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Hugh Likes Video Games: Dead Cells

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Dead Cells
Published by Motion Twin
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny – A challenging Rogue-Light platformer that respects its roots.

Dead Cells is a Rouge-Light action platformer in the mould of Castlevania, and while it nails the atmosphere, and critics aren’t wrong, this indie Switch game reminded me a lot more of early classics like Castlevania III and Rondo of Blood than Symphony of the Night and its descendants.
The game nails the spooky atmosphere, set on a crumbling prison island suffering under a despotic tyrant and a mysterious plague. The player controls a characters called ‘The Prisoner’ who, due to his understanding of alchemy, cannot die, and is attempting his escape. Each death sends him back to the beginning of the game to try again. Between levels, the player can spend special drops called Cells on unlocking randomly generated weapons, increasing the player’s ability to carry potions, or other goodies.
The levels themselves are randomly generated and huge with some parameters. They each have an overall design structure, and have multiple paths that are gated behind runes you unlock by beating certain bosses. Because you are always moving forward, these alternate paths unlock on subsequent attempts. It’s an elegant use of the rogue-like structure, making some abilities random while also giving the player a sense of progression.
The stylish pixel art and maze-like levels are fun, and the combat feels is fast paced and challenging. Some of the really good items between levels cost a lot of souls to unlock, but you’ll be dying plenty of deaths, so it doesn’t feel like the player will miss anything by winning too quickly.
Dead Cells is a tough-as-nails, tongue-in-cheek Rouge-Light action platformer. you can play it on Steam or the major home console of your choice. It does some fun things with the subgenre and looks gorgeous, and if like me, you are still smarting from the lack of new Castlevanias, it makes for an engaging and addictive substitute.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Subsurface Circular

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Subsurface Circular
Developed by Mike Bithell
Published by Anthill Games
Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny – A short but satisfying trip.

Subsurface Circular is an old-school concept in some flashy new clothes. Quintessentially at text adventure, players assume the role of a detective that works on a subway train for robots, the eponymous Subsurface Circular. When the character goes off-programming to help a Tek (the game’s term for Asimo-like sentient humanoid robots) You’ll question passengers to get to the bottom of a mystery at the heart of your unnamed future city.
Gameplay consists entirely of text boxes and dialog choices as you try and get to solve the case, as well as a few simple puzzles the game puts in your path. The train car and its riders are lovingly rendered in high def, and the game uses the Switch’s gyroscope to let you look around a bit, but it is all just set dressing for the text, as shiny and gorgeous as it looks.
The plot is certainly engaging, but Bithell released it as a part of a series of ‘shorts,’ and it is quite short. Even taking a leisurely pace, the game can easily be finished in a two-hour sitting. It is quite forgiving with the puzzles, and while you can make choices, they don’t seem to have much impact on the game, or create much in the way of replay value. While the economy of the resources is quite clever, I would have liked to have solved a few more mysteries, but the game is propelled by its plot to a quick end.
There is a quite cool Easter egg for fans of Bithell’s award-winning “Thomas Was Alone,” which I won’t spoil here, and the Teks are all both convincingly human and utterly alien looking. They’re breathtaking to watch. There is also a clever bit of design where the soundtrack to each chapter is provided by Teks wearing earphones, their too-loud music pushing out into the car alongside atmospheric sounds of air brakes and sliding doors.
At around five dollars, “Subsurface Circular” is well worth the price tag for an evening of Robot Noire on the loop line. It is available for Nintendo Switch as well as Steam and IOS devices.

Hugh Likes Video Game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: I don’t know what to tell you. if you haven’t heard of it by now. It’s really good.

So, yeah, Zelda Breath of the Wild has been out for a year, and praise has been heaped upon it. And it is well deserved. Like most of the core Nintendo franchises, Zelda games tend to iterate on a formula. Installments have stayed closer or farther from this formula, but in general, the pattern of travel around a persistent map and complete X number of elemental dungeons before fighting Gannon persists. Breath of the Wild reduces the dungeon count and instead focuses a bit more on the sprawling map, that is none-the-less filled with things to do.
Zelda BotW takes several design cues from Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls in that there is always something interesting around the next corner. It also follows the design choices of A Link Between Worlds in that it gives the player his tools up front, and lets them tackle the game’s challenges as they wish, although there does feel like an ideal path.
While the game doesn’t offer the robust character development you typically see in Western RPGs, it does have a huge map full of things to do. Breath of the Wild replaces the hidden heart containers from previous games with Shrines, little formalized puzzle rooms scattered throughout the map, which also function as fast-travel points after you activate them. There are lots of mountains to climb, stuff to collect, and monsters to fight, and it rarely feels like a chore.
The four main quests do feel somewhat repetitive, as they each have the same basic structure, although the design for the dungeon-sized Divine Beasts are quite cool. The game has a very aggressive weapon and shield durability system, which will mean you will be spending a lot of time collecting replacement swords rather than relying on the familiar Master Sword. Fortunately, there is a huge variety of new ones to collect, so it does add some variety to the experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge, beautiful adventure with a new surprise over every ridge. It brings back a refreshing sense of freedom to the series, and is a must-play, in my opinion. You can find it for the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Wii-U.

Hugh Likes Video Games – Fire Emblem Heroes

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Fire Emblem Heroes
Published by Nintendo
Played on AndroidSQ_SmartDevice_FireEmblemHeroes

The Skinny – Fire Emblem Heroes is a slimmed down but still surprisingly deep mobile version of Nintendo’s long-running tactical RPG.

Strategy RPG’s have a tendency towards being overwrought. With huge casts, complicated game systems, and drawn-out battles, they are considered investments in time and attention, and, indeed, their most ardent fans wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why I was slightly dubious when I heard Nintendo was bringing their Fire Emblem series to IOS and Android phones. But Nintendo has done an excellent job of threading the needle between shallow nostalgia bomb and dense war simulator with aplomb.

The story is pretty paper-thin, mostly just an excuse to bring the different games in the franchise together, but it does well enough. The game takes place in the kingdom of Askr, a land blessed with portals to other worlds. The player is the latest such recruit in Askr’s somewhat endless war against their neighbors, the evil empire of Embla. The royals of Askr wear white and value friendship, the Emblians all wear black and have emotional problems, etc. etc. Both sides have put heroes from these other worlds, which align with the various games in the Fire Emblem series, under contract to fight on their side, and the only way for them to be set free is to be defeated on the battlefield. The story is a bit slight, but I personally find the idea that all these characters are appearing because its in their contract a fantastic, if probably unintentional, meta-joke at the heart of the game.
The combat itself is fast-paced and shrinks down elegantly. The vast swaths of movement the regular series is known for are shrunk down to just a few spaces, and your army is reduced to teams of four, although you can fairly easily swap out teams or team members from your roster. The roster itself is a typical sort of random card pack selecting you see in many free-to-play mobile games, but ‘Heroes’ gives you plenty of currency to fill out your army without resorting to converting your real-life cash to orbs. Combat relies on the traditional Fire Emblem sword-axe-spear battle system, but new players shouldn’t have any trouble picking it up. It strips the system down to manageability, but still provides enough expanded difficulty modes, asynchronous multiplayer, and challenge modes for veteran players.
Although the story mode is paper-thin and incredibly anime, the art assets look great, and scale well. Fire Emblem Heroes might not be the next revolution in game design, but its a great way to pass the time if you’re looking for something a bit different than the run-of-the-mill puzzle game. You can find it for free in the IOS or Google Play app stores.

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

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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.

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