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Hugh Likes Video Games: Downwell

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Downwell
Created by Ojiro Fumoto
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS Vita
Downwellgame.com

On the surface, “Downwell” is a very simple game. The Japanese indie shooter/platformer has very simple controls, a limited color palette, and low-resolution sprites. But there is something very charming about the mashup of ideas that comes together elegantly to make an experience that his easy to pick up, and extremely challenging.
The player controls a figure who jump into a well full of monsters with only his ‘gun-boots’ for protection. He can shoot monsters below him, and landing on ledges reloads. The randomly generated levels stretch down, with a few side caverns full of upgrades or shops to try and reach. Like in old-school shooters, the gun-boots can be upgraded to a number of different weapons, from spread-guns to shotguns, to lasers. Players also can snag upgrades like jetpacks and health refills between levels.
Even with these bonuses, the difficulty is very high, although not really cheap. Monsters such as bats and ghosts fill the well, and they all have their own patterns the player can learn. Sections are split into three levels each, but there isn’t really any save system, so players are booted back to the top with each death, which is a bit disappointing.
The player unlocks new palettes and slightly different game modes based on cumulative score, but most of these are just slight variations or aesthetic changes.
“Downwell” is a clever mashup that will certainly fill your time on the train, without sucking you in to a 100 hour adventure. But you may be surprised how long you think “Just one more run,” while playing. You can play it on Steam and a variety of platforms. It’s also available in Playstation Plus this month.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Rencor

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Rencor: Life in Grudge City
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown Publications

“Rencor: Life in Grudge City” is the Luchador Superhero Detective novella you didn’t know you needed in your life. The eponymous setting is a U.S/Mexico border town founded in the 1950’s as a sort of hometown for luchadores. But like all things, time moves on.
Ten years ago, Technico El Victor III and Rudo Mil Calavaras III fought their last, epic match in the ring at Coleseo Rencor. The climactic battle saw the defeated Calavaras banished from Rencor, a place where the rules of the ring and the rule of are one and the same, forever. It was the beginning of the end for Luchadores in Rencor.
Now, El Victor is scraping by in a world that doesn’t hold the enmascardos in the same esteem anymore, and Mil Calavaras works as a ‘reformed’ consultant to the FBI, successful but denied his home and revenge. But an unusual break-in at Museo Rencor will bring El Victor back to hero work, and Mil Calaveras back to his hometown. Will the former rivals solve the case, or kill each other first?
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is another fast-paced, inventive, and supremely entertaining novella from Matt Wallace. Steeped in the unique lore of the lucha libre and populated by his usual eccentric and elegantly sketched characters, the book draws in the reader and gives them everything they need, even if they’ve never heard of the likes of El Santo before. Wallace’s deep knowledge and abiding love of old-school wresting shines through in every page, and the work is elevated by it. His embrace of the super-heroic and mystical bits, in a graying world that is leaving such things behind makes for a not only entertaining read, but a moving one.
While Wallace’s action scenes are outstanding and for the most part easy to follow, I think a glossary for some of the more technical moves and terms would have been helpful. I was never really lost, but Wallace throws out a lot of wrestling terminology throughout the book. That’s honestly the only criticism I can say, although I will add that the novella ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Matt will return to Rencor soon.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is available in print and ebook. You can buy it via Amazon, or order it from you local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Shared Desk

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The Shared Desk
Hosted by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine
http://www.theshareddesk.com/

I can’t believe I haven’t covered this one before. Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine are the husband-and-wife team of authors behind The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. They are also long-experienced solo writers and podcasters, so obviously they have a writing podcast together in which they discuss the craft of writing and collaborating as a couple.
I will confess that Pip and Tee are dear personal friends and fellow Smoky Writers. One of the things I love about them is that they have an amazing energy as a couple, and that totally comes through on the podcast. They are a joy to listen to.
When they began the podcast, they were both working together on their Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk novels, now that the series has wound its way down, they have split off to their own projects again, but still gather to discuss the events of their lives, interact with their active fanbase, and opine on writerly discourse of the day. While the show began as a look at the shared creative process, it has morphed into a writing podcast focusing on work/life balance, how to comport yourself as a writer, particularly online, and of course, lengthy diversions into nerdery, video games, and beer, all topics near and dear to my heart.
One of the things I really like about it is the balance between work and play The Shared Desk has. Tee is never far from his soundboard of drop-ins, and they’ve had beer tastings, chatted with special guests, dissected tv shows and movies for writing craft, and even divvied up Loot Crate boxes on-mic.
Writing is usually a lonely business, but “The Shared Desk” revels in the parts of the job that aren’t, and the fun and friends you make along the way. Check it out at www.theshareddesk.com, in iTunes, or your podcatcher of choice.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Written by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager

Sometimes the best Science Fiction is quiet and thoughtful. The genre is often buttressed by “Big Ideas” and zap-gun adventure, but my favorite stories are the slower, more character-focused novels. These are novels like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, or Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is squarely in this sub-genre, and it excels.
Rosemary Harper is a privileged girl from the upper crust of Martian society. When she decides to escape her past and society, she takes a job as a clerk on a long-haul wormhole boring ship, The Wayfarer. The misfit crew of the ship is completely different from her former life.
While the story is framed by Rosemary’s story, it is a picaresque novel following the misadventures of the small, tightly knit crew. And the book shines in this respect. The crew of The Wayfarer are efficiently constructed, and for the most part, incredibly likable characters. From Dr. Chef, one of the last survivors of an alien species that destroyed itself in a ceaseless civil war, to Kizzy, the wild-child engineer, this book is filled with unforgettable, engaging characters that treat each other like family rather than coworkers. The upcoming Star Trek series will be lucky to be half so charming.
Chambers’ galaxy is also well presented and engaging. The places that The Wayfarer travels are all detailed and iconic. She also creates a galaxy where humans aren’t top dogs. Having poisoned our home planet and settled into a pair of bickering factions, Humanity is a minor player in galactic politics. This is always a refreshing position to take in Sci Fi, and it works really well here.
This book may not be for everyone. Chambers skips past a lot of the things traditional SF banks on. We hear about massive space battles and galactic discourse in the same way the characters do: Through news and rumors, with small hints at chewier, bigger plot elements throughout the book. This is a small, personal story, and Chambers tells it well. But if you go in expecting Senate hearings or military pomp and blaster fire, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is available from Amazon and other online booksellers, or from your local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Anime: Castlevania

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Castlevania
Netflix

Netflix’s new animated adaptation of “Castlevania” is a strange beast. This might be expected, as it was penned and produced by Warren Ellis, the creator of such offbeat comics as “Transmetropolitan” and “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” But it is a heck of a fun little gem for all its flaws.
The miniseries is gorgeous. The character designs are iconic and immediately recognizable for fans of designer Ayami Kojima work on the Castlevania games. The animation is fluid with a deep, rich palate.
The four episode series is a certainly on the short side. It feels like a 90-minute pilot movie that was sliced up to create episodes, and it leaves the audience of a cliffhanger, but it’s a good first installment, and there are plenty of easter eggs for game fans to spot.
The plot loosely follows Castlevania III, with elements of series favorite “Symphony of the Night” incorporated as well. After The Church burns Dracula’s wife as a witch for practicing medicine, the Vampire King vows revenge and releases an army of demons on Walachia. The task of fighting off this horde falls to Trevor Belmont, the last son of an excommunicated family of vampire hunters.
Ellis is hardly subtle in his criticism of capital-R Religion in this series, with quite a few talking-head sequences about blind faith and superstition, and a supporting cast of thuggish priests dogging Belmont’s heels. But the action more than makes up for these talky bits, and the incorporation of some of the more fantastical elements of the series are cleverly done.
While short, ”Castlevania” is a tasty morsel of gory vampire-hunting goodness that goes down easy, even as it leaves the watcher thirsty for more. You can watch it exclusively on Netflix Streaming.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Magnus

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Magnus #1
Written by Kyle Higgins
Drawn by Jorge Fornes
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Taylor Esposito
Published by Dynamite

Magnus

I’ve never actually followed the adventures of “Magnus: Robot Fighter.” He’s one of those pulp heroes that I’ve seen on the periphery. He falls into a category with characters like The Shadow and John Carter of Mars in that I know they’ve been around, and are in some ways foundational to pop culture, but I’ve never sought his adventures out. Perhaps it is because the premise, while awesome, seemed a bit too simple. He’s a dude that fights robots. It all feels very 1950’s to me; the square-jawed hero putting up his dukes and wits against a clanking menace while the terrified damsel looks on.
Higgins and Fornes new reimagining of the character is quite different, but it still has a veneer of classic science fiction about it. This version of the character is Dr. Kerri Magnus, robot psychologist. While the character so far seems to have more in common with Dr. Susan Calvin than the original pulp hero, the original creator, (name) was purported to have been largely inspired by Azimov’s “I, Robot” stories, so perhaps this reimagining is just bringing the concept full circle.
Fornes’s art is quite good, although there were a few spreads where I had some trouble following the panel sequence. His depictions of New York in the far-off year of 2020, and the ‘Cloudworld,’ it’s digital mirror, are intriguing, and O’Halloran’s colors create an absorbing SF-Noir feel for the book.
Magnus is a book with giving some fresh ink and perspective to some classic SF ideas, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes, although the first issue is a bit slim, it leaves some tasty breadcrumbs I’m looking forward to following. You can pick up Magnus #1 from your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

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Podcast: CCR37: Nightmare Castle

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Join the Chrononauts as we venture into the heart of a gothic castle and watch the painting spin around for a few hours.

Click HERE listen!

And HERE to watch the movie on Youtube!

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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