Before I start this post I want to make it clear that I love Psychonauts. It’s a brilliant, brilliant game with most excellent platforming elements, sometimes laugh out loud humour and a wonderful art style. It’s probably one of the best games I’ve played in a few years. However, it’s got one glaring flaw that I’d like to rant about, because it had me so utterly frustrated I was close to giving up on the game entirely and not even bothering to see the ending.
I’ve managed to be quite insulated in my playing of Psychonauts, to the point where I hadn’t really heard of many of the levels, I didn’t know really how the game was played or anything to do with it’s story beyond the fact that it was a brilliant game, it involved psychics, and it containted the level known as ‘Meat Circus’.
I can’t think of many games that contain a level perhaps more famous than the game itself. The obvious one that comes to mind is the Cradle from Theif 3, a level that really did stop me playing the game, because I’m a pussy and I couldn’t handle creeping around a orphanage cum aslyum in the dark, while ghosts and hideously deformed mental patients hounded my every step, and the most I could do was sprinkle holy water at them. No, when you make something that scary, I’m just not going to play it, simple as that.
However, stubbornness in the face of pure, mind numbing difficulty is obviously something I possess where my courage at hearing little girls laugh where no little girls should be lies. You see, Meat Circus is a test of endurance. There are four stages to it (five if you count the first encounter with the Butcher), and each one is more frustrating than the last. It’s almost a feat of game design that they managed to make the escort mission the least frustrating of the lot, but somehow they managed it. I mean, all you have to do is hold up the rabbit and let a little boy walk over to it while mangled mutant rabbits attack both you and him. And then, once he has the rabbit, he flies off and you have to swing, jump and balance your way up to him while the mutant rabbits try to kill him. Simple, right?
Then you get to the ‘Tunnel of Love’. Oh, Double Fine, how your irony knows no bounds! what follows is a trip down the tracks of the ride, most of which are missing, and most of the missing pieces are after abrupt turns, so you have to have the reflexes of a time slowing Persian Prince to jump over them. Ten tries later, once you’ve mapped all the holes in your mind, you get to the main tent, and your first encounter with the Butcher.
Now, the Butcher isn’t so bad. You just have to run up his arm and bop him in the head a few times, no questions asked. Once I’d figured that out, it was rather simple. But the fact that he’s 20 foot tall, wielding two 20 foot long cleavers and running after you tends to hamper your problem solving skills a little, and the previous frustration of the last two stages are kind of lingering, making everything hugely irritating. However, you take him out, and that’s fine. Then you get to the really astonishing part.
Perhaps the only thing worse than escort missions and sudden miss-a-step-and-die sections are timed pieces. You see, after the Butcher you have to beat rising water to get to the top of the tent. Not only are the platforming sections here fiendishly difficult, to the point where you’re gasping with exasperation and throwing your hands up in the air at every mistake, but there is some utter tosser throwing spiked juggling pins which are lit on fire. I mean, just making it timed and fiendishly difficult was enough, but no, they had to have some bloke throwing flaming maces at you. I mean, come on guys, seriously?
I’m not going to go into the details of all of the platforming puzzles, because, quite frankly, I don’t want to think about them. The fact is, I made it through, defeated the Butcher a second time and completed the game. But man, if it wasn’t frustrating. Somehow, the picture that rolls with the credits makes it all seem alright.. I mean, they’re all smiling, right?