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30th Anniversary Retrospective: The ‘Metal Gear’ Series’ Uniquely Self-Aware Journey




Metal Gear is a name that, by now, is permanently etched not only into the history of video games, but outside culture at large, unlike any other multimedia franchise before or since.

The series had its humble start in Japan on July 13th, 1987 with Metal Gear for the MSX (not to be confused with the shoddy Metal Gear NES port/remake Konami put out in late 1987), as the first officially released game by then fledgling game developer, Hideo Kojima, for the gaming giant, Konami. It was successful enough, in a very roundabout way, to warrant a sequel for the MSX2, titled Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (MG2), in 1990, which then, nearly a decade after, led to the immensely successful and groundbreaking Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) for the original Sony PlayStation. Skyrocketing from there, the series grew and grew into the tour de force it is remembered as today. Thirty years since the release of the first Metal Gear, after eight mainline games and numerous spin-off titles, it’s influence can be seen far and wide across all boards.

Snake vs. TX-55 Metal Gear, from the original MSX release of ‘Metal Gear’ (1987)

It takes more than simply playing the Metal Gear games to get a good grasp on what the series is all about and what it conveys to its audience. The most important lesson to appreciate the series can be summarized as: “in order to love something, you must also learn to hate it”. For those looking in, the series does not travel in any comprehensible path, but is laid out in more of a broken argyle pattern, subject to the ever-evolving interests and moods of its creator, Hideo Kojima.

This is not entirely a fault, but partly a choice by design. Despite the large body of work established within the Metal Gear world, Kojima has little interest in a precise, all-encompassing series canon; a canon which limits what he wants to communicate via his games. The story/timeline of the series is at times nothing more than a rough draft from which Kojima tangents off depending on the themes of each release, and what he wants to say to his audience at that particular moment in his life, or what is happening in the world in regard to societal views and, of course, war. This meta nature of the Metal Gear series is tied into the very themes the games tackle, including socio-political and philosophical concepts regarding memetics, genetics, identity, individuality, pacifism and war.

‘Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake’ (1990)

Of course, these serious topics are tackled against a silly military/espionage sci-fi backdrop: a backdrop which includes the eponymous nuke-shooting bipedal dinosaur robot things, super soldier clones of the ultimate soldier, cardboard boxes as legit espionage equipment, and more. Featured, also, are protagonists with goofy names like Solid Snake and Big Boss, as well as other colorfully named supporting characters and baddies like Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake, Gray Fox, Otacon, Revolver Ocelot, Master Miller, Fatman, The End, Running Man, Dr. Strangelove, Skull Face and more.

Ironically, over the years, the looser canon has created a conflict amongst fans, with some trying to tie all loose ends of the larger story into a whole with great futility, and others adhering more to an appreciation of Kojima’s storytelling via conceptual constructs laid on top of silly, fun, stealth action.

‘Metal Gear Solid’ (1998)

Since the original MSX releases of the first two games only came out in Japan, my story with the series began at the end of the 90s, like it did for many others around the globe. As if everything was in the right place for its arrival, Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) for the original PlayStation was an experience that can never be replicated. MGS1 captured my interest like no other game truly had before then. To this day, nearly twenty years after its release, the uniquely beautiful atmosphere, as you sneak through the adventure with Solid Snake, stands on its own as a timeless classic.

The stealth gameplay, combined with novel storytelling methods to video games of the time via lengthy cut-scenes and radio drama-like Codec dialogs, helped legitimize what would become iconic staples for every Metal Gear title to follow thereafter. The games quirky way of breaking the fourth wall and communicating directly with the player, making the player experience part of the experience of the game’s characters, was a meta leap that helped establish what was to follow through to the rest of the series.

‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’ (2001)

The peak of the meta communication with fans, however, came to full fruition with the now infamously brilliant release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. While other creators would have looked at the success of a game and tried to faithfully follow up with a sequel that met fan expectations, Kojima decided to throw all of that out the window. This was done in favor of a revelation-like post-modern take on how gamers consume media, the nature of self-identity, memetics vs. genetics, as well as a commentary on our personal role in helping give up our own personal liberties in return for comfort (albeit a message delivered via possibly the worst English script translation in the series).

As a well-meaning slight against those who simply loved “being” Solid Snake in the MGS1, expertly killing enemies and expecting to do the same in a sequel, the main protagonist was switched to a bish?nen rookie soldier by the name of Raiden; someone, who like the aforementioned real-life gamer, wanted to emulate the very masculine badass Solid Snake. This bait-and-switch was something that was a secret until the day of the game’s release, something many saw as a punishment they were beguiled to endure; it only drove in MGS2‘s themes further. In hindsight, I hope it is realized by those same gamers just how effective Kojima’s attempted message was, as it only grows more relevant with each passing year.

Various promotional and conceptual artworks by series art director, Yoji Shinkawa. It’s easy to see how his influence gave the series its signature look and feel. (Click for bigger image)

As the series grew from a niche following to a worldwide phenomenon, with the meta-ness of the series established, it’s as though anything that came after MGS2 was made with an all-bets-are-off mindset. The follow-up, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (MGS3), removed from the then-current timeline, instead focusing on a completely different story featuring series anti-hero Big Boss as the protagonist, set many years before the events of the rest of the series. In MGS2’s wake, Kojima also helped produce a number of spin-off MG titles including the underrated Metal Gear AC!D RPG series, new games like Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand and Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner (sequel to 2001’s Zone of the Enders), as well as an utterly misguided, laughably bad remake of MGS1 titled Twin Snakes. Kojima appeared to have let go of what he wanted to do with the series, using MGS2 as an excuse to open the flood gates for his endless ideas. It was almost like MGS2 was the logical cathartic end for what started in 1987, and Kojima was now allowed to fully explore all possible ends to his visions.

It also became clear to longtime fans of the series that Kojima had become tired of Metal Gear and wanted to break away from it, to dive into new, more exciting territories but, for better or for worse, was forced into continuing the series owing to its unexpected critical and financial success, and fan demand. The amalgamation of having to do things due to demand ultimately resulted in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which I consider to be the worst point in the series. But, this too ties well into the meta nature of the series, as the game features an overly convoluted story that tries to take all the abstract ideas from previous games and make them physically incarnate. Subtle themes take a backseat to an action-oriented set-piece-to-set-piece experience, with gameplay that focuses on combat instead of stealth. Hell, it’s a machinist’s wet dream, with all manner of guns and bombs available to purchase via a menu at any point during the game.

Possibly unintentionally, MGS4 acknowledges MGS2‘s meta by offering those who simply wanted to be Solid Snake again a chance to do just that, one last time to get it out of their system.

‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ (2015)

Still, as much as I dislike MGS4, I am more than happy that it exists, as it served its purpose by being one more message Kojima wanted to convey. His constant communication through his art is the whole foundation of what Metal Gear came to be about. MGS4 was another release that lead to more new beginnings, and truly gave Kojima a freedom to disregard the burden of a canon he had long overgrown. The “Big Boss trilogy” that followed (MGS: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and MGSV: Phantom Pain) tore itself apart to forge a new identity, letting go of any preconceived notion as to how things should be, much like how it was in 1987 when Kojima first created Metal Gear, and in 2001, after the impact of MGS2.

True to the meta world of Metal Gear, Kojima’s unceremonious and weird departure from Konami and Metal Gear (as well as then upcoming Silent Hills, insanely anticipated as the result of a playable teaser known as PT, and a possible Zone of the Enders 3) served, bittersweetly, to free Kojima even further. With Kojima now working independently on his next big project, Death Stranding, it is the same as it was when Metal Gear was first created. Even if I don’t like what he comes up with next, I know that, just like Metal Gear, it will be, uncompromisingly, “a Hideo Kojima game”—and that’s what it’s all really about.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming



Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.



max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.



Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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