The last few weeks have found me very busy with these three things. Thanksgiving dinners (three turkey dinners over two weekends) are a time suck, because while they’re “dinners”, they’re not just dinner – heading over to relatives, spending a large chunk of the day, all that. But worth it for the delicious, delicious turkey meat and dressing. Sadly, I ate the last of the sandwiches yesterday.

That time I have that hasn’t been taken up by gorging on turkey flesh has largely been dominated by three games; Rock Band 2, The Beatles: Rock Band, and Psychonauts. It’s a little late to review The Beatles: RB and way more than a little late to review Psychonauts, but here’s some of my impressions of two of the best games I’ve played in a long time, and my reason for new-found Rock Band 2 obsession.

The Beatles: Rock Band has been an incredible experience, especially as a long-time Beatles fan. Yes, in terms of custom features, characters and play modes, it’s a lot more limited than Rock Band 2. What makes the game is its polish. It feels like a love letter to the greatest rock band of all time, and the attention to polish and detail is astonishing. The unlockable photos and features are a real treat for Beatles fans, and the game just looks fantastic. The character models are a perfect balance between realism and cartoon, and they completely avoid both the inhuman, creepy celebrity avatars in games like Guitar Hero: World Tour and the uncanny valley of seeing a too perfect John or George back from the grave. The highlight of the game are the “dreamscapes” that they use instead of concert venues for the Abbey Road era. The first time I played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends I had goosebumps. They capture the look and mood of these songs beautifully.

The only possible complaint is the relatively short 45-song setlist, though it will get augmented rapidly for those willing to lay out the cash – I’ve already purchased and played through their full-album download of Abbey Road this week, and it’s nothing short of fantastic with the different options they’ve provided for the second side. Playing through the Abbey Road Medley has an epic feel that I doubt I’ll see beat unless we ever get Pink Floyd: Rock Band. There are few single bands I’m willing to spend a lot of money on DLC for; Harmonix definitely picked one of the few.

My newfound Rock Band 2 obsession is a simple outgrowth of finding the fantastic Rock Band Scores iPhone application. I’m a stats geek of the first order, and a powerful database that lets me track all my solo scores, see how close I am to gold-starring any given song, and have a handy database in my pocket when playing with friends that lets me quickly look up how well I can do at any given song. It unfortunately requires manual input of each score, which means that streaks and percentage must be recorded immediately since they’re not recorded anywhere among your scores. It also requires a lot of work to get the database filled up in the first place, meaning it really is for the hardcore among stats geeks. Getting scores for songs I hadn’t yet played solo or trying to top previous scores – not to mention this week’s fantastic Queen 10-song pack – has kept my plastic guitar very busy the last couple weeks.

Last, I’ve been deeply sucked into the world of Psychonauts the last couple weeks. The number of interviews and exposure of Tim Schaefer this week due to the release of Brutal Legend inspired me to finally spin the original Xbox game up after buying it last year over XBL. I’m around a dozen hours into the campaign, and it really is as first-rate as I’ve heard over the years. Granted, the platform gameplay, combat and array of psychic powers that Raz gathers throughout the game are definitely close enough to the Ratchet & Clank series to call them cousins. This doesn’t mean they’re not done well – the controls and gameplay are smooth and easy to master, and rank among the best I’ve played in 6th generation platformers. But the R&C-inspired gameplay isn’t what Psychonauts is really about.

Visually, the game oozes originality and style in almost every screen. The game’s got a simple premise – you’re a psychic warrior-in-training, someone’s stealing brains from your psychic camp buddies, and it’s up to you to master your psychic powers and invade people’s brains to save the day. The simple premise leads to the most varied series of environments and gameplay I’ve seen in a game of its type. As you dive into people’s dreams and nightmares to find the clues, items and powers you need to save the day, you experience incredibly different environments and mindscapes. Gravity-bending, twisted suburban streets populate one mind, a strange playhouse filled with many sets, moods, an angry critic and a laugh track populate another. Another renders everything (including Raz) in electric neon outline colours in a mash-up of a Spanish city and a house of playing cards. Yet another is a strategy board game played between Napoleon and his descendant which Raz interacts with at three different size scales. While to just list them like these may make it seem random or disjointed, these environments have enough in common and the simultaneously creepy and funny story joins them seamlessly.

It’s the story that makes the game, filled with goofy characters, a thoroughly likable lead character, funny dialogue, snappy pop culture references, and funny non-sequiturs from the lunatic inhabitants of these people’s minds. There’s no point describing the plot in detail – if you like clever, funny games and don’t mind playing an achievement-free retro title, you should experience it for yourself. If you’re not into such games, the plot description would do little justice to the way it’s delivered.

So my plans over the next little while, in the videogame world, is to finish off Psychonauts, continue trying to up my Rock Band 2 scores, trying to earn some more trophies in Uncharted to unlock some bonuses in Uncharted 2 when I finally get it, and maybe try to make some more excruciating but rewarding progress in Ninja Gaiden 2. More soon!

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