Psychonauts is, quite simply, the best platformer I have played this console generation.
Originally written on December 22, 2005.
Psychonauts takes place in a summer camp for mentally gifted children, each possessing some kind of psychic ability. The main character is Razputin, or Raz for short, who sneaks into the camp with the desire to become a Psychonaut. Unfortunately, shortly after his arrival many of the kid’s brains start to disappear, as do some of the counsellors’. Raz is then responsible for restoring order to the camp, retrieving the stolen brains and finding out who is behind all the madness.
The game combines great characters with a hilarious story and backs it up with some real solid gameplay. Although much of the game’s platforming is similar to other games such as the Rayman series, the addition of psychic abilities really makes it something special. Not to mention the truly inspired level design. Other then the camp, which serves as a central hub for the game’s other levels, each level takes place inside a character’s mind. These provides some really varied levels and gameplay, each unique to whatever level you happen to be in.
For example, in one of the early levels you must go inside the mind of a veteran psychonaut who has seen plenty of war in his time. The level looks like a war-torn battlefield with bizarre plants made out of chains of bullets sticking up everywhere and the constant din of explosions and war in the background. The main focus of the level revolves around getting through a mental obstacle course which, in this level, involves hiding behind walls for cover from machine gun fire and doing a bunch of climbing and swinging as explosions occur all around you. You then proceed underground where there is a “rail-grinding” sequence somewhat similar to a Sonic game. This is only one level, in fact, the first level of the game but it still combines a bunch of activities into a fun experience. As you proceed through the game and gain new powers and abilities the game becomes even more interesting, requiring you to do a fair bit of fighting and puzzle solving in a variety of very unique areas.
The sound in the game is fantastic largely due to the voice acting. Each voice actor does a flawless performance for each character they are, adding real depth to every character you meet. Tim Schafer always seems to get some great voice acting in his games as is further evidenced by Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. The music is also very catchy and is also unique to each level of the game.
The game may only last you about 10-12 hours on your first playthrough but there are tons of little secrets and easter eggs hidden in each level. For example, in each level there are “figments” which sort of act as coins in the game although they each are a picture and are found in logical locations considering what they are. For example, one figment may be that of a balloon so, naturally, it is floating around the map. Also, in each level there are several pieces of “emotional baggage”. To open them you need to find the correct tag for each piece of luggage and both are cleverly hidden in each level. Upon finding them all you are treated to a little slide show, which gives you some back- story to the person’s mind you are currently in. These little challenges help to make the game last longer, though the game’s story and levels are so unique and entertaining that you may very well be compelled to play through the game again.
Overall, Psychonauts is one of the most unique and entertaining games to be released this generation. It combines some really funny humour and characters with a great story and amazing level design, resulting in a game that shouldn’t be missed. The Xbox version is probably the best way to go but the PS2 version (the one I own) is still very fun and runs pretty smoothly despite the weaker hardware. The PC version has the potential to look really great as well provided your PC can take it. Unfortunately, the PC version clearly has the worst controls as the game was intended to be on consoles utilizing a controller as opposed to a mouse and keyboard.
This game is really a unique treasure that deserves to be experienced by anyone who likes platforming, humour or other games by Tim Schafer. It is a shame this game is selling so poorly as it already had a terrible fight to be released and was made by some truly dedicated and brilliant developers. Its not to late, the game is still available on store shelves and it is definitely worth the purchase. Don’t let a potentially great franchise die so soon out of the gate.