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August 31, 2005

REVIEW: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (a.k.a. Eew! Coconut!)

  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, GameBoy Advance, PC
  • Current Price (new): $30-40 (save it for good games)
  • Amount of Game Played: Too Much
  • BOTTOM LINE: Oompa, Loompa, Crappity-Crap!
Remember when I wrote about how many of us are cautious when we approach licensed games, because so many of them........ how shall I put this........ suck? Remember that, do ya?

Well, if SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom is the yummy exception, then Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is the yucky rule.

Or, to use a chocolate-themed analogy (and to explain the "a.k.a." in the title of this review), if SpongeBob is the caramel in the box of assorted chocolates, then Charlie is the coconut. And for the purposes of this example, let's assume that everyone really hates coconut, shall we?**

The time: May, 2005. The scene: the 2K Games booth at E3 in May.

While I enjoyed games like Sid Meier's Pirates! and the visually delicious NBA 2K6, I also spent some time playing Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, that is time that I will never get back.

The level I played had me jumping wildly around on a red........ ball........ thingy, and throwing candy at........ creature........ things, and trying to float through some garden variety factory/castle/dungeon hallway-esque place. Control (and fun) was non-existent. And if I was this frustrated, just imagine your kids trying to figure out what the hell to do. I'll save mine the agony, thanks.

Actually, that's about all I got for ya. I couldn't take any more. So I went over to the Sony booth to play Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (preview coming next week).

P.S. No Screenshots For You!

** Well, my wife just shot my clever little chocolate assortment analogy to hell. She likes coconut, and truth be told, I do to. But I was under the impression that coconut was the universal sign for Least-Desirable-Chocolate-In-Box. If you coconut lovers feel slighted (or feel that since you love coconut, I'm actually praising this game), feel free to substitute those icky fruit creams in its place. And if you love the fruit creams, then I really can't help you. Those things are nasty. That is all.

August 29, 2005

America's Next Top Celebrity Paper Model

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Fashion Cents, which is a fun game for kids who like paper dolls.

As it happens, I have something new & delightful for those of you who liked that game. Over the weekend, a friend mentioned that her daughter loves a website called Paperdoll Heaven.

Before letting my daughter in on the exciting news, I gave the website a test run. For the most part, the site really is heaven for kids who love to play with paper dolls.

However, I do have a couple of caveats.

While the "models" in Fashion Cents are girls wearing nondescript underwear, Paperdoll Heaven features a cavalcade of stars in more "mature" undergarments. Since the models are computer versions of actors, actresses, singers, models, royalty and other various and sundry beautiful people, they can't be seen running around in Underoos, now can they? This may bother you, or it may not. Your call, of course, but I'd recommend that you check out the site first to see if you're cool with it.

The other issue I had is when you click on one of the "miscellaneous" entries - the Doll House. When you click on a window of the doll house, you're greeted with a lovely, Barbie & Ken-esque scene of domestic tranquility. The problem is that the scene is set in the bedroom, and the available wardrobe consists of the clearance rack at Victoria's Secret.

As a result, my daughter is not allowed to click on the Doll House. As with the underwear issue, you may feel that it's simply inappropriate and not worth the vigilance to make sure your kids aren't visiting paper naughtyland, but you may feel that the benefit of all of the paper dolls & outfits is worth the cost of a little extra attention.

Other than that, it's cute. I don't really care so much about the celebrity aspect of it as I do for the many many different outfits, hairstyles, makeovers and accesories your kids can play around with. Other extras (also in the Miscellaneous section) include an interactive, dressable History of Fashion timeline, a horse you can outfit and a dog you can dress up. The fact that the mutt is actually Paris Hilton's pet Chihuahua Tinkerbell is annoying, but my daughter doesn't know anything other than that it's a dog to dress up.

My daughter loves the game, and we've played it together a few times. If you're cool with the caveats, then your kids should love it. If not, then mum's the word.

August 24, 2005

SpongeBob Part Deux: This Time It's Personal!

'sup y'all. My new SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom review is up on GameDAILY Family.

In case you haven't noticed, my first few reviews on GameDAILY Family have been revised and improved versions of reviews I've done on GameFam.

I'm still trying to figure out how to make sure that GameFam and my GameDAILY column are complementary yet separate.

While my writing here is more stream of consciousness (though I do plenty of edits & revisions), I try to write my column in a more traditional way.

Eventually, I'll be writing completely new content for GameDAILY Family, but for those of you who have already read my SpongeBob review on GameFam, I assure you that I'm not just putting the proverbial leftovers in the microwave. This new version is a better, tighter, more comprehensive review of the game.

That is all. ;^)

August 23, 2005

Out, Damn Spam!

Recently, I've been getting a lot of comment spam, including several from blogs about sex and other inappropriate and irrelevant topics.

I don't know about you, but seeing comments about sex sites when I'm expecting to read a comment about games for kids, it makes me feel uncomfortably. . . shall we say, icky.

I want to make it as easy as possible for parents and other readers to comment, but I want to make sure that the only people who comment are people who actually read GameFam, and not dastardly spam 'bots.

As a result, I've added word verification to the comments section, which hopefully isn't too much of a pain for those of you who have been nice enough to share your thoughts. Please keep doing so.


August 21, 2005

REVIEW: Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters

  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Current Price (new): $25-30
  • Amount of Game Played: Very little (too frustrating)
  • BOTTOM LINE: Swim in the opposite direction
When I first rented Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters from GameFly, I thought it might be a diamond in the rough - one of those games that isn't well-known or rated very highly, but is good nonetheless.

Basically, I thought it might be a nautical version of Dog's Life. Alas, this was not to be.

Finny the Fish has an interesting high concept (something about protecting the oceans from evil, with a wizened old turtle to guide you, grasshopper), but it's probably a tad esoteric for many kids, so I'm not going to go into too much detail about it here.

On the upside, it's a good-looking game, and it's relaxing and mildly enjoyable to just swim around and catch other fish in your (Finny's) mouth.

On the downside, any time you have to actually, y'know, accomplish anything (actually eating the fish you catch, escaping from fish hooks, jumping over walls), the game gets very frustrating. In addition, the camera system is brutal.

Which begs the following question: Why would someone design a game meant for kids, but make it too difficult for kids to play? I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Still, although the kids (and I) were frustrated by the gameplay, they were still somewhat attached to the little fishy, but they liked the idea of Finny more than they liked the actual game.

So, we waved good-bye to Finny, and hello to Mario Power Tennis, which eased the pain of separation.

See ya, Finny. Don't let the kelp hit you in the tail on the way out.

Anyhoo, here are the obligatory screenshots.

August 20, 2005

Game (almost) Over!

FYI, the Game On! Exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry closes in just over 2 weeks - on Labor Day, Monday September 5th.

I took one of my classes there a few months ago (field trip!), and here's my very quick thumbnail review.

When I first walked in, I was very excited, because the first things I saw were a PDP-1 mainframe (of Steve Russell/Spacewar! fame), PONG, Nolan Bushnell's pre-PONG failure Computer Space (first coin-op video game), and this initially-impressive row of classic arcade cabinets.

However, as I walked through the too-short exhibit, I thought that they could have done a much better job. For example, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga (and a few others) are terrific, but where the hell were Defender and Pac-Man?

In general, the exhibit was pretty good, but it didn't deliver what it promised when I first walked in. I thought I'd enjoy spending the whole day there, but I was ready to bail after a couple hours (okay, maybe 3. . . or 4).

  • Overall shortness
  • Lack of playable handhelds
  • Simon...2??
  • The missing arcade classics
I'll add more highs & lows as I remember them.

As for the kid factor, if you're already planning an outing to the Museum, then you and your kids will probably enjoy the exhibit as a small part of your day. But if you build it up as the main reason you're going, they (and you) may be a little disappointed.

Bottom line, it's worth going, as long as you don't build it up to be an amazing thing.

August 17, 2005

Bovines 'n Big Air

Last week, we took the kids to the Wisconsin State Fair. As we sampled the olfactory delights of the bovine, ovine, equine, porcine and avian varieties, my daughter was proudly sporting her new GameFam t-shirt.

Sure, it was a little shameless grassroots marketing for the ol' blogaroo, but she really wanted to make the shirt, and she loved showing off something she created (obviously, Insomniac created Clank (yay!), but this is her artistic interpretation). For you new folks, here's the story behind the Clank drawing.

Somewhere mixed in between all the cows 'n cream puffs, we managed to squeeze in a bmx stunt show. The kids loved it, oohing and aahing along with the crowd. Here are some shots I took of the show.

You may now commence your very own oohing and/or aahing.

August 16, 2005

Busted. Grounded. Pwn3d.

For those people who still don't understand that video games are a maturing industry (demographically, economically, culturally, etc.), or have such a deathgrip on their own dangerously misguided vested interests that they refuse to acknowledge this fact, haven't we all been saying that the average age of gamers is just under 30 these days? I'm certainly doing my part to pull that average northward, if only by a smidge. :^)

So wasn't this only a matter of time? Busted. Grounded.

Sure, it's a funny story, and some of you might be tempted to ask just what the hell either of them was doing up at 3:30 in the morning (** see UPDATE #2 below), but I strongly believe that a parent who plays games is far less likely to be blindsided by a horrifically inappropriate game magically finding its way into the shopping cart.

P.S. In case you thought the title of this post was a typo, or don't even know what ownage is, here's what all those crazy kids are saying these days.


UPDATE: After writing that she was going to punish her son by making him stay home and watch Steel Magnolias or Moulin Rouge with her, she wrote this (#192).

Oh my...
I never in a million years thought this would happen. I just wanted to give him the bad news in a fun way.
I took pity on him (in light of these events) and we watched Stephen King's "The Dark Half".
He's a really great kid, despite the occaisional staying up too late.
Plus I need him to help me kill Araj this weekend! LOL

See? The family that games together stays together.


** UPDATE #2 (8/18): Reading is a skill, which, apparently, I do not possess. Had I been paying attention, I'd have noticed that Faydra's (the game-playing mom - or her avatar's name, anyway) first comment (the one where she busted her son) was not posted at 3:30 am, but several hours later (8:44:27 AM PDT, to be exact). Faydra, my sincere apologies.
Is there a contrition guild or alliance I can join?

August 15, 2005

Food For Thought

Sorry I haven't written new stuff in a while. Our 10-year-old beagle, Otter, has been really sick for the last few weeks, and we've been taking her to & from the vet most of that time.

I'll post about it in a little bit, including how the kids have been dealing with it (pretty well, considering).

In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting articles about video games and parental responsibility.

BBC: Parents 'ignore game age ratings'

CBS News GameCore: What's Up, Doc?

I'll have plenty to write about this subject as well in the near future. In the meantime, discuss!

August 11, 2005

Dog's Life Redux

FYI, I wrote a revised and updated (not to mention super-swell) review of Dog's Life for GameDAILY Family.

Yeah... I'm gonna have to ask you to go ahead and kind of... check it out. I gotta go add that new cover sheet to my TPS Reports.

Cool graphic, eh?

August 07, 2005

Read It Again, Daddy!

I finally added some links to cool kids books (on the right sidebar, between "Music" & "DVD").

Sure, I could also have linked to classic authors like P.D. Eastman, Ezra Jack Keats, A.A. Milne, H.A. Rey, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, etc.

But most parents of young kids already know about those authors, because we were raised on their books when we were kids. Also, it would have made the list way too long and annoying.

The current list consists of the authors whose books we've been reading to our kids for the last few years. Some are well known (e.g. Rosemary Wells), and some less so, but they're all really good.

As I wrote back in June, my wife gets the credit for finding these new potential classics. She flipped through the pages of many mediocre books to find ones she know our kids would love.

One of these days I'll get around to writing a little about all the links I put up, book & non-book alike. Unfortunately, today isn't that day. :o( Sorry. For now, though, I listed our favorite books for every author in the links. Once I actually write about them, I'll just leave their names up.

In the meantime, go check out the books, and have fun reading them to your kids.

August 03, 2005


  • Platform: PC (online download)
  • Current Price: $20
  • Amount of Game Played: Finished Demo Version
  • BOTTOM LINE: Project Funway! (yeah, it's a bad pun, but what're ya gonna do?)
My daughter loves paper dolls. Loves 'em. Loves 'em. Loves 'em.

Last year, The Fabulous Book of Paper Dolls was her favorite birthday gift among a cast of thousands (or 12, as the case may be).

So it came as no surprise that she really liked playing the free demo of Fashion Cents that I downloaded from the My Game Company website a while back.

What did come as a surprise, though, is that I enjoyed playing the game with her (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

The idea behind the game is very simple. As David Alan Grier's dad said in Boomerang, while showing off his mushroom-themed ensemble, "You Got To COORDINATE!"

Basically, you put together outfits (including accessories) on the 10 "models" on the screen, and the points you score get rung up with a satisfying "cha-ching!"

Fashion Cents has 3 difficulty settings, so kids of varying ages can both enjoy and be challenged (mildly) by the game.

For those of you who buy the full version of the game, there are several add-on fashion packs available, so that you can play the game over and over again with new clothing designs and accessories.

Add-On Fashion Pack (one of several available in full version)

My goal here isn't to give you an exhaustive review of the games. Rather, I try to give you a general overview of the game, along with my opinion of its suitability for young kids.

So in this case, you can check out all the ins & outs of the gameplay minutiae on the website, but I will say that the game has won 20+ awards, and definitely gets a thumbs up in our household.

One thing did annoy me, though. When you commit the cardinal sin of, say, matching fuschia with aquamarine (gasp!), you are greeted with the voice of a girl saying "Eeeeewwww!" I realize that the whole point of the game is about clothing, and maybe it's a dad thing, but for me, it induced a wicked Valley Girl flashback.

Other than that, though, it's all good. Have fun!