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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Mario 35

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Super Mario Bros. 35
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A neat idea, but I hope you like level 1 – 1.

Following on the success of Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35 is a Battle Royale game that pits players against 34 others in a contest to survive the longest on a single life in the original Super Mario Bros. Much like Tetris players simply don’t play simultaneously, but can target other players and send them ‘junk,’ but instead of random lines of blocks, players send defeated enemies into that paths of their rivals.
Players start by voting on a starting level, and can unlock new levels to choose as they progress through the game. But even though there is a vote, every time I’ve played I have started on 1-1. Players get 35 seconds on the timer, and defeating enemies adds more time up to the full 400 seconds in addition to sending them to other players’ screens. Once you finish a level, the game starts you on a new one chosen at random. This isn’t a bad system, but the result is that I have played level 1-1 and 1-2 approximately a hundred times by now, and it’s getting a bit repetitive.
The real magic comes in late in the game, as more and more enemies get traded back and forth between players. 1-1 is old hat, but it is a fun thrill to come out of a warp pipe thinking you’re in a safe place and discover the screen covered in bloopers.
Super Mario Bros. 35 is definitely a new way of looking at a classic, and it encourages tactical thinking rather than just playing to survive or get a high score. It’s available for free from the Nintendo eShop until March, which feels about right to me. It’s a novelty, but worth a few hours of your time to see the game that launched a genre in a new light.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hades

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Hades
Published and Developed by Supergiant Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A Hope in Hell.

Hades is a game about struggling, failing, and then picking yourself up and trying again. Created by Supergiant Games, the indie game studio that burst onto the scene with Bastion in 2011, You play as Zagreus, the rebellious son of the Greek god Hades as he seeks to escape his father’s domain and reach the surface. The Lord of the Underworld sends his servants and subjects to stop you, and since you’re already in the land of the dead, if you die, you just wash up back at Hades’s house ready to try again.
When you arrive back home, you can upgrade your build, redecorate the Underworld to suit your needs, and talk with the residents fo the house for advice and commiseration. All of the NPCs have their own backstories and sidequests, and while you could, in theory, go all the way to the end in a single run, the game is designed with failure in mind. NPCs warm to you in time, revealing secrets and unlocking new missions.But for all the game’s mechanical brilliance, it is truly elevated by its audio and visual design. Jen Zee’s art really shines. Characters are cleverly reimagined from classical ideals in gorgeous portraits. The game’s voice acting is spectacular and apt. From sassy but compassionate Zagreus to the distant but matronly Nyx, to the overbearing Hades himself, every performance is stellar and charming. I particularly love the portrayals as the Olympian gods, who come off as a sort of cross between a Greek chorus and horde of self-obsessed social media influencers. Darren Korb’s metal and country infused soundtrack is just the right mix of rocking and melancholy. The game just fires on all cylinders.
Hades is a masterclass in marrying plot with mechanics. You don’t simply level up, but fail, evolve, try again and fail again. It takes the ultra-hardcore genre of Rogue-like and transforms it into something accessible and motivating. Instead of being demoralized after being knocked back to the start, it lets you breathe, chat with the House’s residents, pick a new weapon, and start again, eager for just one more try to escape your fate.
Hades is one of my favorite games of the year, and is not to be missed. It is available for the Nintendo Switch, and on PC from the Steam and Epic game stores.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Merchant of the Skies

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Merchant of the Skies
Published by AbsoDev
Deveolped by Coldwild Games

Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Come take a trip on this airship!

Merchant of the Skies is a resource trading and management game that puts you in the captain’s seat of a trading vessel plying the skies between floating islands. The Campaign mode sets you up as the scion of a trading family, just starting out with their own boat. You buy low, sell high, do a few favors for your Uncle who is trying to set up a postal system, and gradually discover the secrets and history of the area. As you gain income, you can buy bigger ships, purchase island, and eventually set up caravan routes for complex manufacturing and delivery. There’s no combat, and the only lose condition is running out of money. Once you complete the campaign, the game opens up a sandbox mode that lets you set the goal, or just lets you tool around in your majestic airship
The game’s pixel graphics steampunk fantasy worlds are beautiful and nostalgic. The region is presented as a filled with floating island and other sights, and you travel from one to the other Indiana Jones-style. When you visit an island, it switches to a side-on perspective with pixel sprite buildings and wee figures dashing about. This mode mostly uses menus to navigate, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your captain as they visit the trading posts.
The game does get a little laggy towards the endgame, when you have resource gathering and processing happening all over the map. The game auto-aves each time you leave an island, so as the game goes on, be prepared to spend a bit too long waiting towards the end of the game. Also, most of the endgame content requires resources rather than money, so eventually you’ll be raking in cash with nothing to spend it on.
Merchant of the Skies is an engrossing, low-stress management game with charming visuals and strategic thinking. It’s the perfect game for anyone looking for something on the Switch to chill out with.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Fall Guys

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Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Developed by Mediatronic
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS4

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The Skinny: A casual but challenging and light-hearted battle royale obstacle course.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a very simple idea on paper but masterfully executed. Inspired by game shows like Takeshi’s Castle and video games like Super Monkey Ball, the game combines obstacle course gameplay with Battle Royale trappings.
Players compete in a series of obstacle courses and other mini-games until the field is winnowed down to one winner. Each frantic round lasts only a few minutes, and sees up to 60 players run, jump, and stumble their way through sets of spinning platforms, racing through sets of real and fake doors, and even playing versions of tag and soccer with Rocket League-sized balls. Depending on how long players last, they are rewarded with in-game currency and unlockable outfits and emotes.
The eponymous Fall Guy avatars are brightly-colored cartoon sausages with little arms and legs, and can be dressed in a variety of whimsical outfits. They feel just the right amount of awkward to control. While it’s not always easy to get around, especial in tight quarters, it always feels fun.
The simple, cartoony graphics look great, and are deceptively detailed. The environments have just the right gym mat texture for a good hit of nostalgia, and the bright colors shine. The PS4 version doesn’t have any visual accessibility settings or the ability to remap buttons, which is disappointing, but I haven’t had trouble finding matches, a problem that has cropped up for some players using the PC version.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is an easy-to-learn blast of silly, candy-colored fun. Plus, it’s FREE this month for PS Plus members. So if you’re looking for a Battle Royale game that’s a bit different from the typical shooter, check it out on PS4 or PC.

Hugh Likes Video Games: A Short Hike

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A Short Hike
Developed and Published by Adamgryu
Placed on PC via Itch.IO

The Skinny: Breath of the Mild

A Short Hike is a quiet game about personal stakes. You play as adolescent bird girl Claire, who is expecting an important phone call while on vacation at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The only way to find reception is to hike, climb, fly and glide your way to the top of the mountain, with plenty of other activities and sidequests along the way.
Fans of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will find the gliding and climbing mechanics familiar, although the stamina meter has been replaced with collectible golden feathers. There’s nothing to fight in the game, and instead you’ll find yourself chatting with the locals, running errands, catching fish, and even solving the odd treasure map on your way up the mountain.
As the name implies, this isn’t a long game. You can climb to the top of the peak in just an hour or two if you really want to. But the park is so full of people to meet, treasure to find, fish to catch, and secrets to discover, that it rewards a second look after you reached the top.
A Short Hike is a little digital vacation, and it has been a welcome refuge in a summer when Covid-19 has derailed so many plans. The low-fi 3D art style is charming, but put my MacBook Air through its paces.
I originally purchased this game as a part of the Itch.IO bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, and it is also available through the Steam and Epic launchers. I heartily recommend it for a quiet evening when you need something to unwind with.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Minit

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Minit
A Game by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Jukio Kallio, and Zerstoerer
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on Nintendo Switch
The Skinny: Linked in 60 Seconds

Minit is a quirky little adventure game that has been on my radar for a while. A super-indie adventure game made by a team of just four people, The game is a Zelda-like with a unique twist. Your character dies every sixty seconds. This ticking clock adds a bit of adrenaline to the gameplay as you race to complete your objective, or at least find a clue, before the time runs out and you find yourself back at home. It can be frustrating to get very close to a goal and then die just before completing it. But it adds a disruptive spark into the adventure genre, essentially turning the game itself into one giant puzzle.
The game has a minimalistic black-and-white aesthetic and a surrealist vibe that puts me in mind of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in all the best ways. The puzzles are clever, the tiny world is chock full of secrets, and you literally never know what you’re going to be doing from moment to moment.
As the title and gameplay suggest, this game isn’t very long. I completed my first run through in a little over an hour. But it is a charming little indie game, and it is widely available for a budget price.
As of this posting, Minit is also a part of theItch.Io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, meaning you can get this game and over 1,700 other titles for as little as five dollars, in addition to supporting a very worthy cause.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Inbento

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Inbento
Published by 7Level
Developed by Afterburn Studios
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: An adorable puzzle game with a fiendish difficulty curve.

Originally released for IOS and android devices, Inbento is a simple but clever puzzle game with a cute story. Players are presented with the image of a completed bento box and arranging the ingredients to match the picture. This starts out simple, but quickly introduces mechanics such as transforming blocks and cut and paste tiles that ramp up the difficulty and require keen instincts and careful planning.
There are fourteen levels of nine puzzles each, and completing each one awards the player with a new part of the game’s story, spread out in static images. The story is a textless, picture-book style story about a mother cat learning to cook to feed her kitten, who eventually grows up and becomes a chef with a kitten of their own. It’s very charming, and a nice respite for the sometimes frustrating challenge of some of the later puzzles.
The presentation is barebones, with navigation selected from a flat menu styled like a cookbook. The game allows for both touchscreen and button controls, and both are well-suited to the gameplay. The music and sound design. is simple but relaxing and satisfying.
Inbento is a clever and relaxing little puzzle game that will pull on your heartstrings as much as your braincells. And at $4.99 US in the Nintendo eshop and $2.99 in the Apple iTunes and Android Play stores, it’s a bargain. Give this one a shot.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Animal Crossing

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Animal Crossing New Horizons
Developed and Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: How Tom Nook saved civilization

It’s difficult to give a review of Animal Crossing: New Horizons this early. Meant to be played on a scale of months rather than hours, it has a very unique play experience. It is essentially a Skinner Box game in which you create and help manage a town on a deserted island. As the days go by, and you harvest the island’s resources, more and more characters come to live on the island, and new services like a museum and clothing shop are unlocked. But unlike scummier versions of this model on mobile devices or Facebook, there is no invitation to pay real-world currency to speed the process along. You just have to wait the until the next day, or until you’ve amassed enough resources.
This creates a gameplay loop that is both relaxing and frustrating. Life on your island proceeds at its own pace. And once you’ve gathered the day’s supplies, visited the shop, and have done the day’s errands to develop the island, there isn’t that much left to do. You can always do more fishing and bug hunting, visit the residents and design your own clothing and decorations, but the game trains the player fairly quickly to not try and push the game. There’s only so much useful things you can do in a play session.
One neat feature is the ability to visit other islands, both locally and through the internet. It’s fun to see how other players set up their islands, trade your stuff, and generally just run around.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is a chill game about friendship and building community. Its release at the end of March has been a balm during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has provided a novel way to visit with friend and to be social while social distancing. The one problem I have with the game are the loading times. Whenever you open the game, it takes a bit of time to load, and the online features all involve a rather long wait as well. This would be an ideal game to play on a break at work, if the loads didn’t take up so much time.
Animal Crossing New Horizons has been a chill, calming distraction in stressful times. Its miniature deserted island world is filled with relaxing mini-games and surprising discoveries. But you have to play it at its pace. The game is available for the Nintendo Switch as a cartridge or downloadable from the Nintendo Eshop. If you need a quiet distraction, why not make a town and fill it with animal friends?

By the way, if you want to visit my town, my Friend Code is SW-3842-8900-0319. See you on The Island

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Hugh Likes Video Games: 198X

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198X
Developed by Hi-Bit Studios
Published by 8-4
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A short, but sweet hit of pixel-art ’80s nostalgia.

198X is a love-letter to the glory days of arcade games. Set in the year 198X, it follows The Kid as they lament their troubled Suburban existence and watch the lights of the cars heading off into The City. But all that changes when they discover the arcade. It is at once an escape and a revelation and we experience it with them through delightful clones of classic arcade hits mixed with pixel-art visual novel sections.
The five games, which are clones of classic arcade hits, vary from space shooters to brawlers to a 3D maze dungeon. Each one is drop-dead gorgeous, and is fast and responsive. They capture the feeling of the arcade without the annoyance and slowdown of the real quarter-munchers.
The visual novel sections are also quite breathtaking, if illusive and brief. The game leans into the arcade era aesthetic of generic vagueness. The main character is simply ‘kid,’ living in ‘Suburbia’ and wishing they could escape to ‘The City’ on the horizon. It’s a story that takes place nowhere and everywhere, and stylistically mirrors the plots of games of the era.
Depending on how long you take with each game, 198X will wrap up in about an hour and a half. Games can be replayed after finishing the story, but they don’t provide any extra content beyond the first play through. If you’re looking for a short trip down memory lane with absolutely beautiful pixelated scenery, you could do worse that spending an evening in 198X

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Top 5 of 2019

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Tetris 99
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Akira
Played on Nintendo Switch

If there’s one thing Nintendo is really good at, it’s teaching an old dog new tricks. This answer to Sony’s 2018 hit Tetris Effect takes the venerable puzzler into virgin territory: The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Fighting it out with 98 other online players is exhilarating. Starting with a free-to-play model that doesn’t gouge you at every turn and a bevy of paid and free DLC make it a game I enjoyed all year long.

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Dicey Dungeons
Developed and Published by Terry Cavanagh
Played on Mac via Steam

2019 was the year of the the indie deckbuilder, but this steam gem pulled ahead of the back for me with its charm and style. Playing as six walking dice trying to win their hearts desires, you hack your way through a variety of turn-based battles agains the cruel whims of Lady Luck herself in her ’70’s style game show. Dicey Dungeons wins by matching cute style with tough-as-nails gameplay that always offers something new.

Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Developed by Simogo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Essentially a mashup of arcade racing and pop music video album, Queen Latifah guides The Fool through dream-life levels to mend her broken heart. Just simple enough to get you to keep trying for that Gold Rank, this game throws everything from mecha-wolf haunted forests to rain-soaked highways. This is less a game and more of an experience, but it is well worth your time.

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Untitled Goose Game
Published by Panic
Developed by House House
Played on Nintendo Switch

Sometimes you just want to sow some chaos. Untitled Goose game started as a joke and became an indie darling. As the Untitular Goose, you honk your way through a reign of terror in a sleepy English village in a game that is a bit short, but gives you plenty mayhem to try and accomplish after you beat the main game in a couple hours.

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Pokemon Sword
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Game Freak
Played on Nintendo Switch

The first main entry for the series on Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword and Shield evoked controversy by not featuring the full eight-hundred plus roster of monsters. But the game still boasts a satisfyingly huge number of collectable monsters in full 3D, and the ability to camp and play with them as well as battle in a huge open world.

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