Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Nobody likes this game!
My friends just shake their heads whenever I put it in. Chris took one look at the full-motion video and asked if it was a CD-i game. My wife wanted to know if I paid money for this. 1-2-Switch is mainly a showcase for the new Joy-Con controllers. These tiny overpriced controllers ($50 each!) are basically miniature Wiimotes, complete with the "be mindful of your surroundings" warnings. Despite their size the Joy-Cons are jam-packed with functionality, housing a microphone, camera, sophisticated rumble feedback, an accelerometer, and gyroscope for motion tracking. 1-2-Switch bundles up 28 mini-games, some of which are so trivial you'll be amazed they made the cut. All are two-player only, and most instruct you to look your opponent in the eye, which I found awkward. The action is largely driven by sound cues and force feedback. In fact, a blind person could play this! Some games test your reflexes, like the Wild West shootout and a phone-answering contest. Zen challenges you to remain perfectly still, detecting even your slightest movements. Ball Count simulates a number of balls rolling around in the controller and it's pretty neat. Some of the more elaborate motion games like runway model and air guitar are probably more entertaining if the players have been drinking... a lot
. Some of the more offbeat games incorporate shaving, eating, and milking a cow. Signal Flag and Sword Fight are too confusing to be fun, although you could argue that none of these are particularly fun. A few, like Dice Roll and Soda Shake, barely qualify as a game
. To its credit, 1-2-Switch boasts slick production values, bright color schemes, and enthusiastic actors. Judging from the tutorial videos alone you'd expect every game to be a complete riot. Other critics have written off 1-2-Switch as a glorified tech demo that should have been shipped with the system. They are correct. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Arms is Punch-Out!!
(NES, 1987) for the 90s! I mean 2000's! Whatever! In this high energy, one-on-one slugfest each fighter has long, coily arms. Not only can you throw punches from a distance, but you can guide your fists
toward your moving opponent. The stylish presentation boards bright visuals and a spirited vocal chorus. It occurred to me that Arms has one element you rarely see in modern video games, and that's a catchy soundtrack! It'll have you cranking up the volume and humming right along. The colorful cast includes ninja dudes, chicks with taffy hair, a hulking mummy, a robot, and a Gumby-like character. You outfit your fighter with a variety of arms (hands really) equipped with gadgets like shields, missiles, or saws. The arenas range from a laboratory to a dance club to the steps of a Japanese temple. In addition to throwing punches you can dash, jump, and block. Naturally there's a special move that lets you go buck-wild with a crazy barrage. I found the screen layout confusing. Your opponent's health meter only appears intermittently, often in the distance. The game is surprisingly playable with the Joy-Con motion controls. It's satisfying to land a combo or catch a dodging enemy in the side of the head. Unfortunately, configuring the Joy-Cons as individual controllers is pain, so my friends and I normally just stick to the standard controller configuration. Either way, the game will make you work up a sweat. In addition to best-of-three matches there are basketball, volleyball, and target-punching mini-games. I guess the main problem with Arms is that it doesn't have legs
. Competing against a friend is fun, but there's little incentive to play solo, outside of earning credits to unlock new arms. Still, I have to give Arms credit for its refreshing arcade-style gameplay with originality to burn. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Badlands Games (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I tend to hop from one game to the next but Axiom Verge became an instant obsession. I still can't get over how finely-crafted and inventive this sci-fi platfomer is. Though obviously a Metroid clone, Axiom Verge out-Metroids every Metroid game ever made. Its gorgeously-pixelated 16-bit graphics employ limited color schemes for dramatic effect, with stages composed of granular blocks. It's superb 2D gameplay is enhanced by a mind-bending story and pulse-pounding musical score. The environments feature a lot of familiar elements like steam vents, rolling boulders, and toxic pools, but don't let that fool you. The creativity in this game is off the charts, with monsters, items, and weapons like you've never imagined. Case in point is the "address disrupter" gun which actually allows you to create graphical glitches in the game
- for your benefit!! And once you think you have Axiom Verge figured out, you're just getting started. Like a good Zelda adventure once you acquire a new ability you'll want to comb over old locations to make new discoveries. Backtracking has never been so satisfying. A handy map is at your fingertips and the save points are perfectly placed. The audio is amazing, from the crisp tapping of your drone scurrying around to the Defender-like electronic sound when you find a new weapon. Static in the music adds to the atmosphere of isolation, but some people might wonder if there's something wrong with their sound system. Axiom Verge was developed over five years by a single man.
And when you consider Tom Happ even created its otherworldly soundtrack, this is an astounding accomplishment. My one complaint has more to do with the Nintendo Switch controller. A game like this demands a directional pad, and there's really no decent substitute on the Joycon. Double-tapping is awkward and I kept accidentally changing weapons! Once I switched to a Pro Controller, it was like night and day. Axiom Verge isn't a Metroid clone - it's a Metroid killer!
This is one of the best games I've ever played - hands down. TIP: The Multiverse Edition includes bonus materials. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
I Am Setsuna (Japan)
Publisher: Square Enix (2017)
I purchased this upon hearing it was a winter-themed role-playing game (RPG). What could be better than curling up with a good RPG on a cold winter night? I Am Setsuna is a Japanese game but all the text including menus and dialog display in English so it's not a problem. The game certainly has a nice sense atmosphere with its snow-covered forests and quaint villages. Gentle piano music nicely complements the falling snowflakes. I like the anime style but "monsters" like walrus, rabbits, and penguins are almost too cute to slaughter! Almost. The character conversations tend to be brief and inconsequential. The two responses you're asked to choose from are basically the same answers worded differently, so there's little if any impact on events. I find it odd how whenever a new character is encountered the game asks if you want to change their name. What is the point?
Is there somebody out there who wants to change Setsuna's name to Shirley? The exploration element is fun thanks to the frosty scenery but combat system leaves a lot to be desired. Each character must wait for their meter to fill before they can act, resulting in an uneasy mix of real-time and turn-based combat. When multiple meters are full, it's hard to tell who you're controlling. Worse yet, the stat boxes across the bottom of the screen aren't presented in the same order of the characters on the screen, which is confusing. Nothing worse than accidentally "curing" someone with full health! Pressing the Y button during an attack adds "momentum" for extra impact, but it's not clear when you did it right. The game makes a point of telling you it does not automatically save your progress, as if that's some kind of badge of honor. The save points are few and far between. You'd think there would at least be one in each village, but nope!
There were times when I felt like the game was holding me hostage
for crying out loud! As if to rub it in, there is
a "save" option on the menu but it's disabled. I general I found the game to be fairly dull, with boss encounters that go on forever. I Am Setsuna satisfied my appetite for winter but I feel like it tried to reinvent the wheel and it turned out square. Note: I'm told the save option is available when you are on the world map, but I still don't like the system. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)
I think we all knew Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was going to be good. I mean, it was only in development for five years
for crying out loud! This epic journey begins with Link emerging from a 100-year slumber and gazing across a sunny rolling landscape with distant castles, ruins, and volcanoes. I usually stick to the main quest in open-world games, yet Breath of the Wild made me want to explore every inch of its vast uncharted wilderness. Maybe it's the tight, responsive controls. The dash move lets you cover a lot of ground in a hurry, and the new climbing controls mean nowhere is out of reach. The crisp, cell-shaded graphics are more realistic than previous Zeldas but still possess an anime charm. The control scheme is so well designed that sifting through your inventory is a pleasure. In addition to a captivating storyline there are endless side quests and over 100 shrines scattered around the world. Each shrine is a dungeon offering mind-bending challenges employing the powers of magnetism, time, fire, and energy. As jaded as I am, I found myself constantly amazed at this game's ingenuity. Awe-inspiring boss encounters feature four "divine beasts" which brought back fond memories of Shadow of the Colossus
(PS2, 2005). I was skeptical about some of the new features but they won me over. The stamina meter adds a lot of suspense as you try to climb a peak without losing your grip. I scoffed at the idea of cooking, yet it turns out to be surprisingly entertaining to toss ingredients into a pot and see what comes out. The fact that weapons break down adds a layer of strategy as you try to conserve your best items for the toughest beasts. Breath of the Wild is a massive game that will not only dominate your Switch but leave your other systems starved for attention. An NES-style manual would have been nice, but frankly it's hard to find fault with this. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a title you'll anxiously look forward to playing every day after school or work, and when was the last time a game made you feel like that?
© Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Publisher: Ubisoft (2017)
Ubisoft hasn't had the best track record as of late so Mario + Rabbids comes as a pleasant surprise. Kingdom Battle has the look and feel of an Nintendo title, and that is high praise indeed. It's turned-based "strategy lite" designed for casual gamers, with wacky characters, simplified gameplay, and a gently-ramping difficulty. It's like a kid-friendly version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown
(Xbox 360, 2012). In the chaotic intro mischievous "rabbids" wreak havoc with a virtual reality machine, causing objects to fuse together with crazy results. To restore order Mario finds himself teaming up with two friendly "cosplay" rabbids (dressed as Peach and Luigi) in a fanciful world that looks like a Candyland board game. There's some lightweight puzzles and exploration but the game is mostly a series of short battles. During each turn you methodically position your three characters, attack exposed enemies, and employ special abilities (like healing or weaken) to tilt the advantage. The first few battles are mindlessly simple and it takes a while for the game to gain traction. But once you get to the meat of the game Kingdom Battle is one heck of a good time. Battle concepts tend to build upon each other and the multi-tiered environments provide all sorts of strategic possibilities. Each character can cover a lot of ground per turn by utilizing transportation pipes and "team jump" techniques. The graphics look extremely polished and the shimmering blue water is gorgeous. I noticed a few collision detection and camera issues but not nearly enough to derail the fun. The cut-scenes are funny and I found the frequent "progress saved" messages reassuring. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle isn't the type of game I'd play for hours on end, but it's a good option if you need a quick fix. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Okay, so it's a blatant rehash. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still the best kart racer you've ever played. The original Mario Kart 8
(Wii U, 2014) was spectacular, save for a weak battle mode. With Deluxe that oversight has been addressed to the full extent of the law. Instead of taking shots at players while doing laps, you battle in layered arenas with all sorts of interleaving, crisscrossing paths. It's chaotic, exhilarating, and with eight players per match there are always plenty of targets. Fun locations include Luigi's Mansion, a Japanese temple, a lunar colony, and a stage inspired by Splatoon
(Wii U, 2015). All of the DLC released for the original game is baked in, and since I never purchased any, I was thrilled with the wide selection of characters and tracks. One drawback to having so much unlocked is there's little incentive to master each circuit, although you'll still win coins for upgrades. The eye candy is mesmerizing as you race through a pristine airport, careen down jungle water slides, and zoom through an underwater kingdom. My personal favorite track is the rainy metropolis with its colorful neon lights (a la Blade Runner). Once I started playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it was hard to stop. The gameplay is well balanced, although I wish there were more ways to defend yourself from shells. The controls feel great and the revving vibration is remarkable. Unless you are absolutely sick of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U (not likely), this Deluxe version is a good investment. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2017)
Puyo Puyo Tetris is a safe bet for puzzle-minded gamers with its colorful graphics, simple controls, and an avalanche
of variations. There are three general game types: Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and Fusion. Tetris might seem like old hat until you realize there's probably an entire generation of young gamers who haven't even heard
of it! Invented in 1984, its block-stacking gameplay remains timeless. I love how in this version you can press up to instantly cement the next block to the bottom. Puyo Puyo is also fairly long in the tooth, dating back to 1991. It involves stacking colored beans... um... blobs... er... what the [expletive] are those things anyway?
All I know is, they are squishy. When four puyos gell together they generate an explosion that can trigger chain reactions. Fusion is a combination of Tetris and Puyo Puyo. Sometimes you get bricks and sometimes puyos. Though fuzzy on the rules, I'm always mesmerized by this peculiar hybrid. Up to four people can play at once, each choosing their own game style. Sega took a minimalist approach with the graphics and I think it paid off. The sharp objects and bright colors look very inviting. A series of tutorials not only explain the basics but go over advanced strategies in detail. The controls feel crisp and the bubbly music has an infectious quality. The voices are repetitive but they add a nice punctuation when you clear puyos ("solved it!"
). What puts Puyo Puyo Tetris over the top may be its myriad of variations, too numerous to list. There are party modes that toss random objects into the mix. There's a swap mode that lets you play two games at once. I personally prefer "endless puyo" which lets me compete for a high score (sadly it doesn't save initials). The story mode looks like a throw-away but its rapid-fire CPU challenges had me hooked!
It may not push the hardware, but Puyo Puyo Tetris is a likable little title with universal appeal and seemingly endless replay value. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: THQ Nordic (2017)
A throwback to old 2D shooters like Steel Empire
(Genesis, 1992), Sine Mora EX combines crisp 2D shooting with gorgeous 3D layered scenery. The game strikes a retro-futuristic motif with biplanes, blimps, tanks, and locomotives. You hold down a button to unleash a stream of rapid-fire shots, and I love the sound of the your bullets hammering enemies while depleting their little health bars. The explosions are satisfying thanks to some crisp audio and nifty smoke effects. Your main cannon can be powered up to nine levels, so grab a red icon whenever you can. Upon taking a hit your red icons will spill out, but if you're lucky you can scoop them right back up. You also have a limited supply of heat-seeking missiles and the ability to slow time. But when everything on the screen is reduced to slow-motion, your ship's controls remain very touchy. The collision detection is kind of mysterious. Certain stages contain a lot of activity in the background, making it hard to tell what's in your line of fire. While trying to dodge overwhelming waves of missiles it seems as if I should have been incurring serious damage. The stages have a highly unncessary time limit, so unless you continuously blow up stuff up time can expire. The highlight of Sine Mora are its epic bosses, which are brilliant in design. They include an octopus where you shoot off its tentacles, a train where you methodically destroy each car, and a giant rickety robot. The eclectic soundtrack is understated but adds a lot of atmosphere. Sine Mora EX should have been the perfect game for a shooter fan like me, but the game around the game
falters. You need to be online
to access the leaderboards. Are you telling me they couldn't implement a local leaderboard? The lack of decent instructions for a shooter this sophisticated is unforgivable. Setting up each game is confusing. What the [expletive] is a Chronome? I love the idea of Sine Mora EX, but ultimately this stylish old-school shooter is betrayed by its modern trappings. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2017)
It seems like every year Sega cranks out another mediocre 3D Sonic game just close enough to Christmas that people can't catch all the bad reviews. With all the recent hubbub over Sega's 2D Sonic Mania, it's hard to excited about Sonic Forces. The stages alternate between between behind-the-back speed running and more traditional side-scrolling fare. You'll execute homing attacks on robots, slide between rails, and watch extended automated sequences that will make your head spin. Highlights include being chased by a giant rampaging crab and being whisked around the Star Wars-inspired "Death Egg". There's no shortage of spectacle but it feels like you're on autopilot half the time. Worse yet, there are times when it's not clear whether if you're in control or not, and stepping in at the wrong moment can send you flying off the rails. You'll play as two different Sonics (classic and modern) as well as a custom character you design yourself. The problem with using three characters is that they all control differently and it's hard to switch gears. The sense of speed is breathtaking at times, but your boost lasts so long you can plow through many stages with little or no resistance. I'd say it feels like cheating, but frankly the entire game
feels like a cheat. The "hard" difficulty is so low it's tough to earn anything less than an "A" in a given stage. You're then awarded so many unlockables that your thumb will get tired of paging through them all. I will give Sonic Forces credit for variety. There are dozens of stages and each of which feels like a unique experience. Unlike the idyllic locales of the original Sonic trilogy, you'll need to traverse war-torn cities in this game. Stages that reprise the classics like the Green Hill, Casino, and Chemical Zones mainly serve to emphasize how superior the original 2D versions are. The layered 3D graphics make it hard to tell what you can or can't jump on, and the controls are not responsive. Sonic Forces does offer upbeat musical tracks, some with vocals. It's hard to stomach the corny cutscenes, but thankfully you can skip them. Sonic Forces is long on razzle dazzle but short on gameplay. It's just another 3D Sonic game, and that's probably all you need to know. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Super Bomberman R
Publisher: Konami (2017)
I've been a fan of this franchise since Super Bomberman
(SNES, 1993). Bomberman is a party game designed for four players. Gameplay involves dropping bombs around a maze, collecting power-ups, and frantically avoiding chain-reaction explosions. Super Bomberman R applies a glossy 3D sheen to a classic formula. Four players are required for battle mode, with CPU characters filling in the missing slots. Unfortunately the poorly designed menu system makes setting up each contest a major hassle. There are plenty of options except the one you really want
which is a damn CPU difficulty setting. You see, the CPU players have a tendency to run roughshod
over humans. I think my friend Chris is the only person I've seen prevail against those CPU bastards. And God forbid if there are multiple CPU players. You'll have wait forever
for them to eliminate each other
, as their flawless AI allows them to run the clock down to the very last second. I do enjoy the bouncy, jubilant music which is a throwback to the 16-bit era. Bomberman R introduces a few innovative features like an 8-player mode and "revenge carts" which let you toss bombs from the perimeter after
you've been eliminated. The story mode is challenging enough but the lengthy cut-scenes can be a little hard to stomach. The modern visuals don't improve the gameplay one bit, and you could argue they are detrimental!
Unnecessary lighting effects make it hard to differentiate shadows from pits, and why is the camera wavering? Ramps can take you to raised areas on the board, but sometimes it's hard to tell if you're on the same level as the guy standing next to you. Even the controls feel slippery. Apparently the R in Super Bomberman R stands for "rushed". Konami has patched this game several times since its release, but I'm not letting them off the hook for such a sloppy, disappointing effort. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Odyssey
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
I figured Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
(Nintendo, 2017) would be impossible to top, but never underestimate Nintendo. Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation and a celebration
of the complete Mario catalog. But unlike past Mario escapades, Odyssey feels unconstrained with sprawling kingdoms that extend as far as the eye can see. There's a frozen desert, an elevated forest kingdom, a gorgeous undersea realm, a festive snow world, and a vertigo-inducing metropolis. The stages are expertly designed so you'll want to explore every nook and cranny. At first the gameplay feels a lot like Super Mario 64
(N64, 1996) as you scamper around simple environments, talking to characters, hopping on enemies, and snagging items. But then the game tosses one surprise at you after another and never really lets up. Mario's new hat-throwing ability opens up all sorts of possibilities, allowing you to take control of just about any creature or animated object. You can leap high as a frog, fire mortars as a tank, or go on a destructive rampage as a giant T-Rex. In a nod to the old-school, certain areas seamlessly transition between 2D and 3D realms. It's hard to describe this game without dropping a few spoilers. The creativity is off-the-charts, and it seems like everything you do is fun
. The game has a comforting familiarity with classic enemies (like goombas) and distinctive sound effects (descending into a green pipe). The difficulty is low. It only costs a few coins to continue and there's no shortage of those. What presents a challenge is Mario's momentum (especially in slippery areas) and the manual camera, which requires your constant attention. The controls are as crisp as the pitter patter of Mario's feet. You have the option of using motion controls, but I didn't think they were worth it. The game saves often and the light jazz soundtrack is outstanding. Mario Odyssey has a level of polish you don't see much in this day and age. Once you begin playing the hours just melt away. Ridiculously fun and universally appealing, you could make a case for this being the best video game of all time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Tiny Barbarian DX
Publisher: Nicolis (2017)
I should have never played Axiom Verge
(Badlands Games, 2017) because it set the bar way
too high for retro titles like this. Tiny Barbarian is exactly what I was expecting, for better or worse. It's an homage to the 8-bit days of pixelated graphics, parallax scrolling, and 2D hack-n-slash platforming. Each stage opens with a scrolling map a la Ghouls 'N Ghosts
(Genesis, 1991) which is a nice touch. Your barbarian certainly is tiny, and I like the way he flexes his muscles when left without supervision. The gameplay is simple as you hop and climb while slaying snakes, birds, and armed guards. The controls feel responsive and my new Pro Controller got a good workout. The directional pad is precise and much like Strider
(Genesis, 1989) our hero can perch on the edge of a block and pull himself up. It's possible to execute a long lash or spin attack, but with no instructions I can't tell you how. Tiny Barbarian is not as satisfying as it could be. Striking anything with your sword makes a lame "thump" sound, as if you're smacking someone with a wet sock. Slain enemies just sort of fall over when defeated. I would never advocate violence, but a little blood and gore never hurt anybody. The stages are colorful but what you see is pretty much what you get. Frequent annoyances include enemies that repel attacks and skeletal hands that reach up from the ground. But the worst offenders are the birds or snakes that perpetually respawn, forcing you to rush through certain sections while absorbing hits along the way. Can a brother get a health icon?
Old-school references include the gnome from Golden Axe
(Genesis, 1989) you can smack around for bonuses, and a God of War
(PS2, 2005) inspired maiden scene. The animation has style and subtle humor. The problem is, Tiny Barbarian DX isn't particularly addictive and becomes progressively less enjoyable as you go. What saves the day is its two-player coop. Trying to beat a stage with a buddy harkens back to the old sleepover days when you'd stay up half the night trying to conquer a hard level. And be sure to check out the Horde mode which challenges you to stay "king of the mountain" for as long as possible (usually under a minute). It won't win any awards but when it comes to old-school throwbacks Tiny Barbarian is legit
. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Ultra Street Fighter II
Publisher: Capcom (2017)
I've been a Street Fighter II
(SNES, 1992) fanatic since day one, purchasing just about all of its countless variations (super, turbo, alpha, etc). The only reason I passed up Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (2008) was because it was download-only. Well I guess good things come to those who wait... nine years!
I have to admit I'm loving the HD graphics! They add amazing sharpness and detail while still retaining the original art style. Ryu's moonlit temple and Ken's sunny yacht look gorgeous, and I love the sense of depth in Chun Li's market stage. The characters are so sharp you can actually see lines on Ryu's face! The original low-resolution graphics are available as an option, but they look downright harsh
on a modern TV. The original fighting lineup has returned along with newcomers Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. These guys seem suspiciously similar to "regular" Ken and Ryu, except they happen to be demonically possessed (hey - it happens). The strategic one-on-one fighting feels just like the old days, but if you're used to cranking up the turbo setting it might feel a little slow. The improved clarity tends to undermine the collision detection, causing some obvious misses to be registered as hits. The original musical score is back, but the remastered tunes sound a little less edgy. I'm pleased to announce Capcom has rediscovered their long lost "arcade mode" technology, and you can even rank in with your initials. Just be sure to crank up the difficulty to "master" (at the very least) because normal is ridiculously easy. It would be nice if the game kept a different set of high scores for each difficulty. Playing with a Joy-Con controller takes some getting used to. I kept switching between the digital and analog directional controls but didn't feel completely satisfied with either one. By default heavy attacks are assigned to the right and left bumpers, but they are really
hard to reach in the heat of battle. And why is it that when I pull up the move list I then have to select my character from a list? If I'm playing as Chun Li, just show me her damn moves! It's not that hard Capcom! In addition to the standard online, training, and versus modes, Capcom tossed in two new modes of questionable value. Buddy Battle mode lets you team up with a friend (or CPU) to beat the living crap out of a CPU player. There's no score so it's basically just a novelty. Way of the Hado mode offers a first-person perspective as you execute Joy-Con motion controls to dispatch oncoming soldiers. The controls are so bad they feel like the worst Wii game ever. Ultra Street Fighter II is a lazy effort, but it's still worth owning, particularly if you haven't experienced this classic in HD. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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