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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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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: Final Fantasy X Remaster

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Final Fantasy X Remaster
Published by Square Enix
Played on the Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: The classic PS2 JRPG returns for the Switch, packaged with its quirky sequel

Final Fantasy X is one of the big high watermark JRPGs, the sort of game that doesn’t get made anymore, but is consistently being remastered and made available for digital rerelease. So when it came out for the Switch packaged with its sequel, I picked up a copy, to see how well it holds up nearly twenty years later.
Final Fantasy X is the story of Tidus, a star athlete magically transported from his utopian city of Zanarkand, and Yuna, a young summoner embarking on a pilgrimage. Ten years ago, Yuna and Tidus’s fathers fought and defeated a giant monster called ‘Sin,’ which constantly destroys the world, and cannot be killed by conventional means. Sin has returned, and the two youths find themselves on the same path their father’s took ten years before. Can they find a way to break the cycle, or will they be just another sacrifice?
The game plays without problems on the Switch, and looks gorgeous. I noticed some slowdown during cutscenes, and the sharp HD display makes the transition between pre-rendered and real-time rendered graphics more pronounced an jarring. I played almost exclusively in handheld mode, and it worked great.
The gameplay is just as strategic and engaging as I remembered, and while some of the voice acting and animation have noticeably aged, It’s still notable as the first steps Square took with this level of production.
The game also includes a code for the complete edition of Final Fantasy X-2, the games goofy, power-pop inspired sequel. I may review it later in a second blog post, but for now, I’ll say that it loads fine, and plays about as well as I remember, but after pouring eighty hours into the first installment, I am ready for a break.
You can find Final Fantasy X / X-2 Remaster from your local electronics shop, or digitally from the Playstation, Switch or X-Box online stores.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Wargroove

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Wargroove
Developed and Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch
https://wargroove.com
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The Skinny: A turn-based strategy game with retro style and retro difficulty to match, but with some interesting innovations under the hood.

Wargroove is a strategy game with old school charm, and gameplay to match. On the surface, it takes most of its design and style from Nintendo’s ‘Wars’ series of games. These only came to the US as the Advance Wars titles, and have been absent for a decade, but they made a big impression on developer Chucklefish. If that name is familiar, they also published ConcernedApe’s well-loved Harvest Moon update, Stardew Valley.
Gameplay works like Advance Wars. Players take turns moving their units and capturing buildings to provide income, which lets them buy new units. The goal of each match is to either the enemy stronghold or defeat the enemy Commander, powerful units that each has a unique special ability, called a ‘groove.’ These each do something a bit different, from healing allies in a range, to creating new units, to attacks that do extra damage. They are a fun addition to the Wars formula, and are one of the ways the game really stands out. Also, one of the commanders is an adorable golden retriever, who is a very good boy.
The other way Wargroove differentiates itself is in its plethora of content and game modes. In addition to the standard single-player Campaign and multiplayer battles, the game offers an Arcade mode in which you can take each Commander through a series of five quick battles, a Puzzle mode, and even an impressive set of creation tools. The game lets players not just create maps, but also entire campaigns and cutscenes, and trade them freely through the game’s online modes. I haven’t been able to dive too deeply into it yet, but it is very cool and is supporting a new creative community.
Wargroove faithfully recreates the best of the turn-based strategy genre, but it also has the same flaws. Matches are long, and with two armies starting at opposite ends of a map and slowly building, they can take a while to get going. Also, this game is difficult. Updates have created more options for novice players, but you can still sink a lot of time into a map only to have to start all over again when the last wave of enemies gets a shot in on your Commander.
Wargroove is a charming and occasionally frustrating strategy game with old school feel and old school difficulty. If you’re up for the challenge, you can snag a copy from Steam or your choice of major console eshops.
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