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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.

Untitled Goose

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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Hugh Likes Video Games: Creature in the Well

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Creature in the Well
Developed and Published by Flight School Studio
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Post-apocalyptic Pinball Action

Creature in the Well is a stylish and imaginative take on a pinball puzzle game, and while it doesn’t always hit its mark, the concept is so interesting in its execution, that I didn’t mind the missteps.
You play as Bot-C, the last of an army of robots tasked with maintaining a huge, failed machine housed inside a mountain. Your tools and materials will feel very familiar to any pinball player, as the task involves supplying power to a variety of bumper-like conduits with a ball-shaped ‘energy core.’ Opposing you in your task is the eponymous Creature, a huge menacing skeletal figure that haunts the installation. It puts traps in your way and taunts you as you bring the machine back to life one system at a time.
The game really succeeds on design. The various rooms, which function as tables, are challenging and surprising, although there is a fair amount of repetition. The machine feels properly foreboding and industrial, and the creature is menacing and impossible, hiding in the shadows revealing only a legion of huge, skeletal hands and glowing eyes.
The difficulty spikes at places, but the levels can be played in any order, so you can skip and come back to challenges and boss fights when you are better equipped. The default settings are a bit fiddly, with the controls set to the face buttons. Your bot is equipped with a pair of blades, and these can be swapped out for various effects. They work much better mapped to the shoulder buttons, but the player can freely customize them.
Creature in the Well is a great little indie action game based on classic pinball mechanics. It’s available from Steam, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It’s well worth your time.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Pokemon Sword

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

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The Skinny: Pokemon’s eight generation is a mix of familiar mechanics and exciting new ideas in a charming Pseudo-British region.

It’s another holiday season, which means another Pokemon game has descended from the from the Heights of Mt. Nintendo. This year’s is Pokemon Sword and Shield, the second Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch, and the first non-spinoff entry on the system.
Set in the new Galar region, a charming, fully 3D rendered world based on The British Isles. Starting with Pokemon Black and White, the series has leaned far in to the cultural associations of each region, and this game is no exception. From catching Teapot ghosts to Team Yell, a team of hooligan antagonists, to enjoying a nice curry with your pokemon, the game feels very British. Or at least, reflective of how the Japanese developers view British culture. You play as a young trainer just starting out, chasing the footsteps of your neighbor, Galar champion Leon. Other rivals include the champion’s cheerful kid brother Hop, A goth trainer supported by Team Yell, and a stylish orphan working for a shadowy businessman. All in all, the plot is very familiar. Collect eight gym badges, do some unpaid cataloging work for a local scientist, and battle your way to the championship. The added spice is in the way the gym challenge plays out. Instead of fighting Gym Leaders One-on-One in some thematically decorated room, you take take them on in packed arenas in front of crowds of screaming fans. The gyms themselves are a mix of old school trainer battles and Sun and Moons unique missions, which strikes the perfect balance when topped with a dramatic battle on the pitch.
While Pokemon Sword and Shield does a lot right, let’s get to the nitpicks, and they’re probably not the one’s you’re expecting if you paid any attention to fan grumbles before launch. The game does a good job of letting players discover mechanics, such as Camping, Cooking, and the Poke Jobs system at their own pace, but the gym challenge is totally on rails. You have to visit towns in a certain order, and can only explore more of the map once you’ve collected the requisite badges. With the vast wilderness of the Wild Area to explore to explore, it feels a bit of a throwback when you are forced onto a lockstep path of Routes and Caves. Also, there isn’t as much customization in your party as I would have liked. Every pokemon in your party gains experience, which is great if you’re grinding to take on a gym, but not so great if you are trying to evolve a difficult Eeveelotion at low level.
The other problem is the online functionality. Mystery trade works great, but any other form suffers from a complete lack of communication. You can see other trainers running around the Wild Area, but they essentially become NPCs with canned dialogue. This can be somewhat overlooked. It is a game meant for all-ages, and Nintendo tends towards caution when it comes to protecting minors online. But without any way to communicate, trading becomes a frustrating process of laboriously showing a pokemon to your trade partner and hoping they somehow pull out one you’re looking for and don’t cancel the trade. Even a rudimentary system like in the DS games would’ve been more useful here.
With a mix of new and old systems, Pokemon Sword and Shield are a great little pair of RPGs full of monsters to collect and secrets to uncover in a charming new 3D setting. You can download the game from the Switch eshop, or buy the physical cartridge from your local game store.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest XI S

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Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
Published and Developed by Square Enix
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Dragon Quest returns with a massive JRPG in the classic style.

While technically the PS4 version of this game came out in the U.S. last year, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age is probably one of my top games of 2019. I gave the original a pass because I just don’t have that much time to sit down in front of my television. But the portable version has been a delight.
The game follows the familiar tropes of the OGJRPG of a young man being chosen by a great force to leave his remote village and confront evil, recruiting a troupe of companions along the way. But like the other modern iterations of the series, it does a great job interrogating the tropes and cliches of the genre.
Particularly interesting is Sylvando, who is a powerful fighter, and an openly gay character in a genre of game that gets a lot of traction on AO3 but is somewhat lacking in official representation. And while the game does play him for laughs (he is a jester, after all) it also goes out of its way to portray him as strong, brave and chivalrous as well. It’s rare to see something so well done in a space where representation usually boils down to male-gaze lesbians and that time Cloud Strife wore a dress in FFVII.
Combat is fun, a little on the easy side, and about what you’ve come to expect from Dragon Quest over the past 30 years. The 3D mode has an option to let you move the characters around in battle, but it is more for aesthetics than a gameplay feature. Mini-games also make a return, from the ubiquitous Dragon Quest casino to a horse-racing mini-game and a portable forge for making weapons and armor from recipes.
Another nice feature is that while the default is to play in 3D mode, the game also includes the 3DS 2D version, which was previously unavailable in the US, as well as a massive sidequest that was unique to that version. You can even switch back and forth between the two if you want, although progress is gated to certain story chapters that aren’t so clearly delivered.
While the game looks and plays great, there are a few compromises in the animation and display. Some character animations feel jerky and off. Objects, particularly complex ones like trees, pop in as you get close to them. My Switch audibly chugged when it had to render too much in handheld mode. And like most Dragon Quest games, it is entertaining but long. I have already put in over 40 hours and from what I understand I’ve barely scratched the game’s surface. Also like modern localizations of the series, it’s full of puns. So many puns. If you aren’t onboard for a hundred hours of dad jokes, this is not the game for you.
Dragon Quest XI S is a delightful return to form for Square Enix, crammed full of exciting quests, memorable characters and a surprising story. Just be sure to set aside some time to play it, because this game is long.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Untitled Goose Game

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

Untitled Goose

The Skinny: A small game about small acts

Some games let you fly spaceships. Some games let you fight hordes of monsters. Some games let you build and destroy your own worlds. Untitled Goose Game isn’t one of those games. But you can honk.
Initially begun as a joke project, the short stealth/puzzle game puts you in the webbed feet of a horrible goose and lets you loose on an unsuspecting peasant village. But unlike real geese, who are violent and terrifying, you can only cause mischief.
As you traverse four areas of the town, you must sneak your way past a crew of irritable villagers in order to carry out a to do list of pranks. Lacking hands, your only available options are snatching things with your beak, flapping your wings, and your honk.
Untitled Goose Game is a game about non-violently unravelling systems. The literally faceless townspeople go about their day in lock step, and it is your job to disrupt them. The game isn’t in and of itself political, but there is a tiny thrill of sticking it to The Man when you lock the gardener out of his own plot, or sneak past the shopkeeper to get your face on a wall of TVs in a high street shop. It’s a game that rewards patience, observation and creativity, and it’s suitable for younger kids, too.
The main game is relatively short. You can clear the whole game in a couple of hours. Once you do, however, the game unlocks a set of new challenges and time trials for you to unlock, giving you the run of the village. It also gives you a couple other satisfying rewards that I won’t spoil here.
Untitled Goose Game is available now for Nintendo Switch and for PC and Mac through the Epic Games Store. I honkingly recommend it.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Sayonara Wild Hearts

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

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

The Skinny: A fast-paced racing quest against Magical Girl Motorcycle Gangs.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is an unexpected gem of an indie game. Terms like ‘unique’ and ‘original’ get thrown around a lot in the gaming press, but SWH pushes against the tide of gaming trends and is all the more incredible for it.
You play as The Fool, the alter ego of a broken-hearted girl tasked with restoring harmony to a magical kingdom by racing against a series of girl gang street racers. Each level is a mixture of Synth Pop, Neon, and blazing speed. The combination of magical girl aesthetics and arcade racing style flow as smooth as silk, and the bite-sized level keep the action rolling at an exciting clip.
Each of the twenty-three levels embraces new mechanics as you race to catch your opponents. You’ll start out on a skateboard, but soon find yourself on not just the game’s signature chopper, but flying through the air on a magical sword, racing through a haunted forest on a giant stag, and even crossing a roiling sea on a boat. The game constantly introduces new mechanics, and this helps the pacing feel blazing fast.
The other thing that sets Sayonara Wild Hearts apart, if you haven’t already guessed, is its unapologetic embrace of feminine and queer aesthetics. In a space dominated by often toxic depictions of masculinity it is a breath of fresh air. The Fool is not an object of male gaze, and she isn’t a hyper-roided Space Marine killing a planet full of aliens. She is an altogether different sort of cool. This game came out alongside a few other games that have been gaining more attention, but I hope that SWH’s themes strike a chord with game designers and we see more games like it in the future.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Apple Arcade service. It’s a highly polished indie gem, and well worth your time. I heartily recommend it.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Dicey Dungeons

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Dicey Dungeons
Designed and Published by Terry Cavanagh
Played on Steam

The Skinny: A fun little dungeon explorer that will keep you clicking through just one more run.

Dicey Dungeons is a small, super-indie rouge-like deck-building dungeon crawler. Which is a heck of a mouthful, but it’s a great little game. Trapped on the sadistic game show of Lady Luck herself, six adventurers must fight their way through six levels of random dungeons and turn-based battles in order to win their hearts’ desires, or be stuck as a hapless dice for all eternity.
Dicey Dungeons is a fun little dungeon crawler that really embraces the RNG. Each character, as portrayed by an adorable anthropomorphic die, has six slots worth of equipment and a special ability. These are all powered by random dice rolls. As players progress through the dungeons, they level up to gain HP and extra dice. It’s not too complex, but it feels quite well balanced. The goal is to stay ahead of your enemies, including Lady Luck herself, as the dice will eventually betray you.
And the game can be quite challenging, but music by Chipzel and art by Marlowe Dobbe are both engaging and charming enough that it never feels too frustrating. The show is structured as a set of Episodes of Lady Luck’s show, each running about half an hour long, so I never felt as though I lost too much progress, even if I was almost done when I came up against a fight I couldn’t win.
And it’s just dang fun to play. Every character has their own unique abilities and style. The Robot rolls in a press-your-luck style game, for example, while The Witch prepares her abilities from a spell book. Even the act of clicking and dragging a dice into a slot for an attack just feels fun. While there isn’t the sort of intensity or stakes as in other dungeon crawlers or deck builders like Slay the Spire, it kept me reaching for the mouse of just one more round.
Dicey Dungeons is available for Mac and PC through Steam and itch.io.

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