You haven't lived until you've played this game because:
If you weren't adventure-minded, the best thing games like Maniac Mansion and Day Of The Tentacle had to offer was their sense of humour. They may well have been the funniest games around, but for those poor individuals who didn't suffer from object-combining Asperger's, it was a laborious process getting to the jokes.
Psychonauts drops you straight into the most visually-inventive 3D platformer I've ever played, and combines a really strong script with fantastic acting and solid - if occasionally erratic - gameplay. You play Raz, a psychic who's being trained in the art of going into people's minds and sorting out their emotional problems, and it never once veers into the obvious territory that must have been sorely tempting. I'd have killed my father if Double Fine had referenced Freud. The fact this game didn't sell a million is heartbreaking.
People probably didn't play it because:
Well, it looks great in action, but screenshots didn't do it any justice whatsoever. It just looked like an ordinary platformer with a degree of wackiness. The word 'wacky' sells Psychonauts short by a dozen miles... It's intelligent, coherent and funny, and manages to tie all that into a game you really want to finish. I'll even forgive a couple of moments of atrocious level design for the utter humanity that went into the game. Pardon my gush.
Stand-out moment of brilliance:
In the lungfish level, you enter the mind of a defeated boss - a brainwashed mutant lungfish -to see why lie's turned hostile. Suddenly, you're the star in a B-movie where you're the monster in a town of tiny lungfish, and the villain (who's brainwashed the fish) is the hero. Utterly beyond excellent.
Steve: "It's hilarious and funny, but in a very clever way. I just love the design of it - but it's not a brilliant platform game - it can't quite stand on its own two feet. Otherwise, it's just great." Dan: "It's got a clever script and the characters are wonderfully created. The way you explore the worlds in the heads of each person is great too - from the rotating perfect cube of the repressed teacher, right to the absolute madness of the people in the asylum..." Steve: "There are far too many things to collect in it though. Which is why I demand that Uplink win."
Tim Schafer is a god among men. The funniest game on PC.
Ventilation ducts. Stealth-o-meters. Levels in warehouses. Terrorists. A character whose presence in the game hinges on the fact that they have a pair of breasts. More levels in warehouses. A boss battle. Slow motion fighting. A bad joke. Games are getting so predictable - maybe they always have been.
Yesterday, for example, I played through a scene so familiar that I almost wept. There I was at the bottom of a lake fighting against a giant, mutated lungfish (how very original). I entered its mind, and found myself a goliath in a city full of tiny, terrified lungfish. Reader, I rampaged. I picked up tanks and threw them in the sea, I destroyed buildings and heard tiny lungfish scream, "He's destroyed the puppy orphanage!" and in time I became part of the lungfish resistance movement. I also did some Tony Hawk grinding on a railway line, and climbed skyscrapers before blasting planes out of the sky. They called me Goggalor, and they feared me.
God, aren't games dull. Another day, another groundbreaking, dazzlingly original and truly sublime title from the imagination of one the most talented luminaries in modern gaming. Maybe we should just call it quits and give up. Games are shit.
Ra Ra Razputin
Psychonauts is a game of another age. There's been nothing quite like it since Grim Fandango and the last days of the LucasArts glory years -before everything went... Well, you know how everything went. Today is a happy day, so let's not get too dewy-eyed and rose-tinted. Suffice to say one day LucasArts was the greatest comedic and imaginative force ever to grace the gaming world, then on the next day someone said Let there be Super Bombad Racing'." and then there was shite. But, like I say, this isn't a day for moping. If we were in a Star Wars film then we'd be way beyond Empire, we'd be dancing about on Endor with the Ewoks and singing (the original) nub nub' song while Luke goes off to bum his dad. Psychonauts, developed by Tim I made Grim Fandango' Schafer and his gang at DoubleFine, is a return to the good old days. Tainted by a few gameplay issues, marred by the odd mentality of collecting shiny things' that taints modem kiddie gaming, but we're really looking at something here that borders on creative genius.
I won't be able to get across everything about this game in a four-page review; it's too mad, there's too much of it and it probably won't make sense. I don't want to ruin anything for you either, so I'm keeping schtum on the game's best bits. I've given away the Goggalor stuff, and already I feel dirty. With this in mind, let's get down to some hardcore reviewing.
You play as a young chap called Razputin, Raz for short. You've run away from the circus and a father who wants you to train as an acrobat rather than channel your burgeoning psychic abilities. Now at a summer camp for children with such talents (an X-Men-style academy for those who will become secret-agent Psychonauts), you have a day and a night to harness your psychic abilities. Leaping in and out of the minds of teachers and assembled lunatics, you pick up more and more skills (Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, Clairvoyance - like a preadolescence Psi-Ops), while in the camp, conspiracy and mystery is afoot. Someone's been stealing brains.
The best point of comparison here is the Zelda games. Each brain you enter is essentially a themed dungeon, with its own boss, its own rules and its own personality. When you're not invading someone's personal space though, you're running around the camp swapping meticulous one-liners with the other kids, buying things, digging for arrowhead currency and making your way to the next port of call that the plot demands.
Play the demo and you'll find out exactly why Psychonauts' brain dungeons' are marvellous. Every one is just so different from the other. They contain enough puzzle elements to make you feel like you're playing an old-school point-and-click (often to the point of frustration, admittedly). They're each themed so well, and so imaginatively, that they never ever get repetitive - you simply never know what's coming next, and you're almost always delighted, surprised and somewhat baffled when the next setting pops up. They also play with perspective like no other game on record. I don't know how big DoubleFine's art team is, but the amount of design work that's gone into Psychonauts is staggering, and they almost certainly don't get paid enough.
And so you find yourself reattaching luggage tags to emotional baggage (that whimper in corners of the mind), cleaning up mental cobwebs and essentially going deeper and deeper into the subconscious until you face the demon that fuels your subject's mental anguish - and defeat them. Seeing as I'm hiding the best bits, and because you're probably suspicious of my superlative usage, let's have a look at one of the least good brains levels - Raz's own, that he returns to whenever he gets new powers to get deeper into his subconscious, and the conspiracy that seems to be reflected there.
It starts off with an old caravan (the place where Raz was born) that's filled with static. You walk into the static and it suddenly freezes, Raz complains that he can't move and you have to bash yourself out of what turns out to be a giant egg. In the egg with you is a white bunny who you follow through the dank caverns of your mind, fighting against censors (office workers in suits) whose job it is to stamp out errant thoughts - thoughts like you. Should you get stuck you can wave a piece of bacon near your ear, and your mentor will stick his head out of your lughole and give handy tips. And this is the most conventional level Psychonauts has to offer. Understandably enough, the heads of conspiracy freaks and Napoleon complexes are far more bonkers, and incidentally the best bits of the game. I could tell you what happens in them, but then I'd have to shoot you. And then myself.
Did I mention it was funny? It's very, very funny. Fizzy pop snorted out through nose funny. It's easily the most charming and unremittingly amusing game that I've played since, well, Grim Fandango. But it's also, again like Grim Fandango, pretty damn dark. You're entering people's heads you see, and they're not necessarily happy places. The second head you go into is that of po-faced Agent Nein, he of straight laces and nerd glasses, and should you break open the safe containing his memories you'll find scenes of the death of his mother. Likewise, should you go exploring too deeply in the crazy, disco-funk head of Milla Vodello, then you'll find things to suggest that her happy-go-lucky party fever is perhaps a front to cover up some overwhelmingly tragic events. There's some extremely clever stuff going on here that goes far beyond the normal treatment of videogame characters. It's a bit of a crap thing to say, but here you actually 'get inside' the people around you, and learn what makes them tick.
The characters themselves are wonderful, and none are more wonderful than Dogan - who is without doubt the star of the show. He's a spherical blue kid. and is severely traumatised due to the fact that whenever he takes off his tinfoil hat, people's heads tend to explode. His childhood insanity and confused ramblings make for some real, heartfelt laughs, but you genuinely start giving a shit about him - just as the superb voice acting and wonderful character design leads you to really hate the bullies and really find the irritating kids irritating. It's a shame that you lose a lot of this halfway through the game when the plot renders all but Raz into mindless automatons, but you just can't wait to thwart the evil and get Dogan back to normal again. If you consider a child who kills squirrels with his mind as normal.
I have love for this game. Great, great love. So the next few paragraphs are going to hurt. There are problems with Psychonauts. There, I've said it. Problems. Big ones. Deep, deep breath.
It Was A Shame
The first one is that this is a console game. Mouse and keyboard, the way I played it, doesn't work at all - the correspondence between mouse-look and WASD-move is out of whack, and can render some boss battles a nightmare. Combat is done through laser mind-blasts with a lock-on button, mouse-tap thwacking and whatever other psychic powers you have selected - it feels clunky and not at all in keeping with the quality of the rest of the game. Accessing inventories and assigning skills also impinges on the action. I hate to say it, but marvellous as it is, Psychonauts is better suited to Xbox. But, better to play it on PC with a gamepad than not at all, because (remember!), it's brilliant.
The camera is pretty dodgy as well. On wide-open mindscapes (such as the otherwise remarkable Napoleon Complex level) it's easy to get lost, and every now and then you won't be able to see where the hell you're going. What's more, remember how I said playing Psychonauts gives you the same feeling as when you were playing an old LucasArts point-and-click? Well, do you remember the frustration you used to feel when you got stuck? Sometimes for hours?
Well Raz's adventures do that too, but whereas Monkey Island et al used to make you feel as if you weren't clever enough, when you get well and truly stuck in Psychonauts you feel its more a case of bad design rather than your own limitations. True, waving bacon near your ear can give you comprehensive advice from your mentor - but there are some occasions when he's useless and your frustration and anger mount and mount. I was lucky enough to have a fellow games journalist on MSN a few levels ahead of me to fill in the gaps, but gamefaqs.com will almost certainly become a vital part of your Psychonautical enjoyment.
Any other quibbles? Well, yes. I felt that a lot of the collecting of various bits and bobs was a bit tacked on - so much so that I've given it its own personal boxout (see Collection Point', below). And the FMV's a bit ropey compared to the shiny in-game action. And there's a bit just before the end that's really, really rubbish -but I can't give away. But you simply must understand that you'll forgive all this (well, most of it) because Psychonauts will make you feel so happy that you'll want to go to America, visit DoubleFine and give them all a big cuddle.
How He Carried On
I've read back over my review, and I've realised that I haven't got anywhere close to describing the fun that Psychonauts provides, despite its limitations. This is because there is no way to truly appreciate the brilliance of the game apart from playing it. You can't convey it - it's like telling someone an anecdote that was funny at the time". Even though there isn't one duff character in the whole shebang, barely a line falls flat and some of the levels (one in particular - the I am a roadmender level for those in the know) are so wilfully and gleefully insane that they surpass anything 'alternative' that I've seen, heard or played in a very long time.
I have no idea where Schafer gets his inspiration from. Dali? Python? LSD? I don't know, and I don't care - just so long as he's reinstalled as king of gaming. And this means, friend, that as soon as this game is released in this country, you have to buy it. Because the only way that we're going to get more games like this, games of such absolute joy, is to buy them. The only language understood by the who run the game industry (and yes, that began with the letter c, and no, my grandmother isn't proud) is to talk in their language - the language of cold, hard cash - and all the Sims expansion packs that go with it.
It's very important that this isn't a commercial failure and so, despite the camera problems and the moments of frustration, I beg of you to sample its delights. It's only available on import at the moment, but word is that UK distribution will happen this autumn. Buy a gamepad now while stocks last (forget about the mouse and keyboard) and make sure you flex your brain at least three times a day - it's in for some expanding, and you need it to be ready for the workout that Psychonauts will provide.
A Short Essay On The Act Of Hoarding Bits Of Brain For Fun And Profit
I hate collecting things in games, especially when you feel that you're not really doing it for any particular reason. Psychonauts has you collecting figments (neon-coloured patches of people's imagination) in order to level up, but it also complicates matters with secret rtemo, machines that convert some things into other things (never quite understood what) and various other bits and pieces. I don't care about this kind of thing in LEGO Star Wars or Hany Potter (as kids seem to like it) but it often becomes quite a nuisance in a game as wonderful as Psychonauts. Still, life goes on...
The team at pc hold a special place for Tim Schafer. It's an altar, right next our places of devotion for Warren Spector and Maggie, where we leave offerings of Jelly Babies and small toys to one of the high gods of gaming.
Psychonauts is one of the reasons we hold Mr Schafer in such high regard. It's absolutely the most original and joyous pieces of gaming you'll find.
As trainee Psychonaut Raz, you have to enter teachers' minds -essentially themed dungeons -to develop your psychic abilities. After graduating you are sent out to enter the minds of various people in order to cure them of their mental wrongnesses. To say the gameplay is original and unconventional is an understatement. For instance, your mentor appears out of your ear to give you tips; you become the figurehead of a lungfish revolution; discover a brain theft conspiracy at the Psychonauts training camp; befriend a kid who can't remove his hat, because people's heads explode; all of which happens in Technicolour worlds that make Sam & Max seem to be on Prozac and Valium.
There are some gameplay issues. Psychonauts plays like a console platformer and so demands using a controller. Playing with keyboard and mouse can be a nightmare, especially when it comes to boss battles. The camera isn't great, making it easy to get lost on wide-open levels. And you'll end up getting stuck plenty of times, seemingly out of bad design.
Summer camp season is fast approaching, and for kids across the nation, that soon means songs around the campfire, crafts, hiking, and the outdoor life with its lack of luxuries -- well, unless you plan on enrolling in the Whispering Rock Psychonauts, summer camp for the psychologically 'gifted'?. If you are, then expect a fun-filled adventure brimming with off the wall humor and a dash of insanity.
If anything, Psychonauts oozes with charm. From the fantastic and somewhat absurd art design to the charming and often laugh out loud humor, Psychonauts is nearly impossible to dislike. In true Tim Schaefer fashion, there isn't anything quite like Psychonauts out there. The dialogue is intriguing and the humor, likewise, is smart, savvy, and sometimes silly, but entertaining through and through.
Each level is insanely imaginative - literally. Levels are themed around psychological ideas or concepts, such as figments of the imagination that act as collectible coins, and seeing the surreal sights of Psychonauts is reason alone to warrant a play through.
Charm alone won't win the day, but when coupled with strong platform-centric gameplay and an interesting world to explore, Psychonauts comes out on top. The platform hijinks acts as more of a stage for you to see the crazy world and laugh at the warped humor of the game, but that's not to say it won't entertain. Nothing here will wow your socks off with ingenuity, but it is undeniably polished, with plenty of content to keep your entertained for the game's duration.
A lot of credit has to go the art team behind Psychonauts. It doesn't seem easy to blend mentally surreal elements into workable and pleasurable environments, but Psychonauts just does that. Everything looks technically and artistically solid, with environments and characters that breathe with life. The voice-acting, likewise, is strong, with just about every line delivered perfectly.
I'll make it easy for you: If you dig platformers, then Psychonauts deserves the top spot on your must buy list. The actual game is absolutely solid, but it's the charm, humor, and inventive environments that'll win you over time and time again.
Its not due out for another year, but Microsofts already begun singing the praises of Psychonauts, and truth be told, we dont blame em.
This trippy, surreal action/ platformer comes from the mind of Tim Schafer, the genius behind the PC hits Grim Fandango and Full Throttle (among others). With this, Tork and Blinx, Microsoft looks like they want to take Nintendo head-on.
It's the rare, yet truly strange gems that always stick out in my mind. Psychonauts, dripping with the creative juices that only a truly fevered mind could create, is perhaps one of the most refreshing titles I've played in some time. Unabashedly weird and stylistic, Psychonauts plays up the psychic powers and collectable items in this game to great effect. Playing through an intriguing storyline from the perspective of Raz (short for Razputin), a young psychic that's determined to become a Psychonaut.
Now, for my money, psychics are where it's at for video games. It gives you the excuse to have some really amazing powers, and yet still remain inside a nice little window of plausibility. Apparently people don't like to see their dog fly, but playing basketball with your mind is A-Ok. Seriously though, with a wide variety of psychic powers, Raz battles through people's minds collecting emotional baggage, figments of imagination, and various secrets, while battling the censors that make up each mind's collective power to fight off mental corruption. While it is easy to learn, and fun to play, you'll need to spend quite a bit of time gaining in power, as you don't get extra powers until you earn psy-cadet levels, of which there are a hundred. Don't worry about the puzzling in the game though, as its fun and not too frustrating, unlike many other games I've played. The developers of Psychonauts put a lot of thought into this game's layout, and it shows.
Graphically, this unfortunately isn't much to write home about. The PS2 does tend to fall short of the Xbox in sheer pretty, but Psychonauts is extremely well designed, so at the very least it is attractive in its own right. Your ears will also be in for a treat, as this game is packed with good voice actors, including at least one cast member from the animated series Invader Zim. Squee!
In summary, go play Psychonauts. If you wake up in your chair at home, having mysteriously forgotten the last half hour of your memory, but with a fresh copy of Psychonauts in hand, don't question it. Just play and have fun.
Snapshots and Media
- Discworld 2
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
- Hercs Adventures
- Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
- Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
- Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
- Ratchet & Clank
- Starfox Adventures
- Sub Culture
- The Adventures of Cookie and Cream
- The Curse of Monkey Island
- The Lion King: Simba's Mighty Adventure
- Tiny Toons Adventures: The Great Beanstalk
- Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master's Quest
- Gobliins 2
- Insecticide Part 1
- Jolly Rover
- Simon the Sorcerer 4: Chaos Happens