Hugh Likes Video Games: Super NES Classic

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The Skinny-While you may already have many of these games, this collection of 16-bit classics feels absolutely perfect.

Last year, Nintendo released the SNES Classic Edition, the follow up to 2016’s sealed reproduction NES console. While it isn’t quite as rare as the original, it is still hard to come by for fans that didn’t preorder. But last week I finally got my mitts on one, and it is a lovely little nostalgia box.
The sealed box contains twenty-one games for the Super Nintendo, including the never-released “Star Fox 2.” While this is lower than the NES Classic, the lineup is all fantastic games, with little fat to speak of. Of course, there are plenty of games that feel missing. “Chrono Trigger” would be a personal inclusion. Other games such as “Pilotwings,” “Actraiser” or the original SNES port of “Sim City” would have been welcome as well. But the console does capture the era, from the opening level of Super Mario World to the last boss in Final Fantasy III.
The console looks great, which is to say like a scaled down version of the original, and it feels spot-on, even if the controller cords are still a bit too short for comfort. There are some nifty new options as well, including a choice of background images and the ability to rewind a few seconds for when the old-school difficulty gets to be a bit much.
While most of these games are widely averrable through various Nintendo eshops, rerelease collections, and remakes, There’s just something about playing them with an original controller that feels right. They look great, as well.
While these $80 bundles may still be a bit on the rare side, if you come across a SNES Classic, pick it up, and breathe in that nostalgia buzz.

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Hugh Likes Video Games-Adventures of Mana

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Adventures of mana

Adventures of Mana
Published by Square Enix
Played on PS Vita

The Skinny: This slightly buggy 3D remake of Final Fantasy Adventure solves little of that game’s frustrations, and adds a host of new ones, but is still an easy way to play a somewhat lost gem.

With Secret of Mana getting a full HD remake this month, I decided to give the remake of its predecessor a try. The original Seiken Densetsu, known in the west as Final Fantasy Adventure, was a Game Boy action RPG that pushed the little black-and-white console to the edge. Adventures of Mana certainly captures the feel of FFA, but that may not necessarily be a good thing.
Designed for mobile devices and ported to the PS Vita, Adventures is a perfect remake in a lot of ways. I reviewed the original back in 2015, and recently decided to give the update a try.  Even with its upgraded polygonal graphics and orchestral sound, it feels exactly like Final Fantasy Adventure. But unfortunately, as often that not, that feeling is frustration. Everything that’s enjoyable about the game is retained, the variety of weapons, spells, and characters are all here, and the sweeping story is intact. But almost all the limitations of the game are here as well. AI companions still have little to no intelligence, and dungeons remain a set of confusing, boxy rooms that all look alike. Frustratingly, the map is harder to get to than in FFA, being mapped to a sub-menu on the triangle button on the PSV version. The game doesn’t seem to have received any upgrades to the code at all, as the screen-based grid of the original is still loaded separately from the background, usually with a lag of about a second or so. Unfortunately, this version allows the player to move while they’re loading, and has a much more zoomed in camera, which resulted in my character being hit by spawning monsters before I even saw them. The inventory has been overhauled somewhat with a ring-style menu after later installments, and works pretty well, but is still only sixteen slots, with no way to increase it. But at least weapons and armor are stored separately, which frees up a little space. There are a few new bugs added in the conversion as well, such as one which froze my hero’s sprite in mid-leap, but those were minor complaints.
Adventures of Mana felt a little disappointing, but if you are a fan of the oldest of the old school action RPGs, and don’t have access to the physical copy of the original, it is a cheap and somewhat satisfying trip down memory lane. Just be prepared; rose-colored glasses not included.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Final Fantasy Tactics

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Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Published by Square-Enix
Played on PS Vita


The Skinny:The definitive version of the 1997 Classic that put tactical RPG’s on the map.

Final Fantasy Tactics isn’t the first isometric, turn-based tactical RPG, but it is a milestone in the sub-genre, and a breakthrough hit in The West that lead to the success of later games such as the Disgaea franchise. A stylistic follow up to developer Quest’s “Tactics Ogre,” both were directed by Yasumi Matsuno. FFT mixes the structure of Tactics Ogre with the Job System of Final Fantasy to create a highly-satisfying strategic game. And the depth of gameplay is perfectly set off by a complex, engaging fantasy story of power, betrayal, and warring houses.
Players are thrust into the boots of Ramza Beoulve, the youngest son of a minor but distinguished noble family. He gets caught up in a web of intrigue surround a set of mysterious, powerful artifacts during a civil war, forcing him to choose between protecting his family’s honor, and serving justice.
Twenty years later, Final Fantasy Tactics still holds up well. Its mix of highly-detailed 32-bit character sprites with 3D backgrounds works very well, and has a stylish quality. It doesn’t suffer from the same dated polygonal visuals the way contemporary games like Final Fantasy VII have. The original PSX release still has its flaws, though. The translation was spotty, and a few critical bugs in the game, including one that makes saved data unreadable, hamper play.
These were resolved in the 10th Anniversary PSP release, The War of the Lions. This feels like the definitive version, with a delightfully florid “Game of Thrones”-inflected translation, extra classes, new hidden characters, and animated cutscenes. The new cutscenes feel very much of their time, but the game plays and beautifully. The additions are all fun and do little to break the balance of the game. This is the most widely-available version, as the PSP port was carried over to the PS Vita store, and is available now for IOS and Android devices.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is the bar by which other tactical games are measured. If you haven’t played it, set aside fifty to one hundred hours of your time. It is well worth the investment.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Arc The Lad

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Arc The Lad
Published by Working Designs
Played on PS Vita


The Skinny: An early PS1-era Tactical RPG, this quick and easy game is a far cry from later entries, but a good introduction to the sub-genre for new players.

Arc The Lad is something of a Playstation oddity. An early release for the Playstation in Japan, it never saw release in the United States until 2002 as a part of the Arc The Lad Collection. This is a shame, because it is at least trying something innovative, but games like Final Fantasy Tactics had already surpassed it when it was released in the west.
The game follows eponymous hero Arc and his allies as they searches for a, well an ark containing the power to either cause or prevent the end of the world. It’s all fairly stock fantasy RPG stuff, but it hits all the bases well. Being from the early days of the PS1, it uses 16-bit sprites with a few shiny polygonal effects thrown in here and there. Aside from a few short FMV transitions, Arc The Lad feels like it could have been a Super Nintendo release.
The combat is all turn-based strategy with a three-quarters overhead perspective. Character speed determines order, and each character levels up individually. This works out mostly well, but by the end of the game, my faster characters were many levels ahead of the slower ones. The overall campaign is short, but there are little side-quests to do in each town that pad out the length, including a huge multi-floor dungeon that has to be completed in one go. These aspects don’t feel particularly groundbreaking, but they’re handled well enough.
What I find most interesting about the game might be its biggest flaw. This is a short game, taking only about ten hours to complete everything. It also ends on a cliffhanger. The ancient evil returns, and Arc is powered up to face it, but we’re left with our heroes splitting up and preparing rather than getting that final dungeon. Now that the series is finished, that break feels more like the first part of a fantasy trilogy than a complete game, but I imagine the disappointment of getting merely a chapter rather than a full game. It feels like an interesting design choice today, though, and the cheaper price for the game on the Playstation store takes away the sting a bit.
Arc The Lad is an interesting little corner of video game history. It is available digitally for PS3 and PS Vita from the Playstation store. If you’re a hardcore collector and have $150 to spare, you could also hunt down the original PS1 collection.

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Podcast: Nostalgia Pilots Bonus 02

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Bonus Episode 2: Gundam Versus

Hugh and Jason take a break from regular Nostalgia Pilots duties to discuss the latest PS4 Gundam offering: Gundam Versus! Get their reviews, impressions, and what they felt was missing in the game. Hint: it’s a horse piloting a horse mobile suit.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Steamworld Heist

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Steamworld Heist
Published by Image & Form
Played on PS4/PS VIta


The Skinny: Take command of a ragtag crew of space pirates in this surprising strategy RPG.

‘Steamworld Heist’ is an unusual choice for a follow up to indie studio Image & Form’s well-received exploratory platformer ‘Steamworld DIg.’ In this installment, the developers take their lighthearted steampunk aesthetic into new directions: Space, and the tactics genre.
The plot centers around Captain Piper Faraday as she rebuilds her crew and goes for scores in The Outskirts. When a gang of outlaws called the Scrappers start menacing innocent bots, Piper steps in to steal from the bandits, and get to the bottom of the strange occurrences in the Outskirts.
The series maintains much of the humor and aesthetic from Dig, and keeps a side-on perspective that makes navigation easy. Each enemy ship is a level, and levels can be replayed for better loot and experience. The combat system actually works very well. Each bot gets a set amount of movement, and can attack or perform unique actions. Shooting requires a steady aim, which adds some skill into the mix. Failure costs gallons, but doesn’t throw off the pace of the game, and isn’t too penalizing. Players can always go back and level up or try for better gear and try again.
With plenty to do and collect, and a well-rounded roster that grows over the course of the game, ‘Steamworld Heist’ is a pleasant and addictive little tactical adventure that does everything right. The game has a good length of about 25 hours. The writing is charming and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It gets my full recommendation.
‘Steamworld Heist’ is available from Steam, or for most Nintendo and Sony consoles.

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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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