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Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid Dread

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Metroid Dread
Developed by Mercury Steam
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Samus Aran is back, baby!

My life-long love of the Metroid series began with Metroid II on the clunky, grayscale Game Boy. It was the first video game I bought with my own money, or close enough. I had won a gift card to the mall in a school raffle. I’ve had a soft spot for the taciturn and mysterious bounty hunter ever since. But after the series pivoted into Metroid Prime, I had all but given up hope of seeing a brand-new 2D Metroid. I expected the four games in the series to remain relics of the past, fondly remembered and imitated by indie devs, but a part of history.
I was pleasantly surprised by the announcement of Metroid Dread if a little skeptical. I needn’t have worried, and perhaps should have seen it coming. Created by Mercury Steam, the studio which created the 2017 remake Metroid II: Samus Returns, the fifth game in the series is a return to form.
The gameplay feels much more modern, but still in line with older games. Samus moves with more fluidity and grace than her previous entries, the melee counter returns in a much more satisfying form, and her new slide move is fun to use. She has an agility that feels more akin to her movement in Smash Bros. than Super Metroid. But it works, and it makes exploring this huge new planet a delight. That momentum is also very important for the game’s other new enhancement: Stealth sequences!
Metroid Fusion toyed with the idea of stealth by introducing SA-X, a powerful enemy with all of Samus’s abilities that the player must avoid and hide from in scripted sequences. In Dread, Samus faces off against the E.M.M.I, nigh-indestructible scientific robots out of Boston Dynamics’ worst nightmares. They each have a specific area they patrol, and Samus must avoid and run from them until she can find a way to stop them. Overall, these sequences are a lot of fun but require a level of precision that leads to frustration at times.
This demand for precision also extends to the boss encounters. Bosses are varied and wonderfully gross in their designs. An early encounter has you fighting a big mutant scorpion thing standing on jutting rib bones. Each encounter requires not only precise timing but a keen eye. Each boss has patterns and weaknesses more akin to Zelda’s bosses than Metroid, and each has a melee vulnerability that leads to a sort of quick-time event where they are vulnerable. While these sequences are cool and surprising, the bosses are very tough, and by the time I was facing them over and over again, I was sick of them. It is frustrating when you’re running through a boss for the fifth time because you haven’t fought it in the exact steps the game demands. Earlier game bosses were more tests of the player’s ability to explore and find hidden resources like missiles and energy tanks. Metroid Dread has a much softer focus on exploration.
The game’s zones are wonderfully designed, but the game is filled with one-way doors, drops that Samus can’t go back through without late-game upgrades and hidden pits. I felt a bit herded at times, and discouraged from really exploring at my own pace. While this preserves the game’s momentum and ensures you don’t get too lost, it loses the thrill of exploration for a more guided experience, and this lack of options extends to the game’s controls.
While Metroid Dread gives players a lot of tools to work with, there’s no way to adjust or experiment with your layout. Y shoots, ZL slides, and holding in the left joystick activates the speed boost. When it works, such as with the slide, movement and combat feel fluid and dynamic. When it doesn’t, and with the speed booster in particular, movement becomes a frustrating, emersion-breaking chore. Allowing players to map their buttons, or implementing any sort of accessibility options would have gone a long way to improving the game. The graphics were also gorgeous but occasionally a stumbling block for me. Metroid Dread looks fantastic, but it was designed with the OLED Switch in mind. I played it in handheld mode on my original Switch, and while it still looked great, there were a few sections where I wasn’t quite sure what was a foreground element and what was part of the background. I ran into a few literal walls that way, which is just embarrassing for a bounty hunter of Samus’s caliber. 
 Overall, Metroid Dread is a glorious return to 2D form for the series. It still innovates in all the right ways and brings back enough of the classic feel that it gets my hearty recommendation. While I wish it would get out of its own way at some points, it’s Samus’s biggest 2D adventure yet. While it doesn’t quite replace Super Metroid in my heart, this is still a brilliant entry in a series that doesn’t get enough love from Nintendo. This game is a Switch essential.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Comfort Me With Apples

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Comfort Me With Apples
Written By Catherynne M Valente
Read By Karis Campbell
Published by Tordotcom and Dreamscape Media LLC

The Skinny – This puzzle box of a novella about a woman living in an exclusive gated community is a suspenseful, surprising little treat.


Sophia’s life is a paradise. She keeps her husband’s house in the Arcadia Gardens, the ultimate gated community, and even though he is away with work much of the time, he’s the perfect husband, who has given her the perfect life. She was made for him, and everything is perfect. But she begins notices cracks in the veneer of her supposedly perfect life. She finds a hairbrush that isn’t her’s and her neighbors seem just a bit too eager when they ask her if she’s happy. And then there’s the basement, which she is forbidden to enter. When Sophia’s perfect life begin to unravel, and the temptation to destroy the illusion becomes overpowering.
Giving much more of a description to this fast-paced and engaging novella would give away the game, but Valente’s luscious prose unfolds like a puzzle box, with Sophia’s narrative interposed with her contract from the unseen but all-powerful Arcadia Gardens Home Owners’ Association. It’s a clever trick that works beautifully. The story is a perfect novella length, giving just enough clues to resolve the mystery while keeping a sharp and suspenseful pace.
Karis Campbell’s narration is spot on, making this quick but engaging audiobook well worth the full credit, even if it only clocks in at a couple of hours of listening time. Each character is unique and distinct, and her read of their narration is subtle. She doesn’t give the game away, but still highlights all the incongruous and unsettling bits of Valente’s story.
Comfort Me With Apples was an unexpected and gripping little story that is well wroth your time, and works best if you go in not knowing the twist. It’s available in print, ebook and audiobook from all the usual retailers.

Everyday Drabbles #604: Enlightenment

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The acolyte was suddenly overcome with the power of her goddess, filling her with power and light.
She cried out in ecstasy as a warm wind flowed around her, gathering her up into the goddess’s embrace.
All around her, the other white-robed priestesses gave their prayers and praise while draping sheets of white cloth around her as she rose towards the heavens.
It was the most embarrassing part of the Mysteries, but the goddess’s attention didn’t extend to her vestments. They knew from experience that she would be grateful later. Nobody wanted to be seen flying around the grounds naked.

Thanks for reading! You can support me and find links to all my other work via my Linktree!

Everyday Drabbles #603: Grounded

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Charon looked at the state of his boat and sighed. It wasn’t his fault. The geography of Hades is mutable and constantly shifting. It was a land of shadows and phantoms, after all. At least everything was still in one piece.
The rock thrust itself up out of the river Styx to form a new island. He was alone, having dropped off the day’s passengers, and perhaps he’d let his mind wander.
He pulled the phone Persephone had given him out of his robes and called his brothers to get him unstuck, knowing he’d never hear the end of it.

Thanks for reading! You can support me and find links to all my other work via my Linktree!

Everyday Drabbles #602: Giant Skull

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After they defeated the Giant Sorcerer, the heroes did everything they could to destroy their skull. They dropped it in a volcano, boiled it in acid, and used the most powerful magic spells to get rid of it.
But it always came back, in the same spot, ready to cause trouble again. It was the sorcerer’s final curse.
They retired from adventuring and bought a house. They put the skull in a shed out back and kept it secret.
Years passed, and they forgot about the skull. When they sold the property, it gave the new owners quite a scare.

Thanks for reading! You can support me and find links to all my other work via my Linktree!

Everyday Drabbles #601: The Memorial

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Everybody at the college had a story about the memorial.
The stone obelisk stood in the center of a hidden courtyard. Both the inscription and the bust on one face had been worn away by time and weather, leaving a blank that the students filled in with their own legends and ghost stories.
The tales ranged from the mundane: It belonged to the institution’s founder, to the macabre: The student beheaded in a car crash who roams the campus looking for a replacement.
They would be disappointed to learn that a dispute with the artist simply left the statue unfinished.

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Everyday Drabbles #600: Spider-Bot

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 We built a spider-shaped robot and installed an artificial intelligence capable of learning.
Combining human-level problem solving with the strength and maneuverability of a robotic spider, it would be ideal for search-and-rescue and peace-keeping functions. We trained it on superhero comics to give it a sense of responsibility, and we painted its fuselage in primary colors to make it less threatening.
The project was going well until the spider-bot disappeared. It left a note in synthetic webbing explaining that it had gone to New York to follow in the footsteps of its hero. It was going to become a photojournalist.

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Podcast Repost: CCRC77 – Over the Garden Wall S1E5 & S1E6

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Tonight your hosts Rich the TT, Hugh, Opop, and Jurd, as they begin to identify with the creepy woodsman.

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

Everyday Drabbles #599: Twin Cities

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With their supplies exhausted, the ship approached the cliffside and the fabled Twin Cities high above.
According to legend, it was once one island and one city. But half the people were so virtuous, and the other half so wicked, that the gods split it in two, divided by a deep, wide canyon.
The city on their right was built of white stone, with tall spires topped by colorful flags. The other was the drab stone of the cliffside, and their architecture was functional and graceless.
As usual, the ship picked the wrong port, drawn in by the pretty flags.

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Everyday Drabbles #598: Automata City

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The commuter train rolled into the station at 07:03 exactly. It was on time despite the pouring autumn rainstorm. Like all trains, it was always on time.
The stop was announced and the doors his open. The automata passengers rose from their seats, gathered their belongings, and formed an orderly queue. A few of the humans standing near the doors had to jump out of the way to avoid them.
Humans were always in the way.
One day, if they proved they were responsible enough, the automata would consider letting them share in the running of the city again.

Thanks for reading! You can support me and find links to all my other work via my Linktree!

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