system Index N-Z
Namco Museum Arcade_Pak
Grade: C-
Publisher: Namco (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/2/5
Rating: Teen

screenshotI've purchased these Namco Museum compilations more times than I care to admit, but Namco usually tosses in just enough extras to string me along. In this case we get arcade-perfect versions of Splatterhouse and Rolling Thunder 1 & 2. Not too shabby! Unfortunately playing classic arcade games isn't what it used to be. Upon popping in Arcade Pak you're forced to agree to about 100 pages of legal paperwork. WTF?! It's one thing to be subjected to this garbage for online play, but these games are from the 80's!! Arcade Pak includes arcade-perfect versions of Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Rolling Thunder 1, Rolling Thunder 2, and Splatterhouse. Timeless fun! Less enticing are Tower of Druaga, Tank Force, and Skykid. Galaga '88 appears to be the arcade version Galaga '90 (T16, 1990) which is pretty terrific. There's supposed to be a four-player Pac-Man game but I couldn't get it configured for two players, much less four. The "museum" element that signified the early PS1 Namco Museums are nowhere to be found. That's lazy. And where are Galaxian, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man?! If Namco is saving them as DLC, that's greedy. Cheesy background graphics are used to fill out some of the game screens. Was the original cabinet art not available? I assumed the digital pad on my Pro Controller would be the best way to play these games, but the analog stick works better. One cool feature that caught me off guard was the vibration. The subtle tremors you feel while chomping a ghost really do add to the experience. They went overboard with Galaga 88 however; that game actually tickles my hand! The arcade modes save high scores but it's annoying how you're constantly prompted to upload your rankings. There's even a confirmation prompt after you say no! In addition to the arcade modes there are 3-minute challenge modes which are a total waste of three minutes. Rounding out the package is an unholy monstrosity called Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus 2P - a game every bit as complicated as its name! Somehow you're controlling two Pac-Men at the same time and it's just a big mess. I scored a few million points but had no idea what I was doing. Arcade Pak is at its best when you're enjoying the classics at their purest. It's afraid the collection was overshadowed by Namco's greed and sloth. Add in gluttony for Pac-Man and the lust for Ms. Pac-Man (don't judge) and Arcade Pak is working its way through the seven deadly sins! I can't condone that. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Namco Museum 64 (Nintendo 64),
Namco Museum (Dreamcast), Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Playstation 2),
Namco Museum (Playstation 2), Namco Museum Virtual Arcade (Xbox 360)

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition
Grade: B+
Publisher: Limited Run (2018)
Reviewed: 2018/11/10
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotIn 1993 a Nintendo executive went on record stating that Night Trap would never be released on a Nintendo system. This "filthy" early CD title allowed the player to toggle between cameras positioned around a mansion, viewing live-action video of seven rooms plus the front of the house. The object was to save girls at a slumber party from shambling creeps in black by activating traps at the right times. Night Trap starred the late Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes fame along a cast of scantily-clad hotties. While innovative for its time, Night Trap's grainy visuals and limited interaction led many to dismiss the game as a cheap gimmick. In fact, Night Trap is fairly ingenious. Its well-crafted storyline features scenes that unfold in parallel and you can even follow actors from room to room. Each play-through is a unique experience as you catch glimpses of different clips while gradually picking up bits and pieces of the story. Activating traps is satisfying as you drop goons through trap doors, suck them into walls, and catapult them off the roof. The dialog is campy and the Night Trap song is irresistably cheesy. Edgy guitar riffs kick in when baddies appear, adding tension and excitement. This newly-released Switch edition of the game is pretty much the same as the Playstation 4 version. The video quality is ten times better than the original Sega CD version yet still never rises above VCR quality. There's even static in certain scenes. The biggest advantage of the 25th Anniversary edition is your ability to view what's happening in every room at the same time via the eight small screens on the bottom. It feels like cheating but frankly it would be hard to go back to the original version where you had to click on each room to detect activity. The game is still tough and will abruptly end if you don't bag a certain percentage of bad guys. The good news is that you can continue once you reach the 14-minute half-way point. The new survivor mode is a randomized mode that rewards quick reflexes and a keen eye. You also get the behind-the-scenes documentary featuring clueless members of Congress claiming Night Trap advocated violence against women. Extra features include a theatre mode and a playable Scene of the Crime prototype game. Unfortunately you need to complete a perfect game (?!) to unlock those. I would have preferred more customization options, like the ability to turn off the color codes for example. Still, I played the hell out of this game and loved it. I suppose I should feel ashamed for deriving so much enjoyment out of the most egregiously violent video game of all time. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 83
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (Playstation 4),
Night Trap (CD) (Sega 32X), Night Trap (Sega CD),
Night Trap (3DO), Double Switch (Sega CD)

Ninja Saviors: The Return of the Warriors
Grade: B-
Publisher: Arc System Works (2019)
Reviewed: 2019/11/19
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes)

screenshotThis surprising physical release for the Switch is right in my wheelhouse. The original Ninja Warriors (SNES, 1994) was critically acclaimed but has become increasingly hard to find over the years. Ninja Saviors offers a spruced up version with more characters, two-player coop, online rankings, and time challenge modes. Ninja Saviors delivers the kind of action I love, forging to the right while beating down one soldier clone after the next. Sprinkled throughout each stage are acrobatic hotties, terminator-style robots, and jump-kicking businessmen in three-piece suits. Of the three selectable characters "Ninja" is the most unlikely. He's a giant, hulking brute that doesn't even jump. He does however wield nunchucks and deliver a devastating elbow drop. Kunoichi is a traditional female ninja, with enough dexterity to effortlessly flip between enemies. Kamaitachi is a freaky skeletal robot with blade-like arms. There are two unlockable characters as well. The fighting action is linear and repetitive but I never get tired of smacking down these fools. Despite only three buttons (attack, jump, special) you'll discover a lot of nifty combos and special moves. The ability to hurl motorcycles, barricades, and exploding mines at groups of foes is supremely satisfying. Your special attack obliterates all enemies on the screen, but you'll want to use it strategically. The splashing "blood" is green so the level of violence is low. Since all the action takes place on a single plane the two-player coop mayhem can get a little confusing. Most of the stages are industrial in nature, but the upbeat music and layered scenery will captivate old school junkies. Your "score" is the time to complete each stage, which is odd because this isn't exactly speed-run material. Keeping with the old-school theme, the box includes a few fun extras like a color manual, cards, and small poster. Ninja Saviors isn't the kind of game you play for hours on end, but when you need to blow off a little steam this is just what the doctor ordered. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ninja Warriors (Super Nintendo),
Ninja Crusaders (NES), Ninja Warriors, The (Japan) (Turbografx-16),
Ninja Blade (Xbox 360), Skeleton Warriors (Saturn)

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
Grade: A-
Publisher: NIS America (2020)
Reviewed: 2020/3/7
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotA shooter-lover's dream, Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha packs six sparkling 1990's-era arcade titles into one nifty package. These are the kind of frenetic shooters that gave birth to the "bullet hell" genre. This collection contains Strikers 1945, Strikers 1945 II, Strikers 1945 III, Sol Divide, Dragon Blaze, and Zero Gunner 2. The Strikers series combines WWII-era planes with shape-changing robots for explosive, rapid-fire mayhem. Although limited to a narrow strip of screen (to maintain their arcade dimensions) these games are so much fun. The challenge rarely feels insurmountable, especially if you use your bombs as a defensive mechanism. Playing all three Striker games in order lets you appreciate their incremental improvements in graphics, firepower, and difficulty. I love the snowy town in the first game, the terracotta rooftops of the second, and the bustling freeways in the third. The bosses in these games are relentless. Just when you think they're defeated, they reemerge from the wreckage assuming a new form. The next game, Sol Divide, marks an abrupt change of pace. Imagine a D&D beat-em-up where everybody is flying through the air. Armed with projectile and melee attacks, you'll swat away at griffons, wizards, and dragons while floating over feudal lands. This game was originally released for the Playstation and it looks the part with its soft, pixelated appearance. To be honest I'm not a big fan of this one. Fighting skeletons while standing on thin air just isn't very realistic. Dragon Blaze reprises the Strikers formula except it takes place in medieval times when there were dragons, magic, airships, and all that cool stuff. Zero Gunner 2 might be considered the "holy grail" of the collection. Originally released for the Dreamcast title in 2002, this fully-3D shooter is pretty amazing. I love the first boss who climbs between two towers and after being destroyed it plunges into the sea below. The problem with Zero Gunner is its awkward controls. You need to hold in a special button to adjust your trajectory because enemies tend to come from every direction. Most games in this collection support two-player simultaneous action. High scores are recorded locally and you can adjust the number of continues for each. Some games reset your score when you continue, so you may want to think twice before using one. I wish they kept the current high displayed at all times, considering all the unused real estate. The box contains a bevy of extras including art cards, a mini booklet, and a three-disc (!) soundtrack. It's hard to ask for a better shooter collection than Psikyo Alpha. The good news is, there's also a Bravo edition! What a time to be alive. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo (Nintendo Switch),
Strikers 1945 Plus (MVS) (Neo Geo), Sol Divide (Playstation),
Strikers 1945 (Playstation), Kirby's Dream Collection Special Edition (Wii)

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
Grade: A-
Publisher: NIS America (2020)
Reviewed: 2020/3/7

screenshotIf you liked Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha don't hesitate to pick up the equally-strong Bravo edition, offering six more dazzling shooters from the 1990's. Samurai Aces kicks things off with vertical shooting in the same vein as Strikers 1945, except instead of a WWII motif you get traditional Japanese imagery and music. As a man gliding on mechanical wings you'll rapidly fire at floating shogun warriors, dragons, and boxes with freaky devil faces. I love the look of the game, especially when flying over quaint villages with gorgeous cherry blossom trees. The one frustrating part is how power-ups never float down to the lower part of the screen, practically daring you to move up and grab them. Tengai (aka Samurai Aces II) feels like a side-scrolling version of the first game with gorgeous parallax scenery that makes better use of the wide-screen format. Samurai Aces III takes the concept a bit further with story-driven gameplay and 3D polygon backgrounds. While it's quite exhilarating to be whisked through castles and up into the clouds, it also tends to be very distracting to the shooting action in the foreground. I also dislike the big pink projectiles and the unnecessary story that interrupts the flow of the game. The next two games, Gunbird I and II, practically justify the entire collection. Held in high esteem by collectors, I had to import the first one for my Saturn many years ago. These are engaging vertical shooters boasting some of the most appealing anime visuals I've seen. You control magical flying beings fighting mechanical monstrosities over bustling villages and castles teeming with activity. The explosions are fantastic! Gunbarich rounds things out but it feels like a throwaway title. In this strange breakout/pinball hybrid you deflect a ball against bricks using a set of flippers. The controls feel awkward and the constant colorful activity is blinding at times. All games in Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo are fully configuration and high scores are saved locally. I wish they would display the current high score as you're playing, but hey - you can't have everything. Most games can be played simultaneously with a friend, although that sends the level of onscreen chaos into overdrive. Bonus items include a tiny art book, six art cards, and a three-CD soundtrack. Psikyo Shooting Collection Bravo is yet another gold mine for shooter aficionados. I'd buy the Charlie edition if I could! © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha (Nintendo Switch),
Samurai Shodown (Neo Geo), Gunbird 2 (Dreamcast),
Ultimate Shooting Collection (Wii), Dragon's Fury (Genesis)

Puyo Puyo Tetris
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/5/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotPuyo 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.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Wind and Water Puzzle Battles (Dreamcast),
Tetrisphere (Nintendo 64), Tetris DS (Nintendo DS),
Puzzle Link (Neo Geo Pocket), Bust-A-Move 4 (Dreamcast)

new SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Grade: A-
Publisher: SNK (2018)
Reviewed: 2020/5/26
Rating: Teen Adolescents (mild blood, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotMost associate SNK with the Neo Geo (1991), but this 40th Anniversary Collection reminds you that the company has actually been producing games since 1978! This collection focused on those formative years from 1978 thru 1989. A well-designed museum mode walks you through their complete catalog of arcade and console titles (NES) - 74 in all! The slideshow format works great, displaying short (and often funny) text along with a generous number of design illustrations and screenshots. You feel like you're getting a history lesson in Japanese arcades, learning about the first boss, first voice, first continue, etc. The arcade section offers 23 titles, and in many cases you get both the arcade and console versions. Not all of these games will be familiar to American audiences, but there are some standouts including Vanguard, Guerilla War, and Ikari Warriors. There's a heavy emphasis on violent Rambo-style shooters, but there's really a wide range of styles. Street Smart was SNK's first fighter and Crystalis is an NES role-playing game. Ozma Wars reminded me of Gorf (Colecovision, 1983) with its distinctive intergalactic waves, and Paddle Mania was the clear precursor to Windjammers (Neo Geo, 1993). Athena, Mobile Muncher, and Fantasy have a wacky Japanese charm, and in Psycho Soldier some girl sings in the background the entire time! The games control very well and the arcade games save high scores. All games are configurable and there's even a rewind button! I realize not everyone shares my fascination for video game history, but SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is like an all you can eat buffet of classic gaming goodness. Note: This collection was also released for the PS4 with two additional titles. If you're a collector of fine rare antiquities, this one belongs in your collection. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Guerilla War (NES),
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (Playstation 2), Namco Museum 64 (Nintendo 64),
Street Fighter Collection 2 (Playstation), SNK Arcade Classics 0 (Japan) (PSP)

Sine Mora EX
Grade: C
Publisher: THQ Nordic (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/11/19
Rating: Mature

screenshotA 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.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Steel Empire (Genesis),
Silpheed (Playstation 2), Strider Hiryu (Japan) (Playstation 3),
Super Cobra Arcade (Atari 2600), Golgo 13 (Sega SG-1000)

Slain: Back From Hell
Grade: B
Publisher: Digerati Distribution (2017)
Reviewed: 2019/1/3
Rating: Mature 17+ (violence, blood and gore)

screenshotWell, this game lives up to its name; I've never died so much in my entire life! Slain: Back from Hell is a stylish, artistic Castlevania-style platformer. Its demonic imagery, unflinching violence, and driving guitars feel like an Iron Maiden album cover come to life! The title screen alone deserves an award is its weathered crypt and twisted trees under an ominous moon. The art direction is fantastic. The medieval scenery calls to mind Lord of the Rings with exquisitely engraved ruins depicting grotesque haunting images. You have to love the subtle details like wispy curtains, ornate chandeliers, and candles dripping wax. Your sword-wielding heavy metal hero leaps between platforms, hits switches, and battles legions of undead. Creatively-rendered enemies include skeletons, witches, werewolves, and walking bat creatures. Hack-and-slash may get your past the early waves but you'll need to master the block-and-counter move to defeat the big guys. Fortunately it's not hard to do; just press block before the enemy is about to strike. When timed right, the screen zooms in as you unleash a devastating blood-spraying slash. You also have a blue magic bar that lets you unleash fireballs and bombs. The controls are a bit slippery as you're forced to use the analog stick. The areas between checkpoints aren't long but they are super challenging. I noticed a lot of cursing! No, not from the game - coming from out of my mouth whenever I met an untimely demise by a converging mob or unseen trap. Is Slain too hard? Maybe, but since the game restarts immediately at your last checkpoint, it has an old-school try, try again quality. And when you finally do reach that checkpoint lamp there's a real sense of accomplishment! Some things in life are worth the pain. Slain: Back from Hell is the real deal. Jaw-dropping graphics, relentless guitars, and taut action combine to create one of the more underrated titles in recent memory. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Castlevania (Nintendo 64),
Saint Sword (Genesis), Skeleton Warriors (Saturn),
Heavy Metal Geomatrix (Dreamcast), Shinobi Legions (Saturn)

Snow Moto Racing Freedom
Grade: F-
Publisher: BigBen Interactive (2017)
Reviewed: 2020/1/15

screenshotBeing a sucker for seasonal games I purchased Snow Moto Racing Freedom despite mixed reviews on Amazon. I was just looking for something wintery I could play with my friends; preferably a game that wouldn't make me feel nauseous after five minutes. Apparently I set the bar too high. Your first order of business is customizing you rider, which required scrolling through about 1000 country names. I should have just went with Albania! The two basic racing formats are sprint racing and snocross. In sprint you race between gates marked with smoke plumes, not unlike Smuggler's Run (PS2, 2000). The scenery is sparse but the snowmobiles look sharp and the smooth hills look inviting... at first. But shortly after I left the starting line I started to feel uneasy. The first-person view is so rough and choppy, I felt like I was getting sick! Even after switching to a higher view the action is far from smooth, and the controls are atrocious. The hills throw your sled all over the place and you're constantly oversteering. The load screen hints suggest it's easier to steer when not going full steam, but how do you regulate that? The right trigger doesn't provide much "give", so are we supposed to tap it? Wouldn't the right analog stick have made a better solution? Adding insult to injury the gates are inexplicably one-way and more often than not you approach from the wrong side, forcing you to go around the back. The right trigger pulls double duty as both sharp turn and reverse, which makes things very interesting when trying to get unstuck from the edge of a gate. As bad as sprint mode is, snocross mode is ten times worse. Now you're bouncing around a hilly track trying to perform tricks as opponents repeatedly knock you off-course. I couldn't stand it! There's just something about the camera and framerate in this game that makes me violently ill. I haven't felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan movie. The snow effects are weak and randomly-generated racer names clutter up the screen. I tried the four-player split-screen mode with friends and it was utter chaos. Hard to play and even harder to watch, Snow Moto Racing Freedom is a perfectly miserable experience. File this one under F... for Freedom. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Jet Moto 3 (Playstation),
ATV Offroad Fury (Playstation 2), Ski-Doo Snow X Racing (Playstation 2),
Sled Storm (Playstation 2), Super Off Road (NES)

Sonic Forces
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sega (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/12/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt 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.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch),
Sonic Generations (Xbox 360), Sonic Mega Collection Plus (Playstation 2),
Sonic Generations (Nintendo 3DS), Sonic Colors (Wii)

Sonic Mania Plus
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2018)
Reviewed: 2018/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe collector in me was bitterly disappointed when Sonic Mania was originally released as a download-only title. Only after significant push-back by fans did Sega finally relent and give us this wonderful new 2D Sonic. And it's on a cartridge running on a Nintendo of all things! Sonic Mania Plus reprises the 16-bit splendor fans have wanted for decades. Unlike the ill-conceived Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (Xbox 360, 2010), Mania looks and feels like classic Sonic - maybe to a fault! Longtime fans will experience deja vu as most stages tend to be remixed and expanded versions of classic zones like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Hydro City, and Oil Ocean. The term "rehash" comes to mind, but let's face it - the classic stages are hard to top! So Sega took a "if you can't beat em, join em" approach, and it works. Don't worry - there are four brand new zones including an inventive Wild West stage with trains, guns, totems, and pianos. Mania also incorporates a slew of crazy new gadgets you've never seen before. The gorgeously pixelated graphics are faithful to the 16-bit era, with the visual highlight (for me) being the sparkling blue grotto at the end of the Green Hill zone. Like most Sonic games you have the option of speeding through each stage or taking your time to explore. Tails the fox is your constant companion, but it took me a while to figure out how to use his flying ability. Staying alive isn't a problem with so many rings bouncing around but earning extra lives by collecting 100 rings is a challenge. The expansive stage layouts can be a little hard to grasp but I love all the alternate routes. The bosses are pretty easy once you get their patterns down, including a Metal Sonic encounter and a reprise of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Genesis, 1993). You'll earn gems in new bonus stages that have you chasing UFOs around an F-Zero (SNES, 1992) style track. Sega also brought back the blue sphere bonus stages. In addition to mania mode there's an encore mode that lets you switch between characters including a flying squirrel and a ground-pounding armadillo. The head-to-head split-screen mode is a nice addition but I'm still not sure what qualifies as a win. It would be nice if there were a manual to explain things but this is 2018 and manuals have been outlawed. Still, I love Sonic Mania. The more I played it the more I realized how much I had missed this style of game. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 50,100
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Sonic Mega Collection (GameCube),
Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), Sonic Mega Collection Plus (Playstation 2),
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis), Sonic Advance 3 (Game Boy Advance)

Sonic Team Racing
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (2019)
Reviewed: 2019/6/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSonic All-Stars Racing has been a great series in the past, delivering arcade-style thrills on tracks inspired by classic Sega franchises. Sonic Team Racer on the other hand feels like an incoherent mess. Whenever you see a franchise trying to shoehorn in some kind of teamwork element, you know they're running out of ideas. Even before your first race there are ominous signs. Despite supporting four-player split-screen only three characters are available from the start, so two people have to be the same character. Way to think it through Sega! When flipping through racers there's a palpable lag between selecting a character and having him appear on the screen. The tracks are kind of a mess. I expected the twisting casino tracks to be disorienting, but even the bright summer-themed tracks are cluttered and confusing. One course has you racing on a layer of pink mist and you can't really tell where you're going. When it comes to track design a little restraint could have gone a long way. One track is called "Frozen Junkyard" and that pretty much says it all. The weapons are useful but you'll probably have no problem naming their Mario Kart equivalents. Likewise creatures like the lava monster and desert worms seem awfully familiar. The races are engaging but the physics is suspect, as I noticed CPU cars changing speeds erratically. The story mode is mildly enjoyable despite the inane dialog you can't skip fast enough. Two players can work together on the same team, unlocking branching tournaments, challenges, and survival modes. The team mechanic lets you pass items items or give your teammates a boost via your slipstream. To be honest, it's all very confusing in the heat of battle. The only reason I even play along is that you can earn an invincibility power-up which lasts quite long (save it for the last lap). Sonic Team Racer's split screen action is technically deficient. If you're used to playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo, 2017) the low framerate is bothersome. Brent actually had the nerve to ask me if there was a way to unlock "smooth mode!" Sonic Team Racer feels like it was designed in a boardroom... by executives. It isn't terrible but I feel like it should have been a lot more fun. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Crash Team Racing (Playstation),
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with Banjo Kazooie (Xbox 360), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch),
Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS), Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed (Wii U)

Star Wars Pinball
Grade: A
Publisher: Zen Studios (2019)
Reviewed: 2019/10/12
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs a Star Wars fan and pinball machine owner, this game falls right into my wheelhouse. It packs no less than 19 full-featured tables, each of which delivers its own deep, unique pinball experience. Apparently this series has been incubating on the Playstation Network for some time, and now Switch owners get to enjoy the series in its entirety. Some tables are based on the specific films including Rogue One and Solo, but I'm a little sad the prequels didn't get much love. Other tables are based on specific characters like Boba Fett and Kylo Ren, and there are even spin-off tables like Rebels and Clone Wars. I was worried the tables would have an unrealistic video game fakeness, but in fact they feel like real world constructions with realistic proportions and all the mechanical gadgets you'd expect on an actual table (bumpers, lanes, rails, etc). Although somewhat obscured, the dot matrix display offers charming animations, and the colorful illustrations on the table have a distinctive retro look. There's also plenty of razzle dazzle in the form of animated characters recreating scenes and ships flying around the table. I love how you activate bumper-mounted cannons to destroy circling fighters. The audio is absolutely first-rate, with superb orchestrated music and memorable sound effects. You'll hear many lines of dialog from the movies, like Palpatine's "The dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural". Some lines were definitely not lifted from the films, such as Vader's "Awesome!" The pinball physics is convincing although my friend Brent claimed it was a little too smooth (unnatural?). The flippers are crisp and responsive, although the pro controller is your best option when it comes to clicking those triggers non-stop. There are several viewing angles to choose from, and I prefer the one that follows the ball around. An addictive mission mode lets you explore each table by completing various objectives like a five-minute challenge, two-ball challenge, and flipper challenge which limits you to 200 flips. Each "mission" has three levels of achievement, appealing to any skill level. Each table packs remarkable replay value with special modes, mini-games, and hidden surprises that will take weeks to uncover. The vibration feedback is disappointing, which is probably why it's off by default. And while I don't appreciate being prompted to "sign in" between games (I'm offline), I was thrilled to see local high scores are saved along with initials! Having this on physical media at a budget price is icing on the cake. Star Wars Pinball is a mind-blowing value. I've don't think I've ever seen a movie license put to such good use. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Pinball Jam (Lynx),
Galactic Pinball (Virtual Boy), Ruiner Pinball (Jaguar),
Pro Pinball: Fantastic Journey (Playstation), Pinball (NES)

Super Bomberman R
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/5/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI'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.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Bomberman (Super Nintendo),
Bomberman (Turbografx-16), Mario Party 8 (Wii),
Galaga Destination Earth (Playstation), Super Bomberman 2 (Super Nintendo)

Super Mario Odyssey
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/11/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI 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.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64),
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The (Super Nintendo),
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The (Nintendo 64), Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The (Nintendo 3DS)

Super Mario Party
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
Reviewed: 2018/12/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI guess Nintendo got tired of numbering their Mario Party games, opting to go the "super" route instead. Super Mario Party was released to little fanfare but it still packs a lot of entertainment value. Fours players march around a board while triggering events, avoiding hazards, using items, and competing in minigames. The boards tend to be more square and compact than recent outings - more like traditional board games. I enjoyed the tropical splendor of Mega-Fruit Paradise and the sparkling gold opulence of Kamek's Tantalizing Tower, but only four boards? No winter board? Each player is required to use half of a joy-con controller - even when playing solo. That's because many mini-games incorporate some sort of motion control. And before you roll your eyes, these are not the waggle-prone controls of the Wii era. Precise motion sensing lets you guide an airplane through a tunnel with precision, and subtle force feedback lets you feel the gentle tug of hungry fish. One standout game looks positively photorealistic as you flip a steak cube around a frying pan. Others offer random tasks like climbing poles, snatching pancakes from a plate, and even delivering packages with drones! I was less impressed by the memorization games, and wish there weren't so many 3-on-1 contests. The pacing is good although they could still cut out some dialog and maybe not review the current standings every ten seconds. While playing friends there's always somebody forgetting to press their button - especially when everyone is required to press SL and SR to exit mini-game practice. Expect lots of twists as you move around the board, with players getting transported all over the place while stealing items from others. The ten-round games only run about an hour and frankly I can't imagine playing any longer. The last three rounds are dragged out to the extreme, and the "blue shell effect" might leave you with the impression that winning is more about luck than skill. Rounding out the package are team variations and bonus minigames including one that reminded me of my old Epoch Basement tabletop game. Super Mario Party may not pull out all the stops but its upbeat music, sparkling graphics, and easy gameplay are hard to dislike. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Mario Party 8 (Wii),
Mario Party: Island Tour (Nintendo 3DS), Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (Wii),
Mario Party (Nintendo 64), Super Mario All-Stars (Super Nintendo)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/1/19
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotI always felt the Smash Bros. franchise was overrated but I can't deny Ultimate is simply bursting at the seams with Nintendo goodness. This is the comfort food of fighting games. All your favorite characters are presented in memorable stages rolled up into a simple 2D fighter anyone can play. The primary "Smash" mode is highly addictive, offering a never-ending series of one-on-one matches against a friend or CPU. Nearly all of the stages are unlocked from the outset, and what a selection. It looks like a wall of postage stamps plastered over my screen! We're talking about over 100 colorful stages inspired by past and present franchises like Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Luigi's Mansion, Castlevania, Splatoon, Star Fox, and Zelda. There are even pixelated stages inspired by Duck Hunt, Balloon Fight, and the original Donkey Kong. You can also expect a few oddballs inspired by Wii Fit, Game and Watch, and, and PictoChat. It's almost sensory overload! Unlike the stages, the characters are rationed out gradually. You begin with just five, but after every few matches you face a "challenger" who will be added to the roster if you can defeat him. Old standbys include Mario, Donkey Kong, and several version of Link. Newer faces include the Squid kids, Bayonetta, Ryu of Street Fighter fame, and Simon from Castlevania. Each battles runs two minutes and 30 seconds by default. The action is chaotic as you try to bash each other off the screen while keeping an eye out for helpful items and weapons that appear randomly. Certain items introduce an "allie" which takes the chaos to a whole new level. While there is certainly technique involved, often it feels like the hard part is facing the right direction in the heat of battle! I was disappointed the digital control isn't supported on my Pro controller; the analog stick feels inexact - especially when trying to dash. Trying to stay on the screen is challenging when platform configurations are shifting and the camera is zooming all over the place. There were times when I found myself just off the screen and wondering why the camera couldn't zoom out a little. You never quite know for sure who won the match until the "big reveal" afterwards. There are a wide variety of alternate modes including "spirit adventure" but none appealed to me. Still, you should give all the secondary modes a try as that will instantly unlock a few things. I'm not convinced Smash Bros. Ultimate is all that much better than its previous Wii U iteration but for Nintendo fans there is a lot here to love. Even if it's less than the sum of its parts, that's a heck of a lot of parts. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo 3DS),
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U), Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64),
NES Remix Pack (Wii U), Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

Tiny Barbarian DX
Grade: C
Publisher: Nicolis (2017)
Reviewed: 2018/5/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI 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.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Golden Axe: Beast Rider (Xbox 360),
Strider 2 (Playstation), Strider Hiryu (Japan) (Playstation 3),
Retro City Rampage DX (Playstation 4), Skeleton Warriors (Saturn)

Grade: B+
Publisher: Microids (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotboxUpdating the graphics of a retro game is easy; getting the gameplay right is another story. Fortunately I can tell that Toki's designers really "get it". Toki is not a one-for-one remake like Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (PS4, 2018). While certainly inspired by Toki Going Ape Spit (Genesis, 1991), this new Toki stands on its own. It stars a comical monkey that climbs, jumps, and spits projectiles. The rapid-fire spitting gives the action a shooting flavor and I love the ability to spit diagonally. Toki faces a weird hodgepodge of enemies like bats, warthogs, spiders, ghosts, and... Frankenstein monsters? The hand-illustrated stages are beautiful with orchestrated music so clear it sounds like the musicians are in the same room with you. Toki not only lives up its its source material; it exceeds it! This game is crazy fun. Although the sprites tend to be large they rarely overcrowd the screen and the collision detection is forgiving. The jumps are floaty and you can fall from any distance. The backgrounds look sharp but certain objects do have a way of blending in. Only fools rush in and Toki is living proof. Ghosts can materialize out of thin air and just because you're climbing down a vine doesn't mean there's a safe landing below. The rapid-fire shooting is very effective, especially on bosses. Sometimes to clear out a crowd of enemies you'll go into a butt-pouncing, rapid-fire frenzy. As with most classic 2D platformers Toki is a linear game. You get nine lives but you can go through them in a hurry. There are plenty of continues and half of the fun is trying to beat your high score. Toki is a GameStop exclusive and it's good to see that store catering to collectors. The Toki Retrocollector edition comes in a box with all sorts of fun extras include a comic, art, and a little cardboard arcade cabinet to house your Switch. This Toki remake was crafted with love and care, so retro-minded gamers will want to secure a copy immediately. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Toki (Lynx),
Congo Bongo (Intellivision), Arcade Classic 4: Defender & Joust (Game Boy),
Revengers of Vengeance (Sega CD), Return of Double Dragon (Super Nintendo)

Ultra Street Fighter II
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2017)
Reviewed: 2017/6/7
Rating: Teen

screenshotI'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.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (Playstation 2),
Street Fighter Collection (Playstation), Street Fighter Alpha Anthology (Playstation 2),
Street Fighter Alpha (Saturn), Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (Playstation)

Grade: B-
Publisher: DotEmu (2018)
Reviewed: 2019/8/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI've always regarded Windjammers (Neo Geo, 1994) as an underrated title, so I was glad to see it resurrected so many years later. Windjammers is a head-to-head contest that involves throwing a disc past your opponent on an enclosed, tennis-like court. While simple in concept the variety of courts, characters, and special moves allow for plenty of technique. I was hoping this Switch port would retain the frenetic arcade quality of the original, and it does. So why am I not giddy with excitement? Well, projecting the original low-resolution graphics on a wide-screen TV results in some pretty harsh visuals. The settings menu provides filtering and ratio options, including one that adds scan lines. Ironically it's the "smooth" setting that makes the game look most like the original. I didn't attempt the online mode but the arcade and versus modes will give your thumbs a quick workout. The head-to-head contests are short but intense. You can also play the bonus stages separately from the arcade mode, including a bowling challenge and a dog running along the beach while hopping over sunbathers to catch a disc. I love Windjammer's arcade style but this cart strikes me as very minimal. The menu backgrounds incorporate fun beach scenery but I was hoping for more. I also miss the Neo Geo controllers with their irresistibly tappable buttons. You just can't be as emphatic using a Joy Con. Windjammers is great while it lasts but be advised there's not a lot to it. Perhaps this translation is too faithful to the original! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Windjammers (CD) (Neo Geo),
Hot Shots Tennis (Playstation 2), Log Jammers (NES),
Prehistoric Isle 2 (MVS) (Neo Geo), Sports Jam (Dreamcast)

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