15 - Made it through basic.

I’m getting worried about writing long posts about Psychonauts because it doesn’t really leave much to interpretation or anything that may lend itself to self indulgent writing. So far, it is exactly what it looks like on the front: run, jump, and punch your way through things without dying to make it to the next level. Some of the tropes are cleverly represented. Instead of ‘dying’, you run out of mental health and are forced to exit the course to save your sanity. Powerups are represented as figments of the imagination that I mentioned in the last post, and any unexplained superpowers are easily attributed to the psychic gifts or hand waved away by being in somebody else’s mind. This does allow a wide berth for imagination, but doesn’t do much to revolutionize gameplay or become too cerebral. (Forgive the pun.)

None of this is to say I don’t like the game. I am actually enjoying it quite a bit as I am not usually drawn to games of this type. I think the last one I really sat down and played may have been Maximo for the Playstation 2, but that was so long ago it can’t be right… Maybe it is. Anyway, in college I went mostly into first person shooters and continued into hardcore RPGs and strategy when I got depressed so I didn’t come to platformers too often. This is a good break for me and may lead me to playing more in the future.

I may try to space out the posts to cover more ground each time because lots of times there is not too much to write about. I’ll try to keep up posting fairly often, but I do apologize for being later on this one than usual. I feel tension start to build as time goes on from the last post because, even though there aren’t too many of you readers, I do hate to disappoint you. Plus, lower post frequency means I am not getting through this backlog which is also bad because there are lots of new games coming out I want to try, Legend of Grimrock being one of the majors. Luckily, I’m not a big Diablo guy and have a long period of time before the new Bioshock (just announced it’s delayed again!) comes out so I’m sitting pretty right now.
Anyway, we head back into Oleander’s head and continue his challenges.

Like Herman’s Head, only more people.

We last left Raz sitting at a large red button that, to be honest, does not look safe to push. Well, it is required and is actually a training mini-game used to teach the player how to punch quickly and accurately. Boards pop up with either enemies or babies painted on them and you need to quickly destroy them while discerning if they are friend or foe since punching babies isn’t really the point of the game. The coach said I can get a “special prize” if I destroy enough targets in 75 seconds, but I never reached that threshold and have no desire to waste a lot of time 100%-ing the game to find out what the special prize is. If you know what it is, go ahead and tell me!

[Don't tempt me into OCD.]

[It's like Whack-a-Mole but with babies.]

The perspective of the game makes this little test quite hard because the perspective is difficult to judge. This is a problem of all 3D platformers, but is already becoming a problem here. Distances look closer when staring head-on and are difficult to judge when performing jumps. A little foreshadowing for later…

[I guess he opened the gate for me not being a complete dummy.]

After that was just more practice platforming and swinging on horizontal poles like Aladdin. In one section of swinging, I was unable to figure out how to turn around to face the other way because the tooltip passed by too quickly. Just like any game you get nowadays where the manual is either some piece of junk slip of paper or, as in this case, non-existent or online, I was unable to quickly find out how to do this. I had to go to the Internet to find out pressing “F” would accomplish this twist. I rarely run into problems like this with my experience playing video games, but this one left me wanting a physical manual which must be the first time in hears. I wish I had all my old stuff here with me because I would gladly insert a shot of my spiral bound manual from Fallout or fat and creased Wizardry 7 manual still bearing the scars of clandestine reading in 6th grade classes. But I don’t, so just try to imagine the glory.

[Stuck because of controls. Which button lets you win?]

One thing I do really like about this level, at least, is the art directors went hog-wild with the design to represent the inside of Oleander’s head. It really feels like you are trapped in the mind of a half-cracked army Colonel living in a world where he’s no longer needed. Barbed wire is silhouetted against the mustard gas sky. Airplanes and zeppelins coast around appearing as birds of prey through the trampoline cargo netting. Bombs are going off around the player. Howitzers covered in snow drifts fire shells. Bunny rabbits are wearing Prussian helmets. The whole deal.

[Scary in a not too threatening way.]

I hope my assumption that the rest of the game will follow in suit with no revolutionary mechanic additions other than difficulty is ill founded and cynical, but I think it is probably not. I proceeded through the course by swinging from landing gear, climbing trench ladders, and grinding down rails in sneakers to arrive in an empty room because the coach thought “nobody would make it to the end”. Something intriguing was here, though. Before Oleander found me, I entered an adjacent room that was completely white and made out of stone; a jarring difference in tone from the rest of the level. At the end of this was a curtained window that, when approached, flagged the entry of the coach who kicked me out and congratulated me.

What was that window? Is it an unguarded place of Oleander’s psyche? I already unloaded lots of his mental baggage (literally suitcases in the levels) and opened some of his darkest secrets out of pig safes, but this seemed to be something more. Unless there are cosmic horrors outside the window telling Eric Zann how to compose music, I don’t know what it could be. This hints at more which is a relief for me because I was all buckled up for some standard fare.

[Like Willy Wonka... sort of. I dont' know. Too old?]

After emerging from the course, I was given my first merit badge and told to head out and kill time until my next test. That jerk Bobby Zilch wanted to beat me up for ‘making him look bad’, but this was thankfully delayed by the appearance of one of the other counselors known as Sasha Nein who appears to be a semi-German hipster just a few evolutionary levels above Dieter from Sprockets. He handed me a button and told me to go to his lab for some enigmatic ‘additional training’ which was added to my task list.

[Achievement, too. That little Steam pop-up is a rush!]

We’ll look around the camp a bit, but that will be the next stop.

[Und now vee dance!]

What’s next?

I’m going to try to get some serious progress done before the next post unless something dramatic happens. It may sound like I am bagging on the game a lot, but I’m not, really. The game is fun to play with its core mechanics. The settings are interesting and the writing is consistent and imaginative. It is not very meaty, however, in the way Planescape is in terms of lending material for interpretation. It is what it is, which I can appreciate and there are many other games on the backlog just like that. It’s only a little jarring after the last journey.

I may interject any ideas I get from the game that aren’t directly related to gameplay while progressing to generate discussion in additional entries. Torment was so rich and heavy I did not have any time to get abstract with it in terms of the game and gaming ideas, but there is a lot to talk about as games get more mature and more corporate and will continue to become more interesting as time goes on. We’ll get into those later, though.

Join me next time when we head to the secret lab to talk with Sasha about his plans for us.

--Backlog Killer

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