Review: LEGO City Undercover

Like many, I spent a fair amount of time playing video games in my youth, mainly on my trusty ZX Spectrum (showing my age now) before moving on to the Megadrive and Playstation (no numbers on my Playstation!). As I got older, though, other things began to fill my time, and gaming moved on and left me behind. Even the Nintendo Wii we bought a few years ago has been used for little other than weighing in on Wii Fit.

That said, I don’t think I’ve ever lost my enthusiasm for gaming, and so I was thrilled when Nintendo got in touch and asked me to review LEGO City Undercover, a title exclusive to their latest console, the Wii U.

LEGO City Undercover

LEGO City Undercover is an open-world adventure, which sees you take the role of Chase McCain, a maverick cop returning to LEGO City to clean up a crime wave being orchestrated by Rex Fury, a criminal who Chase put behind bars several years ago. Rex recently escaped from prison, and not trusting the local police to put him to justice, the mayor has brought Chase back to do the job. Throw in a love interest (Natalya, a paramedic who is part of a witness protection programme after Chase inadvertently identified her as a witness in the original Rex case) and the stage is set for some adventure.

If the plot sounds cheesy and cliche-ridden, well, I suspect it’s supposed to be, because that’s a large part of the fun. Chase himself is part Bruce Willis and part Clint Eastwood, and the game is full of Hollywood references, most of which will sail far over the head of a large number of (younger) players. My favourite (so far) is the mission in Albatross Prison which is chockful of references to the Shawshank Redemption.

The game itself involves running, driving, swimming and climbing around LEGO City, following clues and instructions from Police HQ, with the ultimate goal of capturing Rex Fury. Along the way there are various puzzles to solve and objects to find, as well as LEGO structures to build, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing all of those.

One of the best things about the game is the use of the Wii U Gamepad. A traditional controller combined with a 6 inch touchscreen, the Gamepad is the Wii U’s big selling point, and it’s been very well incorporated into LEGO City Undercover. As well as being used to control Chase’s on-screen movements, it’s a real world representation of Chase’s communicator. This piece of in-game kit combines mapping, video calling and a scanner which can be used to find hidden objects and clues, and using it in the real-world really brings the game to life, making it feel like you really ARE Chase McCain.

I obviously loved the game, but what did the kids think? Heather’s never really “got” video games in the past (her idea of playing Mario Kart was to reverse around the track and crash into things, because it made me laugh, rather than actually racing) so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But she loved watching while I was playing, and was keen to have a shot of her own.

Initially she preferred crashing and driving into the river to following the path the game wanted her to, because it was funny (sound familiar?) but after I got her to the police station and she got to explore and solve some puzzles for herself she really enjoyed herself. I did have to sit with her while she was playing, because although there is plenty of on-screen help and instruction, Heather can’t read yet and needed someone to help her along. Not a real problem, and it meant it was something we could enjoy together.

So there you go, an excellent game with something for all the family. My only complaint would be the long time to load each level, although I gather that’s a Wii U issue, rather than one specific to this game. It did mean, though, that we got to hear the load music (think 70s cop show theme, heavy on the wah-wah guitars) which both Heather and Megan had fun singing and dancing to.

Speaking of Megan, at 2 she’s a bit young for a game as complex as LEGO City Undercover, but as this picture shows she did have fun playing with Nintendoland!

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Nintendo provided me with a Wii U console and a copy of LEGO CIty Undercover for the purposes of this review. All words and opinions are my own, and links have been included out of courtesy.

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

Gude Ale: Williams Bros 80/-, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Thwaite’s Tavern Porter

I might have mentioned before that I’m finding my beer drinking tastes turning darker and darker. Maybe it’s the cold weather – lighter, hoppier beers seem more suited to summer somehow – or maybe it’s because it’s just that I’ve historically not drunk many dark beers, so they seem all shiny and new to me.

It might even just be that there are more of them available – I read this article a while back, about how every small brewery worth its salt is clamouring to get into a growing market for stouts and porters, which means I’m not alone in my newly developed taste for the black(er) stuff.

Whatever it is, last weekend I found myself a trio of beers darker than I would have drunk a year or so ago.

Williams Bros 80/-
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I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Williams Bros, so I expected this one to hit the spot. And it did, with treacle toffee very much the dominant flavour. That said, it wasn’t too sweet, and actually could have been a bit sweeter to be honest. A good beer, although not my favourite in the Williams Bros range.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
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It’s taken me a while to get round to trying this which is surprising given how highly my brother-in-law has spoken of it. I’m glad to say it lived up to the hype, with big chocolate/coffee flavours and a lovely creamy feel to it. I think Bateman’s Mocha is probably still my top coffee/chocolate beer to date, but this comes a close second.

Thwaite’s Tavern Porter
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The blurb on the label about Elizabethan taverns should, perhaps, have made me suspicious – the porter style of beer isn’t documented until the 18th century, long after Good Queen Bess’s time – but I didn’t think about that until later. Historical inaccuracies aside, the beer wasn’t that exciting. Not unpleasant, but nothing memorable either, and not one I’d rush to drink again.

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

Review: Chuckle Monster

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In case you hadn’t realised, it’s Mother’s Day this coming Sunday. And as father of two under-fives, it’s my responsibility to organise a special day for Mummy. Now, this isn’t an area in which I have an excellent track record, but that’s not entirely my fault, as this summary of Mother’s Days past shows:

  • 2009: Gem’s first ever Mother’s Day was spent travelling back from Dubai, where we’d been visiting her folks who were living in Abu Dhabi at the time (this all sounds much more glamorous than it actually was!). My plan had been to pick up some fabulous gifts at Duty Free prices, but it didn’t quite work as travelling with a baby in tow limits the opportunities for surreptitious gift buying. Thankfully Auntie Ali came to the rescue, and made sure there were gifts waiting when we got back home – thanks sis!
  • 2010: Another year, another road trip, this time down to Gem’s mum’s in Lincolnshire. And so, again, Mother’s Day was spent travelling homeward, this time involving 6 hours in the car with a toddler
  • 2011: We were at home for this one, but with Gem recovering from giving birth to Megan just a couple of weeks earlier, I suspect  we didn’t venture far from home. If indeed we did any venturing
  • 2012: Last year’s Mother’s Day was so special that neither me nor Gemma can remember anything about it! I am awesome :)

As you can see, I’m a bit rubbish at this, so it’s lucky that Chuckle Monster offered to give me a hand this year. They were looking for bloggers to review their personalised greetings card service, and asked if wanted to get involved. I jumped at the chance – after all, it’s one less thing for me to forget worry about!

If you’ve used any personalised greetings card service in the past, you’ll know what to expect. There are tons of designs to choose from, which can then be personalised to suit the intended recipient. Heather was “helping” me, and chose a beautiful card with a heart on it. She typed her and Megan’s names onto the front cover, and even made up a joke to go on the inside (it’s up to her usual standard, ie it makes no sense, but you can’t help smiling).

Because Heather had picked a card that didn’t involve a photo, I created a second one to test this feature out, as it’s something I’ve had problems with on other sites in the past. No problems with Chuckle Monster though – the file uploaded and was added to the card without fuss. Once added, it was easy to resize, position and otherwise tweak my picture.

There was even an option (which I didn’t use) to use a Facebook picture rather than one on my hard drive. I can see this being very handy, for example if I was designing a card at work rather than at home.

The fact that I was able to do all this with an excited four year old by my side, and a two year old elsewhere in the room, and all without waking Mummy (who was sleeping upstairs) shows just what a straightforward process it was. And the site itself looks great,

The cards arrived within 2 working days, and I’m very pleased with them. So that’s one less thing to worry about. The only thing that could be better is if Chuckle Monster could organise everything else I need for Mother’s Day – flowers, gifts, lunch and so on. But I suppose it wouldn’t be the same if me and the girls didn’t do something for ourselves, right?

Chuckle Monster provided me with voucher codes to order cards for this review. All words and opinions are my own, and links have been included out of courtesy.

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

When I wake up early in the morning…

Heather's Big Girl Bed!

Heather is growing up so quickly it’s ridiculous. Her first steps and words, those important markers in every child’s development, seem like a million years ago. I thought the rate of change would have slowed down by now, but if anything the last three months feel like even more of a whirlwind than the preceding two years.

Back in March, when Megan was born, Heather was still in nappies 24/7 and still slept in a cot. She’s been nappyless during the day for about a month now (even managing a wee in the toilet on our cake date at 3 Steps to Heaven!). As of Sunday night she’s been nappyless at night too, and doing about as well as can be expected.

Something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now, though, is her transition from cot to bed – or Big Girl Bed as Heather likes to call it. We’d planned to move her before Megan needed the cot, and had bought the bed well in advance – it was on offer and flat packed beds don’t clutter the place up too much. Things happened sooner than we expected, though, thanks to the cot’s drop-side coming off one of its runners one night at bed-time – THE INCIDENT as I like to call it.

After a couple of minutes it became apparent that fixing the side would involve partially dismantling the cot – not ideal when your toddler is sobbing her eyes out because her cot is broken. And so began the job of convincing her that it wasn’t broken, and that we’d taken the side off as a practice for the big girl bed she was so looking forward to sleeping in.

Getting her to stay in bed those first few nights was a challenge, although not as bad as it could have been. For the most part Heather is a good sleeper, so once she actually dropped off we didn’t have too much trouble – getting her to stay in bed long enough to drop off was the harder part. And especially once she was in her new Big Girl Room, with its Big Girl Bed, bedtime was good again. There was just one more problem – light mornings!

Being woken at 5am by a toddler who’s convinced it’s getting up time, because it’s light outside, isn’t fun. Trying to convince said toddler that she needs to go back to bed because it’s too early is even less fun -and it’s hard to argue with the light coming through the cracks in the curtains!

It was Gem who came up with the solution though – we got her a Gro-clock, and for me it is absolutely the best parenting gadget we’ve bought. I genuinely can’t speak highly enough about it, and would recommend it to anyone in an instant.

Like all the best ideas, it’s pretty simple – when your child should be asleep it shows a blue star, and when it’s time to get up it turns into a yellow sun. What could be simpler? Getting up time is set just like an alarm clock, and two different times can be pre-programmed, which means we can easily sneak a few extra minutes in bed at weekends. The buttons also have a lock function, to stop your little one bringing the sun up early – invaluable with a child like Heather who will press any buttons she sees, and is very adept at figuring out what they do.

Stay in bed...

...until the sun!

The clock comes with a rhyming story book, about the animals on Sleepy Farm who club together to buy lazy Percy Pig a Gro-clock so he’ll know when to stay in bed – see what they’ve done there? After two months of reading it every night at bed-time, Heather pretty much knows the story off by heart – and Mummy and Daddy aren’t far behind!

Again, we might have been lucky, but it only took a night or two for Heather to get the hang of it, and now it’s rare to see her up before the sun. In fact, there have been a few times we’ve heard her get a book out and read in bed while she waits for the sun, rather than coming to wake us.

Amazon are currently selling the Gro-clock for £22.75, and it’s definitely worth every penny!

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!