Features Genre Spotlight

Genre Spotlight: Beat-‘Em-Up Bonanza

You say you like to kick some butt every now and then but don’t know what’s available for your shiny new Genesis console? Then you’ve come to the right place! Below is every single beat-’em-up game available on our 16-bit favorite and both its add-ons, and there’s bound to be something to suit your tastes. As I’ve said in other articles in this series, it’s hard to accurately define exactly what games fit into each genre, and some are bound to not fit some people’s definitions, while others may be left out. It’s up to you, the reader, to determine for yourself whether a game belongs on this list, as what’s below is strictly my opinion.

To compile this list, I used the following criteria for what I believe to be a beat-’em-up:

  • Combat is mostly melee, with weapons being relegated to a minor role, usually in the form of something that can be picked up and swung or thrown in a given stage, such as metal tubes or knives. Hack-‘n-slashers, of course, are exempt from this but are on this list because they meet the other three requirements.
  • Combat is engaged through multiple attacks that can include grabbing and even throwing enemies, or executing some sort of power maneuver, such as Haggar’s pile driver from Final Fight CD or Axel’s suplex in Streets of Rage.
  • Movement takes place on multiple planes, allowing the player to move around the stage and either avoid or pursue enemies. Some games lack this feature, such as Two Crude Dudes, yet they are included because they meet all the other criteria.
  • Platforming elements are few and far between, and jumping is mostly reserved for pulling off certain types of attacks, such as jump kicks.

With that in mind, let’s look at the games!


Alien Storm

I remember the first time I played Alien Storm. It reminded me so much of Golden Axe (as well it should have. They were designed by the same person). It was bit harder though, unless you were using Scooter the robot). I’m a bit partial to the female, myself, and she both looks and plays a lot like Tyris Flare. Regardless of the Alien Buster you choose, the action is pretty much the same overall. The inclusion of first-person shooting levels was a cool touch, as were the run-‘n-gun stages. The bosses could have been better but I think the biggest problem here is the bare bones conversion. No neat little extras like Golden Axe‘s duel mode are to be found here, and while the main quest is quite long, it would have been nice to see a little more effort go into the home conversion. What is here is still a great game, and it’s always nice to have another two-player game to run through with a pal. I would very much like to see this series brought back in some form, but knowing Sega, it will never happen.

Batman Forever

I know I’m going to hear it on the boards for this, but I must be true to myself. Batman Forever blows. There, I said it! Kudos to Probe for the nice digital characters, but what we have here is yet another example why digitized fighters rarely work (Mortal Kombat being the exception). Stiff and mechanical-looking, neither Bats nor the Boy Wonder look too impressive tackling wave after wave of thug clones. The fact that it’s based on one of the worst super hero movies ever made (only Captain America was worse) doesn’t give it much source material to work with, and the result is about on par with the film itself. That basically means that you now have two more Batman products to avoid. Pretty graphics do not a decent game make, which is something Acclaim learned the hard way. It’s commendable that someone wanted to take the Caped Crusader in a different direction than the traditional beat-’em-up, but the execution is simply horrible.

The Battletoads Series

I can think of one word to accurately sum up the original Battletoads: hard. When Tradewest decided to port it to the Genesis, gamers were elated. Already a huge smash on the NES, an enhanced version with better graphics and sound was expected. Imagine the surprise when the game was essentially photocopied onto the console. The gameplay was unchanged, but the overall laziness of the rendition was blatantly obvious. Thankfully, Tradewest learned from this for the second game, when the able-bodied amphibians sided with Billy and Johnny of Double Dragon (I wonder whose idea that was?). The Genesis port was nowhere’s near as pretty as the SNES version, but at least an attempt was made to bring the series into the 16-bit era. Both games play great and are fun enough to warrant a look-see, but be warned: the original is as obnoxiously hard now as it was back in 1991.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

Although I shudder to think of all the closet Sailor Moon fans out there, this is one instance where I won’t question the interest in the series. For something so cute and girlie-like, Sailor Moon on the Mega Drive is actually a great little game. All five of the sailor scouts are playable, each with their own special moves and all-too-short-for-school-girl pants. I can imagine the fanboys pausing the game for prolonged periods during a high kick to capture a glimpse of something. Fellas, watch out for burn-in!

The plot is typical Sailor Moon and the gameplay is highly reminiscent of other games in the genre, which means you can pick up the controller and start whooping ass without any trouble. Excellent graphics and decent sound compliment the tight gameplay, and I’m honestly surprised this one didn’t see a stateside release, given that the series was pretty popular. In any case, it shouldn’t be too hard to find, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

Captain America & The Avengers

Boy I loved this one in the arcade. I could one-credit it with Iron Man, and must have played it a thousand times. I was initially disappointed when it was ported to the Genesis, as the graphics have taken quite a hit. I’m not sure why that is, since Data East did a fine job with Two Crude Dudes, and Captain America wasn’t exactly a graphical powerhouse to begin with. It was probably laziness on their part, and this becomes more evident the more you play. Everything else is intact: the voices (I…CAN’T…MOVE!), the levels, the gameplay. The sprites are a bit small but not enough to hinder the action. The Genesis game came bundled with a collector’s pin (still have mine in its baggie), and I’m not sure if it was available with the SNES cart. It was a cool little extra, almost as if Data East were trying to make up for the lackluster visuals. I’m just happy it plays right. Comic fans and lovers of the arcade original will warm up to Captain America & the Avengers after a few minutes of play, once they realize that everything else besides the graphics is spot-on. Avengers Assemble!


Would it make any difference if I told you that you can play this game on either the Genesis or the Sega CD? Didn’t think so. I honestly think that Sony began their plan to eliminate Sega as a competitor by releasing licensed garbage like this on the Genesis in an effort to piss off gamers. How do people actually get paid for coding this crap? It plays awfully, and looks even worse. Sly goes around in sub-zero weather in a t-shirt, but has to kneel by the fire to get warm…right. I know the movie sucked, but even it isn’t deserving of such tripe. One would think that he would fight off the cold by killing the same two enemies a hundred times and navigating single jump platform elements. I suggest you put the same amount of energy into playing Cliffhanger that its developers put into coding it. I’m sure you won’t miss those five minutes much.

Cutthroat Island

And my licensed game nightmare continues. Note to Hollywood: if the movie is a bomb, chances are no one will want to play the game, especially if it’s worse. I tried, truly I did, to believe that Geena Davis could be a pirate. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. Don’t be fooled into thinking that using a sword will allow for Prince of Persia-style gameplay. The combat is so underwhelming that I was actually glad the film tanked. Sub par graphics and some god-awful music add to your pain, and the only challenge here is seeing how far you can get before nausea sets in. When one plays excellent licensed games like Spider-Man 2, and Chronicles of Riddick, it’s amazing to think that there was once a time when any title based on a film was almost sure to be a travesty. My, how far we’ve come. Much farther, I would say, than Geena Davis’ acting career. Too bad Cutthroat Island didn’t have an ending like Thelma & Louise. I would have paid to see that.

Cyborg Justice

Hoo boy, was there ever wasted potential here. One would think that robots would be the perfect candidates for a brawler, but Sega somehow managed to drop the ball here. The repetitive gameplay and slow, stiff animations overshadow the cool customization feature. Every time I got excited about a move I did, like ripping off an enemy’s arm and beating him with it, the horrible control denied me the opportunity to follow it up. Sure, you can choose what type of robot you want, and can customize it’s armament and body type, but what good does it do you if you can’t control it? I’m amazed that Cyborg Justice was developed by Novotrade, whose Ecco the Dolphin series prides itself on its fluid gameplay. Nothing works at all, and you’ll be either bored or frustrated before you get too far into the game. Robots seldom get a decent break in gaming, and crap like this is the reason why.

Death and Return of Superman

It almost doesn’t make sense to create a beat-’em-up around the Man of Steel. Shouldn’t he be able to just waltz through everything tossed at him? That probably wouldn’t make for much of a game, so Sunsoft demoted him to Man of Aluminum for his second outing on the Genesis. The famous storyline, revolving around Superman’s “death” and rebirth, is surprisingly good. Supes has most of his powers, and can take a decent amount of damage. The music is very annoying, however, and some of the enemies could have been more imaginative, but the game is fun. Developed by Blizzard Entertainment (this all we got from them?), Death and Return of Superman is definitely much better than the first game featuring the hero. It almost makes up for all those now-worthless issues of Superman #75, whose poly bag actually sped up the comic’s disintegration, turning collector’s items into so much worthless paper.

DJ Boy

From what I can recall, DJ Boy was the first beat-’em-up released on the Genesis. Little did we know at the time that the game was censored for its American Audience. Apparently, some bosses were a little too risqué for Kaneko to leave intact, so they were watered down a bit. Some of them were down-right offensive (you need to see the level one boss!), so perhaps it was a good move on their part. It plays well enough, although I don’t know how exactly to compare a roller skating beat-’em-up with the others (how many like this have ever been done before?). I don’t like the “one life and you’re out” set up, and while the game is pretty easy, it can be a pain to mess up late in the game and have to start all over. Not a very expensive title in the U.S., the Japanese version od DJ Boy can be somewhat expensive, due to its questionable content. Either way, it’s a competent game that will entertain you for a bit, but you’ll soon want to move on to bigger and better things.

The Double Dragon Series

What happened here? The Genesis got more than its fair share of games in this series and none of them are what they should be. The original Double Dragon both looks and sounds great but suffers badly from poor gameplay. Characters just move too darn quickly. Since it was released by Accolade, the cart has some compatibility issues, and tends to occasionally lock up (this never happens when I switch my Genesis to PAL region. Strange.). The sequel, the Revenge, never released in the U.S., now commands a pretty penny on eBay. It too looks and sounds like its arcade original, but has control issues as well. You punch and kick inexplicably switch when you change direction, confusing things and making special moves a pain to pull off. There’s a lot of slowdown as well, and this is simple inexcusable. If you’re out to spend your wad on a copy of Double Dragon II, buy the PC-Engine version instead. Sadly, the third entry is the worse of the lot, with almost no redeeming qualities. It’s as if the developers were deliberately trying to bury this franchise. They came close with the Rosetta Stone, and succeeded brilliantly with the Shadow Falls. Such a waste.

Final Fight CD

I love Final Fight CD. Unless you play it on MAME, this is about the best version you can get on a console (yes, better than the GBA game). Huge sprites, all the levels, and an awesome soundtrack are all reasons why this is a must-have for Sega CD owners. You can play as Cody, Haggar, or Guy; and the two-player mode is intact. An exclusive time attack mode, complete with a new background, was added for this edition, and it makes a great game even better. See Sega? See what happens when you actually think for a second? This is the type of game that should have flooded the Sega CD, not that FMV crap. Home ports of top arcade titles done as well as this would have definitely sold systems. Why we never got versions of parts two and three is beyond me (a trilogy pack would have been more than I could ever have asked for), but it was at least nice to see Capcom showing some support, in spite of their fascist licensing agreement with Nintendo. Final Fight, along with others like MERCS, Forgotten Worlds, and the awesome Strider were their way of showing that Genesis gamers were not to be left out in the cold.

The Golden Axe Series

Everyone with a Genesis has played Golden Axe. It was practically the main reason for buying the system before Sonic made his debut, and three installments later, it’s considered the stuff of legend (soiled a bit by the Sega Classics Collection remake). I, for one, believe that the series got progressively worse, with part three being so bad it was left in Japan. The first two, which can be had for a pittance, are great games that still play very well, even in today’s market of über powerful consoles. The music is incredible in part one, and the graphics haven’t aged too badly, even after all these years. I still think we should have gotten a port of Return of Death Adder, arguably the best in the series, but Sega has maintained a deaf ear (the result of banging your head so much). Regardless, these games are essentials for any Genesis library, and while I may hate Golden Axe III, I recommend you check it out and make up your own mind. Who knows? You might actually like it!


Ooh, this is bad. Probably the worst of the lot, Growl succeeds on every level at not being fun. It’s bad enough that it looks like a poorly coded NES game, but the gameplay is simply horrible. Animation is stiff and unresponsive, and combinations are difficult to pull off. Even worse, you can get caught in an animation trap when trying to pick up power ups! Yes, there’s nothing more refreshing than getting pummeled as you kneel down to pick up a sword, only to have the whole thing repeat itself every time you get up. Poor coding indeed. You can choose from four animal saviors, but none of them will make you care about Growl in the slightest. I’m ok with the whole “save the endangered animals” theme, but when the game plays as badly as this does, I’m content to let the poachers have their way. In fact, someone should unleash them at the Taito offices for having released this travesty.

Mazin Saga

Mazinger-Z fans rejoice! Not only is there a Genesis game based on the classic anime, it was also given a domestic release! Godkaiser Hell has unleashed his hordes upon our unsuspecting planet, which now lies devastated. Humanity has fled underground and turns to its only hope – Mazinger! There’s only one slight problem: for a game that supposedly features a huge Robot, the sprites are so very, very tiny. Things improve when you get to a boss battle, but the rest of the game features minuscule little characters running around, mindlessly hacking away at each other, which is actually quite fun. There aren’t a lot of moves, and the enemies aren’t the smartest, but the game manages to keep you playing regardless. A good time for anime fans.

FACT: Mazin Saga is also known as Mutant Wars.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: the Movie

So many people are closet Power Rangers fans. I’m sure there are more than a few who own a few (I myself have the Sega CD game), and this is actually one of the better titles bearing the name. Although your moves are limited, there are some interesting twists in the gameplay, such as the cars that can run you down in stage two. Of course, having to pass three stages just to fight more than a single type of enemy tends to make things repetitive, but there are some cool elements to counter this. For example, you can choose your Ranger between stages, and the story is developed through some neat cut scenes. Moreover, after a few rounds, you get to take control of a Zord and take on the big bosses, rubber suit-style! I can honestly tell you that I wasn’t expecting to spend more than a minute or two with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the Movie, but was pleasantly surprised. It’s campy, harmless fun that doesn’t detract from your masculinity, no matter how much you think it does.

Mystical Fighter

This isn’t the first game based on traditional Japanese theater, and unfortunately, it’s not the best either. the drab, undetailed graphics, and incredibly dumb enemies are simply more than your desire to keep playing will tolerate. You only have a single attack, and have to collect your special move, which can only be used once. To make matters worse, it’s easy enough to pass with both eyes closed. Two people can play together, but why would you want to? With so many other quality titles on this list, you and a friend would have to be severely lacking in software to resort to this, unless you have a thing for cheesy games. Just how lackluster and uninviting is Mystical Fighter? I’d rather play Kabuki Quantum Fighter on the NES, that’s how much. Dreamworks produced some quality products on the Genesis, so I’m willing to overlook this electronic brain fart.

Ninja Gaiden

Typical. One of the most celebrated franchises in gaming gets an installment on the Genesis, and it’s left in Japan. Rumors abounded that it was crap and that Tecmo was ashamed that it had ever been made, so it never left its native land. Anyone who’s played it though, can attest to perhaps its mediocrity, but not to it being so bad as to be denied a stateside release. There’s nothing striking about it, but then there’s nothing horrible either. The move set is limited, combos are non-existent, and the enemies are highly repetitive. On the other hand, it’s in English, the graphics and sound are decent, and it’s highly reminiscent of the arcade original which came out on the ill-fated Atari Lynx. It’s not in the same league as Ryu Hayabusa’s NES adventures, but then again, it’s not the same animal. Tecmo seemingly tried to build a game using the best elements of the home versions and the coin-op, only something didn’t quite work out along the way. I do recommend a play though, if anything to see what all the hub-bub is about. Ninja Gaiden is pretty rare, so be sure to snatch it up if you find a copy.


Anyone who was into comic books in the ’90s will remember the short-lived Ultraverse. One of the many universes that sprung up after Image Comics was started, it ultimately ended up failing (like the rest). Well, no matter how bad the comic was, the Sega CD games was infinitely worse. It was so bad, in fact, that it had to be bundled with Microcosm in order to get any copies out at all. See, when you build a sub par beat-’em-up around a bad character, the end result usually doesn’t have the legs to stand on its own as a worthy purchase. Even the twelve digitized issues of the comic included on the disc don’t help. The only redeeming quality Prime has is the opening theme song. Almost seven and a half minutes of pure cheese, it’ll have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Trust me, any game that has lyrics like he’s gonna get himself some justice definitely deserves a look-see. It’s too bad that Sony/Imagesoft didn’t spend as much time on the gameplay as they did on the theme song. As it is, Prime is just bland and not fun. Punch, kick, jump, and a single, sloppy super move are too simple for Prime‘s own good, and the waves of repetitive enemies will sap your life essence like Shang Tsung. Moreover, you revert back to your wimpy self if you lose too much of your energy. Sounds like the perfect time to put this game out of its misery to me.


Poor Punisher. So maligned, so hated by gamers. I’ve heard over and over again about how the Genesis port is horrible, is a stain on Capcom’s record of quality arcade ports, etc. Truth be told, the arcade original wasn’t exactly a religious experience, and this version isn’t nearly as bad as people say it is. Are the graphics worse? Yes. Does it lack personality? Maybe. Is it still fun to play? I think so. Sure, I’m a bit more generous when it comes to Genesis games, but let’s be honest here. Beat-’em-ups can tend to get repetitive if the move selection and stage design isn’t the best, and that’s probably what hurts Punisher. There isn’t any really wrong with it; it’s just that there’s nothing exceptionally right with it either. This is standard fare, and while the ability to open fire on thugs and chuck grenades at them is cool, it doesn’t revolutionize the genre. A friend can come along as Nick Fury, and there’s solid fun to be had here, just don’t expect anything on the same level as Streets of Rage. I think that perhaps the biggest problem gamers are going to have with Punisher is finding a copy at a decent price. It appears that gamers are giving the comic vigilante’s Genesis adventure another look, and prices on eBay are soaring. Grab one while you can.

The Spider-Man Series

Isn’t it funny how Marvel can take the most cherished of heroes and find new ways to screw them up? I stopped reading when it was discovered that the Peter Parker I knew was a clone. Sigh. You would think that such convoluted storylines wouldn’t be fertile ground for a video game, but Software Creations and Acclaim surprised us. I know, you probably slid back in your chair, mouth agape, and made the sign of the cross when you read who released them, but these are actually decent! Both Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety follow the plots of the the comic at the time, when Spidey was plagued by more than one sinister symbiote. They aren’t the deepest games in the genre, but no one really expected them to be. Spider-Man has a much better track record than Batman when it comes to gaming, and both these titles are good examples why. Tight gameplay, decent graphics, and cameos of characters from the books are all gamers really needed at the time.

Splatterhouse 3

Most people consider Splatterhouse 3 to be the best game in the series, and I can understand why they feel so. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I understand. Namco changed the gameplay from a standard side-scrolling action game to a beat-’em-up and added power ups to complement the weapon selection. They also made all the levels have branching paths in order to send the gamer into a frantic rush to save Rick’s family members. The graphics are better and everything is upgraded and improved, but I just think it lost a bit of the charm that the first two had. The addition of a timer didn’t sit too well with me either but the story is great; you’ll love the twist at the end! If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll definitely want to check this one out, as it’s a great game that does the series justice. Splatterhouse purists may be a bit peeved at the change but will come around once they actually play it.

The Streets of Rage Series

Without a doubt the best-known series in the genre, all three Streets of Rage games remain fan favorites to this day. Each one was better than the last, and Yuzo Koshiro was more than capable of making critics of the Genesis’ sound chip take a time out and listen to what it could do in the right hands. The two-player dynamic took what was standard at the time and upped the ante with coop moves that made up for the initial small sprite size (something quickly addressed in part two). Long levels and some great bosses are just a couple of the many reasons why gamers keep coming back to this series and the decision here is quite simple: if you have a Genesis, you need this trilogy in your library. Yuzo has made a few attempts to revive the franchise, most recently on the Dreamcast, but Sega shut him down. In light of this complete apathy to gamer demand, we must be content with games like Spikeout: Battle Street to get our Sega beat-’em-up fix (it’s not a bad game at all, actually), but nothing will ever sate our thirst to play as Axel, Adam, and Blaze again.


I really liked the Tick. The New England Comics series was cool and the cartoon was moderately funny. Heck, I even watched the short-lived Patrick “Puddy” Warburton live-action show on Fox. Naturally, I was eager to finally play the video game rendition. I can thankfully say that it’s true to the style of the comic and Software Creations (of Spider-man fame) did a good job of bringing the experience to the Genesis. Almost as much a parody of beat-’em-ups as much as it is a parody of super heroes, the Tick never takes itself seriously. Almost everything you can think of is poked fun at, and you will find plenty of reason to laugh while playing, especially if you’re a Tick fan. A humorous and relatively unknown title, there’s a great engine under all the fun and it’s one worth finding and spending some time with. A two-player option would have been nice (make your friends play as Arthur!), but overall the game is still a blast and highly playable. SPOON!

TMNT: Hyperstone Heist

After years of watching NES owners revel in their Ninja Turtle games, Genesis owners finally got to partake in the fun, even though it wasn’t entirely what they were expecting. Hyperstone Heist is a great game, but still pales in the shadow of its older and superior SNES sibling Turtles in Time. Scratchy vocals, a hacked plot, and less detail were all hallmarks of Konami’s effort, and many gamers feared this would set a standard for the quality of their games on Sega’s console. After all, Konami had always been a “Nintendo company” due to licensing agreements. Thankfully, later games like Rocket Knight Adventure and Contra: Hard Corps would be of a higher caliber. Hyperstone Heist plays like a Turtles game though, and that’s what counts in the end. It may be shorter and easier than Turtles in Time or the Arcade Game, but it’s still a blast, especially with a friend. Four player support would have out this ahead of other versions (I do believe the Genesis could have handled it), but Konami didn’t give us that with their first Turtles game on Xbox, GameCube, and PS2; so…

Toxic Crusaders

Ick. I was a fan of the low-budget Toxic Crusader movies, but this is just bad. The graphics, are actually pretty good, cannot overcome the bland gameplay. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to anything going on, and after about five minutes of playing, you begin to wonder exactly why you’re playing (I hated the first level, and the cars that repeatedly hit you until your energy was completely depleted). The enemies are unimaginative, and a broom-wielding mutant who blasts radioactive foes while riding a skateboard is not my idea of a appealing hero. It’s mindless, but not in a good way, and that says a lot, considering some of the other games on this list. Maybe things would have turned out better if it had been based on the original films, which were campy and original. Instead, the game takes after the cartoon series, which was atrocious. Well, at least it does a good job of mimicking the source material.

Two Crude Dudes

Why doesn’t this game get more attention? It’s such a great conversion of the awesome coin-op that one would think people would be all over it. Two punkish bruisers wasting baddies in a post-apocalyptic New York is the perfect recipe for some great fun, and bringing along a friend makes it even better. I love bashing in walls to bring foes down to my level and tossing cars clear across the screen. The sprites are large and colorful and there’s good variety to the enemies and stages. Data East did a heck of a job with this conversion and it really stands out as one of the better beat-’em-ups on the Genesis, even more so because it’s exclusive to the system! If you’re in the mood for some light hearted action (those bonus stages are great!), then Two Crude Dudes should be right up your alley.

Yang Warrior Family

Released only in China, Yang Warrior Family is highly reminiscent of Final fight in style. In fact, it plays almost exactly like it. You only use three buttons- one being the special attack that takes off energy- and you break barrels for healing items. The enemies are also pretty FF generic, and while there’s a good variety of them, they aren’t very smart (typical for BeU A.I. of the time). The graphics are decent enough, but the sound is too tinny to even listen to. Decently composed tracks sound aren’t done the justice they deserve, and I found myself turning the volume off while playing. Perhaps the worst problem I have with YWF is that the attack system is unbalanced nearly to the point of absurdity. Picking up an opponent and throwing him does hardly any damage, yet a single punch/kick combo takes off nearly half their energy. This would be bad enough on its own, but it’s compounded by the fact that you almost always end up picking enemies up. They are so dumb that they practically throw themselves at you, and you have to position yourself just right to make a hit without grabbing them. Even the bosses go down too easily with a single combo. Furthermore, your special attack isn’t much more effective than the throw, and actually does more damage to you than to the foe you hit! There are four playable characters from which to choose, and the two-player simultaneous option is nice, but the simplistic gameplay just makes this game far too easy to enjoy.


Whatever your preference, be it straight-forward beat-’em-ups or hack-‘n-slashers, the Genesis definitely has you covered. Some of the biggest games in the genre are found on the system, and there are bound to be a few that may have slipped past you. Any way you look at it, you’ve got plenty of options for releasing all your pent-up aggression in a positive way!

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