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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 Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Hugh Likes Movies
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sony/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Having finally ponied up to see Spider-Man Homecoming, I have some thoughts on Sony’s third launch of the character, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh take on the character, and it does a lot of things right that the previous movies have avoided.
The most obvious change is that Spider-Man is now firmly hooked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the previous reboot was an attempt to keep the character walled off, the movie’s open-armed embrace of the setting was surprising, and cleverly done. Having an ongoing narrative to hook into also gives the movie the additional leg up of not having to retell Peter Parker’s origin! Director Jon Watts does everything he can to avoid it, in fact.
We get a short origin of the villains, small-business construction contractors who turned to a life of crime when they were pushed out of the cleanup of New York from the aftermath of “The Avengers.” From there, we have a short sequence of video footage showing his cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view. Not only is this everything the audience needs to be up to speed, it also highlights the other great change about this version. This Peter Parker is a dork.
The previous franchises paid lip-service to the idea, but never fully embraced this aspect. They try very hard to impress a faux-cool onto the character, either through The Amazing Spider-Man’s self-indulgent skateboarding sequences, or the best-forgotten dance sequence in Spider-Man III. Those versions of the character are still hard-luck heroes, but they try and put a gloss of hollywood polish where it simply doesn’t belong.
This character is as young as he was when he first appeared in comics, and at age fifteen, he still makes all the mistakes you would expect. He tumbles awkwardly to a stop at the end of his swings, and he bites off more than he can chew, a constant irritation to his at-arms length mentor, Tony Stark.
Spider-Man Homecoming is the best version of this character by a long shot, but the movie does stumble here and there. The soundtrack is possibly the laziest of its kind that I have heard in a long time. Composer Michael Giacchino even records a cover of the 1960’s cartoon theme song in booming Marvel brass. In a previous movie review, I made a joke about him doing orchestral Ramones covers, but I never thought I’d actually see it happen. There is also a lot of teen drama in this movie, which can drag the film down, but is brightened by co-stars Jacob Batalon and Zendaya, who fill these scenes with teen-like enthusiasm and cynicism respectively. Also, well-done on the casting director for filling Midtown High with actual teenage actors. This is the first one of these movies in a long time that felt like a real place, and the spot-on casting had a lot to do with it.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is a refreshing swing through new territory that brings the MCU to life in ways that Marvel’s own properties have failed to do. You can catch it in theaters now.

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