Maddening Euphoria (Review)

Man, I miss the good old days when I’d spend $1 on a small-scale indie and two hours later I’d have a review posted for it. Back when I was the Queen of Xbox Live Indie Games, most of the games I’d select to feature on this blog, for better and for worse, didn’t require a massive time investment to deliver a verdict on. This week, I was feeling particularly nostalgic for that, so I threw on Maddening Euphoria by Allison James and her Chequered Ink studio. I didn’t even realize I’d already done a game by her, 2019’s Gyro Boss DX. It was, you know, fine. Nothing special, but also nothing specifically wrong with it. It’s a Top 100 game on the IGC Leaderboard (#79 as of this writing) that also holds the rare distinction of being one of those games I’ve kept playing after the review was over. To this day, if I have my Switch and I only have five to ten minutes to kill, I’ll either boot-up Gyro Boss DX or Not Not. I’ll have a lot more fun messing around with them than I will having my iPhone scream at me to buy micro-transactions even on games that in theory shouldn’t have any. The medium NEEDS those quick burst, nothing gained, nothing lost type of games that make otherwise boring wait times pass faster. I can’t imagine someone in a line or a waiting room saying “I only have ten minutes. Let’s see if I can get a little further in Breath of the Wild!”

Maddening Euphoria has simple, stark graphics that remind me of Lumines. Along with the soundtrack, it gives the whole game a music video-like vibe. Oh, and since there’s really no place in the actual review for me to bitch about this, this is one of those games that blocks you from recording clips with your Switch. Screenshots only. Very maddening, but not euphorically so.

Maddening Euphoria is cut from the same cloth as Gyro Boss DX in that it’s optimized for short play sessions and based around challenging your own high scores. And, when I say short, I mean most of my rounds lasted a matter of seconds. It’s sort of like a randomly-generated version of the Impossible Game. A punisher where you must outrun a pace bar while leaping over pits and spikes. I’ve got a lot of grievances to air with it, so please keep in mind that I ultimately enjoyed this game. I thought I’d put an hour or two into it and be done. Two days later and I’m finally typing this review WHILE still playing it, and that counts for something. Of course, I’m still playing it while typing because I’m trying to figure out how to explain what exactly is happening. Besides the random layouts, the hook is that you’re running on an ever-rotating cylinder. You’re always somewhere near the top, and the further you distance yourself from the pace bar, the sooner the layout in front of you seems to spawn. I think.

Is that a llama or an alpaca? I can never tell the difference. One or the other spit in my Mom’s face once. She had it coming. She called it ugly. It was kind of ugly. The best part was it smiled right before it did it. One of the most unforgettable moments in my family’s history.

There’s no tutorial, explanations, or instructions besides telling you to move and jump. This led to some weird issues. Like, I thought the high score listed in the corner was broken. Nope. You see, there’s 36 different “themes” which is basically color schemes, and the displayed high score is only for the specific theme you’re playing. The game defaults to shuffling randomly through themes, and I didn’t realize that. This made me think “oh, wait, it’s NOT randomly generated and the themes are like levels and do specific objects in specific orders.” Nope, they’re definitely randomly generated. If certain themes are more likely to spawn certain types of levels, I didn’t catch onto it. There’s only so many types of ways Maddening Euphoria’s formula can generate a stage, and if the themes influence it, it’s subtly so. Of course, 36 themes means that, instead of having one high score to challenge yourself over and over again, you have 36 to go through. That gets annoying. Why not have both the theme high AND the overall high on display?

In addition to play modes where you’re always jumping or where you run automatically and can’t move backwards, there’s 155 special challenges that you can play separately. Do you know what the problem with these are? YOU GUESSED IT: the levels are still randomly generated. It begs the question: why even have challenges separate from the main modes? Why not just have them check off like achievements through normal gameplay? Once I realized that the maps for the challenges were randomly generated, I quit playing them, because I’d rather go for a high score. In the unlikely event I have a game that lasts an hour (the 155th and final challenge here) I’d legitimately kick myself for wasting it on the challenge and not the main game.

The cylindrical platforming is a nice novelty, but it also creates visibility issues. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is blind jumping where you could possibly either fall to your death or stick the landing, with no way of being able to logic out how to fall. Unless I’m just terrible at this (don’t rule that out), there’s a lot of blind jumps in Maddening Euphoria, especially when you have to bounce off a trampoline and/or clear a large gap before seeing what comes after the gap. The nature of the game demands split-second judgment, but I’ve been killed by moments where, at the time the jump happens, there was no way of knowing where to land until I was too committed to change direction. Actually, there were many instances where I honestly question whether the layout was even survivable. I’m sure it was, but it probably required absolute perfection in terms of what pixel to jump off of and how far you had to press on the stick mid-air. Maddening Euphoria is a game where your high scores will be heavily influenced by how lucky (or unlucky) you were with the game’s level lottery. I wish they had just done 36 levels hand designed stages. Mind you, I’m not anti-procedural. The #1 ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard as of this writing, Dead Cells, is also randomly generated. But, as I’ve noted in reviews for games like Chasm (which I loved) or Cloudberry Kingdom (which I didn’t), while I’m sure creating an algorithm that works every time is difficult, randomly generated levels will always be inelegant and make luck factor in as much as skill.

When the pace bar is close to you, a meter charges up. Fill up the meter and you gain a “second wind” which gives you a massive speed boost. You can use this strategically by deliberately teasing the bar, but there’s many risks involved. If you’re mid-jump and the layout is spitting out narrow platforms when the meter fills all the way, the second wind will probably kill you, since aiming your jumps with the enhanced speed is very difficult. Oh, and Second Winds spawn flashing triangles that give you a letter in E-U-P-H-O-R-I-A. When you fill that up all the way, you get a longer speed burst and all the spikes disappear. I don’t know if it lasts forever. I always died shortly after getting it. The controls are solid, until the speed boosts kicks-in, at which point you lose precision. In a game that demands precision, this is a problem.

Personally, I don’t really get the appeal in randomly generated stages. I never will. They’ll never have the elegance that hand-crafted stages have, and that’s all there is to it. Procedural generation’s promise of “never being the same game twice” is completely bullshit. It’s always the same game, every single time, and to say otherwise is like saying any game with random elements such as dice rolls or cards is never the same game twice. To Chequered Ink’s credit, Maddening Euphoria doesn’t use the bullshit “never the same game twice” spiel in its advertising. Plus, it only costs $1, which is a steal. For all the bitching I just did, seriously, this is worth more than $1. I turned this on and expected to play it for an hour and write this review. That was Wednesday. Now it’s Friday and I’ve put seven hours into it. And I really, really hate blind jumping and leap-of-faith platforming, so that speaks volumes for good this is. For all the unfairness and problematic design, every time I turned on Maddening Euphoria, I couldn’t put it down for over an hour. It has a potently addictive “just one more round” quality that the best modern arcade-style games have. Yea, I wish that they’d gone another direction with it, or at least hand-crafted the challenge levels, but I keep going back to how I’d find myself looking at the clock as I played this and say “shit, where did the last hour go?” Only time will tell if this will find its way permanently into my “I only have five minutes to kill” lineup. I’ll say this: if that time is spent with Maddening Euphoria, it should pass quite quickly.

Maddening Euphoria is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #134 of 304 Ranked Games*
Top 79 Percentile of All IGC Indie Reviews
Top 56 Percentile of All IGC Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Maddening Euphoria was developed by Chequered Ink
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1 was spat on by an alpaca in the making of this review.

Worse Than Death (Review)

I’m not a horror person in general. I don’t watch scary movies. I don’t play scary games. I’ve never locked myself in a bathroom and chanted BLOODY MARY. I’ve never bungee jumped. I know people say “that’s not horror.” WHY ISN’T IT? You’re tying a rope around your feet and throwing yourself off a tall structure. If the point is to be scary, isn’t that horror? If you want an extreme sport, go play hockey using samurai swords and a puck that’s on fire. Bungee jumping is horror: a simulation of something that should kill you, only you walk away without the dying part. And it’s not for me. None of it is. Maybe I was traumatized by walking past those creepy-ass Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark covers in book stores as a child, but I just never got into the genre.


Worse Than Death mixes comic-style art with neo-retro pixel art. It’s a bit jarring. I never really felt like either style was specifically in service to the game. It’s just how it looks. That’s fine, I guess. I normally hate it, but I’ll let it slide this time.

There’s always exceptions, but it’s certainly not something I seek out or get excited about at all. But, as Indie Gamer Chick, I feel it’s important to wet my whistle in as many areas of gaming as possible. I’ve actually bought tons of indie horror titles over the years. Most of them I don’t even remember the names of, let alone ever get around to playing. In those rare instances where I do, they have to live on their gameplay or storytelling merits, and most are utterly forgettable. I have a hunch I probably won’t forget Worse Than Death, but for the wrong reasons. It’s one of those games where you think you get the twist ahead of time, and then when you realize you’re wrong and the game goes in a completely off-its-nut direction, you can’t help but laugh.

The inspection screens always use the comic book art style. I suppose that was out of necessity, because these screens would be incomprehensible pixelated vomit puddles with the large-dot, faceless characters. Still, it makes me wonder if the whole game should have been done like this. It’s perfectly good comic book artwork. I’d buy a graphic novel by this artist.

In Worse Than Death, a pair of besties arrive at their ten year high school reunion. You’re Holly, and you’re trying to convince your BFF, a Fonz-lookalike named Flynn (I typed THE Flynn, which he should totally roll with), to attend the reunion party. He doesn’t want to because everyone is a bit pissed that he wrapped his car around a tree and killed the their friend, Grace. Yea, that’s just the sort of thing people hate. I don’t even get why you’d bother to show up if you’re a known pariah. Like, these things ARE optional, you know? I’m not exactly an expert on high school politics or dynamics. I was home-schooled. I kind of wish I hadn’t been. I would have gone to school with future NBA star Jeremy Lin if I had attended, and he would have no doubt fallen in love with me. I shit you not, I could be Mrs. Lin right now! Well, actually, probably not, as the minute he signed with the Houston Rockets would have been the moment I’d of filed for divorce. Anyway, among the things I do know about high school is that class reunions aren’t legally binding. If two people didn’t want to go, I can’t imagine why they would. “So the plot can happen” is basically the answer, though there is a kinda, sorta unseen force that seems to have pulled them there, maybe?

Thankfully, the developer didn’t skimp on sound design. Eerie songs and spooky sound effects play throughout Worse Than Death. Channel your inner SNES fandom and PLAY IT LOUD!

Anyway, supernatural shit starts happening and bodies start piling-up, as bodies tend to do. I kinda figured this was going to be the “everyone is already dead and this is purgatory and/or hell” trope. It’s not, and which is the only spoiler I’m going to do. I’ll just say that the plot goes so far off the rails that you question if it ever belonged on the rails in the first place. By the final third of the game, and especially the ending, the story is absolute bat shit on a stick, and not necessarily in a good way. The more that was revealed, the less tense the atmosphere got, which made the jump scares less effective and everyone’s motives less consequential. People keep dying, but it never feels like it matters. It’s supposed to be about secrets and the damage they do, but the back stories are kept too vague, to the point that the destructiveness of those secrets feels somewhere off in the background. By the end game, Worse Than Death had long since ceased being tense or frightening and had just become silly. I went from totally on the edge of my seat to giggling at what a train wreck the whole thing had become.

Of the three hours and change we spent playing this, probably twenty or so minutes was spent trying to figure this fucking thing out. My sister, Angela, finally got it after she took a bathroom break that mysteriously required her to take her tablet and ask what the name of the game was again. Funny how that worked out. This “puzzle” was clunky as all fuck and probably should have been explained better.

So, I must have hated it right? Well.. no. While I feel Worse Than Death ultimately failed to deliver on the promise the opening chapters had, to the point that the end game felt like it was satirizing its own story by time the end credits roll, I still never lost interest in seeing where this was all going. It helps that the writing is razor-sharp throughout. Developer Benjamin Rivers clearly has a gift for making compelling characters and creating dialog that feels almost always authentic. Some of the tropes, like the school bitch or the aggressive bully, feel forced and unnatural. But the relationship between Holly and Flynn feels totally real and affectionate, with the slightest hint of apprehension (which, by the way, the end-game makes sense of with the only aspect of the story where the payoff DID work, and there’s even an after-the-credits gag that put a smile on my face). Maybe the plot is completely off its rocker, but the characters made me and my entire family stick it out for the full three hours or so of gameplay. That was nice.

Worse Than Death’s #1 survival mechanic is waiting in the background while specters walk back and forth, a mechanic that loses its zing a bit when you’re often straight-up told you “feel cold” when they’re around. Plus, a lot of levels have places you can hide but no ghosts, which sort of spoils that later chapters will have the ghosts appear in those rooms.

Well.. maybe gameplay is too strong a word. In fact, you don’t encounter your first puzzle element until the second chapter of the game, and that element is simply finding a code for a door lock. Mostly, the game consists of story bits, exploring relatively small areas for clues, and finding keys or passcodes to open doors. There’s a handful of almost-Escape Room-like puzzles, but don’t buy this game for the problem-solving elements as they’re very basic overall. The survival-horror part of the game is handled better. You’re given not-so-subtle warnings when a danger element is approaching and must either hide in the background or make a run for it. These encounters are constant, but I never actually died from them. There were moments where I got particularly bold (IE impatient) and legged it, only to see a ghost was right there, but still managed to live. It never completely stops being tense, but as a horror experience, Worse Than Death was a lot better when it relied on atmosphere and jump scares. The game might have been better served removing all the hiding stuff completely.

I struggled with the ultimate verdict on Worse Than Death more than most games. To its credit, I was never bored playing it, except with the radio puzzle where we had it on the right channel but didn’t realize we apparently had to flip the switch up and down, and one brief spot where we got lost late in the game that was actually on me. Otherwise, the writing is always compelling. The characters are realistic enough to grow attached to. It does mistake “startle” for “scare” far too much, but what survival horror game doesn’t? It’s so much better when you’re walking by a mirror only to see a shadowy figure run across the reflection. THAT’S the type of horror it does best, and should have stuck to it. After the first hour, I would have bet the farm I was going to award Worse Than Death my Seal of Approval on the characters and atmosphere alone. I mean, yea, it’s weird that the character has to describe the details of seeing a dead body that’s hanging from the ceiling (“OH GOD, HER EYES JUST KEEP STARING OUT!”) because the chosen graphical style isn’t very good at showing off small details, but it’s still always eerie.

That’s a dog? Was its cause of death “infection by The Thing?”

But, that damn direction it took. I sat at my keyboard for ten minutes looking for the right words, and all I could do was make a “mmmmph” sound. I was so ready to feel an uneasy dread going into the finale, and instead I was just giggling by the end. Even worse, I was doing so at the game and not with it, because the ending is so sincere that it makes my heart hurt that it didn’t work for me. A bad ending normally doesn’t sink a video game, but in the case of Worse Than Death, it absolutely needed an incredible payoff. A mystery killer is great! Worse Than Death felt almost like I Know What You Did Last Summer, easily the most underrated horror movie that came out in the wake of Scream. Even if the game did silly things like instant-cure headache medicine (yea, because that’s how pills works, right!) or ghosts that come dangerously close to feeling Scooby-Doo like. I could forgive all that, because it sure seemed like everything was building to a great ending. Then the ending happened, and it sucked, and it retroactively made everything before it feel like a waste of time. It’s so jaw-droppingly whackadoodle that, after getting over the initial shock, we all just started laughing. It was such gloriously awful shit.

So, I can’t really recommend Worse Than Death. Granted, I’m one of the last people who anyone should go to for advice on which horror games to purchase. But, if you’re a non-fan like me, I feel safe in saying that Worse Than Death is not going to be an exception. Either way, I’m totally going to check out other games by Benjamin Rivers. No question he has a gift for dialog and atmosphere. Paying it off? Well.. to be determined. What about all the successful jump scares in the game, you ask? So what? I can do that too. Give me a pack of balloons and a thumbtack and I can startle my family every time with minimum effort, but that hardly makes me Stephen King.

Worse Than Death was developed by Benjamin Rivers
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$1.99 (normally $9.99) wasn’t really worse than death in the making of this review.


Today’s game is called samurai_jazz. No caps, and an underscore instead of a space. I think that’s meant to be a joke, because the game has 8-bit graphics. You know, back in the 8-bit days, people used punctuation. Get it? It’s an anachronism! Ha! Haha!

Or it wasn’t meant to be a joke, just a stylization thing. Well, I laughed either way.

What I’m not laughing at is the game itself. samurai_jazz is a prime example of how I can’t get into a game at all if it controls poorly. The basic concept is you hack-and-slash your way through enemies, occasionally taking part in key quests that open up more levels for you to hack-and-slash through. It gets dull really quickly, though that’s because you spend the majority of the experience fighting with the controls.

To the game's credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being "EAT."

To the game’s credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being “EAT.”

I’ll give samurai_jazz this: it does feel like an early NES game. I mean, besides the tiny little squirts of blood that come from enemies. Not to mention the first thing you see when you start the game is a guy commit Seppuku. By the way, is there a more horrific act that one can do that has such an adorable-sounding name attached to it? It’s a cute word! It sounds like something you would name a baby penguin. But really, I’m over the whole “graphic 8-bit violence” thing. Was novel for a while. These days, it’s about as common an indie convention as it gets. I’m also still not fully sure what the opening suicide had to do with the game, since the story unfolds only in dialog and, as far as I can tell, wasn’t brought up again over the next three chapters. In fact, there’s not an actual lot of storytelling done at all. Weirdly enough, the marketing blurb brought up the writing, but what little is here didn’t exactly stand out to me. Most characters that do talk only do so to note that you need to fetch an item to proceed to the next part of the game. Maybe the story becomes more in-depth later. I wouldn’t know. I quit midway through the third chapter. I know some people don’t like it that I still go forward with writing reviews for games that I quit early. My response is I paid for the game, I put a couple hours into it, I didn’t like it and I know why I didn’t like it. I think I have a right to say why I didn’t.

I’m a control freak. I need accurate controls. Ideally, I should not even notice the controller at all when I play. If a developer accomplishes that, they’ve done a spectacular job. With samurai_jazz, the controls were so unresponsive that I actually thought my Xbox pad was broken. I switched to a different one. Then I switched from using Xbox One controllers to Xbox 360. I mean, maybe an elephant had gotten loose in my house and stomped on all my controllers. Well, something was broken, but it wasn’t them. Unlike a martial arts movie, enemies in samurai_jazz do the sensible thing with you: gang up and attack all at once instead of being polite and engaging you one at a time. That would be fine if controls didn’t have a massive delay. Turning to face the enemies you intend to slice-up shouldn’t be so difficult. But sometimes the inputs just do not respond to you. I don’t know what else to say. When you try to face an enemy and the controller is fickle about when it listens to you or not, that’s sort of a deal breaker for any action game. It’s not just movement, either. Often when you press the attack button, you don’t actually swing your sword. I think it might have to do with how the game requires you to stop moving before changing direction or going into an attack. If that’s by design, it’s a horrible idea, plain and simple.

Because movement is so inconsistent, it screws up almost every other aspect of the game. There’s a block-counter system in place, but you can’t possibly get the timing of it down because the inputs don’t always listen to you. There’s also timed spike-trap puzzles that become infuriating because the act of simply walking in anything but a straight line can be subject to the whims of the game. I figured maybe switching over to the keyboard would help. Although that does improve things (especially attacking), movement can still be sticky and unresponsive. The majority of my deaths playing samurai_jazz would not have happened if the character had done the stuff my button presses had told it to do. I’m sorry to say this, but yea, it does render everything else irrelevant. Someone argued against that idea when I posted my Shovel Knight review and said If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.”

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It's nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard. I only bought it because it had Xbox 360 controller support.

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It’s nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard.

I don’t understand how anyone can argue against that. If the controls are awful to the point of distraction, how can anyone say a game is worth playing? Controls for me will always be paramount. Get them wrong, and nothing else matters. This concept should not be controversial.

I don’t know if I would have liked samurai_jazz if it had decent or better controls. It seemed kind of dull. Light on story, incredibly repetitive combat, bland setting, and boring mechanics. But who knows? Maybe I would have appreciated the gameplay itself if I hadn’t been forced to repeat room after room just because I wanted to face an enemy to the right of me and kept facing anywards but the way I wanted to. It certainly would have made the pace faster, making it harder for tedium to set in. But, honestly, I don’t think it would have been my thing either way. The 8-bit violence thing is old hat by now. Everyone does it. I had the slightest hint of a smile when I killed my first enemy by literally cutting them in half. But then, enemies started showing up that had no actual attack animation themselves, and when you kill them, they don’t have any death animation. They just sort of blink out of existence. I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those games where the developer started the project all full of energy and enthusiastic to get the ball rolling, but just ran out of will halfway through. Instead of shelving the game or taking a break, they rushed it through just to say they finished it. No clue if that’s the case here, but I’ve seen it enough that I at least wonder if that’s what happened. Either way, it’s a shame. The concept is solid, and it certainly looks and sounds the part, but samurai_jazz had me singing the blues.

samurai 1samurai_jazz was developed by Blaze Epic
Point of Sale: Steam

$0.99 kept calling it “samurai_jack” in the making of this review.


Luna’s Wandering Stars

Lunas Wandering Stars - PlanetsMy nine-year-old crashed through the door one day excitedly demanding a piece of paper and pencil.

“Why do you need them?” asked my wife as she handed them over.

“SCIENCE!” And, off he went back outside writing down his observations.

I guess it doesn’t help that both my sons have been on a MythBuster’s binge on Netflix and have grown an incredible fascination with science. My eldest has been very interested in studying airplanes and flight, so when I heard about “Luna’s Wandering Stars”, it was the perfect opportunity to see what he thought of this educational game.

“Luna’s Wandering Stars” is a series of challenging physics puzzles staring our moon, “Luna.” Luna visits the nine planets* of the Solar System solving various physics puzzles. Each planet presents a unique set of challenges centered around a playable theme using Newtonian Physics. In the early levels, you launch Luna on various trajectories, much like “Angry Birds: Space.” In later levels, you are only given the ability to use thrusters to change your trajectory. And in another set of levels you can “change the gravitational constant of the universe”, with a flick of the mouse. And that is just for the starting planets! There are six more fun and interesting themes to discover.

To complete a level, you have to guide, launch, or boost Luna to collect asteroids. Once you collect enough asteroid mass, you pass the level. This can be easily accomplished, but the real challenge is collecting gold asteroids which unlock the other planets in the Solar System. To complicate matters, for every asteroid that is collected, Luna gains mass. This can affect the momentum and velocity of Luna in mid-flight, making it much more challenging than merely flinging birds in zero gravity.

*Kid's today aren't told the true story of Pluto, the missing planet

*Kid’s today aren’t told the true story of Pluto, the missing planet

The presentation is top-quality with beautiful space backgrounds and epic music encouraging you to step up to the challenge. To counter the almost overblown feeling of awesomeness is an ironic self-awareness: the game’s instructions and narration is loaded with dripping sarcastic humor. There are also a lot of quotes from all over geek-culture. I have to admit that I had to research the Shakespeare quote, but I laughed out loud when I saw a “Community” reference. It was hard explaining to my nine-year-old what was so funny with the commentary at the completion of each level and even with the narrator’s jabs for making epic failures.

Some of the levels are pretty challenging, and after about 30 minutes of deep concentrated play, my nine-year-old had to take a break. I continued to play, and there were even a few levels I had to skip or had to accept a less than perfect solution just to move onto the next challenge. Mileage may vary, but I thought that this game was perfect for teens to adults in terms of challenge.  However, one of the things I found missing was some sort of indicator that I had unlocked the next planet. An indicator for when the next planet unlocks is not only just for a good reference point, but for me it serves as a motivator to keep trying for more gold asteroids.

Even failing still looks spectacular.

Even failing still looks spectacular.

Just when I had thought that I had discovered everything the game had to offer, I noticed another button on the Start Menu that I hadn’t clicked before. I clicked the “Custom” button. I was entirely oblivious to what that meant. I thought it was just an “options” screen, but it turned out to be a full-fledged level editor! Here, I could recreate and expand on levels that I liked in the original game itself. And then my jaw dropped even further when I learned that I could also upload my levels and download levels created by other people to try. In fact, someone had already made and uploaded a “shooting” arcade-style survival game starring Luna.

Space FoundationIt made me wonder what else would be created if this game was given to a much larger audience, and I was very pleased to find out that “Luna’s Wandering Stars” is being featured at the Space Foundation Symposium later this week. I am certainly looking forward to seeing even more levels once more people start trying it out.

A week after our initial test run, my son was asking how gravity works. To help my son understand, I showed him a YouTube video of a professor using a spandex sheet to demonstrate what gravity fields look like. He watched as ball bearings made their little orbits on a warped surface representing “space-time.” Almost immediately, the lightbulbs in his head went off and he yelled, “That’s exactly like ‘Luna’s Wandering Stars’!” Suddenly, my nine-year-old son understood what the game was really all about: learning truths about science.

That’s what makes “Luna’s Wandering Stars” not just an excellent game with fun mechanics, a wicked sense of humor and a wide variety of levels and designs, but also a great educational experience.

Luna's IconLuna’s Wandering Stars was developed by Serenity Forge

IGTlogo-01$9.95 for not just a fun game, but for the lights going off in a curious child’s mind while learning about space and physics. It was worth infinitely more than the single CFL lightbulb I could get at the same price. (And less toxic for the environment!)

Luna’s Wandering Stars is Indie Gamer Team Approved.


You can watch me play some of the game here!

In this latest installment from Frogdice, they take a tried-and-true puzzle concept and add to it by throwing in some magic and incorporating city management, which makes for a unique experience.

Building on the Bejeweled match-three (or more) system, your rune combinations send out a magical onslaught against invaders that slowly walk towards your castle walls as they try to destroy your defenses, thus ending the stage. Making a vertical match sends out a wave that attacks a spread of three lanes, whereas a horizontal match sends out a row of attacks that hits multiple targets in the same lane. Complete a series of waves of monsters, and you advance to the next stage until you reach a boss fight.

The boards that hold your runes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own challenges.

The boards that hold your runes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own challenges.

Not only is the game a puzzle game—it has some elements of city management as well. Between each stage, or battle, you are brought back to your town, which requires some administrative attention. While you’re off fighting, the citizenry either get themselves into trouble or quibble over disputes of various kinds and need your help in deciding what to do. Depending on the nature of your decisions over time, you may receive bonuses in the playfield.

The proud town of Mikoville.

The proud town of Mikoville.

The city also includes such areas as a farm, lumber mill, granary, and others to gather resources. You use these resources to build or research items that aid you while defending your towers such as explosives, weapons, and offensive and defensive magic. These items are key for the more difficult stages where there is wave after wave of attacking mobs, and there would be no way you could stop the sheer amount of monsters by using the runes of the puzzle alone. Using your spells to their maximum efficiency and saving them for just the right moment is fun and rewarding when you take out a number of foes in one blast.

While ReignMaker is a fun game, it isn’t without a few flaws. One of the issues I had was that when starting the game, you’re dropped into your mostly vacant city and told to build a few things. At this point you don’t truly understand why and say, “Okay, I guess I’ll build a farm. That sounds like a good thing. Lumber mill? Sure! I have money!” While there were some pop-ups describing some of the concepts to me, I didn’t feel like I actually understood the game without some trial and error on my part after playing a few rounds. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and once I did get it, it was an easy concept; however, I felt as though I fell into it and didn’t actually learn it.

I rule!

I rule!

Some additional guidance on the benefits of using items would have been beneficial as well. I almost stopped playing the game out of frustration somewhere after the first boss because stages were getting too difficult. After a series of defeats, I turned off the game, only coming back hours later after telling myself, “There must be something I’m missing or forgetting.” Sure enough, I was right. With a bit more experimentation, I discovered that the frustration I felt was related to the fact that there were a number of situations in which there was no way I could make a match in the lane that a monster was using, and no amount of clearing runes was helping me. It turns out that I could craft a dagger that allowed me, as the player, to attack a particular monster. Later on, I figured out that some magic allows me to destroy a single rune which helps against tricky, out-of-the way monsters, and other magic helps me to restore the hit points of my castle.

These flaws, though, are minor. ReignMaker is a genuinely fun experience you shouldn’t miss if you are a fan of the genre. Frogdice has proven once again that they know how to make a well-crafted puzzle game.

ReignMakerlogoReignMaker was developed by Frogdice Games.

IGTlogo-01$15 is all it costs to have your own kingdom these days. It’s a pretty good deal for a game to play on a reigny day. OH COME ON! That’s comedy gold! Hey, don’t walk away. Come back!

Rad Raygun

When people mock the 80s, they tend to mock synthesizers, tall hair, and movie montages. When games mock the 80s, they joke about how we accepted a lot of shit when it came to video games. Strangely enough, it’s not all that common for games to mock the other big event from the 80s, apart from New Coke of course. By that, I mean the Cold War. Finally someone has stepped up to the plate. Enter Rad Raygun.

I previously hadn’t read up on the game much other than to see that it looked like a Mega Man clone. I haven’t played one of those since Vintage Hero so I was ready to give it a shot.

After a few minutes, it was clear that I was wrong in that it isn’t a Mega Man clone but more of a Mega Man-inspired game. It has some similarities in that you’re a robot with a blaster and that it’s a platformer with boss battles at the end of each stage, but there are many differences that make this title stand apart.

White House Down!

White House Down!

In this trek through 198X, you are Ray Raygun, a robot on a mission to bringing the war Soviets have started back to Russia after they attacked Washington DC. In your adventure which takes you to the Berlin Wall, Chernobyl’s nuclear plant, and the Kremlin, you’ll encounter the cutest little Soviet robots and missiles to destroy in this light-hearted look at the Cold War.

Setting itself apart from Mega Man, rather than copying the abilities of the bosses you defeat, you gain abilities as you find them on the ground such as a slide maneuver to sneak under things, a mid-air moonwalk that allows you to cross gaps, and an aimable cannon shot that helps you reach enemies placed at an angle your blaster has trouble reaching.

Poking fun at the 80s era of video games is a tried and true method to get a few laughs. Right away you’re treated to a joke about how enemies will reappear the instant you backtrack even a few pixels. While typically annoying in the games it’s mocking, it’s not a big deal here because none of the enemies are overly difficult and serves its purpose as an amusing quirk.

There is a fun nod to Tetris while inside the Kremlin where you can actually play the classic game in order to, I assume, gain bonuses to your power-ups. I only assume because while it is a cute nod, unless I’m missing something, controls for this mini-game were brutally difficult in that every few seconds, a piece would fall in a certain location depending on where your character was on the board and which direction he faced. If you want a piece to fall where you are standing, you’re out of luck for there is little you can do to get out-of-the-way before the piece comes crashing down. It would have been nice if the player could control when the piece fell rather than let it be a timed event since a game like Tetris requires careful placement of blocks.

The levels are laid out in a fashion along the same vein of Mega Man with a few key differences.

The game makes it a point to simulate the way stages, as in Mega Man, would “scroll” when you reach the border of an area, but it forgets one thing. Enemies and enemy attacks that occur during the scroll should be forgotten by the game and disappear. Something so seemingly minor in text here comes off as quite an annoyance while playing. I encountered a few areas where an enemy was able to fire homing missiles at me off-screen and I would have to flail about to avoid the attacks.

A Tetris minigame found in Moscow.

A Tetris minigame found in Moscow.

While there is never a dull moment in fighting off the sheer number of baddies in Mega Man, many of the areas in this game are devoid of any life at all. These areas are purely for aesthetic reasons such as, “A cooling tower is tall so we will make it tall in our video game.” This is all fine and dandy but give me something to shoot! No one wants to walk through an empty game where they’re encouraged to kill all the things and there are no things.

I encountered a few bugs along the way but nothing game-breaking and not really worth mentioning other than one that was a bit strange. If backtracking and you cross back through one of the “scroll” areas and were hit while the game scrolled, crossing back through that scroll would cause you to take damage again, even if there were no longer enemies there. While I did die to this once, the game is easy enough and lives are plentiful that it wasn’t anything more than a small annoyance.

It may seem like I’m picking on a number of things here but actually, I had a lot of fun with this title and children of the 80s and those with a little knowledge about the global politics of the era will laugh at the nice touches the devs added to make this title stand out. It’s a cute homage to the time of my youth that, for the most part, does what it tried to do well.

At its cheap price ($1), this is a fun title that you can finish in a short amount of time and I highly recommend it. Between the Tetris area mentioned above, Matryoshka Sputniks, and a lone red balloon floating, there was plenty to make me giggle with delight.


Rad Raygun was developed by Trufun Entertainment.

IGTlogo-01For 36 rubles, you can pick up this game and beat up Soviet-era commies with capitalism.

Rad Raygun has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.


Deo is a 3D platformer for the PC that is, for me, reminiscent of games from yesteryear. When I turned on the game, I was reminded of the Playstation 2 days with its soft, bright graphics and even softer music as a backdrop for whatever new 3D world I was about to be roaming around in. This one definitely feels like it took some cues from Spyro the Dragon in graphics and then looked at, well, just about any platformer from that era on collection quests. We were really excited to collect all sorts of shit in those days, weren’t we?

The mushrooms laugh at you when they kill you, which happens often.

The mushrooms laugh at you when they kill you, which happens often.

The story for this game is that a dragon stole your crown and you must get it back. That’s about as good a reason as any for me! I’ve played a bunch of games that had even less going for them. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for a gaming era gone by, but I had hope for this game when I read up on it. Unfortunately, right from the initial boot-up, things went downhill quickly.

Some of the features that are advertised for this game include:

  • Full controller support.
  • Unique input model.
  • The rich set of actions and game mechanics make Deo a truly challenging game for even the most experienced gamers.
  • Featuring a cutting edge “smart” camera system for seamless, dynamical game experience.

The first three can be lumped together, so let’s talk about them first, shall we?

Full controller support. That’s great! No one wants to run around in a 3D platformer that requires quick reflexes with a keyboard if they can help it. Don’t get too excited too quickly, though, because the controller is a huge burden on the menu screens. The smallest movement on the analog stick sends your cursor flying, requiring you to switch to your keyboard when you want to do anything such as go to the options screen or load up a previously started game. It’s so awkward!

In-game movement is not much better, as the smallest nudge on the analog stick registers as applying full force. No! No no no no no. Even Super Mario 64 back in 1996 got this right. Hell, I got this right in my Intro to C# game I made last autumn. When someone asked about movement on Desura’s page for the game, the developers kept insisting it has eight-directional movement, something completely different.

I alt-tab a lot during games to either check emails, post classy things on Twitter, or be distracted by cats on Reddit. Imagine my surprise, then, when I alt-tabbed and came back to the game a moment later to discover that it had completely lost the ability to recognize controllers. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Another promoted feature states the game has “rich actions and game mechanics”. Okay, well, there’s run, jump, glide, and shoot. To their credit, this is over three times the number of actions in Star Runner that I played a while back.

One of the first things you’ll experience when you load up the world is that your weapon is awkward but effective. It’s short-ranged, spreads fireball of sorts, and allows you to hit enemies in an arc which is useful since the controls aren’t all that hot. You can also charge up your fireball, which turns it into a powerful, fireball that shoots straight ahead. However, being that you can’t aim it worth shit, there’s no point in charging it up.

Suggestive feature in the distance.

Suggestive feature in the distance.

In order to progress through the game, you need to gather musical notes in each world’s stages. Hidden in various places, they typically lay encased in large, crystalline monoliths that look like something from (not that that’s a bad thing). To reach to the note, you need to touch the dildomonolith to make it dissipate. Don’t stand too close to the object when it’s finished dissipating for it explodes and will kill you. ಠ_ಠ

Another “mechanic” is gathering gems throughout the maps which don’t actually seem to do anything. Coins in Mario games add up to give you extra lives, and rings in Sonic games allow you to be hit without dying, but these gems seem to be there for nothing more than to serve as things to gather that make blips when you pick them up. There are two types of chests that hold crystals: silver ones that are destroyed with by fireball and gold ones that require a key to open but hold the exact same loot as silver chests. The game tries to encourage you to pick up keys, but there’s no point. All you need to do is find musical notes and advance.

The “smart camera” that the description boasts about? It means that you have to control it 95% of the time with the L and R buttons. You are the brains of a camera which, when left to its own devices, has no issue with trying to kill you. Sometimes you’re launched into the air, and where you land is vital to you not being hit by an enemy. What does the camera do? It locks itself under you, giving you no idea where you should try to land to avoid an untimely death. At other times you will turn a corner but the camera angles itself in such a way that it’s impossible for you to know an enemy is waiting to take you out until you’ve memorized its location after dying a few times.

You'll never kill those bats because they don't fly low enough to hit them.

You’ll never kill those bats because they don’t fly low enough to get hit.

The music isn’t atrocious though it, too, has a problem. On occasion, some sounds effects such as the one that plays when you blow up one of the many chests lying around cause the music to restart. Sometimes it restarts twice in the same second!

A lot of passion goes into making games, and I’ve no doubt the brothers who made this gave it their all. I hope these criticisms are taken to heart and consideration is given to improve the game. There’s potential to make it not that bad, but in its current form, it suffers heavily. Unfortunately, the devs seem to have abandoned the project as it is still on version 1.0 and has been out since May 2013.

I like to take my own screenshots when I can, but for Deo I had no choice but to use press kit pictures because none of my screenshots would turn out. If you’d like to see footage of the game and some of its problems, you may rewatch my stream here: Miko Plays “Deo”.

DeoDeo was developed by linman3D.

This game is $13 and I’m going to go find a copy of Spyro to play.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City

To quote a song from one of my favorite musicals, “The more you love someone, the more you want to kill them.” That’s how I felt about Valdis Story: Abyssal City.

Valdis Story is an action platformer with RPG elements thrown in, not at all unlike Muramasa: The Demon Blade if you’ve played that. You choose a character to play through the game with and complete missions or quests for NPCs. Experience is granted based on monsters you kill, and loot is used to craft items.

This game is pretty.

This game is pretty.

The characters you can access right away are people caught in a war between angels and demons, a war where people forced to fight for one side or the other. There are renegades who are trying to stay out of the conflict, and you had a ship full of them before it crash landed. Now you are trying to figure out just exactly where you are and where your missing crew members may be found.

The graphics and music here are beautiful. Everything looks hand-drawn and is reminiscent of Capcom’s work (which I say as a compliment). I love trekking through each new environment to see what it looks like, and the character art is beautiful. Everything looks like it was carefully created to stand out and to look amazing. The music for each area is really fantastic. I admit, I’m terrible when it comes to talking about music, but I know what I like and I like this. That, too, is a compliment.

With exploration comes special powers, such as wall jump or speed burst, some of the typical fare for such games. Many of your other powers, bonuses, etc. come in the form of a skill tree system that you build upon with each level gained. Examples of what you’ll earn as you make your way down the skill tree are small increases to hit-points, combo attack bonuses, and damage increases.

Skill trees.

Skill trees.

Combat is similar to that of brawlers. You’re able to rack up combos and are graded on how well you do during boss fights. Avoid getting hit or kill the boss quickly, and you’ll gain bonus XP and stats. Melee combat feels pretty good overall and there are strategies to learn the best way to take down each enemy faster.

There is a magic system within the game as well. As you progress you will learn new spells that you are able to assign to your character. They include offensive spells, spells that aid you in reaching things, and defensive spells such as a ray of light, ice block, and restorative shield.

All of the above? That was me gushing to neutral. The following is me getting more and more upset.

Action games typically have an invincibility period built-in for when the player is hit, usually lasting up to a few seconds. This allows them to reposition or try to figure out what their next move will be to overcome an obstacle. Valdis Story doesn’t have that, and it leads to very frustrating situations when a monster shoves you up against the wall and you have no way to fight back, letting them essentially stunlock you until you die and have to resume from your last save point. Little is more frustrating than dying to something when all you can do is flail, hoping your button mashing will do something but ultimately failing.

Another frustration I had was actually something that I stumbled upon by having a ridiculously busy, and unexpected, end of year. If I was able to attack this game all at once over a few days, which I prefer, I wouldn’t have experienced this. The game has no way of reminding you of the controls when you have to put it down for long periods of time. Some of the controls, particularly those for magic, are not intuitive at all. You’re left flailing around, hoping that you’re not forgetting anything important as you move about. The guidance system the game uses to tell you where you need to head next is a bit too vague. For example, “Go west to [location].” The map branches so that there are multiple wests and areas are not labeled, leading to player confusion.

valdisstory_042Controls aren’t always as sharp as they should be for a platformer with boss fights where you need quick movement. One such boss fight had me racing around a room to avoid falling poison clouds while avoiding pits of poison (the fights are thematic). This wouldn’t have been so bad but there were many, many instances of my character refusing to automatically grip ledges as it is supposed to do, causing me to fall into poison. In another fight, you have an onslaught of attacks coming your way, all of which should be avoidable. However, because of how clumsily your character moves when you’re trying to be quick, such an attack will give you one second to respond but the jump you started before the attack takes 1.5 seconds to execute, leaving you completely vulnerable and unable to avoid the incoming damage. I’m not accurately conveying the huge rage fits I was having while screaming at the game. “FUCKING GRAB THE LEDGE!” “THE FUCK? THERE IS LITERALLY NO WAY FOR ME TO AVOID THAT!” “FUUUUUUCK!” It was approaching Angry Video Game Nerd levels.

I loved this game but there are some strong rage-inducing aspects that make me leery about suggesting it. At $15 it’s not a bad commitment and I’m sure they’re working on some updates. Definitely get the soundtrack, however; it’s pretty good.

Final thought, I won’t say that all of my rages above should be fixed but I’d to give a second chance review if the controls are fixed at the very least.


Valdis Story: Abyssal City was developed by Endless Fluff Games.

“Ruv…and hate…, they rike two blothers, who go on a date.” -Avenue Q.

The game’s $15.

Super Brain Eat 3

PlayStation Mobile is to the Vita what Xbox Live Indie Games is to the Xbox 360.  Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.  I wasn’t around for the early stages of XBLIG, but based on what I hear from my buddies Ryan, George, and Justin, the early days were nowhere near the desolate wasteland that PSM is turning into.  Looking at the slate of recent releases, nothing really has caught my fancy for it.  But then again, nothing really caught my eye on iPhone either.  My Vita has been getting a bit dusty though.  Nothing like my Wii U, which currently wears the same amount of dust as your average mummy.

Again, nothing looked like an attractive purchase, so I just sort of had to guess what might surprise me.  So I bet on Super Brain Eat 3.  Probably because it was only 49¢ and I’m like one of those people on their first trip to Vegas who eases into the experience by playing on the wussy tables.  You know, the ones typically occupied by silver-haired old ladies who try and fail to mask the stench of looming decomposition by coating their bodies in musk oil?  Yea, it was like that.  The game was developed by a dude named Thomas Hopper.  He’s the most prolific PSM developer, with six titles on the platform.  I already reviewed one of his, Super Skull Smash GO!  It was a decent little retro platzzle (I got “punisher” into the lexicon, and by gum, I’m going to get “platzzle” in it too), but it had a few problems.  I felt perhaps the game was too married to the retro concept, to the detriment of the controls and physics.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

I hadn’t played any of Thomas’ other games.  Skull Smash was easily his best looking title, in that it seemed like it would be fun from screen shots, which is really all you have to go off of on the PSM marketplace.  But what gave me cause to worry is that he was perhaps too prolific.  Like maybe he rushes through development too quickly on titles.   Thus, I set my expectations low for Super Brain Eat 3.  And who knows, maybe I set them too low, because I really did have a good time with it.  It’s a Pac-Man style maze game.  Eat brains, avoid ghosts.  You can get special potions that allow you to fire at enemies, or grant you the ability to destroy ghosts by coming in contact with them.  It also features spikes and various other traps on the floor, plus you have to return to the starting door once you eat all the brains on the stage.  Oh, and SBE3 is needlessly gory, with lots of blood splatters as you pick up the brains.  I’m guessing the aim of the developer was to invoke a Doom-like atmosphere into a Pac-Man style maze title.  Personally, I wish he had gone with a different theme and had a more Namco-like 80s skin on this one.  I believe gaming has evolved past the era where gore sells.  Retro is in, and on a platform where developers are struggling to sell on the same level that XBLIGs are, developers really need to do everything in their power to make a game stand out.  Going off screen-shots (which is all you can do on PSM.  No trailers, no demos), Super Brain Eat 3 looks like it would be boring and awful.  A potentially devastating first-impression, like beginning a first date by spelling out your name in Morse Code using armpit farts.

Having missed the era where 4/5ths of games attempted to be like Pac-Man, I’m not as burned out on these type of games as some of my readers seem to be.  Super Brain Eat 3 is genuinely fun and mostly a well-designed title with lots of great ideas at work here.  Sure, the AI is completely brain-dead.  Fitting I suppose, since they are ghosts, which means they’re dead-dead.  They’re so dumb that it should hurt the game, but because they’re vulnerable to the spikes on the floor, you can manipulate them into killing themselves.  I love it.  It takes a potentially negative aspect and makes it beneficial, rewarding, and hilarious.  Enemies that are somewhere off-screen are marked with indicators on the screen’s edge, and you’ll often see them just randomly die.  It never stops being funny.  It also explains how they ended up as ghosts in the first place.

You get a pretty decent amount of levels in Super Brain Eat 3, plus there’s actually two free level packs coming soon.  I would still give the “best game on PSM” nod to OMG-Zombies! or Cubixx, but I think the best value on the platform firmly belongs to Super Brain Eat 3.  It’s only 49 cents.  Nobody would have faulted the developer for releasing those level packs as spinoffs, but he’s giving them away!  Super Brain Eat 3 is not perfect by any means.  The control is a bit on the loose side, which sometimes led to me going a step further than I meant to.  My biggest gripe, and it’s so rare for me to harp on this, is the graphics.  The game looks bad in screen-shots, and only slightly better in motion.  The environments are sterile and there isn’t any variety in the settings.  The level packs look like they will ease that a bit, but not by much.  There are lots of greys, stark reds, and pale greens.  The game itself isn’t boring, but the graphics almost make it feel like it is.  The graphic style does occasionally get in the way too.  The retractable spikes on the floor, for example, are the same color as the floor is.  In a way, it’s heart breaking.  It would be like having an amazing script for a movie and then finding out they’ve cast Ashton Kutcher in the lead and all the monster effects will be done using Play-Doh.

It's ironic that the spikes don't stick out.

It’s ironic that the spikes don’t stick out.

I alternated between thinking the game was rushed or thinking the developer was lazy.  Do you know why that sucks?  Because it drowned out the thoughts of how talented the developer was.  Super Brain Eat 3 is a good game, but it doesn’t look like it will be.  I had six friends who own Vitas (I think this represents 8% of all Vita owners world-wide) look at this title in the store.  They all agreed it would be a bad game.  The trailer did nothing to diminish that thought.  It looks sloppy.  It looks ugly.  It seems to yell “I will be a terrible!”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I promise you, Super Brain Eat 3 is worth at least a buck.  It’s unquestionably worth $0.49.  Which I believe is about double the game’s art budget.

Seal of Approval LargeSuper Brain Eat 3 was developed by TACS Games

$0.49 also couldn’t stand the out-of-place, generic metal sound track in the making of this review.  Developers, you really need to select better music for your games.  Cheap plug: we had an interview on this very site with award-winning composer James Hannigan that discussed that.  Give it a read.

Super Brain Eat 3 is Chick Approved.  And no, apparently there is no Super Brain Eat 1 or 2.  That’s another bone-headed development decision.  I’m guessing it was done to be funny.  Instead, it makes it seem like there’s a whole series of games that got no attention, possibly because they were no good.  How could a game that is so good not get one thing right artistically?  Horrible name.  Ugly graphics.  Very enjoyable game.  You should get it. 

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