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Hugh Likes Video Games: Toem

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Toem
Developed by Something We Made
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A delightful little adventure about photography and community
Toem is a little gem of an indie adventure game about photography and perspective. This comforting little puzzle box is full of puzzles to solve, characters to help, and tiny locations to visit.
 Created by Swedish indie studio Something We Made, Toem only takes a few hours to play but is all about relaxation and comfort. Designed to be played in short bursts, it is the perfect game to wind down with at the end of the day or de-stress to over a coffee break as you take missions tracking down singing goats and finding the perfect spot to photograph a forest hotel.
 The game sets you in the shoes of a young photographer on an adventure to find the Toem, with no further explanation given. The tools at your disposal are your trusty camera and a very unusual public transit system that rewards public service with free rides. The game is divided into five zones, and at the start of each one, you’re given a public service card. As you explore a forest, a city, a seaside resort, and a mountain, you are given puzzles to solve in the form of requests of each area’s inhabitants. These can range from the simple, such as taking a photo of a requested subject, to the obtuse, such as recovering lost items or even restoring a power plant. After each puzzle, you are rewarded with a stamp on your card. Collect the requisite number of stamps, and you’re free to move along to the next area. But completionists will still have plenty of challenges to complete, animals to photograph, and hidden secrets to uncover beyond the game’s forgiving requirements.
 With one notable exception, Toem is presented in a charming black and white art style, and the small, isometric levels have a diorama-like quality. The characters are quirky, and a few of the puzzles are fiendishly clever, but I never felt stuck.
 Toem is a short and cozy experience that is perfect for unwinding by a roaring fire or relaxing with a hot cup of cocoa. If you’re looking for something to chill with at the end of the year, give this game a shot. Toem is available on PC from Steam and Epic, Nintendo Switch, and PS5.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Night in the Woods

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Night in the Woods
Created by Infinite Fall
Published by Finji
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: A brilliantly designed existential horror game

Night in the Woods is a game that struck very close to home for me. It is about a girl who returns to her dying hill town after dropping out of college and discovers that the home she left has changed. And there’s something in the woods at night…
An indie game that was originally published thanks to a 2012 Kickstarter, NitW has the most effective and well-crafted atmospheres I’ve seen in a long time. And considering that this is a 2-D point and click adventure game with some light platforming elements staring cartoon animals, that is really saying something. But the visuals are so on-point in this game, and they are propped up by witty, charming dialog that is the most natural I’ve seen in a long time. If you can’t fall in love with Mae, Gregg, Angus and Bea by the end of their adventure, I’m not sure you have a heart.
The mechanics of the world reinforce this. Following the story, most of the player’s decisions involve choosing which characters to follow, and talking to everyone. There are a lot of dialog options, and while they don’t seem to effect the story much, they do a great job of revealing character, and lead to so many rewarding character moments, they are worth replaying for them alone. The platforming in this game also feels really good, and walking around on the power lines feels transgressive in a way that reinforces character, and leads to lots of cool exploration and interaction moments, like finding hidden musicians and secret rooms. Going too much further into this game will ruin it, but let me suffice to say that everything in this game works together in a way that makes it more than the sum of its parts.
One of the reasons that his game struck me so profoundly, in addition to the fact that the writing is excellent, the art is eye-catching and endearing, and the mechanics just feel good, is that this is a story that happened to me. Not the mysterious disappearances and hostile forces bits, but I didn’t do so well my first year of college, and had to return to my own rustbelt hometown after a year away.
Mae’s reasons for leaving college and coming home aren’t made fully explicit until the end of the game, but I already understood them, because her experience was so similar to mine. I never hit anyone with a bat, but I felt so many of the same things she did, and playing this game gave me a bit of catharsis for those old wounds.
Night in the Woods is less a horror game than an existential horror game, and you can find it on Steam and the usual consoles. These versions also include Longest Night and Lost Constellation, two microgames the team made as Kickstarter bonuses and to test game elements. The whole package is wonderful, and this game is well worth your timeand attention. And Gregg rulz, OK?