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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 Comics: We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

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We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Simone Di MeoColored by Mariasara Miotti
Lettered by AndWorld Design
Published by Boom! Studios

The Skinny: A weird and beautiful space opera about small business and giant corpses.

In the distant future, mankind has scoured the galaxy clean of resources. Pushed to the edges of a depleted galaxy, they find space’s last mineable source of minerals, metals, and even meat: Dead Space Gods. But the competition between fleets of ‘autopsy ships’ is fierce, and heavily regulated. As corporate entities dominate the market and push out independent operators, Captain Georges Malik and the crew of the Vihaan II struggle to stay afloat under the watchful eye of a zealous enforcement officer.
We Only Find Them When They’re Dead is a sad, beautiful, and imaginative high-concept space opera of the sort that only really works in the comics medium. Ewing’s script is tight and economical, bringing the four-person crew to life in just a few pages. But Di Meo’s art with Miotti’s coloring is the real star here. There is a breathtaking use of light and shadow in this book. The characters seem to float right off of the page, and the space scenes do an excellent job conveying both the enormity of the titanic corpses and the tiny, cramped vessels that carve them up for parts.
We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1 is the start of something massive. I can’t wait to read more, and I highly recommend you check it out. Find it at Your Local Comic Shop, or digitally from Comixology!

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 Comics: Commanders in Crisis

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Commanders in Crisis #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Drawn by Davide Tinto
Colored by Francesca Carotenuto
Lettered by Fabio Amelia
Published by Image Comics

The Skinny: An ambitious start to a fascinating new indie superhero series.

Commanders in Crisis is an ambitious new indie superhero comic that doesn’t aim simply to tell a story so much as to create a new universe. It introduces and follows the five titular heroes, who are a team along the lines of The Avengers or Justice League, although there is a bit more going on with them than it first seems, and the real twist of the book is at the end, so it won’t be spoiled here. I will say that Orlando and Tinto have created a compelling cast of characters with a huge burden to shoulder. Commanders feels like a crossover event for a line of comics that doesn’t exist.
One of the spots where ‘Big-2” crossovers tend to fall apart is that the action demands too much of the book’s page count, with splash pages and punch-ups pushing out character and story moments, making the plots feel rushed and the characters feel off. This is a well-paced book that gives us everything we need about these five characters in one short fight and a sequence of two-page vignettes following them through their off-hours. With five new heroes that don’t seem to fit neatly into their expected archetypes, Orlando and Tinto do a great job establishing who these heroes are and what they’re doing. I particularly like “Sawbones,” who is just the right mix of interesting powers and 90’s parody.
The other big pitfall for a story like this is the dramatic irony of knowing the status quo can only be shifted so much in a big superhero universe. The good guys are going to win the day, in the end, and while there may be a heroic sacrifice, they’ll only be off the board for so long. By establishing a whole universe, the creators are in the unique position of being able to take the story in any direction they want. There is a sense of possibility here that I haven’t felt in a Superhero book since Stormwatch.
Commanders in Crisis #1 is a gleaming gem of possibility. If you love superheroes, but are looking for something fresh that isn’t steeped in eighty years of continuity, This is a book to check out. You can find it at your Local Comics Shop, or snag a digital copy from Comixology!

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 Podcasts: Cerebro

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Cerebro
Hosted by Connor Goldsmith
https://www.connorgoldsmith.com/cerebro

The Skinny: What we talk about when we talk about X-Men characters.

If there are two topics I am continually drawn to in my podcast listening, they are Writing and Queer-friendly X-Men content. And while the later is a bit more niche than the former, Cerebro, a new podcast from Literary Agent and X-Men fan Connor Goldsmith is the rare center point in that particular Venn diagram.
Each episode, Connor sits down with a fellow fan and discusses a specific X-Men character from the comics, doing a deep dive on their history, continuity, and retcons. So far he’s covered Psylocke, Nightcrawler, and Emma Frost.
This could be just your run-of-the-mill fancast, but Connor’s impeccable choice of guests elevates the discourse by including writers, editors, and culture critics. The first episode’s guest is Tini Howard, who is currently writing Excalibur. Thus, not only is the podcast a celebration of a character and their publication history, but an examination of the guest’s interpretation of that character and their own work. It was eye-opening to hear a creator’s thoughts on a character she is currently writing in so open and informal a setting.
Cerebro is available from all the usual podcast sources, on Twitter, or from Connor’s Website. I heartily recommend it.

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

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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 Fiction: Harrow the Ninth

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Harrow the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook ready by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: The sequel to Muir’s impressive debut novel delivers more mystery, gothic weirdness, and dad jokes. (Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth)

Any novel can make you think the main character is mad. It takes a very special book to make you wonder about the author. Harrow the Ninth, manages to do both, with style and grace. And it does it leaving my desperately looking forward to the last volume of the trilogy, due out sometime next year.
And how does Muir follow up the massive success of her debut Gideon the Ninth? In second-person, and with the conspicuous absence of any mention of the first book’s beloved title character. Harrowhark the Ninth has done what she set out to do, and became a Lychtor at Canaan House. But instead of waking up a mighty immortal in the full flush of her powers, she’s sick, dying, and probably going mad. There’s something wrong with her, and she cannot understand what. Also, she is dreaming of her time at Canaan House, and those memories don’t match the events of the first book at all.
Things only get worse when she’s brought to the Emperor’s haunted Space Station for training. The other Lychtors are as likely to kill her as teach her, and the Emperor Himself is far from the living god she imagined. Her only remaining friend is Ianthe, her fellow newbie necromancer, who has plans of her own. Oh, and a monstrous undead Death Star is on its way to kill them all, so no rush getting all that sorted out.
Muir has struck gold once again with this space opera that is equal parts Gothic and Arch. The mysteries are tantalizing, the characters are that same signature mix of badass and horrible people, and her writing just sets the page on fire. The second-person perspective and jumbled nature of the first sections of the novel might be a bit of work to get through, but the payoff is definitely worth it, and it’s a brilliant use of literary device.
Moira Quirk also returns to read the audiobook version, and her narration and voice work are spot-on.
Harrow the Ninth is exactly what I wanted out of this sequel, full of gothic space crypts, planet-sized undead, and witty dialog from decadent lesbian space necromancers. It’s not a good place to start the series, but if you enjoyed the Gideon don’t miss it!

Hugh Likes Video Games: Fall Guys

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Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Developed by Mediatronic
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS4

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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.

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