17 - Self Examination

I hope all of you invested in the Humble Bundle. I poked my nose into a few of the games and they all seemed really cool. I'm a HUGE fan of horror and scary stuff so Amnesia looks right up my alley while Bastion is a stylized action fest that seems pretty good. I will dig into those later, though. We're still playing Psychonauts, of course! To be completely honest, I have been playing some Starcraft 2 every once in a while. It's a good little game that's really deep, but I just don't have time to get very good at it. I've won a few games, lost a lot more, but it's all about going in the meat grinder and building up your skills. Plus the matching is really good and I usually end up playing people about my level or just above.

Anyway, Psychonauts.

Agent Nein doesn't have a German accent, kind of messing up that joke.

After going through all the struggles of exploring the camp and collecting as much as I could, I went down to receive the "special training" from Agent Nein. I haven't made one sexual joke about secret training in a secret lair so we'll leave it that way, low hanging fruit and all that. The good agent recognizes some special talents in Raz that he would like to explore with his 'Brain Tumbler' machine. So, like any precocious young lad, I jumped in without thinking about it which led me to a place called 'the collective consciousness'.

[I wish my mind were that hip, instead of a mist that ideas decide to pop out of.]

This operates as a level select screen where each doorway represents one level. Surrounding the doors are light up signs indicating if you have retrieved all the special items from that area including the cobwebs, vaults, mental baggage, etc. I like that this was put in the game (ham fistedly, but there) so that the level selection meets with the game world. Despite being shown so many beautiful portals, the only open door available now is the one leading into my own head. So, we head in for a little self examination.

A concerning thing I noticed upon entering Raz's mind was how dark it was and how much meat is hanging around. That seems strange. Not only that, but a weird bunny creature is leading me through the level.


Other than these features, the path was pretty clear with basic enemies and nothing special until I reached a point where a huge flaming-eyed demon kind of deal appeared in front of me! I couldn't move forward and a cut scene took over.

[We've all got those demons, but mine are cuddlier.]

At this point, Agent Nein kindly pulled me out of the brain tumbler as my basic punch and pyrokenesis won't do much against a huge creature like that. This is the point where I started to see some really interesting storytelling going on. I will go ahead and tell you that this level of Raz's mind gets revisited several times during the game and actually does a good job abstractly describing working through your own (or others') demons. Each time you reach a point in Raz's mind you cannot pass, you must attend other trainings to get the skills you need. Not only does this symbolize milestones in recovery or dealing with your own mental state, but also works in the canon of becoming a Psychonaut step by step.

I assumed I would just be dubbed a Psychonaut due to some emergency and move through levels battling the enemy. This is not the case at all. In order to beat this first demon, I need to be trained in shooting by Agent Nein so that I may move on. Unfortunately, because what we are doing is secret, I need special permission from Ford Cruller to enter this training. I thought I was going to have to go through more, but Cruller seems to have his finger on the pulse and just gave me permission, no questions asked, which makes me wonder why it was even included in the game. I simply had to go to the secret lair, get it, and return to the lab.

After getting permission, a new device is introduced in the game: a doorway that can be attached to any being allowing Raz to enter their mind. Using this device, I enter Nein's mind to go through target practice!

[Gateway to the mind/]

Amendment 2: Right to Bear Brains

Agent Nein’s world is a giant modern art cube that seems to have its own gravitational pull. Raz can run around all surfaces of the cube without falling off, much like in Mario Galaxy. Exploration is not possible yet because upon entering the world, I am subjected to a small tutorial about how to shoot bullets out of Raz’s brain. Psychic bullets. To learn this, Nein asks me to destroy tacky art deco lights you may see in a hipster boutique which I thought was pretty funny. He is physically repulsed by their appearance.

[I didn't know anyone besides my mom said 'Tacky'.]

After destroying some ambient lighting, a mechanic for combat shows up as unconscious censors who attempt to stamp out thoughts and ideas that should not exist in the mind of the host. This gives an excuse for their appearance in any other level as you are invading somebody’s mind where you do not belong. Obstacle courses began showing up all over the cube in which I would shut down the release of censors in the mind. In this case, the whole combat thing backfires when suppressing too many thoughts by destroying censors can result in a huge build up of psychic pressure. This may sound deep, but it is really just an excuse for a boss fight.

[Better boss fight than in the new Deus Ex!]

I usually really hate boss fights, but I can’t fault it in this game as it is a platformer. The fight was pretty annoying, though, since the boss could actually run a little faster than Raz and lots of censors kept pouring out of release valves. I was able to close them, but died once or twice by running out of psi energy, jarringly introducing me to a new mechanic known as psi depth. Each time you run out of psychic energy, you move out one layer until you are kicked out of the level entirely. Luckily, you can collect helmets to increase your depth, but, let’s get real, it’s just an extra life.

[More layers than Inception.]

Having fixed the mess that I created in Nein’s mind, I am awarded with the marksmanship merit badge and I am ready to head back into the brain tumbler and confront my demons!

[Got the merit badge and that little thing in the lower right!]

Raz: Demon Killer

Before beginning, I leveled up and Agent Cruller introduced me to my new power: Telekinesis. This is pretty much just what it says on the tin: I get a ghostly orange hand and can move things from here to there. Not sure how this will benefit me, but I’m sure I will need to use it for some challenge in the future. For now, though, I just threw around some garbage cans and then left the training area.
Returning to the brain tumbler, I was quickly dumped back where I left off and left to fight the giant scary demon that went down surprisingly quick. One shot and he was gone, leaving me free to continue exploring. I didn’t get too far before reaching a nightmarish thorny tower and being interrupted by a cutscene.

Poor kid! I was a little upset by this and wanted to rush up to help him, but I found my way blocked by some rotten meat requiring me to attend yet another training course. This time it would be to learn the power levitation from Agent Milla.

Dance Fever

Agent Milla is hanging out at the lake in an area I could not reach before, but because of arbitrary game obstacles removed by Nein, I was given permission to comandeer a canoe. Upon ariving, I ran into Dogen from the cutscene who should have just been a psychic representation. Unfortunately, when looking through his head, it looks like his brain has actually been removed! He wandered off, zombie-like, talking about watching TV. Something really sinister is going on here and it looks like the main conflict is arising!

[Poor Dogen.]

I talked to Cruller at the boathouse who did not recognize me again to rent a canoe letting me get to the dock where Milla was training other campers. After reaching her and telling her I was instructed to receive levitation training, I was brought into her mind.

[Ugh, bad memories.]

Honestly, this level was a pretty big nightmare and essentially just a platforming obstacle course to teach the player how to float on the levitation ball and use it for various techniques to get to hard to reach places. You can rolle on the ball to go faster, jump higher by bouncing off of it, and hold onto it like a balloon to hang glide where you want to go. This is all well and good, but after endlessly going through rings and jumping on light up disco platforms for half an hour I was pretty sick of it. Thank God it was pretty easy because the colors, gameplay, and music were really pounding my nerves. This is from a guy who listens to Autechre!

[A visual representation of a headache. Can you spot Raz?]

I finally got to the end and earned my merit badge letting me float over the meat and on to the top of the nightmare bramble tower to confront the evil doctor! (I hope.) See what happens next time when we confront the evil that has befallen Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp... hopefully.

[Yessss. Give me ALL of the achievements!]

Just a spoiler, we don't get to quite yet.

What's next

I'm going to throw up a bonus short post in the next few days and try to get the next long one out faster. We've had some problems with our pet and things have been pretty weird, but we're assured that she'll be OK! Just some minor surgery and things should be right as rain. In the mean time, leave comments, questions, or discuss anything. Plus, nobody has answered my question yet... I guess it's not fair if you don't watch esoteric American television. That's a hint by the way, think about non-cartoon shows that are on cartoon channels...

See you next time, gang, when we fight military vehicles and giant fish in Psychonauts.

--Backlog Killer