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Hugh Likes Video Games: Tetris 99

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

The Skinny: A fast and furious Battle Royale game I’m actually good at.

Tetris 99 is a new, free multiplayer version of the venerable puzzle game available for the Nintendo Switch. But the twist is, you aren’t playing against your friends, but 98 strangers in a fast-paced elimination competition in the style of Battle Royale games like PUBG and Fortnite.
Play options are barebones, with the option to enter battle, look at your stats, or change your control scheme slightly. The game starts out as straightforward Tetris. Shapes composed of four colorful blocks drop from the ceiling, and it is your job to arrange them into lines, which disappear. If the pile of lines reaches the top of your screen, you’re out. The multiplayer twist is that if you eliminate more than one line at a time, you’ll send those extra lines to another player to have them appear as ‘garbage blocks’ in their play area. In Tetris 99, you can choose who you want to attack with the analog sticks and control the falling pieces with the directional buttons.
This version feels very different from traditional Tetris, tying the challenge not to maintaining a long run with ever increasing difficulty, but to weathering the random storms of garbage blocks that come in unpredictably. It’s also very short. Matches take only a few minutes, depending on skill and luck, and it’s easy to get back into the next one, leading to a strong impulse to play just one more match.
As someone who was an expert back in the days of Game Boy, but hasn’t played too much Tetris since, I wished the game gave me more information about how it tracks my stats, and had more options for controls. Currently, it uses the analog sticks to control who you are attacking and the directional buttons to control your pieces, with no way to switch between the two. But those are minor quibbles for a fun, addictive little free game that is doing more to justify the cost of Nintendo’s Online Service than anything else on the platform.
You can download Tetris 99 for free from the Nintendo Switch estore.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Smash Bros Ultimate

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Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: The venerable nostalgia-fighter returns with a massive entry on the Switch

It’s no secret that I love me some Smash Bros. My first Hugh Likes Video Games review was for the last iteration of the series, specifically the 3DS version. And this version has, well just more of everything I love about the concept, with a giant roster of returning characters and stages, and lots of brand-new content as well. I actually hesitated getting this version, but I think Ultimate might actually live up to its title.
Ultimate does a lot of things right. The roster is particularly large, and the new additions, from Castlevania protagonist Simon Belmont to Animal Crossing’s helpful assistant Isabelle are a delight to play. While there aren’t a whole lot of brand-new stages, we get nearly all of the returning stages, with multiple layouts, so there is sure to be someplace to pick. Smash mode is easy to get into, and takes full advantage of the Switch’s joycon pairing capabilities to get a large group of players in quickly.
Classic mode returns with a twist. Each character has their own finely tuned campaign to maximize their nostalgic hit. For example, Ryu fights in a series Street Fighter-like stamina battles, while Richter only fights other Echo Fighters.
As clever and nostalgic as Classic Mode is, Spirits is where the game really stretches. Building on modes in previous versions of the game, Spirits turns Smash Bros into a giant nostalgia-fueled Action RPG. Traveling around a huge map, the player fights ‘spirits,’ essentially Nintendo characters that didn’t make the cut, in the guise of tweaked battles with specialized conditions. Winning the battle nets you that character’s ‘spirit,’ which you can equip and level up in a bunch of different ways in order to take on more powerful fights. These take the place of collecting trophies or stickers in past games, and they’re neat, but the game doesn’t give you as much information about these collectables as in past installments, which is a shame.
Overall, Super Smash Bros Ultimate is another entry in the series that won’t change the minds of non-fans, but is full to the brim with attention to detail and affection for the source material. I haven’t ventured into the dark woods of online multiplayer yet, but so far couch battles have been chaotic but a heck of a lot of fun.
You can download the game yourself from the Nintendo eshop, or find a physical copy at the usual suspects of video game retailers.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Moonlighter

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Moonlighter
Published by 11 bit studios
Developed by Digital Sun
Played on Nintendo Switch
http://moonlighterthegame.com/
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The Skinny: The Daily Grind, in day job and dungeon flavors!

Moonlighter is an old-school dungeon crawler with a twist. The dungeons are randomly generated, with each room comprising a single screen, much like the original Legend of Zelda. Enemies don’t drop money or experience, but rather items tied to the visual theme of each dungeon. During the day, players can sell their findings in a shop simulator, setting their own prices, decorating their shop, and keeping an eye out for shoplifters.
Profits from the shop can be sunk into upgrading your equipment, inviting other shopkeepers who sell things like potions or decor, or expanding the shop itself. The gameplay loop has a nice rhythm, and I constantly found myself deciding to play just one more in-game day to reach a milestone I’d set for myself. The combat is quick and fairly challenging, but doesn’t vary too greatly from dungeon to dungeon. While enemies all have very different looks, they tend to do the same sorts of things. The turrets you face in the golem dungeon have the same sorts of attacks as the seed-spitting plants from the forrest dungeon, for example.
Moonlighter’s gameplay loop can get repetitive, but fortunately, it looks and sounds gorgeous. The high-res pixelated art is charming, and the soundtrack boasts a variety of catchy and evocative tunes as you make your way through the floors of each dungeon and stock your shelves. There isn’t much of a story here though, so if that isn’t enough to keep your interest, this may not be the game for you.
I enjoyed my time in Moonlighter’s tiny village, but I wish the game had given me a few more options in how I arranged and decorated my shop. The items were nice, but I’d have like to have been able to give the place a bit more personality.
Moonlighter is an old school dungeon crawling action game mixed with a sedate but engaging shopkeeping sim. The gameplay loop makes for a perfectly tuned combo in a charming world. You can pick it up for PC or through all the major console eshops.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Octopath Traveller

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Octopath Traveller
Developed by Acquire
Published by Square Enix
Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: This retro-styled JRPG creates a miniature clockwork world to explore.

I love me some Old School Japanese Role Playing Games. As a kid, I looked on with envy as my friends talked about the then mind-blowing scope of Dragon Warrior, and the Unprecedented drama of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. When I grew older and had the means to play them myself, I lost myself in their fast maps and intricate mechanical systems. But trends come and go in gaming, and while these classics are remembered fondly, they just don’t make them anymore.
Except, of course, when they do. Octopath Traveller is a return to subgenre form, complete with pixelated sprites and tangled leveling systems. But it brings a lot of new stuff to the table as well.
The player chooses their starting character from a cast of eight protagonists, from erudite but occasionally naive scholar Cyrus to cynical thief Therion. After playing through the character’s ‘Chapter’ you leave your starting town and recruit the other characters, and play their stories as well. While you can have up to four characters in your party, each character’s story plays out as though they were alone, although you can access character asides where the others will give that character advice, or other dialog that doesn’t impact the scene.
Octopath Traveller is a remarkable success in so many ways. The visuals, a mix of pixel art and modern particle effects serve to create the illusion of a miniature world on the switch’s screen. Sand, snow and water all sparkle, and shimmer on the screen, creating not exactly realism, but an almost tactile effect. The locations look like vastly complex models. The music is gorgeous and cleverly constructed. The writing is smart, engaging, and doesn’t suffer from the bowdlerization so often present in 90’s translations. Combat is strategic and tricky. It is a joy to play.
But as much fun as it is, the game never quite breaks its illusions. The systems never let the player forget that it is a game. Its use of story as another system is interesting, and fun for me, but I found myself wishing that the characters had a bit more interaction with one another. If I have a Healer in my party, why can’t he heal the Cleric’s ill adoptive father? If another character is looking for a criminal, why can’t the Thief use their contacts to speed the process along? These barriers were a distraction to me at times.
Also, having one character that never left the party made them way more powerful than anybody else. There didn’t seem to be a reason to alway have them in the group, and by the end there was a huge gap. These are both aspects I hope they address in any potential sequels.
Octopath Traveller is an incredible JRPG experience for Nintendo Switch that is both full of warm, gooey nostalgia, and genuinely unlike anything else out there. If you have a Nintendo Switch and a hundred hours to spare, this is a must play.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Donut County

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Donut County
Created by Ben Esposito
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Played on PS4

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The Skinny: A charming and funny story-heavy puzzle game about stealing garbage.

The raccoons run Donut County. In a physics puzzle game that homages Katamari Damacy and is almost as strange, You play as BK, Donut County Delivery Raccoon, but your real job is stealing all the town’s garbage (and people, buildings, and geographical features) for the nefarious Trash King.
Each small, self-contained level puts you in the driver’s seat of a hole, which like in Katamari, starts out small and gets bigger the more stuff you grab. Each level has its own mechanical puzzle, from destroying an amusement park to making soup. All of these mechanics are intuitive and fun to use, if a bit on the easy side.
Controls on the PS4 used the buttons and analog stick. It is also available on Steam and Apple devices, and it feels like the game was meant to be played on a touchscreen. Not that it plays badly, in fact, just the opposite. The hole feels a little too responsive to the analog stick, and I was left wondering if playing with touch controls would’ve been a greater challenge.
The story is light-hearted and fun with a large cast of different denizens to hassle and eventually capture. The first half of the game is a sort of trial, as each of the town’s residents relate how BK stole all their stuff and trapped them underground, and then BK’s friend and coworker Mara figuring out how to fix everything. The visuals have a very PS2-era quality to them, but the designs are cute and the whole game is fairly attractive, even with blocky polygons. The soundtrack, by Daniel Koestner with Ben Esposito, is very chill and relaxing. This is a great game to unwind with.
While it isn’t the most taxing puzzle game I’ve played this year, Donut County is a great puzzle game to play with your kids, or to relax with. You can find it on Steam, the Playstation Store, or the Apple Store.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Night in the Woods

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Night in the Woods
Created by Infinite Fall
Published by Finji
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: A brilliantly designed existential horror game

Night in the Woods is a game that struck very close to home for me. It is about a girl who returns to her dying hill town after dropping out of college and discovers that the home she left has changed. And there’s something in the woods at night…
An indie game that was originally published thanks to a 2012 Kickstarter, NitW has the most effective and well-crafted atmospheres I’ve seen in a long time. And considering that this is a 2-D point and click adventure game with some light platforming elements staring cartoon animals, that is really saying something. But the visuals are so on-point in this game, and they are propped up by witty, charming dialog that is the most natural I’ve seen in a long time. If you can’t fall in love with Mae, Gregg, Angus and Bea by the end of their adventure, I’m not sure you have a heart.
The mechanics of the world reinforce this. Following the story, most of the player’s decisions involve choosing which characters to follow, and talking to everyone. There are a lot of dialog options, and while they don’t seem to effect the story much, they do a great job of revealing character, and lead to so many rewarding character moments, they are worth replaying for them alone. The platforming in this game also feels really good, and walking around on the power lines feels transgressive in a way that reinforces character, and leads to lots of cool exploration and interaction moments, like finding hidden musicians and secret rooms. Going too much further into this game will ruin it, but let me suffice to say that everything in this game works together in a way that makes it more than the sum of its parts.
One of the reasons that his game struck me so profoundly, in addition to the fact that the writing is excellent, the art is eye-catching and endearing, and the mechanics just feel good, is that this is a story that happened to me. Not the mysterious disappearances and hostile forces bits, but I didn’t do so well my first year of college, and had to return to my own rustbelt hometown after a year away.
Mae’s reasons for leaving college and coming home aren’t made fully explicit until the end of the game, but I already understood them, because her experience was so similar to mine. I never hit anyone with a bat, but I felt so many of the same things she did, and playing this game gave me a bit of catharsis for those old wounds.
Night in the Woods is less a horror game than an existential horror game, and you can find it on Steam and the usual consoles. These versions also include Longest Night and Lost Constellation, two microgames the team made as Kickstarter bonuses and to test game elements. The whole package is wonderful, and this game is well worth your timeand attention. And Gregg rulz, OK?

Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania – The Dracula X Chronicles

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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Published by Konami
Originally for PSP, Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: Old School Difficulty meets mid-2000’s 3D backgrounds

Welcome to Dracula Season! With the release of Castlevania Requiem for the PS4 last week, I felt a hankering to dig into the classic games included, Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood. But they were both part of an earlier collection, The Dracula X Chronicles for Playstation Portable. But rather than a collection, they were unlockable bonus content in one of the most difficult games in a notoriously punishing franchise.
Dracula X is a faithful remake of Rondo of Blood using 3D Polygonal graphics instead of sprites. The models look very good, and are quite detailed, but they still feel a bit dated by modern standards. The game retains every controller-snapping bit of difficulty from the original, which came out for the PC Engine console and was not previously released outside of Japan and is one of the hardest entries in a game series known for its brutal challenge.
By finding special items hidden in the remake, players can unlock both the original Rondo of Blood in all it’s 16-bit pixelated glory, and its sequel, the breakout Playstation hit Symphony of the Night. And while these aren’ just laying out in the open (they’re found on hidden stages in somewhat more difficult paths) A few minutes of googling should help you reach them if you’re only really here for the original, which for the PSP is priced less than Requiem.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles retains all of the charm as well as the extreme challenge of the 1993 original. You can find it in the Playstation store if you have a PSP or Vita laying around.

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