Phat Beatsies For Your Feetsies
Within a universe consumed by nuclear fallout and the horrors of Liberal Arts degrees, Paradigm hosts a unique blend of the grotesque and the human, the past and the future, and the funny and the disturbing that speaks to the player in a very relatable way. Paradigm takes the traditional idea of a comedic point-and-click and injects it with unexpected themes and ideas that darken the story yet add life and humor to the game and creates a quite unique experience.
The game introduces us to our titular hero Paradigm, a mutant and failed “prodigy child,” who is suddenly thrust into a plot to save his town from sure-to-come nuclear destruction and to take down the maddened owner of a genetics engineering company hell-bent on the world domination of glam metal and professional wrestling. With this in mind, Paradigm himself has one true objective: finish the phat beatsies on his upcoming EP. As a point-and-click, the simple gameplay leaves more breathing room for its core elements that make the game unique: the art, characters, music, and story. These elements are featured front-and-center, with gorgeous visuals leading the charge.
The visuals, created by Jacob Janerka himself, are top notch and an example of why independent productions are heralded to be some of the most unique of experiences when it comes to video games. Both the backgrounds and foreground characters are rich in detail, with their grotesque features shown beautifully in a hand-painted style that breathes life into them. The game shows off each character’s deformities with a loving pride, which in turn normalizes the body horror to the point of being its own vein of humor throughout the game. A main protagonist with hideous tumors-on-tumors-on-tumors? M’kay. Drug-addicted, covered-in-sores, tweaked-out space cadet? Mmhm. Sloth with toupee that vomits candy bars at regular intervals? Yes, please. The characters are quite unique both in the current landscape of games, both AAA and independent, and are all unique within Paradigm itself. The game takes pride in every deformity, and it finds beauty in the grotesque.
The music itself is also lovingly crafted and beautifully retro-chic. Pioneered by Jonas Kjellberg, the soundtrack is clearly inspired by 70’s and 80’s sci-fi films and B-movies. With music being such an integral part of our protagonist’s existence, it’s a no-brainer that the music would be a focus for the game. The early-electronic sound, used by other game designers simply because “I liked it so I put it in my game,” exists in Paradigm as a vehicle to further its themes. It works integrally beyond just audio; it is the perfect pair to go along with the visuals. Another clear and running influence in the game is hip-hop as well. Despite our protagonist needing to save the world, he can’t resist his true calling of dropping phat beats and making an EP. Thus, hip-hop styles and music production peeks through recurringly through the game’s design, and creates a nice contrast to the main soundtrack’s sci-fi influenced sound.
Best of all, creator Jacob Janerka’s influences also adds to the credibility of the game as a point-and-click. The game throws back successfully to the tongue-in-cheek humor of LucasArts games and many other successful point-and-clicks, which are some of Janerka’s admitted influences in the design of Paradigm. The story is dark and bursting with commentary, yet stays light-hearted and funny enough to be quite entertaining and humorous. It sets up an atmosphere that pairs with soviet-era space-age visuals to create an experience that is seldom crafted as well as it is in Paradigm. It is influenced by the perspective of what culture believed the future would look like back in the 70’s and 80’s, but that perspective is also colored by post-Cold War perspectives of the 90’s and 2000’s: the truth about nuclear fallout, the horrors of radiation, the nihilism and aimlessness after the millennium, and of course reconciling the future we dreamed of in the 70’s with the very different present of the 2010’s (reminder that we still don’t have hover cars or jet-pack travel).
Paradigm is also very ambitious in its exploration of themes: the disappointment baby-boomer upper-middle class have with their children and grandchildren, the horror stories of genetic modification and “designer babies,” the artistic focus that is common in Generation Y/Millennials, the definition and classification of what “art” is (go Apple Head, shine on you crazy diamond), and many others. Themes like these are more prominently being focused on, for example see Night in The Woods. Paradigm tackles them in a way that is humorously grotesque: it blends our past ideals with our present knowledge and shows the cross product of the two in point-and-click form.
“Paradigm takes the traditional idea of a comedic point-and-click and injects it with unexpected themes and ideas[…]”
However, weak points do pop up in the game from time to time. Although the game is mostly well-paced, there are a few points when progression feels slightly dizzying. Because of the sheer number of interactions available, as well as humor being a major driving factor, it can be difficult to figure out what your “serious objective” is or what progression will look like. To veterans of point-and-click, this can be quite normal and easily be recovered from. The story as well can be victim to this, as the entire first act doesn’t have much weight in the overall story arc outside of exposition of the characters. A greater focus on tying story elements together, and giving them equal weight in the overall arc, could make the story as a whole stronger and more cohesive. Beyond this, however, the game is very smooth and linear. It has enough content in it to get lost in, with witty commentary and Paradigm’s internal dialogues keeping the player actively engaged and pushing air through their nose with more force than normal and in rapid succession.
Overall, the game is extremely strong for Janerka’s first showing as a designer. It captures the essence of what tends to make point-and-clicks their own unique genre, following its comedy tropes lovingly. At about 5 hours of playtime, it will reward you with even more time for exploring every action in the game and immersing yourself in the world of Krusz and beyond. If you’re a fan of point-and-clicks, it will certainly reward you with something similar and close to your heart. If you’re not a fan, then it will bring you a humorous story and a colorful cast of characters that may make you a fan yet.