Morph Revenge II is Blue's favorite game. Other nine-year-olds might be drawn to Super Chopstar Planet's brighter graphics, or Porykart Netracer '95'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 Strider—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 hammers the controls, hoping that his frantic button-mashing will trigger her Morph Mode or at least scoot her more than a few steps down the battlefield. It does not. The fighter on the right flails her feathered arms uselessly, swiping and jumping 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 produces a garbled screech that's supposed to sound like a dying fearow; PLAYER ONE WINS dominates the screen; and Morph Revenge II keeps its comfortable position as The Best Game.

Red sighs and pauses the game before the announcer can count in 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 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 then we could play more Porykart over here."

Big, bold numbers flash across the screen as the announcer voice's gravelly countdown begins. THREE. Blue adjusts his grip on the gamepad. TWO. His eyes dart between the two fighters, ready to react the second Devil Drill moves. ONE. He can see Red's face scrunched up in concentration, trying in vain to think of a new strategy. FIGHT

Blue jumps as his bedroom door bangs open, and in the moment it takes him to 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 think you two should meet," she says. Blue wishes she wouldn't sound so cheerful while Strider 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 the new girl. Blue grunts and keeps his eyes on the television. Red ventures a careful "Hello" over his shoulder and turns back to the game just as his fighter's health drops to half.

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

Blue grunts again; Red grunts, too, mostly because he's still struggling to make Devil Drill do something useful.

"I bet you'll be great friends," Daisy ventures hopefully. She presses on when neither boy responds. "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, "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, and she flounces into the room. 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 presses pause again, stopping in the middle of a fruitless attempt to block a hail of flying feet. "We can play something else if you want, Leaf..." he starts, glancing over his shoulder at her and then hopefully at Blue.

"No, we can't," Blue snaps. He unpauses the game and gives Red a stern look. "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 hide-and-seek."

Red gives the girl an apologetic shrug. "Sorry."

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

Blue smirks. He can 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 try to kill all the other mutants with their mutant pokémon powers. It's got lots of fighting and blood and it's real tough and anyone who isn't an expert just gets their butt kicked, 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 thumbs 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 right into Strider'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 no time at all she has drilled her beak-face into the other mutant's chest. Strider'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 shoulda 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 dazedly, 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. Strider 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 this new kid to keep her hands off the one good thing he has, 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 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 Strider. The boys can barely see what's happening through the haze of crimson dots, and Blue can't mash 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 tone almost disinterested as her fighter transforms into a monstrous bird and plunges a wicked beak into Strider'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 cooler special moves and better graphics, so the blood doesn't look all blocky like that. You two can come over and play it sometime if you want! Devil Drill has a super-gross Monster Morph Mode attack now, if you like her, but she's nowhere near as awesome as Tank, the new blastoise guy..."

She bounces out the door, rattling off the list of new characters and new combos in between questions about what kind 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 Strider's smug face any longer.

Morph Revenge II is Blue's least favorite game.