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Hugh Likes Video Games: Kunai

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Kunai
Developed by: TurtleBlaze
Published by: The Arcade Crew
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Ninja Robot Tablet Action

In the distant future, a lone robot awakens to save mankind from the AI Apocalypse. With an energy draining sword and an emoji-displaying tablet for a head, he sets out to save the small band of human resistance fighters, along with the rest of the world.
While its story is a bit thin, Kunai delivers a pleasant and fast-paced Metroidvania experience. In addition to the aforementioned sword, a variety of upgradable guns are also at your disposal as you traverse a variety of technology-infused forests, floating mountains, and futuristic cities. You travel on foot, with the ubiquitous double jumps, and with the games’s eponymous standout feature, the kunai, a pair of grappling hook-like knives that allow you to scale walls and swing along ceilings with ease. The game gives you a huge amount of freedom early in the game, delightfully disrupting the traditional gameplay loop of unreachable ledges and unjumpable pits. The controls are fun and intuitive, letting the player navigate quickly and easily.The game is presented in a faux gameboy pixel art style, with grayscale backgrounds. Enemies are painted red, while Tabby and his allies are blue. While it doesn’t have the flash of Ori and the Blind Forest or Hollow Knight, the sprites are easy to see, and charmingly designed. Backgrounds are surprisingly detailed and cleverly imagined.
The game rarely slows down, except in a few sections which involve navigating courses consisting of hazards like bottomless pits and rooms full of spikes. These parts of the game feel separate, and a bit archaic. Fortunately, they are quite close to save sections, and the game gives a Super Meat Boy try try again feel.
While Kunai doesn’t have the narrative weight or graphical artistry of some of the bigger Metroidvania titles, it is a fun and fast-pace game with plenty of charm, and is well worth your time. It is available on PC from Steam or on the Nintendo Switch from the Nintendo eShop.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hades

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Hades
Published and Developed by Supergiant Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A Hope in Hell.

Hades is a game about struggling, failing, and then picking yourself up and trying again. Created by Supergiant Games, the indie game studio that burst onto the scene with Bastion in 2011, You play as Zagreus, the rebellious son of the Greek god Hades as he seeks to escape his father’s domain and reach the surface. The Lord of the Underworld sends his servants and subjects to stop you, and since you’re already in the land of the dead, if you die, you just wash up back at Hades’s house ready to try again.
When you arrive back home, you can upgrade your build, redecorate the Underworld to suit your needs, and talk with the residents fo the house for advice and commiseration. All of the NPCs have their own backstories and sidequests, and while you could, in theory, go all the way to the end in a single run, the game is designed with failure in mind. NPCs warm to you in time, revealing secrets and unlocking new missions.But for all the game’s mechanical brilliance, it is truly elevated by its audio and visual design. Jen Zee’s art really shines. Characters are cleverly reimagined from classical ideals in gorgeous portraits. The game’s voice acting is spectacular and apt. From sassy but compassionate Zagreus to the distant but matronly Nyx, to the overbearing Hades himself, every performance is stellar and charming. I particularly love the portrayals as the Olympian gods, who come off as a sort of cross between a Greek chorus and horde of self-obsessed social media influencers. Darren Korb’s metal and country infused soundtrack is just the right mix of rocking and melancholy. The game just fires on all cylinders.
Hades is a masterclass in marrying plot with mechanics. You don’t simply level up, but fail, evolve, try again and fail again. It takes the ultra-hardcore genre of Rogue-like and transforms it into something accessible and motivating. Instead of being demoralized after being knocked back to the start, it lets you breathe, chat with the House’s residents, pick a new weapon, and start again, eager for just one more try to escape your fate.
Hades is one of my favorite games of the year, and is not to be missed. It is available for the Nintendo Switch, and on PC from the Steam and Epic game stores.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Merchant of the Skies

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Merchant of the Skies
Published by AbsoDev
Deveolped by Coldwild Games

Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Come take a trip on this airship!

Merchant of the Skies is a resource trading and management game that puts you in the captain’s seat of a trading vessel plying the skies between floating islands. The Campaign mode sets you up as the scion of a trading family, just starting out with their own boat. You buy low, sell high, do a few favors for your Uncle who is trying to set up a postal system, and gradually discover the secrets and history of the area. As you gain income, you can buy bigger ships, purchase island, and eventually set up caravan routes for complex manufacturing and delivery. There’s no combat, and the only lose condition is running out of money. Once you complete the campaign, the game opens up a sandbox mode that lets you set the goal, or just lets you tool around in your majestic airship
The game’s pixel graphics steampunk fantasy worlds are beautiful and nostalgic. The region is presented as a filled with floating island and other sights, and you travel from one to the other Indiana Jones-style. When you visit an island, it switches to a side-on perspective with pixel sprite buildings and wee figures dashing about. This mode mostly uses menus to navigate, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your captain as they visit the trading posts.
The game does get a little laggy towards the endgame, when you have resource gathering and processing happening all over the map. The game auto-aves each time you leave an island, so as the game goes on, be prepared to spend a bit too long waiting towards the end of the game. Also, most of the endgame content requires resources rather than money, so eventually you’ll be raking in cash with nothing to spend it on.
Merchant of the Skies is an engrossing, low-stress management game with charming visuals and strategic thinking. It’s the perfect game for anyone looking for something on the Switch to chill out with.

Hugh Likes Video Games: A Short Hike

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A Short Hike
Developed and Published by Adamgryu
Placed on PC via Itch.IO

The Skinny: Breath of the Mild

A Short Hike is a quiet game about personal stakes. You play as adolescent bird girl Claire, who is expecting an important phone call while on vacation at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The only way to find reception is to hike, climb, fly and glide your way to the top of the mountain, with plenty of other activities and sidequests along the way.
Fans of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will find the gliding and climbing mechanics familiar, although the stamina meter has been replaced with collectible golden feathers. There’s nothing to fight in the game, and instead you’ll find yourself chatting with the locals, running errands, catching fish, and even solving the odd treasure map on your way up the mountain.
As the name implies, this isn’t a long game. You can climb to the top of the peak in just an hour or two if you really want to. But the park is so full of people to meet, treasure to find, fish to catch, and secrets to discover, that it rewards a second look after you reached the top.
A Short Hike is a little digital vacation, and it has been a welcome refuge in a summer when Covid-19 has derailed so many plans. The low-fi 3D art style is charming, but put my MacBook Air through its paces.
I originally purchased this game as a part of the Itch.IO bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, and it is also available through the Steam and Epic launchers. I heartily recommend it for a quiet evening when you need something to unwind with.

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: Untitled Goose Game

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

Untitled Goose

The Skinny: A small game about small acts

Some games let you fly spaceships. Some games let you fight hordes of monsters. Some games let you build and destroy your own worlds. Untitled Goose Game isn’t one of those games. But you can honk.
Initially begun as a joke project, the short stealth/puzzle game puts you in the webbed feet of a horrible goose and lets you loose on an unsuspecting peasant village. But unlike real geese, who are violent and terrifying, you can only cause mischief.
As you traverse four areas of the town, you must sneak your way past a crew of irritable villagers in order to carry out a to do list of pranks. Lacking hands, your only available options are snatching things with your beak, flapping your wings, and your honk.
Untitled Goose Game is a game about non-violently unravelling systems. The literally faceless townspeople go about their day in lock step, and it is your job to disrupt them. The game isn’t in and of itself political, but there is a tiny thrill of sticking it to The Man when you lock the gardener out of his own plot, or sneak past the shopkeeper to get your face on a wall of TVs in a high street shop. It’s a game that rewards patience, observation and creativity, and it’s suitable for younger kids, too.
The main game is relatively short. You can clear the whole game in a couple of hours. Once you do, however, the game unlocks a set of new challenges and time trials for you to unlock, giving you the run of the village. It also gives you a couple other satisfying rewards that I won’t spoil here.
Untitled Goose Game is available now for Nintendo Switch and for PC and Mac through the Epic Games Store. I honkingly recommend it.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Sayonara Wild Hearts

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

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

The Skinny: A fast-paced racing quest against Magical Girl Motorcycle Gangs.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is an unexpected gem of an indie game. Terms like ‘unique’ and ‘original’ get thrown around a lot in the gaming press, but SWH pushes against the tide of gaming trends and is all the more incredible for it.
You play as The Fool, the alter ego of a broken-hearted girl tasked with restoring harmony to a magical kingdom by racing against a series of girl gang street racers. Each level is a mixture of Synth Pop, Neon, and blazing speed. The combination of magical girl aesthetics and arcade racing style flow as smooth as silk, and the bite-sized level keep the action rolling at an exciting clip.
Each of the twenty-three levels embraces new mechanics as you race to catch your opponents. You’ll start out on a skateboard, but soon find yourself on not just the game’s signature chopper, but flying through the air on a magical sword, racing through a haunted forest on a giant stag, and even crossing a roiling sea on a boat. The game constantly introduces new mechanics, and this helps the pacing feel blazing fast.
The other thing that sets Sayonara Wild Hearts apart, if you haven’t already guessed, is its unapologetic embrace of feminine and queer aesthetics. In a space dominated by often toxic depictions of masculinity it is a breath of fresh air. The Fool is not an object of male gaze, and she isn’t a hyper-roided Space Marine killing a planet full of aliens. She is an altogether different sort of cool. This game came out alongside a few other games that have been gaining more attention, but I hope that SWH’s themes strike a chord with game designers and we see more games like it in the future.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Apple Arcade service. It’s a highly polished indie gem, and well worth your time. I heartily recommend it.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Hollow Knight

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Hollow Knight
Developed and Produced by Team Cherry
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: It’s as good as you’ve heard

Hollow Knight is a remarkable achievement of an indie game. It falls into a sub-genre colloquially known as a Metroidvania, which is to say it is a platforming adventure game with an emphasis on exploring one huge interconnected map, in which the player gains new abilities to reach new areas. It takes its name from the two best-known examples, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But Team Cherry’s achievement is more than just an imitator. And it is worthy of standing in that hallowed company.
The game sets you as a solitary knight descending into a lost civilization of bug people brought low by a strange infection. As you piece together the mystery of what happened and your own journey’s purpose, traverse miles of twisting interconnected corridors, meet dozens of charming NPCs, and discover untold secrets, all delivered in a gorgeous hand-drawn art style and brutal difficulty.
This game is tough, and it doesn’t hold your hand, but it usually doesn’t force you down a path, either. Once you get certain abilities, there are lots of paths and secret routes to uncover. If you get stuck at one boss, you can always find a new route and go a different way.
This game really nails (get it?) its aesthetic. The color palattes for each area are fairly simple, but paired with hand-drawn and animated characters and backgrounds, this adds up to a system where it’s always easy to tell exactly where you are in spite of the huge map. This also ratchets up the tension and messes with the player as they establish mood and atmosphere. Dirtmouth feels wind-swept and desolate. Greenpath is lush and vibrant. Deepnest is dark and terrifying. In fact, Hollow Knight manages to pull of a trick even most Castlevanias don’t in that I was legitimately frightened at several points due to a masterful use of darkness, tight corridors, and downright creepy sound effects.
Hollow Knight is a breathtaking modern example of 2D action adventure games, with clever challenges, tricky bosses, and charming characters. It is available from Steam and most major console eshops, and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Gato Roboto

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Gato Roboto
Published by Devolver Digital
Developed by Doinksoft
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: More Like Meowtroid, am I right?

Gato Roboto is an indie Metroid clone that lets you play as a cat in power armor. That is really all there is to it, and all you need to know to know if this is a game for you or not. The graphics have a black and white game boy-style look reminiscent of rouge-like shooter Downwell. This extends to the collectables, which are simply either health pickups or swappable palates for the visuals. The animations are quite cute and expressive, though. I love the way main character Kiki hops out of her humanoid mech and perches on its gun arm.
The game controls well, with a pleasant sensation of weigh when in the mech, and an option to explore tighter passages by getting out of the suit. Kiki the cat can also climb walls and reach places on her own that she can’t in the suit, with the tradeoff being that she can’t attack or defend herself, giving the game a nice mix of action and stealth gameplay.
The game doesn’t make you keep track of ammunition and save spots are rather generous, which streamlines the game. Traversal is pretty easy once you get the hang of the mechanics, but that’s balanced by some punishing boss encounters.
All in all, Gato Roboto is a short but satisfying little metroidvania with memorable and adorable characters. It’s available from Steam or Nintendo Switch eShop.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Moonlighter

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Moonlighter
Published by 11 bit studios
Developed by Digital Sun
Played on Nintendo Switch
http://moonlighterthegame.com/
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The Skinny: The Daily Grind, in day job and dungeon flavors!

Moonlighter is an old-school dungeon crawler with a twist. The dungeons are randomly generated, with each room comprising a single screen, much like the original Legend of Zelda. Enemies don’t drop money or experience, but rather items tied to the visual theme of each dungeon. During the day, players can sell their findings in a shop simulator, setting their own prices, decorating their shop, and keeping an eye out for shoplifters.
Profits from the shop can be sunk into upgrading your equipment, inviting other shopkeepers who sell things like potions or decor, or expanding the shop itself. The gameplay loop has a nice rhythm, and I constantly found myself deciding to play just one more in-game day to reach a milestone I’d set for myself. The combat is quick and fairly challenging, but doesn’t vary too greatly from dungeon to dungeon. While enemies all have very different looks, they tend to do the same sorts of things. The turrets you face in the golem dungeon have the same sorts of attacks as the seed-spitting plants from the forrest dungeon, for example.
Moonlighter’s gameplay loop can get repetitive, but fortunately, it looks and sounds gorgeous. The high-res pixelated art is charming, and the soundtrack boasts a variety of catchy and evocative tunes as you make your way through the floors of each dungeon and stock your shelves. There isn’t much of a story here though, so if that isn’t enough to keep your interest, this may not be the game for you.
I enjoyed my time in Moonlighter’s tiny village, but I wish the game had given me a few more options in how I arranged and decorated my shop. The items were nice, but I’d have like to have been able to give the place a bit more personality.
Moonlighter is an old school dungeon crawling action game mixed with a sedate but engaging shopkeeping sim. The gameplay loop makes for a perfectly tuned combo in a charming world. You can pick it up for PC or through all the major console eshops.

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