Think all platformers are played out? All of them doomed to be reminiscent of poor Mario clones that only succeeded in handing you a crap camera to deal with? Well, youíre right for the most part. That is, until Psychonauts emerged and turned the platform genre on its head, then proceeded to light it on fire and throw it off a cliff. Before Psychonauts was even released, the bar was set pretty high for it. At the helm was Tim Schafer, the creative genius and gaming god behind such incredible and innovative titles as Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, along with his new company, Double Fine Productions. At one point, the fate of Psychonauts seemed to be hopeless, because in a brilliant move (note the sarcasm), MS dropped publishing support for the title. This was partially attributed to the departure of Ed Fries and Seamus Blackley from MS. Well, itís a good thing that companies such as Majesco exist, because they graciously picked up Psychonauts. After nearly four years in development, it was finally released, and boy was it well worth the wait.
Instead of being your usual gun toting muscle-head thatís found in most Xbox games, you play as a ten year old boy named Razputin, or Raz for short. The adventure begins when Raz, who runs away from his family in the circus, appears at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. Aside from the camp being full of psychic kids, and being blessed with the presence of two psychic elites, aka psychonauts, everything seems to be going okay for Raz. In the gameís early moments, the characterís personalities are shown and developed, which gives you some insight into them. You also notice that this camp is not exactly what it seems and there are strange things going on, which your curious little self must investigate.
With Tim Schaferís expertise in adventure gaming, I originally had some doubts as to whether Psychonauts would turn out to be a quality platformer and within a few minutes, I could tell that this was destined to be a classic. For starters, it was a platformer (with some adventure elements included for good measure) that had an interesting and compelling story, which is pretty much unheard of in the genre. It goes without saying that there is a fair amount of running and jumping in this game, but due to where the running and jumping takes place, it doesnít feel like a tired, repetitive chore compared to other games. The camp itself is an amazing world that feels surreal and is great fun just to explore every little nook and cranny it has. For the obsessive compulsive gamer, there are tons of things to collect, but in this game they actually have some relevance to your tasks, and also, most importantly, collecting them is optional. One big side-mission is a scavenger hunt that will upgrade your ranking and make you more powerful. Valuable arrowheads found underground are used as currency to buy various items and since this is a psychic game, there are countless brain related items strewn about.
As you progress, youíll be releasing mental baggage, cleaning mental cobwebs, collecting figments of imaginations and fighting a nice variety of creatures that dwell within the minds that you enter. The extravagant minds reflect the personalities of the character and offer a different experience each time you play one. For example, in one mind you may be battling censors that see you as a foreign entity and a threat to the brain, while in another, youíll be hopping around in a party brain. Each task you do doesnít feel meaningless and progressing actually gives you a nice sense of accomplishment. Itís also nice to see a game where you donít have to do a lot of stuff you may not want to do. Of course, there is a benefit to collecting more items, because your rank will increase, which means your powers will increase and change, thus allowing you to have an even better and more fulfilled gameplay experience.
Since you are a psychic, youíll of course have mental powers to help you on your missions. They play a big part of the game and they each have their own unique purpose. The powers here feature not only some old, but also some new to what people have seen. Things such as telekinesis are nothing new, but others like psi-blast and confusion are new. The psychic powers quickly become second nature as you play and even pausing to switch them (you can have three mapped, but you get eight powers total) isnít a chore in the slightest bit. The psychic abilities add a great deal of fun and depth to the game and give you a constant feeling of progression as you gain new powers as you play.
If the screenshots didnít tell you, this game is fantastic looking. The colors are vibrant and lively, coupled with amazing and unique level and character designs. The detail is immense and little touches can be seen throughout the game. Each and every single environment is completely unique, starting with the campground, which is actually a place that seems realistic and enjoyable, like a real campground. Without giving anything away, I can say that some of the minds that youíll venture into are very strange indeed, sporting psychedelic colors and extravagant level designs, but one thing is for certain, they are all memorable. Particle effects bring the twisted levels to life, immersing you in crazy levels, unlike anything else out there. Each character has their own unique look and if you venture into their mind, it will match their unique personality. While games like Doom 3 can technically outperform Psychonauts, they are obviously no match for Psychonauts in the art direction department. Boring and dreary industrial hallways are tired and devoid of anything interesting, while Psychonauts combines weird with creative and mixes it together with innovation for graphics like no other game out there.
Funny and witty dialogue + superb voice actors = some damn good audio. In true Tim Schafer fashion, he has delivered a laugh out loud funny game when quality comedy in games is so hard to come by. Each memorable characterís voice reflects the personality and is unique to each of them. The bully will talk in a whiny arrogant tone, while the adults convey a sense of authority, which shows that these actors know their stuff. Also, for you Invader Zim fans, youíll be pleased to know that Raz is voiced by Zim himself, Richard Steven Horvitz. Sound effects are unique and add to the immersion and innovation presented in this psychic adventure. Bouncing on your levitation ball purveys a good sense of altitude when you jump high, as the pitch rises appropriately. Youíll learn to love the sound of the arrowheads and dread the sounds of the rats, who crave to nibble on you. As one would hope, the music is also high quality. With a variety of soundtracks that change and adapt to fit the current mood (emphasis on Goggalor, which youíll understand when you get there), whether it be suspenseful music or mid-tempo cheery music, it just goes to prove that your eyes arenít your only sense in for a treat here.
If youíve avoided picking this game up out of fear of poor controls and a terrible camera that will lead to an early death from falling off many edges, you can rest easy. Psychonauts has a camera that is a pleasant surprise due to its ease of use, which allows you to fight your enemies instead of it. Moving and jumping and controlling the camera is all done quite well. Youíre only allowed to have three powers mapped to buttons at any time, which makes for a bit of pausing and switching later in the game, but itís a lot more convenient that trying to deal with a ton of powers mapped to every button imaginable. All in all, the game controls great and before you know it, youíll be on your way to becoming a master psychonaut, instead of falling off the edge, because the camera decided itíd rather look at your face, than stay behind you.
The second most dreaded part of any platform game, after the camera, is probably the replay value. Are you going to play Psychonauts again? Well, probably not, due to the game not offering any real incentive to play through again, other than the enjoyment of playing a quality game. There are no extra goodies to unlock and you cannot use a completed file to go back and get things you may have missed. The game also obviously loses its plot surprises in a second playthrough. The gameplay is so solid, a second playthrough isnít too farfetched, because of so much quality stuff offered throughout Razís adventure. Psychonauts isnít a long game either, which may turn some gamers away who were going to purchase it, but Iíd rather have a quality 15 hour game (which in my opinion is the perfect game length, not too long or too short), than a boring and drawn out 30 hour one, plus the shorter play time makes it easier to play through it again. However, Iíd say it's worth a purchase so you can play when you want, plus the game is just so damn good.
Simply put, Psychonauts is without a doubt, the best 3D platform game ever, yes I did say best 3D platform game ever, not one of the best, not second best, but best ever. In addition to that, this is my current favorite game of 2005 and a definite contender for game of the year. Not only is it another masterpiece from an unparalleled genius, but it's a damn fun game too, which is the most important part. It boggles the mind why MS would drop such a fantastic title (Tork I can understand), but itís a good thing publishers like Majesco are around. Sure Psychonauts is weird, but thatís what makes it so good, because there is no other game like it, at all. In a world overpopulated by crappy shooting, racing and sports games that just capitalize off the latest pop culture trends to make a quick buck, Psychonauts is more than a breath of fresh air in an industry that is severely lacking in the innovation department. The game boasts unparalleled aesthetics and it's always a pleasure to look at, showing off the Xboxís power and the creativity of Double Fine. Your ears will thank you for playing this game, as will your hands due to the quality controls. Youíll grow to love the wonderful characters present and maybe even feel like youíre there with them, as Raz himself. With an ending that leaves the game open for a sequel, one can only hope that people come to their senses and buy a game that reminds us all of how much fun videogames can really be.
Gameplay - 9.5
Graphics - 9.4
Audio - 9.6
Controls - 9.2
Replay - 8.1
Overall - 9.5
Psychonauts - Ntsc
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