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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Castlevania IV

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Super Castlevania IV
Konami
Played on New 3DS

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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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Hugh Likes Video Games: Letter Quest Remastered

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered
Bacon Bandit Games
Played on PS Vita
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On the whole, I’ve never gotten into touchscreen games on the PS Vita. The functionality works for the most part, but feels imprecise and gimmicky when I have a suite of perfectly good buttons right there. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered.
An enhanced port of a computer puzzle game, Letter Quest is a riff on the Puzzle Quest formula of mixing turn-based RPG and Puzzle Game mechanics. The twist is that the game in question is Boggle rather than Bejeweled. Players have a grid of fifteen letters to arrange into words using the touch screen, which works remarkably well here. Each letter scores points which the hero, a cute cartoon death named ‘Grimm’ turns into damage against an enemy. Each level has a few enemies that have different stats and abilities in addition to attacking the hero. For example, they can change the letters on you tiles or give your tiles nasty effects like poison or spikes for a few turns. Outside of combat, players can level up their abilities or tweak the design on their scythe or tile sets.
The puzzle combat is simple and addictive, as it should be. While the ability to level up attacks and boost particular word damage can allow children or limited wordsmiths to power through, the game has a long list of bonus objectives for completionists or players looking for a greater challenge.
As for the design, the monster and character designs are cute, and the remastered scores are pleasant but repetitive, but there isn’t much here in terms of plot. What story there is gets laid out through a set of comic panels players unlock as they progress. It’s all inconsequential and breezy, and seems almost as though these were assets left over from another project, but they all work well enough. The design doesn’t feel the need to justify itself, it’s just a pleasant background to try and rack up a ten-letter SAT word against. But that’s just fine for the price.
Letter Quest Remastered is a pleasant diversion for bibliophiles of all stripes. I played it as a part of Sony’s PS Plus collection, but it, or its slightly downgraded predecessor, is available on just about every console or mobile device store.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Konami
Nintendo DS, 2006
portrait_of_ruin
Welcome to Dracula Season, my annual celebration of my favorite defunct game franchise, Castlevania!  This is the second installment of the franchise on the Nintendo DS, Portrait of Ruin.  Like the other handheld titles of the era, this is a 2D side-scrolling exploration game.  The twist in this one is that the player controls two characters that share the screen, Johnathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin.
A sequel to the somewhat obscure Sega Genesis title “Castlevania Bloodlines,” Johnathan is the son of one of that game’s protagonists, John Morris, and the grandson of ‘Dracula’ character Quincy Morris.  He’s a more physical character, while Charlotte is a magician.  Players can switch between the two, and choose to go solo, or have the other character onscreen as an AI partner.  Two players can also team up over a wireless connection.  Both collect equipment, sub-weapons, and spells as they explore Dracula’s Castle.
But the count is not at home.  Rather, the castle is being manipulated by Brauner, a vampiric artist whose daughters were killed in World War I.  He’s taken control of the castle with the aim to destroy the world.  Players have to enter Brauner’s paintings in order to disrupt his hold on it.
Portrait of Ruin is visually stunning, and puts the DS’s graphics processor through its paces.  The concept of entering the paintings is cool, and adds some visual flair and variety to the maps.  The unusual maps and layouts challenge players in ways that call back to “Symphony of the Night.”  The story is interesting but easy to follow, even for someone like myself who hasn’t played the Genesis prequel.
It would have been nice to have more paintings later in the game rather than reusing the first four, but this is a small nitpick.  Portrait of Ruin is a worthy successor to the Castlevania line, and while it is no longer in print, you can probably pick up a used copy at your local games shop for a steal.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Gone Home

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Gone Home: Console Edition
Created by The Fulbright Company
Played on Playstaton 4
gonehome.game

gonehome
I played “Gone Home” for the first time when it was released on PC.  Unfortunately, my Mac Mini wasn’t quite up to the task of the game’s graphics.  So I was quite pleased to be able to download it as a part of Sony’s Playstation Plus offerings for June of this year.  The span of a few years make this indie game’s 3D modeled mansion a bit less spectacular, but the game’s story and technique remain just as impressive.
The player steps into the first-person shoes of Katie Greenbriar, a college student just returned from a trip to Europe.  She arrives home in the middle of a stormy night to find the house empty, with a message from her younger sister not to come looking for her.
As you begin to explore the strange house, “Gone Home” feels like a survival horror game.  It does borrow some of that genre’s puzzle and exploration mechanics, but the game is actually something else.  As you learn more about Katie’s family through letters, buttons, scraps of notes, and other evidence, voice over narrations of her sister Sam are unlocked.  Formatted as unsent letters, they reveal the true story piece by piece.  I won’t spoil it here, but it is well worth experiencing on your own.
“Gone Home” is a by turns creepy, moving, and overall heartfelt piece of interactive fiction, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid II

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Hugh Likes Video Games-Metroid II
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Nintendo Game Boy
Published 1991
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The Nintendo Game Boy was a little system that could.  Propelled to success by its classic version of Tetris, the monochrome game system boasted a wide variety of games despite its low resolution and hunger for batteries.  Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s with a limited budget, most of my gaming nostalgia goes back to the original, which still holds a place of pride on my display of gaming systems that have since gone to pasture.
One of my favorite games of the era was Metroid II: Return of Samus.  This handheld sequel to the original NES game follows space bounty hunter Samus Aran as she traverses the caverns of an alien world to destroy weaponized aliens called Metroids.
While not narratively complex, the Metroid series offers plenty of exploration, tricky platforming, and the most badass woman in all of gaming as a protagonist.  II is a bit shrunk down and more linear than its 8-bit predecessor, but the thrill of actively hunting rather than simply exploring is an improvement on the original.
The maze-like interior of planet SR388 is divided into sections, each with a number of metroids.  Each section is cut off by ‘boiling acid’ which conveniently recedes when the required number of metroids have been killed.  This replaces the standard Metroid mechanic of requiring upgrades to proceed, although the game is still littered with toys for Samus to collect.  But the metroids Samus encounters aren’t simply the jellyfish-like floating aliens encountered in Metroid.  On their home planet they havea multi-stage life cycle, and become larger and more difficult as the game progresses.
While the game is a bit linear, and, if you collect everything, easier than other Metroid games, it is still a standout of the original Game Boy library.  You can find it fairly easily in used game stores, or digitally in the 3DS eshop.

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