Developer Jacob Janerka
So if I just argued that Thimbleweed Park may be “the best adventure, full stop,” I’m a bit concerned about what this might adversely imply for this page’s Paradigm review. Remember in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you had your outlier adventures, like Eternam or The Last Express? I don’t know about you, but I loved them as much as the Monkey Islands, just in a different way. They were often unusual, told an unexpected story or experimented with some clever mechanic. Paradigm is the suspicious, but delicious, processed meat between slices of Thimbleweed Park.
I feel as if I should begin by saying that designer, Jacob Janerka, is known for his unrelenting, absurd humour, except that (incredibly) Paradigm is Janerka’s first game. There’s something about the exhausted, ribs-aching-from-laughing feeling that reminds me of how TV shows like The D Generation developed increasingly ridiculous characters, week by week, through a lens of familiarity. I feel like I’ve been laughing at Janerka-jokes my whole life, even though it’s only been a matter of hours. That’s clever comedy.
Paradigm is like watching, with sick fascination, as someone entertains themselves with a sexy puppet show that is getting way out of hand. I nearly didn’t submit this review on time because I was too busy trying to flirt with a water cooler that has a face arranged out of macaroni on a plastic plate. There is always one more line of humour to find. After you’ve listened (in detail) to how your character would like to make a blanket fort out of a cardboard security guard, you get a quiet, resentful, “No girls allowed,” and your laughing begins again.
The puzzles are cleverly crafted. As well as finding, combining and using a range of bizarre objects, like the Krusz Army Knife (which is actually a serrated spoon), my favourite puzzle included simply listening carefully, after I knew what I needed to hear. There’s an arcade influenced minigame where you learn skills that are hilariously implemented later, and “push button to X” moments that made me smirk. There are also interactions for look at, use, pick up and talk to, for all of the world’s objects, even if it’s just, “Hello, empty bottle.”
The art is incredible, detailed and difficult to describe. It’s aiming for garish realism, where ugliness is accentuated. The Butt Monument, which takes itself very seriously, is even adorned by a gigantic, dirty bandaid. (Having travelled in Eastern Europe myself, I can attest that Janerka’s reworking of these monuments is irreverent, but faithful.) Character portraits, close up when you’re talking, are mesmerising. Janerka has a flair for drawing lips, in particular, and the pimples should probably win some kind of game art award.
Similarly, the character’s main objective, apart from saving the world, which is really more like a side quest, is to make “phat beatsies.” The music in Paradigm is perfectly polished in every instance. My husband, a high school music teacher, was practically rolling on the floor with laughter as the sentient eggplant beatboxed increasingly enthusiastic and complicated rhythms. Then a kitchen appliance started rapping! Music is mostly delivered in a diegetic context, but these little moments organically create their own soundtrack as the game progresses.
I imagine a game like Thimbleweed Park, so clearly harking back to adventure gaming’s roots, would be a must play for many. I do want to convince you that Paradigm is equally worthy of your time, money and attention. Think of it as the unapologetic, weird, sexy adventure your Eastern European cousin sent you in 1988, only with much better graphics and music. It’s the game your parents wouldn’t let you play when you were 9, because of all the drugs and dialogue like, “Hey kid, want to hail some Satan?”
Now’s your chance.