My Sonic the Hedgehog 4 review for TSSZ

I've been posting reviews here day-and-date with TSSZ, but this is a fairly important review to me, so it's going to be up on TSSZ exclusively for a while. I hope you understand. You can click here to read it, and here's a sampler to whet your appetite: 
 

In theory, using proven concepts should make Sonic the Hedgehog 4 a game that would be difficult to screw up. Unfortunately, it’s lacking in one all-important aspect: the controls. A key, defining factor of the 16-bit Sonic games was the sense of momentum they presented. Running down slopes would help Sonic to accelerate, and running up a slope would cause Sonic to slow down a little. The steeper the slope, the more pronounced the effect, and rolling in to Sonic’s trademark “spinball” form would only increase his slope sensitivity. A well-timed spin would allow Sonic to blow through levels at far faster speeds than he could ever achieve by running on foot. When Sonic transitioned to 3D, the franchise moved away from these concepts in favor of scripted scenes and row after row of booster pads bolted to the floor of ever level. This is where Sonic 4 picks up, and though it makes a half-hearted attempt to re-implement these momentum-based controls, to a Sonic veteran, it’s endlessly disappointing that rolling in to Sonic’s ball form is mostly useless outside of specific scripted scenes where the game automatically forces you to roll, and things get aggravating about the time you reach a pinball-table-styled level like Casino Street and Sonic does not appropriately control the way a pinball should. This is to say nothing of the game’s stiff, sluggish acceleration, which can make even simple platforming puzzles awkward to complete. These are Sonic Rush controls, on a game that you can’t really play like Sonic Rush. ( Keep reading)

 
The review goes on for quite a bit longer than that simple paragraph, because I felt that I needed to go a little more in-depth to get my point across sufficiently. I really expected to like Sonic 4 despite its relative inaccuracies in physics, and when the game started getting 8's and 9's from IGN and such, I honestly got a glimmer of hope. My "It's not like the old games, and that's bad!" stance began to soften considerably and I found myself staying up all night on Tuesday to download and play Sonic 4 the moment it went live on the Xbox Marketplace because I was excited to play it.

In the end, the longer I played Sonic 4, the more frustrated with it I became. Without spoiling too much of the review, it's basically another step in Sega retroactively ruining everybody's memories about the classic Sonic games (See: Brad's "Isn't this how Sonic games have always been?" remarks in the Quicklook), and given the rumor about the upcoming "Sonic Anniversary" game for 2011, it would appear that they aren't going to stop until anything anybody used to love about the Genesis games has been George Lucas'd to death.
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Big Belated Blaze Blog #1

So like two months ago I said I was going to write more blogs. And I didn't. You can blame twitter for that, I guess. It makes it a lot harder to care about writing a blog when I get all of my thoughts out in 140 characters or less, and qualitative discussion about videogames is better served with reviews. I don't even remember what I wanted to write more blogs about - I guess at one point I wanted to write about Starcraft 2, but then my SC2 buddy moved across two states and I don't think either of us has picked the game back up. Not that I could, anyway. I didn't buy SC2, and the guest pass he gave me has undoubtedly expired by now.  I don't even remember what it was that I wanted to say, other than it started with the familiar "I don't really care that much about RTS games, but". But that doesn't mean I don't have a reason to talk about videogames! Because I do.
 

So Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was finally dated and priced. I don't know that I've ever spoken about Sonic 4 here, or my feelings towards it, which is probably for the best because I am not really sure what I feel. On one hand, the marketing for this game has been borderline comedic. Things started strong enough, with some pretty big hype and lots of supposed community interaction. Things rapidly degraded from there as community involvement very quickly ceased to matter and the protracted march of countdown timer upon countdown timer on the official website just to unveil basic things like concept art wore thin. Then the game was leaked, we all had a good laugh at the horrendous minecart segment, and Sega delayed the game on a promise to "fix" it, with some very specific problems being called out. It was recently revealed that the original minecart level has undergone serious revision (in other words, redesigning the entire stage from the ground up to be completely and entirely different), but not much else has been fixed - including the wonky physics and abundance of scripted speed booster segments, despite promises specifically referencing those two elements as things "to be fixed". On the opposite end of things, the game does not actually look bad - it more or less looks on par with the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush games, which were actually pretty fun. The problem is that Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush still pale in comparison to the very careful, metered gameplay pace and beautifully abstract art design of the classic Sega Genesis Sonic games. With a name like "Sonic the Hedgehog 4", you're just asking for trouble if you don't make a serious effort to truly replicate what made the 16-bit titles so memorable back in the mid 90's, especially after we've had Sonic games so face-meltingly awful that they've actually retroactively ruined perception of actual good games by relation. And, from what has been shown, Sonic 4 isn't doing enough to deserve its name, leaving the entire product feeling like a hollow bid to cash in on your nostalgia for what the character used to represent. That's only exacerbated by the $15 price tag, for what is essentially a small piece of a larger product. If I didn't have to buy it to write a review for our website, I would probably skip it for that reason alone, because there are much longer, no doubt much more enjoyable games out there on digital download services for under $15.
 
In other, slightly related news, I've been trying to get a review of Ivy the Kiwi written. It's a difficult game to write about, partially because it feels like there's not a whole lot of meat to it. It feels like the kind of game that was targeted at mobile phones (and it probably was), though that may also be because it hearkens back to the old days of super-simple, arcade-style gaming, which makes sense, given it's from Sega-retiree Yuji Naka. Still, finding words to say about it without sounding like I'm being unfair to the game somehow is difficult. Part of me thinks I should just throw down the gauntlets and go for the throat, but puzzle games like this really aren't my style, so I worry about saying something that's out-of-line. It was a bad idea to commit myself to reviewing it, but I'm gonna stick it out. 
 
I suppose it would be easier to talk about games I don't have plans to review, which would be all of the junk I bought on Xbox Live lately with those 32,000 points I won. Out of all of them, I guess there's only one I really want to talk about right now, and that's Rocket Knight. Rocket Knight, not unlike Sonic 4, was more or less met with groans of disappointment upon its reveal. Whereas games like Bionic Commando Rearmed managed to nail a definitive look and feel that captured the spirit of the old NES game while simultaneously bringing it up to date with the current standards of gaming, the first screenshots for Rocket Knight looked like a bad Dreamworks movie with gaudy colors and overbearing depth-of-field blur. Unfortunately, despite effort to clean up the graphics in the final product, Rocket Knight is still an ugly game with poor art direction. Rocket Knight, the wolf enemies he fights against, and the pigs caught in the middle of it all look like they belong in three completely different games. The demo was sort of an odd duck; offering two difficulties ("Normal" and "Hard"), it turned out that the game was agonizingly easy on "Normal" mode, but became challenging enough to be fun once you switched it to "Hard". The problem is, "Hard Mode" has to be earned - every time you face a boss character, there is a "special technique" that can be used to defeat them. It's different for every boss, and if you defeat them with the "special technique", you earn the ability to play the next level on Hard Mode. It's completely ridiculous in a bad way, as it doesn't make much sense to punish players looking for a tougher game by dumping them down to normal mode if they cannot find the "special technique". Maybe it doesn't matter, though, because regardless of what difficulty you're playing the game on, it eventually stops being fun. I stopped playing about the time I got enough game-overs to run out of continues and the game decided because of that, it would be a good idea to basically delete my save file and have me start all over from the beginning again. I can understand committing yourself to making a "retro-styled" game, but that's a little too far for my tastes. I don't have any plans to go back to it.

I suppose that's it for now. One last thing: If any of you remember those "Afraid of Monsters" videos I did for Halloween last year, I'm doing something similar this year over at my Youtube channel, for a Half-Life 2 mod called "Nightmare House 2". Playlist is here, and I just uploaded the first video. I'll be uploading gameplay footage of the whole mod all throughout October, so if you're interested, make sure you check it out. It definitely gets better as the game goes on, too, so if you aren't totally wowed by this first episode, just know that the next one will be better.
 
I will see you hep cats later.
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Three months later...

Hey duders. Have several blogs churning in the ol' noggin that I want to write, but I figured this could be its own separate thing. You may remember back in late May/early June where I was told that I won some stuff? Well it finally came today.

Yep. My "lifetime" of Xbox Live Gold and 32,000 Microsoft points arrived in a big box... full of smaller boxes, containing 30 individually packaged 12-month XBL Gold cards and 8 other cards worth 4000 Microsoft points. What a colossal waste of plastic. Oh well, at least the cards themselves look like cardboard. Still! 38 cards I have to enter one at a time. That's ridiculous.
 
...But in some ways beneficial, too. Despite winning nearly $2,000 worth of points and XBL gold, tons of other stuff has gone wrong around here. You'd swear that luck is some kind of resource that gets stored up over time and I spent all of it winning this sweepstakes, because since getting notified of winning, I've had what feels like nothing but bad luck: I found out that my SNES is dead, my Nintendo DS hinge broke, my internet connection's been turning to garbage, and just last week, my Playstation 2 decided it was no longer important to recognize anything plugged in to its controller ports. I have some money saved up for this kind of stuff, but I think I'm gonna thumb through the rules of the sweepstakes one more time and see if I can't sell off some of these 12 month XBL Gold cards - the service probably won't even be around in 30 years, and selling off 10 cards would be close to $500. Even 20 years of XBL Gold is still probably longer than any human being would need. I'd be almost 50 years old by then.
 
So yeah. That's all, I guess. I've got blogs for StarCraft 2 and my website redesign tumbling around in my head, so stay tuned for those whenever I get around to it. 
 
Oh, and just a heads up: The whole "lol send me some codes!" joke is already extremely played out, so if you could, spare me the eyeroll. ;P
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Knee-Jerk Impressions on Crackdown 2

  


  
So I just downloaded and played the Crackdown 2 demo for the first time. The video you see above was actually me livestreaming the game over at my uStream channel, and it's about 30 minutes long. After having played it once... eh. I don't know that it's as fun as the original Crackdown was. Okay, sure, it still has that awesome power-up system, and yeah, there are plenty of orbs to collect, but...
 
Crackdown 1 was like a Mega Man game, in a way. There were six or eight guys per island and taking them down in specific orders would have an impact on the game world. Take the weapons expert down first, and not only are you given a totally sweet grenade launcher, but everybody else working for that gang will have wussy guns. But, if you choose to take down the weapons expert last? Sure, he'll still have that amazing grenade launcher, but so will all of his guards, and you're going to be exploded in to a fine mist within seconds. The world had a tangible and fairly immediate reaction to the actions you took within it.

Now, Crackdown 2 is like every other open world game except instead of needing to drive to one location and kill all the guys, you need to drive to three locations and kill all the guys. Though you're given the option to go to the three in any order, none of that matters because each of the three locations are nearly identical and what you do at one location has no impact on the other two. It's just more "Cell" rebels to shoot, and more zombies to explode. It feels like I'm grinding in an MMO - but instead of a hobbit telling me he wants three gortusk livers, it's a nebulous Agency voice-over demanding that I activate three sunlight generators (or whatever those things were).
 
And while we're at it, let's talk about the Agency V.O. He was amusing in the original Crackdown, but there's also too much of a good thing. He constantly flaps his gums about every little thing in the world, now. Every turret, every orb, every vehicle, and almost every kill. It's entirely possible that he only does this because it's technically "the beginning" of the game, but it's still kind of annoying. It also doesn't help that the tone in which he speaks is also pretty blatantly menacing. It's not difficult to conjure mental images of a man in silhouette wringing his hands with evil intent every time this guy talks to you, even when the instructions he's giving you are supposedly things that are meant to benefit the city. 
 
Overall... ehhhh. I'll probably go through it a couple more times just to get a feel for it, but so far I am not impressed.

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New Reviews, plus: My luck continues unabated?

So with Screened.com going up, I registered over there. If you want to follow me, be my guest. I'm really glad Screened opened, incidentally. I've tried editing IMDB in the past, but their editing guidelines are a little too strict; despite perfectly following their obtuse submission rules, a vast majority of the content I tried to add to IMDB was never approved. Meanwhile, Screened lets me go nuts - so far I have taken the articles for Monster Squad and Killer Klowns from Outer Space under my wing and filled them out to the best of my ability. Given that I wrote the Killer Klowns article while watching the movie on Hulu, I should probably put together a review. I already posted other (very short) reviews for X-Files: I Want To Believe and Trick 'R Treat, which are revised versions of reviews I posted on IMDB a while ago. Might go through some of my older IMDB reviews and do the same, but really, I don't review movies like I review games.
 
Speaking of game reviews, if you haven't seen it, I wrote up a brief review for Sonic Classic Collection here at Giantbomb. Somebody at TSSZnews.com (where I work) already reviewed it - with a very glowing review, no less - but since I recently started fooling around with it, I decided to write my own take. Obviously, I was a little less than impressed. I don't think it'll be going up at TSSZ, though to be honest, I haven't asked Tristan if I should or not. If you missed it the first time. my Sands of Destruction review is here, now, too. 
 
In other recent news, I had something ironic happen recently. You may or may not recall my blog from a couple months ago about Xbox Live Gold, and how I had managed to score one free year. Well, yesterday, I received a package in the mail - if you've been on Xbox Live enough you have no doubt stumbled upon these "Download & Win" sweepstakes things, where you have to download some sort of Gamer picture (usually an advertisement) and in doing so you're entered to win? Well, according to this package I received, I am the grand prize winner of 30 years of Xbox Live Gold and 32,000 Microsoft Points (about $400 worth). All I have to do is fill out the 9 or so pages of release forms, notarize them, and send'em back. So, basically, I won't need to renew my XBL Gold subscription until the year 2040 - I'll be 56 years old. That's assuming Xbox Live Gold will even still exist in 2040. Also, 32,000 points might sound like a lot - but I've already made a list of the XBLA games I might want to buy and it totals up to about 22,000 points. It kind of sucks that I apparently can't buy any "Games on Demand" with points - I'd probably get Crackdown or Saints Row 2 or something.
 
The side benefit is winning the Sweepstakes has finally pushed me to go get a new State ID - I lost my wallet years and years ago, and I never went back to the DMV to get a new ID or any of that stuff (I never was in a situation where I needed it). What this means that I can finally request a payment from Survey Savvy. For whatever reason, Survey Savvy won't just deposit the money in to my Paypal account - I have to request they send me a check, something I've never been able to cash until now. I think I've spoken about Survey Savvy in blogs way, way, way in the past; essentially, once every week or two they send you surveys about your buying habits and other stuff. For every one you complete, you get about $1 to $3 or so (though on a few rare occasions, you'll hit an extremely high-profile survey for $10, $15, sometimes even $20+). I've even gotten surveys about upcoming videogames - around the time Dead Space 1 was officially announced, I completed a survey from EA about how I felt about the game's "tone" (if I preferred bloody horror or something that was more cheesy and campy, stuff like that). It can obviously take a while for money to accumulate, but I've got about $30 sitting there waiting to be paid out, and as far as I know, it's legit. It's not going to pay the bills, but if you want a little extra money on the side, it's nice. Plus, if I refer you, I get a bonus. ;) 
 
I think that's about it, for now. I have other things I need to do (like finish this paperwork). I leave you with a Work-In-Progress piece of sprite art I've been fooling around with the last couple days:
 

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Halo Reach Extended Beta Impressions

As somebody who only owned Halo 3 for the first time as of three weeks ago, but has been playing multiplayer shooters on the PC for nearly a decade...

Reach makes me want to never touch Xbox Live ever again. I don't care about all the little technical discussions people are having about grenades being overpowered or how much this is like Shadowrun (though, for the record, I enjoyed the Shadowrun demo, whatever that means), Halo Reach seems to be designed to allow existing Halo players to capitalize on their existing skills while scrubs like me get left in the dust and splattered on the walls.

It's rare that I get frustrated by losing. I remember playing a few rounds of the Halo 3 Beta with my cousin (at his place), and while he was raging and getting angry, I was simply enjoying the ride. But something about these weapons, these maps, these abilities, seems to go over my head in such a way that I can't even really grasp. I think I know how to play the game. But how can I compete with a 12 year old who spins 180 to headshot me in a single bullet for an instant kill? Halo Reach incites a rage in me I haven't felt in a videogame in a long time.

With Counter-Strike on the PC, for almost a solid year - maybe even two - I played with a one or two friends in private servers with bots. I completely avoided public servers because, like in Halo Reach, I was only embarrassing myself. Nowadays, public servers aren't that big of a deal for Counter-Strike (though I primarily stick to private servers with friends, most of the time). I'm not granted the luxury of multiplayer bots in Halo Reach (or any Halo game, period), so it's basically been "walk out and die instantly" with some rare exceptions
 
The worst part? I'm not actually so bad at Halo 3 multiplayer. I don't blow the doors off or anything, but I can certainly hold my own, and it doesn't make me want to chuck my controller through a window. But Reach? I think I'm done with the Reach beta.

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Sands of Destruction review, Twitter, et. al

Let's get this out of the way first: Sands of Destruction review. I am not terribly proud of the conditions the review was written under, but I committed to writing it four months ago and that's how it's gonna be. As always, a sample:

Mechanically, Sands of Destruction is both very similar and very different to the standard structure of a Japanese Role-Playing Game. Dungeons are littered with random battles. Battling monsters is done by taking turns until the creature is dead. Completing battles earns you experience points, and earning enough experience will grant you the ability to “Level Up” your power. But what matters is how Sands of Destruction puts its own spin on things: borrowing some ideas from contemporary fighting games, Sands has a “combo” system that rewards stringing together a series of attacks in a chain to maximize the amount of damage dealt. Alongside experience points, you also earn something called “Customization Points”, “CP” for short, which allow you to upgrade existing attacks and unlock the next attack in that combo string. You also have the ability to augment battles through the “Quips” system – as you progress through the game and watch the story play out, characters in your party will say important lines of dialog that can the be equipped and spoken during battle to infer various effects, such as increased defense, increased accuracy, or even double the amount of gold acquired after a battle. It’s nothing terribly revolutionary, but it’s unique enough to be fun – that is until you discover just how pitifully easy the game is. One would expect a game to gently ease you in to its mechanics, but time after time, I found myself not only breezing through most random battles, but even the “climactic” boss encounters – I managed to defeat the second or third boss of the game on my first turn, before he even had a chance to strike. ( Continue reading...)

 
I'll probably stick it up here on GiantBomb in a week or so. My boss says he doesn't really mind if I put my reviews elsewhere day-and-date with when they go up on our site, but it makes me feel like I'm betraying him if I do. But man, let me tell you - writing that review has lifted a weight off my shoulders. I've had that hanging over my head since late February, and after not playing it for basically a month solid, I decided that something needed to be done about it. 
 
Also, if you missed it the first four times, I'm now on Twitter! Normally I think all of these social networking doodads are silly fads but somehow I've found myself on Facebook and now even Twitter. Technically, my personal site was supposed to sort of replace me needing to go to Twitter, because my personal site automatically pulls content I post to the web in to one place (which is what I'd likely use Twitter for), but I... I dunno. The lure of being able to send messages to internet celebrities and possibly even get responses was a gravitational pull I could not escape. Follow me, you jerks! If nothing else, it's a great way to tell when I'm live streaming videogame stuff on uStream, because it automatically tweets when I start broadcasting. And you want to know when I'm broadcasting, right? You better. 
 
Also, did you see that Sonic 2006 video I put out? I guess it's popular, or something. Almost 8,000 views in a week. 
 
 

Put quite a bit of effort in to it! Probably more effort than it deserved, and also probably more effort than the game itself got. It's basically a fancy glitch montage. Tried to make it look really professional, I think I did an alright job. Give it a look!
 
That's probably about it. Still working on a secret thing, and I've been thinking of beefing up my website here soon to look better and have a bit more content on it. We'll see.
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Xbox Livin' with the GiantBomb Crew

It is 5:26am. There are birds chirping. Ryan, Dave, Vinny and Josh just signed off of the live stream. As of writing this, Original Xbox Live is still... well, live. I only owned one Xbox 1 game that has Xbox Live, and that was Forza Motorsport. For most of the night, despite only having played the game three times in my entire life, I played Forza. And only Forza. For probably close to 5 hours.  In the end, I have this to show for it:
 

This window setup was basically what I had all night
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Unfortunately, connection problems deemed it "not meant to be" and they had to create their own server. Shout out to my bro xPrimesight - I don't know who the hell he was but he was the one player that stayed with me for most of the night. He was there long before Vinny decided to pop in Forza and he alone stuck around after everybody moved on to greener pastures like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Mech Assault 2
 
I was capturing video of the event with hopes of catching the moment Xbox Live went offline, but much like the GiantBomb crew, I am going to sleep. I was edging up on running out of HDD space anyway (five hours of uncompressed SD game footage will fill up a 150gb pretty well). I don't really know what to do with all of this Forza footage. None of it on its own is particularly interesting, especially considering how bad I am at the game. I even deleted a sizable chunk to give myself a little more breathing room for the end of the service, but it was for naught.

I need some shut eye.
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Busy busy busy

If you haven't been paying attention, I posted a new video review at TSSZ. I've mirrored it here on GiantBomb. It was for the Xbox 360 version of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. I have to say that I really liked the game. It's got some kinks to work out, but there's a solid foundation to be had. I should review the DLC like I did with Sonic Unleashed, but $7 for one track and one extra vehicle is absolute robbery - especially combined with Microsoft's ridiculous system for buying Microsoft points. It's a system DESIGNED to make you spend more money than you need to. To buy a $7 piece of DLC I will need to spend $10 on points. Eff that. 
 
Talk about Game Room wishlists on the Bombcast lead to this, my own Game Room Wish List. Of course, one of the games on my wish list wasn't in the GiantBomb database, so I had to take the plunge and write my first brand-new article: Mystic Warriors, an old arcade game that I love to death. It's really goofy and features a monk that looks like he just stepped out of an 80's rap music video. If you liked Sunset Riders, it's worth playing. The page needs more info, but I am lazy.
 
Of course, both of those game barely even 48 hours before GiantBomb's new quest system, which means I don't get a quest complete for making a new page. I did, however, make a new list for the list quests - " The Best Sonic Games, In Order". It was an easy list to write, and one with a lot of items I could talk about. It's worth reading, I'd say. 
 
With the new quest system, though, if you're looking for an easy way to get some of these quests done, well, look at my All-Stars Racing review! Every time you thumbs up or thumbs down a review, you're one step closer to getting a couple quests done. Heck, give all my review some thumbs, while we're at it. 
 
Alright - stuff to do. More on what that stuff is later.

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It all hinges on this

So my DS Lite's hinge is finally showing signs of falling apart. I always figured I was immune, but just tonight, I snapped it closed and noticed it was awfully loose feeling. Part of the hinge on the right is starting to detach. Apparently it's about $50 to get it repaired at Nintendo, but I am desperately trying to save for a new video card. On top of that, my Playstation 2 is also on the verge of melting down, and repairing that is also $50.  I don't have a lot of cash to play with here so it has to be one of these three things. I can do without my PS2 for a little while, but my DS basically goes with me wherever I go. But replacing this faulty video card is also important. Decisions...
 
Of course, I could always check and see if I ever sent the Warranty card in for my DS. I think I ended up registering my DS through Nintendo.com anyway, but checking Nintendo's customer support just now says that its serial is not in their database so we'll see. I might be able to get this repaired for free! 
 
The DS Lite hinge issue has always been so weird, to me. Nintendo is known for making some remarkably sturdy hardware; you recall tales from Nintendo Power of kids accidentally sending their Gameboys through the washing machine and upon pulling it out and letting it dry, it plays just fine. There are images out there of the Desert Storm Gameboy, charred and black from a fire, a copy of Tetris permanently melted in to the cartridge slot - but it still plays.  
 

 How's that for hardcore?

And yet, here we are, Nintendo DS Lite, and from regular wear and tear, the hinge inevitably ends up breaking.
Anyone out there had an experience with Nintendo tech support? Anything I should know? I've heard I can haggle them down to $20 for a repair, especially if it's a hinge crack, but I'd like to know for sure.
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