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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 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: 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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