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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Written by P. Djeli Clark
Audiobook read by Julian Thomas
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: A light fantasy adventure novella set in an alternate 1910’s Cairo.

What starts out as a routine haunting for two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities quickly expands in a plot involving smuggling rings, women’s suffrage, and the uneasy mingling of cultures in an alternate 1912 Cairo that is the center of the modern and magical world.
Never quite hard-edged enough to put the punk in its steampunk, Clark never the less wrestles with the concept of empire, if only by having the characters discussing how glad they are to not have the English in charge anymore. His Cairo is a cosmopolitan jewel, with a mixture of vibrant cultures and characters both real and mythical. Much like his earlier short story that shares the setting, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” Haunting evokes a deeply complex world that challenges both the reader’s and the characters preconceived notions.
And speaking of which, his characters are memorable delights, from sassy shopkeepers, to obsequious transit officials, and his two main leads, the tough, world-weary agent Hamed and the sharp, but soft agent Onsi. Clark skirts the line of some well-worn procedural tropes, but his dialog and realizations of the characters breathe unexpected life into them.
I listened to this book on Audible, and Julian Thomas gives an excellent, if a bit slow, reading. His performance of the characters makes each of them clearly recognizable, and to my inexperienced ears he handles accents well, making them distinctive but still easily understandable to a listener generally unfamiliar with the region.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is available in ebook, print and audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and your local independent book store. It’s well worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a well-realized historical fantasy that plays outside of the typical Western European sandbox. I’m eagerly awaiting Clark’s next entry in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional settings.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Calamity Kate

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Calamity Kate #1
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Corin Howell
Colored by Valenitna Pinto
Published by Dark Horse Comics

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The Skinny: A recent divorcee moves to California to start over in the high-stakes world of professional monster hunting.

Kate Strand’s life just fell apart. After going through a messy divorce and withdrawing into her shell, she’s ready to reinvent herself. And she’s going to do it by becoming the world’s greatest monster hunter, much to the chagrin of her former best friend and single-parent Vera, whose couch she’s going to be surfing on while she does it.
Visaggio has stated that this is an almost biographical story, dealing with her own divorce and the self-destructive urges that came with it. While the monsters may be metaphorical, who hasn’t been tempted to leave their messy lives behind and start again rather than face a scarier reality, even knowing that you’re carrying your problems with you?
The thing I love about this issue is the manic sense of tension that pervades every panel. The focus is less on the cool monsters than it is the consequences Kate is running from. This is best expressed in an early sequence where Kate asks Vera if she can stay with her until she gets back on her feet, and they are interrupted by a bunch of monster skulls toppling out of her duffel bag.
Howell’s art and Pinto’s colors sing. Howell does both great expressions and pleasantly scary monster designs. Pinto’s dark colors are a perfect tonal match. Even on a bright, sunny, morning, there is the pervading sense of impending catastrophe.
Calamity Kate #1 is a bold new first issue to another deeply personal story from a rising star in comics writing. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or grab a physical copy at your local comics shop!
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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 Comics: Wonder Twins

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Wonder Twins #1
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Stephen Byrne
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: DC revives two Saturday Morning Cartoon c-listers for a funny and heartwarming YA series.

High School is difficult. Especially when you’re a transfer student from another planet. DC has revived 70’s and 80’s cartoon sidekicks the Wonder Twins in a lighthearted new monthly book as a part of their Wonder Comics imprint, and the first issue is utterly delightful.
At a time when DC’s books feel like they are at their darkest and most complicated, this feels like a breath of fresh air. Russell delivers a fast moving and engaging script that gives readers that weren’t alive during the Raegan administration everything they need to know. These new versions of Zan and Jayna are well realized and interesting. The humor is always rooted in their characters and never relies on them being z-list sidekicks from the silver age. And they actually land quite well. Skilled but self-conscious Jayna dresses like a young Clark Kent, and awkward but overconfident Zan gets into all kinds of trouble. I won’t spoil any of the really good gags in the issue, but we also learn Batman and Superman’s most embarrassing high school moments, and that Diana is the mean girl of the Super Friends.
Byrne’s art is colorful and engaging, and makes the issue a joy to read. The whole package feels like DC finally has an answer to Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a charming, comedic book that dusts off some young, goofy characters for light-hearted superheroic hi-jinx. This book isn’t going to reshape the multiverse, but it’s a welcome relief from DC’s latest crisis. You can find it online through Comixology, or in print at your local comics shop!
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Hugh Likes Comics: Daredevil

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Daredevil #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Drawn by Marco Checchetto
Colored by Sunny Gho
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: After recovering from dying (again,) Matt Murdock returns to crime-fighting, but things aren’t so easy anymore.

Matt Murdock is tired. After having come back to life, although in a bit more medically plausible fashion this time, he is hitting the rooftops as Daredevil, but finding that things aren’t as easy as they used to be. With Wilson Fisk the elected mayor of New York, NYPD has standing orders to stop vigilantes, with Daredevil being a major target.
Plus, Matt is rushing things. He’s impatient, and isn’t back to his old self. Like an old boxer, he is wondering if her ever will be, and how long he can rebound before physical injury and infirmity catch up to him.
Chip Zdarsky is hitting it out of the park with another more serious book at Marvel. I’ve already reviewed his writing on The Invaders, and this is a similarly thoughtful take on a character who has seen horrors and how they have internalized them. My favorite line of the issue is when he tells the woman he takes home from a bar not to fetishize his disability. There is a bone-tiredness there that speaks volumes about Matt’s experiences both in and out of his superhero identity.
Marco Checchetto’s art and Sunny Gho’s coloring both serve the story well. I liked Checchetto’s cramped, overlapping page layouts and Gho’s dark and gritty colors both do a great job of establishing an atmosphere and pace to the issue that would be a little unclear without them.
The issue also has a four-page backup story by Zdarsky that is a nearly-wordless short about Matt saving a kidnapping victim that does a great job of showing the events first from an outside point of view, then from Matt’s, using a great visualization of his sensory powers.
Daredevil #1feels very reminiscent of the Netflix series, but this is a very strong return for the character, and I can’t wait to see where this team goes with this direction. You can pick up a copy from your Local Comics Shop, or get the digital version from Comixology.
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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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