Psychonauts 2’s PSI-King Sensorium is a masterpiece of game design


This article contains some slight spoilers for Psychonauts 2 and Sensorium from PSI-King.

The last two generations of consoles have brought us instant classics of level design: Fall of the Titans 2the effect and the cause, Dishonored 2‘s The Clockwork Mansion and A Crack in the Slab, Infinite ground‘s Zone X, and others. There is sometimes a bit of snobbery in the selection. Dishonored 2, for example, is part of the revered immersive sim design philosophy, while Infinite ground pursues the long-standing ambition of its lead designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, to achieve synesthesia through play. In other words, these are the examples we are Assumed choose – these are the Citizen Kane “refined” gambling opinion, if you will.

At first glance, Psychonauts 2 does not fit the bill. This is a cartoon-style platformer game about a psychic 10-year-old boy, Raz Aquato, trying to find a new home in the psychic equivalent of high school while unraveling a global plot, backed by an endearing cast. of characters, dad jokes and jazz. It’s like a moving Pixar movie, and you’re not supposed to talk about it Toy story in the same breath as Citizen Kane, law?

Corn Psychonauts 2 has some of the best level design I’ve come across in years, which deserves to be remembered alongside Effect and Cause or The Clockwork Mansion. There are many great candidates to choose from. Bob’s Bottles features a burp mechanism that temporarily cleans an area of ​​water to allow Raz to pass through the platform. The Cassie Collection features 2D jumps and climbs through letters on book pages and hilarious pastiches of beloved literary characters. Compton’s Cookoff forces Raz to cook sensitive ingredients in a timed challenge, then battle the supercharged food critics as they vomit his meals at him in a gladiatorial arena.

Yet for my money the best level of Psychonauts 2 is the Sensorium from PSI-King. At first glance, it might lack the crazy imagination and creativity that some of the other places in the game have, but it’s an almost perfect combination of gameplay, art, story, voice acting, and score. There’s even a bit of mixed philosophy, for anyone who really has to insist that games have to wrestle with some serious ideas.

The key concept in Psychonauts 2, a sin Psychonautsis that Raz can enter the minds of other characters, to heal them or to learn vital information. About halfway through the campaign, he must find a replacement brain for a colleague. Fortunately, a senior psychonaut keeps a collection of brains in jars.

In Psychonauts lore, after a long period of sensory deprivation, a mind falls into a kind of state of content deprivation – entering the mind reveals a dark void populated by the most bare outlines of memories, thoughts and concepts. While the brain in a jar is an obvious allusion to the infamous brain-in-a-vat thought experiment in philosophy, the idea that sensory input is necessary for the development of thought could be a reference to what one calls the externalism of the mind.

In order to restore this mind to its normal function, Raz needs to find and unite its five sensory modalities: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. The idea seems to be that this mind may be highly dependent on synesthesia – the initiation of one experience in one modality leads to experiences in others, ultimately restoring the unity of consciousness of the mind.

Sensory modalities are literally represented: touch is a giant hand, sight is a huge eye, and so on. The story goes that they were part of a rock band – a band that could have come out of the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Group while doing LSD with Jefferson Airplane. To reunite the modalities of meaning is to reunite the old group again.

Psychonauts 2 Double Fine Productions Psi-King Sensorium Masterpiece Masterpiece Game Design New Psi-King's Story

The metaphor is taken to its logical extreme in PSI-King’s Sensorium. Raz scours the grounds of a festival in a 1960s Volkswagen camper van in search of the lost members of the group. Each place is full of hallucinating settings. Raz refracts light to create The dark side of the moon– esque bridges across bottomless chasms, dodges that straddle the tongues of the Rolling Stones, and dashes between eyeballs that wouldn’t be out of place in the 13th Floor Elevators cover notes. It’s all tied together by an acid green color filter, an art style somewhere between cel shading and pop art, and a psychedelic rock soundtrack that somehow manages to complement the melancholy and warmth of the game while also rendering homage to the free -the fiery side of the 60s.

Every once in a while, Raz must take a break from the thoughts of censorship, regrets, doubts, and panic attacks that come to life as the mind is temporarily overwhelmed by the newly rediscovered sensations. It’s a welcome change of pace from the platform, but it also comes in short bursts, acknowledging that the combat is Psychonauts 2the weakest element.

Meanwhile, the witticisms Raz tries to restore contribute to the narrative, expressed with the barely contained manic energy of Jack Black. There is a hint of nostalgia to this – Jack Black voiced the protagonist in Double Fine’s heavy metal tribute. Brutal legend, which I played a lot during a more carefree period, not to mention the unhealthy amount of Tenacious DI listened to as a teenager. It also allows for expert comedy timing, a final reveal that offers one of the Psychonauts 2the main plot developments and a musical number that is easily better than anything found on D.

In short, PSI-King’s Sensorium is the complete package, delivered in short bursts of platforming, combat, story and comedy. And while that might sound like a light rock concert metaphor, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. In an age where so many games offer dark, grim, and grimy worlds that take each other very seriously, it’s refreshing precisely because Psychonauts 2 is none of those things – he has interesting things to say and do without ever losing his sense of fun.

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