Paul’s Big Adventure is a weird game. In fact, it’s hardly even a game at all. This Sega-developed parody of 8-bit platforming is currently only available in Japan, and my guess is that it’s likely to stay there. Now, to be fair, I don’t think it’s bad, necessarily. I played through it to the end and definitely laughed a good deal doing so. However, the comedy is clearly aimed at a Japanese audience to the extent that the game often feels like an experimental performance of manzai, a Japanese 2-person comedy act that consists of a tsukkomi, who is something like a straight man, and a boke, who says absurd or stupid things. However, in this case, the bizarre 8-bit game itself is the boke, while a tsukkomi narrator expresses confusion and exasperation with the game’s absurdity via audio commentary.
[[image:cg_paul.jpg:Pipes are filthy.:center:0]]
While I enjoyed it as comedy, Paul’s Big Adventure is definitely not a great example of 8-bit platforming. It’s created to be incredibly easy, allowing you to quickly complete it and experience all the jokes. For example, there are numerous cheap deaths that parody counterintuitive elements of 8-bit gaming, such as times when you are suddenly killed by what seemed to just be part of the background. However, the game is designed to prioritize humor over challenge, and both check points and extra lives are abundant. One particularly cruel joke is reminiscent of the sadistically difficult original Japanese Super Mario Brothers 2; in the final level you can accidentally warp back to the very start of the game. Luckily, a stage select feature means that you can quit and go back to where you left off. So, while the game is often outright mean spirited in its humor, it is it is rarely difficult.
For players unsatisfied by a game with no difficulty, the game does allow you to play through a more difficult version of the game after defeating the finale in typical 8-bit fashion. However, I honestly can’t imagine why anyone but a masochist would want to struggle through this hard mode. After you’ve already seen the jokes once, playing through Paul’s Big Adventure with added difficulty is essentially an all too accurate recreation of 8-bit kusoge.
Some of the jokes also seem like a bit of a potential PR disaster for a non-Japanese audience. For example, one running gag throughout the game is that the mushrooms, patterned after the super mushrooms in the Mario series, have a different effect every time. For example, the first one makes Paul so big that he can no longer fit on the screen and dies. In later level, it completely transforms his sprite from an early 8-bit generation style mishmash of pixels into a late 8-bit style cartoon like appearance. Another makes Paul bigger, the difference is barely noticeable. Late in the game, though, one of these mushrooms gives Paul a raging erection. Yes, you read that right. You eat a super mushroom and spend the rest of the level watching Paul run around with his enormous, pixilated phallus bursting to get out of his pants. There is a bit of lowbrow wordplay involved too, as “mushroom” can be slang for male genitalia in Japanese. This mixture of childish slapstick and blatant sexuality seems like it would make the game somewhat difficult to market to the English speaking world.
For the most part, though, the jokes are just absurd. The chiptunes are suddenly replaced with some dude singing along badly. The 8-bit background suddenly becomes photo realistic. Paul picks up an item with a point value multiple orders of magnitude greater than your current total score, making all previous item collection seem pointless. While in the final level (in outer space, of course), Paul accidentally blows up the earth. Paul eats a strange looking power up, then dies moments later when an alien parasite crawls out of his stomach. So, while Paul’s Big Adventure is by no means a fun game to play, all this variety means that it’s a unique experience as a work of experimental 8-bit artistic design.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think it’s a tremendous loss to English speaking gamers that Paul’s Big Adventure is incredibly unlikely to be localized. At the same time, I was really happy to see an attempt to use the genre of 8-bit platforming to create a comedy, with little to no regard for gameplay balance. I don’t think Paul’s Big Adventure is necessarily a success, but I’m glad to see it boldly ignoring assumptions about what a platformer can be.