Life is never as simple as video game. In the digital world there’s a solution to every problem and the tools you need to get it are within reach. In real life however there’s no mini-map or quest guide, so it’s impossible to tell what’s going to be thrown at you next.
In the past I’ve written about how video games provide a way of coping with difficult situations. Far from being mindless entertainment and a bunch of meaningless pixels, they’re a channel to escape distractions and anxiety so you can have some time to think things over subconsciously. Having a virtual space to work through your feelings – even if it is artificial – can give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of release which helps you become strong enough to keep going.
I turned to Paradigm earlier this month after a rough couple of weeks. It wasn’t a game I’d been interested in previously because it seemed a little too surreal for my tastes; but at a time when I was looking for something far removed from the real world so I could forget about everything for a while, it popped up on Steam’s front page just when I needed it. Ten hours later my problems may not have been resolved but I felt lighter and more capable of doing something about them.
The title’s story begins when after Paradigm is ‘born’ at DUPA Genetics, a company who sells Prodigy Children to those who don’t want to leave their inheritance to the poor excuses that are their biological offspring. Something went wrong during his growing process and he was sadly left horribly mutated so, to save their reputation, DUPA dumped him in a nearby abandoned post-Neo-Soviet town. Left to fend for himself, he now lives in a nuclear plant with his computer John-3000.
He doesn’t let his situation get him down though: he found solace in music and now wants to do nothing more than ‘make some phat beatsies’ and become the best electronic music artist the world has ever known. Unfortunately, the genetics company’s new head has other ideas. It’s up to Paradigm to step out of his comfort zone and save us all, going on an adventure involving all sorts of bizarre characters just so he can get back home and finish his EP.
I’m a huge 80s fan, so it tickled me to see the Eastern European country of Krusz depicted in a style reminiscent of how people from the decade imagined the future would look. Large super computers with flashing lights, cassette tapes and space-age furniture decorate the environments. Even the menu and inventory screens are great: floppy discs are used to depict save files, and collected items appear in an area complete with LPs, VHS lines and retro sounds.
Overall Paradigm plays like a traditional point-and-click with puzzles taking the form of conversation- or item-based challenges. None are particularly difficult but you can call on Paradigm’s Tumour (yes, really) if you need a bit a help; he’s always there in the top right-hand corner of the screen to offer ‘Tumour Sense’ and highlight any hotspots. You can also get him to give you the ‘live action dog tutorial’ over the regular tutorial – not particularly helpful but impossible to refuse.
Occasionally the scene will start to morph around you and this usually an indicator of an upcoming minigame. The change in aesthetics will make you wonder if you’ve been thrown into a different genre entirely but Paradigm always stays true to its adventure roots. One of the most amusing is ‘Boosting Thugs’, a cartridge-based video game where you need to beat a drug-dealer’s high-score – but rather than beating said thugs with punches and kicks, you’ll instead need to increase their self-esteem with motivational responses.
It may sound as if the player’s immersion suffers as the result of these changes in aesthetics and gameplay but it charmingly does the opposite: you’re too busy giggling at how you got into the situation and Paradigm’s reaction to it to notice any negative effects. As well as the minigames throughout the title you can also pull out your MegaBro Dupagen to play ‘Post Apoc Dating Sim’ at any point, where you can romance Tina the Toaster until she tells you she wants to toast your buns.
It’s probably obvious from this post so far that one of Paradigm’s highlights is its characters. There’s John-3000, a sleazy computer with an Australian accent and Post-it note for a face; Doug, the beatboxing eggplant; and the Metal Messiah, a cult leader who’s actually a pug. And we can’t forget about DUPA Genetics head Olaf, a toupee-wearing sloth created by a diabetic scientist to vomit candy bars who wants to replace all entertainment with glam-metal and professional wrestling. Evil.
My favourite however had to be Paradigm himself. Reluctant heroes can have a tendency to be thoroughly annoying (just take The Whispered World’s protagonist for example) but this one character who’s far from that. He has a positive outlook despite his situation and a self-deprecating sense of humour that got several laughs out of me. Now I just want to respond to everything anyone says to me with an ‘Aww yiss!’ or ‘Yeah boi!’ while mimicking his strong accent.
Paradigm’s other highlight is its comedy but this could also be the very reason why some players won’t enjoy the title. There are plenty of jokes about drug use, addiction, deformities and other sensitive subjects so if any of those topics are likely to offend, I’d recommend finding another adventure. But if you’re a fan of the absurd who can overlook how close-to-the-bone some of the gags are, there’s plenty of silliness here that will likely appeal to you and I’d really recommend giving it a go.
As I wrote during my post about Maize last year, sometimes a game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile: it can be just what you need in that moment and therefore end up meaning a lot. And that was exactly what Paradigm for me this month. It was surreal enough to transport me away from the real world and everything going on there, just for a short time, so I could give my head a break before going back into battle renewed.
Paradigm may have been reluctant to save the world. But he certainly saved me.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.