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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.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dragon Quest XI S

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Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
Published and Developed by Square Enix
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: Dragon Quest returns with a massive JRPG in the classic style.

While technically the PS4 version of this game came out in the U.S. last year, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age is probably one of my top games of 2019. I gave the original a pass because I just don’t have that much time to sit down in front of my television. But the portable version has been a delight.
The game follows the familiar tropes of the OGJRPG of a young man being chosen by a great force to leave his remote village and confront evil, recruiting a troupe of companions along the way. But like the other modern iterations of the series, it does a great job interrogating the tropes and cliches of the genre.
Particularly interesting is Sylvando, who is a powerful fighter, and an openly gay character in a genre of game that gets a lot of traction on AO3 but is somewhat lacking in official representation. And while the game does play him for laughs (he is a jester, after all) it also goes out of its way to portray him as strong, brave and chivalrous as well. It’s rare to see something so well done in a space where representation usually boils down to male-gaze lesbians and that time Cloud Strife wore a dress in FFVII.
Combat is fun, a little on the easy side, and about what you’ve come to expect from Dragon Quest over the past 30 years. The 3D mode has an option to let you move the characters around in battle, but it is more for aesthetics than a gameplay feature. Mini-games also make a return, from the ubiquitous Dragon Quest casino to a horse-racing mini-game and a portable forge for making weapons and armor from recipes.
Another nice feature is that while the default is to play in 3D mode, the game also includes the 3DS 2D version, which was previously unavailable in the US, as well as a massive sidequest that was unique to that version. You can even switch back and forth between the two if you want, although progress is gated to certain story chapters that aren’t so clearly delivered.
While the game looks and plays great, there are a few compromises in the animation and display. Some character animations feel jerky and off. Objects, particularly complex ones like trees, pop in as you get close to them. My Switch audibly chugged when it had to render too much in handheld mode. And like most Dragon Quest games, it is entertaining but long. I have already put in over 40 hours and from what I understand I’ve barely scratched the game’s surface. Also like modern localizations of the series, it’s full of puns. So many puns. If you aren’t onboard for a hundred hours of dad jokes, this is not the game for you.
Dragon Quest XI S is a delightful return to form for Square Enix, crammed full of exciting quests, memorable characters and a surprising story. Just be sure to set aside some time to play it, because this game is long.

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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: SteamWorld Quest

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Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Developed by Image and Form Games
Published by Thunderful
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: A lighthearted but mechanically deep card-RPG sort of set in the SteamWorld Universe.

Each SteamWorld title is a little different. From the dungeon diving of SteamWorld Dig to the Tactical gunplay of SteamWorld Heist, each is a charming and innovative little gem of a game. The latest game in the series, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, builds on that reputation.
A fantasy RPG, SteamWorld Quest is framed as a storybook being read in the main SteamWorld post-post-apocalypse setting. Like its predecessors, this game is short but deeply engaging. The hand-drawn art style and the snarky writing work well. There are lots of little sight gags and clever bits that only really work if as a fantasy story told in a world of steampunk robots. This seems counter intuitive until you meet the first mini-boss, a black knight with a birdcage for a head.
The card-based RPG combat, which are stylized punchcards, naturally, has a good balance of randomness as strategy. Each character has a deck of eight cards which represent attacks, spells, buffs, and healing. Characters also manage items, weapons, and equipment. In combat, you have a hand of cards pulled from all three decks, and play three cards a turn. Three cards from the same character creates a combo, with a variety of special effects. During combat, you have to build up steam by playing low level cards. More powerful abilities cost steam, so you have to balance your decks to be able to play better cards. As a veteran RPG player, I found it pretty intuitive, with a lot of depth and options over the five playable characters.
At around twenty hours, the game isn’t very long for an RPG but you can go back to previous chapters to grind for items, experience, and money, or to find hidden secrets. The story isn’t very complicated, but it is filled with charm and clever little references to games like Final Fantasy IV and other old-school RPGs.
SteamWorld Quest is a lighthearted but perfectly executed take on the card RPG. It’s available for PC and from the Nintendo Switch eshop.
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