Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mekorama (iOS, Android) Review

SuperPhillip Central continues its review frenzy with another iOS and Android game. This time it's an isometric puzzle game called Mekorama. It's definitely worth checking out, and this review pieces out why!

Robotic Valley


Isometric puzzle games are quite fun, and they're especially handy on mobile devices. You can turn on your phone or tablet, jump into a level, beat it, and then go about your day. There's something cool about having a miniature world in your hand where you can interact with it in ways that are highly enjoyable and engrossing. Of course, the poster child for this type of game on mobile is Monument Valley, but there are other games in the genre of puzzle titles on iOS and Android. One of these is Mekorama, a game primarily designed by one person that delivers some brain-twisting gameplay and pleasant charm.

The goal of Mekorama is to guide a little robot through isometric obstacle courses of sorts, leading him from the start of each level to the goal. This is performed through tapping the screen to guide the robot. Levels are made out of a grid format, so tapping the correct space usually isn't too trying. Though with a screen with little real estate like on my iPhone 5S, I did occasionally tap the wrong space. Zooming doesn't really help for the most part, as the zoom function (done by pinching the screen in and out) doesn't zoom in on your robot. It zooms in on the center of the level. As levels are sometimes spread out horizontally rather than vertically, this can be an annoyance.

Regardless, if you're able to move the robot to the given space you tap on, a small white circle will briefly appear, showing that the robot will move to the space. If it cannot, due to an object or obstacle blocking the way, then a red X will show up on that space. Additionally, you can spin the level around in 360 degrees to get a full view of the obstacles in a level that await your robotic buddy.

Levels are devised up by one major move necessary to reach the goal in the beginning levels, and ramps up to eventually have a series of maneuvers required to reach the goal. In levels you can move and shift specific blocks around to transport the robot around when he stands on them to access new portions of the levels. Sometimes you'll even need to fall from higher elevations to reach lower platforms, or enter into building-like areas and come out from another side.

While the level design of Mekorama is generally good, there are some really poorly executed designs. Anything where you have to slowly push another moving character by tapping a space next to it to inch it along is annoying and quite tedious. Some levels require such precision timing that if you foul up, you essentially have to restart from the beginning. Since some levels can take minutes to complete, this can be quite the bother. There are also non-puzzle oriented levels like one where you have to guide a ball on a balance beam, carefully shifting the weight so the platform the ball rolls on doesn't topple over. For a supposed game to relax to, Mekorama doesn't always deliver a laid-back experience.

The 50 levels included in Mekorama are just a primer for the main feast of content in the game, the level creator. While some kind of tutorial to use the actual creator would have been appreciated, what you're able to do with it is use the same tools that the developer used to create the already included levels. This is where Mekorama truly shines. Through tapping blocks on the bottom of the screen and placing them in the blank canvas available to you (though another bother I have is that there is no grid available for easier building), you can build your own crafty concoctions, and then save them to your game. Each level you create gets its own QR code that you can share online. Whole communities and websites are dedicated to the publishing and sharing of levels via these QR codes, so if the developer's initial 50 levels already included with Mekorama don't give you enough content, the created levels by the community surely will.


In this regard, Mekorama is a fantastic value. It's even a better value when you consider the price tag. Mekorama itself is free, but you can make a purchase between 99 cents and around $30 to support the developer as well as gain the ability to be provided in-game hints towards the 50 included levels. Though, the latter isn't much of a bonus as online walkthroughs are common in the digital age. Regardless, it's a wonderful way of being able to give money to the developer, and even if you don't, you have the full game available to you. The only thing that comes up are occasional "do you want to support the developer?" prompt between every three or four levels that takes you to the purchase page.

Mekorama leads you into some relaxing and rewarding experiences, allowing you to use that ol' noggin of yours, solve some puzzles, and gain some satisfaction in doing so. Some of the included levels are more annoying to play than others, but even if you don't even touch them, you have a theoretically infinite amount of levels available to you via the community. Building your own levels to share is fun, though it takes some learning to get the process down pat. Overall, Mekorama is a free download that serves as a reminder of why a lot of people love puzzle games like this, and why Google Play and the App Store are great avenues to find little hidden treasures like this game and others like it.

[SPC Says: B]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Riptide GP: Renegade (iOS, Android) Review

From one racer on Sunday to another this morning. It's time for a smart device game review, and it's been a little while for one of those. The subject here is Riptide GP: Renegade, which also saw a release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Is this cheaper version a lesser one? Let's find out with this review.

Water you waiting for-- this racer is worth it!


From the developer of Hydro Thunder, Vector Unit, comes a new aquatic racer with some extreme attitude and the ability to pull off some gnarly stunts. Oh, excuse me-- I'm falling back into the '90s here. Regardless, Riptide GP: Renegade is far from a relic of that era. It's modern, it's well designed, and most importantly, it's fun. Although the game is also on home consoles and PC, this version for smart devices ends up being a winner regardless, and a better deal!

Riptide GP: Renegade sports a story complete with a talkative cast of characters-- well, save for your own racer who stays silent. The campaign or career mode plays out in a linear format. You play each racing event in a row, requiring you to at least earn a star (i.e. getting third place in an event) to move on to the next event. The story follows your racer who gets hustled and tricked, thus having him/her end up in jail. Your racer then must slowly go up the ranks, having various characters join your team to teach the person who orchestrated your trip to prison a severe and serious lesson.

Sometimes you'll have to contend with the police. Can't have an easy go of it, now can you?
There are nine tracks total in Riptide GP: Renegade, and some feature a traditional circuit-based design with laps while others are races from the top of the track to the very bottom with no return to the beginning. Many races contain ample opportunities for shortcuts to get a leg (or waterbike) up on the competition, and many of these are pretty challenging to find. In addition to shortcuts, the developers have included literal Easter eggs in hidden portions of the races, so exploration of tracks is recommended and very much encouraged.

With nine tracks and a myriad of events to go through, you might think that there will be some tedium doing the same tracks over and over again. Said possible tedium is lessened due to there being different event types, but the campaign can still get a little long in the tooth.

Regardless, there are regular races as well as slalom races, where the goal is to move through the track, jetting through the track while weaving in and out of slalom markers designating which side to take them. Then, there is a mode where eight racers speed through a track, where every 15 seconds the racer in last place becomes eliminated until there's only one participant left. Additionally, there is a means to unleash your inner trickster, performing tricks off ramps to score points to attempt to get the high score. The campaign also occasionally has championships where you compete in a series of events and the overall point leader is deemed the winner. Finally, boss battles are included, mano e mano races where winning earns you the right to race as that character and their vehicle.

The tracks feature plenty of eye candy, but don't get distracted-- there's a race to win.
As you play through Riptide GP: Renegade, you earn experience and cash after each event, win or lose. Obviously winning nets you more of both. Experience adds up to gain your racer levels, which give you skill points and a cash bonus. The skill points can be used to buy new tricks and special bonuses such as extra boost energy upon successfully performing tricks and extra speed when drafting someone. Conversely, cash is used to purchase upgrades for your various vehicles in accuracy, top speed, handling, and boost.

Riptide GP: Renegade sports a multitude of control options for your smart device, including tilt controls that work well (tilt settings can be optimized for each player), touch controls, as well as MFi controller support. If you have a particular setup you prefer, Riptide GP: Renegade has it, which is fantastic. However, the standard control setup, and the one I used throughout my playtime with the game, was tilt controls with using the touch screen for tricks and to brake. When getting air, you can slide your fingers on the left and right sides of the smart device screen to initiate a trick. Depending on which directions each finger flicks determines the trick you use. Of course, you need to have enough time to pull off the trick, or you'll end up bailing, costing you precious seconds as you furiously tap to reset your vehicle on the track.

Score mad air to perform crazy tricks. Just make sure you have enough room to land 'em!
Unfortunately, I did find myself struggling to get the game to read my double and triple flick attempts, resulting in bigger trick attempts. This was highly frustrating in the Freestyle events. Regardless, as you perform tricks, you accumulate energy in your boost gauge. You can then tap the boost icon to get a massive burst of speed, great for either making up distance or putting distance between you and your opponent(s).

Since this is an aquatic racer, waves undulate, some more unsettled on some tracks than others, and this makes for plenty of stunt opportunities. The risk vs. reward system makes it so yes, successfully completing a trick gives you boost energy, but make the mistake of jumping off a wave or ramp that doesn't give you enough time to finish your stunt, and you'll find yourself submerged in water. ...Since you bailed. But you already knew the conclusion to that hypothetical scenario, right?

Weave through the revolving machinery here to stay on course (and on your machine)!
Outside of the single player experience, there is asynchronous multiplayer (compete against friends' times on the game's nine tracks) and traditional split-screen and online multiplayer. The latter was difficult to find other people to race, but eventually I did, and it was plenty of fun with minimal lag.

Riptide GP: Renegade looks the part of an aquatic racer. The water glistens and sparkles, undulating to great effect, and many times water will splash and drizzle on the screen before dripping away. The environments sport plenty of detail, and they make for a post-apocalyptic feel in some tracks while sporting a peaceful feel in others. There is a lot of movement going on outside of the boundaries of many tracks, but it's always pretty clear where you need to make a given turn, thanks to numerous guide arrows. Characters and vehicles have a lot of intricate designs to them, making for a game that is consistent in its visuals and a delight to view. Sound-wise, you won't get a lot from Riptide GP: Renegade, save for vehicle sounds and a rock/electronic soundtrack. It doesn't get grating at the very least.

As you can see, everything down to the characters riding these aquatic machines is detailed.
Overall, the slightly repetitive nature of playing through the same nine tracks with slight event variations in the main campaign can invoke a sense of tedium, but ultimately it satisfies in both challenge and length. The tracks are well designed, and you can tell serious thought went into shortcuts, difficulty of turns, and environments. Riptide GP: Renegade feels like a much better deal on iOS and Android devices than it does on console, where it costs a mighty $14.99 USD compared to its $2.99 USD price on smart devices. If you're looking for an aquatic racer that is more than capable, Riptide GP: Renegade will get you wet with excitement.

[SPC Says: B-]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Falling into Fall Edition

It's now fall/autumn here in Central City, and next week the temperatures are supposed to drop into more milder numbers. While it will be a month or so until the leaves start changing color and falling from the trees, we can still celebrate the arrival of autumn with a special edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs!

Space Channel 5: Part 2 leads this edition off with a super cheery ending theme. Then, we continue the rhythm game genre fun with PaRappa the Rapper. Super Mario 3D World and Fantasy Life follow, and then we conclude this edition with a theme from Ys Seven. It's a wild range of music for this first edition of the Favorite VGMs for fall 2016.

Just remember to click on the VGM volume name to be taken to the YouTube video featuring that song! And if you want even more VGM goodness, check out the VGM Database. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1231. Space Channel 5: Part 2 (DC, PS2) - This is My Happiness


The ending theme of Space Channel 5: Part 2 (a Dreamcast release first, followed by a PlayStation 2 port), This is My Happiness is one peppy track that will any mood made better. It's insanely catchy with its beautiful brass and fantastic vocals by Tetsuto Yoshida. Don't worry if you feel the need to dance and sing along-- I won't tell anyone!

v1232. PaRappa the Rapper (PS1) - Chop Chop Master Onion's RAP


From solid gold to rap, we meet PaRappa the Rapper on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs for the very first time. Kick. Kick. Punch. Punch. Chop. Chop. Block. Block. Learn those moves, and you'll be good for the first verse of Chop Chop Master Onion's RAP. For those of us who have played the game, we can probably visualize PaRappa the Rapper doing those killer moves in rhythm with the song!

v1233. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) - Hisstocrat


Hisstocrat is one of the bosses in Super Mario 3D World that gets its own stage. Jump on the heads of his lesser snake friends to reach Hisstocrat's head. Give it a bounce on the noggin to deal damage! The Hisstocrat theme was featured in one of the extended trailers for Super Mario 3D World, a big band arrangement that really (and finally) sold a lot of gamers on the title. This was after the less than riveting reveal trailer.

v1234. Fantasy Life (3DS) - Battle with Formidable Enemy


When this theme plays in Fantasy Life, you know you're in for something difficult. Whether be battling a fierce monster, trying to hook a nasty fish, or even attempting to cut down a seemingly invincible tree, Nobuo Uematsu's composition gets you feeling tense in the tummy and twitching in the thumbs! I mean, any battle theme with a choir is gold, right? Well, maybe not, but when Uematsu-san is composing for a chorus, it is!

v1235. Ys Seven (PSP) - Mother Earth Altago


We end this celebration of the start of fall with a song from Ys Seven. This installment of the Ys series introduced a three-character party system, axing the platforming of many past Ys games for a heavier combat focus. This song, Mother Earth Altago, plays during many field location in Ys Seven. It's a fast-paced theme that gets you pumped to slay monsters and other beasts!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bears Can't Drift!? (PS4, Steam) Review

Last week saw the 700th review on SuperPhillip Central. Now, we make our way towards review #800! The first review on our march to that milestone is a colorful kart racer for the PlayStation 4 and Steam known as Bears Can't Drift!?. Here's the SuperPhillip Central review.

Protip: The title of the game may or may not be truthful.


Sure, you can always get a joy about racing real-life cars with pristine, realistic handling, but can you shoot a beehive out of the back of your Ferrari or BMW? I didn't think so! That's why I prefer the kart racer. Well, that and the genre's usual more newbie-friendly gameplay and creative track design! Bears Can't Drift!? came to my attention as one of the few kart racers available on the PlayStation 4 (it's also on Steam). With so few kart racing games on the platform, it was my hope that Strangely Named Studio's Bears Can't Drift!? would be a fun game. Was it? Yes, but just "bearly."

The first thing you'll probably notice about Bears Can't Drift!? is the total lack of menus save for a pause menu, which doesn't do much explaining of the items in that menu. (And talk about how annoying it is to try to move the cursor to the restart race button.) Perhaps this was an effort to streamline the game, but it actually leaves for a lot of confusion. Sure, the beginning of the game seems simple enough to understand: You're thrust into a world with three paths-- one with a cute baby bear face, one with a normal bear face, and one with an angry bear face. It seems understandable that these are the various difficulties of Bears Can't Drift!?, and successfully going down the path or road with the corresponding bear face gives you the corresponding difficulty. All right, that was easy enough to figure out.

This is the road that enables Hard difficulty. Make it around this hairpin and jump the gap to enter Hard mode.
However, then Bears Can't Drift!? gets little more confusing. The game uses a hub world similar to Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing, but the developers have lost track of what made those hub worlds interesting and fun to explore. In Diddy Kong Racing, the hub world of Timber Island held many secrets in it that encouraged players to explore it. With Crash Team Racing, there wasn't much in the way of exploration to be had, so the only real purpose to them was to drive to each portal where a track was located. The thing about the Crash Team Racing's hub was that it was small, so going from track to track was easy peasy.

Bears Can't Drift's three hubs, containing four themed tracks each, are much too big. For a game that wishes to streamline itself, here would have been an excellent part of the game to have smaller hubs or the choice of menus. As it is now, there's simply too much distance between race portals, and most of the time after you finish a race, you're kicked back into the hub. This usually means you're kicked to a place away from the portal to the race you just finished or lost at. Since portals contain three different modes for each race, which I'll go into later, generally when you finish one mode, you want to jump into the portal again to do the same mode. And since tracks don't even have names to them, it can be hard to remember what portal goes where.

The hub worlds of the game connect the races together, but they also make for tedious travel.
Furthermore, the lack of menus makes it so you have to drive up to each portal, pressing the Square button to change modes (something that, again, the game does not tell you), to see if you've completed that race in each mode. To beat a dead horse, the use of menus would have made it so you could easily get a recap of a given world, see which tracks are fully completed and if not, which modes need to be completed for said track, your best time trial for each track, and even which of the hidden collectible, the hats, have been acquired in each track. It all becomes a bit of a headache for a completionist like myself.

As I touched upon earlier, there are three modes per track for players to participate in. The first is a simple race, where you compete against 11 AI bears in go-karts in a three-lap race to the finish. The second is a time trial, where you compete against the game's record times by trying to get the best lap time in a given race. Finally, Picnic is quite the creative battle mode, where you try to drive into various food like fruit and desserts, munching them up. As you eat more food, you grow in size, making it harder to see what's ahead of you. The first player to fill a food gauge wins the match. Of course, being a battle mode, other opponents can hit you, causing you to lose a significant portion of food in your bear's belly.

Bears Can't Drift!? is obviously a misnomer of a name for the game, as these bears in the game certainly CAN drift, and they do it oh-so well. In fact, driving the karts in the game feels very responsive and tight. Drifting, as you'd probably guess, is a major component of Bears Can't Drift!?, making you not only be able to cut around turns and corners well, but it also enables you to speed faster through the races than you would if you were driving without drifting. Thus, it's a good idea to try to drift as much as you can as you race. While driving does feel good, Bears Can't Drift!? is far from perfect when it comes to collision with other racers, objects, or the environments. Crashing into another racer results in both of you coming to an abrupt and unrealistic stop, while when colliding with some environmental obstacles, I got caught on the scenery, having to fumble with driving forward and in reverse to get loose. Sometimes these collision issues can cost you a race while other times they're just slight annoyances.

Drift as much as you can to maintain your kart's fastest speed.
Like many games inspired by Mario Kart, Bears Can't Drift!? utilizes item-based combat within its racing. There are four main item pick-ups to be found: missiles, a bee that drops a hive that serves as this game's banana peel or oil slick, a defensive chameleon shield, and a owl-shaped boost. If you pick up two of the same item type in a row, you gain access to a powered up item, such as being able to launch five missiles in a row instead of just two, or hatching an egg that reveals a chicken that can squawk behind you to obstruct other racers.

Another important part to a kart racer is having competently designed tracks, and Bears Can't Drift!? offers twelve unique tracks that range from quite fun to very confusing. For the latter, the game doesn't have a mini-map for tracks, nor does it even tell you when you're going in reverse. Some tracks have it so that it's very easy to get lost and not know where to go, even with the usually hard-to-see transparent overlay attempting to highlight the main path. While this isn't an issue in the forest races, it can get quite frustrating and bewildering in the ruins and arctic areas of the game. That said, Bears Can't Drift!? otherwise features some good ideas in its track design, such as clever shortcuts that can definitely shave off precious seconds in the time trial mode.

This is one of the forest tracks in Bears Can't Drift!? (In case all the trees didn't tip you off.)
Bears Can't Drift!? is quite a charming looking kart racer. The environments sometimes surprised me with how good they looked, notably in the ruins-themed races. The amount of detail in said environments is truly amazing. Meanwhile, the stars of the show, the bears, look a little less impressive, not really possessing much in the way of intricacies. The camerawork of Bears Can't Drift!? could be improved, including moments at the start of races where the camera clips through the racer behind you at the starting line, or allows you to see through the environment on some turns. Loading times are very small in length, making for retrying races or moving from hub to race or vice versa take little of your time. In this regard, Bears Can't Drift!? respects the player's time when the actual hub worlds don't. When it concerns the music, all of it is quite repetitive, and it doesn't help that two hub worlds' races share the same themes. Only the ruins races sport a unique racing theme.

You can criticize Bears Can't Drift!? for a lot (and I did in this review),
but you can't really be negative about its visuals.
If you're looking for a kart racer on the PlayStation 4, then Bears Can't Drift!? has competent gameplay. However, its total lack of menus and explanations to its gameplay and modes make for a frustrating time more often than not. I don't see most young kids being able to understand what they're supposed to do for the most part due to this. Even something as supposedly simple as changing racers or adding players to the game (there is no online, only local multiplayer for four people) is a mystifying process without much in the way of guidance. Then, the collision issues with other bears and the environment also aggravate. However, if you don't think you'll mind these issues, then you'll certainly be able to grin and bear it.

[SPC Says: C-]

 Review copy provided by Strangely Named Studio.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two

It's the first day of autumn here in Central City. Soon, the temperatures will drop, as will the leaves from the trees. Speaking of firsts, how about a return at looking at some of the best scenes that are the first thing you see when you either boot up a game or start a new save data? That's exactly the point of First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming. Toward the end of last year saw the very first installment, and now, nearly a year later, we're revisiting this segment. New openings from games like Sonic CD, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and even some Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD are included in this second edition!

Sonic CD (SCD)


I must admit that I am a huge fan of the US soundtrack for the Sega CD's Sonic CD, and part of that is the way '90s theme song for that version, Sonic Boom. Spinning in a world of motion, this anime-inspired opening sees a well animated Sonic the Hedgehog speed through the land, spinning around and vaulting off of rocks in an impressively acrobatic display. It all concludes with Sonic knowing that Robotnik is up to no good (but this ain't his neighborhood) when he sees the colossal Death Egg high in the sky. Hooked to a rock by a massive chain, Sonic dashes across it to start his CD-based adventure. The stare-down with the Death Egg is such an epic moment, and Sonic Boom punctuates the action far better than You Can Do Anything, at least in this writer's opinion.

Mega Man 8 (PS1, SAT)


One of my favorite series character design-wise is the Mega Man series. Whether it's Classic, X, Zero, Battle Network, Legends, or anything else, the series has consistently great designs for its characters. Seeing numerous old haunts of Mega Man throughout the opening CG for Mega Man 8 is an absolutely delight for a Mega Man fan such as myself. The first Mega Man game on the PlayStation used the disc technology well, showing off a sophisticated anime opening with tons of action, familiar foes like Robot Masters such as Guts Man, Snake Man, and Shade Man, as well as giant bosses like Yellow Devil and Mecha Dragon. It's an awesome way for Mega Man to enter the 32-bit era on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX - Final Mix (PS3)


Kingdom Hearts is a series that combines the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. While the focus on the latter over the series has decreased, the feel of Final Fantasy still surrounds Kingdom Hearts. This opening cinematic for Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, the Final Mix portion of that remastering, briefly goes through as small sample of the events of Kingdom Hearts, leading up to Kingdom Hearts II. Utadu Hikaru's Sanctuary plays, perfectly syncing up with the action and various scenes. It's a really well put together opening that should have Kingdom Hearts fans in high spirits.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)


The all-star brawl might not have been to every Smash fans' liking, but it's hard to deny that Super Smash Bros. Brawl's opening is not mighty impressive. When you have one of the greatest lineup of characters in video games in various settings backed by an orchestral and choral piece by one of the greatest composers of video game music, Nobuo Uematsu, the sheer epic nature of this opening can hardly be contained. Okay, okay. I might be overdoing it there and being a bit too overzealous. Regardless, it's an exciting opening that gets you ready for a brawl like nothing else at all. (Oh, and don't worry, Melee fans. We'll be seeing Super Smash Bros. Melee on a future installment of Best Openings in Gaming!)

Mario Superstar Baseball (GCN)


Let's wrap up this second part of Best Openings in Gaming with a theme. Major League Baseball is closing in on the playoffs, and what a perfect opportunity to end this segment for now on a baseball note! In this opening for the Namco-developed Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario and friends get challenged by Bowser to an epic baseball showdown. Four teams, each led by a character (Mario, Wario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong), face off to see who will face the King of the Koopas on the diamond. Through multiple humorous bits like Wario doing his best to get a bunted ball called foul by blowing on it for all he's worth and Donkey Kong getting up-close and personal with a Chain Chomp, Mario Superstar Baseball's opening is chock full of amusement. Batter up!

Mario Super Sluggers (Wii)


A double dose of Mario baseball game openings! Much healthier than a double dose of the tobaccy! Better for your teeth and gums, too! This opening for the Wii sequel to Mario Superstar Baseball introduced Mario and friends to an isle of baseball goodness. Like the GameCube game's opening, Mario Super Sluggers sports humor, and this time some explosive action-- literally! It all culminates with a heroic moment by Luigi of all characters, being charged into by the powerful Donkey Kong, yet still holding on to the baseball! That'll teach anyone to call you a second banana, Luigi! Colorful, cute, and exciting, Mario Super Sluggers has an incredibly entertaining opening, a nice way to round out this edition of Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two!

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What video game openings do you remember fondly? Let the SuperPhillip Central community know in the comments section! I always try to reply to every comment!

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