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What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

13th of August, 2021

Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: skulls, Sudoku and a recent classic.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.

Castle of Pixel Skulls, Switch

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Castle of Pixel Skulls was an impulse buy on Switch - an old-school platformer that promised to be maddeningly difficult. I am particularly bad at this sort of game, but I wanted in, and I've really been enjoying myself, and that's because it's one of those screen-based platformers, where each room - each level - is a single screen.

I love this stuff because it reminds me of my introduction to games, back in the early 1980s with my brothers' Commodore 64. Back then the best games were room-based platformers, and they often create a singular sense of place - quite eerie and claustrophobic, a kind of atmosphere of sheer mystery in these early games that I have been chasing ever since.

The best of these - Impossible Mission, Jet Set Willy - created a sense that the individual screens came together to form a single place - a place that you travelled through, but whose totality remained strangely unseen. Castle of the Pixel Skulls doesn't seem to do that so far - it's more about challenges - but it's enough to transport me back anyway, back to the start of games when they were a proper kind of magic.

Chris Donlan

Hades, PC

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It's a big week for Hades, with the game arriving on PlayStation, Xbox and Xbox Game Pass today, so what better time than now to revisit this mythological rogue-like romp? I've now plugged dozens of hours into the PC version, yet I continuously feel like I've only scratched the surface: there is always something extra for you to work towards, be it clearing a high-heat run or unlocking more of the story. "Does Hades ever run out of dialogue," I found myself Googling, and discovered it does indeed have a limit... of 21k voice lines, with more words than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. That should keep me going for a while.

Lately I've been looking to give myself an extra challenge - beyond all the options Hades already gives you - and this has taken the form of themed runs. Or meme runs, as they're also called. This involves picking often suboptimal or humorous builds, and seeing how far you can take them. So far I've tried my hand at a "Beyblade"-themed run, as inspired by this Reddit user, to turn myself and all my abilities into a series of whirling circles. (A combination of the Guan Yu spear and Blade Rift abilities worked surprisingly well - talk about Ares of effect.)

Less successful were my attempts to stick with the abilities of only one god (I had the most luck with Demeter, by the way), but I managed a complete run when trying to collect as much Charon's Obol as possible - combining it with perks that increased my damage based on this. This all showcases the sheer flexibility and creativity of Hades' combat system, and how navigating the chaos of the game's RNG system is half the fun. An attempt to create order from chaos, if you will.

I now have plans to do a pass-the-controller run with a friend, in which each of us deliberately picks the worst boons to see how far we can get with a terrible build. Losing has never been so entertaining.

Emma Kent

Killer Sudoku, various

A friend got me into Killer Sudoku. We were having coffee and he seemed to have something eating away inside his head, and it was because he'd just fluffed a Sudoku. He showed me the game, and the squares were a colourful Tetris field of different shapes. Killer Sudoku. Like normal Sudoku, but a bit more killer.

You probably know this already, but Killer Sudoku is excellent. It's the normal game - you still have to get the numbers 1-9 in every row, column and 3X3 square - but the board is also split up into complex shapes that all have their own number targets. So crossing two different 3X3 squares is a sort of L shape that needs the numbers inside to add up to 25. And on and on.

At first, playing on Easy, it almost seemed like a con. It was so much easier than normal Sudoku, because here was this extra source of information to lean into when filling out the grid. But my friend told me to only play on Hard mode, and the genius of the game suddenly burns bright: Killer Sudoku's twist is that it drops you into grids with very few numbers in at the start, and it can do this because, hey, it is giving you an extra source of information to lean into.

I am hooked. And I can't see this ending any time soon. Please join me, if you haven't already.

Chris Donlan

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