Originally Published 8 July 2010
Last night, I finished Psychonauts. I know this review may not be timely, but I’d never played it until Steam had it for $2 a while back. For those left unaware, Psychonauts is a platformer released in 2005 for the PC, XBox and PS2. It was a critical success, but didn’t have a great deal of commercial success.
The game itself centers around Razputin–usually shortened to just Raz–a young psychic adept who runs away from his life in the circus to go to a summer camp where other young psychics are trained in how to use their powers. Most of the game takes on a similar quirky sort of humor.
Gameplay itself comes in two forms: the real world and the various mental worlds of camp residents. For the most part the two sections play identicaly. The main difference is that the real world has far fewer enemies and a large abundance of collectables (like most modern platfomers) whereas the mental worlds tend to be more enemy infested and have a completely different set of collectables. All of these collectables are used ultimately to raise your character’s level and thereby upgrade your abilities. The abilities themselves come in the sort of standard psychic toolbox: pyrokinesis, telekinesis, mind bullets, levitation, etc.
Surprisingly, the game actually holds up rather well given its age. Since most of the characters in the game are deliberately rendered highly stylistically, there is less of a realization that you’re playing a game that is as old as it is. A sort of “cartoony” vibe is everywhere and helps to gloss over what would otherwise be outdated graphics. The voice acting is also very solid (Raz is voiced by Invader Zim’s voice actor) which helps. Also, the plot manages to hold together despite its silliness to create a believable world–something that games which go toward off-beat routes have the risk of losing.
My main complaints about the game are, unfortunately, the last two areas. At the end of the game, there is a final “real” world and a final “mental” world. Both of these are far less polished than the rest of the game. Rough jumping puzzles abound in these areas. To make matters worse, in the earlier levels, the game always was kind to leave you with something like “recovery points”. If you managed to get high up in one of the jumping puzzles, the game would periodically add things that would let you skip the rest of the puzzle to get back to your starting location if you fell. In the last two areas, the game–for whatever reason–refuses to provide any. Several times, I fell down through minutes worth of puzzle only to have to climb the entire thing again. I’m not sure if they were aiming for an increase in (fake) difficulty or what. Of course, these were also the areas where all of the foibles of the control system became obvious. As an example, I beat all of the final bosses without losing more than 2 lives between them. On the other hand, I went through two complete stacks of lives (10 lives per stack) in the final platforming areas.
Despite the end game being a bit less satisfying, I think this game is still worth the time I spent playing it. It is rare to find a game with such a bizarre sense of humor that still manages to mostly be fun.