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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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Podcast: CCR 39: One Body Too Many

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Tonight your hosts, Hugh of HughJODonnell.com, Rich the Time Traveler, Opopanax, and Jurd, wonder if this 1944 film is actually a comedy or not.

Click HERE to listen!

And here to watch the movie on Youtube!

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

This podcast originally appeared at Skinner.FM on 9/26/17.

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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 Comics: Dark Nights: Metal

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Dark Nights: Metal #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Drawn by Greg Capullo
Colors by FCO Plascencia
Published by DC Comics

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“Metal,” DC’s next big comics event, is equal parts spectacle and classic four-color nonsense. Normally, I can’t stand this kind of storytelling, but Snyder and Capullo are up to something that tugs at my nerdy heartstrings in just the right way.
Ostensibly a Justice League story, this is really a story about Batman. Batman’s membership in the organization has a notably rocky history. He quit to start his own band in the 80’s and in the 00’s Justice League cartoon, he was more of a consultant than a committed member.
“Dark Knights: Metal #1” brings in all that continuity and wraps it with enough bombastic spectacle to hold it together, at least until issue two.
The comic opens in an alien colosseum and pinballs the reader through a ravaged city, an impossible mountain, and a time-lost island with dizzying speed. The event attempts to bring in a bunch of characters who were shuffled off the rosters in one reboot or another, including Hawkman, Lady Blackhawk, and a last-page reveal that I won’t spoil here. Admittedly there is a lot of posing and speech-making about impending doom that gets a little tiresome, but there’s enough great stuff here to keep the reader going through the exposition about an ancient evil from ‘The Dark Multiverse’ that is using Dark Energy, Batman, and magnets I guess? to enter this reality.
But for all the talking and grimacing, the characters all feel on point, and the most important thing is that this is a comic in which Batman stunt-rides a velociraptor. Full stop. There are other fun surprises that I won’t reveal here, but it is some classic, old-school comic silliness that you don’t really need to be up on the latest continuity to enjoy. You can find “Dark Nights: Metal #1 at your local comics shop, or digitally via Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Adventure Zone, Revisited

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The Adventure Zone
Hosted by Griffin, Travis, Justin, and Clint McElroy
http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/adventure-zone

The Adventure Zone Flat_7

When I originally reviewed The Adventure Zone in January of 2015, it was still in the midst of its first arc. Having just finished the first campaign of the show 69 episodes later, I wanted to go back and give it a second look. The show went from a enjoyably funny Dungeons & Dragons podcast to something altogether different, and I think there’s a lot to talk about here.
Serial storytelling is a thing always in motion. TV shows change show-runners. Comics change creative teams. Target audiences drift. Even when the artists stay consistent, real-world events swirl around them. Tastes are fickle. Long-running concepts have to be adaptable. The Doctor regenerates. Batman shifts from swinging sixties Caped-Crusaider to Frank Miller’s gritty vigilante and back again. Podcasts are no less susceptible to these changes. But I never expected four goofballs sitting around a microphone and joking about role playing to make me cry.
The Adventure Zone’s first campaign was a train that constantly picked up speed. The McElroys are comedians at heart. The podcast started as a goof, and it was entirely in their oeuvre. It was a lot of fun, but one of the characters was named Taako, and his quest was to invent the taco. This was a big part of the early episodes. But something happened along the way. Often, when something becomes popular, it is considered the downfall of the enterprise. It gets too big, expands beyond the original concept, or the creators get overwhelmed or carried away. But that isn’t what happened to “The Adventure Zone.”
Fans loved the podcast. They made fanart, they wrote letters, they tweeted, and crated animatics from the audio. And in showing how much they loved these silly adventures, the McElroys worked harder. They gave their creation depth and emotional resonance that it didn’t have for them, because they knew that it was there for the fans of the show. It’s a bit of a trite statement to say that a media property is ‘for the fans,’ but it’s rare that something is so beautifully communicated between creators and an audience.
The Adventure Zone didn’t abandon the goofy aesthetic so much as it became more sincere in it. Seeing the reaction fans had to the show, the McElroys put in the work. Production got better. Griffin produced an intricate plot that slotted in seamlessly to the pre-made adventure they started out with. He also composed entire soundtracks, and sculpted lush sound environments. The players carefully weighed their decisions, because, they realized, the characters were no longer just theirs. The Adventure Zone became something better than its beginnings because the creators and the audience respected one another in a way that’s rare in our media sphere. The results are remarkable, and worth listening to even if you’ve never opened iTunes or rolled up a character sheet.
The Adventure Zone recently finished it’s first campaign, “Balance,” with episode 69. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend going back and starting from the beginning. It’s a long road, but the transformation along the way is truly special. Art isn’t created in a vacuum, and sometimes, it sneaks up on you from the most unlikely of places. Just like three goofy heroes who wind up saving the world.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Rencor

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Rencor: Life in Grudge City
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown Publications

“Rencor: Life in Grudge City” is the Luchador Superhero Detective novella you didn’t know you needed in your life. The eponymous setting is a U.S/Mexico border town founded in the 1950’s as a sort of hometown for luchadores. But like all things, time moves on.
Ten years ago, Technico El Victor III and Rudo Mil Calavaras III fought their last, epic match in the ring at Coleseo Rencor. The climactic battle saw the defeated Calavaras banished from Rencor, a place where the rules of the ring and the rule of are one and the same, forever. It was the beginning of the end for Luchadores in Rencor.
Now, El Victor is scraping by in a world that doesn’t hold the enmascardos in the same esteem anymore, and Mil Calavaras works as a ‘reformed’ consultant to the FBI, successful but denied his home and revenge. But an unusual break-in at Museo Rencor will bring El Victor back to hero work, and Mil Calaveras back to his hometown. Will the former rivals solve the case, or kill each other first?
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is another fast-paced, inventive, and supremely entertaining novella from Matt Wallace. Steeped in the unique lore of the lucha libre and populated by his usual eccentric and elegantly sketched characters, the book draws in the reader and gives them everything they need, even if they’ve never heard of the likes of El Santo before. Wallace’s deep knowledge and abiding love of old-school wresting shines through in every page, and the work is elevated by it. His embrace of the super-heroic and mystical bits, in a graying world that is leaving such things behind makes for a not only entertaining read, but a moving one.
While Wallace’s action scenes are outstanding and for the most part easy to follow, I think a glossary for some of the more technical moves and terms would have been helpful. I was never really lost, but Wallace throws out a lot of wrestling terminology throughout the book. That’s honestly the only criticism I can say, although I will add that the novella ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Matt will return to Rencor soon.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is available in print and ebook. You can buy it via Amazon, or order it from you local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Hugh Likes Movies
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sony/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Having finally ponied up to see Spider-Man Homecoming, I have some thoughts on Sony’s third launch of the character, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh take on the character, and it does a lot of things right that the previous movies have avoided.
The most obvious change is that Spider-Man is now firmly hooked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the previous reboot was an attempt to keep the character walled off, the movie’s open-armed embrace of the setting was surprising, and cleverly done. Having an ongoing narrative to hook into also gives the movie the additional leg up of not having to retell Peter Parker’s origin! Director Jon Watts does everything he can to avoid it, in fact.
We get a short origin of the villains, small-business construction contractors who turned to a life of crime when they were pushed out of the cleanup of New York from the aftermath of “The Avengers.” From there, we have a short sequence of video footage showing his cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view. Not only is this everything the audience needs to be up to speed, it also highlights the other great change about this version. This Peter Parker is a dork.
The previous franchises paid lip-service to the idea, but never fully embraced this aspect. They try very hard to impress a faux-cool onto the character, either through The Amazing Spider-Man’s self-indulgent skateboarding sequences, or the best-forgotten dance sequence in Spider-Man III. Those versions of the character are still hard-luck heroes, but they try and put a gloss of hollywood polish where it simply doesn’t belong.
This character is as young as he was when he first appeared in comics, and at age fifteen, he still makes all the mistakes you would expect. He tumbles awkwardly to a stop at the end of his swings, and he bites off more than he can chew, a constant irritation to his at-arms length mentor, Tony Stark.
Spider-Man Homecoming is the best version of this character by a long shot, but the movie does stumble here and there. The soundtrack is possibly the laziest of its kind that I have heard in a long time. Composer Michael Giacchino even records a cover of the 1960’s cartoon theme song in booming Marvel brass. In a previous movie review, I made a joke about him doing orchestral Ramones covers, but I never thought I’d actually see it happen. There is also a lot of teen drama in this movie, which can drag the film down, but is brightened by co-stars Jacob Batalon and Zendaya, who fill these scenes with teen-like enthusiasm and cynicism respectively. Also, well-done on the casting director for filling Midtown High with actual teenage actors. This is the first one of these movies in a long time that felt like a real place, and the spot-on casting had a lot to do with it.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is a refreshing swing through new territory that brings the MCU to life in ways that Marvel’s own properties have failed to do. You can catch it in theaters now.

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