The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Best Video Games Ever

I used to play a lot of video games back in the glory days of the classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. I'm still of the opinion that the average NES game is far superior to anything that has been produced subsequently. This is partially due to the fact that I am terrible at those "first person shooter" games like Halo and Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, but it's also partially due to the fact that I don't really have time for video games anymore. I can't remember that last time I actually turned on one of my video game systems.

I always used to get a few video games for Christmas. My mom was a pro at landing the most popular titles of the season for me, even going so far as to allegedly bribe the Toys R Us workers on occasion. For this I am eternally grateful. I may suck at modern video games, but I was an absolute stud at the old NES (by which I mean I was a giant nerd). I could beat Mike Tyson with my eyes closed (it's not as hard as it sounds, he follows the same routine every time you fight him), I played Ikari Warriors all the way though even though it had a bug that would make you become randomly trapped forever, and my fingers were fast enough to play Track and Field to the point that the score reset. In short, I spent way too much time on the stupid thing, which makes me especially qualified to pick out the best games ever made.

I won't restrict the following list just to the NES, even though the NES was truly great. That would ignore the whole Madden series, arcade games, etc. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best video games in history (if history ends in the year 2000, with the Playstation, which it does).

10. Contra (NES)

I bet I've played Contra through to the end about 1000 times, sometimes with the code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select (for 2 players) start), and sometimes without. Contra has a great plot. Fierce aliens have invaded the Earth's most inhospitable regions, and the government has dispatched two commandos without shirts or automatic weapons to fight off this threat. Fortunately the Aliens have apparently stashed superior weapons in helpful boxes throughout their territory, which allows you some chance of survival.

Contra moved from a 2D side scroller, to a first person shooter seamlessly, although it is worth pointing out that one of your enemies in the first person portion of the game does jumping splits across the screen. This may be the reason that the aliens were ultimately unsuccessful.

Best Part: The vertical Water Fall, which created tension between you and your partner. If you didn't move fast enough, you were dead. Of course, this is a double edged sword, as Contra allowed you to steal a life from your partner in the even that you died.

Worst Part: The Fireball Gun. What is the point?

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

You show up to the arcade to play your daily dose of Narc or Super Monaco GP, and what do you find in the prime-time up front location, but this for player masterpiece. Featuring a killer soundtrack, state of the art graphics (at the time), a huge screen, and four player action, TMNT spawned about ten million clones while making every "rented out arcade" birthday party a fantastic experience.

Without TMNT, there is no Simpsons game, no Final Fight, and no Avengers (OK, so it wouldn't be all bad. Avengers was a TMNT style game in which you could play as Iron Man, Captain America, Vision, or Hawkeye. It may be the single worst game of this genre ever created. Just terrible all around. You really have to see it to believe it).

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that TMNT wouldn't exist without Double Dragon, but while DD is similarly classic it is inferior in several respects:

1. It is very slow.

2. The bad guys are ruled by a character named Willy. Willy is the only member of the gang with a machine gun. I always thought that this gang would have benefited from laying off a few people and buying a few more machine guns.

3. The jump-kick is far too effective, and set off a trend in which the jump-kick is too powerful in all similar games. See: Bad Dudes, P.O.W. I also blame Jean-Claude Van Damme for this.

4. The TMNT movies are superior in every way to the Double Dragon Movie (except for Allysa Milano), from their inclusion of Vanilla Ice, to the excellent song "9.95." Good stuff.

8. WWF Wrestlefest (Arcade)

I don't like wrestling, but I can say without hyperbole that this is the best wrestling video game ever made. It was a great 4 player party game, it moved nice and quickly, and it had an excellent roster: Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, The Earthquake, The Big Boss Man, Sergeant Slaughter, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Mr.Perfect, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Demolition: Axe and Smash, and The Legion Of Doom: Hawk and Animal.

The game was a 4 player arcade game and you played mainly in a Royal Rumble format. The best part was when you managed to weaken someone enough to use a finishing move, especially if that finishing move was the Earthquake's, which involved jumping really high, and landing, butt first, on the fallen guy's chest.

This particular move took a long time to pull off, and it was inescapable, which made it all the more excruciating for your opponent. Just a well put together party game that has never been equaled.

I've always thought that it should be easy to make a good wrestling game. After all, wrestling is fake, and that is a major restriction on it. But video games can allow characters to pull off moves that would normally kill someone. You're freed from typical wrestling conventions. Why this seldom translates into a good fighting game is beyond me.

7.Baseball Stars (NES)

Baseball Stars is, without question, the greatest sports video game not to carry an official MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL license. It is also the forefather of all sports games that allow you to design your own players.

In Baseball Stars you start with a team of varying skills. You get to pick a specialty (big hitters, consistent hitters, good pitchers, a few others, and my favorite, "veterans") but that's it. You then set up a league and play games against other teams. With the revenue taken at the gate you can upgrade your players.

The gameplay is fantastic with some of the most realistic fielding in any baseball game ever. The most dominant team in the game is the American Dreams, featuring "Babe," "Hank," and "Pete," and they are truly awesome.

It was very satisfying to build up a team of dominant players over time, and until the most recent Madden games, no one had pulled off the "upgradeable player" model as well as this simple little Nintendo game.

6. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

When the NES first arrived on the scene, there hadn't been a significant advancement in video game creativity in years. Most games were played only on one screen. They were very repetitive, with only minor changes on every level. Pacman is an excellent example. Super Mario Brothers changed all of this by introducing an action game with definitive goals, a definitive ending, and widely varying levels.

Then Zelda was released and took it up another level. Zelda combined the best elements of role-playing games like Final Fantasy (which had yet to be invented) and Super Mario Brother, blending mind-bending puzzles with constant hack-and-slash action. And it was a blast to play.

The atmosphere in the dungeons is genuinely creepy, the weapons at your disposal are unique and fun (I love the boomerang), and the game is HUGE, featuring two completely separate quests, both of which are engrossing. Zelda is actually more like Grand Theft Auto than most people realize. Sure there are quests in Zelda, but in general the world is open ended, and allows you a great deal of creativity.

No one really created another game like Zelda for years, and few have done it as well.

5. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (NES)

This game is great for several reasons.

1. It featured a rapist as its final boss.

2. It freely utilized all manner of ethnic stereotypes, from an alcoholic Russian, to a turban-wearing Indian, to an Asian guy who used broken Engrish, to the obviously gay "Super Macho Man."

3. At the time, the graphics were jaw-dropping. Even in the commercials (Now you're playing with Power!), this game looked truly impressive. Big characters and bright colors; what more could you want?

4. Your character was a "little person" (which allowed you to see your opponent without your character getting in the way. Much better than the transparent green guy from the arcade).

5. Mike Tyson licensed himself into a game in which he could be defeated by a "little person."

6. The code to get immediately to Mike Tyson is still stuck in my head. It's 007-373-5963. This may also be Mike Tyson's Social Security Number.

I'd still rather play this than almost any other fighting game, and you will search long and hard before you find a superior boxing game: Ring King, Super Action Rocky, Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing, Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing (yes, this game really exists). Your best bet is "Legends of the Ring," but Punch-Out will always be the champ.

4. Castlevania

Not only is this game great, but many of its sequels are also great The Playstation sequel, Symphony of the Night, is probably the system's finest game, and I've always had a soft spot for Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, because it used Moonlight Sonata as it's theme, and it stumped me for about a month at one point.

Castlevania's story is the culmination of a strong human desire to have every movie monster in one place at the same time. They tried it in the Munsters, and they tried it in Monster Squad, but no one succeeded until Castlevania.

Dracula has apparently started renting his place out to other monsters, including two mummies, Frankenstein's Monster and Igor, (no Dr. Frankenstein, though) Medusa (Clash of the Titans must be responsible for this), and even Death himself. You play Simon Belmont, a vampire slayer who has decided that stakes and swords are inferior to the humble whip. Fortunately, as is often the case, Dracula has scattered boomerangs, axes, holy water grenades, time-stopping devices, and useless daggers all around the castle to help you out. He has also left out a few steak dinners, and bags of money with dollar signs on them.

The passage through the clock tower, and the final, silent climb up the staircase to the tower still ranks as one of the greatest moments in video game history, and just when you think that Dracula is going to be a big pushover he turns into a giant white demon thing that is much faster than you are. One of the most challenging and rewarding games ever made.

3. Super Mario Bros. 3

SMB2 was a bit of a disappointment. It was completely different from the first game, and, as it turned out, it was not a Mario game when it was first released in Japan. SMB3 brought everything back as it should be. This is obviously the best Mario game.

It's fun, it looks great, and it is used in the finale of the Fred Savage masterpiece, "The Wizard." SMB3 took platform gaming to a new level. It introduced powerups like the Hammer Bros. suits, the raccoon tail, and even a giant green boot that you could ride in. The worlds vary greatly, the characters are big and colorful, and they respond well to your controls. Every platformer released since that moment owes a debt of gratitude to this game for setting the standard.

2. NHL 95 (Genesis)

Most people prefer NHL 94. These people are crazy. NFL 95 had several important advantages over it's predecessor:

1. The acceleration button in 95 makes your player go in the correct direction. In 94 it made your player go the way that he was facing regardless of the situation. It was cumbersome.

2. While the cheap wrap-around trick works in both games, if you have penalties turned on it doesn't work quite as well in 95.

3. 95 allows you the opportunity to win the Lady Bing trophy. I can't say enough about this feature.

4. I'm not sure about 94, but I believe that 95 was the first 4-player compatible hockey game for Genesis.

5. Exception: I believe that 94 was the last year that EA had fighting in the game. Boo to that decision.

Hockey games have a very positive history in video game lore. NES Ice Hockey, with the skinny guy, the medium guy, and the fat guy, is still a fantastic play, as is Konami's Blades of Steel, but Hockey peaked with NHL 95.

1. Tecmo Super Bowl

Finally, I could play a football game that included Don Majkowski, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Haddix, Keith Woodside, Perry Kemp, Ed West, and Jackie Harris. TSB was the first football game to get everything just right. It had real rosters, it kept season stats, and it had legends like QB Eagles, QB Bills, and QB Browns. It even had cheerleaders.

It took everything good from Tecmo Bowl and fixed everything that was wrong. Once I rushed for 3000 yards with Otis Anderson, and he missed 4 games that year (Dave Megget filled in admirably). Everyone has a TSB story like that.

And you actually knew the players, from Lawrence Taylor's ability to block all place kicks, to Sammy Smith's constant fumbling, to neon Deion's constant interceptions. And, of course, if you were leading the 49ers by less than a TD with under 2 minutes to go and they had the ball, you were screwed.

It's still fun to play to this day, and I'm shocked that it hasn't shown up as a bonus feature on some other game. Subsequent TSB games are uniformly terrible, but this one was perfect.

Honorable mention:

Tetris (Multi)
Aerobiz (Multi)
PilotWings (SNES)
Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl (Arcade)
Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
Final Fantasy 7 (Playstation)
Pro Wrestling (NES, Which has the same theme song as Nintendo Baseball for some reason.)
RBI Baseball (NES)
Bubble Bobble (NES)
Madden, in general. (Multi)
Super Dodgeball (NES)
Super Bomberman 2 (SNES)

If you're curious, the worst 5 games ever are:

5. Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball (SNES)
4. Fraction Fever (ColecoVision)
3. Revolution X (Arcade)
2. Urban Champion (NES)
1. Custer's Revenge (Atari 2600)


  • Let's not be to hard on Sodapopinski. After all, it's just soda.

    NHL 93 (genesis) will always remain a top my list of best hockey games. Fighting and bleeding heads are all I need.

    Granted Evanderholyfield's Real Deal Boxing (Genesis) does not compare to Punchout, however, the ability to train and develop your fighter made me burn countless hours of my adolescence.

    Since I do consider myself an expert on such matters, I will point out an omission to the list: X-men (arcade) circa 1993. Along the same lines as TMNT (arcade), this multi-player epic masterpiece included no less than 5 original x-men characters and their ass kicking powers. The best of which was Nightcrawler who, bending the rules of his "cross-dimensional teleporting" ability, would zig-zag across the screen in a sparkling blur destroying what lie in the way.

    I'm going to stop writing now.

    By Anonymous mike, at 3:44 PM  

  • Are you like me and wish that someone would take the video games that appear in episodes of the Simpsons ("Larry The Looter", "Save Hitler's Brain", "Billy Graham's Bible Blaster", "Hockey Dad", etc.) and make them into full-fledged releases for various home gaming systems?

    By Blogger dhodge, at 4:03 PM  

  • Good list. I highly agree, although I'd put Zelda higher, SM3 & Punchout lower.
    Unfortunately, I think it shows how old & outdated we are.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 4:16 PM  

  • "Got him!"

    "No, you only winged him. now he's a Unitarian."

    Dhodge, that is a fantastic idea. I'm shocked that it hasn't happened yet.

    Mike, they lose points for Collossus's special attack. He turns back into a human, back into a metal guy, and yells. That's it. This hurts people for some reason.

    They needed more variety in their special attacks.

    Still a very good game, but it wouldn't have existed without TMNT.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 4:18 PM  

  • i dont know why , but still today i love horizontal scrolling Mario game.

    its just too cool.sometimes i play halo , doom , but the simplicity and fun in those old game is just fantastic. btw i play Contra also


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:33 PM  

  • No Oregon Trail? Come on.

    By Blogger Mathew, at 5:11 PM  

  • It's a good list but you left off a few games that I think deserve at least honorable mention and that I'm surprised you didn't include. I know you spent ridiculous amounts of time playing:
    -Super Dodgeball (NES)(This is also the one and only game that I could occasionally beat Paul at).
    -Super Bomberman 2 (SNES)

    My favorite games came a bit later. I wasn't as into the NES and SNES mostly because when we had these Paul always hogged them and if I played something against him he would just kick my ass. My favorites:
    -Rock and Roll Racing (SNES)
    -Mariocart 64 (N64)
    -NBA Hangtime (N64)

    Also, Paul really could beat Tyson with his eyes closed. I think he could also beat most of the levels in Contra (I believe "Ice Field" and "The Hanger" were the exceptions) with his eyes closed without losing a life.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 5:27 PM  

  • Damn you beat me to the punch Paul. After my Doom / Quake post it became obvious that I needed to do an old-school gaming post or three.

    Personally I liked The Simpsons arcade game best. I think that it may have come between TMNT and X-Men but whipping ass with Bart's skateboard after flying in as Bartman was priceless. I also liked Captain America and the Avengers better than X-Men as well.

    I was also a HUGE Street Fighter II fan. All the way up to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 these games have combined to pull the equivalent of one year of my current salary out of my pocket. Honorable mention to Mortal Kombat.

    The SNES Mario Kart is one of the greatest sinks of time ever conceived in any medium. As a freshman in college, when I wasn't kicking butt in Street Fighter or Dooming my way out of hell I was taking down all of the suckas on the 4th floor of my dorm in Mario Kart battle mode. These were by far more brutal than the confrontations made possible by that "other" MK.

    Dragon Warrior was the first RPG that I ever played with graphics and it blew me away. I was used to AD&D and the text-based ones on my Commodore Vic 20. Dragon Warrior VIII just came out and I'm seriously considering the purchase.

    Final Fantasy VI (III in the states) was a triumph in RPG storytelling.

    Baseball Stars was indeed the lick as it was the first game to feature stat tracking as well. I remember cheating by setting up my custom team in a league with the "Lovely Ladies" in a 2-player game and then using the second controller to walk all of the hitters on my team to induce a called game. For some reason, it paid more than any other team to beat them in league play and I would stack up all kinds of cash to upgrade my team.

    Of course the one player that I wouldn't walk was the cleanup hitter "Rashid" in order to give him an opportunity in every game to hit a grand slam.

    Ahh those were the days.

    I'm also glad to see Tecmo Super Bowl get its props. These new jacks want to act like Madden is the end all be all but for us OGs Tecmo Super Bowl was where real video game pigskin began. I beg to differ on Super Tecmo Bowl though, I thought that it was a decent game.

    I bought Madden 06 for my PC a few weeks ago and man have these things gotten complicated.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 6:59 PM  

  • There was a time when I was obsessed with NFL Blitz, but overall I think Punchout is probably my all-time favorite. Looking back on it, there was a pretty major flaw in that there was a pretty easy technique to beat every guy: Bald Bull you just had to dodge his bull charge and then hit him, Great Tiger had that little light on his turban that flashed right before he threw a punch, etc. But in those pre-Internet days you had to figure those things out for yourself, and that was a lot of fun.

    By Blogger MDS, at 9:49 AM  

  • Mathew, Oregon Trail gets it's own separate post:

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 9:59 AM  

  • Rashid,

    I shouldn't have left out Mario Kart, but when you limit yourself to ten, you're going to have some casualties. The Simpsons was quite excellent, but it didn't improve on the TMNT formula enough for me to move it up. You liked the Avengers? The only good thing about that game is the hilarious way that The Vision walks.

    I love Street Fighter 2, but I don't think I'd go back and play it. One time I won 20 buck off a kid at the mall of America who was playing as Zangief. He was dominant and won about 15 matches in a row.

    I took Ryu and chucked fireballs at him for the whole match. He was pretty pissed and called me a cheap fighter. I simply told him that in the game of competitive street fighting, "giant fireballs" always beat "no giant fireballs," and if he has a problem with that, he should pick a different character.

    FF3 was pretty sweet. Cyan, Sabin, Celeste, et al. Very deep. I actually think that FF2 (Note: All numbers American) was underrated. I like all those old RPGs, including Dragon Warrior.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:05 AM  

  • That was a lot of fun. It was a big revelation when I figured out that the strategy for defeating Mr. Sandman was basically the same as the strategy for beating King Hippo (Weight: ???).

    One annoying development in videogaming is the necessity of buying a strategy guide to complete ecertain games. It's big business these days, and it's made gaming unecessarily complicated.

    I dig NFL Blitz. Dorsey Levens is ridiculous in that game. In this year's version they lost the NFL license (now an EA monopoly) so they put LT's name on it and increased the level of violence a hundred fold.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:51 AM  

  • I couldn't have picked a more deserving NES game to be #1 than Super Tecmo Bowl. I spent more time playing that game than just about any other in history.

    3000 yards with Otis Anderson, eh? Impressive! I remember one of my goals was to have players from one team lead the league in passing, rushing, and receiving (not as easy as it sounds due to the fact that it didn't take to much to get injured.) After numerous tries with multiple teams I pulled it off with John Elway and Bobby Humphrey (both rushing and receiving) was truly a glorious moment.

    Any love out there for the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super NES?

    By Anonymous Spenser, at 11:05 AM  

  • Good beginnning here...for some of my personal favs, I enjoyed Elevator Action (Taito?) and Rush N' Attack (Konami). Elevator Action I could not get past the 4th level, no matter how hard I tried...

    Rush N' Attack seemed to confuse many with its title name. With fears of the Cold War not quite faded away, I think many young kids (at least my circle of young gamers) thought this was "Russian Attack" which could have even been a deliberate play by Konami. Either way it could have been just me but I know my default spelling of the game in my head was the latter until actually seeing it spelled out on the box.

    By Anonymous Scotty, at 11:10 AM  

  • Link to the Past was a great game too. Really, all of the Zelda games except for The Adventure of Link, and anything that was produced for the CD-I, are uniformly outstanding.

    Scotty, I'm a fan of all old Konami games, although Rush n Attack wasn't my favorite. Couldn't we afford guns instead of those stupid knives? And it was clearly a play on words, back in the days when you could find cold war shadows in the background of every game. Even Super Dodge Ball features a team of dominant and gruf Soviets.

    Gradius and Life Force were both quite good, as was the afforementioned Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear, Double Dribble (especially the cartoonish 3-pointer sound), Track n' Field, Blades of Steel, Skate or Die!, Goonies II, Defender of the Crown (Wolfric the Wild, good stuff), and Top Gun, although I could never land. Actually, Top Gun sucked. Scratch that.

    And they also mad that terrible Bayou Billy game.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:58 PM  

  • I'm glad to see my friends and I are not the only ones who still hold NHL 95 so high.

    By Blogger B and T Crowd, at 9:57 AM  

  • No love for NBA Jam? That game single-handedly got me back into the arcade after years of not caring. Talk about ushering a new "bright colors and big characters" style of gameplay, that was it. NBA Jam was the sole reason I ever bought a Sega Genesis -- well, until NHL 95 came out, then I was just glad I already had a Genesis. I was a monster with Calgary. I had epic battles with one college roommate who was always Detroit. We even banned the bastard goal in our games (probably what you're referring to as the wraparound -- just skating across the crease with a backhand shot on the far side of the net/goalie). I actually bought one of these at the end of June this year: Unfortunately, it doesn't have player names -- only numbers.

    I have the Tyson code written across the top of my beer club card at the bar and no one has guessed what it is yet. Yet even with the code, I never beat him straight-up (did it with the Game Genie though).

    There are other games I'm surprised didn't show up. You did mention Double Dribble and Mario Cart later. Tron, Dig Dug, Ye-Ar Kung-Fu. The Track-and-field game at the arcade. Not all necessarily great games, but games I spent many hours playing (not that Tank, Frogger, Pitfall, and Pac-Man wouldn't fall into those categories also). There was one other game at the arcade, too, that I always played. Some game with a translucent or transparent tank and you had to go around destroying other tanks. And I knew alot of people that got into Donkey Kong Kountry on SNES. I'm forgetting a few that came to mind when I was reading the original post, too.

    And the only game of the current era that I can say is just great to play on a console is GTA3. I'm sure Vice City is ok, introducing motorcycles, and I have San Andreas, but it's just way too complicated. It sure is fun to whip around on motorcycles though. But GTA3 is probably the only game I've beaten (not re-beaten -- I can still whip through Super Mario Bros) in over 10 years. I got within about two missions of beating Starcraft, but then gave that up, too. It took me over two years to get back in and finish GTA3, but it was fun the first time, and it was fun when I came back to finish it later. (FYI: don't bother getting the FBI car -- they actually kinda suck -- a police car is much more durable, and mafia sentinels handle better.)

    By Anonymous mitch, at 10:17 AM  

  • It sounds like we could round up a pretty good NHL 95 tourney with this crowd.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 10:20 AM  

  • Indeed, but first a Tecmo Super Bowl tourney is in order.

    NBA Jam was a nice little game, but the blatant computer cheating got on my nerves. I know that it accurately reflected the real
    NBA in this regard, but still, very annoying.

    On the original arcade game, if you press all of the buttons and hold all of the controllers down during the matchup screen you get to play a weird tank game.

    And in conclusion, 5 words:

    Blue Edwards and Brad Lohaus.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:12 AM  

  • *This post has been sitting on my work desktop unsubmitted for 2 days*

    Man, your post made me whip out the emulators and have some fun last night. I played the Simpson's (Arcade), Baseball Stars Pro / Pro 2 which are just unbelievably awesome but don't have the custom team features (Neo Geo), Mario Kart 64 (N64), Legendary Axe (TurboGrafx 16), and Splatterhouse (TG16). Man, Emulation is just heaven for any classic gamer.

    Did you know that Final Fantasy II US is actually about 60% of the original games plot (FFIV in Japan)? There was also a lot of editing done to the content. Like there is a place early in the game in the US version where a woman takes off her hat and dances around before jumping in this lake and sticking her leg out. In the original version she takes off her clothes and dances in a bikini. A group of people actually translated the original game a few years back and released a ROM for it. I played partially through it but I just don't have the time to burn like I used to. Still it's an interesting factoid.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 4:26 PM  

  • Your list is too biased towards the 8 bit medium. Please take the time to read my personal top 10 list:

    By Blogger Matthew, at 9:17 AM  

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