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The Best Game

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Morph Revenge II is Blue's favorite game. Other seven-year-olds might be drawn to Super Chopstar Planet's brighter graphics, or Porykart Netracer '94's multiplayer with more options and that one cool mode where you can blow up the other drivers, but when Red comes over it's always Morph Revenge II that gets the dust blown off its contacts. The television hums to life, the title screen slides down, characters are selected—Red tries someone different every time, Blue always picks Reach—and then, as sure as day follows night, as sure as Gramps has to go to the back doctor whenever he tries to lift something heavy by himself, Red loses. He can choose whichever morph he wants, Kitsunegari or Debonair or Amelia K. or El Rana, but he is always doomed to fumbling his combos while Blue pummels him from the other end of the screen. Then Red loses, and Blue wins, and all, for once, is right with the universe.

Chopstar might look a little better and Porykart might have more choices, but Red does not lose at those games and that means they are worse than Morph Revenge II.

Today Red is losing as Devil Drill. He mashes blindly at his controller, hoping against hope that his random button presses will trigger her Morph Mode or at least move her a few steps down the battlefield. They do not. The fighter on the right flails her feathered arms uselessly, swiping at empty air, and for her trouble she receives a kick in her beak-face from clear across the stage. A few more stretch-kicks send her crashing to the ground in a spray of red pixels, the SNES makes a garbled screech that's supposed to sound like a dying fearow, and Morph Revenge II keeps its comfortable position as The Best Game.

Red sighs and pauses the game before the announcer finishes counting down the start of round two. "Can we play Porykart now, Blue? We haven't played that in a while. Someone at school said he found something weird you can do with the turbo T-1 power-up, and I wanted to..."

"You can try that on your own game when you get back home." Blue reaches over to press the start button on Red's controller. "But hanging out here is the only time you have to play Morph Revenge II, so you'd better enjoy it while you can!"

"I wish Mom didn't think this game was too violent," Red says, not bothering to resist when Blue resumes the game without asking. "If I was allowed to play this at my house I could practice more, and also we could play more Porykart over here."

Big, bold numbers flash across the screen as the announcer voice's gravelly countdown continues. Two seconds until I win again, one second until I win again, FIGHT

Blue jumps as his bedroom door bangs open, and in the moment it takes for him to calm down and whirl around to see the intruder Red manages to land a few lucky punches. Blue restores things to their natural order with a jumping kick that bounces Devil Drill off the background and puts her well out of striking range. "Stay out of my room, Daisy," he snaps.

Daisy ignores him. "There's someone I'd like you boys to meet," she says. Blue wishes she wouldn't sound so cheerful while Reach is trying to kick all of Devil Drill's blood out. "The new neighbors are going door-to-door introducing themselves now that they're all moved in. This is their daughter, Leaf!"

"Hi!" says a girl's voice, and there's a faint rustle of fabric like maybe she's waving at them. Blue grunts and keeps his eyes on the television. Red ventures a careful "Hello" over his shoulder and turns back to the game just in time to watch his fighter's health drop to half.

"She's your age, too! Isn't that nice?"

Blue grunts again; Red grunts, too, although Blue's pretty sure it's because he's struggling to make Devil Drill do something useful and not because he's paying attention to the girl standing around behind them.

"I bet you'll be great friends," Daisy ventures hopefully. She presses on when neither boy responds. "I'm going to head back down and chat with her mom and dad. Why don't you let Leaf play with you? Then you three can really get to know each other."

Blue grabs his remote and cranks up the volume, losing most of his sister's exasperated sigh in a stream of digitized shouts, shrieks and spatters. "I'm sorry they're being so rude right now, Leaf," she says, raising her voice on "rude" so Blue and Red don't miss it. "Boys and their video games, you know. Come downstairs with me and I'll get you and your parents some tea. I'm sure Red and my brother will be much friendlier when they're done."

"Thank you, Daisy," the girl says politely—Blue rolls his eyes as he imagines her bobbing in a silly little curtsy—"but I don't mind! I can just watch, and then we can play something together afterward!"

"Are you sure? I'd feel awful if you were just sitting up here while they ignored you."

"It's fine," the girl insists. "Maybe I'll have a little tea later, though, if that's okay with you." Daisy makes a sound like she still thinks it's a bad idea, but she heads back out into the upstairs hallway all the same.

Red pauses the game again, stopping in the middle of a hopeless attempt to block a hail of flying feet. "We can play something else if you want, uh, Leaf..." he starts, glancing over his shoulder at her and then hopefully at Blue.

"No, we can't," Blue insists. He unpauses the game with a meaningful look at Red. "We're not stopping until someone has killed all the other Jetcorp mutants and defeated Boreas and had the ultimate Morph Revenge, and I don't think we're gonna get that revenge playing house or hide-and-seek."

Red shrugs. "Sorry."

The girl moves in closer, trying to get a better look at the TV. "What are you doing, anyway?"

Blue grins. He can hear the note of disgust in her voice, see her frowning out of the corner of his eye. "We're playing Morph Revenge II," he says proudly. "It's a game about mutants who escape from the lab that made them, and then they go crazy and try to kill all the other mutants with their mutant pokémon powers. It's got lots of fighting and violence and blood and it's only for real men, so even if we weren't busy you couldn't play with us."

"No, I mean just you," the girl continues, stopping next to Red and glaring at the screen. "What are you doing? Don't you know how to play Devil Drill at all?"

She snatches the controller out of Red's hands before he can start saying "What?" and her fingers fly over a sequence of buttons before he can finish it. Blue only just looks back in time to see the fearow-woman leap over a stretch-kick and drive her own foot straight into Reach's face. His eyes go wide and he mashes the controls but his character has no time to respond—the girl has moved Devil Drill in close, too close, and in a matter of seconds she has drilled her beak-face into the other mutant's chest. Reach's health bar plummets in a shower of pixellated gore. Blue's jaw plummets along with it.

"Devil Drill doesn't have any ranged attacks so you gotta keep her right in the other guy's face," the girl says, dropping the controller back into Red's lap while the announcer's crunchy voiceover proclaims Player Two the victor. "That's why she has all those long, flying jumps instead, to get in close. You should've been someone who can throw or shoot stuff, like Hollow or Shadow Man, if you were just gonna sit there and let him kick you all the time. Maybe El Rana 'cause he's harder to knock down."

Red nods dumbly, pressing start one more time so the match doesn't progress to the third round while he's still staring. Blue doesn't stop him. Reach and Devil Drill are both standing again, back in their fighting stances, health bars full and ready to go as soon as Red's start button is pressed, but he can still hear the announcer's voice loud and clear. PLAYER TWO WINS. Player One loses.

"Maybe you should watch me play this round so you can learn how to do it right," the girl continues. Red passes her the controller without a word, only remembering to look back at Blue for permission after he's already done it. Blue's knuckles have gone white around his own controller. He wants to say no, to tell her to keep her girl hands off his man game, but he can't do it. He can't just walk away like this. No, she can play, and she'll play from the beginning, and this time she won't surprise him and he'll beat her good because this is his favorite game. He does not lose at his favorite game.

Devil Drill blocks his opening kick, dashes in and proceeds to tear into the struggling Reach; the boys can barely see what's happening through the haze of crimson dots, and Blue can't press buttons fast enough to keep up. "Then once you've got him pinned you do this and she goes into Morph Mode for the finisher," the girl explains, her thumbs moving effortlessly from one combo to another, her tone almost disinterested as her fighter transforms into a monstrous bird and plunges a wicked beak into Reach's back. There are more red pixels, there's another scream and then the match is over. Blue's health is at zero. The girl hasn't taken any damage at all.

"Easy," says the girl, and Blue fumes silently as he reaches forward to turn off the console. "I dunno why you're still playing this anyway. My dad and I beat it forever ago. Morph Revenge III has way more fighters and better graphics, and the blood doesn't look all blocky like that. You two can come over and play it sometime if you want! Devil Drill has three new moves and a gross new Morph Mode attack, too, although she's nowhere near as awesome as Tank, the new blastoise guy..."

She heads out the door, rattling off the list of new characters and new combos in between questions about what kinds of tea Blue's sister has downstairs. Red, following close behind, says he doesn't know about the tea but can she teach him those combos if he comes by tomorrow? Blue stays where he is and yanks the cartridge out of the system. He glares at the characters on the worn sticker, then tosses the game into a corner when he can't look at Reach's smug face any longer.

Morph Revenge II is Blue's least favorite game.