Donkey Kong Country 2 (Game Boy Advance)

The original Donkey Kong Country 2 on the SNES is my favourite video game of all time. I’m sure nostalgia plays a big part in that, but I do think it has an excellent soundtrack, lovely visuals and highly enjoyable gameplay. When the Game Boy Advance version came out, I was really excited to have such a wonderful game to play on the go – though there were a few changes, here’s a list of all the differences, breaking them down to the good, the bad and the neutral.

Good Changes:

  • There’s a nice cutscene at the start of the game which shows you the story – previously, you had to read the instruction manual for this.
  • Cranky Kong makes a bit of comedic dialogue after every boss battle.
  • You can save the game at any time (and for free) avoiding the need to have you pay Wrinkly Kong for saves whenever you’re able to get to her school. It helps the game overcome any artificial difficulty that the original may have had.
  • There are three new mini-games to play – one has you racing ostriches with Cranky, one has you flying a gyrocopter with Funky and the other is a bug catching game you play with Klubba.
  • Just like the first remake, there is now a totals screen which makes it much easier to keep up with what you’ve collected.
  • Another new feature borrowed from the first remake, is the addition of collectible cameras which you use to unlock official artwork of characters and enemies from the game.
  • There’s one completely new boss battle included – a very nice surprise.
  • The game now contains a reference to Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen. This makes me very happy.
  • A new time trial mode has been added, allowing you to time yourself running through the levels.

Bad Changes:

  • The inferior sound quality of a Game Boy Advance compared to a SNES means that the soundtrack had to be redone. It still sounds good, at least for a Game Boy Advance game, but it’s a definite step down from the original for me.
  • Graphically, it’s also inferior. Most of the time, it’s fine and looks pretty much just as good as the original, but a few levels have a very “washed out” look, making the colours less clear.
  • You now have to pay in-game money in order to replay any of the boss battles, which is a strange annoyance.

Neutral Changes:

  • All the sound affects have been updated, most of them coming from Donkey Kong 64.
  • All of the map screens have been completely redesigned.
  • Very small changes have been made to a handful of levels.

I do just about prefer the original version, but there’s a lot to love about this remake. It doesn’t have the best reputation, but I don’t think this is fair. I actually wish that there were modern ways to play this game, because it’s a unique experience from the original version and one which I enjoy revisiting from time to time.

Rating: 9.7/10

Buy it here.

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A Tribute to Robert Wightman as John-Boy Walton

John-Boy Walton is one of my all-time favourite characters and the most iconic portrayal of the character comes from actor Richard Thomas – he’s certainly my favourite incarnation of John-Boy. Having said that, I also really like the character as played by Robert Wightman. Unfortunately, a lot of fans are very critical of him and I think it’s simply because they don’t like the idea that John-Boy was recast in the first place.

When Richard Thomas played John-Boy, it was the story of a young man who wanted to go to college and be a writer and through hard work and dedication, he was able to achieve his dreams. However, when Robert Wightman played John-Boy, it was the story of a man dealing with the physical and mental wounds of the Second World War while struggling to find his place in the world. He very much seems to be a man who lives in the shadow of his past successes, while unable to return to the same heights. This is illustrated perfectly when comparing two episodes: The Achievement and The Revel – the first is Richard Thomas’s final appearance as a member of the main cast and sees him heading to New York to get an answer about whether or not his novel will be published. The publishers accept his book and he starts an exciting new life in New York. In The Revel, the final regular episode of the show, Robert Wightman’s version of the character heads to New York for the same reason his predecessor did a few years before, only to find that his novel has been rejected. He spirals into a depression, turns to alcohol and ends up homeless, before returning to Walton’s Mountain so that he could find his feet.

I made the video below as a tongue in cheek tribute to Robert Wightman’s performance – highlighting how the character was much more unlucky during the era of time in which Robert Wightman portrayed him, not quite able to live up to his younger self, in much the same way that fans feel he doesn’t live up to Richard Thomas’s version of the character… while also just serving as a sign of appreciation to Robert Wightman for bringing life to a new interpretation of the character.

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The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the fourth Sherlock Holmes book and the second Sherlock Holmes short story anthology. I tend to think that the short story format is the one which is best suited to the Sherlock Holmes series and this collection includes some of the very best. The book is especially noteworthy due to the fact that it introduces Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty – two fascinating characters who are a huge part of the Holmes canon. Here are my reviews of each of the stories.

Silver Blaze
A classic story which sees Holmes and Watson heading out into the countryside to investigate a murder… and also a disappearing race horse. It’s a good, fun story with a clever resolution.

The Yellow Face
This is a very different story and one in which, as Watson explains at the start, Holmes does not successfully solve the case. In fact, Holmes and Watson don’t play a very active role in the events at all. A man named Mr. Munro comes to them after his wife has started to behave suspiciously. That’s all I’ll say, but I loved it. It’s one of the more progressive Holmes stories.

The Stockbroker’s Clerk
Interestingly, this is the second story in a row in which Holmes and Watson play a rather passive role in the events. It does however present a very unusual mystery (even if slightly similar to The Red Headed League) and it gives a nice insight into the lives of Holmes and Watson following the ending of The Sign of Four.

The Gloria Scott
This story gives us a rare glimpse of Holmes’ life before he met Watson. After a suspicious death in the modern day, Holmes recalls an adventure he shared with his old friend Victor Trevor during his college days. It’s quite a gripping one, but also an especially violent and grim one.

The Musgrave Ritual
Another story which gives us a glimpse at Holmes’s early life and, in fact, is mostly narrated by Holmes himself. This one is quite a mysterious story about an unusual ritual that the Musgrave family has passed down for generations. Its real meaning turns out to be very interesting, making this a story I enjoyed very much.

The Reigate Squire
Holmes is in poor health and so he and Watson head to the countryside so that he can get some rest. Of course, they soon find themselves caught up in yet another mystery, this one surrounding a murder at a nearby household. A fairly average Holmes story, but an enjoyable one all the same.

The Crooked Man
A story which revolves around the murder of a military man. Though this was another story in which Holmes and Watson’s involvement in the cause of events was rather minimal, I still thought it was an especially good one. The backstory behind the crime, which you find out as the story goes on, is really interesting.

The Resident Patient
Another story whose crime has a very interesting backstory. This time Holmes and Watson are approached by a doctor who found himself with his own practise under unusual circumstances, with a Russian nobleman as a patient and a very nervous upstairs neighbour. A really good one.

The Greek Interpreter
A fantastic story and one which introduces us to Sherlock’s older, smarter enigmatic brother, Mycroft. Holmes and Watson go to visit him in order to hear the account of a Greek interpreter, he tells them of a disturbing experience in which he had to translate for a man who had seemingly been kidnapped.

The Naval Treaty
Holmes and Watson become involved in an investigation into a missing naval treaty, which has seemingly been stolen. If leaked, there would be dire consequences on the international stage. Another terrific story – it’s nice to see the pair of them investigating something which such high stakes.

The Final Problem
Holmes has identified that a man named Professor Moriarty is at the heart of a vast interconnected web of organised crime and takes action to bring him down. Holmes and Watson must take flight in order to avoid his wrath – the price they pay to stop Moriarty will be high. This is, perhaps my favourite Sherlock Holmes story.

Overall, it’s a really solid collection of stories and one which I thoroughly recommend. Even if you haven’t read any Sherlock Holmes stories before, this could be a good place to start – you don’t really need any additional information going in and these are some of the best stories in the series.

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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The COVID-19 Writing Dilemma

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause problems around the world, especially in countries like the UK where the government is a deadly mixture of uncaring and incompetent. One small problem it’s created for me is related to my writing. I’m not talking about the fact that not going out means I don’t have a supply of anecdotes for this blog (which is definitely an issue), but rather the way in which COVID-19 is effecting the fictional worlds of the stories I tell.

Before jumping to any conclusions – don’t worry, I haven’t gone insane. I know that the fictional world inside my head is fictional and is not actually effected by goings on in reality. The problem is that I like to write stories in a world which is essentially the same as our own, except for the fact that the characters I’ve created live in it… so, then, when I write a story in the modern day, do I need to have them living through the pandemic? If so, that severely limits the kinds of stories I can tell. Should I then set it pre-pandemic? I could, but, also, it’s difficult to self-consciously write a couple of years in the past – and what happens to the characters afterwards? The pandemic will still happen. If I have a plan for a character’s life over several years, I now need to incorporate the fact that they lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that certain events may need to be changed. Also, I could try writing in a post-pandemic world, but I don’t know how long it will last – the characters might be significantly older by then!

It doesn’t stop me from writing. In fact, I’ve written a lot more since the pandemic began than I had before, it’s just a problem that’s bubbling at the back of my mind and which irks me if I let it. I wonder how many other writers are trying to manage the effect of COVID-19 on their worlds?

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Hyrule Warriors Legends

This is one game which a lot of people would consider as obsolete at this point, but this is a game which gave me almost one hundred hours of fun and so I think it’s definitely worthy of praise.

I had Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U and I loved it. I’d definitely say that it was one of the best games that the console had to offer. I got the DLC and played through it extensively. When Nintendo announced a couple of years later, that the game would be coming to the 3DS, I was surprised. As much as I like the 3DS, I didn’t think that it was powerful enough to run a game like this, one which not only had very nice graphics, but also one which featured whole armies of characters running around on screen at once! Crazy.

But, somehow, they managed it and with all the DLC already pre-installed too. When I first played, the downgrade in graphics was quite jarring to me, but I think it was only noticeable because I was used to the HD beauty of the Wii U game. I don’t think that they look bad on their own and anybody who came straight to this edition would probably think it looks fine – I think it’s to the usual standard that the 3DS offers. After playing for a while, the graphics no longer looked bad to me.

The graphic reduction is really the game’s only downside. Obviously, the 3DS has two screens and the bottom screen gives you extra detail about the map and the ability to switch between characters at a quick touch – it makes a lot of things in the game a lot more convenient. There’s also the fact that the 3DS was a handheld console, while the Wii U was a home console, allowing the game to be played anywhere for the first time.

Beyond the technical benefits, the game also added a lot of nice new content. The story was extended to incorporate characters from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which I think is really cool. Toon Link and Tetra are two characters I was particularly pleased to see playable and King Daphnes is also a pretty cool bonus. However, most exciting of all is a side story about Linkle – the first female incarnation of Link. This is ground-breaking! Though her name is a bit stupid, she’s a really awesome character who I enjoyed playing as. I look forward to more female Links in the future of the series. Additionally, if you bought this game and felt disappointed that the new content was only on the visually inferior 3DS, you also got a special code with new versions of the game which allowed you to get all the extra content on your Wii U game too! A very nice bonus.

On top of all of the pre-installed new additions to the game, more DLC was also released to coincide with this version of the game (though it was available to purchase for both versions). Although the main story was not extended or added to in any way, several new characters and new missions were added. These included Marin (from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening), Toon Zelda (from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks), Ravio and Yuga (both from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds) and, frankly, I love all these choices, especially Toon Zelda and Marin. They’re all very unique compared to the other characters and it’s nice to see Marin in full 3D.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this one on of my favourite 3DS games and definitely one of my most played. Since then, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition on the Nintendo Switch has usurped it, but Hyrule Warriors Legends was a brilliant game and I’m really glad I got the chance to play it when it was relevant. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch and want to try this game, this could be the best way to go!

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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One big reason MSN was better than Messenger

I love instant messaging. It’s brilliant. An excellent way to stay in touch with absent friends and a great way to casually chat with people without having to meet up with them in person – something which we kind of take for granted, but as a teenager using MSN for the first time, it felt incredible to be able to talk to my friends in real time online. Sure, we had texting before then, but texts cost 10p each. A conversation would soon become very expensive. MSN was a free text-based chat system which revolutionised social lives. Or, at very least, my social life. An appealing way to remain social if you were somebody who didn’t like going out so much.

Nowadays instant messaging is even better. Nearly everybody has a messaging app on their phone (usually Facebook Messenger) and with everybody connected to the internet at all times, we can now contact any friend at any time – isn’t that wonderful? Well, in some ways, it certainly is, but there was one big benefit to MSN which Facebook Messenger doesn’t provide – something which, if it was there, would probably help to reduce a lot of the anxiety that some people feel when using it.

So, what’s the feature? Well, if you remember, MSN would usually log in automatically when you went onto your computer. If you were planning to use your computer to do something else, you could just set yourself to “busy” or “do not disturb” so that people would know not to send you a message or, if they did, they’d know you wouldn’t reply to that message right away. It was a nice way to let people make some boundaries.

Facebook Messenger doesn’t have this option and it creates lots of problems. Firstly, it creates pressure for you when you use it – if you’re online, you know that it’s telling your friends that you’re online and then gives you cause to think that it might seem rude if you don’t respond immediately. Secondly, on the other side of things, if somebody messages somebody and they can see that they are currently online, it will make them question why they’ve not received a response if they don’t get one right away – they’ll wonder if they have annoyed or offended the person and then end up feeling all anxious.

So why doesn’t Facebook implement this feature which other services had over a decade ago? It only takes a second’s thought to realise that it will improve the user experience and the mental health of the people using it. The reason is that they don’t care about these things. They want you on the app as often as possible throughout the day and they don’t care about the toll it takes on you – if you’re on the app, you can be exposed to adverts that are there and they can make money from the data they accumulate from every conversation you have. I do often miss the days of the internet when everything wasn’t so hyper-commercialised…

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The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Throughout the years I’ve heard a lot of people talk about The Godfather as one of the greatest movies ever made. I’d never gotten around to seeing it and, interestingly, never really heard much praise for the book. Nonetheless, the book remained on my radar and was something I wanted to try for some time… then recently, I finally decided to read it and while I can’t comment on the film, I believe the book to be among the best ever written.

The novel focuses on the Corleones, a mafia family. Vito Corleone is the head of the family and the titular ‘godfather’ and I found him to be a fascinating character. He’s a deeply religious man who always stands by his principles, someone who believes that it’s important to carve deep and meaningful relationships with all of the people in your life, particularly those who you do business with. He’s such a compelling, likeable man that you find yourself looking past the fact that he is a mafia don and has therefore almost certainly been responsible for the unlawful killing of many people.

But the book does paint a very sympathetic picture of mafia morality. The mafia is very much family oriented and if the people who join aren’t related by blood or marriage, they’ll be people who have formed strong personal bonds with someone who’s already in the mafia. Largely, its members are Italian American immigrants and the book points out that a lot of time they were unable to count on the police or the legal systems of America, due to systematic racism. The cards were stacked against them, so their only option was to create their own law system – one which didn’t view them as second class citizens. Of course, it’s a very romanticised view of organised crime, but it makes for a terrific story and is very thought-provoking.

Vito has four children: Mike, Connie, Sonny and Frederico – plus a man named Tom who he took in and serves him as a counsellor. Mike isn’t too keen on the family business, while Sonny is endlessly loyal to his father, to the extent that he’ll do anything – he has a violent streak which concerns them all. Frederico is less hot-headed, but equally as loyal, while Connie, as a woman, is not included in the family affairs. Unfortunately, most of the women play more limited roles – I guess it accurate to the time period and sub-culture that women wouldn’t have been involved with the mafia work, but if I had the fault the book on anything, it’s less then great portrayal of its female characters. Some of the male characters don’t have great attitudes towards women either… but again, I think it’s better to accurately present misogyny than pretend it never happened. I did also quite like Michael’s partner Kay and Vito’s wife Carmela.

The book is fairly long, focusing on several story threads which concern the different characters, but I read through it so quickly, because I loved every page. You really feel the bonds between these men and become quite invested in their world and their ethos. I was reading it for at least an hour every day and often that was because I intentionally stopped myself to do something else, rather than because I wanted to stop. The writing style is beautiful and it’s a really addictive book. I love the characters, I love the setting and I love the subject matter – I’ve never really read anything about the mafia before, but it was amazing to get some kind of insight into the way it operates. I also just really enjoy stories set in 1940s New York, so that was an extra bonus for me.

I think I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s one of those masterpieces which appeals even to people who don’t typically read the genre it belongs to. It’s not often that I come across a book as incredible as this and I’m glad I finally decided to read it.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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Hamlet by William Shakespeare

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays – and for good reason. Prior to reading Hamlet, I would have happily said that Richard III was my favourite Shakespeare play, but now I’d say that Hamlet has just about edged it out. It’s full of wit, humour and a perfectly executed melodrama, which I can’t help but enjoy.

The story follows a young prince, Hamlet, who’s father, the king, suddenly dies. His mother then quickly marries his uncle, but the ghost of his father tells him that he was actually murdered by the uncle. Hamlet then puts it upon himself to expose the truth and avenge his father. A fairly standard Shakespearean plot, really.

What makes this play stand out so much, is Hamlet himself. He’s a brilliant character. At one point, he puts on a play for his uncle and mother, which is essentially about his uncle murdering his father. How incredibly passive aggressive – it’s such an absurd thing to happen, but I love it. Meanwhile, he wanders around making excessively long speeches about the turmoil of life which are really over-dramatic (including the most famous “to be or not to be?” speech) but, again, I love them. Hamlet is so spoilt and pretentious… but it makes him very entertaining to read about.

But, Hamlet himself isn’t the only attraction of this novel: I loved his shifty, untrustworthy friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and a woman he treats badly, named Ophelia. Even the ghost of his father is quite a likeable character. The rest of the cast are all great.

It’s quite a grizzly tale, on the whole, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. The absurd ways that the characters behave mean that you can never take the tragedies that befall them too seriously – yet the dramas that unfold remain deeply compelling. If you’re looking for a Shakespeare play to start with, I recommend this one and if you’ve enjoyed his other work, but not read this yet, I reckon you’ll love it!

Rating: 8.1/10

Buy it here.

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is one of those books which I had to read as part of my GCSEs. As a young teenager, the book felt overly wordy and my overall impression was that it was pretty inaccessible. Nonetheless, I did like the idea of Frankenstein – the idea of a sentient creature created by a human being is one I quite like. In fact, after reading and not enjoying the book at school, I watched and enjoyed several of the Frankenstein movies. Really, I was fascinated by the concept and so it’s only natural that I decided to read it again and reappraise it with adult eyes.

As it turns out, I’m really glad that I went back to this one. On my second reading, I loved every page and couldn’t get enough of it. It has an interesting framing device – it starts with a man named Robert Walton who plans to sail to the North Pole. During his journey, he encounters Victor Frankenstein who writes for him the story of his life – which is, of course, the story of how he created an intelligent living being. Within that, there’s a further story of another character’s perspective, but I won’t spoil it. I really enjoyed all three of the narratives and enjoyed how they all tied together.

What I particularly liked about this book was that every character was really interesting. Victor Frankenstein was a very believable character and not necessarily the most sympathetic of protagonists. Meanwhile, the creature is a fascinating character – at times I felt really sorry for him, at other times I thought his behaviour was unforgivable. It’s important to keep in mind that throughout the whole book, the creature is never more than a year old – surely not enough time for somebody to truly develop a proper sense of right and wrong. I also really liked the character of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s fiancĂ©. A compassionate and caring character and one of the most likeable people in the novel – she certainly stands out among a sea of deeply flawed people.

Frankenstein is probably remembered as a horror story most often, but I don’t think that that is quite appropriate. I’d definitely call it a science fiction story and one which can be quite disturbing at times, but not in the same way that a horror would be – there’s much more to it than that and I think a lot of what makes this story so disturbing is that there are extreme emotional consequences for everything that happens. The characters are nuanced, the emotions run deep and the storyline is clever – for all these reasons and more, this is one of my favourite books.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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Marie of the Cabin Club by Ann Petry

This was one of several books released digitally as part of the Reclaim Her Name movement, which was created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Each of these book was written by a woman who had to use a male pseudonym due to the sexism and prejudices of their time. Marie of the Cabin Club was originally credited to “Arnold Petri”, but now, for the first time, Ann Petry has been correctly attributed as the author.

As it happens, this particular addition to the collection is very much just a short story – you’ll easily finish it in one sitting. It’s about a woman named Marie who works as a “cigarette girl” in a cabin club – she falls in love with one of the musicians there and the two of them have a romance. However, there’s more to the musician than meets the eye. It’s set in the 1930s (when it was written) and this context is quite important. The story takes an interesting turn and it becomes a bit of a thriller – but it is very short and there isn’t all that much time left to properly explore the characters and ideas.

In one sense, it’s a very good short story: I liked everything I read and I wished that there was more to it… but, also, this meant that I was left thinking “oh, was that it?” which is perhaps a side effect of it being put forward as a standalone piece. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought that if it had been released as part of an anthology.

Either way, this is a short and sweet story. Enjoyable and intriguing while it lasts and because of the limited amount of time needed to finish it, I don’t think anybody could regret reading it.

Rating: 6.5/10

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