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Hugh Likes Video Games: Top 5 of 2019

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Tetris 99
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Akira
Played on Nintendo Switch

If there’s one thing Nintendo is really good at, it’s teaching an old dog new tricks. This answer to Sony’s 2018 hit Tetris Effect takes the venerable puzzler into virgin territory: The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Fighting it out with 98 other online players is exhilarating. Starting with a free-to-play model that doesn’t gouge you at every turn and a bevy of paid and free DLC make it a game I enjoyed all year long.

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Dicey Dungeons
Developed and Published by Terry Cavanagh
Played on Mac via Steam

2019 was the year of the the indie deckbuilder, but this steam gem pulled ahead of the back for me with its charm and style. Playing as six walking dice trying to win their hearts desires, you hack your way through a variety of turn-based battles agains the cruel whims of Lady Luck herself in her ’70’s style game show. Dicey Dungeons wins by matching cute style with tough-as-nails gameplay that always offers something new.

Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Developed by Simogo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Essentially a mashup of arcade racing and pop music video album, Queen Latifah guides The Fool through dream-life levels to mend her broken heart. Just simple enough to get you to keep trying for that Gold Rank, this game throws everything from mecha-wolf haunted forests to rain-soaked highways. This is less a game and more of an experience, but it is well worth your time.

Untitled Goose

Untitled Goose Game
Published by Panic
Developed by House House
Played on Nintendo Switch

Sometimes you just want to sow some chaos. Untitled Goose game started as a joke and became an indie darling. As the Untitular Goose, you honk your way through a reign of terror in a sleepy English village in a game that is a bit short, but gives you plenty mayhem to try and accomplish after you beat the main game in a couple hours.

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Pokemon Sword
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Game Freak
Played on Nintendo Switch

The first main entry for the series on Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword and Shield evoked controversy by not featuring the full eight-hundred plus roster of monsters. But the game still boasts a satisfyingly huge number of collectable monsters in full 3D, and the ability to camp and play with them as well as battle in a huge open world.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2019

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Die

Die
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Stephanie Hans
Published by Image Comics

Gillen’s story of a group of adults returning to the magical world they escaped as teenagers is a mix of It and the ’80’s Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon. Hans brings a unique, painterly style that makes the world feel as strange for us on the readers. The comic itself is a deep, emotional examination of trauma and the rules we live and play by. But as the characters move across the fantasy world, Gillen repeatedly pulls off the trick of exposing the bleeding heart of what Fantasy is and why we make it.

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Fairlady
Written by Brian Schirmer
Drawn by Claudia Balboni, Shari Chankhamma, and Marissa Louise
Published by Image Comics

An intriguing mix of mystery and fantasy, Fairlady mixes a modern sensibility with pulp stylings to great effect. A sort of fantasy private eye, Jenner Faulds solves mysteries, bickers with her co-worker at her day job protecting an absent wizard’s tower, and gets bailed out of trouble by her seven-foot tall cat-man bestie. Each issue is a single mystery, and they’re all clever and interesting. Unfortunately, the book was canceled after issue 5, but the trade is available, and this isn’t a book to let pass you by.

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House of X / Powers of X
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz and R. B. Silva
Published by Marvel Comics

House of X and Powers of X were a big gamble, and it’s safe to say at this point that it’s paid off. After years of protecting a world that hates and fears them, the X-Men are trying something new, and approaching their enemies as a new force. The idea of a mutant nation has been tried and failed in the Marvel Universe, but this one has a lot of new, big ideas going for it. I can’t wait to see what Hickman and crew get up to next.

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Invisible Kingdom
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Drawn by Christian Ward
Published by Berger Books

The incisive writing of G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Air) and the art of Christian Ward (Black Bolt, ODY-C)is a heady mix. And the intertwined story of a cargo ship captain working for a monopolistic space corporation and an acolyte in a religious order with dark secrets is a little bit Alien and a little bit Star Wars in all the best ways.

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Lois Lane / Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (Tie)

Lois Lane
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Mike Perkins
Published by DC Comics

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Published by DC Comics

I couldn’t pick between these two standout books, both of which came out around the same time, but are only slightly connected. Both are deep studies of neglected characters that are very different in tone and style from D.C.’s usual fare.
Lois Lane is a hard-boiled story about the world’s greatest investigative reporter as she delves into a conspiracy that cost one of her colleagues her life, with help from Renee Montoya, AKA The Question. It plays the Journalist as superhero part to the hilt, and it is something worth cheering for.
Jimmy Olsen is a more comical and surreal update of the silver age teen sidekick, as he goes into hiding after thinking Lex Luthor put out a hit on him. But this is also the comic where Jimmy Olsen finds himself in a prank war with Batman. Fraction is writing at the height of his Hawkguy powers here, and it’s strange, fascinating, and hilarious.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Creature in the Well

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Creature in the Well
Developed and Published by Flight School Studio
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Post-apocalyptic Pinball Action

Creature in the Well is a stylish and imaginative take on a pinball puzzle game, and while it doesn’t always hit its mark, the concept is so interesting in its execution, that I didn’t mind the missteps.
You play as Bot-C, the last of an army of robots tasked with maintaining a huge, failed machine housed inside a mountain. Your tools and materials will feel very familiar to any pinball player, as the task involves supplying power to a variety of bumper-like conduits with a ball-shaped ‘energy core.’ Opposing you in your task is the eponymous Creature, a huge menacing skeletal figure that haunts the installation. It puts traps in your way and taunts you as you bring the machine back to life one system at a time.
The game really succeeds on design. The various rooms, which function as tables, are challenging and surprising, although there is a fair amount of repetition. The machine feels properly foreboding and industrial, and the creature is menacing and impossible, hiding in the shadows revealing only a legion of huge, skeletal hands and glowing eyes.
The difficulty spikes at places, but the levels can be played in any order, so you can skip and come back to challenges and boss fights when you are better equipped. The default settings are a bit fiddly, with the controls set to the face buttons. Your bot is equipped with a pair of blades, and these can be swapped out for various effects. They work much better mapped to the shoulder buttons, but the player can freely customize them.
Creature in the Well is a great little indie action game based on classic pinball mechanics. It’s available from Steam, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It’s well worth your time.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Pokemon Sword

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Pokemon Sword
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Game Freak
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Pokemon’s eight generation is a mix of familiar mechanics and exciting new ideas in a charming Pseudo-British region.

It’s another holiday season, which means another Pokemon game has descended from the from the Heights of Mt. Nintendo. This year’s is Pokemon Sword and Shield, the second Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch, and the first non-spinoff entry on the system.
Set in the new Galar region, a charming, fully 3D rendered world based on The British Isles. Starting with Pokemon Black and White, the series has leaned far in to the cultural associations of each region, and this game is no exception. From catching Teapot ghosts to Team Yell, a team of hooligan antagonists, to enjoying a nice curry with your pokemon, the game feels very British. Or at least, reflective of how the Japanese developers view British culture. You play as a young trainer just starting out, chasing the footsteps of your neighbor, Galar champion Leon. Other rivals include the champion’s cheerful kid brother Hop, A goth trainer supported by Team Yell, and a stylish orphan working for a shadowy businessman. All in all, the plot is very familiar. Collect eight gym badges, do some unpaid cataloging work for a local scientist, and battle your way to the championship. The added spice is in the way the gym challenge plays out. Instead of fighting Gym Leaders One-on-One in some thematically decorated room, you take take them on in packed arenas in front of crowds of screaming fans. The gyms themselves are a mix of old school trainer battles and Sun and Moons unique missions, which strikes the perfect balance when topped with a dramatic battle on the pitch.
While Pokemon Sword and Shield does a lot right, let’s get to the nitpicks, and they’re probably not the one’s you’re expecting if you paid any attention to fan grumbles before launch. The game does a good job of letting players discover mechanics, such as Camping, Cooking, and the Poke Jobs system at their own pace, but the gym challenge is totally on rails. You have to visit towns in a certain order, and can only explore more of the map once you’ve collected the requisite badges. With the vast wilderness of the Wild Area to explore to explore, it feels a bit of a throwback when you are forced onto a lockstep path of Routes and Caves. Also, there isn’t as much customization in your party as I would have liked. Every pokemon in your party gains experience, which is great if you’re grinding to take on a gym, but not so great if you are trying to evolve a difficult Eeveelotion at low level.
The other problem is the online functionality. Mystery trade works great, but any other form suffers from a complete lack of communication. You can see other trainers running around the Wild Area, but they essentially become NPCs with canned dialogue. This can be somewhat overlooked. It is a game meant for all-ages, and Nintendo tends towards caution when it comes to protecting minors online. But without any way to communicate, trading becomes a frustrating process of laboriously showing a pokemon to your trade partner and hoping they somehow pull out one you’re looking for and don’t cancel the trade. Even a rudimentary system like in the DS games would’ve been more useful here.
With a mix of new and old systems, Pokemon Sword and Shield are a great little pair of RPGs full of monsters to collect and secrets to uncover in a charming new 3D setting. You can download the game from the Switch eshop, or buy the physical cartridge from your local game store.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest XI S

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Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
Published and Developed by Square Enix
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Dragon Quest returns with a massive JRPG in the classic style.

While technically the PS4 version of this game came out in the U.S. last year, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age is probably one of my top games of 2019. I gave the original a pass because I just don’t have that much time to sit down in front of my television. But the portable version has been a delight.
The game follows the familiar tropes of the OGJRPG of a young man being chosen by a great force to leave his remote village and confront evil, recruiting a troupe of companions along the way. But like the other modern iterations of the series, it does a great job interrogating the tropes and cliches of the genre.
Particularly interesting is Sylvando, who is a powerful fighter, and an openly gay character in a genre of game that gets a lot of traction on AO3 but is somewhat lacking in official representation. And while the game does play him for laughs (he is a jester, after all) it also goes out of its way to portray him as strong, brave and chivalrous as well. It’s rare to see something so well done in a space where representation usually boils down to male-gaze lesbians and that time Cloud Strife wore a dress in FFVII.
Combat is fun, a little on the easy side, and about what you’ve come to expect from Dragon Quest over the past 30 years. The 3D mode has an option to let you move the characters around in battle, but it is more for aesthetics than a gameplay feature. Mini-games also make a return, from the ubiquitous Dragon Quest casino to a horse-racing mini-game and a portable forge for making weapons and armor from recipes.
Another nice feature is that while the default is to play in 3D mode, the game also includes the 3DS 2D version, which was previously unavailable in the US, as well as a massive sidequest that was unique to that version. You can even switch back and forth between the two if you want, although progress is gated to certain story chapters that aren’t so clearly delivered.
While the game looks and plays great, there are a few compromises in the animation and display. Some character animations feel jerky and off. Objects, particularly complex ones like trees, pop in as you get close to them. My Switch audibly chugged when it had to render too much in handheld mode. And like most Dragon Quest games, it is entertaining but long. I have already put in over 40 hours and from what I understand I’ve barely scratched the game’s surface. Also like modern localizations of the series, it’s full of puns. So many puns. If you aren’t onboard for a hundred hours of dad jokes, this is not the game for you.
Dragon Quest XI S is a delightful return to form for Square Enix, crammed full of exciting quests, memorable characters and a surprising story. Just be sure to set aside some time to play it, because this game is long.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Heist

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Heist, or How To Steal a Planet #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

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The Skinny: A love letter to Science Fiction Noir and the start of something great.

Theirs something about Sci-Fi Noir that I find inexplicably cool. GIve me the rain-soaked neon of Blade Runner, the pitiless urban sprawl of the BAMA. Heist delivers a whole new world of grimy future crime, and it does it with a love for the grubby subgenre on its sleeve. Welcome to Grave City.
The planet Heist was the last Independent hold-out against the monolithic Dignity Corporation. Glane Breld took the fall when Dignity took over. And the man who set him up took his car. Now Glane’s a free man again, and he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to put together a crew skilled enough to steal the planet back again.
Heist #1 is one of those rare great comics where the writer and artists are working in perfect synchronicity. Tobin’s writing sets up the characters and the world well, without being too dense. Susini’s art is grimy and evocative of the great indie sci-fi comics of the 80’s and 90’s. This comic feels like how fans talk about 2000 AD. Astone’s colors wash the whole thing in a murky shadowscape that is absolutely perfect and sets the right level of menace for the underground of Grave City.
Heist #1 is a dirty, rotten jewel of a Sci-Fi Crime comic. This is going to be a big one, and you can pick it up at your local shop, or digitally from Comixology. Go out and get it.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Marauders #1

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Marauders #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Drawn by Matteo Lolli
Colored by Federico Blee
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

Marauders

The Skinny: X-Men’s big Sci-Fi experiment embraces the New Wave. On a boat.

Marauders #1 is the X-Men book I’ve been waiting for.
The X-Men, right down to their creation as five white teenagers in 1960’s America, has always been a metaphor for oppressed groups. This isn’t a new idea, whether Marvel Editorial admits it or not. But with House of X, Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz changed tack. The core concept was still there, but Krakoa altered the dynamic and outlook of mutants so it became less of a struggle between them and human oppressors and more of a big, Golden-Age Science Fiction meditation on divergent futures.
But with Marauders #1, at least some corner of the X-line is back on solid New Wave SF ground, and examining the structures of what Krakoa hath wrought, because there’s no such thing as a problem-free utopia. The problem being that not everybody can use the gates to get to the distant island. In some cases, it is because the countries those gates are in have cordoned them off. For Kate, (formerly Kitty) Pride, it’s because Krakoa won’t let her in.
So, along with a crew of Iceman, Storm, and accidentally the original Pyro, she sets to sea in a boat to bring the mutants that want to come to Krakoa but can’f find a way. The result is the usual superhero dustup against a cadre of generic Russian soldier baddies, but the premise has legs to explore the real consequences of the new era. We get to see who’s being left behind, and where the cracks are in Moira and Xavier’s plans. Plus, this looks like the book where we’re going to see all of Emma Frost’s scheming play out, and that was the most interesting part of House of X, in my opinion.
X-Men as a concept always works better for me when it deals with characters rather than concepts. Marauders looks like the book where we’re actually going to see the two intersect in interesting ways. Issue one is out now digitally from Comixology, and in print at your local comics shop. Go check it out.

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