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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.

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

gamelogo

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

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-logo-01-ps4-23jun20-en-us

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-switch-hero

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.

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