Review by shmasmasnash

Reviewed: 03/02/10

A breath of originality and hilarity

Psychonauts was easily the funniest game of the last generation, if not all time, but had nearly nonexistent sales for a long period of time. But now, in 2010, it is available for $10 on Steam. Is it worth it? The short answer: Yes. For a longer answer, read on.

Story: 10/10
In Psychonauts, you play the role of Razputin, a 10-year-old psychic boy who escaped from the circus on the world’s smallest pony in order to train to become an international psychic secret agent at a government-sponsored summer camp. (This is a rather normal event compared to much of the rest of the game.) Upon arriving at the camp, you are informed that your dad has been called, and will be there to pick you up and take you home in a few days. So, you resolve that you have to become a full-fledged psychic agent, or Psychonaut, in the space of a few days. However, strange things begin to happen around the camp. The instructors are leaving suddenly, someone has been stealing kid’s brains, and there’s that old legend about the giant sea monster…

The story of Psychonauts is easily one of the most memorable stories in any video game. The crazy, over-the-top plots are just crazy enough to work, and you will not only be laughing the whole time, but curious as well about what is happening at the camp. One can zoom through Psychonauts in 12-15 hours and still have a great time, but by far the best experience comes from taking your time and going through all that the game has to offer. Throughout the game, you go into the minds of various people for various reasons. Even in the minds of the (relatively) sane camp counselors, there are many hidden secrets hidden around. The more important pieces of the life of each of the people’s minds that you go into are hidden away in mental vaults, which look like crosses between safes and piggy banks. If you find these hidden vaults, chase them down, and break them open, you can find much more insight into how the character got the way that they are today. Even just walking around the camp, you can find easily missed conversations between characters that are almost always funny and provides the characters with more detail. You can usually listen to a conversation between two of the 21 different campers for three minutes and still never hear a repeated line. Speaking of which, out of the 50 or so characters, there isn’t a single one that I would call one-dimensional. Everyone has depth and development. Again, all of this could be skipped over by a player who merely wants to finish the game, but the real heart of the game is in the details.

Graphics: 9/10
It is hard to judge the graphics of a game that came out years ago for a previous generation, but for the type of game that it is, Psychonaut’s art style is very fitting. All of the characters are somewhat deformed in a way that just makes them better, sort of like something that Tim Burton would do if he made a video game. In addition, almost no environments are recycled between the worlds, and the art style of each mental world fits the owner. For example, in the mind of war-scarred Coach Oleander, you can find browns, greens, grays, and blacks, along with all sorts of explosions, while in the mind of Edgar Teglee, a black velvet painter with a bullfight obsession, you can find stunning dark purples and oranges in one of the most beautiful levels in a game that I’ve ever seen. The graphics do look a little undetailed at times, but it doesn’t really detract from the game.

Gameplay: 9/10
At its core, Psychonauts is something of a cross between an adventure game and a platformer. It has the exploration and storytelling present in the adventure genre, yet many of the puzzles and combat stylings typical of a platformer. None of it is particularly difficult (except the last level, which is keyboard-breakingly difficult), but it’s all very fun and very well made. At no point during the game did I think that there was a jump that was unfair or should have been revised. However, the main part of the game, as the title and story implies, is the eight psychic powers that you earn throughout the game. Each of them are unique, such as Levitation, which lets you roll on a ball of psychic energy to move faster and jump higher, or Pyrokinesis, which allows you to set things on fire from a distance. A lot of fun can be gained from experimenting with the different psy powers. An example of this was when I was low on health and needed to get through a passage that had several enemies in it, so I lit a trash can on fire with pyrokinesis, hurled it at the enemies with telekinesis, and watched them running around in circles before falling over.

Having said that, the combat in the game feels very lacking, with only a few different types of enemies, none of which is really unique at all. There’s the small guy who runs up and punches you, there’s the guy who runs up and explodes, there’s the bigger guy who runs up and punches you, and there’s the guy who shoots you… and that’s it. In addition, you’ll find that by the end of the game, you’ll probably only be using about one or two of your psy powers over and over again for combat, since pretty much any non-boss can be easily killed by shooting them a couple of times with a psy blast, jumping over them with levitation, shooting a couple more psy blasts, and so on. This gets tedious quickly, but luckily, the game focuses far more on exploration, puzzles and platforming than on the combat.

This is definitely a game that rewards those who like to wander around the game world, seeing everything. Hidden throughout the real world are psy cards and challenge markers, which help you to rank up and gain new psychic abilities. Also strewn throughout the campgrounds are items from the camp’s scavenger hunt, many of which are very difficult to find, but give you lots of rank ups. Inside the minds of the different characters, in addition to the previously mentioned vaults, you can find figments of imagination, which help you to rank up, emotional baggage (represented by crying pieces of luggage) which give you a rank up once you collect all of them in a mind and give you the character’s concept art, and mental cobwebs, which can be removed through an item you get later in the game and give you psy cards back in the real world. All in all, there are over 1,500 collectibles in Psychonauts, which makes getting 100% completion very difficult, yet very fun.

Controls: 10/10
Most platformers for the computer fail when put to the test of using a keyboard and mouse, yet using this setup for Psychonauts presents no problems. E, Q, and right clicking activate the psy powers assigned to those buttons, and your powers can be swapped out in a matter of seconds, so the gameplay isn’t interrupted. Taking out and putting back items is just as easy as assigning powers. The platforming is very smooth and easy to control, which averts the main problem many computer platformers have of the feeling that it’s the controls presenting the difficulty, not the game. And if for some reason you don’t like the default controls, all of the keys are able to be mapped from the options menu in the game.

Sound: 9.5/10
All of the sound effects are very clear, and almost always fit the surroundings. Lighting someone on fire sounds like fire, bouncing on a ball sounds like a real ball, and so forth. In addition, Psychonauts has some of the best music in a video game, with different songs for every mental world and different places in the real world. For an example of the wonderful music in the game, check out this music from a painter’s sanctuary:
The reason, however, that I gave the sound a 9.5 instead of a 10 was that, at least on my computer, there were a couple times when the sound skipped a little, causing sentences to overlap. It wasn’t my disk, as I got it off of Steam. The problem is annoying, but rare, so it doesn’t really detract from the gameplay.

Replayability: 9/10
Although there are no different endings or different paths to take on separate playthroughs of Psychonauts, there are so much hilarious dialogue that, even though I’m on my fourth playthrough and have completed a 100% run, I doubt that I’ve heard 75% of all of the game’s dialogue. Aside from going for a faster time or 100%, this game will keep you coming back to hear all of its humor.

Psychonauts doesn’t have a cult following for no reason. It’s one of the most enjoyable, most hilarious game’s that I’ve ever played. In a time when every game seems like the same game with a new title and different character names, Psychonauts is extremely refreshing. Not to mention, if you have an Internet connection (which I assume you do, since you’re reading this review), you can buy the game for $9.99, which is less than the price of going to a movie, but will last 10x longer than a movie. Even if you are still on the fence about getting the game, there’s a free demo that takes you through the opening and first level. Take my advice, get Psychonauts – you won’t regret it.

Overall: 10/10 (not an average)

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Psychonauts (US, 04/19/05)

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