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Hugh Likes Video Games: Foul Play

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Foul Play
Published by Devolver Digital
Developed by Mediatonic
Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: A clever little belt-scrolling brawler disguised as a stage play.

“Foul Play” is an innovative and clever brawler for one or two players that does a lot with limited resources. You play as Baron Dashforth, a British gentleman and daemonologist. But the game doesn’t have you delving tombs and fighting monsters directly. Instead, it is set as a play, with Dashforth recounting his adventures to an audience. This is the key mechanic of the game, as the audience acts as your life bar. If you don’t keep them happy, it’s curtains.
Dashforth, and his 2p sidekick Scrapwick, don’t have life bars at all. Instead, the audience excitement meter hangs at the top of the screen. You keep them interested by racking up combos and executing advanced moves, which are unlocked as ‘acts’ of the play are completed. This leads to a fairly forgiving system. The player doesn’t have to worry about finding food or other power-ups in the environment. If they are flagging, all they need to do is get back in the fight and keep hitting square to build your meter back up.
The combat itself is rather button-mashy and the bosses especially are rather healthy, so it takes a good many wallops with your can to bring them down. But the game’s visual flair carries the day. Sets fly in and out on pulleys, actors’ faces are visible beneath monstrous costumes, and we regularly see extras attempting to stealthily exit after they’ve been ‘defeated,’ not to mention the occasional stage crew taking their break next to the wrong backdrop. It keeps the game light and engaging.
“Foul Play” leans in to Cosmic Horror but tries to keep things lighthearted. I haven’t finished the game, but so far it lampoons but steers clear of most of the unfortunate pitfalls of the genre. I’m looking at you here, Lovecraft. Dashforth present themselves as heroic experts in the dark corners of the world, but there isn’t much lionizing of the British Empire, and we’re constantly reminded that we only have the baron’s word for it.
If you’re looking for an old-school button masher that does something a bit more than ‘punch all the dudes to the right of you until your girlfriend falls out’ “Foul Play” is a good place to start. Also, for the rest of September, Playstation Plus subscribers can download it for PS4 and PS Vita for free. You can’t beat a deal like that.

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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: Arc The Lad

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Arc The Lad
Published by Working Designs
Played on PS Vita

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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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Hugh Likes Video Games: Type:Rider

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Type:Rider, A Typographic Videogame
Created by: Cosmographik
Played on PS Vita
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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: 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: Xeodrifter

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Xeodrifter
Renegade Kid
PC, PS4, Vita, 3DS, WiiU

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Inspired by Metroid, Xeoodrifter is an shooter/platformer/exploration game in the classic style. The player guides their space-suited explorer through the interiors of four maze-like planets while collecting power ups that let him go further. Presented in a “pixel art” style, this Metroid-clone actually has a lot to offer, with deep exploration mechanics, and fun abilities like turning into a rocket or submersible.
This game is a colorful but short Metroid clone. The gained abilities are all fun and challenging without being too complicated, but the boss fights would have benefitted from more variety rather than having the same recolored sprite with slightly upgraded powers and health. The four worlds each have their own unique look, but all feel very similar. The game hints at depth but never really delivers beyond a few hours of gameplay. It is a free game in the Playstation Plus program, though, so it is well worth checking out if you are a member.
Xeodrifter is a fun little explorer that will charm old school gamers for a short time, but leaves nothing behind after the credits roll.