Along Came an Indie: ParaParaParanoid

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The 2D platformer is nothing new in the world of video games. It’s one of the oldest genres, and is one that’s experimented with quite often. One of the more recent examples of this experimentation is an interesting little thing called ParaParaParanoid. I wouldn’t exactly call ParaParaParanoid a good game. The controls are frustratingly floaty and it has the difficulty curve of a brick wall, but I still found myself having fun playing it. It was an entry from a South American team in the  Global Game Jam earlier this year. For those who don’t know, a game jam is when teams of developers get together and see what they can make in 48 hours. It  may not be the greatest game ever, but I think it succeeds at portraying a specific message, and it executes on a pretty interesting gameplay mechanic as well.

In ParaParaParanoid you play as Veronica, a girl who must confront her demons while collecting memories, in an attempt to find herself. What this boils down to is, you control a stout little square of a girl as she runs around 2D levels collecting manilla envelopes, floppy discs, and other “memories.” As you do this, demons will periodically spawn that mimic the players movements, and if you touch them it’s game over. Once the memories have been collected, a golden demon spawns that you must catch to move to the next level.

My first few attempts had me running headlong into the demons, and repeatedly making the same mistakes. But you soon start to realize that the movements you take are essentially outlining the level. One needs to be cognizant of a brief window of time before and after Veronica’s current position, but at the same time the slightest hesitation will let that first demon get a little closer to killing you. ParaParaParanoid initially forces you to only concern yourself with the actions at hand. One must be aware of the demons that are always chasing you, but still focus on the next goal knowing full well it will probably just create more demons.

As levels came to a close, I found myself keeping track of four or five characters at a time, running laps around a level in an almost zen-like state, just waiting for the right chance to grab that last memory. And then, you become the hunter. Once the memories are collected, you must chase down the last demon in the conga line chasing after you. Now that Veronica has all of her memories, she can view all of her demons as a whole, and lead them through the environment until she can defeat that last demon, overcome all of them, and move on.

To do this, you’re focus needs to shift to the entire screen, and not just on Veronica herself. In some ways, it reminded me of playing Ikaruga, in that you need to focus on the movement of everything on screen at the same time. It’s as if a certain tunnel vision is needed to collect the memories, then an understanding of all the demons as a whole is needed to win.

ParaParaParanoid does have it’s fair share of faults, which are sure to push a lot of players away on their first playthrough. The controls are a bit of a nightmare to get used to. Each action is very deliberate, and once you’ve committed to a jump, there’s no real way to change course. Because of this, a slight slip of  a finger will often cause you to lose ten or more levels of progress. Certain levels also have sections that seem specifically designed for cheap deaths. Little nooks and tunnels often require a fidelity to the controls that just isn’t there. This is most likely due to the time constraint the developers were under, but I’d love to see what could be done with this idea if it had the controls of Super Meat Boy.

Even with these problems, it seems fitting that you fail most of the time. The difficulty meshes well with the core concept of overcoming personal demons. If the game was easy, this message wouldn’t be as pronounced. An attempt was made to present a simple, yet universal human problem through a game’s mechanics, and I think ParaParaParanoid succeeds at doing this.

There’s supposedly a “good” ending if you complete all twelve levels, but you’re only given an unknown amount of deaths before the game will simply give you the bad ending. I’ve still yet to see the good ending, but I’ll keep overcoming these demons until I do. Or until I break my keyboard in half.

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