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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 Comics: The Union

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The Union #1
Written by Paul Grist
Drawn by Andrea Di Vito, Drew Geraci and Le Beau Underwood with Paul Grist
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: This comic feels a lot like Jack Staff, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

The Union, Marvel’s (mostly) new team of British superheroes debuts at a rocky time for the island nation, both in the real world and the Marvel universe. On our Earth, Brexit continues, while on Earth-616, their most prominent superhero, Captain Britain, has been replaced by his sister, Betsy Braddock, who is a mutant. While neither of these issues are explicitly addressed in the comic, both loom large over the book as it introduces a new government sponsored team lead by Britannia, a character who feels very familiar to the absent hero.
The one familiar member of the team is Union Jack, who fills the role of a Captain America-like super-soldier on the team. Grist wrote a long-running indie comic Jack Staff, about a similar character who was based on a rejected pitch to Marvel. This opening chapter has a similar feel, and artist Andrea Di Vito literally has him holding onto a flag for most of the issue in a likely homage.
The Union looks like the start of a clever superhero satire. Let’s just hope it can survive being tied-in to Marvel’s latest event, King in Black. You can download it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a print copy at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Commanders in Crisis

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Commanders in Crisis #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Drawn by Davide Tinto
Colored by Francesca Carotenuto
Lettered by Fabio Amelia
Published by Image Comics

The Skinny: An ambitious start to a fascinating new indie superhero series.

Commanders in Crisis is an ambitious new indie superhero comic that doesn’t aim simply to tell a story so much as to create a new universe. It introduces and follows the five titular heroes, who are a team along the lines of The Avengers or Justice League, although there is a bit more going on with them than it first seems, and the real twist of the book is at the end, so it won’t be spoiled here. I will say that Orlando and Tinto have created a compelling cast of characters with a huge burden to shoulder. Commanders feels like a crossover event for a line of comics that doesn’t exist.
One of the spots where ‘Big-2” crossovers tend to fall apart is that the action demands too much of the book’s page count, with splash pages and punch-ups pushing out character and story moments, making the plots feel rushed and the characters feel off. This is a well-paced book that gives us everything we need about these five characters in one short fight and a sequence of two-page vignettes following them through their off-hours. With five new heroes that don’t seem to fit neatly into their expected archetypes, Orlando and Tinto do a great job establishing who these heroes are and what they’re doing. I particularly like “Sawbones,” who is just the right mix of interesting powers and 90’s parody.
The other big pitfall for a story like this is the dramatic irony of knowing the status quo can only be shifted so much in a big superhero universe. The good guys are going to win the day, in the end, and while there may be a heroic sacrifice, they’ll only be off the board for so long. By establishing a whole universe, the creators are in the unique position of being able to take the story in any direction they want. There is a sense of possibility here that I haven’t felt in a Superhero book since Stormwatch.
Commanders in Crisis #1 is a gleaming gem of possibility. If you love superheroes, but are looking for something fresh that isn’t steeped in eighty years of continuity, This is a book to check out. You can find it at your Local Comics Shop, or snag a digital copy from Comixology!

Hugh Likes Comics: Slaughterhouse-Five

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Slaughterhouse-Five or, The Children’s Crusade: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Story by Kurt Vonnegut
Written by Ryan North
illustrated by Albert Monteys
Published by Archaia

The Skinny – Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Slaughterhouse-Five is both a ground-breaking anti-war noval and a deeply personal account of the firebombing of Dresden. It’s also a seminal work of New Wave Science Fiction. With this distinguished pedigree, adapting the work into a graphic novel would seem an insurmountable task. But Ryan North and Albert Monteys have done an outstanding job capturing the soul of the original book.
Even in text boxes and word balloons, Vonnegut’s signature prose comes through very well, and North does an excellent job trimming the work down to fit the requirements of the new medium. Monteys’s art is likewise on point. His use of a cartoonish style fits the attitude of the story well, and it gets under your skin, flowing from one scene to the next as easily as Billy Pilgrim slipping through time. Then, as with the original book, you will turn a page and be gut-punched by the beauty and horror of everything.
Slaughterhouse-Five is a moving, beautiful, sad, hilarious, enraging true adaptation of a peerless novel. It is among the best works I’ve read this year, and it belongs on the shelves of Vonnegut fans and newcomers alike. You can pick it up in hardbound graphic novel format from your Local Comics Shop, or digitally through Comixology.

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

gamelogo

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 Comics: Far Sector

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Far Sector #1-5
Written by N. K. Jemsin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC’s Young Animal

HLC Far Sector

The Skinny: A Green Lantern story unlike anything you’ve read before.

Far Sector is a comic likely unlike anything you’ve read before. Triple Hugo award-winning author N. K. Jemsin has teamed up with phenomenal artist Jamal Campbell to tell the story of Sojourner “Jo” Mullein. The newest member of the Green Lantern Corps, Jo protects The City Enduring, a Dyson Swarm with a population of over 20 billion. Home to three previously waring civilizations, the city has preserved the peace for the last 500 years by forgoing their emotions. But when she investigates the first murder in centuries, she finds tensions ready to snap.
This comic is unlike anything I’ve read from a DC in a very long time. The City Eternal is a very different setting than the rest of the universe, far removed from epic struggles of the Justice League or even the tropes commonly found in the other Green Lantern books. It’s a story about a queer black woman cop (admittedly with superpowers) on her own and in over her head. The setting is constantly surprising, but Jo is the star of the show, and Jemsin sculpts her with more humanity than we get from Hal Jordan or Bruce Wayne.
The comic is further elevated by Jamal Campbell’s stunning artwork. Intricate, richly colored, and imaginative, it’s everything you could want in a space comic. Campbell makes Jemsin’s characters breathe in ways that are far removed from DC’s house style. No easy task when you’re drawing sentient, holographic AI and carnivorous plant people. Also, issue five has the best design for a Guardian of OA that I have ever seen.
Weird, wonderful and completely engrossing, Far Sector is the Space Opera Detective Comic you’ve been waiting for. Issues 1-5 are currently out, so if you can get to your local comics shop, or they can deliver, see if you can order them. And of course you can check them out on Comixology.
Stay safe, and be good to each other!

Hugh Likes Video Games: 198X

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Switch_198X_1200x675

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.

packshot_sword

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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589036-creature-in-the-well-windows-apps-front-cover

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 Comics: Canto

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Canto1

Canto #1
Written by David M. Booher
Drawn by Drew Zucker
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by IDW

The Skinny: A boy with a clockwork heart ventures into a dark world in this grim steampunk fairytale.

Canto’s people live in chains. Denied freedom, identity and even hearts, they toil for cruel masters bigger and stronger than themselves. But Canto believes in two things: A fairytale about a boy who saved a princess, and the girl who gave him his name. When she is injured by the cruel slavers, he’ll do the only thing he can to save her: Leave the confines of their labor camp and bring back her heart.
A sinister but none-the-less charming steampunk fable, Canto #1 opens with a familiar fantasy theme, but plays it expertly. Booher and Zucker’s steampunk fable starts on all the right notes for a great series. The story flows around the gaps in the characters’ knowledge, the questions that Canto will have to find the answers for. It is also doesn’t flinch away from the horrors of its world.
Zucker’s designs are doing a lot of great work here. Canto and his people are little clockwork knights, and their is brutal and violent without being gory. They don’t have or lose blood, but Time. It’s a clever and occasionally devastating use of metaphor that works well on the page. The designs are all funhouse mirror, with the squat, dwarfish slaves and their towering, bestial masters. Even Canto’s face looks like a mask. Astone’s moody colors are dark but also deep and rich. The art and colors are what really elevates the story.
Canto #1 is an excellent start to a story that looks to take a critical, or at least subtextual eye the tired quest motif. I can’t wait to see how far it goes with its material. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a physical copy at your local comics shop!

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