I have a huge, gooshy soft spot for point and click adventure games deep down in the cockles of my chest. They’re the type of game that got me into PC gaming in the first place, and I argue that it’s the type of game that can still go toe-to-toe with visual novels that are currently flooding the Steam marketplace at a breakneck speed. If you’re in your late twenties or older, you might remember that Lucasarts wasn’t just the leviathan that pumped out Star Wars titles, but also gave birth to Monkey Island, The Dig and the forgettable but formidable Zak McKracken. The genre, however, has been flooded and also fragmented over the years. Sure, great brands like Broken Sword and Runaway have kept the tradition going, but many associate point and click with hidden object games (which are a different cup of tea entirely). And modern interpretations, like Dropsy or the Telltale Games series, take their own versions of the original gameplay approach, which are certainly not wrong but sometimes different in a dis-associative way. For some reason, Steam is putting Five Nights at Freddy’s, The Dreamfall trilogy and Papers, Please all under the same tag, and that’s where I get confused and, well, more confused. So when I heard about a game that vowed to imitate and bring back the aesthetics, charm and humor of 80s and 90s PnC games, I had to give it a try. The resulting adventure with Paradigm was fun, engaging and brought several genuine laughs out of my gullet. To be honest, it might even be a contender for one of the better Point and Click adventure games that I’ve played in years.
Paradigm’s story is incredibly convoluted and complex, riddled with a variety of references to both cultural and gaming events from the decades gone past. To try and boil things down succinctly, made-to-order children have become a big thing in the future because parents are continually disappointed with the offspring they naturally made. Think Gattaca, but less Ethan Hawke and urine bags. Our hero, who shares his name with the game, is an outcast defect child who is all grown up and now rather snarky and socially bankrupt. He’s happy to spend his days trying to sell his sweet EP on cassette and collecting rent from a sentient beet on his front lawn, but a malfunction in the nuclear plant that he lives/works at demands a bit of attention. Namely the traditional “fix this pending meltdown before the entire world is reshaped in horror” plot point (you know the one, the Golden Girls made it famous). Paradigm then sets out into the world to find a restore floppy disk to fix everything, but, naturally, the path is windy, full of colorful characters and side quests, and it turns out the whole “children manufactured by a massive conglomerate” may actually be a front for something far more sinister. Because of course it is.
Paradigm holds absolutely no shame or restraint when it comes to the dialogue and exposition that the characters hurl at you from every direction. The 4th wall is often in pieces on the floor, and you think the shock of the sudden bursts of vulgarity would wear off after a while, but, thankfully, it doesn’t. Paradigm uses the story as a framework and vehicle to deliver unrelenting jokes and borderline insane scripting at breakneck speed. Between candy vomiting sloths, psychic torsos and an octopus who works as a drug barista, there is no shortage of oddball interactions, and each one does have its own charm. For some reason, I particularly enjoyed having a talk with the water golem, who really just wants to experience the world and be the most interesting water he(?) can be.
The characters also have a ton of accents, all somewhere in the middle eastern block of Europe. As a result, some of the humor and topical observations feel especially dated, given that it’s like an X-rated version of classic Yakov Smirnoff stand-up, but that, again, fits in with the agenda of Paradigm. Sure, there’s jokes about vodka, terrible quality of life and other nonsense, but it’s hardly a one note setup. In fact, I seriously applaud Jacob Janerka, the one man creator behind Paradigm, for being able to show diversity and really nailing aspects of retro-future humor and thought in the whole of the story. The writing and the way small details are put into the item descriptions, even nonessential items, show that serious love for a proper homage to classic point and click adventure was put into every facet.
To be honest, the way you interact with the game of Paradigm is something that felt a little broken, at times. Let’s be clear: a lot of the HUD and interface was spot on and massively intuitive. Left click on an object to walk towards it, right click to bring up a cassette tape with different options on what you can do with said item. You never get a talk option for inanimate objects, so there wasn’t any “I can’t do that” filler text that plagued old school adventures. Every item that has an option to it is greeted with different flavor text, so completionists and people totally caught up in the snide humor of Paradigm will want to click on items multiple times so they can drink in the full amount of care that was plotted out. Your inventory is a hot corner at the bottom of the screen (or “I” on the keyboard, if you’re so inclined) and the top of the screen is your pop out menu bar (“M” if you’re funky). Items in the inventory can potentially be combined to make new and important items, and, yes, there’s always a quip if items cannot be combined (or, more accurately, shouldn’t).
There’s also the magical talking tumor that Paradigm is gifted with at the different difficulty levels. Though nonexistent on “hard,” the tumor stays hidden in the upper right on the normal and easy levels, and you can talk to it for additional text and also to get hints about what to do next. It highlights all items on the screen that you can interact with, thus cutting to the chase if you find yourself totally lost as to what to do next. Interestingly, the tumor will also direct you to a walk through online if you need to not do the heavy lifting and just want to find your way out of the current puzzle with no effort whatsoever. Since it’s linked by the game itself, I have to also give credit to the walk though, which is both hosted on the game’s main website and looks like something you’d find on a BBS back in the day. Like I said, massive attention to the details of classic adventure games. Even selecting the difficulty level gives a quick reference to three headed monkeys, a nostalgic plot point from the Monkey Island series.
I guess my slight umbrage with the game play elements comes in a small, threefold set. For one, the map that you use to move about certain parts of the game appears in the top menu, and that just felt a little counter-intuitive to how everything else was presented. Like, I only opened that menu to save the game (which is a set of floppy disks, naturally) so now I had to keep going back there to teleport around the lab when I was collecting body parts. Like, I understand that, graphically, it made total sense to the developer, because it fit in with how that part of the game looked, but just because it looks right doesn’t mean it has to be there. It looks like I can fit a Yankee Candle votive in my ass but the doctor has insisted that I need to stop doing it. It’s minor, I know, but it irked me to need to delve somewhere I never went just to make the journey easier.
The second was the lack of middle mouse hotkey. Some of the more recent point and click adventures have acknowledged that computer mice have had middle buttons, sometimes scroll wheel buttons, for about twenty years now, and you can plan accordingly with that. Left click to move, right click to menu, middle click to automatically interact with something in a set way (automatically talk to people, look at objects). Nothing that plays the game for you, but at least makes it so you can combine walking somewhere and doing something into a single motion. It honestly makes the entire process easier and streamlines my enjoyment so that I can delve into what I would do most often immediately, and then I can figure out from there what else I need to do.
Lastly, this game is pretty damn short. Sure, taking time to examine every single detail certainly sucks up the time, but, following only the main story components (thanks walk through!) I could bang out the entire game in less than three hours. This only becomes an issue for someone who isn’t a fan of point and click adventures, but it could still be an issue nonetheless. Fans of the genre are obviously set to sink a ton of time into being Paradigm anthropologists and doing everything possible to read every bit of text, but folk who prefer to just follow the main storyline will find themselves at the end much sooner than they might like. It’s not abrupt, it’s not poorly paced, it’s seriously just…short. Again, these three items are tiny in comparison to the overall of the game, which is carried with the story and overall aesthetic. Hey, let’s talk about that!
Remember how I keep saying it looks and feels like a old school point and click adventure? Yea, that. Paradigm is certainly polished and not pixelated, so it’s like the best of what you could expect and hope for from a game out of yesteryear. It actually reminds me a lot of the Day of the Tentacle remaster that I’ve recently played, not in one to one graphic comparison but in how clean it appeared. The closeups on Paradigm and the other characters are grossly detailed, with the Space Dust addict looking particularly gnarly. The characters are animated and lively, moving their mouths and faces equally to convey the same emotion in their expressions as with their tone and words. There’s a moment where the developer shows that he could have made the entire game looking like it was built for a x86 processor, which was a giddy moment of hilarity between the old school graphics and the concept of complimenting thugs to get their lives back on track (play the game). But instead of going full tilt on the throwback concept, the landscapes and people are detailed and flushed out to pop and be appealing…as much as an ugly brute like Paradigm can.
I also am a sucker for any sort of animation where stylistic choices give a different feeling to the narrative. For example, the opening of the game is done in a cut scene resembling a VHS informational video, complete with screen lines and sound warping. Paradigm is told about his family history through a children’s book that reminded me of some classic Homestar Runner moments. And the confrontation with the water golem is bringing the aforementioned thug complimenting into the real (?) world, complete with the changing to pixel graphics. There isn’t a single mold that Paradigm forces itself into, and, instead, breaks through all kinds of expectations to deliver whatever it feels is best at any given moment. I was deeply pleased with the level of variety, and it never felt like mixing itself up just to “shake things up.”
Everything is spoken. Everything. Paradigm’s every insight and observation is fully voiced and so are the ramblings of every other being that is given a chance to speak. And nothing, nothing was left at “eh, I guess that’s ok.” The mix of different accents, from the drunk and horny computer to the tinny, exasperated Secretary Knight, is an auditory delight to behold. That’s one of the reasons that the length of the game is a minor complaint instead of a major one: anyone who’s interested in the game will want and need to fully converse with everyone that they come across. If I could nominate a single piece of spoken nonsense in this game as a masterpiece, hearing Paradigm hesitantly ask “Did you consider the blowjobs?” should be framed and hung in the Metropolitan next to whatever piece of art New York stole from another country this month. Even modern adventure games will sometimes choose to give voice to every other line or just the hero, but not Paradigm. This is a Japanese visual novel level of commitment, and it was dedicated to a Dystopian future where my dog drinks vodka mixed with paint thinner. Amazing.
The actual musical soundtrack does its job relatively well. Though the pieces do a solid job of encapsulating where you are and what you’re doing (being stuck in the office jail really had some solid “workplace” ambiance to it), nothing stuck out in my mind. I think it’s because I was concentrating so much on what might be spoken next that I didn’t give as much thought to the music. Still, it’s an important wall to the house that is Paradigm, and I wouldn’t try and break it down for anything.
I feel like there isn’t another thing I could say about Paradigm without becoming redundant. It’s funny, it’s fascinating, I had a blast and I am 100% their key demographic; a jaded gamer in his 30s who remembers being a keyboard cowboy, not because it was cool, but because that’s all I could do. If you’ve ever engaged in insult sword fighting or “accidentally” microwaving hamsters, then this is completely up your alley and you’re going to have a great time. If you’ve never played a point and click adventure title, Paradigm might be a little crass, but that could be the hook that has you on the line for a total playthrough. No matter what, this little adventure helped rekindle a spark inside that I haven’t felt since the days of swapping disks with friends and downloading shareware over dialup. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go visit Bobbin Threadbare and see if his bullshit about swans and music still holds up after all these years.