Reviewed: August 22, 2005
Released: April 19, 2005
My first encounter with Psychonauts was a weird ad in a gaming magazine with these little pop-out door things in a cardboard brain. It was sort of a gimmicky thing. I thought it was weird. And that, my friends, is exactly what Psychonauts is all about. Weird. But a very cool kind of weird.
From the great mind of Tim Schafer comes another game with superb story craftsmanship along with great gameplay. Ever heard of Grim Fandango? Full Throttle? Secret of Monkey Island? Day of the Tentacle? Tim Schafer has proven that he's got the talent and the imagination to make great games, and Psychonauts is no exception.
At its heart, Psychonauts is a platformer game, akin to games like Jak & Daxter for the Playstation 2, or on the PC, games like Rayman. But this game was finely crafted and ramps up the difficulty in such a gentle fashion, while telling an engaging story in a bizarre setting that oozes both style and weirdness, that even adventure game fans who normally wouldn't go for actiony games should give Psychonauts a try.
You take on the persona of a young psychically talented lad named Razputin, or Raz for short. Raz has run away from home and snuck into the Whispering Rocks Psychic Summer Camp. His instructors literally get into his mind, and him into theirs, teaching him all the psychic powers and abilities so that he can become one of the elite. A Psychonaut! Each mind that Raz journeys through offers a completely unique and exciting landscape, and Raz unlocks more and more abilities as his psychic potential increases.
Psychonauts begins with a great cut scene, and in fact you will get to see a lot of great cut scenes to move the story along for Psychonauts, all done in a very unique style. Raz has just snuck into Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp and instead of getting kicked out, has managed to win over the camp leaders with his talent and wits. Raz gets to go along with the other students at the camp and learn the secret psychic techniques to become... a Psychonaut!
You can control Raz with mouse and keyboard, or you can do like I did and plug in a USB game pad and control him that way. I had a dual-analog stick Gravis Eliminator Rumble pad, and with some minor tweaking in the control setup screen I was able to configure the game pad to work flawlessly with Psychonauts. But I did play a while with mouse and keyboard and while the controls take a bit of getting accustomed to, they did seem workable. Still, Psychonauts is a platformer similar to the ones on console games and the game pad is pretty much custom made especially for this type of game.
Wandering around the campgrounds when you first start is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the controls. You can find purple arrowheads that are charged with psychic energy, which is used as the campground's money, to buy psychic gadgets from the camp store and other things. You can also find cards, which if you can collect enough of them can help you gain psychic ranks.
The real fun begins when you talk to Coach Oleander and he lets you astrally project into his brain for Basic Braining. Inside Oleander's head it's a war-torn battle zone, so you better be careful and watch your step, but you get a great taste of just how unique the settings are for this platformer with this excellent tutorial level. You will encounter many other brains that you must traverse throughout the story of Psychonauts, and each one is exciting and unique. The level design is absolutely fantastic.
Inside the brain and outside you'll find lots of things to collect. I already mentioned the arrowheads and the cards. There are also items that are part of a big scavenger hunt. You can also collect "figments" in the minds of others, and you can help "sort emotional baggage." You can find memories that are locked away in safes and break them out to view a slide show of memories. Psychonauts is full of these wonderful clichés that expand the game play and keep things fresh and new throughout.
As you gain in you psychic rank level, you will unlock new psychic abilities, like levitation, clairvoyance, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, invisibility, and more. You can assign hot keys to up to three powers at a time (or buttons on your game pad), which adds a bit of strategy to the game.
If there is one thing that you can fault Psychonauts game play with is that the camera control takes a bit of getting used to. But after a while it becomes second nature.
The art design for Psychonauts is amazingly weird and goofy and wonderful in a bizarre style unlike anything you've ever played before. It's cartoonish in many ways but darker, more sinister looking, and refreshing. The level design is amazingly fresh and fun. The characters themselves look like a cross between Warner Bros. and Tim Burton.
You can bump resolution all the way to 1600x1200 and the graphics supports FSAA (anti-aliasing) as well as advanced shading and shadows. You can, of course, turn on the options you need to get good performance on even a modest gaming box. Animation was smooth and extremely well done, even on the higher quality settings.
Psychonauts delivers an experience that you will not find anywhere else, and part of that is due to the great looking graphics. The best part is, they never get stale, since each new brain you encounter takes the artistic design in a whole different direction.
Psychonauts sound blends in perfectly with the action that is going on screen. The original music has a wide variety of flavor and style depending on whether you're in camp or in some strange brain. Not only is the music great and never dull, but the sound effects are also very fitting to what is happening. Each psychic power has it's own sound as well as the ambient sounds fitting in perfectly no matter where you're at.
One cannot say enough about how great the voice talent is in Psychonauts. The heart of the game, in fact, is the great conversations which are extremely well written and well acted among all the cast of characters in the game. Even the little minor conversations with random camp-goers as you're wandering around are a marvel to see and hear. This game definitely has the best dialogue and voice work of any PC game in recent memory.
Psychonauts is relatively short, but what a fun ride. Even though there is only about 15-20 hours of gameplay here, if you're really crazy about finding every single item in the game to get your rank up to 100 you can probably spend a good 25 hours. There's not really a lot of replay value once you've done it all, except to replay the exciting boss fights or to revisit the wonderfully creative levels. The going price is about $30, so you do get a pretty good value for your money with this game.
Psychonauts delivers a unique gaming experience you will probably never have an opportunity to play again. The production values are top notch in every department. If you're the kind of gamer who craves the weird and unusual, look no further; this is your game.
This game would be a good crossover game that fans of classic adventure games could have fun with -- even though it's a bit twitchy and action-oriented, it's fairly forgiving, until later in the final levels. Basically everyone who is looking for unusual, funny, and an exciting story, look no further, than Psychonauts.