Recently, as part of my 25th birthday present, my wonderful boyfriend arranged for us to do something really different – Husky Trekking! He found an organisation called ‘Bessy Bell Husky Trekkers‘ that advertise the experience in Northern Ireland. He found it originally through Groupon.
Now, husky trekking isn’t exactly the first thing you think of in Northern Ireland. Believe me, I thought the same – “Don’t you need snow?” I thought. NUH-UH! It may often be cold and shitty in Northern Ireland, but we don’t get nearly enough snow to make snow sledding possible. The alternative? Scooters!
Yeah, it’s a big wheeled scooter, and a dirt / gravel track. Think your typical country lane, more used to tractors than cars, and that’s essentially the idea. It was an incredibly picturesque environment, with rolling hills, forests, puffy clouds, valleys and even wind turbines (which personally I think look rather nice despite what others may think).
You can see what I mean, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t make for a smooth ride! You are teamed with two dogs each, and basically the dogs are well trained to run! They were SUPPOSED to respond to commands… but mine didn’t seem to!
I took the lead with my two dogs, Sasha and Hank, a beautiful mother and son combo! James followed with Jack Leaper and Starsky, the instructor followed with Monty (he was strong enough to pull her alone!) and we were off – down the track and winding into the forest. Surprisingly, the take-off was relatively easy, I’d expected from the instructor’s comments to get a real jolt as they started. After a few seconds of gathering my balance, the trekking was a go in earnest. You DO have a brake in the scooter, for if the dogs either get a bit too fast or they slow down and you begin to gain on them (wouldn’t want those ropes tangled!)
The route was nice, a good few kilometres if I recall. Some great bits of speedy downhill action – where I went rolling right into a big puddle the dogs stopped in! And of course, there were some uphill segments where the dogs needed a hand, queue me and James swiping furiously at the ground to get some speed up; a good enough workout for us let alone the dogs!
It was a fantastic day out, the only criticism being it was a little short for the money, and a bit of a hassle due to some Groupon confusion – but I had a great time during and after the actual trek, just interacting with, petting and cuddling the huskies! Some nice photos too of course 😉
The location is, admittedly, a bit out of the way, it is a rural estate very close to Newtonstewart. It took us two hours to reach the town by coach, and for a small additional fee the organiser picked us up and dropped us off at the bus stop. This was pretty important – otherwise I don’t know how we would have got to the actual site!
It was a great day, as I’m sure you already gathered. I highly recommend the experience (even Gary Lineker enjoyed it!) and it totally confirmed to me that I realllllllllly want a husky :’)
Big big big thank you to James Copeland, my wonderful boyfriend and partner, who got me the gift and went through the hassle of booking, having the original Groupon get cancelled, and having to rebook and pay a bit more for that and transport. I really appreciated it, it was such a unique gift – love you <3
I wish I could meet the Sonic Team someday. I’d like to think I could ask them some tough questions – ‘What the hell was Sonic Heroes?’ being one of them. Truth is, I’d probably revert to a giggly little boy again.
I grew up with Sonic – starting off not quite the 20 years ago that Sonic has been around (19 years I have followed Sonic). My first proper console was a Sega Mega Drive that came with Sonic 2, still considered by many to be the best Sonic ever. Yes, I was a Sonic kid, none of this Italian plumber crap. He even had a nerdy wee sidekick in the form of Tails! What more does a young computer and video game nerd need? I even watched the (many) TV adaptations! <3
Pretty soon, I amassed the other Sonics, 1, CD, and of course the utterly fantastic 3 + Knuckles. Even the ill-fated 3D! It’s hard to say exactly what about them does it for me; perhaps its the feel of a great jump when moving at high speeds? Maybe the cute, anthro characters? The villain? Who can say. But I’ll tell you, 1, 2, 3 + K… I played the shit out of these games – to the point I could actually do some of the levels with my eyes closed (not even kidding). Particularly 3, where the ‘big rings’ to get the Chaos Emeralds (and thus transform into the epic Super Sonic) were hidden in the levels. I found them all – every hidden area and route. I wanted Super Sonic potential by the time I hit Marble Garden Zone. And, in case anybody asks, yes I do have them on emulator all over the place, and SEGA you can bite my ass before you even think of suing, as the number of times I have BOUGHT all the old-generation games is shocking. I STILL have them on my working Mega Drive. I also have them on… PS2 (Mega Collections and +), iPod Classic, Xbox 360 (Ultimate Collection), Wii (virtual console). So don’t even THINK about complaining!
OK, so if you aren’t a Sonic fan, that last paragraph descended into babble. If you are, you probably know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, after this peak, something went wrong at Sonic Team. A beta (still available around the ‘net) for Sonic 4 shows interesting gameplay where Sonic and Tails are tethered together and it honestly looked like it could have been really awesome. Unfortunately, this was shelved as the Mega Drive was reaching end of life, and SEGA wanted next-gen type Sonic development. They did, however, use the concept in the Sonic spinoff game, Knuckles Chaotix, for the commercially failed 32X add-on.
It would be 1998, 4 years after 3 + K, before a new platformer-type Sonic game would emerge (3D and R don’t count). Sonic Adventure was a technically good game, but somehow, in the transition to 3D, the magic was lost. Strange concepts emerged, such as having a human world setting. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite the same game I knew and loved. Whilst Sonic Adventure 2 was extremely fun with a great soundtrack, the same problem emerged – 3D felt wrong.
Sonic Advance was a boon to me – taking the game back to a 2D sprite based system felt like the old Sonic. I enjoyed these a lot and they had a few sequels. Generally in fact, Sonic on portable consoles seems pretty good, and I wonder if this has been because (until recently) it FORCED the game to be 2D again. And therein lay the answer – I think Sonic Team went to 3D because they felt they had to, unless it simply wasn’t an option. And, I don’t get this at all. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should (I draw parallels to the later MegaMan X-series – in fact there is a very similar progression; great 2D, poor 3D, great 2D portable, back to great 2D console). Unfortunately, even the later portable Sonics became corrupted by silly story concepts that were, frankly, unnecessary.
It’s very simple – Sonic is blue, cool, and moves fast. He didn’t even need to speak until much later! Sonic explores jumpy platform levels, some of which might have a few interesting mechanics, like slot machines and flippers. Throw in some shields and items, preferably with interesting and unique abilities. Add Super Sonic to go even faster. Add interesting boss battles, preferably with the final one being very damn difficult. Anything more – a distraction, for the most part.
We move on once more – to the PS2 generation, where only one offering in the form of Heroes. Less said the better really – again ruined by a silly mechanic that wasn’t necessary, and more characters than you can shake a stick at. PS3-generation, and the plainly titled ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ had potential, but was let down by bad clipping glitches and a silly new character. At this point, I admit kinda giving up – I didn’t go near the Wii offerings due to bad reviews, not wanting to erode my memories further. I hear that in fact, Sonic Unleashed wasn’t bad, interesting since it sounds like it shares a lot with Sonic Generations in the form of 2D and 3D levels (so I might have to give it a try sometime after all – let me know in the comments!).
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 emerged for Xbox Live Arcade and PS3 network in 2010 – an episodic take on Sonic and designed as a direct sequel to Sonic 3 + K. I was excited. It promised a return to 2D and a dropping of all ancillary characters. Given how much I loved 3 + K, I really wanted it to be good. And, actually, it was. Just not quite good enough. It felt half-done, the levels didn’t seem as vibrant as the Mega Drive levels despite the HD graphics. Perhaps because of the episodic nature or perhaps it was the loss of little things like the Super Sonic function and the level routes – I never felt encouraged to explore alternate routes. And, like all episodic games, episode II is STILL in development. It is almost 2012! You aren’t Valve, SEGA!
Finally, we arrive at the main item in the article. Sonic Generations – yes, Sonic is 20. Sonic Team, can we have more of THESE Sonic games please?
Sonic Generations starts with a simple premise – time has been broken and as a result, there are two Sonics, the modern one, and the classic one. Also, the time mess has brought all sorts of levels from all over the Sonic timeline together. Exploration and retrieval of the Chaos Emeralds is required to fix the problem. Also, villain.
Yes, the storyline seems stupid. But strangely, it isn’t, because the game pokes fun at itself the whole way, little lines the characters throw out that are fan service and joke rolled into one. The levels are based on levels from the past, but there are so many changes and conversions it’s not at all laziness. Act 1 of every level takes place using classic Sonic, who uses only 2D-style (yeah, technically the rendering is all still 3D, but it works this time) and only has his whizz-attack and special Sonic 3 shields. Act 2 uses modern Sonic, in a 2D / 3D mix, and who has his new homing attack and boost abilities. Bosses are infrequent and are mixed between the two (and unfortunately are a little too easy :|).
There are a good number of Zones, 9 in all, and after completing the Zone, you get to perform a set of challenges for that zone, 5 for each Sonic per Zone. Crucially, these are all different, with some being races against a CPU doppelgänger, some involving the various companions from Sonic, and others just plain unique. They are genuinely quite fun, and really up the replayability. And, of course, you are timed and ranked in all of them, for extra competition.
The Zones are well mixed, including some great old favourites of mine (Sky Sanctuary! Chemical Plant!). And, there are remixes of all the music, so playing Chemical Plant as classic Sonic you will hear a remixed but still very classic Chemical Plant tune, and as 3D you will hear a mixed up version. And, through challenges and ‘red rings’ in the Zones, you can unlock loads more old tunes and listen as you play. It really brought me back, and made me feel like I was playing the Sonic I loved again.
There is included Xbox Live (and I assume PSN) capability in the form of time rankings and ‘how far can you get in 30 seconds’ modes, which are interesting but I don’t think will see heavy use. Friend time comparisons are, as usual, available, as is the ability to see the markers indicating your friends’ 30 second positions. I managed to get a very respectable 3482nd rank worldwide in Zone 1, Act 1, considering how many users there are!
I’ve touched already on the bosses, and I really would have liked a little more challenge in this regard. They are all a bit too easy, including the final boss. What happened to the frustrating but ultimately so-satisfying moments against Sonic 2’s Death Egg robot? Or am I just remembering it as more difficult because I was, like, 7? (Probably :P). Other problems with the game are still the occasional camera-related death in the 3D levels.
But, genuinely, if you have abandoned Sonic to the pile-of-no-hope, please pick it up and try it again. Sonic Generations is honestly probably the best Sonic game since 3 + K. And that’s 16 years. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 16 years for the next good one. You did so many things well in this iteration, from focusing on gameplay, well-done 3D and very faithful 2D, fan service of old favourite levels and music, even Super Sonic! Just make it a bit harder for me next time 😀
Sonic will always have a special place with me, and whilst probably over-ranking it a little due to bias, I have to give it 9/10. I really really did enjoy it, and it took me back. And it wasn’t just rose-tinted nostalgia.
Don’t fuck up my goodwill, Sonic Team – I’d hate to have to go Were-Hog on you… (honestly, wouldn’t that make him half pig?)
Following up on my review of the SkyDrive service, I thought I’d review something I purchased recently. Is it the most tacky gadget I own? Possibly. But, it is the cheapest 500GB external hard drive I have seen.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you Michael Jackson!
What possessed me to buy it, you might ask? Well, blame the other physics nerds – one found it, and the great deal got emphasized to everyone… Now like 8 people in university own it. It really is that fucking good a deal, at £38 with free Amazon delivery, that is under 8p per gigabyte.
Why so cheap? Well… if my sources are to be believed, they are hitting rock bottom in high streets too. It seems that people are in fact put off by the hideous gold plastic cover, and not at all swayed by the included digital movie of ”This is It”. Maybe I would watch it if it wasn’t horribly DRM’ed… no, actually I probably wouldn’t.
Ok so perhaps some actual information. The drive is Samsung, and of course has a usable capacity of less than 500gb due to the on-going nonsense where they measure a gigabyte in their own imaginary scale where gigabytes are 1000 megabytes, which are 1000 kilobytes etc. In the real world the rest of us know that bytes work in 1024s, or 2 power 10. Don’t we have advertising laws?
The casing itself is cheap in look and feel. It is a crap plastic, with a distinctly 90s kids toy texture on the black back. I’m not at all worried about the back though on appearance, the front kinda removed visuals as a concern. I should say that you do get a Samsung black sleeve that the drive fits in and can be used in, eliminating visual concerns.
You also get a shortish usb cable, perfectly adequate. It doesn’t require a secondary power cable or usb.
The drive is also small enough to easily slip into a pocket.
It comes with some software for backing up and security, but personally I recommend forgetting about it and just getting PortableApps.
I don’t know what more to say really. The drive won’t win any awards; it isn’t the fastest, or the most pretty, but its quiet and small, portable and cheap. Did I mention cheap? Yeah, hard drives are continuing to get bigger for less money but this really is cheap. If you are looking for a cheap way of backing up, storing, moving, data, this is great.
Just don’t expect people to react well to the look. Could be worse, they could think you’re a paedophile or something…
…Sorry Michael, but it was too obvious to pass up!
Did you know that a new version of Windows Live Essentials is on the way? Well it is, and the beta is already available for free download.
Live Essentials contains a load of programs, including Mail, Movie Maker, Family Safety and more. I don’t use these however 😉 and so I’m sorry! I will be reviewing Messenger, Outlook Connector, Sync and SkyDrive.
There’s lots to discuss here – the new version of Messenger for example is substantially different to your old version, but as you will see, it’s a lot better.
On with the review then, and let’s leave Messenger to the end. We’ll start with Outlook Connector, which is pretty simple. Have you noticed how these days all your social networks talk to each other, authorizing each other to see this and that data? Well Outlook Connector is a plugin for, strangely, Outlook. It allows you to add Facebook, Live Messenger, Linked In, and MySpace to your Outlook, and it will link up all your contacts or get you to do it.
What does this give you? Outlook gets a brand new ‘People Pane’ where you can see recent emails and social network info from your contacts. Simple but nice. I tend to be a little OCD so I like everything to be tidily linked.
Now onto Sync. For me, this is a dream. It’s a little app that runs on startup, and it allows you to associate each PC you use with your Live account. Live keeps track of any PC running Sync and can keep folders and program settings synced between the two. It’s remarkably fast, detecting changes instantly and updating the other PCs. It also stored these files optionally on the special 2GB ‘Synced Storage’ SkyDrive; this is not part of the 25GB I will discuss in a minute, it’s extra!
Sync also has one unobvious function. It has a brilliant remote control function, allowing you to finally, seamlessly control one PC from another in a secure way using your Live account. Once the particular PC is enabled for remote access Sync its done!
Finally Live Messenger. Well hold on guys. It’s now much bigger looking and more useful in this modern age. Facebook integration. Yes, Messenger now incorporates a social feed, taking your social feeds from Live and Facebook and combining them into a nice interface. Additionally, the chat now allows you to chat on Facebook Chat too. Useful.
The chat window has had an overhaul too. New drawings for emoticons, and the ability to share files stored on your SkyDrive such as photos are here.
Oh, and ‘block’ is now just called ‘appear invisible to’ lol
The title mentioned 25GB. So time for SkyDrive. You probably have heard of online cloud storage before. Meh, right? Well, reconsider. Hard drives in your PC don’t last forever. Any freak error, flood, fire, theft, crash and your precious memories, gone. And with Microsoft now giving every user 25GB of free storage, you have no excuse. It even links with their new Photo Album app.
I recommend using something like SDExplorer, which allows you to mount your storage as a drive on your PC, giving you traditional explorer functions. Be warned however that this app has horrendously slow transfer speeds.
Well, in summary:
Finally a modern set of Windows apps
Facebook integration is nice in Outlook and Messenger
Sync tool is the best of the lot – sync all my uni and PC stuff, and also allow remote control
SkyDrive storage now has all my photos backed up and safe
Beta seems bug-free to me
Messenger is much less minimalist (at least by default) and some may not like this change
Lacking in other social network integration in Outlook and Messenger (e.g. Twitter)
I am actually pretty impressed, visually it all fits nice with Windows 7 and the apps themselves (at least the ones I reviewed) are great.
N.B. – I can’t vouch for the other parts of the Essentials Pack!!!
Limbo is an Xbox Live Arcade game, developed by PlayDead. It is available for 1200 Microsoft points, and makes up part of their ‘Summer of Arcade’ campaign.
If you keep an ear out on the Xbox Live Arcade scene, you will probably have heard about ‘Limbo’ by now. I purchased the game and had the pleasure of playing through it this past weekend. Why don’t I tell you a little?
Please be aware that there might be some very minor spoilers in this article.
You awake in the dark world with very little aplomb, a quiet opening of two pale white eyes against a black backdrop which is your character. The world, too, is dark and foreboding, quiet, with an ill breeze. Hope you are ok with that, as there is not a speck of colour to be found (intentionally obviously). The world of Limbo is but a shade of gray, a fitting decal for the edge of hell. Oh, as is the gore.
The atmosphere this creates is remarkable. I recommend playing this game in a dark, quiet room, giving it the attention it deserves. It will really enhance the experience. There are chilling moments, with animal attacks to insects, pointy spike-traps and death falls, rising water and falling elevators. It will freak you out. As will all the sudden deaths in various, often violent ways.
So, let’s get down to business. Review, eh? Ok. Well I loved the game. It really suits my style of gaming, and if I had to compare it to a recent game, I would have to say it is like Braid, in a sense. The game is as much for its art than the game itself. However, it is very different in design and play than Braid.
I have a few minor gripes with the game. Firstly, I currently have 104% completion. Nitpicking I know, but why not just go up to 100%? It’s a blatant attempt to play to the hunter-gatherer instincts, specifically the gatherer part :P. I’ll add to this that whilst I’m happy in that the game doesn’t repeat its puzzle types, towards the end the puzzles become harder, yes, but in my opinion, a little less interesting. In the beginning, you have some clever puzzles including encounters with a terrifying creature of nightmare proportions. These later dry up a bit and become timing-based physics puzzles in a much more mechanical environment.
Often, this boils down to dying enough times to work out the sequence, the rhythm, the timing or a jump or fall. Luckily, frequent checkpoints avoid you tearing out your brain in frustration.
The second gripe is the length. The game is not too long – I would set an estimated time for about 5 hours. This flows nicely into my final gripe, the price. Microsoft / PlayDead have set a price of 1200 Microsoft points, which is fair, however it is above the odds a little bit – I think they might sell more if it were only 800 (and actually I believe it will fall to that price in a while).
I am nitpicking. The game is excellent for those who like this type of game, which I am. I thoroughly enjoyed playing, and even once complete, I played through a few more bits to collect the various, and for once challenging, achievements. I am tired of getting achievements for ‘doing the tutorial’ or just for ‘completing mission 3’. It’s nice to see a game be a bit more cryptic with its rewards, although of course the solutions are widely available online by this stage.
Good musical score
Interesting story concept
Could have been cheaper
A little short
In places, the game is a little too trial-and-death-and-error
Overall, I’d give it a 8 out of 10, an excellent score but falling just below a 9 due to the length. A totally recommended buy, but if you are feeling the pinch a bit, I’d suggest maybe waiting a little as I believe that it will drop to 800 points in a few months.