Review: Natural History Museum Dinosaur Times Tables Tutor

times table tutorTimes Tables are the bane of my life. I thought the nightmare of learning them had ended them when I learnt them (by rote) at school. Unfortunately that wasnt the case as I’ve got to go through it all over again with the children. We have tried virtually everything, some children can do it simply, others take some time. I’m at my wits end and willing to try everything and anything!

We were sent a pack of Dinosaur Times Table cards. These are basically a series of playing cards with illustrations of dinosaurs and different numbers. The cards enable you to play a series of games which can be played with two to four players.

times table card gameMaths games are great because the children learn without realising it. These are great because they are very portable meaning that you can take them with you on days out.

For children that have difficulty grasping times tables through learning by rote, but are competitive, this is a positive way of getting them to learn them without realising. We’ve enjoyed playing these games and I think it has been quite a valuable learning experience.

These would make a fantastic educational gift for any little (particularly KS1/2 learner) who likes dinosaurs. You can get hold of them here at The Natural History Museum shop.

Review: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

You’d have to have had your head buried in the sand for the last few months not to realise that Stephen Spielberg has just released a Tintin film called the Secret of the Unicorn. This is based on three(!) of the books and has proved hugely popular with the kids. Ubisoft kindly sent us the official licensed game of the film, The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and we’ve spent a few days over Christmas playing it.

Right from the start your immersed into the world of Tintin; there’s a storm and you’re piloting an aircraft trying to get out of it to no avail. Then you flashback to the start of the adventure. The levels we played followed the film really closely- we discovered the model of the Unicorn (with Snowy’s help and we actually got to control him!) and got set upon by the baddies after we found the secret map.

The game itself is a 3D action adventure game, with graphics really in the style of the animation of the film. The whole presentation is very film like and extremely polished.

Since the cut scenes integrate seamlessly into the game we got a really great feeling of being part of the adventure while we were playing it. The game itself is rated 12 (for comic violence) but isn’t too difficult, the puzzles flow on from each other. We found the flying parts the hardest but that’s probably because you need to worry about up and down as well as left and right.

Some of the later levels, like the ship, are a bit tricky but also quite funny. Although the Wii version isn’t in 3D, I did play the PS3 version in 3D at Ubisofts summer extravaganza. The 3D is ace but the Wii version doesn’t really lose out by only being in 2 dimensions.

All in all if your kids are over 12 and loved the Tintin film, this game is a bit of a no brainer.

Review: Just Dance Kids

Just over a year ago I reviewed Just Dance 2 on the Wii. We loved it back then, as did the kids since it only had a PEGI rating of 3 years and older. One of the things that makes Just Dance generally great for kids is they’re not penalised for getting stuff wrong, they can just dance like crazy and have some fun.

Just Dance Kids adds to this with a mechanic that’s aimed purely at kids. The dance moves and the menus has been simplified to make it much easier for kids to play and navigate around the game, Our four year old knows his way round our Boxee Box but has struggled with videogames and this is simple enough for him.

The songs, and there are over 40 of them, are a great mix of nursery rhymes and classic pop songs. I for one enjoyed doing In the Jungle, a real 80’s classic (well the Tight Fit version was anyway!). For slightly older kids there are some more modern pop songs like Miley Sirus and some big lad called Sean Kingston but it really comes into it’s own for stuff like Jingle Bells at the moment. If we can get the kids to play that enough, they can do a dance routine on Christmas Day for their grandparents.

The kids themselves recognised a lot of the songs, they’re a mixture of film tracks, TV and classics along with the aforementioned nursery rhymes. Kudos for including something from Gnomeo & Juliet, which was the boys favourite film last summer.

I liked the way I could pop into the settings and not just see what the kids had been playing but also how long they’d been at it for. We do like to limit their time playing videogames, even ones like this that are dance based. On occasion they’ve got a little too competitive.

We’ve played dance games on the Xbox 360 Kinect recently and whilst they’re much better at accurately mapping your movement than the Wii, Nintendo’s console is a lot easier for kids to use. Sort of six of one, half a dozen of the other really. But if you’ve got kids that like bopping around to music on the stereo, then you can’t really go wrong with Just Dance Kids.

Just Dance Kids is out now on Nintendo Wii and you can get it for the princely sum of £22.49 from Amazon and other retailers. It is also available on Xbox 360 (with Kinect) and PS3 (with Move).

Toy Story Mania! Xbox 360 for Kinect

On 30 Nov 2012 an old friend reappeared after a few years absence. Back in October 2009, we’d just joined the Nintendo Wii party late, and had been sent a copy of Toy Story Mania to review. Fast forward 3 years and we’ve not got an updated version for Xbox 360 Kinect.

For the uninitiated, Kinect is THE ultimate motion control device. Rather than waving a wand or controller around, the clever Kinect camera tracks your motion. YOU are in effect the controller. You can use the normal Xbox controller but to be honest that sort of defeats the purpose of the whole thing. I can vouch for it being no where near as fun too.

If you’re wondering how exactly this game ties into the Toy Story universe, then wonder no more (and you’ve obviously never been to certain Disney theme parks either) because the game is based on a theme park attraction called Toy Story Midway Mania! So it is a bit more authentic than you might have thought, and ties in with the expanded Toy Story universe quite well.

What you get then are over 50 mini games and ten shooting galleries, either based directly on the theme park attraction or inspired by it and the vast majority of them are great fun. I particularly like the Army Men games and yes, I am a fan of the shooting galleries, because they’re great fun.

The cut scenes are very close to the animated films in terms of quality and the whole Toy Story vibe comes through very well, even though the voice actors aren’t quite the real deal. The multiplayer just ups the fun the without making it too confusing (you get different colours for each of the up to 4 players) and it’s just exactly the right sort of game to pull out over the Christmas break when you’ve got friends and relatives round who might not necessarily play games regularly.

You can pick the game up online for a more than reasonable £23 from places like Amazon, so there’s no excuse really. The boy has worn himself out playing it this weekend!

Review: Rayman Origins on Nintendo Wii

When the Glade of Dreams is overrun by “nefurrious”Darktoons, the Fairy Council hastily invokes Rayman to save the day; but the hero of light isn’t quite all there…To help him, Rayman teams up with his best friend, Globox, and two crafty wizards, the Teensies. Together, the world’s most hilarious team of heroes will need to restore peace to the Glade or watch as their beloved home vanishes like a bad dream…

Rayman Origins is a rare thing in today’s gaming world- it’s a platform game! It makes a refreshing change from playing shooty shooty games but Rayman Origins is a great game for more reasons than that. If you can imagine a particularly well animated cartoon and then imagine that you’re controlling the hero from the cartoon, that’s Rayman Origins. It is an utterly utterly beautiful game.

What it isn’t is easy though. It doesn’t start of fiendishly difficult and Rayman Origins certainly isn’t unfair but by the time you’re an hour or two in, you certainly feel like you’re earning your keep. Since the game looks some beautiful though, frustration rarely sets in since each new area has some clever visual tricks to captivate you. There are things to bounce on and flatten, things to swing off, hang off, there is also a fiendishly difficult bit where you have to run along and keep Rayman in a spotlight, or the bats will get him!

If you love great fun games, you simply must get Rayman Origins, its brilliant.