12 Of The Most Overrated Video Games In History – Part One

March 28, 2013

I like a good list article and I think people enjoy reading them too.

The Video Game Music article seemed to go down pretty well, so I reckon there’s some mileage in discussing some other game related matters.

To start off with, I’m going to highlight games that I consider to be Overrated, critically and/or by the masses.

Let me preface this by saying that certain game genres hold no appeal to me anyway. For example, I just don’t like stealth games, so the likes of Hitman, Thief and Splinter Cell and choose to avoid playing them. That’s more to do with my lack of patience with the genre, so I won’t include them.

No, I’d rather focus on the games from genres I do enjoy that other people seem to rate highly.

Some may be controversial, and you might passionately disagree. If you do, let me know.

1. Sensible World of Soccer 

Ratings: 8/10 on Eurogamer, 7.9 on IGN, 81% on MetaCritic

I’ve never understood the appeal of Sensible Soccer. Even now, people will talk down modern games like FIFA 13 and say “Aye, but it’s not as good as Sensi!”.

What am I missing?

Even back in the early 90s, there were better football games on the market. Games like Super Soccer, Striker, Microprose Soccer and International Superstar Soccer were far higher in quality.

I've never got the hype. It neither looks good nor plays  well

I’ve never got the hype. It neither looks good nor plays well

And yet people talk of it like it was the easiest game to play. Even the Xbox 360 version is fawned over, with quotes like “All sports games should be as easy to pick up and play”.

But what’s bizarre about it is that it’s not easy to play. Unless you plan on moving purely in a straight line, the dribbling system is atrocious, the passing is pathetic and shooting appears to be a game of pot luck.

What Sensible Soccer did that its competitors didn’t do back in the day was introduce club teams to the video game market. I think that’s where this bizarre retro appeal comes from.

It just can’t be from the game play.

2. Braid

Ratings: 10/10 on Eurogamer, 9.5 on Gamespot, 93% approval rating on MetaCritic

Braid is pretentious.

It’s a game loved by people who want gaming to be a form of art rather than a source of fun.

Reading reviews of Braid puts me in mind of wine or fragrance critics who try to find “notes” within the taste or smell of the product.

“Sipping this wine reminds me of dropping a cantaloupe melon from a hot air baloon on a September’s day in Romania. It has a hint of sufferage combined with the gritty texture of an abusive uncle” – that sort of thing.

Oh isn't it arty.

Oh isn’t it arty.

No, it tastes like wine.

And Braid is just a platform/puzzle game with an arty look to it.

And do you know what? It’s not even a particularly good one at that.

10/10 my arse.

3. Forza Motorsport

Ratings: 9.4 on IGN, 10/10 on Trusted Reviews, 9/10 on Eurogamer

I bought Forza Motorsport 3 back in 2009, but this really applies to all of the Forza series.

If I want to experience the absolute realism of driving a Z4, I'll drive my own

If I want to experience the absolute realism of driving a car, I’ll drive my own

If I want to experience driving at its more realistic level, I’ll go out in my own car.

Forza just doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It’s not fun to play, it’s not particularly easy to play either, but it is realistic.

Well sorry, but I’d sooner play Project Gotham Racing, Dirt, Rallisport Challenge or any of the Karting games ahead of this.

When it came to Forza Motorsport, I took the hit and traded it in within a week.

And when I did, the guy in the shop looked at me like I’d pissed in his cornflakes. He just couldn’t understand.

4. Bayonetta

Ratings: 9/10 on Eurogamer, 8.2 on IGN, 9/10 on Gamespot

To paraphrase Lucille Bluth, “I don’t understand the point of the game, and I refuse to play it any further”.

Bayonetta to me felt like an exercise in random button mashing with a plot that just flew over my head.

Can you understand what's going on?

Can you understand what’s going on?

I tried to enjoy it, I really did, but I had no idea what was going on, and the sheer repetitiveness of it meant that a couple of hours in I couldn’t be arsed with it anymore.

But it’s just that, it felt technically flawed as well, with ropey camera angling and unintuitive controls.

How it can be rated as highly as it is is a mystery to me.

5. Ninja Gaiden

Ratings: 9.4 on IGN, 9/10 on Eurogamer

I’ve only played the Xbox version of this game, which came out near on 10 years ago, but at the time people were raving about it.

And again, I just didn’t see the hype.

Ninja Gaiden was devoid of any character, the graphics were pretty but lifeless, the game-play involved running along walls (cos that’s better than running along the ground you see) and hitting people and the camera angles made the experience

A tiresome exercise in running along walls

A tiresome exercise in running along walls

an awkward one overall.

What’s interesting is that subsequently, reviewers began to wake up to this and say “Actually, Ninja Gaiden wasn’t really up to much, was it?” and the most recent one gets reviews that range in the 50-60% bracket. I don’t believe for a moment the game-play has become so much worse than the original.

But back in the day, the writers loved it. The IGN review is 5 pages long.

And if you’re mug enough to read that you deserve a poor gaming experience.

6. The Gears of War series

Ratings: 9.4 on IGN, 94% approval rating on Meta Critic, 8/10 on Eurogamer

It’s the perspective that left me cold.

You either play from the first person perspective or let the game’s character roam free like in God or War or Drake’s Fortune.

The third person perspective and grim colour scheme left me cold

The third person perspective and grim colour scheme left me cold

But to have the main character of Gears of War continually stuck slightly off centre on your screen just didn’t sit well with me. As a result I’ve deliberately avoided similar games like Dead Space.

Beyond that I just don’t like the look of the game at all, with its murky drab colours and dirty feel.

And further, the game play wasn’t up to much either.

I just didn’t get the hype.

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Doctor Who – Arc of Infinity Review (or ‘Involving My Least Favourite Doctor Who Actor Ever’)

March 27, 2013

Oooh, I’ve gone all sporty the last few days with my blog entries, but it’s time to get back to my Doctor Who review project.

Sadly what that means is that it’s time for another horribly bland JNT era story.

For anyone watching Doctor Who in sequence, there’s a stopping off point at the end of Time Flight where you can enjoy the distraction of the Big Finish audio stories. The ones with The Doctor & Nyssa are a mixed bag, with some of them being average and others – like Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty – being better than pretty much anything served up on TV by this point.

Rather than go into great detail about these audios individually, I think what I’ll do is write up a more general article about them once I finish the Davison era.

So now, sadly, it’s back to the grind-stone with a review of Arc of Infinity.

Doctor Who – Arc of Infinity Review: What’s This One About

It’s double the fun with riveting scenes taking place both on Gallifrey and in Amsterdam.

Omega – despite being pretty definitively killed off in The Three Doctors – is back and…that’s about it really.

Thoughts – Let’s Redo The Keeper of Traken

When you realise the Arc of Infinity is written by Johnny Bryne, you can’t help but notice the similarities between the structure of this story and his last attempt at writing for the show – The Keeper of Traken.

You’ve got the old villain coming back, the mystical influence that the society works around (The Matrix instead of the Keeper), the unpleasant guard captain and a rather feeble council that include an old woman and an inept bloke that do very

Acting in Doctor Who: A Serious Business

Acting in Doctor Who: A Serious Business

little.

But unlike the Keeper of Traken, this doesn’t have a good plot to work around these set pieces, nor does it have as strong a cast.

Indeed, I think this story is horrendous.

The “Surprises”

I get why writers go for twists and surprises; it can make something quite exciting.

But the Arc of Infinity has two of the lamest ones you’ll ever see.

First of all you have the reveal that The Renegade is Omega. I don’t know why they don’t just say it’s Omega from the start; I mean, for anyone who remembered The Three Doctors, I imagine that it was fairly obvious who he was, considering he was  from the world of anti-matter, and if the viewer hadn’t seen or remembered that story, the reveal would carry no value anyway.

But what’s worse about it is that the reveal doesn’t come with him unmasking or anything like that, and it’s not like The Keeper of Traken where the Master didn’t actually appear on screen until later on in the story. Instead we just see him all the way through the story and then in Episode 3 someone says “Aye, that’s Omega up there”. Big whoop.

The other supposed surprise is that the traitor is Councillor Hedin.

I think that by counter-productively helping the Doctor, and playing up that the two of them are mates, we’re not supposed to realise it is him, but – much like Bernard Horsfall in the Deadly Assassin – it’s immediately obvious that the voice belongs to Michael Gough, and therefore there is absolutely no shock value. There’s confusion, because his red-herring behaviour makes no sense, but there’s no shock value.

Incidentally, this is the second Gallifrey based story in a row where there’s a shock reveal that an authority holding Time Lord is the mastermind behind it all. It won’t be the last either.

My Least Favourite Actor In Doctor Who History

Plenty of bad actors have appeared in Doctor Who over the years, including the likes Jenny Laird, Freddie Aldo, the Ogron who said “No Complications” and Rick James. There have also been a few actors who aren’t necessarily terrible at their

Look at this gormless idiot. As a total package, this guy is hands down the worst actor to appear in Doctor Who

Look at this gormless idiot. As a total package, this guy is hands down the worst actor to appear in Doctor Who

craft but that I passionately dislike, like John Dearth in Planet of the Spiders.

But I think the only actor who combines being both terrible at his job and utterly loathsome on top of that is the boy who plays Robin, Andrew Boxer.

My god, this guy has nothing going for him.

For a start, the character he plays is an arse anyway. I mean, he’s a backpacker who gets his mate to sleep in a crypt with him because he’s lost his passport. And when his mate gets taken captive by what looks like a giant gun toting chicken, he won’t go to the police because of that either. Never mind that his mate night be dead, he doesn’t want to report a missing passport because…well…they might find it for him? Or they might send him home and it would ruin his holiday? Whatever the reason, it’s unbelievably selfish.

Also, he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between “Vanished” and “Is in exactly the same place as where I left him”, but we’ll let that slide.

What’s worse about him is…well…the guy playing him.

He manages to be both the sort of person you wouldn’t expect to see cast on a TV show and exactly the sort of person the general public would associate with Doctor Who at the time. Basically he combines looking geeky and slimy.

Urgh. Come on man, sort your hair out, get the anorak off and stop prancing about.

And that voice!!!! Oh my god. He actually has The Nerd Voice, the sort of exaggerated nasely voice you’d do when taking the piss out of some nerd at school.

And his eyes bulge more than is comfortable to watch too.

I’d ask how he got the job, but I guess he must have been John Nathan Turner’s type…

…of actor.

It’s In Amsterdam. That’s All I Need To Know

There are plenty of things that don’t make a lot of sense in the Arc of Infinity – not least that I don’t really know what Omega’s motivation is – but the one that gets me most of all is how the Doctor managed to get to Amsterdam.

Borussa must live a reckless Devil-May-Care life to have regenerated again. And he must be disappointed to have done so into a gentle old Grandpa.

Borussa must live a reckless Devil-May-Care life to have regenerated again. And he must be disappointed to have done so into a gentle old Grandpa.

He goes into the Matrix to find out where Tegan is and she says that she is behind at a brand of youth hostel (even though she isn’t) in Dutch capital.

The Doctor has the whole of time to work with here, and yet without any explanation is able to land the TARDIS on the correct day at the correct time, within walking distance. Come on! I could accept it if they said that they could back trace where and when Omega is through the Matrix, but they went to the trouble of getting the Doctor to ask Tegan where she is.

Awful.

The Fifth Doctor Timeline

Ok, so the events of the first season lasted around a fortnight, but – although is remains unsaid – I think it’s safe to say that a fair amount of time has passed between Time Flight and the Arc of Infinity.

For a start, Nyssa looks like she’s aged a good five years since we last saw her, and that would fit in – before the fact – with the Big Finish stories.

Also, considering the straight line writing style probably suggests they’ve been separated from Tegan for exactly the amount of time Tegan has been left on Earth, I think we’re supposed to believe that it has maybe been a year or more since the events of Heathrow.

Random Observation

  • The Ergon…where do you start? Why is it designed like a giant chicken? Why is it even in the story? How does the Doctor know what it is? Why didn’t they just have the blob things from the Three Doctors?
  • I won’t bother trying to make sense of how Omega still lives, but how come he changed costumes? I think he had it bang on the first time.
  • Where did he get a TARDIS from?
  • What actually is the Arc of Infinity?
  • Why does Omega need to use the Matrix?
  • How come Nyssa, the Doctor and Tegan were never out of breath despite running – possibly for miles – through the streets of Amsterdam?
  • And did Nyssa consciously change into flat footwear before going on this run?
  • Are we supposed to be happy that Tegan has returned, even though it’s very clear the Doctor isn’t?
  • How does the Doctor know what Omega is wearing based on the dead gardener? Do gardeners have a universally acknowledged outfit?

    Drunk Omega is tired, emotional and wants to go to bed

    Drunk Omega is tired, emotional and wants to go to bed

  • What’s the point of the scene where the Doctor remembers the Presidential passcode?
  • What sort of devil-may-care lifestyle does Borussa lead to regenerate so often?
  • If they wanted to bring back old villains, why recast Omega and also have the Celestial Toymaker in it playing someone completely different?
  • Nyssa might well be the most trigger happy companion the Doctor has ever had.
  • Tegan has strange priorities; the Doctor asks her to help look for the only thing that can destroy Omega and save the universe from a massive explosion, but she needs to look after her cousin?
  • It’s Paul Jerrico as the Castellan. I can’t be the only person who watched this after seeing the Five Doctors and been shocked to see he has blonde hair,
  • He’s not very good at his job though.
  • And I have to say, based on this performance, how the hell did Colin Baker land the job of the Doctor? Oh of course, he told good stories at a party.
  • Sarcasm Filter on: The Arc of Infinity really benefited from being filmed in Amsterdam. That was a great use of the BBC’s money. Sarcasm Filter off.
  • Omega should have given that rude little child who pushed past him a smack round the head.
  • Why does Nyssa assume the Doctor must have a coin for a payphone in 1980s Amsterdam?
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #177. That’s at least 13 too high.

Doctor Who – Arc of Infinity Review: Final Thoughts

It’s a boring story that makes no sense and has acting ranging from poor to horrific.

There’s nothing to like about the Arc of Infinity, and I’m glad I’ve got past it.

I would rate this as “Serious Recommendation To Avoid”

One of my least favourite stories of all time.


Five Ways To Potentially Improve The Scotland National Team

March 27, 2013

As the dust settles on another miserable failure of an International Week for Scotland, people are up in arms.

“I thought things would improve under Gordon Strachan!” was the cry from the average naive Scotland fan who had pinned all the blame for our previous performances on former manager, Craig Levein.

And while Levein could easily be blamed for some of his tactical and team selection decisions, we shouldn’t kid ourselves to think replacing him with someone else would suddenly make things a lot better; especially if he doesn’t actually change anything.

The last two games have felt worse than anything under Levein. Rather than it being the case that you felt individual decisions from the manager (like 4-6-0) might have cost us dearly, the performance level against Wales and Serbia was just appalling, and the blame for that must be shared between manager and players, as it should have been under Levein.

After the match, the inquest began, with the pundits on Radio Scotland asking if Scotland simply had rubbish players and questioning in all seriousness whether or not we are on a par with the likes of San Marino and Andorra.

Now maybe I’m an optimist but I think that is knee-jerk nonsense.

For a start, we are unfortunate to be in probably the strongest group overall, with our lowest seeded team being Wales, and while we have suffered the indignity of being the first team eliminated from qualifying, that has more to do with how far

Good player he may be, but Shaun Maloney just doesn't do it for Scotland

Good player he may be, but Shaun Maloney just doesn’t do it for Scotland

ahead Belgium & Croatia are rather than how far behind we are. There are eight teams on equal or fewer points than us in the other groups.

That shouldn’t detract from what has been a terrible campaign though. Changes have to be made, and while there is certainly no quick fix solution to Scotland’s problems, I could identify five easy ways things might improve for us in the future.

1. Only Call Up Players Who Are Actually Playing For Their Club Sides

In the wake of the defeat to Serbia, Gordon Strachan mentioned that neither Steven Whittaker nor Charlie Adam had played much football for their club sides lately, and in a way used it as a bit of an excuse.

Sorry Gordon, you – like a number of your predecessors – should know that a footballer who isn’t match sharp goes into a game with a disadvantage. You called Whittaker up knowing he hadn’t played for a while, and you did it at the expense of plenty of other players who turn out for their clubs week in week out.

I’m aware that the incentive to play International Football isn’t as strong as it once was for players, but Strachan should make it clear to his troops that if they aren’t getting a game for their club side, they can’t expect to play for the National Team.

 2. Stop Calling Up Players Based On Who They Play For

This is a similar issue, but it’s been the case for near on 15 years that a player seems to only have to register for an English club to get a call-up.

Ricky Foster played in the SPL for 10 years and yet one month after moving to Bristol City he got the Scotland call-up. We all laughed, because he obviously wasn’t a better player in a month, but behind the laughter is a real problem.

The same thing happened with Paul Dixon. Following his move to Huddersfield he got the call-up and was man of the match on his debut. He was just as good while at Dundee United.

There’s a belief that playing in England suddenly means you are more worthy, and yet as many managers will claim, there are plenty of SPL players capable of doing well down there.

The Scotland manager shouldn’t be afraid of picking SPL players and giving them a chance. What they don’t seem to realise is that if they do, the player might end up getting a move to the Holy Land of Football as a result.

In form Griffiths should have been in the Scotland squad

In form Griffiths should have been in the Scotland squad

3. Select Players Who Are On Form

I appreciate he has a charge hanging over his head, and I know he’s not the most popular figure, but Leigh Griffiths should have been in that last Scotland squad.

Call-ups for the international team should be made on merit, and merit comes in the form of how well a player has been performing recently.

Much like match sharpness, a footballer’s confidence can determine how well he plays. If he’s at the top of his game, it might be that he’s a better candidate that a supposed better player experiencing a bad run of form.

4. Judge Your Current Players By How Well They Are Performing For Scotland

In the wake of the Serbia game, Steven Naismith said that the players were all fighting for their Scotland futures.

I’d love to believe that was true, but I doubt it.

Take Shaun Maloney for example. We all know he’s a good player and has done well for Wigan, but when have you ever seen him play a particularly good game for Scotland? I know he’s scored one goal in near on 30 appearances for Scotland since 2005, but how many assists has he got? What does he actually contribute to the Scotland team?

And yet time and time again he gets the call ahead of players who might be less skilled overall, but could be more effective.

It’s not just Maloney either. The likes of James McArthur, Graeme Dorrans and Charlie Adam just don’t seem to ever do it in Dark Blue, while Alan Hutton and Kenny Miller haven’t performed for us for years.

Miller Time is at an end

Miller Time is at an end

Yet these guys are certainties for inclusion every time, and they get in at the expense of other players who might be effective.

5. Stop Trying To Fit Square Pegs Into Round Holes

All too often, the manager – whether it’s Levein, Burley or now Strachan – chooses to pick a system first and then try to fit his players into it.

That’s something I strongly disagree with.

By all means come up with a system, but once you’ve got that system, pick the right players for it. And sometimes that means leaving out one or two of your strongest 11.

Look at the set-up we had against Wales.

That midfield was appalling. They displayed no willingness to take the initiative, no fighting spirit (unless you count Robert Snodgrass’s lunging tackles as fight) and no work rate.

A team needs someone to take the bull by the horns. Scott Brown does it very well, but if he’s not there, you can’t just say “Ach well, James McArthur and Graeme Dorrans will do”, because all the evidence suggests that they won’t.

Let’s Move Forward

Some might say these ideas are too sensible for a football manager to consider, but I think they are a must for Scotland going forward.

The old way just doesn’t work.

Let’s try something different.

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What Has Become Of The Great Scottish Centre Back?

March 25, 2013

In the wake of Scotland’s 2-1 defeat to Wales at Hampden last week, a number of questions have been raised about our national team and changes that could be made to improve it in the future.

While I wouldn’t put much of the blame on centre back pairing Gary Caldwell and Grant Hanley for the defeat – even though they were caught woefully short for Wales’ winning goal – the heart of the Scottish defence is seen by many as a problem.

Indeed, in the wake of that defeat, football fans and writers alike have been wondering what has become of the once mighty Scottish centre back?

In the 80s we had players of the calibre of Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Paul Hegarty, David Narey and Alan Hansen challenging for the position, while the 90s saw the likes of Colin Hendry, Colin Calderwood, Richard Gough and Dave McPherson play at the heart of the defence during World Cups and European Championships.

Through the naughties, guys like Steven Pressley and David Weir would often play there for us, and while they weren’t exactly world beaters, I’m sure most Scottish fans would love to have them in their prime kicking about the squad these days.

Oh for a player of David Narey's quality in the current Scotland squad

Oh for a player of David Narey’s quality in the current Scotland squad

Because while the centre back position used to be a strong point for Scotland, it’s now the area where we lack the most depth by some distance.

Now, in 2013, our centre backs include Gary Caldwell, Grant Hanley, Danny Wilson, Andy Webster, Charlie Mulgrew and Christophe Berra.

Let’s be honest; these guys are not exactly world beaters. Gary Caldwell is probably the best of the bunch and an alarming number of fans want him dropped. Hanley and Wilson both have potential, but have only played a paltry 88 senior games between them at club level. Webster and Berra don’t fill anyone with confidence when they pull on the dark blue shirt, while Charlie Mulgrew is more a jack of all trades rather than a specialist centre back.

You could see Hanley and Wilson being our first choice pairing for the future if they get regular game time, but who else is there? Who can Scotland call upon in the future?

As the Head of Scottish Research for the Football Manager series of games, I have – I hope – a decent grasp on who is coming through for Scotland and who is available to us now that we might have overlooked (after all, Football Manager had Liam Bridcutt playing for Scotland well before Mark McGhee supposedly ‘discovered’ him) thanks to our extensive database.

The Current Candidates

According to our database, two of the top four centre backs with Scotland as a first or second nationality have sadly already chosen to play for other countries.

While I doubt we were ever in with a chance of landing Liverpool’s 6″5′ Uruguayan – Sebastian Coates – he was at one point eligible thanks to his Scottish father.

Conversely, we did have a shot at securing Reading centre back Alex Pearce, an English-born player with two Scottish parents. Sadly, despite playing for us at Under-19 and Under-21 level, he switched his allegiances to Ireland – who he

qualifies for through the grandparent rule – because he didn’t see a full international call-up from us to be forthcoming. That seems fairly short sighted by the SFA.

Beyond those two, if we wanted to bring in an experienced player tomorrow to bolster the squad, our options would be limited to…

Gordon Greer:

The former Kilmarnock player has enjoyed a relatively successful career in the lower leagues of England and has now shown his quality as the captain of Brighton & Hove Albion in the English Championship.

At 32, International Football may have passed Gordon Greer by

At 32, International Football may have passed Gordon Greer by

Some might say that at the age of 32 he’s not the sort of player we should be bringing in uncapped, but if he displays leadership skills and knows what direction to clear the ball in, he’s better than some options.

Martin Cranie

Having played for England from Under 17 to Under 21 level, Martin Cranie might not be a popular choice to play for Scotland among some fans, but once upon a time the former Southampton and Coventry player was called up to the Scotland

U-17 squad.

Now a regular at  Barnsley, the 6 foot centre back has started 28 games in the Championship this season.

Kirk Broad….Let’s not go there

Scott Boyd

An unfashionable choice playing in an unfashionable team he may be, but Scott Boyd has been a rock at the heart of a Ross County defence that has done astonishingly well in the SPL this season.

Boyd stands out  because there are so few Scottish alternatives playing in the SPL right now. Clubs like Dundee United, Caley Thistle, Motherwell, Kilmarnock and Celtic play non Scots in that position most of the time, while the likes of Russell Anderson of Aberdeen are too old, and Brian McLean & James McPake aren’t even considered good enough to regularly play for Northern Ireland.

Put it this way; if Garry Kenneth can get a call-up then anything’s possible.

Emilio MacEachen

Here’s a wildcard for you; Emilio MacEachen is a Uruguayan born player – just like Coates – who has moved to Serie A to play for Parma at the age of 20.

I recently had a meeting with an SFA Performance Scout who admitted that the level of scouting done by the SFA isn’t exactly top-notch at the best of times, so here’s a player they might not know about.

Admittedly I don’t know a huge amount about him either, but that’s not the point!

Players For The Future

Worryingly for Scotland, there don’t seem to be many young centre backs playing regular or even semi regular football for their clubs.

The current Under-21 side lines up with Kevin McHattie, Lewis Toshney or Fraser Kerr at the centre of defence, and while they have had exposure to first team football this season, McHattie has played almost exclusively at left back for Hearts, Toshney has only just made the transition to centre back for Dundee and Kerr has barely featured for Motherwell since the turn of the year.

Out of all the young players, the most promising of the lot might be John Souttar of Dundee United. I don’t just say that as a Dundee United fan, and I’m actually editing this article to amend what I wrote about him when it was first published. At 16, Souttar has forced his way into the Dundee United first team and has been arguably our top defensive performer over the last 3 months. This is one player who could make a splash.

Looking beyond them, Murray Wallace of Huddersfield could have a bright future, while promising players like Marcus Fraser and Stuart Findlay of Celtic and Mark O’Hara of Kilmarnock are either too young or inexperienced for us to know for sure whether they could make it or not, and it’s often the case that young players are moved out to full back when they do make the transition.

Whether or not a player makes it at first team level and fulfils his potential largely depends on attitude, but for centre backs, size also matters. If a young player doesn’t fill out or grow tall enough, he might not have a future in the heart of

We'll probably be stuck with Gary Caldwell for a few years yet

We’ll probably be stuck with Gary Caldwell for a few years yet

defence. It’s always a potential risk.

So Is It Something To Be Worried About?

When you compare the amount of young and talented Scottish midfielders and attackers coming through the ranks of clubs both north and south of the border to the number of centre backs doing the same, it’s a real worry.

As a Scotland fan, I’d be confident that if we punted Charlie Adam, Kenny Miller or Shaun Maloney from the national side tomorrow, there would be a number of similar or potentially better players waiting in the wings to take their place. You’ve only got to look at the Tannadice trio of Johnny Russell, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay Steven to know that there are quality young players out there. And there are plenty more at U-17 to U-19 level too.

But the centre back position is a worry. If you replaced any of the current defenders with the alternatives I’ve suggested, you wouldn’t be guaranteed a better standard of player by any stretch, and there don’t seem to be many young guys out there even remotely ready to replace them.

It seems as though we’ll be asking what has become of the Great Scottish Centre Back for a few more years yet.

Until then, there’s always Gary Caldwell.

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Video Game Music – 12 of the Best Video Game Soundtracks Ever

March 24, 2013

With the fantastic news that the classic Duck Tales game is being given a new lick of paint and released on all the major platforms this year, it put me in mind of the famous background music from The Moon level.

While games today are made to a higher production standard, with fully commissioned sound tracks and orchestral scores for background music, I can’t help but think that the simple jingles of the past, with their ‘Video Game Sound’ were more New Zealand Storymemorable and relevant to what we were playing.

That’s not to say a proper song can’t work as background music for a game, but they are rarely as defining as some of the old scores from the past and they just don’t have the same level of charm and character.

So in no particular order, here are my top 12 examples of quality Video Game Background Music.

I’ll be interested to see if you agree.

Duck Tales – The Moon

This is BGM I liked after the fact. I can’t say I remember it much from when I played the Game Boy version of Duck Tales back in the early 90s, but so many people have raved about this music being one of the best examples of Video Game Music ever made that I thought I’d give it a shot.

And they are right. It’s a jingle that has depth to it, and awakens memories of a simpler time for gaming.

It even inspired some boy to perform the theme (worryingly well I might add) for his own youtube video

Rick Dangerous Theme

Here’s one I do remember. A classic video game jingle if ever there was one.

But here’s the interesting thing, someone has made a professional sounding orchestral version of it. In terms of musical merit, it’s far better. In terms of being as catchy? Maybe not.

Striker

Much like the Rick Dangerous example, this isn’t technically Background Music, as it’s music from the title screen, but it’s still fantastic.

One to jog the memory of any British SNES player from back in the day, it certainly feels appropriate for a football game.

The followup World Cup Striker song is memorable, but not for the right reasons.

The Taito Games

Maybe it’s just me, but I think Taito were the kings of making memorable and effective background music for games.

Here are three examples of that – The New Zealand Story, Puzzle Bobble (Bust-a-Move) and Rainbow Islands.

I actually had the Rainbow Islands theme come onto my mp3 player on shuffle while in the car a few years ago, and the people with me immediately perked up and said “Oh my god, is that the Rainbow Islands theme? Fantastic”.

I’m not quite sure what that says about us, but it certainly shows how memorable the theme is.

New Zealand Story

Puzzle Bobble

Rainbow Islands

Super Mario Land

Surely one of the most iconic pieces of Video Game music ever produced, the Super Mario Land theme from the Game Boy is bound to conjure up memories for many people.

If I recall correctly it even got a proper commercial release back in the day.

Banjo Kazooie – Rusty Bucket Bay

The entire Banjo Kazooie Soundtrack is top-notch, but best of the lot for me is the Rusty Bucket Bay level BGM. It’s all about character, and this has it in abundance.

Earthworm Jim – Moonlight Sonata

This is a bit of a cheat one since Moonlight Sonata is one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of Classical Music ever produced, but as a 10 year old boy playing Earthworm Jim I didn’t know that.

An inspired choice of Video Game BGM.

Little King’s Story – The Kingdom Theme

And speaking of beautiful pieces of classical music, the Soundtrack from Little King’s Story (Wii version) is unsurprisingly on my list.

It takes dozens of classical pieces and gives them a relaxing Video game twist.

Best of the lot is The Kingdom theme, a take on 3rd Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It’s just spectacular; so much so that I’ve been known to use it while teaching Stretch/Yoga classes. And the people in the class love it too.

Katamari Holiday

A Japanese tune from a Japanese game.

Some of the music from Katamari Damacy is just bizarre and irritating, but the Holiday theme is smashing. At least I think it is; I can imagine it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Super Tank Run – Free Fall

Rounding off the list is a song that has no real relation to the game it appears in, and only appears because it was free stock music available to the maker. But it’s become somewhat of a legend round my neck of the woods.

Play Super Tank Run with your mates and you’ll understand

Agree/Disagree?

There are probably a fair few I’ve forgotten about, so let me know what you think about this list either by leaving a comment here or letting me know on twitter @sgmilne

Also, I’ve just created a Stuart Reviews Stuff Facebook page so you can keep up to date with the blog. If you have enjoyed reading this or any of my other articles, give it a like!


Movies – Side Effects Review (or ‘A Hitchcock Film in 2013’)

March 22, 2013

With a day off at my disposal, I decided on a whim to use my Unlimited Card and nip along to the cinema to see Side Effects, a film I hadn’t even heard of until I checked the listings this morning.

I’m glad I did.

Side Effects Review: What’s This Film About

“A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects”

Well, that’s what the synopsis says. The truth is, this film is about so much more.

Side Effects Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Right now, imdb.com rates Side Effects at 7.4/10 from just under 10,000 votes, while Rotten Tomatoes gives it an approval rating of 85%

Side Effects Review: Who’s In It?

It stars Jude “James McFadden’s More Handsome Brother” Law, Catherine “I Got Old All Of A Sudden” Zeta-Jones, Rooney “Looks Considerably Older Than Her Older Sister” Mara and Channing Tatum, who for some reason I always thought was an actress. Side Effects

Thoughts – I Can’t Spoil This

Here’s the thing; based on then synopsis alone, I expected this film to be something it wasn’t.

At the start at least I thought it was a story of depression and how a woman (Mara) was struggling to get better in the rather crazy world of the American Healthcare System.

And I was enjoying it.

But then there came a twist, and that twist was followed by another twist and then the film went off into a completely different direction.

Not quite a Psycho level change of direction, but one that seriously impacts my ability to go into great detail about the plot.

If this was 1960 and I started to talk about Norman Bates’s Motel and all the stuff that went down there in a review of Psycho, it wouldn’t be fair. Similarly, if I wrote a review of the Sixth Sense before you’d all had a chance to see it and discussed how Bruce Willis’s character was dead all along, you’d be pissed. Hey, I can talk about it now because of the Statute of Limitations on Spoilers, but I can’t talk about the twists in Side Effects.

But they are good; very good.

What I can say about this film – a film that is both well acted and directed – is that is reminds me of a Hitchcock effort. It’s a thriller with a healthy dose of suspense.

Jude Law in particular is excellent, and I think it would be fair to say that his performance is reminiscent of James Stewart in his prime. You could imagine Stewart in this part in a film made back in the 50s.

And that’s another good thing about Side Effects; it has an enduring plot. You look at some old films and realise that advancement in technology or social change means that they couldn’t be made like that today (unless they were made as period pieces) and the same applies in reverse. A good script rises above that; Side Effects rises above that.

So let me keep this brief for you.

I enjoyed Side Effects immensely. I was finding the film interesting to start off with, but when the twists and turns started to happen I invested in it far more.

For the first time in a long time, I went to see a film and didn’t feel the need to check the time once.

Because of the nature it, where enjoyment is linked to surprise, I don’t think I would rush to see it again any time soon, but I don’t think that should count against it.

This is without doubt the best film I’ve seen in 2013, and is easily better than Arg0, the best film I saw in 2012.

Side Effects Review: Should You Go To See Side Effects?

I’d give it a strong thumbs up.

A top, top film with a brilliant story.

It’s a Hitchcock Movie in 2013.

 


Stuart’s Entertainment Review – March 2013 (From Community to Californication and a bit of Risk Legacy in Between)

March 22, 2013

It’s mostly been a case of watching what’s old over the past month for me.

For example, at Christmas I was given the NCIS Season 1-8 Boxed Set, available for a mere £40 from Amazon.

I hadn’t seen the show before but enough people I know recommended it to me to make me think it was worth the investment, and it has been.

Sure, it’s formulaic, but you could say the same for most TV shows I suppose, and it must be doing something right to be dubbed “TV’s #1 Show” due to its consistently high ratings.

What annoyed me though was that the actual box gives out spoilers, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s spoilers.

For example, one of the original characters leaves the show at some point in the series. That’s fine, but if you have the regular cast on the front of each of the series sets contained within the box, it becomes painfully obvious who is and who is not making it through each season. What’s more, the episode synopses on the boxes actually say “Someone dies”.

As such, what would probably have come a great surprise to me was ruined.

And I know, I know, it’s an old show so maybe the spoiler rule doesn’t apply anymore in the same way as there is a statute of limitations on some crimes, but it’s still irritating.

Mind you, I wasn’t as annoyed as I would have been if – like someone I know – I was still making my way through Breaking Bad and I saw that cinema advert for the Season 4 boxed set that showed a key scene from the final episode. Whoever made that advert was a spoiler-happy dick.

Anyway, here’s what else I’ve been watching lately…

Community

Twitter has been ablaze with Community fans cursing the latest season for not being nearly as good as it was in the past. I’m not so bothered by it. The episodes have ranged from all right to pretty good as far as I’m concerned, and they are

The latest season of Community is garnering mixed reviews, but when it sticks to its core - a sitcom set in a Community College - it's a winner for me

The latest season of Community is garnering mixed reviews, but when it sticks to its core – a sitcom set in a Community College – it’s a winner for me

certainly better than the ones from the tail end of Season 3. That Evil Abed episode was grim.

The show works better when they stick to keeping the show within the confines of the Community College though. The episode that was on last night seemed more like the sort of thing we got in the first two seasons, rather than being another set piece episode like the ones with the Haunted House and Shawshank Redemption themes.

Whether it manages to stick around for another season is the question. Personally, I think it’s 50/50. On the one hand, ratings have been reasonably good for the show, but on the other, NBC doesn’t seem to have much faith in it. Who knows, but one thing that will be interesting is seeing how the show copes with the loss of Chevy Chase, who I believe will not be in some of the upcoming episodes.

I just wish Chang would leave as well…

Castle

I’ve finally caught up with Castle. Having started watching it about six months ago, I just recently watched the two part kidnap episode.

Now you know I love this show, and there have been some absolutely brilliant comedy episodes lately, like “Murder, He Wrote”, which – you’ll not be surprised to hear – is a piss-take on a famous mystery show we all know but never watch. Similarly, there was a recent episode with another staple of modern TV; an episode where a TV Documentary crew follows them about.

And I know what you’re thinking; what’s so special about that? Well what I thought made this stand out ahead of other examples of this type of theme was that the actors both looked and acted  in a noticeably differently way to a standard ep. The female characters like Beckett and Laney looked a little less ‘made up’ than usual, with messier hair and the look of a normal person rather than a TV character. And all the characters – one way or another – changed their behaviour to suit the camera. Some were showing off, others were shy. It made for a great departure from the norm, and showed other TV shows how this sort of thing should be done.

But to go back to that Kidnap episode, what I thought was particularly noteworthy was that we got to see Nathan Fillion (Castle) flex his acting muscles a little bit and explore the darker side of the usually light-hearted crime writer. The bit where he tortures the guy was alarmingly good.

Let me state this again – if you haven’t seen Castle, you should give it a try.

Californication

And speaking of giving a show a try, I started watching Californication thanks to my NetFlix subscription.

I’ve enjoyed it sufficiently to power through the first four seasons in a month. Each episode lasts 30 minutes and there are 12 episodes per season so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

I found Mia from Californication to be one of the most unlikeable characters in Television history. Was I supposed to?

I found Mia from Californication to be one of the most unlikeable characters in Television history. Was I supposed to?

It has moments that can make you laugh out loud, and some episodes – like the The Raw & The Cooked from Season 2, The Apartment from Season 3 and Monkey Business from Season 4 – are genius, but I fear that the show may become a little bit formulaic.

For example, I’ve started Season 5 and it seems to be a case of same old, same old. Hank has a thing for someone who should be unattainable, Charley has some weird sexual misadventure on the go and Karen & the poorly cast Becca (why they cast her considering what her parents look like is a mystery to me) are just sort of ‘there’.

Still, at least Mia is gone. I’m not exactly sure what I – as a viewer – was supposed to think of her, but she came across as one of the most detestable characters in television history to me.

From looking online, people seem to think Californication has gone down hill, so I’ll be better placed to comment on that next time.

Oh, and one other thing. Have you ever noticed how English accents always sound so fake in US TV shows? I see that the wonderfully or ridiculously named (depending on your outlook) Camilla Luddington – now of Grey’s Anatomy – is in this. She’s an English actress presumably performing with her real accent, but it sounds so fake, while – oddly enough – her fake accent in Greys sounds more real.

Weird, eh?

Up All Night

Got bored of it; stopped watching.

Gaming

As for gaming, I can’t say I’ve done a massive amount of that lately, having divided my time between TV, work and writing.

Quality Board Game Action

Quality Board Game Action

But what I did do was settle in to play a board game last weekend; Risk Legacy. 

It’s obviously a take on normal Risk, but with slightly different rules and a replayability factor where every time you have a game, it impacts on the next one. For example, I won the first game, and in doing so, I got to claim one of the continents

on the board as my own going forward. As you play, your own faction develops added skills and power ups for subsequent games, and if something momentous happens, you get to open sealed envelopes that impact upon future plays also.

Overall it has a life span of about 15 games, but considering how often we actually get together to play these games, I reckon my friends and I will finish it in about 2019.

Value for money then.

When it comes to video games, all I have to report is that I made the life affirming decision to stop playing Candy Crush Saga.

It got to the point where the business model kicked in. If I had any hope of progressing past the level I was on I either needed luck or to pay for power ups.

“Sod that”, said the cheapskate/realist within me, and I haven’t played it since.

It was a good ride while it lasted.