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Hugh Likes Video Games: 2020 Top 5

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Hello, readers! With not much else to do this year, 2020 was definitely a year for gaming. And gaming got a lot of attention this year, from the glossy spectacle of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the glitchy mess of Cyberpunk 2077. I tend towards a more indie bent in my gaming, but here are my top five games that caught my eye this year, as usual, in alphabetical order.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

Let’s start with the biggest truth of the past year. 2020 was a garbage fire of a year, and in a year where we couldn’t just go and visit our friends, games became virtual spaces to meet up and visit. And for me, that mostly happened in Animal Crossing New Horizons. There’s not much that I would call serendipity this year, but Animal Crossing dropping in mid-March, just as everything shut down became a haven. A game about building refuge became a port in the storm for millions, me included. I wasn’t a fan of AC before this, and I doubt I would’ve picked up the game otherwise, but it allowed some peace and comfort in my life, as well as the ability to visit friends’ islands when I couldn’t visit their homes. I have mostly dropped off, prompting my villagers to complain about how they’ve missed me every time I pop back in, but ti was a needed balm for a few months.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys
Mediatronic
Played on PS4

Fall Guys made the obvious leap of combining great ideas into one package better than the sum of its parts: Online Battle Royale Gaming and Obstacle Course Game Shows. The alchemy of cartoonish costumes and padded foam rolling logs works up to an oasis of calm and joy, even as I get knocked out one more time.

Hades

Hades
Supergiant Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

Hades is one hell of a game. Loaded with challenging gameplay, intricate systems, and a compelling story full of rich characters, Supergiant has created a masterpiece of the Rogue-like genre. While games like Dead Cells and Rogue Legacy had flirted with the idea of narrative in a Rogue structure, Hades doubles down and commits to telling a story that not merely progresses between runs, but relies on the life-die-repeat structure as a meaningful and necessary component. The result is a satisfying gameplay loop that makes even a bad run feel meaningful as players claw their way out of The Underworld, one room at a time.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Omega Force
Played on Nintendo Switch

A prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game is set during the Calamity one-hundred years before that game opens. While that game featured cutscenes that revealed glimpses of that conflict, this game shines by letting players fight out the epic war. Using Dynasty Warriors combat is a stroke fo genius, as that series lends an epic grandeur to the conflict, and we can see how mighty Link and the Champions really were. The game also lets players drive the Divine Beasts, essentially ancient elemental giant robots, for some even more epic destruction.The result is an engaging mix of fan service and mythic tragedy (plus some time travel nonsense) that makes this title stand out from others in the -Warriors series.

Merchant of the Skies

Merchant of the Skies
Coldwind Games
Played on Nintendo Switch

A delightful little indie game that didn’t see enough love this year, Merchant of the Skies is a steampunk airship trading game that sees you buying low and selling high across an archipelago of floating islands. Along the way, you upgrade your ship, set up facilities to harvest and refine goods from raw materials, set up a fleet to deliver them, and discover the region’s hidden secrets. This was a perfectly chill game with a lovely pixel art style. There is no combat to worry about, and as long as you can keep your ship powered, (or pay for a tow to a refueling station) the game keeps going. This friendly management sim hooked me pretty quickly, and had me playing for one more run to clear that next upgrade or uncover the next island. While the game did tend to want to autosave a bit too often for my taste, which left me cooling my heels at a loading screen, It was the perfect game to relax with in a stressful year.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Hyrule Warriors – Age of Calamity

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Developed by Omega Force
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: Breath of the Wild: The Champions’ Jukebox Musical

The follow-up to 2014’s Hyrule Warrirors, Age of Calamity rejects that game’s franchise-spanning scope to focus on the cataclysmic events that led up to Switch smash-hit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The result is a story-focused game that refines the mechanics of the first game and delivers a high-stakes epic. While the -Warriors games have become a showcase for various tie-in properties, the series started out as an adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and AoC brings the game back to its mythical epic roots. Also, there’s time travel.
The game is a lot of fun to play, and the smaller roster of characters feels really well tuned. This isn’t a game where you pick your favorite and main them through the whole campaign. Players are encouraged to keep characters leveled, and to play with all of them. And there are very few ‘bad’ characters in the game. Combat is intuitive and fun, and everyone gets their opportunity to smash wave after wave of monsters.
Age of Calamity also does an excellent job of incorporating the engine and mechanics from Breath of the Wild. The music and sound effects bring the world of Hyrule to life, and it was almost comforting to be back in a world of paragliding, hunting for koroks, and dodging and countering giant Lynel sword-swipes again. But this gets into the flaw inherent to these nostalgia-driven -Warriors titles. Evoking a beloved, and in most cases better game makes me want to play that one instead of the one I’m in. Stomping whole armies of moblins in the Divine Beasts is great fun, but I’m getting a real craving to load up Breath of the Wild and sneak up on them with bomb arrows instead. Ultimately, a spin-off is always beholden to its parent property, and unable to surpass it.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is army-destroying fun in a charming, familiar world. While it evokes the spirit of Breath of the Wild without quite delivering on it, it is still a great time. It is available now for the Nintendo Switch.

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.

Podcast: CCRC67 – Captain N: The Game Master S1E1

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Captain N: The Game Master

Tonight your hosts, Hugh, Rich the Time Traveler, Opop, and Jurd, find themselves in a warp zone.
Click HERE to listen to the commentary!

Warning: YMMV, this was not the copy we used for recording

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by https://www.skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Animal Crossing

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

packshot

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: Super Smash Bros Ultimate

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Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

SQ_NSwitch_SuperSmashBrosUltimate_02_image420w

The Skinny: The venerable nostalgia-fighter returns with a massive entry on the Switch

It’s no secret that I love me some Smash Bros. My first Hugh Likes Video Games review was for the last iteration of the series, specifically the 3DS version. And this version has, well just more of everything I love about the concept, with a giant roster of returning characters and stages, and lots of brand-new content as well. I actually hesitated getting this version, but I think Ultimate might actually live up to its title.
Ultimate does a lot of things right. The roster is particularly large, and the new additions, from Castlevania protagonist Simon Belmont to Animal Crossing’s helpful assistant Isabelle are a delight to play. While there aren’t a whole lot of brand-new stages, we get nearly all of the returning stages, with multiple layouts, so there is sure to be someplace to pick. Smash mode is easy to get into, and takes full advantage of the Switch’s joycon pairing capabilities to get a large group of players in quickly.
Classic mode returns with a twist. Each character has their own finely tuned campaign to maximize their nostalgic hit. For example, Ryu fights in a series Street Fighter-like stamina battles, while Richter only fights other Echo Fighters.
As clever and nostalgic as Classic Mode is, Spirits is where the game really stretches. Building on modes in previous versions of the game, Spirits turns Smash Bros into a giant nostalgia-fueled Action RPG. Traveling around a huge map, the player fights ‘spirits,’ essentially Nintendo characters that didn’t make the cut, in the guise of tweaked battles with specialized conditions. Winning the battle nets you that character’s ‘spirit,’ which you can equip and level up in a bunch of different ways in order to take on more powerful fights. These take the place of collecting trophies or stickers in past games, and they’re neat, but the game doesn’t give you as much information about these collectables as in past installments, which is a shame.
Overall, Super Smash Bros Ultimate is another entry in the series that won’t change the minds of non-fans, but is full to the brim with attention to detail and affection for the source material. I haven’t ventured into the dark woods of online multiplayer yet, but so far couch battles have been chaotic but a heck of a lot of fun.
You can download the game yourself from the Nintendo eshop, or find a physical copy at the usual suspects of video game retailers.
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DDoP18: The Gamer’s Guide to Writing – Super Mario Bros.

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Super_Mario_Bros._box.png

Hello and welcome to part one of The Gamer’s Guide to Writing, in which I look at some of my favorite video games and talk about how they impacted my life and what storytelling lessons I learned from them. We’re starting with Super Mario Bros! In addition to being the platonic idea of the classic platformer, this game taught me the importance of a beginning that hooks your audience and teaches them about what is to come without overwhelming them.

Click HERE to listen!

For more on the design of World 1-1, watch This Design Club Video!

Music in today’s episode is Dance Hall Raga by remixer MKVaff, presented under a Creative Commons license from OCRemix.org!

Hugh Likes Video Game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

BOTW-Share_icon

The Skinny: I don’t know what to tell you. if you haven’t heard of it by now. It’s really good.

So, yeah, Zelda Breath of the Wild has been out for a year, and praise has been heaped upon it. And it is well deserved. Like most of the core Nintendo franchises, Zelda games tend to iterate on a formula. Installments have stayed closer or farther from this formula, but in general, the pattern of travel around a persistent map and complete X number of elemental dungeons before fighting Gannon persists. Breath of the Wild reduces the dungeon count and instead focuses a bit more on the sprawling map, that is none-the-less filled with things to do.
Zelda BotW takes several design cues from Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls in that there is always something interesting around the next corner. It also follows the design choices of A Link Between Worlds in that it gives the player his tools up front, and lets them tackle the game’s challenges as they wish, although there does feel like an ideal path.
While the game doesn’t offer the robust character development you typically see in Western RPGs, it does have a huge map full of things to do. Breath of the Wild replaces the hidden heart containers from previous games with Shrines, little formalized puzzle rooms scattered throughout the map, which also function as fast-travel points after you activate them. There are lots of mountains to climb, stuff to collect, and monsters to fight, and it rarely feels like a chore.
The four main quests do feel somewhat repetitive, as they each have the same basic structure, although the design for the dungeon-sized Divine Beasts are quite cool. The game has a very aggressive weapon and shield durability system, which will mean you will be spending a lot of time collecting replacement swords rather than relying on the familiar Master Sword. Fortunately, there is a huge variety of new ones to collect, so it does add some variety to the experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge, beautiful adventure with a new surprise over every ridge. It brings back a refreshing sense of freedom to the series, and is a must-play, in my opinion. You can find it for the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Wii-U.

Hugh Likes Video Games – Fire Emblem Heroes

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Fire Emblem Heroes
Published by Nintendo
Played on AndroidSQ_SmartDevice_FireEmblemHeroes

The Skinny – Fire Emblem Heroes is a slimmed down but still surprisingly deep mobile version of Nintendo’s long-running tactical RPG.

Strategy RPG’s have a tendency towards being overwrought. With huge casts, complicated game systems, and drawn-out battles, they are considered investments in time and attention, and, indeed, their most ardent fans wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why I was slightly dubious when I heard Nintendo was bringing their Fire Emblem series to IOS and Android phones. But Nintendo has done an excellent job of threading the needle between shallow nostalgia bomb and dense war simulator with aplomb.

The story is pretty paper-thin, mostly just an excuse to bring the different games in the franchise together, but it does well enough. The game takes place in the kingdom of Askr, a land blessed with portals to other worlds. The player is the latest such recruit in Askr’s somewhat endless war against their neighbors, the evil empire of Embla. The royals of Askr wear white and value friendship, the Emblians all wear black and have emotional problems, etc. etc. Both sides have put heroes from these other worlds, which align with the various games in the Fire Emblem series, under contract to fight on their side, and the only way for them to be set free is to be defeated on the battlefield. The story is a bit slight, but I personally find the idea that all these characters are appearing because its in their contract a fantastic, if probably unintentional, meta-joke at the heart of the game.
The combat itself is fast-paced and shrinks down elegantly. The vast swaths of movement the regular series is known for are shrunk down to just a few spaces, and your army is reduced to teams of four, although you can fairly easily swap out teams or team members from your roster. The roster itself is a typical sort of random card pack selecting you see in many free-to-play mobile games, but ‘Heroes’ gives you plenty of currency to fill out your army without resorting to converting your real-life cash to orbs. Combat relies on the traditional Fire Emblem sword-axe-spear battle system, but new players shouldn’t have any trouble picking it up. It strips the system down to manageability, but still provides enough expanded difficulty modes, asynchronous multiplayer, and challenge modes for veteran players.
Although the story mode is paper-thin and incredibly anime, the art assets look great, and scale well. Fire Emblem Heroes might not be the next revolution in game design, but its a great way to pass the time if you’re looking for something a bit different than the run-of-the-mill puzzle game. You can find it for free in the IOS or Google Play app stores.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Super NES Classic

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snes-box

The Skinny-While you may already have many of these games, this collection of 16-bit classics feels absolutely perfect.

Last year, Nintendo released the SNES Classic Edition, the follow up to 2016’s sealed reproduction NES console. While it isn’t quite as rare as the original, it is still hard to come by for fans that didn’t preorder. But last week I finally got my mitts on one, and it is a lovely little nostalgia box.
The sealed box contains twenty-one games for the Super Nintendo, including the never-released “Star Fox 2.” While this is lower than the NES Classic, the lineup is all fantastic games, with little fat to speak of. Of course, there are plenty of games that feel missing. “Chrono Trigger” would be a personal inclusion. Other games such as “Pilotwings,” “Actraiser” or the original SNES port of “Sim City” would have been welcome as well. But the console does capture the era, from the opening level of Super Mario World to the last boss in Final Fantasy III.
The console looks great, which is to say like a scaled down version of the original, and it feels spot-on, even if the controller cords are still a bit too short for comfort. There are some nifty new options as well, including a choice of background images and the ability to rewind a few seconds for when the old-school difficulty gets to be a bit much.
While most of these games are widely averrable through various Nintendo eshops, rerelease collections, and remakes, There’s just something about playing them with an original controller that feels right. They look great, as well.
While these $80 bundles may still be a bit on the rare side, if you come across a SNES Classic, pick it up, and breathe in that nostalgia buzz.

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