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Hugh Likes Video Games: Cozy Grove

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Cozy Grove
Developed by Spry Fox
Published by Quantum Theory Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny – What if Tom Nook was dead the whole time?

Cozy Grove is a chill game in the style of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley that can best be described as a ‘chore simulator’ but that’s hardly a bad thing. Players are put in the boots of a novice Spirit Scout, sent to Cozy Grove to hone her skills and put the many ghosts haunting the island to rest. Also, the ghosts are anthropomorphic bears, because why not.
As you meet each ghost and learn a bit about their story, they will task you with quests, most of which involve gathering either specific items hidden on the island, or resources earned from fishing, mining, and other activities. Players can also commission and place decorations and raise plants and animals.
While this all will sound very familiar to players of the genre, the systems are well executed, and the hand-drawn art is charming. The island is rendered in muted black and white tones, but as ghosts have their daily needs fulfilled, the areas around them fill with color. These areas can be expanded using decoration in the game, making the game easier to see and giving it a real sense of progress.
Cozy Grove does require a great deal of patience, even for a game of this type. Items the characters need to complete the next part of their stories are often locked behind quests for other characters, or require high amounts of limited resources. Characters don’t give story missions every day, either. It can be frustrating to wait for a character to give you what you need for another part of the story. Especially if multiple other characters need something from them.
I played on the Nintendo Switch, but Cozy Grove feels like it was designed with tablets in mind. While the button controls are by no means bad, the game has a bit of trouble with targeting, and often selects the wrong object to interact with when using button controls. There is a ‘swap target’ that occasionally appears if the game is unsure where you are pointing, which somewhat resolves the issue, but it isn’t always there.
These are minor quibbles in what is an excellent, heartfelt, and charming little chill-out game. Cozy Grove is a perfect game to wake up with over coffee or unwind to after a long day The game is available on mobile, PC, and major consoles. If you have the time and inclination, it is a cozy goth delight.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest II

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Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line
Published by Square Enix
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny – A flawed but still-fun classic

Last week, Dragon Quest celebrated its 35th-anniversary last week, and I have been playing through the second entry in the venerable series to celebrate. While the game has a lot of rough edges, the Switch port still largely holds up.
Originally released in 1987 in Japan and 1990 in North America, Dragon Quest II is a continuation and expansion of the original Japanese role-playing game. In the first adventure, a lone knight, who is the descendant of a great hero, saves a kingdom from an evil wizard, who is also a dragon. The sequel picks up the story a century later, with three of that hero’s descendants picking up the family trade and taking out Hargon, a malevolent priest bringing about the end of the world. While this is still a primitive example of a console RPG, it does mark some notable firsts for the genre. The player starts out controlling a single hero, but picks up two companions along the way, making it the first JRPG with a party. Your party doesn’t quite have defined classes per sei, but each character plays a little different, with the Prince of Midenhall playing the role of a warrior with high attack and defense, but no access to magic, while the Princess of Moonbrook can cast powerful spells but can’t wield swords or wear heavy armor. The Prince of Cannock is a bit in the middle, with some access to both.
You also get a boat to explore a wider world, which includes a simplified and smaller version of the world map from Dragon Quest! While there is a pretty big (for the time) world to explore full of towns to visit and dungeons to delve into, the story isn’t very complex by today’s standards. There are plenty of clever secrets and things to uncover, such as a hidden slot machine minigame, but the plot is your basic quest to go find the big bad and put your sword through him.
The Switch port carries on from a long line of ports and remakes that have incrementally improved the game over the years, from the Super Famicom to Game Boy to Wii and up through mobile phones. This is definitely a game that is in no danger of ever going ‘out of print.’ Naturally, the graphics and sound have been upgraded, and the game looks fabulous, with highly detailed and colorful sprites, although there isn’t much animation in the game, with battle scenes still being fought against still images. But even if they don’t animate, Akira Toriyama’s designs really pop in HD. And Koichi Sugiyama’s orchestral score sounds great.
The gameplay is pretty relaxing, with turn-based combat and simple puzzles that are usually resolved by finding the right NPC or using the correct item based on their clues. You don’t always have full control over actions in battle, as enemies appear in groups and you can’t select individual monsters if they’re in a crowd. But the AI has been improved over the years, and the game tends to deal out damage in an optimal way for the player. While the monsters are fun to look at, combat can get pretty repetitive, though. Developers hadn’t quite worked out the curve for adding bosses, and you won’t see very many until the last castle.
The only thing that hasn’t been improved from the original, and is still the biggest drawback, are the dungeons. The towers and caves in the game are long and very maze-like, with lots of frustrating traps that just serve to prolong the game without being much fun. The cave that leads to the final dungeon, in particular, has a set of very nasty trap floors that force you to begin again from the entrance, with random encounters hitting you every few steps. It’s not the most engaging design, and I had to put the game down a couple of times and play something else.
With those drawbacks aside, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line is a classic that further defined an emerging genre. Plus, it is on sale right now as a part of Dragon Quest’s anniversary, so curious gamers can experience this historic gem for cheap on the Nintendo Switch eshop or IOS and Android app stores.

Hugh Likes Video Games: The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening

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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Published by Nintendo
Developed by GREZZO
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny – This reoccurring Zelda classic still plays like a dream.

Originally released for the Game Boy in 1993, The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Awakening may be the most revisited game in Nintendo’s catalog. But that isn’t without good reason. in 1998 it received an upgrade for the Game Boy Color, with a bonus dungeon and new functionality for the Game Boy Printer peripheral. A little over twenty years later, a new version for the Nintendo Switch has brought it back again with bright and colorful HD graphics. But how does a Game Boy game hold up over twenty-five years later?
 Pretty well, as it turns out. The story and gameplay are nearly untouched, with the only tweak being the inclusion of dedicated buttons for Link’s sword and shield, with two buttons for selectable tools, which makes better use of the Switch’s controls. The combat is familiar and satisfying. This game plays just as well as it did in the original.
A few new items were added to the game, including a set of Amiibo-like collectibles and bottles, which allow the player to recover inside dungeons. There is also an expert difficulty added for returning players which bulks up enemies and removes heart drops from the game. This more than balances out the difficulty, and made the game a nice challenge.
The added GB Printer sections have been removed, which is disappointing because even if the printer wasn’t available, the cutscenes for obtaining them were still fun to discover in the GB Color version. In its place is a new minigame that allows players to make and complete their own dungeons based on chambers in the game. This is a fun little diversion, but without the ability to design chambers yourself, it feels a little insubstantial. The minigames from the original GB release, a fishing minigame, a raft obstacle course, and a UFO catcher, have been expanded and improved. I usually skip the fishing in Zelda games, but this one was a lot of fun.
Link’s Awakening has always been one of the stranger games in the series, with the titular hero washing up on a mysterious island and being thrust into its mysteries. The remake keeps the story intact, while also give a shiny toy-like aesthetic to the graphics. The game preserves the aspect of the original game with the update, which means that the action is a bit more zoomed out, giving a preview of what would be on the next ‘screen’ in the original version. Overall, I feel this is a good choice, and it helps reinforce the new diorama-like feel of the world.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a definitive edition of a stone-cold classic. Switch owners shouldn’t sleep on this bite-sized adventure.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Rain on Your Parade

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Rain on your Parade
Unbound Creations
Played on PC

The Skinny – Cloudy with a 100% chance of MAYHEM!!1!

Inspired by games like Donut County and Untitled Goose Game, Rain on your Parade puts players in the driver’s seat of a mischievous cloud in a dazzling paper-craft world. Using a set of weather-based powers, players journey through fifty mission-based levels to reach their ultimate goal, the mythical city of… Seattle!

With tongue firmly in cheek, this clever little game delivers on a wide variety of challenges as you work your way across the world. The weather powers are fun to use and are constantly mixed up. Rain soaks people and can be used for other puzzle objectives like growing crops, but can be remixed by soaking up other substances, like oil which can be used to start fires with your lightning ability. Snow and tornado powers also let the player freeze objects or manipulate the environment, although both are unlocked fairly late in the game.

The levels, which range from beaches to grocery stores to the surface of the moon, are cleverly designed, although a few are VERY short. The writing in Rain on your Parade is the real highlight of the experience. It is wickedly sharp and unexpectedly varied in its targets. One mission will have you ruining a pool party by soaking all the sunbathers, but the next will have you delivering coffee in a parody of The Office or pulling off a museum heist. There’s always something new to do, with a clever twist to the mechanics in each level. The sharp, funny writing carries the game as well.

The paper-craft aesthetic of the world is also well implemented and helps to keep the game lighthearted and fun. The player’s cloud, which can be customized with hats, accessories, and a face you can redraw to your liking, is made of cardboard. The human figures resemble Fisher-Price Little People, and the settings and objects have a paper-craft aesthetic. It feels much more akin to overturning a toy box than a GTA-style rampage. This is reinforced by the brief story sections that frame the action as a bedtime story.

While the puzzles are varied, most of the levels themselves are pretty short and won’t require quick reflexes to solve. They mostly boil down to using the correct order of abilities on the right objects to solve a condition, then watching the effects play out.

Rain on Your Parade is a clever little gem of a game, perfect for unwinding, but it sits firmly into its niche as a casual toy chest of an experience. If you’re looking to relax with a bit of silly destruction, I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: 2020 Top 5

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Hello, readers! With not much else to do this year, 2020 was definitely a year for gaming. And gaming got a lot of attention this year, from the glossy spectacle of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the glitchy mess of Cyberpunk 2077. I tend towards a more indie bent in my gaming, but here are my top five games that caught my eye this year, as usual, in alphabetical order.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Let’s start with the biggest truth of the past year. 2020 was a garbage fire of a year, and in a year where we couldn’t just go and visit our friends, games became virtual spaces to meet up and visit. And for me, that mostly happened in Animal Crossing New Horizons. There’s not much that I would call serendipity this year, but Animal Crossing dropping in mid-March, just as everything shut down became a haven. A game about building refuge became a port in the storm for millions, me included. I wasn’t a fan of AC before this, and I doubt I would’ve picked up the game otherwise, but it allowed some peace and comfort in my life, as well as the ability to visit friends’ islands when I couldn’t visit their homes. I have mostly dropped off, prompting my villagers to complain about how they’ve missed me every time I pop back in, but ti was a needed balm for a few months.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys
Mediatronic
Played on PS4

Fall Guys made the obvious leap of combining great ideas into one package better than the sum of its parts: Online Battle Royale Gaming and Obstacle Course Game Shows. The alchemy of cartoonish costumes and padded foam rolling logs works up to an oasis of calm and joy, even as I get knocked out one more time.

Hades

Hades
Supergiant Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

Hades is one hell of a game. Loaded with challenging gameplay, intricate systems, and a compelling story full of rich characters, Supergiant has created a masterpiece of the Rogue-like genre. While games like Dead Cells and Rogue Legacy had flirted with the idea of narrative in a Rogue structure, Hades doubles down and commits to telling a story that not merely progresses between runs, but relies on the life-die-repeat structure as a meaningful and necessary component. The result is a satisfying gameplay loop that makes even a bad run feel meaningful as players claw their way out of The Underworld, one room at a time.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Omega Force
Played on Nintendo Switch

A prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game is set during the Calamity one-hundred years before that game opens. While that game featured cutscenes that revealed glimpses of that conflict, this game shines by letting players fight out the epic war. Using Dynasty Warriors combat is a stroke fo genius, as that series lends an epic grandeur to the conflict, and we can see how mighty Link and the Champions really were. The game also lets players drive the Divine Beasts, essentially ancient elemental giant robots, for some even more epic destruction.The result is an engaging mix of fan service and mythic tragedy (plus some time travel nonsense) that makes this title stand out from others in the -Warriors series.

Merchant of the Skies

Merchant of the Skies
Coldwind Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

A delightful little indie game that didn’t see enough love this year, Merchant of the Skies is a steampunk airship trading game that sees you buying low and selling high across an archipelago of floating islands. Along the way, you upgrade your ship, set up facilities to harvest and refine goods from raw materials, set up a fleet to deliver them, and discover the region’s hidden secrets. This was a perfectly chill game with a lovely pixel art style. There is no combat to worry about, and as long as you can keep your ship powered, (or pay for a tow to a refueling station) the game keeps going. This friendly management sim hooked me pretty quickly, and had me playing for one more run to clear that next upgrade or uncover the next island. While the game did tend to want to autosave a bit too often for my taste, which left me cooling my heels at a loading screen, It was the perfect game to relax with in a stressful year.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hyrule Warriors – Age of Calamity

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Developed by Omega Force
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Breath of the Wild: The Champions’ Jukebox Musical

The follow-up to 2014’s Hyrule Warrirors, Age of Calamity rejects that game’s franchise-spanning scope to focus on the cataclysmic events that led up to Switch smash-hit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The result is a story-focused game that refines the mechanics of the first game and delivers a high-stakes epic. While the -Warriors games have become a showcase for various tie-in properties, the series started out as an adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and AoC brings the game back to its mythical epic roots. Also, there’s time travel.
The game is a lot of fun to play, and the smaller roster of characters feels really well tuned. This isn’t a game where you pick your favorite and main them through the whole campaign. Players are encouraged to keep characters leveled, and to play with all of them. And there are very few ‘bad’ characters in the game. Combat is intuitive and fun, and everyone gets their opportunity to smash wave after wave of monsters.
Age of Calamity also does an excellent job of incorporating the engine and mechanics from Breath of the Wild. The music and sound effects bring the world of Hyrule to life, and it was almost comforting to be back in a world of paragliding, hunting for koroks, and dodging and countering giant Lynel sword-swipes again. But this gets into the flaw inherent to these nostalgia-driven -Warriors titles. Evoking a beloved, and in most cases better game makes me want to play that one instead of the one I’m in. Stomping whole armies of moblins in the Divine Beasts is great fun, but I’m getting a real craving to load up Breath of the Wild and sneak up on them with bomb arrows instead. Ultimately, a spin-off is always beholden to its parent property, and unable to surpass it.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is army-destroying fun in a charming, familiar world. While it evokes the spirit of Breath of the Wild without quite delivering on it, it is still a great time. It is available now for the Nintendo Switch.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Kunai

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Kunai
Developed by: TurtleBlaze
Published by: The Arcade Crew
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Ninja Robot Tablet Action

In the distant future, a lone robot awakens to save mankind from the AI Apocalypse. With an energy draining sword and an emoji-displaying tablet for a head, he sets out to save the small band of human resistance fighters, along with the rest of the world.
While its story is a bit thin, Kunai delivers a pleasant and fast-paced Metroidvania experience. In addition to the aforementioned sword, a variety of upgradable guns are also at your disposal as you traverse a variety of technology-infused forests, floating mountains, and futuristic cities. You travel on foot, with the ubiquitous double jumps, and with the games’s eponymous standout feature, the kunai, a pair of grappling hook-like knives that allow you to scale walls and swing along ceilings with ease. The game gives you a huge amount of freedom early in the game, delightfully disrupting the traditional gameplay loop of unreachable ledges and unjumpable pits. The controls are fun and intuitive, letting the player navigate quickly and easily.The game is presented in a faux gameboy pixel art style, with grayscale backgrounds. Enemies are painted red, while Tabby and his allies are blue. While it doesn’t have the flash of Ori and the Blind Forest or Hollow Knight, the sprites are easy to see, and charmingly designed. Backgrounds are surprisingly detailed and cleverly imagined.
The game rarely slows down, except in a few sections which involve navigating courses consisting of hazards like bottomless pits and rooms full of spikes. These parts of the game feel separate, and a bit archaic. Fortunately, they are quite close to save sections, and the game gives a Super Meat Boy try try again feel.
While Kunai doesn’t have the narrative weight or graphical artistry of some of the bigger Metroidvania titles, it is a fun and fast-pace game with plenty of charm, and is well worth your time. It is available on PC from Steam or on the Nintendo Switch from the Nintendo eShop.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Mr. Driller: Drill Land

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Mr.Driller: Drill Land
Published by Bandai Namco Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny – Want to feel old? This is what Dig Dug looks like now.

Mr. Driller: Drill Land is an odd little puzzle game originally only released in Japan on the Game Cube in 2002. It received a digital rerelease in North America this year on the Nintendo Swith and PC. A mix of candy-colored puzzle game and old-school arcade style, the Mr. Driller series is a sort of sequel to the arcade hit Dig Dug. Placing the player in control of a little character drilling through colorful rock strata. Blocks of the same color will stick together and disappear once they’ve reached a certain size. The goal of the game is to drill down to a goal depth without getting squashed by destabilized blocks or running out of air, which continually ticks down.
Drill Land introduces further tweaks into the formula, while presenting the five different game modes as different attractions in an underground drilling-themed amusement park. By and large, these different modes are challenging, but clever. One has players attempting to gather treasure and avoid traps in an Indiana Jones pastiche that came out well in advance of Spelunky. Another mode has you fighting ghosts ini a Castlevania-esque Haunted house. There is also a brightly animated story mode that draws heavily on the same Astroboy tropes as Megaman, but doesn’t get too much in the way of the puzzle gameplay.
The game’s visuals are cute with a polished cartoon aesthetic, and being an early 2000’s Namco game, the soundtrack, composed by Go Shiina, is a breezy, jazz-inflected delight. The Switch release features the option to play with the original setting, or a more ‘casual’ difficulty setting. I picked the original, and despite the visuals and story, it is merciless.
Mr. Driller: Drill Land is an overlooked oddity from a venerable game studio. it’s a perfect stress-free puzzle game to chill out to, if you don’t mind a bit of a challenge. It is available for PC via Steam, and for Nintendo Switch via the eshop, where it’s currently on sale.

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.

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