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Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid: Samus Returns

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Metroid: Samus Returns
Developed by MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD
Published by Nintendo
Played on New 3DS

The Skinny: Nintendo resurrects another classic with a gorgeous coat of 3D paint, tricky new puzzles, and intuitive new abilities.

Metroid: Samus Returns is the gold standard of remaking a classic video game. A retelling of the original game boy adventure Metroid II, it follows bounty hunter Samus Aran through the underground passages of planet SR388 as she attempts to eradicate the metroids, living bioweapons designed by a nearly lost alien civilization.
While the original game pushed the monochrome game boy to its technological limits, Metroid II doesn’t hold up well when separated from the gauzy veneer of nostalgia. The resolution brings the camera in very close, making the caves of SR388 claustrophobic and difficult to navigate, and the designs have an almost-cute goggle-eyed quality to them. This remake uses the advantages of the 3DS hardware to deliver huge chambers in high resolution polygons. The action is fast and responsive, and everything looks and sounds amazing. 2D Metroid fans have had to wait over 13 years since Zero Mission for another entry in the series, but Samus Returns certainly delivers.
Developed by MercurySteam, whose previous credits include the 3DS Castlevania entry Mirror of Fate, the game pays tribute to the original and updates it in fun and innovative ways. The most notable is the addition of a melee attack, which can usually only be used as a counter to charging enemies. The move stuns enemies and allows Samus to lock on for a quick kill. It’s a nice ability early in the game, when Samus’s arm cannon isn’t quite up to full power yet. She also picks up extra Aeon abilities over the course of the game, which are fun to use but require extra power. A scanning abilities takes the place of Super Metroid’s map room, and the ability to slow time replaces dash boots. Expanded Chozo technology like Warp points and Statues that control the level of the ‘radioactive acid’ from the original are welcome updates as well.
More so than any other Nintendo property, Metroid is a series that uses the design and atmosphere of the environment to tell a story, and MercurySteam does a great job continuing that tradition. Their version of SR388 is huge, and their ruins all feel unique and purposeful. The player gets a better feel for the abandoned ruins and machinery as they are slowly reclaimed by the wild. Daisuke Matsuoka’s music does an excellent job of updating and calling back to Metroid II’s 8-bit soundtrack as well.
Metroid Return of Samus takes the starting point of the original and blows it up to a huge modern adventure while still recalling the feel for the of the original. You can find it for the 3DS as a cartridge or digital download, and I highly recommend it.

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Hugh Likes Video Games-Final Fantasy V

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Final Fantasy V
Published by Square (1999)
Played on PS Vita

FFV

Having completed this summer’s Four Job Fiesta, It’s time to take a last look at Final Fantasy V.
V represents a turning point in the series from the design of the early entries, which were much more guided experiences, to more complex strategic systems. It is the last main series game to feature the four crystals as a major plot element, and its the first games since Final Fantasy II with a really crunchy mechanical system underlying the story.
Final Fantasy’s Job System, which was refined and expanded from Final Fantasy III, gives the player freedom to plan and combine skills to overcome obstacles. This is a contrast to Final Fantasy IV, which was much more managed. The goal of that game was to defeat challenges using the resources at hand. This strategic element becomes more important going forward in the series.
V also heralds a shift from the melodramatic, adventurous tone of early games to a darker tone. While there is still a lot of levity in the game, it does deal with some thematic elements such as an inevitable end of the world head on. This clears the way for the more operatic Final Fantasy VI, and the diesel-punk dystopia of Final Fantasy VII. It’s also the last time we are going to see a main cast of just four playable characters until last year’s Final Fantasy XV. While the larger casts in later games provide more flexibility, I don’t know if we get to know the characters as well as we do this last iteration of the Light Warriors. The cast of Final Fantasy V is really charming, and includes one of the first transgender characters in gaming with Faris, who is awesome.
The game itself is somewhat forgotten in the west, as it didn’t come out here until after the fact, and its sound and graphics lack the oomph of IV and VI. But it is exquisitely balanced, and remains fun to play, as can be seen by the Four Job Fiesta challenge. If you haven’t given it a try, You can find the game in the PS1 Classics section of the Playstation store for PS3, PS Vita, and PSP. You can also track down the Game Boy Advance port, which is probably the best version of the game, or check out the mobile port. If you are a JRPG aficionado, give it a try.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Downwell

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Downwell
Created by Ojiro Fumoto
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS Vita
Downwellgame.com

On the surface, “Downwell” is a very simple game. The Japanese indie shooter/platformer has very simple controls, a limited color palette, and low-resolution sprites. But there is something very charming about the mashup of ideas that comes together elegantly to make an experience that his easy to pick up, and extremely challenging.
The player controls a figure who jump into a well full of monsters with only his ‘gun-boots’ for protection. He can shoot monsters below him, and landing on ledges reloads. The randomly generated levels stretch down, with a few side caverns full of upgrades or shops to try and reach. Like in old-school shooters, the gun-boots can be upgraded to a number of different weapons, from spread-guns to shotguns, to lasers. Players also can snag upgrades like jetpacks and health refills between levels.
Even with these bonuses, the difficulty is very high, although not really cheap. Monsters such as bats and ghosts fill the well, and they all have their own patterns the player can learn. Sections are split into three levels each, but there isn’t really any save system, so players are booted back to the top with each death, which is a bit disappointing.
The player unlocks new palettes and slightly different game modes based on cumulative score, but most of these are just slight variations or aesthetic changes.
“Downwell” is a clever mashup that will certainly fill your time on the train, without sucking you in to a 100 hour adventure. But you may be surprised how long you think “Just one more run,” while playing. You can play it on Steam and a variety of platforms. It’s also available in Playstation Plus this month.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Abzu

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Abzu
Giant Squid
Played on Playstation 4

abzu1.jpg

Much like their breakthrough hit “Journey,” Giant Squid’s “Abzu” is an exquisite exploration game that delivers on wow and holds back on challenge.
Abzu is an enigmatic exploration game about the ocean. In Giant Squid’s signature style, the narrative is told without any dialog or language whatsoever. Players take on the role of a diver navigating undersea grottoes and sunken ruins. As with “Journey,” there are next to no hazards to distract from the sumptuous visuals, although there are some tense moments with a great white shark, and some menacing undersea mines to avoid.
Abzu is another gorgeous and enigmatic 3-D exploration game that is so squarely in the developer’s wheelhouse. Rather than focusing on fleeting connections with other players, this game encourages exploration and observation. It is filled with virtual fish that all move in intricately programmed schools and patterns. Meditation spots scattered throughout the game encourage you to sit and watch this fish as they swim through the scenery.
Also like Journey the game is quite short, clocking in at just a few hours for a play-through. There are a few things to collect along the way, such as hidden spots that release new fish into the environment, but these don’t add too much to the replay value. Beating the game unlocks an area select and lets you freely enter meditation mode. Unfortunately, even this short game feels a bit repetitive after a while. The temple assets are largely recycled, and there is far less direction on this voyage. Also, the 3D swimming controls are a bit tricky at times. I often found myself swimming in circles when I wanted to dive forward.
These few quibbles aside, “Abzu” is a beautiful and relaxing sea trip that is well worth the few moments you need to enjoy it. You can find it on Steam, the PSN Store, or at Abzugame.Com.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Castlevania IV

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Super Castlevania IV
Konami
Played on New 3DS

Super_Castlevania_IV_North_American_SNES_box_art

We’re hunting Draculas out of season! A classic from the early days of the Super Nintendo, I picked up Super Castlevania IV from the New 3DS eshop! And it’s just as thumb-breakingly difficult as I remember.
This game is hard, which is not to say that it is UNFAIR. For the most part, the game’s traps and enemies can be out-thought. This is a true old-school pattern memorization platformer, and it doesn’t mess around. But although I found myself dying over and over at the hands of Dracula’s minions and spikes of the castle’s many traps, it never feels like the game is cheating. Obstacles can be overcome with patience and reflexes, rather than luck. And this game throws a ton at you. The castle feels more malevolent in ways than later iterations of the game. The sprawling 2-D puzzle maps of Symphony of the Night and its ilk, generally referred to as “Metroid-vaia” style games, are all puzzles to be solved. You can go anywhere, and frequently, backtracking is require to uncover all of Castlevania’s juiciest secrets. Super Castlevania’s tightly designed levels are just the opposite. There is no going back. Every step feels like an unreconcilable choice. Drawbridges slam behind you, spike traps dog your heels, and platforms constantly shatter under your boots. Each jump feels like a commitment, creating a tension that builds through the entire game until you are whip-to-fang with Count Dracula himself.
Super Castlevania IV looks and sounds great on the New 3DS screen. The big sprites and sampled music were outstanding for the time, and they are perfectly preserved emulated on the handheld screen. The analog stick works well for the most part, although attacking and moving at angles is somewhat unreliable. You lose your momentum if the stick isn’t at just the right angle, which can be a problem when trying to climb collapsing staircases and clearing flying enemies in later stages.
Super Castlevania IV is a great pick up if you’re looking for some retro platforming on your New 3DS, or just want to kill time until the new Castlevania series drops on Netflix next month. You can find it in the New 3DS, Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Type:Rider

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Type:Rider, A Typographic Videogame
Created by: Cosmographik
Played on PS Vita
Type-rider
What if “Limbo” was about fonts? This is the premise of Type:Rider a combination documentary and puzzle-platformer from Cosmographik. Players take control of a humble colon as they roll through levels based on the history of typography, from cave paintings all the way to desktop publishing. The level architecture is made up of huge landscapes of letters.
Type:Rider isn’t particularly challenging, but it is very clever in its design choices. For the most part, your : handles like an implied motorcycle. You can move forward or back, and you can rotate clockwise or counterclockwise using the L and R triggers to navigate terrain. If either of your periods hits certain obstacles, usually shown in red, you die and have to start again, usually close by. For the most part, all of the collectable goodies are easy to spot and collect, although a few require some thought or dexterity, particularly the hidden ampersands. But this is a game that wants you to collect its secrets, and the main game is quite casual.
Each World is devoted to a different style of font, and collecting asterisks scattered throughout the levels unlocks short articles about notable figures or events in the development of print.
There is a “Speedrun” course for each level that is much more challenging once you complete each one for more skilled players. The music in each level is thematic, but the compositions are short and have a droning quality that gets annoying after a while. The only other downside is that the game is very Eurocentric. Outside a few short sections in the “Origins” chapter, the game focuses entirely on Roman characters. I would’ve loved to learn more about typography’s development in other languages.
Type:Rider isn’t a longterm commitment of a game, but it is quite clever and the subject matter is unexpected and interesting. Playstation Plus members can pick up this curiosity for free this month. It is also available on Steam and for mobile devices.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Curses ‘n Chaos

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Curses ‘n Chaos
Tribute Games
Played on PS4 and PS Vita
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Curses and Chaos is a single-screen brawler with old-school charm and difficulty to match. The 1-2 Player game stars Lea and Leo, a tiny pair of mach-punching, booty-shaking adventurers under a curse. They are constantly under attack by monsters, and even Death itself! Their only ally, is an alchemist. She can cure them with the Elixir of Life, but she’ll need the ingredients to make it. And there’s only one way to get them: Fight the horde of monsters on their tail!
The game is played out on a single screen in a series of waves. Players fight ten waves of monsters, then the boss to unlock the next stage. Enemies enter from the right or left side of the screen on the ground or in the air. Each enemy drops either money or items that can be saved to make new items using alchemy between levels. Players can only save one or two items, so the money collected in each stage can be used  to buy more ingredients.
Curses and Chaos works because it rides the line between quarter-eating old-school challenge and modern free-play styles. Initially only one stage is unlocked, but once the player completes it they can choose any one to start from with three lives. And they will need them because this game is HARD. It isn’t unfair, though. Each enemy has consistent movement and item drops. They key to success is learning how they move and what they give you so that you can build a chain. The higher your chain, or luck, the better items and more money you get.
The pixel art in the game is gorgeous and detailed, if a bit blandly colored. This is good, because as a single-screen beat ’em up that relies on replaying levels over and over for more loot, you’ll be seeing a lot of them. The music is catchy and nostalgic 8-bit tunes that fit the game well.
Curses ‘n’ Chaos is a synthesis of old and new gameplay that will fit very well in your game library alongside games like ‘Shovel Knight.’ The gameplay is heart-pumping and addictive, often leaving you defeated, but ready to try one more time. PS Plus members can try it for Vita and PS 4 free until May 2nd. I highly recommend you do, but it is worth paying full price for.

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