Mario Tennis

Nowadays, there seems to be a loads of Mario sports games and when a new one comes out, it usually isn’t a big deal. But when Mario Tennis was first released for the Nintendo 64, I was really excited.

I wasn’t a huge tennis fan or anything like that, but what really drew me to this game was its large cast of characters. It may not look like much compared to the rosters of later titles but back then it was really exciting. For the first time, you could control Bowser in a 3D space! You could be a Boo or a Para-Troopa. Waluigi was introduced and was a mysterious fourth ‘Mario brother’ with a slick colour scheme and devious design – I loved him then and ever since. Birdo was back for the first time in years. Good old Donkey Kong was there and he’s joined by a super cool unlockable character (whose identity I won’t spoil.) It was amazing and they’re all portrayed with such charm – especially in it’s opening cutscene.

In terms of gameplay, it’s pretty much just a solid tennis game. You work through tournaments to unlock trophies, new courts and a couple of secret characters. I think it stands up really well and will always provide a solid tennis experience.

Of course, there are also a few ‘wacky’ extras, such as a mini-game where you return tennis balls spat at you by Piranha Plants. Another has you playing on a court in Bowser’s Castle where there are items to use, much like in the Mario Kart games.

All in all, it’s among the best side games for Mario. There are a lot of hours of fun to be had, as you’re encouraged to play tournaments as every character – not just to get the trophies for all of them, but to see their unique victory celebrations when they are awarded them. There are lots of extra courts to unlock and the options to play with friends. It’s a comprehensive package and one which I still find fun to come back to every now and then.

Rating: 9.1/10

Buy it here.

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The Friendship Experiment

A few months ago I thought to myself: what if two friends were trapped together in a featureless void with nothing to do but talk to each other until the end of time? Obviously, you have to imagine that they don’t need to eat or anything like that, or else the only result of this experiment would be that they would die quite quickly.

What I really wondered was would any friendship be strong enough to endure these conditions? Or would any two people eventually grow to hate one another as a result of over-exposure? I started to think that yes, any two people would start to hate each other. This made me a little sad because there are people who I’m so close with that I couldn’t imagine growing to hate, no matter what. And what would this say about the human condition? That hate always trumps love in the end?

But then, speaking to a friend of mine, he said that was not a reasonable conclusion to jump to, that putting someone in the conditions described in this experiment is tantamount to torture and all that proves is that putting people in horrible conditions makes them behave negatively. I like that. Love is stronger than hate and this hypothetic situation doesn’t say anything at odds with that.

Funnily enough, now that we’re in lockdown I guess my housemate and I are living the closest real-life equivalent of this situation. Even though we spend pretty much all of our waking hours together, no negative emotion starts to grow – and I don’t think it ever will.

What do you think of the friendship experiment?

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been familiar with the Little House on the Prairie television series for a long time, but it’s only very recently that I finally got around to reading any of the original books. I regret leaving it so long because Little House in the Big Woods is a fantastic read.

Sadly, when I described the book to somebody recently, they said it sounded really boring – and I can kind of see why. If what I describe does sound boring to you, please trust me that it isn’t.

The novel is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s own childhood, though she writes about herself in the third person. Basically, it just summarises her day to day life, back in the 1870s, when she lived in a little house deep in the woods of Wisconsin. She was just a little girl back then, living with her mother and father (Charles and Caroline) and her younger and older sisters (Mary and Carrie), one of whom was just a baby.

The Ingalls family lead a very isolated life, far removed from other people and it’s fascinating to read the tales of what they did to pass the time. You find out about games they played, food they ate, stories Laura’s father told, how they made things, their rare encounters with other people etc. I found the whole book wonderfully wholesome.

I think what’s most impressive of all is that despite the fact that Laura’s childhood was so completely different to my own, she manages to convey a nostalgia for her past which is sure to make anybody who reads feel just as nostalgic themselves. The book may not have any real tension in it, but it paints such a beautiful image of her childhood, that it doesn’t matter. It’s also pretty interesting just to learn how people lived back then.

It’s only a short book, but in the small time I spent with it, it left a very positive impact on me and I can heavily recommend it to anyone of any age.

Rating: 9/10

Buy it here.

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Staying at Home

I’m currently in the same situation as just about everyone else at the moment: self-isolating in order to do my bit to avoid the spread of coronavirus. For me, this is quite a significant change as I am generally someone who goes out to visit friends very frequently. Being inside all the time is a little frustrating, but, actually, it’s not that bad. I’ve got plenty of books to read and video games to play – plus my housemate Sophie makes for excellent company.

It’s funny, because people seem to expect she and I to get ‘fed up’ with one another, but I find that very cynical. Maybe we don’t because we’re both pretty patient and easygoing people. Or maybe it’s just normal for friends to enjoy one another’s company.

Anyway, with this newfound time on my hands I thought to myself “Hey, why don’t I get back into my old routine of updating my webcomic and blog more often?” Well, good question, me. The reason I haven’t yet done this is that most of my ideas tended to come to me when I was out and about in the world. But who knows? Maybe I just need to get used to the new routine. I won’t be able to resume my webcomic though – for quite a few reasons. I currently don’t have access to Microsoft Paint or to my finger puppets themselves… two pretty vital components. I also don’t have the ability to go outside and take photographs for it. Alas.

Nonetheless, I will try to write more blog posts. I’ll sign off by saying that I hope everyone is wisely staying inside and avoiding unnecessary contact with others and that I hope you all are able to remain safe and well.

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

I love the Super Smash Bros. series and throughout the first three installments I felt like it got better with each new game. When Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS came out, I felt that despite some nice additions, it was a step down from its predecessor. I heard people say that the reason for this step down was because it was on a handheld console and that the Wii U version fixes all the issues with it. I didn’t play it for a long time, because I wasn’t that excited, but when I finally did, I felt that it was actually a further step down…

There were still things I liked though, so let’s start by talking about the positives. The game adds some pretty cool new levels. There’s a Wrecking Crew level which imagines what the levels of the game would look like in realistic HD, which is amazing. There’s a Pilotwings level which had you riding on planes which fly between the islands of the SNES original and WuHu Island from Pilotwings Resort. I love the world building that’s gone into each of these, they’re pure fan service. Speaking of WuHu Island, it’s the focus of it’s very own level, with several unique areas (such as rocks in the ocean, a rickety bridge and the top of a volcano). I also liked new ones based on Donkey Kong Country Returns and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as well. Overall, the level selection was quite good, which I did think was a weakness in the 3DS game.

I do also like the selection of characters. Duck Hunt Duo are a fantastic addition, Pac-Man is really fun to be, Lucina and Robin was super cool, Villager is a perfect representative of the Animal Crossing series, Wii Fit Trainer is fun and hilarious, it’s nice to have Dr. Mario and Mewtwo back (even if the latter is DLC) and Bowser Jr. is a really fun and unique character, classics like Donkey Kong, Mr. Game & Watch and Link have all returned too… but it’s hard to be that excited by the characters, since they’re exactly the same as they were in the 3DS game and by the time I played this, I’d already spent lots of hours playing as them all.

And that’s the problem with the game overall. It didn’t feel new. I played the 3DS game a lot and got as much fun out of it as I could, then when I played this one, it just felt like more of the same – except, other than a nice new selection of levels, it’s actually less of the same. For some reason, the fun new Smash Run of the 3DS game is replaced with Smash Tour – a mode where Miis walk around a game board (Mario Party-style) and then get into fights with each other where everyone plays as random character under random conditions. I played it once or twice and will never play it again. It was not fun.

The single player Classic Mode also feels worse – the random assortment of characters you fought (sometimes up to eight at once – far too many, it’s just chaos) just feel like a bunch of Nintendo characters haphazardly thrown together and made to fight. In fact – that sums up the game overall: a bunch of Nintendo stuff randomly thrown together. It has some nice elements, but overall I didn’t think this game was well executed.

Rating: 6.4/10

Buy it here.

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The Friendship That Never Was

I like to stay in touch with people. If I form any kind of significant bond with someone, I’ll never stop reaching out to them to meet up and have fun together. The two very best friends I had in primary school (Davey and George, their names are) remain in my life to this day and although our meeting are significantly less frequent, I continue to count them among my very best friends.

But sometimes it’s interesting to think about how things could have been different. I remember around age four or five, I had another best friend as well who was called Tammy. My mother insists that she was my girlfriend (whatever that is to a five year old), but I don’t remember the friendship being anything like that – but who knows? I was a five year old, after all, so my memory won’t be great.

I can remember going to school together, visiting her house, her visiting mine, playing Donkey Kong Country together, drawing pictures together and other fragmented memories. Then eventually I found out she was moving away and before long she was gone and I never saw her again. Prior to it happening, I don’t remember being sad at the news, but I don’t think I yet had the emotional capacity. I do remember feeling a bit sad a few weeks later though, when I realised just what it’s like when somebody goes away.

And I recently stopped to wonder; what if she hadn’t moved away? I’d most likely have another lifelong friend. I’d have had another person influencing me and my development throughout the last twenty years. I’d have had another person to share two decades of experiences with. I’d probably be a slightly different person because of this addition to my life.

It makes me realise how lucky I am to have the friends who I have known since those early days. If they’d had moved away, I’d have lost something really quite significant and I’m not entirely sure that my childhood self would have been able to comprehend what exactly they had lost, but my life would surely be set onto a different path…

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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The current political climate is one that’s incredibly depressing. Often you’ll hear people saying this or that is Orwellian and it’s the government of Ninteen Eighty-Four that they’re referring to. Although I knew generally what the book was about, I recently decided to read the book to find out just how prophetic George Orwell had been back in 1948.

The story follows the everyday life of a man named Winston, who has a job revising records to allign themselves with the narrative of the government (or The Party, as they call themselves). We learn that people disappear for saying or doing things not in-line with The Party’s philosophy and anyone who mentions the people who have disappeared will then disappear themselves. We learn that people have to take part in mandatory things such as “Two Minutes Hate” where views counter to those of The Party are vilified. We learn that history is constantly revised so that The Party never appears to have been wrong. We learn that endless wars are waged and nobody knows why or to what end.

Although every aspect of The Party’s rule is disturbing, it’s Newspeak which was the most unsettling. In order to eradicate all opposition, they slowly introduce a language called Newspeak, which is a greatly simplified version of English where opposing ideas simply cannot be explained as there are no words to do so. Though English still exists at the time the novel is set, you know that they are planning for it to be completely replaced in the not too distant future. Even classic works of literature are translated into it.

Thankfully, of course, no real-life government is currently quite as bad as this, but there are certainly uncomfortable parallels. The Party uses Mass Surveillance to ensure complete conformity of all its citizens and, with modern technology, we know very well that systems are in place which could make that possible. The lies and misinformation of The Party also bear some resemblance to the increasingly dishonest political discourse of our politicians. They’re gaslighting people, essentially and it makes me very uneasy when we see such clear contradictions and lies used by the people in power in the real world… Plus, there’s the way The Party is so tied up with nationalism that it presents other opinions as being against the state itself. It’s all a little eerily familiar isn’t it?

But despite the fact that Orwell has given us a very enlightened warning about the future of politics, there was something that rather took away from the book as a whole. He seems to have rather negative views on women. The women in the novel are all portrayed as rather simple minded and not able to truly comprehend (or care about) the extent to which The Party’s actions are frightening and harmful. I know people will say “but this was the 1940s, it’s a product of its times” but I won’t accept that – I’ve seen much more positive portrayals of women in novels written much earlier, so there’s no excuse for this misogyny.

Overall, although the sexism did make me uncomfortable a number of times, I’d still say that this is a good book and one that’s well worth reading. It’s thought provoking and interesting… but at the same time it is quite depressing. If you find current politics upsetting, this might just reinforce your worries and make you feel even worse, so if you are going to read, brace yourself!

Rating: 8.3/10

Buy it here.

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What is love?

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers. While today is typically seen as a celebration of the love between two people in a romantic relationship, there’s no reason that it can’t be enjoyed as a celebration of love in all of its forms. Some people who are not in a romantic relationship believe that they are living a life without love, but they’re wrong. Love comes from many sources and is something you must never taken for granted.

I have been very fortunate, in that my life has been filled with so much love. Although my brushes with romantic relationships have been few and far between (because they have never been that important to me), the love gained through the strong bonds of friendship has been plentiful and while friends don’t always outright say “I love you” (though I am delighted when they do) it’s often communicated through actions and gestures.

Sometimes love is writing a story together, or it’s being able to pick up where you left off after a long period without interaction. Love is knowing what the other person is going to say before they say it, or it’s just sitting back to watch a movie together. It’s sharing secrets and chatting long into the night, it’s not feeling you have to censor any part of yourself around somebody, it’s sharing one extra cupcake, or, simply, continuing to make time for one another after so many years. Love is the greatest emotion.

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Content Output

I realise that it’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog post, so o I thought it was time to give a little update. My content output has been a little lower for a while now, but I have been aiming to do at least one blog post a week. I may not have kept up with that in recent times, but that’s because I have also started doing my Finger Puppet Show again! I thought I better mention, because people who only check my blog might not have realised this. So each week, I’ll do at least one or the other and, if I have enough time, I’ll do both. I do wish I was able to write three blog posts and two comic strips a day, like I used to, but I am very busy these days and don’t have the free time. Maybe one day I’ll get back to my old levels of content output…

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Ghosts ‘n Goblins

If you like ridiculously hard and unfair ’80s games, then this will be right up your street, as they say.

It’s your standard NES game setup – you’re a knight who needs to rescue a captured princess and to do so, you need to travel through a variety of side scrolling levels. The only thing is that the number of enemies you’re bombarded with is huge and it never stops. Even the very first level will take very many tries to complete.

You play as Sir Arthur, who has to be the most pitifully weak knight who ever lived. If an enemy so much as touches him, the armour comes flying off his body, leaving him naked. If an enemy touches him a second time, he’ll be reduced to bones. He has a small little jump (which can never be used as an attack) and he can weakly throw weapons in front of him to fight. Really, he’s pathetic… but, in a way, that rather endears me to him. Despite being useless, I do rather like Sir Arthur.

And it’s not just Arthur who endears me, but all of the monsters and the world itself. Even though ghosts, zombies and half a dozen other things were always coming at me from all angles and I didn’t have adequate control over my character in order to be able to avoid them, I found the overall atmosphere to be quite charming. It’s a spooky scary world of monsters and ghosts which doesn’t take itself too seriously, so against all odds, I find myself enjoying it.

So, to clarify, the storyline is without depth or anything of interest, the controls are bad and your character is excessively weak, the difficulty levels are really high and I didn’t mention it before but the sound effects are bad and the graphics are unappealing (even for a NES game)… and yet I think of it fondly. It’s a fun and silly thing to mess around with if you have a few minutes to spare and if you love insanely hard gaming challenges, then you might just adore every second of it.

Rating: 6/10

Buy it here.

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