The Nintendo Cycle

The Nintendo Cycle

The Nintendo Cycle

A Prediction on NX

Jonathan Jagmin

I was a small child, four or five, when my parents unwittingly resigned me to a lifelong fate of nerd-hood and video-gamery.  I received my first game console, a Nintendo Entertainment System, as a birthday gift, and I have been a devoted fan of the company’s output ever since.  Over the course of the last three decades, I have watched what appears to be a fairly obvious cycle of activity take place, and I feel we are going to see said cycle repeat itself in the next year.

The Nintendo Cycle begins with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, a console hailed then and now as the savior of the early video games industry.  Following the industry crash wrought by Atari, the NES appeared to breathe life back into a bleeding market with Nintendo introducing a set of hardware that illustrated how to truly design a successful home console.  The NES controller was the first of its kind, utilizing a d-pad instead of a joystick, knobs, or some other strange apparatus.  When kids in the 80’s were going to a friend’s house to play video games, they went to “play Nintendo.”  The NES simply was the sum total of video gaming during the third generation of consoles.

The beginning of the 1990’s saw the release of the Super NES, Nintendo’s fourth generation console offering.  While the console is now looked back upon with fondness, at the time, the company watched half of its market share sacrificed to Sega with their 16-bit Genesis console.  Playgrounds across America became debate venues in the original “console war.”  The Nintendo fanboys touted better graphics and sound capabilities, while theSega fanatics trumpeted the bloodier fare of the Genesis, such as Mortal Kombat, and ridiculed Nintendo’s more colorful, cartoonish games like Earth Bound.  Owning a Super NES during the early 90’s meant you were a nerd, and this was before the term became a weird social badge of honor.

Five years later, the Nintendo 64 was released to the public, pitted against the already-foundering Sega Saturn, and the rising newcomer in Sony’s Playstation.  The N64launch introduced the world to Super Mario 64, an example in how to correctly design games in a 3D space.  No tank controls, no 2.5D nonsense.  It finally felt right; pure freedom.  The N64 controller brought with it the thumbstick, which has become a standard of gaming hardware ever since.  Even today, a quick browsing of any social media, particularly gaming-related sites, will reveal a trove of nostalgia and childhood-fueled memes about what a wonderful experience it was to own and play a Nintendo 64.  It has become a legendary console, receiving reverence on par with the NES.

In late 2001, Nintendo launched their entry into the sixth generation of consoles, the GameCube.  Pacing evenly against newcomer Microsoft and their Xbox console, the “purple lunchbox” eventually saw the gap widen as they finished the generation in dead last.  Over the course of the console’s five-year lifespan the term “kiddie” became the new rallying cry for opponents of the hardware.  Nintendo games were for children, the company just rehashed ideas incessantly, the console had no third-party support, and so on and so on.  It was the SNES days all over again, but to a much greater extent.

To compensate for this dismal performance, Nintendo moved forward claiming a goal to “revolutionize” video games with their follow-up to the Gamecube.  Dubbed theWii, the system launched in winter of 2006, and became the hot holiday item almost overnight.  Featuring an innovative new motion-based controller, Nintendo showed the public how games could reach out to and connect with the typically non-gaming masses.  To put it simply, the Wii was one of the most successful video game consoles of all time, selling over one-hundred million units worldwide as of 2012.  Everyone we knew owned one.

Which brings us to today, with the Wii U, Nintendo’s current eighth generation console of choice.  The Wii successor utilizes a motion-enabled, tablet-like controller called the Gamepad, the original intent of which was to establish even broader ways in which the gaming audience could be expanded.  However, this generation has been categorically Nintendo’s worst in terms of sales and general public reaction.  Third-party support has dried up almost entirely, all but the hardcore fans shunning the machine wholesale.  Even Nintendo is looking to abandon ship, planning the release of the Wii U’s successor a mere four years into the console’s lifespan.

So, what does this all amount to?  What does this tell us about the gaming public?  What does this tell us about Nintendo and their habits?  To me, over the last thirty years, a very clear pattern has emerged.  Maybe I’ve made it obvious to the reader, but I’ll go ahead and map it out in plain English, just to be on the safe side.

The simple fact is that, clearly, the public expects and desires innovation from Nintendo, and reacts with disappointment or anger if what they get instead is evolution rather than revolution.  In the instances of Nintendo’s odd-generation consoles, the NES, N64 and Wii, they were popular platforms praised for innovating and introducing new features into the gaming arena.  In the even-numbered generations, Nintendo’s reception by the public went from embattled-but-positive, to tepid, to outright loathsome.

The dividing line can be difficult to distinguish.  The main difference I can see between the odd and even offerings is that in odd generations, Nintendo introduces a new concept that people get excited over.  In even numbered generations, Nintendo consoles tend to evolve and perfect the concept introduced in the previous generation.  Look at the NES and SNES.  The former offered the first true standard for a controller, and while the latter didn’t reinvent anything, it perfected the design.  The N64brought about true 3D gaming and offered the first successful iteration of a thumbstick on a controller.  The GameCube polished and perfected the 3D presentation and concept, and redesigned the controller to a more comfortable, more traditional model.  The same applies to the Wii and Wii U, introducing motion controls, and then expanding those concepts to more than just pointing and waggle.  We see, over and over again, a repeating pattern of innovation followed by polishing, revolution followed by evolution.  We continue to see the former adored by the public, while the latter becomes increasingly more and more hated.

This begs the question: why?  What is it about the consumerist mindset that desires consistency and evolution in most things, but demands constant innovation and freshness in others?  Why do we largely desire each new version of Windows to be primarily the same as the ones that preceded it, but we expect brand new shiny toys from Apple?  It’s a conundrum I can’t quite get my brain around.

All of this brings us to the giant blank space that is the NX, the code-named, largely unknown entity that isNintendo’s upcoming games hardware.  This platform will, essentially, fall into a weird space between the eighth and ninth generations of video game consoles, and as such can be difficult to pin down, even when taking my theoretical cycle into account.  Will the NX bring revolution or evolution to bear?  Will the console be the hybrid platform that so many have theorized?  Will it be Nintendo’s officially entry into the iPad/tablet/smart device arena?  Will it be a banana that plays Tetris on its peel?  Nobody knows!

For me personally, I’m expecting nature to follow its typical course.  The NX reveal will cause a massive stirring of chaotic opinion and backlash.  Pundits will cry “why can’t they just make a normal console” while the fans scream “give it a chance!”  The name will be odd and cause a great deal of jokery and rib-poking online.  The primary functionality of the machine will be decried as a gimmick by some, but ingenious by others.  Ultimately, this will culminate in the NX becoming the hot-button topic in the gaming world, and everyone will need to own one.  I firmly believe that the NX will be a success, at the very least in generating interest and media focus, if not being a full-blown sales giant.  I have to stress here, I’m not coming into this from the perspective of a hopeless fanboy who just wants to see his favorite videogame company succeed.  I’m approaching this situation from the perspective of someone who has watched this scenario play out time and again over the last three decades.  I simply see this outcome as history repeating itself, as it normally does.

Either way, I’m quite intrigued to learn the truth behind this mysterious new device.  It’s always an exciting and weirdly confusing moment to see a Nintendo unveiling.  At the very least, it will have people talking.  At this point, maybe that’s what Nintendo needs the most?

Splatoon Review

Splatoon Review

Splatoon Review

Jonathan Jagmin
It turns out that not all “shooter” games are truly created equal. This is a fantastic game that most everyone will enjoy.
Pros
  • Gorgeous, colorful graphics with wonderfully unique characters and environments
  • Simple, addictive gameplay that is easy to learn but deep when mastered
  • A constant nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in the 90’s
Cons
  • Tacked-on two-player mode
  • Connection issues cause dropped matches too regularly
  • No future-proofing by way of true local multiplayer or bots

For years I have been a stalwart opponent of online shooters. Halo and its “teabagging”, Call of Duty and its kill/death radio, Gears of War and its…I dunno…chainsaw bayonets? Actually those are pretty cool. Forget that last example, back on target. I’ve just never seen the appeal of playing a competitive game, with a bunch of anonymous adolescents, only to be at the receiving end of a bunch of soda-fueled hostility and racial slurs. Call me a fogey, but I enjoy playing games with friends, on the couch, where they can be punched if they start acting like a turd.

So, imagine my own surprise when I tell you that an online shooter is the absolute number one reason to own a Wii U. It’s a bigger shock to me than anyone, believe me. When Splatoon was announced in 2014, my initial reaction was tepid; “Okay, so there’s some octopus dudes on Segways and this is supposed to be a shooter? PASS.” However, as time went on and I continually stumbled across screenshots, videos and articles, I rapidly began to warm up to the game. By the time Nintendo launched the Global Testfire, a free worldwide stress test for the game’s servers, my enthusiasm had been whipped into a manic, childlike frenzy. I hadn’t been this excited for a game since the months leading up to the release of Donkey Kong Country in 1994. So, the question is, what makes this game so special?

Splatoon is a team-based third person shooter. The player controls a humanoid creature called an Inkling, a weird mix of kid and squid, in fierce messy battles against other Inkling competitors, armed with a variety of weapons that utilize colored ink as ammunition. In Splatoon’s main multiplayer mode, Turf Wars, two teams of four compete not for the highest number of kills, as in most competitive shooters, but for map coverage. Each team is assigned a random color, and whichever team’s color of ink covers more of the map is declared the winner at the end of the three minute battle. Kills and deaths are counted, but they make no difference in the ultimate loss or victory. Primarily, “splatting” opponents is a way to stall the other team’s progress while one of their players respawns. Besides Turf Wars, there are also a few additional modes such as Splat Zones and Rainmaker, which act as the more competitive and “hardcore” offering in the game.

Inklings themselves are interesting creatures. In their default form, they appear as adolescent human boys and girls with cartoonish features and colored tentacles instead of hair. Their appearance can be customized with hundreds of unique pieces of gear (shoes, shirts and headwear) and armed with one of dozens of unique ink-shooting weaponry. By holding the left trigger, an Inkling can transform instantly into a cute, compact squid form that offers a number of advantages in battle. While in squid form, the player can swim through their own color of ink at more than twice their running speed on foot, and jump about three times as far. In addition to this, swimming allows one to conceal themselves from detection, swim up vertical surfaces and through permeable barriers like fences, as well as refilling the Inkling’s supply of weapon ammo and health. However, being in squid form offers no offensive capabilities whatsoever, so one must switch back and forth between the two constantly during play.

Weapons in the game range from the fairly standard Splattershot, or the sniper rifle-like Splatterscope, to the weirder weapons like the Slosher, a bucket of ink that is thrown in massive quantities, or the Inkbrush, which is flailed around in mad arcs to fling ink all over. There are dozens of these weapons, and each is grouped with a pre-determined sub-weapon and special weapon pairing. Sub weapons usually fall into a variety of grenade-like items and can be used at any time, while specials require a meter to be filled to be used, and usually offer a brief opportunity for overpowered offense in a variety of forms. In short, there are a staggering number of options for gear and weapon combinations, guaranteeing a unique experience for every player.

Moving beyond gameplay, undoubtedly the presentation is the biggest thing about this game that caught my eye to begin with. Matches are frantic, sloppy messes of bright explosive color, vibrant ink exploding and flying all around. The Inklings themselves have quickly become one of my all-time favorite Nintendo character designs, and the supporting characters are just as memorable. Updates and news within the game world are presented by the Squid Sisters Callie and Marie, who double as pop-stars in the game’s universe. Annie, the headwear shopkeeper, is modeled after a sea anemone, with wild spiky hair and a tiny fish named Moe who swims around her head, taunting you as you shop. The environments never fail to impress, with a current total of sixteen stages to play in. Saltspray Rig is an oil rig, complete with moving cranes and a central highground to battle over. Camp Triggerfish, a personal favorite of mine, is a wooden structure built in the middle of a summer camp’s lake. All sixteen environments are beautiful, loaded with color and tiny details, like the jellyfish denizens of Mahi-Mahi Resort, lounging on inner tubes in the resort pool. The music is upbeat and catchy as hell, especially the theme that plays when counting down the final minute of every match.

In addition to all of these wonderful details, there is a solo story mode, featuring around two dozen stages that will test the player’s shooting, platforming and puzzle solving skills. A local VS mode does exist, offering one-on-one play, but it feels pretty tacked on. Also, at random intervals, Nintendo will host a 24 hour event called Splatfest in which players voluntarily divide into two massive teams and fight for supremacy in a full day of Turf Wars awesomeness. During these Splatfests, the entire aesthetic of the game changes, turning day into night and bathing everything in striking neon colors.

A few gripes I can’t help but mention are, again the tacked-on two-player mode, which basically just has both players competing to see who can shoot more balloons in an arena. Also, server and connections issues are not infrequent, causing dropped matches at least once per play session. Lastly, I fear for this game’s playability once the community dries up. After a year of activity, the community is still strong, and it’s easy to find matches quickly. However, what if I want to pop this game in and play it five years from now? There’s no real local multiplayer option, and no option to simply play matches against bots. I worry that fans of this game will be left with a shell of what it used to be, and no way of emulating the core experience.

Returning to the more positive side of things, one final point I can’t help but address is the strange sense of nostalgia I feel while playing Splatoon. Although I don’t have a history with shooters at all, this game reminds me so powerfully of my childhood. The reasoning for this is simple: it is a perfect distillation of a childhood during the 1990’s. Super Soaker-like weaponry? Nickelodeon slime-like ink? The entire game oozes the basic essence of water parks and SpongeBob Squarepants. It’s hard not to feel this way when the fanbase is constantly drawing Squidward graffiti all over the walls of the various locales. I’d wager anyone who experienced childhood, adolescence or their teenage years during the 1990’s will feel these thick waves of nostalgia, and find it easy to get sucked into the game’s vibrant world.

Who should play it?  EVERYONE

 

To put things as simply as possible, Splatoon is the most fun I have had with a game in decades. I believe it to be the shining example of what can be done with the Wii U hardware, and the prime reason to buy the console in the first place. When I say that everyone should play it, I am not trying to make the statement that this is a perfect game. I am making the statement that I believe this game, solely on its own, is reason enough to fork over the cash to buy a console. Splatoon is a deluge of colorful, messy fun, and every gamer owes it to themselves to share in the experience

Star Fox Zero – Review

Star Fox Zero – Review

Star Fox Zero - Review

Jonathan Jagmin
At a glance, here are the major highs and lows that I found with Star Fox Zero as I was playing it:

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Pros

  • A return to traditional Star Fox design concepts
  • Motion controls increase the skill ceiling for the franchise
  • Giant bosses and a lot of level variety

Cons

  • Simple enemy models and occasional framerate dips
  • Lack of online or a proper VS mode
  • Too few on-rails missions and bonus levels are often recycled content

It has been roughly ten years since the last new game released under the Star Fox banner, and many would argue it’s been nearly double that since the last true Star Fox title. Star Fox 64 established what most would consider the core tenets of the franchise: a primary focus upon on-rails flight shooter design, some occasional free-flying missions, branching mission paths, a few different vehicles and a multiplayer VS mode. Since Star Fox 64’s release in 1997, the franchise has actually deviated from this design more than the entire series has ever adhered to it. Star Fox Adventures placed hero Fox McCloud in a Zelda-inspired adventure game complete with a magic staff that shoots fireballs. Star Fox Assaultattempted a hybrid of classic flight and vehicle-based action, mixed with Jet Force Gemini inspired on-foot shooter sections. Star Fox Command tried to blend a fun strategic mission map system with simple and repetitive all-range flight missions, with no on-rails action to be found anywhere. And that’s where the series left off around a decade ago.

Now, after multiple missed iterations of Nintendo hardware, Fox and his companions have returned for another round in the cockpit. I will say plainly, this is the best outing for the franchise since the oft-revered Star Fox 64. Here’s a quick breakdown.

Star Fox Zero returns largely to the design choices established most firmly in Star Fox 64. Fox and crew stay inside the cockpit at all times, where you are once again flying through cities, asteroid fields, space stations and much more. Many of these missions are traditional on-rails affairs, however not as many as one might have asked for. Most of the game is spent piloting an Arwing space fighter, but there are levels that focus on the classic Landmaster tank, and the new Gyrowing copter. All offer unique methods of play, and the two returning vehicles have some interesting upgrades as well. The missions are laid out in a branching path similar to Star Fox 64, presented by way of a map of the Lylat System. Levels are filled with enemies and obstacles, and the bosses capping off most of the missions are massive and often complex to defeat. A first play-through takes about 3 hours to complete, and afterwards you always have the option of tacking alternate levels or completing any of the game’s 70 extra challenges. If I were to stop there, one could easily conclude that Zero is a pretty by-the-books follow up to Star Fox 64.

However, one major element separates the two titles, and that is the control scheme. Using the Gamepad is required in single-player, because the game utilizes a dual display presentation. The TV screen shows the traditional from-behind camera orientation that fans of the series are used to. The Gamepad, however, displays things from Fox’s point of view within the cockpit. Utilizing the Gamepad’s built in gyroscope and motion sensing technology, one can move the controller about and look around on the secondary display. This allows the player to look and fire the Arwing’s lasers above, below and to the sides while flying in another direction. There are a few things to immediately discuss about this control scheme. First, yes, it does take time to acclimate to. I spent about five hours with the game, and felt like I’d really grasped a solid hold on the controls by about hour three or four. Second, the motion controls are very solid, with no glitches or stuttering. The only real issue is that the gyroscope can go off-center after extended bouts of movement, but this is easily rectified by a press of the Y button. Third, you can play through most of the game without ever really using the motion controls. By setting the Gamepad on your lap as you play, you can isolate the controller’s movement, making the experience far more similar to a classic Star Fox setup. Finally, the biggest thing to address is that this control scheme opens up an entirely new avenue of skill development within the traditional framework of the series. Now, dodging incoming enemy fire while continuing to return fire at a desired target is possible, when in previous entries, dodging meant sacrificing aim. With this new setup, targets can be acquired when passing alongside them, below or any number of angles that weren’t possible before. Only by learning the necessary skillset and maximizing the number of targets destroyed can top scores be achieved on the game’s twenty levels.

The few gripes I genuinely have with the game don’t really impact my opinion of it all that much. My biggest issue, honestly, is that I still would have liked more on-rails missions. There are certainly more on hand than there were to be found in Adventures, Assault or Command. But, for a game that is supposed to feel like a return to classic form, it comes up short in the number of more classically-designed levels. In addition to this, many of the bonus levels re-use the assets and locations of the missions that they branch off from. These bonus levels are still a lot of fun, but they don’t add a lot to the total package. Another big misstep in general, but not so much for me personally, is the absence of a VS mode. Three of the five preceding games in the series have had multiplayer battle modes to extend the value of the purchase. In exchange for a VS mode, however, there is a really solid co-op mode where one player pilots the Arwing with a Pro Controller, minus all motion controls, while the other player acts as the gunner, using the Gamepad to target enemies and focus on just the shooting. I’d say the co-op is a fair trade off for the absent battle mode. Beyond that, there are some minor performance issues, like rare framerate dips. I honestly didn’t notice them until they were pointed out to me.

Who should play it?  FANS

 

In general, Star Fox Zero is precisely what the series has needed for the last twenty years. It’s an infinitely worthier follow up to Star Fox 64 than any of its three predecessors; it introduces creative new gameplay techniques, has a great co-op mode, and captures the look and feel of the franchise perfectly. My general opinion is that the game is very good, however I also believe its appeal to be slightly more focused than the average game. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-play, because not everyone is necessarily interested in space shooters.  If you own a Wii U, and have any interest in space shooters or the Star Fox series, I’d recommend giving it a shot.

The Myth of Objectivity in Art

The Myth of Objectivity in Art

The Myth of Objectivity in Art

Jonathan Jagmin

“Well, you know, that’s just like, your opinion, man.” The Dude knows what he’s talking about.

All too often in any discussion of any form of art, one will hear the term “objectively” thrown around on a rather consistent basis. Normally, said term will be used in the configuration of “objectively bad,” as a way of asserting one’s negative opinion as being solid fact. It’s a weak tool for attempting leverage in presenting an argument, because when it comes to matters of art, there is very little true objectivity to be found.

Let’s back up for a moment and discuss a couple of simple concepts: subjectivity and objectivity. Subjectivity is simple enough to explain. Subjectivity is a personal reaction, your opinion or feelings on a matter, based upon personal preference, experience, beliefs and so forth. It is a truth that exists only in oneself. Objectivity is also easy to define, but more rigid in example. Objectivity is an immutable law, the hard analysis of an object by means of measuring its metric values. To put these concepts in the simplest of all possible terms, subjectivity is the expression of opinion, while objectivity is the statement of fact.

Understanding these concepts is paramount to wading through the multitude of analyses and reactions to works of art that come into being on a daily basis. Anything from the newest episode of Game of Thrones, to Academy Award-winning films like Birdman, to recent videogame releases like Fallout 4 are subject to legions of clashing measurements, opinions, and critiques on a daily basis. In too many instances, these critiques are the spark that creates a clashing of ideals, sometimes this will result in intelligent dissection of the subject material. Usually though, the end result is a “discussion” devolving into little more than name-calling and personal attacks. In this latter scenario, more often than not, the holy hand grenade of “Objectivity” is invoked; a critical strike against the opposition.

In truth, the concept couldn’t be more ridiculous, as there is very little true objectivity to be found when discussing works of art. It’s simple enough to be able to say, “Yes, this film is objectively functional because the camera was on, and images are appearing on the screen in front of me.” One can absolutely say “This album is objectively a working piece of music, because I can hear it and interpret these sounds as musical in nature.” However, there isn’t much beyond mere function that one can state is or isn’t anything from an objective viewpoint. Everything beyond mere function is opinion, and the problem lies in people confusing mass opinion for fact.

A phrase I hear all too often is something akin to “Metroid: Other M is a good game, but a bad Metroid game.” Just swap out the proper nouns and you’ll hear this boilerplate language used everywhere. This is an asinine statement. Essentially, the assertion being made is “if it didn’t have the word ‘Metroid’ in the title, then I would have no actual basis for complaint.” This type of sentiment stems from a mass opinion of what Metroid is supposed to be. The vast majority of people feel that Metroidshould be either a side-scrolling or first-person action-adventure game with minimal dialogue or story. Okay, that’s fair, since most of the games in the series conform to this standard. However, merely bucking tradition doesn’t make something objectively bad. The only basis for making such a statement is the existence of preconceived notion, which is merely an older opinion. The older age of an opinion does not make it more valid than newer, younger opinion. If that were the case, the original Star Warswould “objectively” be a bad movie. It was receiving negative, scathing professional reviews long before it ever became a social phenomenon.

What this all amounts to, is that no form of art can be objectively bad or good as a whole, unless it is simply non-functional. The very nature of art is an entirely subjective experience, its execution not based upon measurable metrics, but upon feeling and personal experience. The only intelligent way to observe or judge art is to gauge how accessible it might be to a population of individuals. A recent videogame like Legend of Legacy is a perfect example. The game is a spiritual successor to the SaGa franchise, and as such it is difficult, light on story, highly repetitive, and built from a conglomeration of odd gameplay systems with almost no in-game explanations or tutorials. Knowing this, it is hard to recommend such a game to just anyone. For a fan of games like Final Fantasy or Bravely Default, it would be hard to recommend something likeLegend of Legacy, especially if you’re looking for an experience heavy with story. On the other hand, for someone who wants a game like Romancing SaGa, Legend of Legacy would probably be a godsend, a modern-day fulfillment of that fan’s unique little desires. In the typical mold of videogame reviews, a professional website would take this analysis and assign it a numerical score of 6/10. To any regular passerby, this would appear as “oh, it’s a bad game”, when in truth it’s a game meant for a specific audience. The two are not synonymous.

This is the foundation from which my philosophies on art analysis arise. The simple fact is, down to my core, I do not like or enjoy a fair deal of modern videogame offerings. I have absolutely no interest in chasing down objectives in Fallout 4, advertising my kill/death ratio in Call of Duty, or building recreations of the “Death Star” inMinecraft. I am a minority in these opinions, but that does not make my opinions objectively wrong, nor does it make the legions of fans objectively correct in their assessment of these being “good” games. It simply means they are very, very accessible. It simply means that the fans have a louder voice than mine. Being loud doesn’t make a person right instead it just makes them more easily heard. Being more accessible doesn’t make Madden a good game rather it just means it’ll make more money. And let me clarify: under no circumstances do I consider any of those aforementioned titles to be “bad” games. I consider them widely accessible, just not for me.

This is how I choose to approach my analysis of any form of art or expression that may happen to drift through my transom. I do not attempt to act as a mouthpiece for the sum total of humanity, telling the world that Batman v Superman is factually an excellent movie and everyone should like it. I speak solely from my own personal experiences, and hopefully those that listen will glean something useful from them. After all, “It’s just like, my opinion, man.”

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