Approaching Psychonauts with the right attitude is the key to extracting all the juicy enjoyment out of it. Knowing what to expect will save hardcore gamers from disappointment and cause causal gamers to seek it out. Psychonauts is for everybody but it’s not all things to all people. What it does, it does well – and that’s entertain.
It’s probably best to think of Psychonauts as some kind of a bizzare, interactive cartoon. There’s only the one story mode. No online or multi-player modes. It’s loaded with unlockables if you’re into replaying the game to search for them all. It’s not essential that you collect a lot of items your first time through but there are some that you will simply have to get. These one’s you’ll practically trip over.
Overall the gameplay isn’t difficult, but it’s not really about the challenge. It’s about having fun and experiencing all the strange and wacky worlds and characters you’ll encounter, not to mention putting your psychic powers to work.
Raz is a big headed, bug-eyed boy that resembles some kind of alien. As you might suspect he’s not your usual kid. He’s gifted with paranormal powers. One day he runs away from the circus and joins the Psychonaut summer camp only to discover that kids’ brains are being abducted from their heads by an evil scientist, rendering these gifted kids as brain-dead TV viewers. Putting his powers to the test, Raz sets out to solve the mystery and put an end to the brain-napping.
Raz’s powers include the ability to move objects with his mind, turn invisible, start fires with his mind, predict the future, levitate and most interesting of all, the ability to enter into people’s mind. It’s this ability that really sets the game apart.
Raz enters into the minds of the enemy and does battle with their inner demons. These mindscapes are all different and spawn different styles of gameplay including combat, platforming, puzzle solving, fetch quests and an assortment of mini-games. Each mindscape is rich in surrealistic detail from surreal nightmares to strange cartoon worlds where few things seem to make sense. You never know what to expect next which manages to keep things fresh throughout the game.
Starting with some basic moves like jumping, double jumping and climbing, you will begin earning more powers and abilities along the way. You’re encouraged to explore but you won’t be left wandering around in empty voids for hours on end. The worlds are full of characters both enemies and non-threatening NPCs which are always up for some kind of interaction. You can just stand around and eavesdrop on their conversations, many of which can last a few minutes without repeating. Sometimes you might be able to catch a clue or two but more often than not you’ll get a good laugh out of some of the things these characters have to say.
Raz is a likeable character as he’s somewhat of a bumbling novice; not entirely sure of how to use his powers. It makes for a lot of comical situations. The puzzles aren’t very difficult but they give you an excuse to use your psychic abilities. For instance you can levitate to a high platform that you wouldn’t be able to reach by just jumping. Obstacles blocking your path, especially combustibles such as large trees can be set on fire with your powers of pyrokinesis. Objects that may be too heavy to lift or ones that are out of reach can be moved with telekinesis. All the controls are easy to access with the face buttons and analog stick and are responsive and tight.
Psychonauts displays high production values. It’s solid mechanically and runs at a steady framerate. The animation is smooth and the characters are brought to life with top-shelf voiceacting. The environments are highly imaginative and varied but the overall quirky look of the game is never compromised. All the worlds in Psychonauts have a realistic cartoon look and feel which makes you a part of the action and not just an observer. Even though the game has a cartoon look, and defies all the natural laws of physics, so well crafted, cohesive and consistent is the presentation that we have no trouble believing in it.
The music is perfectly suited to the action with recognizable ethnic strains and twisted melodies with discordant harmonies that would make Thelonious Monk raise an eyebrow. As good as the voiceovers, music and sound effects are, there is some audio overlapping.
Psychonauts has spent more than four years in development and it shows. It’s almost perfect. Technically it’s solid and virtually bug-free but still manages to ooze with personality and imagination. This is definitely going to be a contender for Game of the Year.