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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Mario 35

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Super Mario Bros. 35
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A neat idea, but I hope you like level 1 – 1.

Following on the success of Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35 is a Battle Royale game that pits players against 34 others in a contest to survive the longest on a single life in the original Super Mario Bros. Much like Tetris players simply don’t play simultaneously, but can target other players and send them ‘junk,’ but instead of random lines of blocks, players send defeated enemies into that paths of their rivals.
Players start by voting on a starting level, and can unlock new levels to choose as they progress through the game. But even though there is a vote, every time I’ve played I have started on 1-1. Players get 35 seconds on the timer, and defeating enemies adds more time up to the full 400 seconds in addition to sending them to other players’ screens. Once you finish a level, the game starts you on a new one chosen at random. This isn’t a bad system, but the result is that I have played level 1-1 and 1-2 approximately a hundred times by now, and it’s getting a bit repetitive.
The real magic comes in late in the game, as more and more enemies get traded back and forth between players. 1-1 is old hat, but it is a fun thrill to come out of a warp pipe thinking you’re in a safe place and discover the screen covered in bloopers.
Super Mario Bros. 35 is definitely a new way of looking at a classic, and it encourages tactical thinking rather than just playing to survive or get a high score. It’s available for free from the Nintendo eShop until March, which feels about right to me. It’s a novelty, but worth a few hours of your time to see the game that launched a genre in a new light.

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: Minit

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Minit
A Game by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Jukio Kallio, and Zerstoerer
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on Nintendo Switch
The Skinny: Linked in 60 Seconds

Minit is a quirky little adventure game that has been on my radar for a while. A super-indie adventure game made by a team of just four people, The game is a Zelda-like with a unique twist. Your character dies every sixty seconds. This ticking clock adds a bit of adrenaline to the gameplay as you race to complete your objective, or at least find a clue, before the time runs out and you find yourself back at home. It can be frustrating to get very close to a goal and then die just before completing it. But it adds a disruptive spark into the adventure genre, essentially turning the game itself into one giant puzzle.
The game has a minimalistic black-and-white aesthetic and a surrealist vibe that puts me in mind of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in all the best ways. The puzzles are clever, the tiny world is chock full of secrets, and you literally never know what you’re going to be doing from moment to moment.
As the title and gameplay suggest, this game isn’t very long. I completed my first run through in a little over an hour. But it is a charming little indie game, and it is widely available for a budget price.
As of this posting, Minit is also a part of theItch.Io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, meaning you can get this game and over 1,700 other titles for as little as five dollars, in addition to supporting a very worthy cause.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Inbento

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Inbento
Published by 7Level
Developed by Afterburn Studios
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: An adorable puzzle game with a fiendish difficulty curve.

Originally released for IOS and android devices, Inbento is a simple but clever puzzle game with a cute story. Players are presented with the image of a completed bento box and arranging the ingredients to match the picture. This starts out simple, but quickly introduces mechanics such as transforming blocks and cut and paste tiles that ramp up the difficulty and require keen instincts and careful planning.
There are fourteen levels of nine puzzles each, and completing each one awards the player with a new part of the game’s story, spread out in static images. The story is a textless, picture-book style story about a mother cat learning to cook to feed her kitten, who eventually grows up and becomes a chef with a kitten of their own. It’s very charming, and a nice respite for the sometimes frustrating challenge of some of the later puzzles.
The presentation is barebones, with navigation selected from a flat menu styled like a cookbook. The game allows for both touchscreen and button controls, and both are well-suited to the gameplay. The music and sound design. is simple but relaxing and satisfying.
Inbento is a clever and relaxing little puzzle game that will pull on your heartstrings as much as your braincells. And at $4.99 US in the Nintendo eshop and $2.99 in the Apple iTunes and Android Play stores, it’s a bargain. Give this one a shot.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Animal Crossing

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Animal Crossing New Horizons
Developed and Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: How Tom Nook saved civilization

It’s difficult to give a review of Animal Crossing: New Horizons this early. Meant to be played on a scale of months rather than hours, it has a very unique play experience. It is essentially a Skinner Box game in which you create and help manage a town on a deserted island. As the days go by, and you harvest the island’s resources, more and more characters come to live on the island, and new services like a museum and clothing shop are unlocked. But unlike scummier versions of this model on mobile devices or Facebook, there is no invitation to pay real-world currency to speed the process along. You just have to wait the until the next day, or until you’ve amassed enough resources.
This creates a gameplay loop that is both relaxing and frustrating. Life on your island proceeds at its own pace. And once you’ve gathered the day’s supplies, visited the shop, and have done the day’s errands to develop the island, there isn’t that much left to do. You can always do more fishing and bug hunting, visit the residents and design your own clothing and decorations, but the game trains the player fairly quickly to not try and push the game. There’s only so much useful things you can do in a play session.
One neat feature is the ability to visit other islands, both locally and through the internet. It’s fun to see how other players set up their islands, trade your stuff, and generally just run around.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is a chill game about friendship and building community. Its release at the end of March has been a balm during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has provided a novel way to visit with friend and to be social while social distancing. The one problem I have with the game are the loading times. Whenever you open the game, it takes a bit of time to load, and the online features all involve a rather long wait as well. This would be an ideal game to play on a break at work, if the loads didn’t take up so much time.
Animal Crossing New Horizons has been a chill, calming distraction in stressful times. Its miniature deserted island world is filled with relaxing mini-games and surprising discoveries. But you have to play it at its pace. The game is available for the Nintendo Switch as a cartridge or downloadable from the Nintendo Eshop. If you need a quiet distraction, why not make a town and fill it with animal friends?

By the way, if you want to visit my town, my Friend Code is SW-3842-8900-0319. See you on The Island

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Hugh Likes Video Games: 198X

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198X
Developed by Hi-Bit Studios
Published by 8-4
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A short, but sweet hit of pixel-art ’80s nostalgia.

198X is a love-letter to the glory days of arcade games. Set in the year 198X, it follows The Kid as they lament their troubled Suburban existence and watch the lights of the cars heading off into The City. But all that changes when they discover the arcade. It is at once an escape and a revelation and we experience it with them through delightful clones of classic arcade hits mixed with pixel-art visual novel sections.
The five games, which are clones of classic arcade hits, vary from space shooters to brawlers to a 3D maze dungeon. Each one is drop-dead gorgeous, and is fast and responsive. They capture the feeling of the arcade without the annoyance and slowdown of the real quarter-munchers.
The visual novel sections are also quite breathtaking, if illusive and brief. The game leans into the arcade era aesthetic of generic vagueness. The main character is simply ‘kid,’ living in ‘Suburbia’ and wishing they could escape to ‘The City’ on the horizon. It’s a story that takes place nowhere and everywhere, and stylistically mirrors the plots of games of the era.
Depending on how long you take with each game, 198X will wrap up in about an hour and a half. Games can be replayed after finishing the story, but they don’t provide any extra content beyond the first play through. If you’re looking for a short trip down memory lane with absolutely beautiful pixelated scenery, you could do worse that spending an evening in 198X

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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 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.

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