Psychotic dentists, mutated lungfish and a turtle named Mr. Pokeylope

You may already have gathered this, but in case you haven’t I have a confession to make. It’s one of my dirty little secrets.

I re-read books. And not only that: I also re-watch films. And, horror of horrors, I re-play games. Old games that have fewer pixels than Dick Cheney has had ethical thoughts. Games that require an hour or two of fiddling with Windows, downloading fan patches and editing game code in order to work on a 21st century operating system.

Of course I don’t replay any and every game I’ve ever played. Your run-of-the-mill first-person shooter is unlikely to get much of a repeat performance with me, unless it’s got that certain je ne sais quoi and is called Half-Life 2, I guess. (Or No One Lives Forever, or Call of Duty 2. For some reason, though, I didn’t even properly finish Doom 3 once.) Just like the films and books I enjoy more than once, some games are so good at telling a story and pulling you into their world, whether this is because of the gameplay or the writing, that I can’t resist revisiting them.

Psychonauts is definitely one of those games. It’s one of the most inventive, best written video games I know, and funny to boot. It’s also one of those rare cases where the gameplay itself is fun but not all that special – but once you combine it with everything else, the game becomes that oldest of chestnuts: more than the sum of its parts.

It’s the sheer exuberant imagination of the minds the game visualises: the paranoid delusions of the Milkman Conspiracy (and its wonderfully off-the-wall G-Men), the monster-movie inspired Lungfishopolis, the many other minds that form the basis for the game’s level. And the often inspired voice work is still among the most perfect in the videogame industry.

Differently from many of the other classic games I replay (or hope to, if I ever find the time), Psychonauts is still available (there’s no need to get it for lots of dough on eBay), namely on Steam. I don’t often do such blatant plugs on my blog, but this game is worth it.

The cake is a lie… or is it?

“The Enrichment Center is committed to the well-being of all participants. Cake and Grief Counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test. Thank you for helping us help you help us all.”

“Did you know you can donate one or all of your vital organs to the Aperture
Science Self Esteem Fund for Girls? It’s true!” 

Portal is probably this year’s most written about game, even more so than Halo 3. And for good reason. It’s the first game I’ve every played (and I’ve been doing this since 1982, roughly) that I would call perfect. This weirdly wonderful offshoot of the Half-Life franchise, feeling like the movie Cube, if it had been written by Charlie Kaufman, doesn’t take a single wrong step. The brilliant idea that forms the premise of the game gets the usual Valve polish, but it’s the script that turns this into something special.

 Which is also why I’d rather show than tell. So, here goes, courtesy of YouTube:

P.S.: Portal‘s AI GLaDOS, who gives good old SHODAN a run for her money, is brilliantly written. The funnier she gets, the more disturbing she gets. And the song at the end makes me want to cuddle and cuddle and cuddle this game.