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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 Comics: Top 5 of 2020

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This year was a rough one for Comics. Covid-19 forced a distribution shutdown, with ramification that were felt throughout the industry. But there were still a plethora of great books that came out this year, and while I don’t have enough space to expound on all the outstanding books I read this year, here are five of my favorites, in alphabetical order. Spoilers abound below!

Empyre
Written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics

At first glance, Empyre is just another Marvel Comics alien invasion story. The Earth is pushed to the brink of peril, and then saved at the last minute by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, etc. etc. But look past the surface, and there is so much more going on.Empyre concludes with a same-sex royal wedding in space, with all the Avengers and Fantastic Four as guests of honor. It reaches to the roots of Marvel Universe history, both in-story and in publication, and embraces that past while stepping into the future. The status quo for superhero comics is typically dark, putting the heroes on a never-ending back foot, with another crisis just around the corner. The end of this book does acknowledge that nothing good lasts forever. But today, the Kree / Skrull War is over, and Comics Are For Everyone. Make Mine Marvel!

Far Sector
Written by N. K. Jemisin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comic Young Animal

This rare gem of a book takes place in a distant corner of the DC Universe, far from the crises of the regular continuity, and also, I suspect, from editorial interference. Given their own canvas to work with, Jemisin and Campbell have built a beautiful, wondrous and troubling world in The City Enduring, a sparkling artificial super-metropolis where three distinct alien cultures live in apparent harmony, until Green Lantern Jo Mullein is called upon to solve their first murder in centuries, and uncovers a chilling web of oppression and dirty politics whose exposure may tear a civilization apart.Jemisin’s writing on this book is consistently amazing. It’s difficult to believe this is her first jump from prose to comics. Propelled by Campbell’s dazzling art, this ongoing title is not to be missed.

Heist
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

Gritty sci-fi crime dramas seems to be my jam this year, and Heist was another great one. After being set up by an evil executive and thrown in jail, Glaine Breld is out for revenge. There’s just two problems. One, the Dignity Corporation is so powerful it is completely untouchable. And two, everyone on the entire planet wants him dead. No big deal, because he’s got a plan to set everything right. All he has to do is get a crew together and steal the whole planet.
Full of twist, dark humor, and the blackest of cyberpunk high concepts, Heist is a hell of a ride.

The Ludocrats
Written by Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

This book is weird, and also weirdly horny, for the sake of weird. Delightful and strange, Gillen and Rossignol don’t merely break the fourth wall, but stomp up and down and pee on it for good measure. Stokely’s art is intricate and full of clever sight gags, and the nonsensical plot, which follows a pair of Aristocrats on the case to stop the Hyper-pope from turning the world boring, is a mad-cap romp. This comic is chock-full full of axe-wielding maniacs, nefarious betrayers, and cannibalistic gastronauts, and those are the good guys! The funniest book I read this year!

Slaughterhouse-Five
Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel by Ryan North
Art by Albert Monteys
Published by Archaia
Faithfully based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name, North and Monteys bring us along on Billy Pilgrim’s unstuck journey through time, from his capture in World War II and the battle of Dresden to his abduction to the alien planet Tralfamador and back. North’s script does justice to the story, capturing all the comedy and tragedy it evokes. Montey’s art is cartoonish and subtly colored, and is evocative and resonant. I knew going in this would be a book that I would either love or hate, and I’m glad it pulled off so ambitious an adaptation.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Black Sun

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Black Sun: Between Earth and Sky Book One
Written by Rebecca Roanhorse
Published by Saga Press

The Skinny: An epic adventure full of fascinating characters in a unique and vibrant setting.

Serapio is a god reborn. Before he was born, his mother’s people, the Crow clan, were brutally slaughtered in the city of Tova. His mother barely escaped with her life, bearing an unslakable thirst for revenge. Now, blinded and raised for a single purpose, he must make his way back to Tova and confront the Sun Priest, whose office orchestrated the genocide. But the path ahead lies through rough seas, and his only ally is a ship captain with mysterious powers who is distrusted by her own crew.Meanwhile in Tova, the newest holder of the office of Sun Priest, Naranpa, is caught in a web of political intrigue, and narrowly avoided assassination attempts. As the winter solstice and a historic eclipse approach, will there even be a city still standing when Serapio arrives?
With this this new epic fantasy series, Rebecca Roanhorse gives readers a look into a richly imagined world filled with deep and complex characters. Broadly based on Pre-Colombian cultures surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, The Meridian is a land full of mysterious magic, warriors fighting from giant crow-back, and Machiavellian ruling castes of priests and merchants. It is a very fresh take on the genre, and breathes new life into tropes so soaked in the trappings of medieval England.
But the real highlights of this compelling work are the deeply realized characters and the ratchet-tight pacing. Epic fantasy has a tendency to ramble and repeat itself, wallowing in feasts and camp tents, as heroes and heroines brood over politics. From the first page, Black Sun rushes towards the destined climax, as political machinations, ancient prophecies, and even the sky itself push the players towards their destinies as surely as Captain Xiala sings up a current. Speaking of which Xiala was my favorite character, an opportunistic and morally gray wanderer searching for a home she doesn’t know how to even ask for, let alone find. Her chemistry with Serapio was easily the most fascinating part of the book for me.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is available in print, ebook, and audiobook, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local independent bookstore. I strongly recommend it!

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 Comics: The Union

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The Union #1
Written by Paul Grist
Drawn by Andrea Di Vito, Drew Geraci and Le Beau Underwood with Paul Grist
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: This comic feels a lot like Jack Staff, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

The Union, Marvel’s (mostly) new team of British superheroes debuts at a rocky time for the island nation, both in the real world and the Marvel universe. On our Earth, Brexit continues, while on Earth-616, their most prominent superhero, Captain Britain, has been replaced by his sister, Betsy Braddock, who is a mutant. While neither of these issues are explicitly addressed in the comic, both loom large over the book as it introduces a new government sponsored team lead by Britannia, a character who feels very familiar to the absent hero.
The one familiar member of the team is Union Jack, who fills the role of a Captain America-like super-soldier on the team. Grist wrote a long-running indie comic Jack Staff, about a similar character who was based on a rejected pitch to Marvel. This opening chapter has a similar feel, and artist Andrea Di Vito literally has him holding onto a flag for most of the issue in a likely homage.
The Union looks like the start of a clever superhero satire. Let’s just hope it can survive being tied-in to Marvel’s latest event, King in Black. You can download it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a print copy at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Finna

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Finna
Written by Nino Cipri
Published by Tor.Com

The Skinny: A broken-up couple adventures through a muliversal furniture store on a desperate rescue mission.

Imagine an IKEA that goes on forever. In this retail hellscape, Ava and Jules find themselves on a quest to find a missing shopper that has gone missing not merely between aisles, but between realities. Even though they have just broken up and are avoiding each other, they have been sent by their manager to rescue a lost grandmother, with no hope of overtime, but if they can prevent any bad press or leakage from a dystopian parallel Earth, there might be a Pasta and Friends gift card for them when they get back.
Cipri has pulled off something magnificent with this quirky novella. I’ve never seen the existential dread of modern retail work so elegantly expressed. They also set this story not at the beginning of a relationship, but at the fractious end, throwing together two humans who are still emotionally raw and wondering what comes next. They cover a huge amount of thematic issues in such a scant story, and they thread the needle beautifully, providing a moody, atmospheric story full of sympathetic characters. But Cipri’s compelling fantasy worlds will be what really draws you in. From a floating city of merchant ships to a forest of carnivorous furniture, Cipri creates a multiverse of dangers and wonders that is not to be missed.
Finna is available in print and ebook from Tor.Com and all the usual retailers.

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 Comics: I Walk With Monsters

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I Walk With Monsters #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Drawn by Sally Cantirino
Colored by Dearbhla Kelly
Published by Vault Comics

The Skinny: Hunting monsters, both supernatural and human

Jacey and David hunt monsters in rural America. Jacey grew up with her brother Jace on a farm, and they both knew what their father did with the hands who came to briefly stay and help out. That was until Jace was sent away to stay with “An Important Man.” Now, she searches the backroads and dark underbelly of the heartland, searching for a clue to what happened to him. David’s story is more complex.
Paul Cornell’s dialog is a treat here. It has a simple elegance that works really well to convey character. Jacey snaps with defiant boredom while in the clutches of a serial killer, and the short, rote dialog between her and David in the next scene quickly conveys that they have been at this a while. The extraordinary has become routine. And when that all falls apart, the flashback scenes deliver very effective menacing dread.
Sally Cantirino’s art with Dearbhla Kelly’s colors create a moody and oppressive atmosphere. Figures face the reader and challenge their notions of comfort and security. With a palate of browns and dark yellows, they evoke an endless autumn, a dark and dying world.
I Walk With Monsters gives an intriguing glimpse into a world of monsters, serial killers, and rich, deep characters. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or in print at Your Local Comics Shop.

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!

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