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iPhone Game Reviews

December 5, 2011
by Will
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Bring Me Sandwiches!! Review

Bring Me Sandwiches!! Aliens have invaded, but have decided to spare our puny planet so long as we satisfy their appetite for large and bizarre sandwiches. This is not your typical platformer. You start off each level by meeting a small alien with a slide of bread. You then need to explore the large open levels and Katamari-style gather up an insanely large sandwich on top of your slice of bread. Once you’re at 100% sandwich size, you need to find the next alien with the top slice of bread. To add variety, some levels require specific ingredients for your sandwich, like cats (yes, cats). Other levels you may need to complete multiple sandwiches, each bigger than the last, with the largest topping off with cars and houses. Along the way, various powerups will help you access areas, and you’ll have to be wary of attacking people or animals that will cause you to drop part of your current sandwich. There are various star-awarding objectives and items to collect, but sometimes it’s fun to just hop around and try to gather an insane a sandwich as you can.

The controls work quite well for the most part, especially when considering the sheer number of objects populating the level that can be jumped on. You’ll find that in later levels the controls lack some of the finesse necessary to complete a level unscathed. One odd experience, is that the coins that fall (rather than being suspended in air) can be landed on for a split second before they’re collected/absorbed. Because of this, when a secret sprays a bunch of coins into the air, you’ll find that most of them will bounce off of you rather be collected.

Bring Me Sandwiches is filled with well-illustrated and vibrant animated characters and objects. The play areas are detailed and filled to the brim with objects to collect. The style is fun, and suits the atmosphere of the game. The characters especially are amusing, and the way your mile-high sandwich bounces and sways, but somehow manages to stick together.

The sound design is excellent, and is full of incredibly catchy country-themed tunes for each zone. The sound effects are vibrant and appropriately cartoony. Even the character voices are fun, including the presentation of the alien’s demand: “Bring Me Sandwiches!!”.

There is currently 29 levels spanning 5 themed areas ranging from U.S.A. to Japan. Each level can take a few minutes to complete, and can be replayed to earn 3 stars awarded for score, completion time, and number of spills. You can also search for a hidden spaceship component in each level, which is required if you want to play the final level. A comprehensive (and impressive) food journal detailing all of the types of objects you have placed in a sandwich. Game Center is enabled for achievements and leaderboards.

Bring Me Sandwiches!! is a fun and vibrant platformer with a brilliant and hilarious item collection system.

App: Bring Me Sandwiches!! $0.99

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November 19, 2011
by Will
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Wizardry Labyrinth of Lost Souls Review

Wizardry Labyrinth of Lost Souls Oldschool, first-person perspective, 3D dungeon crawling is a genre that’s hardly been seen for years in North America. Strangely enough, it’s been embraced by Japanese developers, some of which we’ve seen in the Nintendo DS titles Etrian Odyssey and The Dark Spire. Mobile platforms indeed seem ripe for the pacing of these classic RPG’s. The Wizardry series has been around since the 80′s, and after a lengthy hiatus, has seen a triumphant return via the PSN network with Labyrinth of Lost Souls. Now that Wizardry has been ported to iPhone, how does it hold up?

First, let it said that Wizardry is very unforgiving. Tutorials are sparse, and the gameplay will never hold your hand. You start off in town as a lone adventurer with a measly amount of gold. Hire (or create) some more party members at the Guild, buy some equipment, receive a couple of quests from townsfolk, and head down into the dungeon. Your team travels in a first-person perspective through the dark dungeons, mapping it out as they go. All manners of traps and discoveries can be found, as well as mobs of monsters. Combat plays out much like other classic RPG genres, and really doesn’t offer anything new, with options to attack, defend, use tools and items, and cast spells. Watch out for the occasional bug though, such as the Inn descriptions and prices have their effects switched.

If you approach combat cautiously, you’ll find Wizardry challenging and rewarding. And when I say be cautious, I mean it. Even right on the first floor, I discovered a series of doors marked with a warning that what lay beyond was not for inexperienced adventurers. Like any good reviewer, I decided to explore further, only to find myself face to face with a Banshee more than a dozen levels higher than my party. Of course, it completely devastated my party, shamefully respawning my troupe back at town.

The controls have suffered in their conversion from PSN, and are generally frustrating and imprecise. Navigating deep menus is a chore, and traveling through the dungeon is finicky at best. Moving using the pseudo-joystick often results in unintended and maybe disastrous consequences.

The character portraits are a pretty anime style, as are most of the monsters (although occasionally fuzzy). However, the interface is absolutely ugly, to the point that I wouldn’t even consider it “minimalistic”. The 3D dungeon itself also seems more drab and uninspired.

The music full of fairly generic orchestral fantasy themes, and suits the game well. Sounds effects are also typical 16-bit era RPG-fare.

Custom-made characters based on 8 classes, 20 levels populated with 120 types of monsters, and challenging gameplay will keep you busy for a long time. The first single-floored dungeon is free, with the rest of the game being unlocked with a (currently $9.99) in-app purchase. Additional IAP is available to give you a boost, by affecting your stats or some shiny equipment. Game Center is enabled for leaderboards and achievements.

If you can get past the terrible controls and interface, then you’ll find that Wizardry offers a deep and challenging RPG experience.

App: Wizardry Labyrinth of Lost Souls Free

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November 18, 2011
by Will
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Whale Trail Review

Whale Trail Willow the whale is escaping into the sky, while being pursued by evil clouds that zap him. Swoop and soar through the sky to collect an endless trail of rainbow-colored bubbles to fuel your cetacean friend. Each bubble is worth points which increases with a multiplier that rises steadily from successful flying. Collide with some clouds, and your multiplier drops. Along the way, if you collect 7 stars you’ll launch into an invincible frenzy mode, in which you can destroy clouds for even greater points. Run out of bubble power, and you’ll drop like a rock. The gameplay is very free and floaty, with a good variety of paths and obstacles that are randomly generated to keep things fresh.

Flying a whale is as simple as holding to rise, and releasing to fall. If you keep holding at the apex of his flight then the whale will perform a loop, which makes it easy to capitalize on larger groups of bubbles. Largely unaffected by gravity, pulling out of a fall will result in a gentle and predictable swoop.

Whale Trail eye-catchingly colorful and silly, with outlandish landscapes being randomly created in the background. Reaching a new island results in a new theme color and bizarre floating boss/friend.

Part of Whale Trail’s appeal is the catchy mellow hipster song that’s been created as the games theme. A lyrical version of the theme plays during the main menu, and a instrumental is the background during gameplay. Willow the Whale calls out silly one-liners and exclamations during the game, and you are treated to a constant and delightful bubbly popping sound as you collect streams of bubbles.

The game is randomly generated, so each play will provide a large variety of progressively harder obstacles. Apart from the main endless mode, there is nothing else to do in the game aside from pursuing achievements or highscores in Game Center. It would have been nice to see maybe some collectables or more solid progression.

Whale Trail is a very lighthearted and mellow endless runner that’s easy to sink into, but the lack of purpose and additional content limit how long it will stick around.

App: Whale Trail Free (Universal)

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November 12, 2011
by Will
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Galaxy Pirate Adventure Review

Galactic Phantasy As a young and daring new captain of a small pirate ship, you leave your venerable pirate father, and set off in search of your own fame and fortune. The story does progress from there, but it’s rather short and far-spread across the galaxy. The bulk of the game is in completing missions offered by planets, buying and selling cargo, and strengthening your 3-ship fleet. There are plenty of battles to be found, but you only encounter them during a mission or story element. Like any good space-trader, you can lose yourself in just amassing wealth by ferrying cargo to be sold at a profit across the galaxy. Compared to similar games (or older famous ones), Galaxy Pirate Adventure does lack some of the expected depth of the genre. For example, there’s no factions, or smuggling, or even random encounters and exploration.

Combat brings a fast-paced and slightly strategic element to Galaxy Pirate Adventure. Picture yourself as a captain of your flagship, entrusting your crew to care for the small details. You are given control over when to activate shields, when to recharge the ship’s energy, when to fire each weapon, and when to advance or retreat. Fighting becomes a dance of moving in and out of weapons range, recharging your energy, and strategically raising your shields or disabling your enemies. Weapons all run on a timer before they can be reused, but with up to 8 weapon slots on larger ships, you’ll swapping barrages of fire with opposing ships. The enemy AI can be easily tricked, but there is enough of a jump between levels of ships that you’ll still experience some challenging battles.

The controls are all very intuitive, and there is a context-sensitive Help menu on every single screen.

The graphics, especially anything taking place in space, are excellent. The spaceships and stations are detailed and really establish a sense of scale. The space station interiors are generally the same, and only start to change as you get further out from your home system. The user interface also looks and works well. Because of the enormous scale, during combat you’ll be far enough away from an enemy that all you’ll see of them is their readout on your HUD. Although this is technically accurate, battles tend to lack a sense of impact.

A sweeping orchestral soundtrack fits well with the space theme, but the choice of midi synthesizer does start to feel cheesy after a while.

Multiple mission types, 6 sizes of ships, 7 equipment types, dozens of cargo to trade, and a fair-sized universe to explore will keep you busy for a long time. It would have been nice to see more variety in the cultures and politics, because apart from your portraits, everything is similar and and generic. As large and powerful as your fleet is, you still have no influence over the space stations themselves. Game Center achievements and leaderboards are enabled.

Galaxy Pirate Adventure successfully captures and essence of the classic space-trading genre. While the overall experience is a bit shallow, the fresh combat system is engrossing.

App: Galactic Phantasy $2.99 (Universal)

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October 22, 2011
by Will
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Super Crossfire Review

Product not found Super Crossfire takes the classic arcade shooter formula, and raises the stakes with it’s new screen flipping mechanic. Rows of Galaga-esque enemies still pan back and forth, with the occasional powerup-containing UFO, but now they shoot up as well. You can teleport onto the ‘ceiling’ easily to continue your assault from above. This factors into some key gameplay techniques, such as drawing fire on one side, and then teleporting to attack from safety. Some enemies only shoot in one direction, and others can only be killed from one. The gameplay is constantly frantic and fun.

Every few levels you are taken to an upgrade menu to assign points to a variety of options that suit your play style. Upgrades such as weapon spread, damage, armor, and gem collection give you the edge to defeat tougher levels. Once you’ve accumulated enough victory points, you can spend them on permanent unlocks for additional content, or to give you a serious edge in the game. Fully upgraded, your firepower in par with more modern-styled shoot’em-ups.

There is an extensive selection of controls, including a slider, regular buttons, and tilt. Each of those also has a number of adjustment options. Personally, I’ve found the default slider controls work great, and are very accurate. I would, however, advise against getting many of the ship speed upgrades unless you want to rocket from one side to the other of the small playing area. There’s a dedicated button for your super attack, and a touch anywhere else will flip you to the opposite side.

The color scheme, scan-lines, and enemy design all feel very retro, which is contrasted by the more modern aesthetics. Enemies explode in a shower of sparks, and your view tilts drastically when flipping sides (or shifting to a menu).

Super Crossfire has an excellent techno-trance soundtrack that suits the neon style well. To compliment, the effects are appropriately reminiscent of classic arcade shooters.

19 enemies and 150 unique waves spread across 5 chapters will keep you busy for a long time. The game can be quite challenging too, especially at tougher difficulty levels. There’s also the upgrade system, and unlockables that are acquired with victory points. You can purchase additional points (which are normally acquired in-game) through Crystal, but I could never seem to get it to work. Game Center is also integrated for achievements and leaderboards.

Super Crossfire is an homage to classic arcade shooters, that still manages to feel refreshing and new.

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October 21, 2011
by Will
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Forever Drive Review

UPDATE: You can now earn credits while racing, as well as receive the occasional “gift”. You are also now able to create up to 5 tracks for free, and can edit/change and resubmit tracks as you see fit. While racing, you can report bad tracks (such as some of the experiences in the review), that will hopefully ensure a quality experience.

Forever Drive Forever Drive ambitiously joins arcade-style racing with a set of intuitive track building tools, to offer a community-fueled endless experience. At the end of the road, there is no actual racing, but instead you’ll find a highscore-based game with arcade racing controls. You may drive for as long as you have time on the clock, which is replenished whenever you pass a checkpoint or collect the appropriate power-up. Passing slow AI-controlled drivers increases your combo multiplier, which is reset when you hit a car or a wall. You then gain points based on the multiplier by just driving, collecting stars, and spending time in glowing regions around the outside bend of some turns. Just be prepared to use the break button a lot, because you never know what sort of crazy turns will be found in the user-generated tracks. Breaking also becomes necessary, and I almost had to hold it down, when your speed increases proportionately with your combo. Of course, driving faster also helps you complete segments quicker, thereby replenishing your timer and lengthening your drive.

The track builder tool is very simple and well-designed. You start by drawing a limited length of line from the left to the right of the screen without overlapping itself. Next, you’re given the option to affect the height of the track. Lastly, you can place objects anywhere you like, from an extensive library of buildings, signs, and zeppelins. Some of the more interesting items must be unlocked by gaining experience while driving. The 3D view of your new track has terrible controls, but you do also have the option to test-drive and make adjustments until you’re content. Submit the track, and you’ll see a tally of how many times it’s been driven, who has the highest score for your segment, and the overall rating.

There are multiple control options for steering your car, such as joysticks, touching either side of the screen, and tilting your device. Automatic acceleration and left-handed mode can also be toggled.

Forever Drive is a world of endless highways, towering ziggurats, glowing neon, and zeppelins. The landscape, and even the colors on your car, change with the preset palette chosen by that track’s designer. Of course, even with good tools, the gaming community can still come up with some terrible track designs. For example, it’s not uncommon to encounter buildings overlapping the track, which don’t interfere with your vehicle except for obstructing your view. Losing your combo to a scenario like this is frustrating, but hopefully should be kept to a minimum due to the track voting feature.

Guitar-heavy electronic music with a slightly relaxed tone maintains the slick digital feel of the world. It can get repetitive, but never quite gets on your nerves.

Being able to drive forever, and create your own tracks does have a certain unmeasurable amount of content, which highly depends on how much you like it. There is a RPG-like progression to unlocking new cars, license plates, track building objects, and car paint-jobs, but it’s extremely slow for very little payoff. You may get better mileage by picking up the IAP for the fastest car. Track building and sharing is a great experience, but you’re currently limited to 3 tracks before you need to purchase slots for more. Game Center is incorporated for leaderboards and achievements.

Forever Drive brings a unique twist on the arcade racing genre, with it’s scoring method and user-generated content.

App: Forever Drive Free (Universal)

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September 27, 2011
by Will
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Hypership Out of Control Review

Hypership Out of Control When you first play it, Hypership Out of Control feels like an attempt to capture some of the classic appeal of oldshcool shoot-em-ups. After your first round or two, you’ll realize that it’s altogether different, and new. For one, there are no enemies that shoot at you, but waves of obstacles to dodge as your ship travels faster and faster. The goal of the game is not to finish, but to garner the highest score you can. In fact, finishing all of the waves will cycle you right back to the beginning where you can continue scoring. Points are gained by destroying obstacles, and collecting coins. The more coins you collect, the higher your score multiplier, and the faster you fly (up to a limit). Fast and accurate reflexes are definitely required for this game.

Relative touch, where your ship moves in relation to your touch, is the hands-down preferred method of controlling shmups, and Hypership’s is in par with the best. This is especially important for scoring, since you’ll need to sweep up fields of coins as efficiently as possible.

Retro 8-bit graphics suit the old-school aesthetics of the game, with an exception of some of the titles. They’re not excessively detailed like a lot of the SNES-era shooters, but such detail would be distracting and hard to follow when your ship reaches higher speeds.

As is fitting for a game of this style, Hypership has a great 8-bit chiptune soundtrack, and the accompanying bleeps, bloops, and white-noise explosions. My personal preference was to turn the sound effects down by a few notches, since your ship’s laser sound can get pretty annoying.

The basic amount of waves can be flown through in a relatively short amount of time, but the 4 different gameplay modes and leaderboard chasing will keep things fresh for some time. There’s the Normal mode, the 1-life Hardcore mode, a mode where your coins steadily countdown and ends when you reach zero, and a Superspeed mode where your top speed is far higher than in previous modes. If that isn’t enough, then you can enable Reverse mode, and play everything backwards.

Hypership Out of Control combines oldschool shmup aesthetics, with blisteringly fast gameplay.

App: Hypership Out of Control $0.99 (Universal)

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September 27, 2011
by Will
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NyxQuest Review

NyxQuest Nyx, the Greek winged mythological goddess of night, falls in love with the human Icarus. When Icarus fails to return, and the world below befalls a cataclysmic event, Nyx must scour the wasteland in search of her lost love. Played as a puzzle-oriented side-scrolling platformer, the difficulty is relatively low, but the game gives you some interesting mechanics that mix well with platforming. The ability to touch and move blocks, slow crushing pillars, redirect fireballs, and retrace the path of wind, all make for a memorable experience. NyxQuest also throws a few interesting restrictions at you at some points, and empowers you in others.

The movement controls themselves work fine, but the trouble is when pairing them with targeted touches for puzzle solving or attacking enemies. The problem is, the virtual buttons just get in the way. The issue is never game-breaking, but having to fiddle around to get into a good position to touch an object breaks the flow and immersion of the game. Having said that, translating a WiiWare game with it’s pointing WiiMote into touch controls works well enough that I wish more titles made the jump. You have the ability to jump (or flap your wings) 5 times, plus a certain amount of gliding, before you must return to the ground.

The graphics are visually stunning, but the real achievement is the sense of scale. It’s not just because your character is tiny, but the perspective given by large landscape elements such as buildings retreat into the background. There’s a common trick in game (and animation) design that pans layers of background elements at varying speeds to give the illusion of depth, but in NyxQuest, most of it is really moving in full 3D. NyxQuest also displays one of the most dramatic and disciplined color palettes I’ve seen in a while. As the game progresses, the colors also gradually shift from livelier tones, to angry reds and oranges.

NyxQuest has an excellent accompanying soundtrack of a deep ambient feel and Greek influences, mainly in the strings. The tone is very fitting for the mythological Greek theme of the game.

There is a wealth of variety in the types of puzzles and levels found in the game. But apart from environmental puzzles, there’s only really 3 enemies to be found: flying harpies, charging minotaurs, and spitting sand hydras. It’s a shame that there is also only 12 levels that, while lengthy, leave you wanting more after a rather anticlimactic ending.

Crystal, Chillingo’s gaming network, is enabled, but it would have been nice to see Game Center for achievements, and perhaps a speedrun mode with leaderboards for the fastest completion time.

NyxQuest offers a stunning presentation, and some unique puzzle platforming gameplay. It’s not perfect, but the experience is well worth your time.

App: NyxQuest $0.99, HD: $0.99

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September 22, 2011
by Will
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Destinia Review

DESTINIA Gamevil, the creators of the popular Zenonia series, branch out a little with Destinia. The core gameplay is still very much what you would expect from a Korean-style hack-and-slash RPG: fast action, large amounts of grinding, and endless fetch quests. There are also a few interesting features that separate it from previous releases, but they never feel fully realized. The story is very generic RPG-fare, but is decently written with mostly acceptable English. Pick up your half-dozen fetch quests in town, slash your way through linear forests/dungeons to a boss, and return to town to cash in and see the next story segment. Assign skill and stat points when acquired, and swap out some gear every 5 levels. The flow to Destinia feels very mindless and by-the-numbers. You can craft new items, although you’ll acquire better gear faster than you can accumulate the required ingredients. There is also a pet system, where you can hatch eggs for pets that supply random stat boosts, but for all their simplicity, they might as well be just another piece of equipment.

Joystick movement, a single attack button, quick-buttons for skills, and the usual map and menu buttons are pretty common to this brand of action RPG’s. The movement is limited to 4 directions, but Gamevil has done a good job at smoothing it out, and ensuring that your character doesn’t get caught on scenery objects. Your character will also automatically face the closest enemy while attacking, and attacks have a wide enough area that you won’t have any targeting issues.

Destinia has the same high quality sprites and art, in the familiar Korean RPG style, as a lot of similar titles on the app store. The framerate is smooth, and effects are moderately flashy. The game does feel like production was a little rushed though, since eventually a lot of the scenery (especially the dungeons) start looking the same.

The music and effects are all decent, and the music is usually a large and interesting enough loop that it won’t drive you nuts after prolonged play. It never feels memorable, but is an adequate backgrounds to your RPG grinding.

99 levels to grind, and a good amount of quests and content will keep you busy for some time. It’s all fluff, but still fun if that’s your thing. You’re constantly chasing that next piece of looted gear or one more stat piece, even if the impact is minimal.

Of course, you’ll notice that the trailer is played with a level 99 end-game character, and is typically not nearly as exciting. It does still give you a good idea of the features of the game.

Destinia never feels as fully realized as similar titles, but is still a quality, if mindless, grind.

App: DESTINIA $0.99

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September 22, 2011
by Will
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Tiny Heroes Review

Tiny Heroes The Tower Defense genre has been overcrowded with copycats as of late, especially in the iTunes App store. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a game as ambitious and innovative as Tiny Heroes, brought to you by the same minds behind the excellent geoDefense $1.99. The easiest way to describe Tiny Heroes, would be to compare it to the super-popular Plants vs. Zombies $0.99, but without linear paths. However, that comparison would only just scratch the surface, because the dungeon-labyrinthine paths play a much more strategic role. Apart from the expected shoot/explode/pass-over/wall/funding types, your weaponry also includes the ability to enemies around the maze. Your traps don’t all shoot in a straight line, and the enemy Heroes are easily capable of destroying your traps. After all, fantasy Heroes always seem to get the upper-hand when looting dungeons. The other, and maybe most genre-changing aspect of Tiny Heroes, is that once the Heroes have passed through your dungeon and reached the treasure, they now have to travel back through the dungeon to safety, giving you a second chance at stopping them. The gameplay is overall less accessible than your average tower defense game, in exchange for deeper and more challenging strategic choices. First it will seem that a lot of the traps offered are unnecessary, but you’ll probably find that they’re balanced in such a way that players will come up with very different strategies, and have different preferences.

Keeping a lighthearted and cartoony style, the visuals are fairly kid-friendly. Lots of bright colors and googly-eyed characters. The artwork is mostly hand-drawn, and looks a bit rough in places, but works well.

The sound effects are plentiful and appropriate, but there is a lack of music. I’ve heard that the developers left out music for budget reasons, choosing to focus on refining gameplay, but the game as a complete package feels unfinished. Of course, you can always play music in the background directly from your device.

There is tons of content to keep you busy, and the developers have promised more. 50 unique levels, including some wacky themed or trap-specific Challenge levels, and over 30 very different defense types. The number, and creativity, of the defenses alone adds a lot of options and combinations to try. Game Center and OpenFeint achievements and leaderboards are also enabled.

Tiny Heroes brings some unique and refreshing gameplay mechanics to the tower defense genre. Definitely worth a play if you’re looking for a deeper challenge, with a lot of room to experiment.

App: Tiny Heroes Free

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