Monday, November 29, 2010

Tony Hawk: SHRED

I like skater kids. I've been hoping that one of my kids gets into skateboarding. It seems like a healthy—although semi-dangerous—obsessive sport that would keep my kids busy after school.

Unfortunately they haven't been all that interested in it yet. I'm hoping that our new copy of Tony Hawk: SHRED will encourage them to want to try the real thing. (Am I the only mom in America who wants her kids to be skater punks?)

SHRED, because that's how you say it—in all caps—comes with a skateboard controller with which you can navigate through all of the controls just by moving the board around and doing ollies and nollies. At least I think that's what they are called.

Using the board to navigate is a little tough and learning to skate takes a while, but it's fun. It's okay if you screw up, because you just try again. My kids that played the game are 7 and 9 and they were able to make it work fine. I was too, although I'm sure I looked ridiculous. Teens or tweens that are already into skateboarding will probably love this and, because it's so active, it will get them up and off the couch, which is always a good thing.

Honestly, the thing I found most frustrating about the game was figuring out how to use the menus to get to the action I wanted to choose. My kids got stuck on one particular skate route because we couldn't figure out how to get out of it.

We haven't played the snowboarding function yet, but that looks like it's going to be fun. For sure I'll keep pulling this out and encouraging my kids to play with it because if I can't encourage them to skateboard in my driveway during the long winter months, at least I can make them skateboard in my living room.

 Shred, little boy! Shred!

Tony Hawk: SHRED is available for the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3. List price for SHRED, including the board controller, is $99.99, but you can find it online for less.

Honesty clause: I received a review sample of Tony Hawk: SHRED at no charge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Power Gig: Rise of the SixString

Okay. First off, Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is awesome. AWESOME. My husband and I are having so much fun with it. If you haven't heard of Power Gig yet, think Rock Band, but more AWESOME because the guitar is actually a real guitar. With strings.

AWESOME.

Now, I'm going to be honest here and let you know that I've never played Rock Band, nor do I play the guitar (although I've tried, oh lord, how I've tried...), but based on the game play I've experienced thus far on Power Gig, this seems like the way to go.

The guitar is a real guitar, as in plug-it-into-an-amp-and-play-it-if-you-want-to guitar.


That's pretty cool. Possibly even AWESOME. When I'm done playing, the tips of my fingers hurt from playing, just like on a real guitar.

Although you don't need to know how to play the guitar to get started, Power Gig makes you feel like you know how to play the guitar. There is a game play tutorial that walks you through basic controls. Once you get better, or if you already know how to play the guitar, you can add power chords—which are more complicated and involve substantially more coordination.

The cool thing is that if you already have Rock Band, or one of the other music games on the market, the Power Gig guitar is compatible with most of them. Check out the compatibility chart to see if your game is one of them.

The premise of the game is that music has been banned in the world of Ohm and Rockers have been oppressed. You and your trusty band of musicians have to play gigs to save rock and roll. The game is full of busty cartoon women and rocking dudes and includes terminology like "mojo flask" and "mojosplosion" and "mojomorphosis." Power Gig believes in the power of the mojo.


I played one gig where I achieved Maximum Mojomorphosis. That was AWESOME.

There is a lot of music on the game that I don't know, but that probably has more to do with my inherent uncoolness than that of the songs. There are some great artists featured—artists like Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and Kid Rock. Overall, the music is really fun, and there are plans to regularly release more tracks.

The Power Gig software sells for $59.99, but the game and guitar sells for $179.99. If you want to take advantage of the additional instruments so you can have a whole band in your living room, you can get the game, guitar, drums, and microphone for $229.99. Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is available for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation3. Of course, there are multiple accessories you can also buy for the game.

Bottom line, this game is really fun—quite probably AWESOME, maybe even SUPER AWESOME. My husband also loves it. After playing this, I can't imagine playing a music game that doesn't have an actual guitar as a controller—and, yes, you can navigate all of the controls and menus with just the guitar.

If you can't tell yet, I highly recommend this game. It's all kinds of fun and more of a music experience than a video game one.

(AWESOME.)

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of Power Gig: Rise of the SixString at no charge.

Nintendo Black Friday Deals

I don't normally post deals, but because I love Nintendo (I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador),  I now present to you some deals if you're planning on going out on Friday to battle the crowds. I will be at home in bed, but YOU should go and have a great time.

Unless specified otherwise, these deals are only valid on Friday and while supplies last.

At BestBuy you’ll be able get a black or white Wii for $169

GameStop is offering a free game (Fossil Fighters or the Legendary Starfy) with purchase of a new, special release Orange or Green DSi bundle

At Kmart if you purchase a black or white Wii console on Friday or Saturday, you’ll receive a $25 Gaming Coupon. Also, from 5am-11am on Friday only, they’re offering a $25 Gaming Coupon with purchase of an orange or green DSi bundle.

At Target you’ll be able to get a new Fling Smash bundle for $39, Wii Fit Plus bundle for $67, and if you purchase Super Mario Bros Wii, you’ll receive a $10 gift card.

If you purchase an orange or green DSi bundle at Sears, you’ll receive a $20 Award Card. You can also get Metroid: Other M or Super Mario Galaxy 2 for $39.99

At Walmart there is a $50 gift card with purchase of a Black, White or Red Wii console, and they’ll be offering the Nintendo DS Lite for just $89


Happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow

This one might seem weird. A pillow? With a speaker in it? Huh? Why? Wha—?

I'll tell you why: Snorers.

The Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow, which features a built-in speaker, is targeted at people who like to listen to music when they are going to sleep or people who want to listen to audiobooks.

I, however, found it ideal to drown out the snorer in my life.

See, if you know me, you know that I have some auditory sensory issues. If I am sleeping in a room with someone other than my husband, I keep an iPod clutched in my hand in case of snoring. As for sleeping in a room with Alex? Well, I have a white noise machine and have been known to put pillows over my head—and kick Alex in the shins if he starts to snore.

I have to tell you though, sleeping on a pillow is a lot more comfortable than sleeping with your hand cupped over headphones.

Now, this pillow has worked out for me and I love it. So, if you're exactly like me and plan to use it exactly like I do, you should go now and purchase it. However, this pillow might not be for everyone. Following are some questions I had about the pillow and the answers that I came up with.

So, really, how comfortable is it to sleep on a pillow with a speaker in it? Pretty comfortable. The speaker is small enough and buried deep enough within the pillow that you don't really feel it. I mean, yeah, if you're digging for it, you can find it, but when you're just resting your head on the pillow? It might as well not be there. I'm not very picky about my pillows, but I am completely happy with this one. Even when I'm not using it as a speaker, this is one of the pillows I use to sleep on at night.

What devices can you use the pillow with? The materials I got say that the pillow can be used with any MP3 device with a stereo socket. I used it with my iPhone. But do you wanna hear something else that's cool? I was able to plug the pillow into my white noise machine, which I find far less distracting than music to fall asleep to. I just plugged it into the headphone jack.

Does the pillow require batteries? Nope. It runs off of the MP3 (or white noise!) player's power.

How loud does it go? I had actually hoped that it would play a little louder. I would prefer that my white noise be a little louder to drown out the sounds of my husband, who insists on existing in the bed next to me. It does mask the sounds of him breathing so inconsiderately, but would not cover a full-on snore.

The music was loud enough for me. Remember that the pillow isn't a set of headphones; other people in the room will probably be able to hear it too.

How is the sound quality? I was skeptical about how good the speaker would sound playing my music. It is, after all, a speaker in a pillow. Honestly, it sounded fine to me. It wasn't scratchy or tinny at all. I was pretty happy with it.

In sum: Yay, Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow!

You can buy the pillow at Bed Bath & Beyond. It is also available online at BB&B, Amazon, CVS & Linens-N-Things. Although all of these sites claim that the list price is $49.99, each of them sells it for $29.99 (except Linens-N-Things, which sells it for $34.99).

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of the Sound Asleep Comfort Pillow at no charge.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kodak EasyShare M580 Camera

A couple of years ago my husband gave me a Canon Rebel for Christmas and my days of using point and shoots were over. I love my awesome camera. I don't really know how to use it very well, but I love it.

It is, however, quite large. There are times when I don't want to lug a large camera all over or there are times when I don't remember to take my camera with me, but I want a better camera than the one on my cell phone.

Enter the Kodak EasyShare M580 Camera. This is the camera I keep in my bag at all times so I'm never caught without a camera. For a point and shoot, I'm really happy with it.

The new cool thing about this camera is that it makes it really easy to share photos on social media sites and through email. If you take a photo that you know you'll want to post on Facebook, you can mark it as such right after you take it. If you take a photo of a friend's child, you can enter your friend's email address right there on the camera. Then, when you upload your photos to your computer, the pictures will automatically be sent to the places you designated.

The camera can share via email and on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Kodak Gallery sites. The interface is really easy to use and it only takes a few minutes to set it up.

The camera also takes video, but I haven't used that option yet.

Also, it's purple. I like that a lot. (It comes in other colors too.)

When I went to BlogHer in August, Kodak invited me (and a lot of other bloggers) on a bus tour of New York. They gave each of us their EasyShare M580 with which to take photos on the tour. At first I was sad that I couldn't take my SLR, but I was really pleasantly surprised with the photos that the camera took.

Here are a few from that tour—taken from a moving bus.





I also tested the camera by taking a photo of my kid from all the way across a hockey rink—and through plexiglass.


It's good with details too.



This camera also took one of my favorite photos of all time.


Now, I do have to say that I am not 100% thrilled with the button placement. The button you use to take the photo is a little small, not raised, and close to some of the other buttons. Even so, I chose this point and shoot as the camera to keep in my bag at all times over the one I owned previously.

I feel good knowing that I have this camera with me so in case a great photo op comes up, I'll be able to get a good shot.

Honesty Clause: Kodak provided me with a free Kodak EasyShare M580 camera. They also took me on a free bus tour of New York City and fed me lunch. The camera sells for $169.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Walking Dead

Stimey is madly, madly, madly in love with AMC's The Walking Dead. Madly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stuart J. Murphy's I See I Learn Book Series

Stuart J. Murphy has created a new preschool book series designed to help young children learn skills important for school readiness and daily life. The books focus on social skills, health and safety skills, emotional skills, and cognitive skills.

Drawing on many kids' visual learning style, Murphy's new I See I Learn books feature inset pictures, diagrams, and highlighted words to reinforce the lessons told in these simple stories.

My kids and I recently checked out the first four of the books in this series:

Emma's Friendwich, which teaches the social skill of making friends.

Freda Plans a Picnic, which teaches the cognitive skill of sequencing.

Good Job, Ajay!, which teaches the emotional skill of building confidence.

Percy Plays It Safe, which teaches the health and safety skill of playground safety.

The books are very cute and fun to read. Each of the books features the same cast of characters so kids can get familiar with the whole group. The characters are kids, who are actually little animals. If asked to identify each animal, I'm not sure I could, but they're still cute.

My favorite character was Percy the Giraffe. I also very much enjoyed Pickle the dog.

There are a couple of features I really liked about the books. At the beginning of each is a map of the town. My kids all love maps, so they pored over these to see where each character lived in relation to buildings such as the school.

Each book also features an "A Closer Look" section at the end of the book to reinforce the lessons learned in the story. This is a nice way to really solidify the skills that the book is trying to teach.

For instance, at the end of Percy Plays It Safe, questions and pictures prompt the child reader to determine when Percy is playing safely and unsafely. The questions also ask the reader to think for him or herself as well, with questions such as "How do you play safe?" "What are some good rules for safe play?"

There is also an activity prompt at the end of each Closer Look section, asking the reader to draw, act out, or pretend something related to the story.

The books are very cute and a lot of fun. My children enjoyed listening to me reading them, but they weren't immediately drawn to them. (To be fair, my children are all a little older than the target audience here, which is preschoolers and pre-k.) I do like the books because they are books that teach skills and are not based on pop culture characters, like so many children's books these days are. They're definitely worth checking out.

Each 32-page paperback book sells for $6.95. Hardcover copies are $14.95 each. The four books mentioned here came out this past July. More I See I Learn books will be published in February 2011.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of each of the books mentioned in this review.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bubble Talk

A while back, I was looking at a list of games for review opportunities.  Seeing one called Bubble Talk, I skipped right past it. It didn't look like something I was interested in. The PR rep who'd sent me the list, however, noticed that I have a child with autism and made the decision to go ahead and send it anyway, telling me that she'd heard of people using it for therapeutic purposes.

I'm so glad she did.

It took me a little while to break out this game, but we've played it multiple times since I first opened it. The premise of the game is that players match funny captions to funny pictures. A player acting as "judge" (this position rotates every round) decides which caption is the funniest. The winner gets to take the picture, and once you have a certain number of pictures, you win.

For example:

 I won a round with that caption.

The pictures themselves are hysterical. Especially if you're a kid. I've played with my kids and neighbor kids and all of them laughed and laughed and laughed.

There are photos on both sides of each card.
I don't know what they're looking at here.

Back to the autism thing. The reason this game is so great for Jack, my son with autism—and I commend the PR rep I was working with for seeing this—is that it lets Jack work on the nuances of language. We're working on figuring out the meanings of phrases and matching them to pictures. We're using the game to teach him humor, which can be difficult for literal-minded children with autism. We're using it to teach him some of the more abstract meanings of phrases and we're using it to teach him about best possible options.

Honestly, it's a very cool home speech therapy tool.

The thing I like most about the game is that you can change it up however it works for your family.

For instance, my 5-year-old doesn't read yet. So when we played with him, instead of having the role of judge rotate around the players, we just made the little guy the judge for the whole game and had one person read all the captions to him. He would pick each picture, then we would put our captions down. The best part was that, because he doesn't read, he didn't know who chose what, so he was totally impartial.

Here he is choosing a photo:


Here he is choosing a winner:


And here he is with my kids' favorite photo of the whole game, which, on front cover of the box, is matched with "tastes like bacon," which has turned into a new catchphrase at my house.


We've used this game in other ways as well. I've played alone with Jack by picking photos and having Jack choose from captions I've selected for him.


I've also picked photos and had him make up his own captions.

Top: "Doh!"
Bottom: "I hate this disguise."

There are so many ways to use this game and ways to alter the length of the game or the method of play. With 150 photos and 300 captions, the combinations seem endless. You can pretty much take this box and make what you want out of it.

Bubble Talk is for 3-8 players, ages 8 and up. Obviously, I found a way to play it with my kids, only one of whom is older than 8. However, there are some caption cards in the deck that are more appropriate for older kids or adults. Younger kids may not get some of the jokes, or they just may not be appropriate.

 I don't know that I would ever choose that caption as funniest.

It would be pretty easy to remove inappropriate captions from the deck, however.

Do you want to hear something else way weird about this game? Evidently Quinn snuck away to model for it.

We all laughed really hard at this.

Although this isn't a game that I would have chosen off the shelf, I give it a big ol' thumbs up. Since it's come to my home, we've played it a lot, and had a lot of fun with it. The best part of the game is that the goal is to make the players laugh. Is there a better Object of Game than that?

Honesty Clause: I received a review sample of the game at no charge. Bubble Talk sells for $19.99 and is available at specialty retailers, including Learning Express and Barnes & Noble. You can find it online at several retailers, including Amazon.com and Target.com.