Story: Always Good To Meet A Fan

Adam and Leah stood in the back of the viewing line. There were a few dozen people ahead of them, all to see the woman in the casket at the front of the room.

“I think this turned out well.” Adam said.
“I hope so,” Leah said, “I did what I could, given the time constraints.”
“All for someone you know nothing about.”
“I didn’t do this for Corey. I did this for her daughter.”
“Dana is grateful, I’m sure. She’d probably say so herself if she wasn’t out in the courtyard.”
“I sincerely-“ Leah was interrupted by a woman tapping her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me. Are you Leah Arcast?” the woman asked.

Leah took a look at the woman. Leah had never seen this woman in her life.

“Why, yes, I am.” Leah said.
“I thought so. I wanted to let you know that I was a huge fan of Repeat Defender.”
“That’s good to know. Thanks for watching.”

Adam looked at the unknown woman.
“Sorry to interrupt, but Leah and I are kind of in the middle of something.” Adam said.

The woman nodded.
“That’s fine. I’ll be waiting.”

The woman left the viewing line. Adam glared at her as she sat in a seat near the room’s exit. When the woman took her seat, Adam turned back to Leah.

“Really?” Adam asked.
“I thought that would be over after the show got cancelled. But USA loves to re-run their shows non-stop.” Leah said.
“How did she even get in? There’s a friggin’ bouncer at the door.” Adam asked.
“They always do.” Leah said.
“It’s a funeral, for Christ’s sake. People should have some respect.” Adam said.

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Story: The Android At The Edge of The Bar.

After finishing his second cocktail, a slightly drunk bar patron made his way towards a beautiful woman at the edge of the bar. She was wearing a bright red dress, and her blonde hair seemed to blend in with the florescent lights above her.

The patron made his way to the woman, stumbling slightly.

“Goddamn. The hell is someone like you doing in a place like this?” the patron asked.

The bartender walked over to the area where the woman was sitting.

“Don’t bother.” said the bartender.
“Hey man, if I want another drink, I’ll ask. Mind your own business-”
“She’s an android.”
“What?”
“A robot. Sort of.”
“What? Really?”
“Yep. Bought her on Monday. She makes the bar look nice, doesn’t she?”

The man looked at the woman, who looked up at him and waved.

“Can she talk?” the man asked.

“Nah, not yet,” the bartender said, “Still waiting on the bit that makes her speak. The company back-ordered it on me. She can do sign language, though I’ll be damned if I know what she’s saying.”

The woman signed something to the bartender. He looked at her with a blank stare. She signed again, to no avail.

An older woman from the other side of the bar saw the sign the android was making. She spoke up.

“She’s asking for a pen and paper.” said the older woman.

The bartender grabbed a pen from his front pocket and an old receipt from a nearby garbage can.

“Here ya go.” said the bartender, passing the items to the android.

The android scribbled something down on the paper. After finishing, she proceeded to get up from her chair and walk towards the exit, pausing only to toss the pen at the bartender, who was still trying to comprehend what was going on.

“What does it say?” asked the drunk patron, pointing to the piece of paper.

The bartender looked at the paper. In flawless print, it read:

To hell with this.

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Story: A Guide to Ending a Relationship.

(This story has a fair bit of swearing in it. This was intentional, to give the speaker a bit of a personality where there wouldn’t otherwise be any. Just a heads up. I try to do less of it in real life, of course.)

Your girlfriend will take you to an office Christmas party. It’s full of cops. You don’t really like cops. But you’ll forget about it for her, because despite the shorter hair, the badge on her chest and the gun at her hip, She’s still essentially the same girl you met at that Radiohead concert in 1995, back when The Bends was the most avant-garde work they ever put out.

While slow jazz music plays in the background, your girlfriend will tell you that she’s got some bad news. A bullet grazed her right hip last night. She’s not hurt, but the chief wants her to get out of the field for a while. They want your girlfriend to take a desk job. She will ask you for your opinion. Say that you’d be glad to make money without being at risk to be killed. She will respond with two words.

“Fuck it.”

Your girlfriend will order two screwdrivers from the bar. One with vanilla vodka, the other with Ketel One. The latter is yours. Be sure to order another after the first one is done. Your girlfriend will have a few more drinks, most of them involving ever-increasing amounts of whiskey. You will keep up her pace. It has never been too hard.

The next morning, your bed will be destroyed, and clothes will be scattered around your bedroom. Most importantly, you will feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Well, that’s not accurate, as getting hit by a truck feels quite different, but it’s the only thing you can think of that describes the hangover that you feel.

Clean the room up while you call your girlfriend. She won’t answer. Leave a message with the dispatch officer.

A week will pass. You’ll wonder why your girlfriend hasn’t contacted you. Later, a voicemail message will be left on your phone, from your girlfriend. It’ll sound something like this:

“Asshole! You are a goddamn asshole! I sincerely fucking regret every hour I spent with you, you fucking jerk! If I ever see you again, I will fucking kill you, and you can fucking count on that!”

You won’t understand why she is mad, and it’ll hurt. After sitting at the bar for a few hours, you will come to the conclusion that something must have happened at the Christmas party. Either way, it’ll be time to do what you always do when something like this happens. You should go to Walgreens to get a Whitman’s sampler and a bottle of wine, but you should leave the wine at the counter and swap it for a card. Your girlfriend always loved getting those when you were first going out. Maybe another can help.

On the way to her apartment, you take the highway to beat traffic. A guy driving a Mack truck will decide to pull up alongisde you.

When the paramedics pull you out of the wreckage, you probably won’t be able to feel your right arm. You sure as hell won’t be able to hear a sound, save your girlfriend, screaming at the top of her lungs. It sounds like “Good fucking God! Jesus fucking Christ! What the fuck happened!?”

But you can’t know for sure, since it’ll all bleed together after a while.

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Essay: Buying a Nintendo 64.

I first saw the Nintendo 64 in-person at a friend’s house. They had managed to get one near the launch, and I was infinitely jealous, like any child would have been. It’s a very annoying feeling. Suddenly, everything I owned at that point wasn’t quite worth it. No matter how many games I played on the Super Nintendo, the N64 was still beyond my reach. And that meant that I needed it more than I needed anything else in my then-short life.

Of course, I asked my parents for one. I remember my mom saying that there was no way I could get one, since the N64’s launch of September ’96 was already a month after my birthday. My dad, hearing this, basically decided that no son of his would go without the latest and greatest thing, and thus he decided that I would get a N64 the next day.

I think my dad was more excited than I was, to be honest. He was always a fan of gadgets and technology. Hell, he bought my mom a Nintendo Entertainment System back when they were still dating. From what I know, apparently one of the barbacks at the bar my dad worked at was ranting and raving about how awesome Super Mario Bros. was, and that got my dad interested. Oddly enough, this was where he drew the line with buying games and playing them himself, since he didn’t buy much else until I was born.

My dad didn’t necessarily care about video games on their own. He cared because I cared.

The next day, I got to go to Montgomery Ward to get a N64. I don’t quite know why we went there to get it, but I’m sure it had something to do with my mom shopping around for the best prices. She always had a knack for finding sales, and just as much of a knack for refusing to buy things when they weren’t on sale. I know that if she had been mistaken and the Nintendo 64s were priced $5 higher than whatever catalog had listed prices, I probably wouldn’t have gone home with a console that day.

Of course, my dad bought the everloving hell out of the last Nintendo 64 in the store. We had a choice of two games: Super Mario 64, or Pilotwings 64. I chose the former, because I wasn’t an idiot.

Now, Pilotwings 64 was a great game. It just had the distinction of being the “other” launch title for the N64. As in, it was the one that people either bought second or not at all. Mario 64 was groundbreaking. Pilotwings was, essentially, a sports game, which eventually get relegated to bargain bins and dust-covered shelves.

I remember booting up Mario 64 for the first time very distinctly. My dad had a lot of trouble hooking the console up because getting to the composite AV ports on the back of our rear-projection TV was such a back-breaking effort that I almost mean that in a literal sense.

My dad, a man who said “Fuck you.” to doctors who said he would never walk again after having his spine crushed by a fuel tank in the Marine Corps, a man who threw his wheelchair out into a busy intersection of South Boston once he found out that he wasn’t completely paralyzed from the waist down, was more or less beaten by a poorly-placed AV port on the back of a television. Luckily he wasn’t hurt too badly. We solved this problem in the traditional way, by never hooking up the N64 to another television in the house ever again.

Super Mario 64’s opening is what my dad loved the most about the game. Hearing the “It’s-a me, Mario!” voice clip must have been more amazing for him than it was for me. Yes, video games had voice before this. But Mario didn’t, at least not on a home console. That opening line paved the way for a truly next-generation experience that was a real step above what was capable on Nintendo’s other consoles.

The N64 controller took a lot of getting used to. I remember taking a while to get used to the fact that the analog stick controlled movement, not the D-pad.

I don’t really play Mario 64 anymore. It’s still a great game, it’s just one that hasn’t aged as gracefully as other Mario games. I always think of my dad when I do find the time to play it, though. And looking at the Nintendo 64 kind of makes me wish that Montgomery Ward didn’t go bankrupt…

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SNES Quick Look: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Go Go.

Here we go.

I have a soft spot for this series. Mostly ’cause I watched the everloving hell out of it for two years of my childhood. I had more of the toys than any one child should own, and I even had the fan club kit that came with color-coded shoelaces. I got green laces. Get like me.

That said, there is a very good reason I have no desire to watch the show today, other than the obvious “I am an adult with adult responsibilities” excuse that everyone else uses. The show itself is incredibly hard to watch, since it was made with a low budget and relied heavily on stock footage from a then-recent season of a long-running Japanese television series. It’s obvious Saban cut corners with with MMPR in a lot of bad ways. The plots were simple and wafer-thin, since they only really existed to get to the parts with the fighting and the giant robot/monster explosions.

But Power Rangers didn’t need to be The Wire. It needed to be exactly what it was, an action-packed television show. It’s kind of amazing how well the series has done, since it’s been going strong for 20+ years. This low-budget American/Japanese hybrid has become a pop culture firestorm.

Mostly, I remember the SNES game, because it’s really, really well done.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was developed by Natsume and published by Bandai. Natsume is known today for the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory franchises, but on the SNES it produced a ton of underrated gems like Wild Guns, Pocky & Rocky, and Ninja Warriors.

Think of MMPR as the entry-level Ninja Warriors. It’s got a similar style, albeit simplified so anyone can play it. Actually, I think MMPR blows Ninja Warriors out of the water.

What is the plot of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, you ask? Let me show you:

Five motherfuckin' teenagers with five motherfuckin' attitudes.

After 10,000 years, Rita Repulsa has escaped from her space-prison. A magical blue head-in-a-jar named Zordon recruits five teenagers ‘with attitude’ to take on Rita and her army of weekly monsters.

I really wish I was making any of that up or embellishing it in any way.

No Green Ranger? Bullshit, man!

You can select your favorite character in this game, which is pretty cool. Each ranger plays pretty much the same, but they have different weapons, which can change things up a bit. Pick a favorite color, and jump in! For the purposes of this post, I chose Zack, the Black Ranger.

Just another day in downtown Fort Myers.

(Yes, the Black Ranger is played by an African-American man, and the Yellow Ranger was played by an Asian-American woman. Apparently, the producers didn’t realize that people could see that as being racially-insensitive until roughly episode 10 or so.)

You start the level beating up a bunch of palette-swapped mooks. This game follows the Turtes In Time style of having the same enemy colored differently to show difficulty or to show that it has a special skill. In the first level, all these guys are basically harmless.

In stores now, kids!

At the halfway point, you get a glimpse of the boss. You then get to see what we’ve all been waiting for:

I totally wanted a morpher as a kid.

A sweet morphing sequence! This turns you into the actual Power Ranger.

He's more of a grey Ranger, here...

Where you can promptly kick ass and take names. You also get a unique weapon for each Ranger. The Black Ranger uses an axe. Sometimes it’s a gun, but right now it’s definitely an axe.

After beating the hell out of endless foot soldiers and platforming through rough terrain (though not much of it), you get an encounter with the boss of that level, like the monster of the week on the show. Beat him, and you’ve got another level to conquer. The end of the game even shifts genres a little bit, turning into a fighting game to simulate the Megazord combat from the show (That segment even spun off into its’ own game: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Fighting Edition. But that’s another time).

This game is great. The difficulty is a bit on the easier side, but since a lot of the people who would buy this were kids when this was new, it’s understandable. The controls are flawless, and every potential misstep will be because you made an error, not the game. An experienced gamer can breeze through this in an hour, as it’s definitely a short game, but that hour will be one of the most fun you’ll have on the Super Nintendo.

Natsume, as a developer, is very good about making quality titles out of anything it gets its hands on. Any other company could have just thrown together a Power Rangers game. A few actually did (case in point: the Sega Genesis version. Boo!), but that’s for another time.

It’s a very rare case to see a licensed game transcend the common pitfalls of the genre. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is one of the few licensed games that deserves to be rescued from the rest of the shovelware. Go play this. It’s not expensive on eBay. Hell, go emulate it. It needs to be played.

Even if you’re not a fan of the show, if you’re a fan of retro games, play this game. It’s well worth it.

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Four Obscure Handheld Games.

Y’know, a lot of times, the classics are nice. There is a very good reason why the first game anyone wants to play on a NES is going to be Super Mario Bros. It’s basically perfect. Same goes for the Game Boy – You’re going to get Tetris, no doubt about it.

The thing is, I’ve played those games to death. They’re excellent, to be sure, but they’re boring as all hell to me now. I just tried to sit down and play Super Mario World again. I couldn’t do it. I may as well have been playing Rise of the Robots.

I’ve started getting into more handheld games since the 25th anniversary of the Game Boy. I’ve become significantly more versed in the libraries of not only the Game Boy, but the Game Boy’s competitors, as well. Here are a few interesting, obscure, even somewhat-underrated games that most people gloss over from a number of handheld consoles:

There's a Super Famicom version we didn't get over here in the 'States.

Now, Bomberman isn’t really an obscure series. Bomberman as a whole is known for its grid-based multiplayer that is scientifically proven to turn your friends into your hated rivals and to ensure that every other word that comes out of your mouth is something that the FCC would disapprove of. Panic Bomber, on the other hand, is a puzzle game, in the style of, say, Wario’s Woods or Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Y’know, easy to learn, hard to master, etc… The game itself is most definitely not a “blast”, partly because that would be the obvious thing to say, but also due to the fact that the game doesn’t quite click like it would if it were on, say, the Game Boy or the SNES. The game is, however, definitely worth a look, simply due to the fact that it is the best puzzle game on the Virtual Boy. In addition to that, this is the sole representative in the Panic Bomber series that made it ‘stateside. All the others were exclusive to Japan. If you’re willing to withstand the red-and-black colors of the Virtual Boy, give this one a shot.

Not a bumblebee.

I haven’t talked about the Atari Lynx yet. I plan to eventually, but I need to get some more games for it. Luckily, I happen to own this little gem. Simply put, Toki is a run-and-gun platformer in the style of Contra or Mega Man. The main character in Toki is the titular man-turned-ape, who can shoot energy projectiles at any multitude of weird enemies. This is a great example of a game in the Atari Lynx library, as it is, at its core, a port of an arcade game, which was what the Lynx was best at. This particular game is a bit different than the arcade version, though. The game itself has a style that was similar to other Lynx games at the time. What style was that, you may ask? Well, the best thing I can say is that it was strange. The graphics are drawn with a realistic look to them, which stands in a direct contrast with the Game Boy’s often-cartoony aesthetics or the Game Gear’s “Genesis’ kid-brother” sort of vibe. The result is that Lynx games, Toki included, looked very different from what was offered on other consoles. The game itself is very difficult, most of the problems stemming from trial-and-error gameplay and blurry Lynx screen issues. That said, It’s easy to forget that this game came out in the heyday of the Game Boy and not the Game Boy Color. To see something with these visuals in the days of the Game Boy is pretty spectacular. Toki doesn’t cost that much on the aftermarket – none of the Lynx games do. If you actually own an Atari Lynx this should be on your short list of games to get for the console.

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na

Batman, for the Game Boy. This may seem like an odd choice for an underrated gem, but stay with me, here. This particular Batman game, which is somewhat-based on the ’89 movie, is a run & gun platformer in the style of Mega Man or a primitive Contra. You control Batman, and shoot down crooks and destroy blocks that impede your progress through a level. It’s very similar to Super Mario Land in that regard, except this game actually has decent controls. When I say that this game is a “run & gun” platformer, I actually mean it: Batman’s main attack is to shoot a projectile at enemies. That’s really odd, because Batman’s kind of got a thing against guns. In that he’s never used one to take down a foe because he doesn’t need them. Batman himself is enough to scare a criminal without the use of a gun. That’s the point of being a masked vigilante. I don’t know if there’s any justification for this in the game’s manual or something, but it’s just plain odd that this is how it’s done in this game. It’s almost like this game wasn’t originally intended to be based on the Batman license, and they shoehorned it in for another movie cash-in. Despite the odd mechanics, the game itself is quite fun. It’s more fun than it has any right to be, since movie-based games are generally rushed out to meet deadlines and they’re quite poor as a result. In the giant landfill that most movie-licensed games eventually belong to, Batman for the Game Boy is one that deserves to be rescued.

Fighting robot! Mega- Wait, used this already...

I know what you’re thinking. Mega Man is not obscure in the slightest. Stay with me, here.

Mega Man on the Game Gear was actually published by US Gold, not Capcom (though their name is with the game as the character is a Capcom character of course). Surprisingly, it’s not a port of one of the Game Boy games OR a port of any of the NES Mega Man games. Instead, it takes a mix of Robot Masters from Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 and puts them in this new game, along with the traditional Wily tower stages. This game isn’t nearly as good as the Game Boy Mega Man games, as US Gold put in some weird design choices with the gameplay (giving the Robot Masters post-hit invincibility, for instance…). It still feels strange to have a Mega Man game on a Sega console. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I see something like Sonic Advance or Hotel Mario: that something just feels “wrong”. That said, this game is interesting. Definitely not one that people would expect to see on the Game Gear, and one that a lot of people overlook. If you’ve got a Game Gear that hasn’t got blown capacitors, this game couldn’t hurt to try. Just know that if you’re looking for a perfect handheld Mega Man experience, check out the Game Boy versions (except Mega Man II. That one wasn’t that great).

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SNES Quick Look: Donkey Kong Country 3 (And a DKC Retrospective)

In the early-to-mid 1990s, Nintendo was more or less on top of the world. In the middle of a bitter rivalry with Sega and their Genesis console, Nintendo managed to pull ahead in the race and come out on top. While Sega was busy trying to one-up Nintendo with full-color handheld consoles, CD expansions, and 32-bit add-ons, Nintendo decided to respond by actually making games that people wanted to play.

One of the games that helped Nintendo’s cause was Donkey Kong Country.

DK! Donkey Kong!

At that time in Nintendo’s history, Donkey Kong, as a character, was more or less a footnote. The original Donkey Kong arcade game, to this day, is more known as the game that Mario originated in. When UK-based studio Rare was given the opportunity to work on a Nintendo franchise, Donkey Kong was a bit of an unexpected choice.

What they came up with was a platform game with 3D artwork converted into 2D sprites, which was a visual style that was pretty groundbreaking. DKC wasn’t the first game to do this, but it definitely did it better than a lot of other companies did.

Oh, wow. Shots fired.

This ad was a direct attack on Sega, following their mildly-successful “Genesis Does what Nintendon’t” campaign, intended to show how awesome the Sega Genesis was versus the original Nintendo Entertainment System. For Nintendo, the above ad was basically a strike to Sega’s jugular. It worked.

Donkey Kong Country was a massive hit. It was the second-highest selling SNES game in the console’s history (Super Mario World was the first, mostly due to the fact that it was bundled with the console). It completely revived the Donkey Kong series and character, and made it in to something much more than what it originally was. To this day, Donkey Kong’s appearance is based on his initial appearance in Donkey Kong Country. This game also marked the debut of Diddy Kong, who is faster and infinitely more agile than Donkey Kong himself. He also serves as the second player if you’re doing a two-player team game.

The success of the game spawned sequels, of course. Donkey Kong Country 2 was released in 1995.

You are now hearing Stickerbrush Symphony in your head.

Diddy’s Kong Quest (Not “Diddy Kong’s Quest”, as everyone seems to think) improved on the original game in a number of ways. Oddly enough, Donkey Kong himself was not playable in this game. Instead, Diddy Kong was given the spotlight. The second playable ‘Kong is Dixie Kong, Diddy’s girlfriend who could pick things up with her blonde ponytail, as well as perform a helicopter spin to float down to platforms or make longer jumps.

The game’s atmosphere was a gigantic departure from the first game’s rainforest landscapes and mostly-natural surroundings. DKC2 had a darker color palette, and a distinct pirate theme to the various enemies and surroundings. The music was also very dark and moody. It’s probably one of the best soundtracks in a game in the past 25 years.

This game was also a huge success. It is often regarded as the pinnacle of the DKC series.

After the success of DKC2, Rare made sure to work on a third game in the Donkey Kong Country series. The gaming climate had changed considerably in year between DKC2 and DKC3, however. The Playstation had been released in 1995, along with Sega’s 32-bit Saturn console. Nintendo had even released the Nintendo 64 by the time of DKC3’s release.

Come visit the Northern Kremisphere!

The once-advanced computer-modeled graphics of Donkey Kong Country 3 had begun to look dated. Hell, even Nintendo themselves were ready to move on to the next generation of video games. On top of that, most retailers probably didn’t have space for past-gen games. They needed that shelf space for the hot new stuff.

DKC3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble is often considered the black sheep of the DKC franchise. There are a lot of subtle changes to the game, such as a very slight art design shift where most of the enemies were given more cartoon-like proportions. Some enemies were clearly machine-made, at least partially, which is a far cry from the organic-looking baddies from DKC 1 and 2.

Rare also committed double-heresy by not including Donkey Kong OR Diddy Kong as playable characters in this game. Intead, you’ve got sidekick Dixie Kong upgraded to the top billing, and the giant-but-still-infant Kiddy Kong as the sidekick.

Let’s take a quick look at this often-hated game:

Woo!

The pirate theme of the previous game has been axed. Instead, we’re left with a very different kind of atmosphere – one that evokes more of a New England/Canadian sort of climate. Less oceans, more lakes.

Dixie and Kiddy do work well together. Dixie plays identically to how she did in DKC2. Kiddy Kong, on the other hand, is basically a brick. He’s big and heavy, so you can toss him into cracked floorboards and you can make him roll across water to skip across it like you’re skipping a big, fuzzy rock. He can also throw Dixie farther distances, which is integral to a lot of tricky segments in the game.

Funky's Rentals better not be to scale with the other landmarks.

The world map has changed, as well. There is now a distinct overworld, where you can freely roam around, provided you have the right equipment. As you beat more bosses, more parts are available to make vehicles out of, which means you can pass more terrain into the tougher levels. The one depicted above is the Turbo Ski, which allows you to fly up waterfalls… somehow…

That is not OSHA compliant.

In addition to the cooler-climate of the outdoor levels in the game, there also exists a very heavy steampunk and Industrial Revolution vibe to a lot of the game’s levels. These clash with the cool lakeside spots and the lush forests. Sometimes, the industry collides with the forests in a literal manner, such as with the stage “Ripsaw Rage”, located in the Mekanos area of the game.

This happened in Northern California LAST WEEK.

In this particular level, you need to keep out of the range of the giant saw that is destroying the forest. It’s a memorable stage, and one that captures the feel of the game – that of industry colliding with nature – very well.

Donkey Kong Country 3 is a game that a lot of people don’t like. As far as I can tell, it’s due to the fact that this game isn’t Donkey Kong Country or DKC2. Honestly? It isn’t either of those games. But it is still a very fun game, and it’s definitely worth a look if you haven’t played it already.

In the grand scheme of things, The Donkey Kong Country series proves that, despite what Sega thought, Nintendo was, for a time, what Genesisn’t.

DKC3 definitely drove that point home.

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