Morceau Oleander, aka “Little Oly”
My favorite bit of foreshadowing in this game is right during the opening cutscene, when Raz repeats the contents of the pamphlet, when the camera cuts to Oleander mouthing the words “and your father looks at you with shame in his eyes”.
The following is from the Li-Po pre-production documents. There is a very good chance that this is Morry’s official backstory, in accordance with the information presented in the game, but as per usual I recommend garnishing with a grain of salt.
Oleander’s Brain Tank
Point of No Return
As a note, the game drops a literally labeled POINT OF NO RETURN autosave after you free Lili. This save file is made every time and cannot be overwritten. Despite its name, though, the PoNR is not actually made at the point of no return; in a very nice bit of courtesy, the save file is made right before you start the endgame, so if you stumble into it and only have the game’s innate autosave as backup, you’ll be able to load the PoNR and finish anything outstanding in the real world. Pretty nice!
Thorney Towers - Ascent
Thorney Towers Ascent
When you first reach the Thorney Towers grounds, it’s a little… different. Whereas Whispering Rock is a safe haven, with camp counselors and bright lights and people, Thorney Towers is run-down, dark, and populated entirely by a set of abandoned asylum inmates. Its first level is the strange, unsettling Milkman Conspiracy, although its subsequent levels never quite capitalize on the same kind of feel. For the best, I think; of all the inmates, Boyd is the only one we can’t ‘fix’, and is possibly the craziest person Raz encounters in the game.
You go through the other inmates’ levels and you kind of forget what it is to be on the grounds, or you get used to it. This particular part of Thorney Towers is derelict, but largely inoffensive.
The ascent is…
Gonna be frank. The ascent is creepy.
There is no background music. All you hear is the tower creaking and moaning, the shrill cries of the creature following you and telling you to turn away, and — worst — the scuttling and squeaking of the rats. It is utterly barren, with nothing but abandoned wheelchairs and battered furniture and shattered floors and the scrawlings of madmen adorning the walls. The tower is twisted and freakish, and is very effective at capturing the feel of being in an abandoned, condemned building. And that’s before it really hits its stride.
The further up you go, the more wrong it is and the more twisted the tower becomes. Physics betray you; the layout stops making sense. At one point you jump up and suddenly the beds are bolted to the ceiling; you leap through a hole above you and land on the wall. The tower changes and becomes impossible, reaching almost Escher levels of design improbability. It’s never outright scary (except for the rats the rats the rats), but it’s unsettling and actively disorienting.
And, frankly, excellent.
I hit the tower ascent the same way I hit the Milkman Conspiracy when I was younger; in the middle of the night, all lights off, just coming off a delightful high in one of the other mental worlds. The abrupt contrast of going from Black Velvetopia or Waterloo World to smashing into the tower ascent is enough to give pause, and coupled with my unfortunate habits I recall having a really tough time getting through this particular level my first time through the game (at least without turning a couple of lights on).
Black Velvetopia itself is the most visually stunning level, and the one that introduced me to the game back during pre-release coverage (specifically, a picture of the fight against El Odio, accompanied by the caption, “As Raz dodges out of the way, he observes the bull is wearing some very dapper boots”. I remember some stupid things.) It’s vibrant and beautiful, with a distinctive style that makes it pop out from the fare of the rest of the game.
The level itself is solidly designed; it’s fun to navigate, the running of the bull is rarely frustrating, and you are given a very obvious and specific direction to work in. The dog painters are paced to give you a decent break from the platforming to get some story, and unlocking the shortcuts across the level feels natural and quite welcome.
And of course, the level is gorgeous.
The level is styles after a black velvet painting, with vivid color standing out against a black backdrop. Everything is in solid, powerful tones, and the level is a joy to just look at and explore. From fountains spewing bright paint to the bright pink bull to the way Edgar’s tattoos and jacket design almost seem to leap away from him, the whole experience is just beautiful.
Black Velvetopia is honestly one of the standout levels not just of the game, but of a console generation. I admit that I’ve had more fun with a lot of games, in the moment, but if you asked me to recall a particular level of, say, an old Ratchet & Clank game, I could tell you about a tense firefight, but the environments just kind of blend together. The game is fun, and the design certainly works, but it doesn’t pop.
Don’t get me wrong. Games are becoming more and more beautiful, just on their own. But too often ‘realistic’ winds up being a shorthand replacement for good art direction. You can make something pretty, but to make it memorable you need to remember that you’re dealing in a purely fantastic medium. There’s nothing keeping you married to perfect proportions, realistic lighting, or (infamously) everything being layered in brown. Black Velvetopia shines from an art direction perspective; even if you have issues with the gameplay of Psychonauts (and some people certainly do), it’s a level that you’re not going to soon forget.
Edgar is one of the remaining inmates of Thorney Towers, undergoing art therapy to try and work out his issues.
Edgar is a world famous black velvet painter. He was commissioned to paint a portrait of the famous matador Dingo Inflagrante. Unfortunately, as Dingo sat for his portrait to be completed, his eyes met those of Lampita Pasionado, Edgar’s beautiful wife. Dingo and Lampita fell for each other over the course of the painting, and ran away together, leaving Edgar with nothing but a broken heart and and incomplete masterpiece.
Edgar became useless, creatively bereft and angry — at Dingo, at Lampita, at himself. His rage became manifest in his paintings, here no matter what he tried to paint he always came back to Dingo Inflagrante.