[Finally, after a long, unintended hiatus, welcome back to Level-Headed, showcasing the best levels in gaming! As usual, I’m your lovely host Pendelton. Now that things have gotten to be a little less hectic in my life, I’m coming back on a weekly basis to talk about the best of the best in level designs. I thought that, since this is a long time coming, I should start off this new “season” (if you will) with the level that first made me want to start this series. So, without further ado…
Psychonauts. The mere mention of that game brings out fits of pure, school-girlish joy for many gamers. Not only one of the best Tim Schaefer games ever created, but quite possibly the greatest platformer ever. A phenomenal story, great powers and abilities, and amazing levels of humor make this a much-loved game.
And the levels. My God, the levels. Each level in the game represented the psyche of whomever’s brain you happened to enter at that time. You literally play in someone’s mind: fight their demons, sort out their emotional baggage, and find out things about the characters you’d never know otherwise. While this isn’t the last time I talk about this game on Level-Headed, I’d like to show you a level that, after playing it, literally changed the way I thought about gaming. What level you might ask (or not, if you read the goddamn blog title)?
The Milkman Conspiracy.
As I said, each level is housed within someone’s brain; every thought of theirs was manifested in some way. The most demented level, belonging to the most demented character in the game, is inside the head of security guard Boyd Cooper. When you first meet him in the game, at the entrance of the insane asylum where your girlfriend is being held, Boyd is scribbling random shit on the walls, and mumbling about the most random things (if you have some time, stand near him and take a listen). Eventually, you find out that he's got the secret to getting into the asylum. How do you get that secret? By making an entrance into his mind (via a small wooden door item) and entering his subconscious. This is where things get truly interesting, as if they hadn't already been.
I bet it is, Boyd. I bet it is...
It turns out that Boyd is a bit of a conspiracy nut; your psychological journey starts in Boyd's house, where Boyd is working on a conspiracy based on someone called The Milkman. When you first enter his brain, you get to see Boyd talking about all kinds of random conspiracies, such as the G-Men, The Rodeo Clown Cartel, and the fact that the intelligence community is in league with cows to overthrow the tenderizer market. If you haven't caught on, Boyd's insane. After leaving his house, and gaining the new psichic power of Clairvoyance, you're treated to one of the most surreal levels in gaming history.
The level design, if you aren't fully prepared, might make you feel dizzy at times, Since Boyd's head is filled with convoluted, intertwining, and twisted theories, the level reflects that. Basically you're in Dali's version of the perfect neighborhood. Streets bend wildly around themselves. The road cracks open to reveal nothingness. Up becomes left, right becomes backward, and even something as a simple jump can have you falling into oblivion. Hell, even the architecture in the level is stupendous. Each house, from the outside in, looks like it was cut and pasted from an episode of Leave It To Beaver. The lighting fixtures, the topiary-cut shrubs, and even the lawn furniture is reminiscent of the late 50s.
Conspiracy bleeds into every niche of the level. Eyes peer out at you from behind closed blinds. Men in trench coats with hidden faces wander around the scenery. Hell, one area of the level is a friggin' book depository with a sniper chilling at the top. Plus, if you're quick enough, you might just realize that what you thought was a fire hydrant is REALLY a hidden camera. Sure, it's an interesting way to belabor the point that Boyd thinks the world is out to get him (i.e. everyday objects are just instruments of the government). But, this shows the inherent beauty within each level in Psychonauts; when you get into someone's head, their head gets into yours. For instance, as you walk along the roads looking for your next objective, a camera might pop out of the bushes. You think to yourself, "Wait, did I just see that?" Not sure of yourself, you walk along, until it happens again. Now, you're freaking out a bit, because you have no idea if what you've seen is real or just in your head. Then you begin eying all kinds of scenery, trying to find a camera hidden in them. Welcome to the mind of a conspiracy theorist.
The most common "enemies"/obstacles in this level are the men in trench coats mentioned earlier. As you progress, you'll come across groups of the G-men holding different objects, such as flowers, telephones, and hedge shears. To sneak past them, you must be holding the same item they are, so that they'll believe you're just like them. For instance, to get an extra life token, you have to walk into a group of G-men holding a rolling pin, while doing so yourself. Then, by using the Clairvoyance power given to you at the start of the level, you can look through their eyes to see that they see you as nothing but a common housewife. The same happens at a cemetery, when you have to hold flowers so the G-men think you're just another grieving widow. Also, if you get the time, talk to the G-men while disguised. They speak to you, in the most heartless monotone voice ever, as if you're who you're disguised as. Holding a plunger around other plunger-wielding G-men will let them talk to you about being a plumber, and talking about how they've seen you "at the last union meeting".
Eventually, you come to find out that this milkman Boyd keeps going on about is some powerful, god-like person being protected by the neighborhood children, a gang called The Rainbow Squirts. Basically stereotypical government workers merged with The Girl Scouts, The Rainbow Squirts have taken a "pledge of purpose" to protect the Milkman at all costs (which you can read on my sidebar). So, the final area of the game has you fighting the scout leader, an evil woman who wields deadly God's eyes
. Once she is defeated, all of the secrets of The Milkman are revealed to you.
Seriously, God's eyes.
Seriously, you need to play this level. I've left out a few key points about the level, but only because they have to be experienced to be truly enjoyed. The trial of Boyd Cooper stand out as one of the greatest levels in history. And, I hope you'll take time to find that out for yourself.
Ye Olde Royal Odeon
(Guitar Hero 3)
The Homerun of Death
(Mario Party 3)
Report 5: Evil In The Galaxy Revealed!
(Space Channel 5)
(Mega Man X)
(Skies of Arcadia)
Chainsaw Hedgemaze Mayhem
(Zombies Ate My neighbors)
Temple Of Ice
(LoZ: Phantom Hourglass)