[ Story by Frogman ] Two things inspired me to write this article. First was this post by Jason and second was the death of Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of the greatest psychedelic rock band of all time: Pink Floyd. This article is dedicated to Syd and the joy and inspiration his music has given the world. (Can you spot Syd in the picture above? Top center near the purple face - he's looking right at you. Yes, we know. "Trippy.")
When talking about psychedelic games, music, art or whatever it’s hard to not think about drugs as well. Let’s face it, these things are made by people ON drugs FOR people on drugs. I realized that in order for me to properly analyze these games, pick ten as my favorite and break down what makes them so damn psychedelicrazy I would have to partake in some of our earth’s "natural feel-good." I’m not messing around with any shwag either, but some of up-state New York’s finest...
This list is top 10 but let me explain what I mean by that. The first few games are my favorites, but after that it’s just too hard for me to pick one over another. Think of it more as “10 really good psychedelic games.” I’m sure there are games that should be in this list I’ve forgotten or never heard of so I can’t in good conscience say that these are the top 10 best ever.
All the games on this list break the mold in terms of game visuals, audio and gameplay. Too many bland action games, poorly designed movie licensed games, and uninspired sequels get pumped out regularly. It gives me hope for the industry that unique games such as these are made. They really bring credibility to video games as being works of art. But honestly, who cared about art? They are fun to play, watch, and listen to, and that’s all that really matters.
That’s out of the way, so let’s begin, right after I hit this bong…
10 – Okami (PS2)
Yes, I know this game hasn’t been released yet. But, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be one of the most psychedelic experiences in video game history. The entire game appears as though it’s a living watercolor painting. You control a deity in the form of a wolf who has amazing powers. The painting concept is taken to the next level by the game designers as you can actually take control of a paint-brush to “draw” items into being or “slash” at objects and enemies. It appears you can use the brush to control things throughout the environment such as water and wind as well. Since I haven’t played the game I can only speculate on the kinds of gameplay mechanics the game will employ. Hopefully this game will get a port on the Wii since it seems perfect for that type of control scheme.
9 – Rag Doll Kung Fu (PC)
Rag Doll Kung Fu mixes two things that should have always been together: poorly dubbed Chinese martial arts films and marionettes with giant heads. Essentially a 2D beat-em-up game, you use your mouse to click on any extremity of your “puppet” to make it kick, punch, jump or shovel mushrooms into its mouth. Yes that’s right, mushrooms. The delicious fungi make time slow down so you can do crazy high-flying maneuvers. Mushrooms in video games are just meant to be together, apparently.
The entire game looks like it’s made out of paper-doll cut outs. However, the story line is told using live-action filmed kung-fu flicks, complete with sepia tone and bad dubbing. The game employs amazing gravity and physics. Using only a mouse makes the game very intuitive and easy to jump into and enjoy. By arranging the limbs of your character into certain configurations you can change “stances” which will make him do interesting things and automatic movements. Perfect example is the Peeing stance; drag both legs together and put his hands over crotch and watch the waterworks.
8 - Psychonauts (PS2, Xbox, PC)
You play as a giant rampaging “monster” destroying a city full of lung-fish citizens at one point in this game. Do I need to say any more? How about playing a game resembling “Risk” against Napoleon Bonaparte by shrinking to the size of a game piece and recruiting an army. That just scratches the surface of the surrealism of this game. The whole premise of the game is to enter the minds of various characters, explore their psyches and unravel their inner demons. It’s psychedelia in its most basic form. I really want to get myself one of those tiny doors that the Psychonauts slap on peoples foreheads to enter their minds. How cool would that be? I can tell you… very cool. I’d totally fuck with people’s heads. Let me give you an example of what your mind would look like before and after I was done with it:
I’d be kicked out of Pshyconauts school faster than Sonic on methamphetamines.
7 – Continuum (DOS, Amiga)
Continuum (know as Alpha Waves in Europe) is a game I imagine a lot of people haven’t heard of or have forgot about. It came out in 1990 for DOS and Amiga. I’ve read that it’s the first 3D platformer. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s definitely the first one I ever played. This game came out 16 years ago and to this day I still haven’t beaten it in Action mode. It’s damn hard. You pilot a small ship that has the uncanny ability to bounce, move forward and pivot. You are dropped into a giant 3D maze to collect some crap in a limited amount of time. The game is all about bouncing. In order to get to the next room you usually have to bounce on tiny platforms to reach the door.
Where the game really shines for me is in Emotion mode. Here there is no timer and you can start in any part of the maze. There are 12 “regions” in the maze each of which correspond to a different area of the human brain. The visuals are simplistic with each level containing about a dozen polygons but it was damn good at the time and I think the retro style holds up. Coupled with some of the best SoundBlaster-based music ever makes this a great psychedelic experience. The game is considered abandonware now but can be found rather easily. I don’t want to post any links here though. Go find it yourself, you lazy bastards.
6 – Nights: Into Dreams (Saturn)
The few people who owned a Sega: Saturn will remember Nights as being one of the first games to use the new analog controller. All three of those people will also remember Nights for being one whacked out drug trip. The game follows two kids who battle evil subconsciously through their dreams. In this dream world, however, the kids pretty much can’t do anything, just like in real life. They can run and jump and get the snot beat out of them. That’s why they have to be possessed by a gravity-defying court jester first. Sure, the world is in peril from evil nightmare creatures that want to break out of their dream reality and into the conscious, but who cares? This game is all about flying in circles, collecting orbs and trying to ramp that score to an A. It’s just so damn fun.
The control scheme is easy to learn, and challenging to master. It’s one of the best looking and colorful games for the Saturn, the music is trippy and fits the mood of the game. This game gets bonus points for letting you battle a giant ball-shaped opera singing rabbity thing.
Also, who remembers Christmas Nights? It was a one level demo of the game featuring a whole new holiday-oriented story line and a mode where you could play as Sonic the Hedgehog. It was given away free in some gaming magazines. Gotta love Sega.
5- Amplitude/ Frequency (Playstation 2)
I’m grouping these games together because they are both so similar and also both very very psychedelic. Frequency, although being the first game, is actuality slightly better in my opinion.
Story: In the future, DJs are bored of turn tables, slip-cueing, phasing, cutting, beat juggling, scratching, beat matching, needle drops, and phase shifting. Instead, their gear of choice is some ridiculous retro-futurists gauntlets and goggles that let them play a beat-game for the PS2. Frequency gets bonus points for actually starting with a live-action, filmed intro portraying this exact scenario.
Visuals: Music games are almost always trippy and Amplitude/ Frequency are the farthest thing from an exception. Each instrument (or track) of a song is represented by a lane on a highway, for lack of a better comparison. Only this highway is something that a child, who ate way to much sugar, has the flu and is doped up on cough medicine and penicillin would dream about before waking up in a cold wet puddle of water only to see that he’s either still dreaming or he’s actually laying on the ceiling of his bedroom looking back down at himself. Sticking with the highway analogy, there are billboards along the way that play 3 second music video clips related the song being played. There are few things more psychedelic than David Bowie having a seizure on dozens of tiny video screens.
Gameplay: DJs of the FUTURE, heed my word… soon your livelihood will consist of nothing but three buttons and a control stick. You better not screw up or you’re going to be responsible for inciting a rave riot (probably the scariest thing in the world). Amplitude and Frequency keep game-play pretty simple, and that’s actually perfect for the condition I was in while playing. The game does start getting intense and rather fast and a lot of the later levels were beyond my rhythmic abilities. That didn’t bother me much as I ended up spending hours remixing the songs I DID unlock.
Music: All the music in the game is great. It’s all from real DJ’s, bands, groups whatever. There’s probably a list of all the songs somewhere on this Internet thing… go look for it yourself (when you come back down).
4 - PaRappa the Rapper 2 (Playstation 2)
I’m ignoring the first PaRappa because it’s been too long since I’ve played it. From what I remember this one is basically more of the same although I don’t recall it being so adult-oriented.
Story: ParRappa is going through some changes in his life, namely puberty. We follow ParRappa through the game as he learns to deal with his first erection, watches porno, explores homosexuality, grows hair “down there” and eventually overcomes his fear of his own “noodle.” This is all done metaphorically, of course. But with lines like “Great tasting pasta, blow to your chest!”, “Slurp it, suck it, I know you all like it,” and “Come on, come on, I'm big all of a sudden! What's going on, what's going on, I'm really scared,” it’s hard to pull your rotting mind out of the gutter.
Visuals: Bright, stylistic, cartoony graphics make this game insanely psychedelic. Every one in the game must be bulimic since they do nothing but eat crap like cheeseburgers, pasta, and candy but are still paper thin. Everything about the game is visually appealing, even more so under the influence of narcotics. The only exception is that god-damn attention starved “doesn’t know when to take a hint, because no one likes him” jam box that gets all up in your face every time you start a new level.
Gameplay: Gameplay seems very straight forward as first glance. You can actually beat the game rather easily on normal difficulty by just repeating the actions of the instructors for each level. In order to score big, earn a “Cool” rating, and open truly master the game you need to actually rap better than your teacher. This is done by improvising or “free styling,” which is a lot harder than it sounds. In fact, this is one of the only video games I’ve played where it’s probably actually easier to do in real life. There’s no way I’ll ever be a world-famous hip-hop star, but there’s even less chance that I’ll ever master this seizure-inducing acid trip.
Music: All the music is original. The raps are simple yet catchy and, like I mentioned before, are full of double-entendre making it a rewarding psychedelic experience for degenerates who may be more “focused” than usual. I’ll leave you with this:
“Rinse ya good, I made you look tall.
Dry your hair, blow up and down,
Come on son, it's time to get down.”
3 – Earthbound (SNES)
Earthbound is different than just about all the games on this list because it’s not exactly one you can just pick up and play. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s trippy as hell and has some weird fucked-up underlying propaganda going on that I’m not sure I even get.
Story: Considering it’s an RPG, Earthbound’s story is rather straightforward, not to take away from its bizarreness. You start as the chosen one, woken in the middle of the night by a crashing asteroid from the future. After befriending a great warrior, in the body of a fly, who traveled through time with the asteroid, you begin your quest to gather three other chosen children and defeat the greatest evil the world, traveling from city to city, shopping for toys to use as weapons and beating up Crazed Hippies and Territorial Oaks. The game takes place in modern day America and has no problem admitting that it’s a video game, while lambasting itself for using clichéd role-playing game stereotypes. The story line doesn’t fall short on ridiculing western culture either. From fast-food joints filled with fat parents and children, to insane cults, and greedy, power-hungry CEO’s, it’s interesting to see how the Japanese portray us Americans.
Visuals: Even for an SNES game the graphics aren’t great but they fit the style the game perfectly. The game uses a lot of pastel and neon which is a huge reason why it’s on my list of psychedelic games. The battle scenes are where it shines, though. Done in a first-person perspective each battle has a psychedelic background similar to a Win-Amp Visualization or one of those crazy fractal screen savers. All the enemy sprites are well detailed in the battle but have no animations, all adding to the trippiness of the whole thing. You just can’t explain it any better than when a Tough Mobile Sprout calls for help and he and three of his buddies kick your ass, sending half your party, unconscious, to the hospital.
Gameplay: Gameplay wise this is pretty standard RPG stuff only in a modern setting. Instead of potions for health you eat hamburgers, you can get money from the ATM to pay a room at the local hotel if you need to rest. There are parts of the game that are hard if you don’t do some power-leveling but that’s fine because the battles are really the best part and there’s nothing more satisfying that Smaaaaaasshhhhinnng! A Worthless Protoplasm to hell.
Music: The music in Earthbound is really one of the most memorable parts. The battles all have very catchy techno beats. Walking around the cities you get what can best be described as elevator music. There’s some scenes with a Blues Brothers type band that just rocks and the music can get eerily creepy when it’s appropriate too.
2 - We Love Katamari (Playstation 2)
I never played the first game and had trouble finding it used in any of my local game stores. Keeping that in mind, I found We Love Katamari to be the second most psychedelic game I’ve ever played.
Story: From what I gathered, in the first game The King and Prince of All Cosmos decided to roll all the crap in the world into giant balls, or “Katamaris,” and launch them into space. Now at first this seems great as we are a very cluttered society, focused more on material possessions and money than our fellow man/woman. But the King and Prince took it too far when they started rolling up our pets. When they began rolling up actual people, I would have been outraged, and then they took out our buildings, skyscrapers, and even our skies! In my book the King and Prince would be considered terrorists but instead people around the world love them and demand that they help with petty errands by rolling up more shit. That’s the premises of We Love Katamari… can’t make this shit up. Also, through cut scenes we get to learn about how the King came out of the closet and dealt with his father’s wrath. Quite touching really.
Visuals: As quoted by my buddy from out of town who was watching me play, “This game looks like shit.” That saddened me because it made me realize that some people may miss out on the brilliant graphical style this game exudes simple because it doesn’t look like the newest Grand Theft Auto. I feel like this game would only work the way it is with overly simple, low texture, blocky graphics. If it were to use hyper-realistic Rainbow Six: Las Vegas quality graphics they’d probably have to give it an M rating do to all the blood and guts squirting all over anyone able to narrowly escape the sphere of death. But, how surreal would that be?
Gameplay: Deceptively simple, yet ridiculously addictive. This game is perfect for any fellow stoners to kick back, pick up and play without worrying about forgetting which button combination launches a grenade or whether it’s wiser to block the attack low or parry it high. There really is nothing more satisfying than crushing the life out of a speck of a cat who just minutes before was batting you around like a dead mouse. The worst part of the game is when you roll up everything on the entire earth and there’s nothing left. When it’s all said and done you realize it’s not the destination that’s important but rather the journey there. It kind of makes you feel like a complete asshole because you just erased existence on the planet for 20 minutes of pure bliss. That’s Ok though. If you’d rather not look into a sky full of broken hopes and dreams you can just vaporize your Katamari into star-dust and forget about it.
Music: Absolutely brilliant. The Japanese can’t be beat when it comes to quirky pop-tunes. The acapella version of the Katamari theme song needs to be made into a ring-tone immediately. I find it hard to even imagine describing how perfectly the music goes with this game but it’s about as good together as THC and brownies.
1 – Rez (Ed: Originally on the Dreamcast - Thanks Erika! And Playstation 2)
This game blew my mind. It’s psychedelia perfection.
Story: I feel like the developers left the story up to the player to interpret themselves. At first glance I’d say you’re a computer program, a la Tron, trying to hack into a computer network to free it from the oppression of a hostile virus. It could also be a journey through he mind of a man on the verge on insanity, scouring his subconscious, looking for answers about the origin of life, man-kinds greater purpose, the fine line between good and evil and eradicating his inner demons all to a groovy techno-beat. Or I could just be getting stoned.
Gameplay: If you strip away everything that makes this game PERFECT it’s basically a simple on-rails shooter. You can target up to 8 enemies at a time and blast off some sort of homing laser to blow them into vectors. The only thing that can hurt you are enemy missiles. Where the beauty of the game comes in is that every move you make, every button you press or every enemy you destroy adds subtly to the music. As you progress through the level you evolve by collecting power-ups. You start off as a simple circle, become a humanoid type thing and eventually evolve into zen-infused super-being. Getting attacked de-evolves you and you can die if you are attacked while in your most basic form. As you evolve your attacks become more impressive both visually and musically. Each level has ten zones and the music becomes more intense and you pass through them, eventually leading to a climax as you work to defeat the boss.
Visuals: The game is done in nearly all vector graphics. It’s very reminiscent of Tron, but actually better than that in my opinion. There’s a lot of Buddhist influenced imagery throughout the levels. The entire landscape including your avatar, enemies and projectiles all pulsate and move with the beat of the music. As you progress through the level and the music becomes more intense and fast paced so does the action and the graphics. Like Katamari, Rez proves that not all games need to take full advantage of newest polygon-bump-shade-mapping-bit-pixelating-anti-aliasing-blast-processing technology to create a beautifully realized world.
Music: You can’t even begin to explain this game without talking about the music. As I have already mentioned everything revolves around the addictive techno-beats. Each level starts off slow with a few instrument tracks. As your travel thought all ten “layers” of the level, more tracks are added and the tempo speeds up. As you’re playing the game, you are also influencing the music. Depending on how many enemies you target at a time will change the sounds that your weapon makes. To describe it in the simplest way, sometimes I’d purposely not shoot eight enemies down at once because I like the way it sounded when I’d shoot six instead, if that makes any sense.
Trying to explain this game well enough to do it justice is like trying to explain a fucked up dream involving your boss, water-skiing and pistachio-flavored pizza or an episode of 12 Oz Mouse. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you’re looking for perfection in a video game-related psychedelic experience you have to play Rez.
(Editor: Plus there's that Rez Vibrator!)
Did I miss any? Here are some games that are still good but didn’t quite make the cut:
Viewtiful Joe 1 & 2
N20 – Nitrous Oxide
Trio The Punch - Never Forget Me
Thanks for reading. Here’s your reward: http://www.spheresofchaos.com/ Spheres of Chaos almost made the list but go download the free demo and check it out for yourself. It’s nuts.
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