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Hugh Likes Video Games: Curses ‘n Chaos

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Curses ‘n Chaos
Tribute Games
Played on PS4 and PS Vita
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Curses and Chaos is a single-screen brawler with old-school charm and difficulty to match. The 1-2 Player game stars Lea and Leo, a tiny pair of mach-punching, booty-shaking adventurers under a curse. They are constantly under attack by monsters, and even Death itself! Their only ally, is an alchemist. She can cure them with the Elixir of Life, but she’ll need the ingredients to make it. And there’s only one way to get them: Fight the horde of monsters on their tail!
The game is played out on a single screen in a series of waves. Players fight ten waves of monsters, then the boss to unlock the next stage. Enemies enter from the right or left side of the screen on the ground or in the air. Each enemy drops either money or items that can be saved to make new items using alchemy between levels. Players can only save one or two items, so the money collected in each stage can be used  to buy more ingredients.
Curses and Chaos works because it rides the line between quarter-eating old-school challenge and modern free-play styles. Initially only one stage is unlocked, but once the player completes it they can choose any one to start from with three lives. And they will need them because this game is HARD. It isn’t unfair, though. Each enemy has consistent movement and item drops. They key to success is learning how they move and what they give you so that you can build a chain. The higher your chain, or luck, the better items and more money you get.
The pixel art in the game is gorgeous and detailed, if a bit blandly colored. This is good, because as a single-screen beat ’em up that relies on replaying levels over and over for more loot, you’ll be seeing a lot of them. The music is catchy and nostalgic 8-bit tunes that fit the game well.
Curses ‘n’ Chaos is a synthesis of old and new gameplay that will fit very well in your game library alongside games like ‘Shovel Knight.’ The gameplay is heart-pumping and addictive, often leaving you defeated, but ready to try one more time. PS Plus members can try it for Vita and PS 4 free until May 2nd. I highly recommend you do, but it is worth paying full price for.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Waters of Versailles

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The Waters of Versailles
Written by Kelly Robson
Published by Tor
watersofversailles
In the court of Louis XV, any luxury can be had, for a price. But the one thing no member of the court can be without is one of Sylvain de Guilherand’s toilets. His remarkable engineering skills have restored the fountains, transformed the palace, and even added new conveniences to the pampered lives of the French aristocracy.
But his marvel isn’t just the result of hard work or genius. He’s keeping a secret; a nixie hidden in the palace cisterns. When the nixie’s keeper dies suddenly, the ambitious, self-centered Sylvain must learn to care for the little creature. Otherwise, the whole palace could flood.
Robson’s novella is a delightful romp. A look at the excess and inhumanity of the pre-revolution French nobility, woven expertly with Sylvain’s own growing concern for the creature he first only sees as a tool for his own advancement.
Waters of Versailles is a quick read, but is eloquently and expertly constructed. You can find it on tor.com, or buy the ebook on Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Helena Crash

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Helena Crash #1
Written by Fabian Rangel Jr.
Drawn by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Published by IDW
Helena Crash
In the future, coffee is illegal. Highly skilled courier Helena Crash has the goods, but will a delivery to Rojo, the city’s second most powerful mob boss, cost her her life?
Helena Crash is a weird and wonderful Sci-Fi adventure comic for fans of Samurai Jack and Tank Girl. It’s a fast and breezy look into a smog-choked future filled with delightfully designed robots and mutants. Building this grim pulp future with coffee as the macguffin is a brilliant choice for an all-ages take on the sub-genre.
Rangel’s script is spot on and does just enough to let the art do the talking. Cadwell’s style is sketchy and has the perfect middle-school-notebook tone to match the action. The designs are all real winners, from a mutant punk with a blowfish for a head, to Rojo’s wolfman bodyguard. There’s always something cool to look at on the page.
Helena Crash has zoomed her way into my heart. You can find her in your local comics shop or on Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Norse Mythology

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Norse Mythology
Written by Neil Gaiman
Published by W W Norton and Company
Norse Mythology
From the comics pages of Sandman to the upcoming television production of “American Gods,” Norse mythology suffuses Neil Gaiman’s writing. Which makes a collection of tales written in his signature easy-to-read prose a perfect fit.
In a book that feels neither scholarly nor bowdlerized, Gaiman brings new life to the fragmentary records of Norse mythology that still remain. His choices take us from the beginning of the world to Ragnarok, the end of the cycle, and beyond. Gaiman’s excitement to share these tales is palpable in the writing. The gods and giants that populate the book aren’t figures of superstition or sociological interest. They aren’t big-screen superheroes and villains. The author captures what makes the Aesir living, breathing people. He captures a lost age of monsters and magic, but also beings with incredible power and equally human flaws. From Odin, infinitely wise but also petty and occasionally grasping, to Loki, whose mischief gets the gods out of almost much trouble as it causes.
In an early myth, Loki shaves the goddess Sif’s head. When Thor, in his anger, asks him why, he is honest. He was drunk, and he thought it would be funny. These gods will be familiar to Gaiman’s fans, but newcomers will perhaps see something they hadn’t before in these ancient legends.
In Norse Mythology Gaiman has poured a mighty horn full of the Mead of Poetry. Take a seat on the bench, and have a drink.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Idle Ingredients

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Idle Ingredients (Sin du Jour Book 4)
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by Tor

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Matt Wallace is back again with the fourth course of his ‘Sin du Jour’ novellas. Each bite-sized course of these epicurean Urban Fantasy series is an utter delight, and I’ve been looking forward to this one. As usual, Wallace doesn’t disappoint.
Still reeling from their last big job in Los Angeles, Sin du Jour line chef Lena Tarr goes on the lamb. Bronko and Nikki bring her back to the kitchen on the very reasonable assumption that the armies of Hell that are after them will kill her without the protection Sin du Jour provides. But there’s a new face at the catering company, ‘Government liaison’ Luciana Monrovio and Lena is immediately suspicious of the hold she seems to suddenly have over all of them, particularly the guys.
This novella is a bit more serious than the last three, but that’s not surprising after the major throw down at the end of “Pride’s Spell.” The thing I did like about this one is that it packs in a lot of character growth for characters we haven’t seen too much of before. Darren gets some nice page time, and really starts to come into his own, even as Lena is shown as more vulnerable than we’ve seen her in the past, and planning assistant Jett gets a cool arc too. Wallace’s strength is in keeping all of his plates spinning so flawlessly. Sin du Jour, as in his previous novella series, Slingers, has a huge cast of characters. Matt manages to breathe life into all of them, and progress their individual stories, in a breathtakingly short amount of pages. Each bite-sized book contains more character growth and personality than your average doorstop fantasy epic.
Sin du Jour book four, Idle Ingredients, is out now from Tor. You can purchase it from Amazon or wherever you get books.

Hugh Likes Comics: Doctor Aphra

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Doctor Aphra #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Kev Walker
Published by Marvel Comics
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How do you write a good anti-hero?  Put them up against forces larger, and worse than themselves and always, always make the bill come due for their evil deeds, in one way or another.  This is just what Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker’s Doctor Aphra sets out in its first issue.
The scheming anthropologist accomplice of Darth Vader is back in her own series, and I couldn’t be happier to see her again.  Accompanied by her droids 000 and BT, dark-mirror analogues of C3P0 and R2-D2, she’s still out looking for big scores and outsmarting the Galaxy’s ever-present underworld.  Clever, deep in debt, and out to save her own skin rather than the galaxy, she’s the perfect update of all of Han Solo’s tropes.  Just don’t call it a redemption arc.
Gillen’s story ditches the Campbellian melodrama and delivers a story full of double crosses, brawling, badass wookiees, and grimly comic murder droids.  Walker’s art is fun, and expressive, with action-oriented layouts.  Colorist Antonio Fabela proves you can tell a dark story in comics without over-shading the page.
Aphra was one of my favorite characters from Gillen’s Darth Vader run, and I can’t see what shenanigans she gets up to away from the sith lord’s watchful eye.  Doctor Aphra #1 is available digitally from Comixolgoy, or in print at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

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Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow
Published by Konami
Nintendo DS, 2005
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The sequel to 2003’s “Aria of Sorrow,” Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow” was the first installment of the series for the Nintendo DS.  A savvy reader might point out that ‘Dawn’ isn’t the best name for a sequel, but since it appeared in the first year of the system, it was one of many games that glommed on to the ‘DS’ suffix.
The game once again follows teen reincarnation of the Lord of Darkness Soma Cruz to a maze-like castle in which he will again come to terms with and try to overcome his destiny.  When he is confronted by a cult leader searching for the Lord of Darkness, Soma’s power of Dominance unexpectedly returns, forcing him to confront his past life once again.
On the whole, “Dawn of Sorrow” doesn’t bring much new from its GBA predecessors.  The main game puts you back in the shoes of Soma, with the ability to Dominate and use the powers of various monsters to fight and to solve puzzles.  You can also collect extra souls to power up your abilities and weapons, which is nice, but mostly this game is more Aria of Sorrow with prettier graphics.  The game does have a ‘seal’ system, in which bosses have to be sealed away to be beaten.  This involves drawing a symbol on the touch screen after the fight.  It is a bit annoying, forcing players to keep a stylus tucked in their hand during the fight, but hardly the most egregious tacked on touch-screen gimmick of its day.
The game also features a return of the standard Castlevania extras such as unlockable characters and Boss Rush modes.  The extra mode is a real treat in this version, as it allows the player to switch between characters in a fan-service nod to Castlevania III.
The game still holds up relatively well, with well-designed, highly detailed sprites.  The castle feels nice and big, and it isn’t too hard to navigate with plenty of warp and save areas.  The game had a little trouble running in my New 3DS, however.  It would occasionally freeze or glitch, and the system wouldn’t be able to read the game card.  This wasn’t enough of an issue to prevent normal play, however.
“Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow” is an incremental but worthy installment in the Castlevania franchise, and is well worth your time if you’re looking to explore Dracula’s castle this Halloween.  It doesn’t break a lot of ground, but it is a fun and challenging adventure.  You should be able to find a used copy at your local game store.

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