Calling Psychonauts a majorly innovative game might be a bit too much credit for the latest baby by Tim Schafer who we know from games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. After all, it remains an obvious platform game. However, it’s one that shines so much fantasy, original findings and variation that you can’t deny that this is a masterpiece.
The story starts with a long and fun movie that shows how young participants of a summer camp are getting ready for their training to become Psychonaut, some sort of psychic super soldiers. Raz, the charming hero of the story, ran away from home to also take part in the training. Unfortunately, he can only stay one day, but it quickly becomes a day filled with strange happenings. There are mysterious psychic disturbances, brains are being stolen, and Raz is the one that gets suckered into finding an explanation.
Although the story isn’t so special at first glimpse, the makers do manage to create a very fun and immersing game. Not only are Raz and the other kids very original, funny and strange, but also your teachers and other characters are so different and well designed that they lift the whole to a higher level.
You can divide the gameplay in things you can do in the camp and the surrounding places, and the actual adventures in the thoughts of the characters. The camp functions a bit as free world where you can collect items, buy things and discover secrets. On top of that it’s filled with funny and surprising dialogues with other inhabitants that tell more about themselves and the story. You can spend quite some time here without getting worried one second about the actual platforming. The lifespan of the game gets quite a bit longer due to this which results that Psychonauts easily delivers 15 to 20 hours filled with fun.
As said, that last part still makes the biggest, and luckily also the most fun, part of the game. As Psychonaut you have the mental ability to get into the mind of someone and explore and experience his psychic world, including dark secrets, longings and fears of each individual. This results in the fact that each of these levels is completely different, not only qua design, but also in graphics, opponents and missions. I’ve never seen such variation in any other platform game.
Meanwhile, the levels are filled with imagination, originality and quality. Think for instance of the ghost of Oleander, the drill sergeant, where you need to avoid explosions, have to navigate spinning tunnels, and need to jump through clouds and exploding airplanes. Piece by piece they’re unique pearls that you actually need to experience to know how fun they are.
Luckily is doesn’t stay with good design and original graphics, also the gameplay is of equally high level. Raz reacts perfectly on the controls that are just right: not too tight, not too loose. That’s necessary because you get to play all the typical platform elements: jumping, runnign over ropes, slinging, kicking, walking on thin edges, and so on. This makes the game very accessible and thanks to the excellent camera it never gets frustrating. Add to that a ton of psychic powers (invisibility, telekinesis, firestarting, etc) that you need to earn by progressing in the game and collecting things, and you know there’s no lack of variation.
Another strong point of the game is without a doubt the enchanting graphics. I’ll skip the design as you already know that’s creative and varied, but also on a technical level there’s a lot to enjoy. The framerate is always high, textures are sharp and animations are funny and swift. It gets noticed that the game was made with a lot of love and an equally big amount of pure talent. It’s in this part that Psychonauts is an example for other platform games and developers in general.
Concerning the sound, the voice-acting leaps out. Raz and the other characters were spoken in very well and motivated so that I (something that rarely happens) never skipped the cut-scenes or clicked away the dialogues to be spared from bad or irritating voices. The soundtrack has the same quality and variation that we already found in the design and graphics so that also here we haven nothing to comment on.
So in the end there’s nothing bad to say about Psychonauts. The game is beautifully put together and forms an enchanting whole of a level we rarely get to play. The characters, the dialogues, the levels, the graphics and sound are all excellent and show an unseen creative vision and consistence. On top of that, the gameplay, although not as innovative as promised, is very well worked out, just like the controls and camera handling. An amazingly great game and a must have for any gamer. What are you waiting for?