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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.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hollow Knight

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Hollow Knight
Developed and Produced by Team Cherry
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: It’s as good as you’ve heard

Hollow Knight is a remarkable achievement of an indie game. It falls into a sub-genre colloquially known as a Metroidvania, which is to say it is a platforming adventure game with an emphasis on exploring one huge interconnected map, in which the player gains new abilities to reach new areas. It takes its name from the two best-known examples, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But Team Cherry’s achievement is more than just an imitator. And it is worthy of standing in that hallowed company.
The game sets you as a solitary knight descending into a lost civilization of bug people brought low by a strange infection. As you piece together the mystery of what happened and your own journey’s purpose, traverse miles of twisting interconnected corridors, meet dozens of charming NPCs, and discover untold secrets, all delivered in a gorgeous hand-drawn art style and brutal difficulty.
This game is tough, and it doesn’t hold your hand, but it usually doesn’t force you down a path, either. Once you get certain abilities, there are lots of paths and secret routes to uncover. If you get stuck at one boss, you can always find a new route and go a different way.
This game really nails (get it?) its aesthetic. The color palattes for each area are fairly simple, but paired with hand-drawn and animated characters and backgrounds, this adds up to a system where it’s always easy to tell exactly where you are in spite of the huge map. This also ratchets up the tension and messes with the player as they establish mood and atmosphere. Dirtmouth feels wind-swept and desolate. Greenpath is lush and vibrant. Deepnest is dark and terrifying. In fact, Hollow Knight manages to pull of a trick even most Castlevanias don’t in that I was legitimately frightened at several points due to a masterful use of darkness, tight corridors, and downright creepy sound effects.
Hollow Knight is a breathtaking modern example of 2D action adventure games, with clever challenges, tricky bosses, and charming characters. It is available from Steam and most major console eshops, and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: SteamWorld Quest

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Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Developed by Image and Form Games
Published by Thunderful
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A lighthearted but mechanically deep card-RPG sort of set in the SteamWorld Universe.

Each SteamWorld title is a little different. From the dungeon diving of SteamWorld Dig to the Tactical gunplay of SteamWorld Heist, each is a charming and innovative little gem of a game. The latest game in the series, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, builds on that reputation.
A fantasy RPG, SteamWorld Quest is framed as a storybook being read in the main SteamWorld post-post-apocalypse setting. Like its predecessors, this game is short but deeply engaging. The hand-drawn art style and the snarky writing work well. There are lots of little sight gags and clever bits that only really work if as a fantasy story told in a world of steampunk robots. This seems counter intuitive until you meet the first mini-boss, a black knight with a birdcage for a head.
The card-based RPG combat, which are stylized punchcards, naturally, has a good balance of randomness as strategy. Each character has a deck of eight cards which represent attacks, spells, buffs, and healing. Characters also manage items, weapons, and equipment. In combat, you have a hand of cards pulled from all three decks, and play three cards a turn. Three cards from the same character creates a combo, with a variety of special effects. During combat, you have to build up steam by playing low level cards. More powerful abilities cost steam, so you have to balance your decks to be able to play better cards. As a veteran RPG player, I found it pretty intuitive, with a lot of depth and options over the five playable characters.
At around twenty hours, the game isn’t very long for an RPG but you can go back to previous chapters to grind for items, experience, and money, or to find hidden secrets. The story isn’t very complicated, but it is filled with charm and clever little references to games like Final Fantasy IV and other old-school RPGs.
SteamWorld Quest is a lighthearted but perfectly executed take on the card RPG. It’s available for PC and from the Nintendo Switch eshop.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Gato Roboto

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Gato Roboto
Published by Devolver Digital
Developed by Doinksoft
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: More Like Meowtroid, am I right?

Gato Roboto is an indie Metroid clone that lets you play as a cat in power armor. That is really all there is to it, and all you need to know to know if this is a game for you or not. The graphics have a black and white game boy-style look reminiscent of rouge-like shooter Downwell. This extends to the collectables, which are simply either health pickups or swappable palates for the visuals. The animations are quite cute and expressive, though. I love the way main character Kiki hops out of her humanoid mech and perches on its gun arm.
The game controls well, with a pleasant sensation of weigh when in the mech, and an option to explore tighter passages by getting out of the suit. Kiki the cat can also climb walls and reach places on her own that she can’t in the suit, with the tradeoff being that she can’t attack or defend herself, giving the game a nice mix of action and stealth gameplay.
The game doesn’t make you keep track of ammunition and save spots are rather generous, which streamlines the game. Traversal is pretty easy once you get the hang of the mechanics, but that’s balanced by some punishing boss encounters.
All in all, Gato Roboto is a short but satisfying little metroidvania with memorable and adorable characters. It’s available from Steam or Nintendo Switch eShop.
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