Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This Week I 'Ave Been Mostly Playing...

You know, this would have worked so much better if I had posted this on Sunday. Well anyway, this is a new bit I'm hoping to do weekly (let's see how long that lasts EDIT: Jeez, one week. Surely a new low. :D), where I talk what I've been playing recently, so let's get to it.

With New Super Mario Bros. hopefully arriving on Friday (thanks to a super-late pre-order), I was pretty sure I wouldn't have time for many other games for a while after I got stuck into it, so I made a special effort to finish off as many old games first including:

ArtStyle: Cubello (WiiWare)

I'd already beaten seven or eight levels in this a few weeks ago, certainly enough to realise that the game's robot announcer was annoying the shit out of me; however there were still about 22 levels to go, so I muted that fucker, fired up a few podcasts and got going.

This is actually a great game to play while you're listening to something else - it's mindless, but fun and you're really not missing out on much by not being able to hear the sound. In it, you use the Wiimote to launch coloured blocks at a rotating structure of blocks; Match four blocks and they disappear, at which point you get four more random coloured blocks to launch. The aim of each level is to eliminate every block until all that's left is the big centre block, which I'm assuming is the "cubello" (Hey, it's not like I read the instructions or anything).

After a couple of nights, I managed to make my way to the end of the game. There were a few nasty levels in there, but they were mostly pretty manageable and as I played through it, I began to notice that the levels were usually set up so a certain strategy could be used to clear away the structure more efficiently, you just needed to keep your eyes open. One thing that really annoyed me, though, was that after you fail a level, the remaining mass of blocks come and bump into your TV screen. To me, it felt like a subtly obnoxious way calling you an idiot.

The Ultimate Doom (PC)

This wasn't even one of the games I was trying to finish last week, but I randomly started playing in the middle of the week and kept going to very end. I can't say it was because the game had me gripped though; If anything, I just wanted to get it out of the way now that I was back playing it again. I really loved Doom II back when I first played it in '98 and while I enjoyed the action just as much here, the endless wandering around, searching for which arbitrary door was opened by the switch I just activated drove me insane. Maybe I'm just not as patient now; maybe the level design just isn't as tight here. Either way, I was damn glad to see off that last Spiderdemon and leave Hell behind.

New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)

NSMBW actually arrived on Thursday, a full day early in all it's awesome, red-cased glory. I've been enjoying the hell out of it of far and I'm kind of surprised to see that it actually does pack a decent challenge, especially when it comes to grabbing the star coins in each level, which can sometimes require Super Mario World levels of platforming ingenuity. The level of fan service and affection for past Mario outings here is also really impressive; You can't help but smile when yet another seemingly forgotten enemy/obstacle/sound effect pops up and takes you right back to your misspent childhood, sitting in front of a TV, control pad in hand.

The music was the thing I was most worried about before the game landed on my doorstep. There's been so much fantastic music featured in the old games, but the little snatches of the soundtrack I heard in trailers and such didn't do much for me. While I still not in love with some of the more prominent tunes in the game, there's still a lot of great music in here, like the underwater theme, which is just godly.

I'm a bit disappointed by the boss fights so far though. While I'm happy to see the Koopa Kids back, the battles aren't too far removed from the ones you remember from the old days - stomp times three and you're done. With Kamek showing up to spruce things up before the final boss battle in each world, I kind of expect Yoshi's Island-kill-a-frog-from-the-inside levels of insanity, not minor alterations to the basic fight you just had a few levels ago.

And while I'm bitching, why can't Mario throw shells up any more? It was an awesome method of dealing with those pesky lakitus. I guess it's compensated by the fact that Yoshi can now swallow and throw back frikkin' hammers, but only just. :D

Overlord (PC)

After buying Overlord and its expansion for €4 the weekend before last, I finally finished downloading it last Saturday (Oh, the joys of a 1 Meg connection). I only wanted to see if it was working, but I ended up spending a good two hours playing. Sadly, my current hardware was only to play it with the graphics turned down significantly, but it ran pretty smoothly and I've had a lot of fun with it so far.

The game's very much like Pikmin, where you control a Sauron-style overlord who rolls around with his posse of minions, who you can command to do your bidding, well to a point anyway. You can target something, dispatch your minions and they'll kill or destroy the target and bring you back the spoils which can be gold, health or mana. You can also remotely control the movement of your minions by holding down the left and right mouse buttons and moving the mouse around to steer them. It's as clunky as it sounds, but it can be useful, especially for areas you can't reach.

In the game, I've decided to be a good guy, at least for the moment, so I'm leaving the townspeople alone and dealing with the evil halflings that are running amok instead. The last mission I did was retrieving the humans' stolen food food from a sizeable hobbit hole, er, I mean halfling dwelling. Basically, this consisted of killing every halfling in sight and just because I'm a dick, laying waste to anything that would break in there, which was pretty much everything.

Animal Crossing (Gamecube)

I decided to pay a visit to my long-abandoned town in the Cube version of Animal Crossing on Sunday, not least because there's still a bunch of NES games in it that I never unlocked. Since I started playing Let's Go to the City earlier in the year, I had been under the impression that very little had changed graphically between the two, but on my return to Wiiville (I got AC in late 2006, I was pretty excited), I was taken aback by how bad everything looked. I'd forgotten the blocky characters, blurry textures and low-res menus. I guess the Wii version has something going for it after all. :D

Well, not much had changed in the 99 weeks since I last showed my face in Wiiville, aside from a generous helping of weeds and some pissed off animals. I bought a bunch of stuff in Nookingtons to get raffle tickets and tried my luck at the fishing tourney, but none of my catches measured up. After that, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to time travel to the end of the month to check if there as actually a NES game on offer in Nook's end-of month raffle at all. There wasn't, which gives me the feeling it may be another 99 weeks until I check back again. :D

Kururin Squash! (Gamecube)

After I had finished with Animal Crossing on Sunday, I decided to whip out my copy of this and try to get past the level in World 5 I'd been stuck on for months. I could finally see that my problem was trying to collect as many coins in the level as possible, so I decided to just ignore the coins and make a beeline to the goal. Navigating my way through the narrow paths and tricky obstacles was no mean feat, but I finally cracked it after several attempts and moved onto the World 5 boss. As far as I could tell it was the main bad guy and from what I remember (it's been a while), I fought him a bunch of times before, but the cut scene after seemed to have an air of finality about it and sure enough, the credits rolled directly after it - another game down and I didn't even know I was near the end.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cooking: Pear Pie

Time for pie!

If there was one thing I was determined to make with our pears this year, it was a pear pie. Maybe that was just because I'm a Pushing Daisies fanboy (*sob*), but with the latest Bombcast playing on my MP3 player, make one I did, and it turned out great, even without the mood-enhancing homoeopathic drugs. :D

I used the pie recipe here and I got a recipe for the crust from here. For some reason, pie dishes seem pretty hard to come by locally, so I busted out a new 9-inch silicon baking tin instead. It's not too deep, so it wasn't a bad substitute. I stuck fairly close to the recipe , but I didn't have any lemons at hand, so the peel wasn't an option and reading over it again, I see that I didn't dot the top of the pie with butter either (doh!). It turned out really well either way with a crumbly, buttery crust and a lovely, surypy, fruity filling. Damn, I'm hungry again now.

How Not to Photograph a Jack O' Lantern

How Not to Photograph a Jack O' Lantern
While we're still on the subject of jack o' lanterns, here's a selection of my botched attempts to take a decent photograph of one two years ago. I was making do with a crappy Vivitar camera at the time, which was always terrible in low light situations. When I couldn't take a decent shot with that, I resorted to the camera in my mobile phone. Why do you need to know any of this information? I have no idea. :D

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jack-O'-Lantern Time

It's that time of year again, or at least it was a few days ago. Here's my latest attempt at pumpkin carving. I was sort of making the design up as I went along and you can really tell. :D Hope everyone had a fun Halloween!

Jack-O'-Lantern 09 C

Jack-O'-Lantern 09 B

Jack-O'-Lantern 09 A

Cooking: Pear Crumble

Pear Crumble

Autumn's just passed which means the mounds of apples and pears from the fruit trees outside are just about gone. This year I thought I'd try a few different things with the pears, beginning with a pear crumble. I got the recipe here, which usefully allows you to scale up or down the quantity of ingredients according to the number of servings you want. I scaled it up to four servings, grabbed some pears and got cracking on it.

I cut up eight smallish pears, which I thought would be about the same as six regular ones, put them in a casserole dish and mixed in the lemon juice. After I'd made the crumble (without nuts, which I didn't have :D), it was pretty clear that the crumble mix wouldn't even cover the pears fully, so I doubled the amount of everything in it. Well, except for the spices, I just put in a teaspoon of each in total. Once I had the crumble on, I popped the dish in the oven and hoped for the best.

The first batch was really tasty, but I thought the crumble was a bit too sweet, so I reduced the amount of sugar to half from then on. I've also tried adding some vanilla to the pears instead of the lemon juice, which was quite nice. I've yet to try adding the nuts back in, but I'm kind of sceptical about them adding much to the dish.