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Skylanders tour - Rory Gibson.jpg

FANS in Birmingham were the first in Europe to get a glimpse of the latest version of smash hit video game Skylanders at the weekend.

The Skylanders Arena tour kicked off at the city's Bullring centre on Saturday, with the highlight for many being the chance to get some hands-on game time with the eagerly anticipated Skylanders Giants.

Due for release in October, Giants is the second installment of the Skylanders game saga, following hot on the heels Spyro's Adventure - which has been one of the gaming sensations of the last year for youngsters.

The title character and his quirky sidekicks, including Eruptor, Trigger Happy and Gill Grunt, leap into the onscreen game from the Portal of Power on a mission to save their mystical world.

As well as the chance to play the new game on a giant screen and go head-to-head with other gamers, visitors at the Birmingham event had the chance to play the original game on Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo Wii consoles, be photographed with their favourite characters thanks to the magic of movie-style 'green screen' technology and win prizes in a variety of Skylanders-themed games.

There was also free body art and goody bags at the free-to-enter event.

After kicking off at the Bullring the tour will head to London before heading out all over Europe throughout September.

Skylanders fan Rory Gibson, aged seven, from Halesowen, said: "Getting to have a go on Skylanders Giants on the big screen was wicked!"

Eight-year-old sister Millie added: "It was fun having my picture taken in front of a blank background and then choosing a Skylander to appear in the photo with me."

After the success of Disneyland Adventures on Kinect, the global entertainment giants have launched another assault on Xbox 360 owners, this time with the power of Pixar.

The game is set in five much-loved Pixar worlds: The Incredibles, Up, Cars, Ratatouille and Toy Story and it lets gamers enter the environments they know and love from the movies.

As I write this I have just seen the closing film in the Harry Potter franchise and it was an epic ad quite incredible end to a journey that started 10 years ago.

It wasn't just on the big screen though that the journey started, the video games have been an ever present accompinament to their celluloid sibling.

They have varied in quality, the first couple of games we have very fond memories of in our house with them being games the whole family could enjoy.

Discovering places like Diagon Alley and Hogwarts was a magical treat and really good fun revisiting the locations from the films and books.

It was another example of how video games can add something to a popular medium and open up a new world of possibilities.

As the films progressed down a darker route the games invariably had to do the same and on some occasions they steered away from the family audience that had invested so heavily in them.

The last couple of Potter games I have played have struck a chord in the middle with a playability designed to be easily accessible with good production values and gameplay that was instantly accessible.

As a family we have stuck with them and enjoyed them, we have even enjoyed the Quidditch spin-off game and especially the Lego Harry Potter game.

It would seem from various reviews that we were one of the only ones who loved last year's game, sometimes the gaming world can take itself too seriously and needs to remember that these are kids games, made for kids and enjoyed by them.

My kids played the game last year non-stop almost for a few days, it was the best babysitter money can buy - they loved it, yet one website gave it 1/10.

The finale is a rich and dramatic narrative and therefore the game needs to reflect that and this does that well, it doesn't set out to retell the story as such, it relies on short guiders to steer you into the next chunk of action.

It follows the basic linear narrative of the film though so if you don't want to know too much then please watch the film first.

Grahically the game is great - ok some of the cut scenes are a bit cumbersome but on the whole the quality is impressive.

As is the gameplay, designed as you want with simplicity in mind it manages to set challenges and mix things up by seeing you switch between the film's characters.

On the whole it is a wand waving equivalent of a hack and slash it lacks the variety to really offer anything more than a middle of the road movie-tie in.

As with previous ganes it really could have been so much better, but the kids again loved it and enjoyed playing it - as did I.

The game should come with a 'short and sweet' tag as it's not a lengthy game by any means.

It's a game that Potter fans will embrace even if they did want a lot more. I have a feeling that once Harry and chums have sunk from our movie screens without trace we may just see some much better game offerings using the Potter world.

Review: Rio (360)

By Steve Wollaston on Apr 15, 11 11:46 AM

When I saw that there was a movie-tie in for the latest animate kids blockbuster film I have to say I was expecting a platform by numbers affair.

Thank god it wasn't, although I was still worried by the 'party games' tag. One thing the whole gaming world has had enough of is party games.

But and it's a very big but, this is an excellent and addictive collection of manic multiplayer games.

The characters of the film and the style of the film are represented brilliantly and rather than just being a cash in this is a well constructed assembly of quirky game ideas.

My kids loved it, genuinely sat there for about three hours playing against each other and making a din.

I like the fact that the game didn't try to hard to be that generic run-of-the mill cash in, it tried something different and it worked well.

To be honest you quite easily just review this game by saying it's the Marvel version of the popular Lego games.

Only it's not, it's by totally different people for starters - but all the principles are the same.

This is a cute and cheerful version of a popular franchise with a clear attempt to appeal to a wider audience and indeed a younger audience.

It's based on the hit animated TV series as shown on Cartoon Network and is the sequel to the 'Marvel Super Hero Squad' which was rightly a big hit with gamers.

The emphasis in terms of gameplay is on buttom mashing and puzzle solving - each of the characters has certain abilities that can be called on for different scenarios.

Playing co-op is great fun and was a big hit in our house, the graphics and humour in the game are excellent.

If you are a fan of the Lego games then this will be a good choice for you.

A great little good vs evil romp and you will find it on the shelves at a great price.

You would have to have been living under a behemoth sized rock not to have noticed the Glee-mania that took place last year.

Dora's Cooking Club (DS)

By Steve Wollaston on Dec 13, 10 09:40 AM

This game was the perfect choice for my 4-year-old daughter Lily, not only is she a big fan of Cooking Mama style games she is a fully fledged Dora disciple.

I mentioned Cooking Mama because this game has a fair bit in common with it, some of the mini games work on the same principles.

Simple food challenges like twirling pizza, chopping and stirring are great for kids on the DS - it is a good interactive platform for them.

The one thing I liked the most about this title was not only that Lily had so much fun playing it but also that it incorporated simple maths like counting into the game too.

This is the perfect kids friendly game with cutesy colourful visuals and a great title for those Christmas stockings.

Educational, interactive and fun - what more could you want?


Another fun Dora The Explore title just in time for Christmas.

I like the fact that game-makers are increasingly aware of their younger audience, children are very capable of gaming from the age of 2 upwards and simple, engaging games are good for their development.

Obviously keep them away from House of The Dead or Grand Theft Auto...

This Dora game is a nice little collection of platform style action and puzzle solving with simple jumping, climbing, and sliding etc.

My daughter Lily played the Crystal Kingdom game not long ago and this was very much the same kind of thing.

She loved the game and it kept her quiet for a few hourse but more importantly it kept her thinking and I watched carefully as she pondered puzzles and obstacles and overcame them in time.

There is the option of adults taking on the second controller as a helper and all in all it is a great little title with authentic voices, good gameplay and some great graphics.

Dora's cousin makes a return to the DS in time for Christmas to ensure that Nickleodeon's younger male audience are catered for.

This game is the ultimate action adventure for young boys with the emphasis on exploration and fun.

At it's heart it is a fairly simple platform adventure but adds depth by requiring gamers to build rescue vehicles including submarines, hang gliders, and snowmobiles.

Set in a colourful and crazy environment shaped by Mega Bloks you get to work through various levels like the jungle and the sea.

Very colourful, very lively and one that will keep the little un's occupied on Christmas morning!

When it comes to Disney in our house not only are my three daughters completely obsessed my other half Anthea is probably worse than them.

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Steve Wollaston

Steve Wollaston - Sunday Mercury games reviewer Steve has been writing about video games for donkey's years. In fact he is probably far too old for it now which is why you will see a lot of reviews been done by kids... He has been nominated three times for Regional Games Journalist Of The Year at the Games Media Awards, but never wins. His major love is sports games and rates Sensible World of Soccer circa 90's as the greatest game ever made - closely followed by Championship Manager 2. Skyrim has currently taken over his life.

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