Review by daoud_qin

"Average execution mixed with above average ideas"

Psychonauts

This is a 3d platformer with some puzzle solving where the protagonist, Raz must enter the minds of different persons and use his psychic abilities such as levitation, telekinesis and clairvoyance to navigate and ultimately defeat what is ailing said person's minds.

What makes Psychonauts rather unique is its story and level design as well as the use of various psychic abilities. While these ideas are quite original, they come off as rather ordinary in execution. While many have praised the humour, I felt it was rather predictable but I can see how some may find it very funny as it's very random and tongue in cheek. The story doesn't really get very interesting until near the end. Most of the children besides Raz aren't really developed much. You can hear the other children's random conversations at times in the game but as far as the main story, you probably won't even notice them. Although this is made up by the far more interesting asylum inmates whose heads you get to play in (literally).

The graphics and sound are technically very good. The voice acting in particular is excellent. However, I found the rather darker colour tones of the children and teachers to be rather bland. Some levels are quite colourful, particularly the Matador level. The real world is rather small encompassing the camp grounds and later the asylum but it's in a more open fashion where you can explore and find psi cards and arrowheads (which act as money). The levels in the minds of people tend to consist of narrower paths except for the Napoleon level. Weak aspects of the levels are some very obvious invisible walls and the ambiguity of vertical pole-like objects and sloped ground. Often times Raz will slide down ground which doesn't look all that sharply inclined and some trees or poles which look like you should be able to climb them cannot be climbed. These are minor complaints.

Psychonauts has two main problems. First is it's camera which often times gets stuck behind objects which completely obstruct your view at the most inconvenient times (ie jumping and boss battles). Some boss battles like the phantom and the lungfish "chase" sequences become frustrating because of the camera. It's manageable but The game is of a fairly good length and offers a good challenge in its puzzles, platforming and boss battles. Bosses require thinking to defeat. Unfortunately much of the difficulty in the platforming is due to the camera being uncooperative and offering non-ideal viewing angles often resulting in jumping to one's death or so far down that you have to repeat platforming sections a lot.

The other main problem is that it's not really fun to play for the first few hours and the story does little to intrigue you to progress further in spite of somewhat boring initial gameplay. Part of this is due to the collection aspect of the game while not as bad as some is a significant part of advancing the story and chances are you'll be stuck doing it before attempting the milkman level. Most of the more creative and interesting parts of the story and gameplay occur towards the end of the game. Levitation is essentially Raz running on a circus ball which can be more annoying than fun. Telekinesis fixes you in place while you aim a parabolic trajectory. This becomes essential in some boss fights and is ill suited for it because controlling it is cumbersome and slow. Clairvoyance is actually pretty original but the other psychic abilities are nothing that hasn't been done before.

Overall Psychonauts isn't a bad game and you could do far worse. However, it's definitely not an A+ experience. It almost feels like a graphic adventure game in the form of a platformer. While its platforming is solid, it's fairly average. The puzzles aren't too difficult but some like the theatre level don't make much sense. While there is certainly a lot of variety, uniqueness and fresh ideas, actually playing through it doesn't feel very different from other games and is sometimes downright frustrating due to the camera.

Pros
-Responsive controls (on a dual analog gamepad)
-Wacky, weird looking levels that are distinct from one another
-Decent length and good challenge
-Excellent presentation especially the voice acting
-Good hint system
-Save anywhere

Cons
-Troublesome camera results in cheap deaths and long falls due to missed jumps (trampolines can be particularly annoying)
-Just not that fun to play for a good portion of the beginning whether its the platforming or the use of some of the psychic powers
-Little variety in regular enemies which are mostly annoying to deal with
-Story only gets really interesting towards the end

On the fence
-Humour. It certainly tries to be funny very often. You might find it so, I didn't for the most part.

Verdict
There was a lot of potential for a really amazing game but in its current form, it's average execution mixed with above average ideas. If you can slog through the first few hours, there's definitely a payoff towards the latter half of the game. 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/28/09, Updated 11/02/09

Game Release: Psychonauts (US, 04/26/05)


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