I was genuinely concerned for the woman as the story went on, as the other characters were very sinister. It definitely ends on a high note.

On the whole, a fantastic collection and one which I think most people would enjoy. I am very, very fond of these short stories and many of the best ones are contained within this anthology. If you want to get into Sherlock Holmes stories, it could be a great place to start.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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