Developer(s) – Majesco Entertainment & Budcat Creations (PS2)
Publisher(s) – THQ & Majesco Entertainment
Designer – Tim Schafer
Producer – Michael Tatro
Platforms – PlayStation 2, Xbox & PC
Released fairly late in the sixth generation of gaming in North America in mid-2005 and in Europe in early 2006, it garnished critical admiration, earning several awards but was sorrowfully met with commercial failure. It’s a shame, because all the favourable reviews of it ring true. It’s highly enjoyable to play, it’s funny, it has an amazing story and its level of uniqueness are extraordinary. It’s not often enough that games like Psychonauts come along, and given all these great qualities the game has, it’s not hard to see why it has since achieved cult status among gamers. Tim Schafer’s games have been unfairly ignored, and Psychonauts is no exception.
This is a game set not in huge castles, underground tunnels or wide open cities, but primarily inside character’s minds. That, in itself, is fascinating and insanely unique. Each level set in people’s heads is appropriately tailored to match the character’s demeanour and psychological profile. For example, the character Sasha Nein is intelligent and organized, and therefore has a level inside his mind which is very neat, but also complex in a way. It’s that level of uniqueness, which makes this game what it is. Not many games can boast something like that. The visuals in general have also seemingly aged pretty well after 8 years. In particular the main character’s facial expressions seemed pretty advanced for the time and are still a standout graphic feature to this day. But although the Main character, Razputin “Raz” Aquato, is considered one of the greatest heroes in gaming history, there’s no doubt in my mind that the human psyche is the star of the show. It makes up the settings of the game, and it’s the basis of the story. Some of the enemies in the game also amuse me quite a lot too, namely the Censors; enemies which try to flush out thoughts in the mind that don’t belong and attack the player, all the while saying “no” in amusing tones of voice.
The gameplay is particularly satisfying overall. It’s really fun to discover the various different psychic abilities that can be learnt throughout the game, including telekinesis, pyrokinesis, clairvoyance, levitation and invisibility. It gives the game a very decent level of variety. But for how big and open this game is, I can’t help but feel there was quite a lot more that could’ve been added to make it last at least twice as long. The amount of side quests to do is pretty disappointing I think. Another one of the game’s plus points in terms of how it plays out however, is that it is particularly challenging. I would advise players looking to play it to be prepared to learn how to use abilities well, because it can be very testing at times especially whilst fighting against many of the game’s varied and very well designed bosses. What side quests there are in the game gives the game an almost RPG element to it, which for me in particular, is always a plus as RPGs are one of my favourite types of games. But I still think much more could’ve been included.
The controls are definitely among the most annoying aspects of this game. The main problem I found with them is during combat. It can get pretty awkward switching targets in fights with bosses or multiple enemies and also, switching powers can become an unnecessary nuisance as well. Apparently it’s best, though to play this game on PC, as using a controller can present these complications. But that’s no excuse in hindsight. When the developers decided to release this game for multiple systems, they needed to ensure that the control scheme was tailored accordingly. But of course, these complications thankfully don’t make the game unplayable.
As I pointed out, it was this title’s gameplay elements, or rather lack of which, that caused it to also suffer in terms of lifespan as well. I think, just like Super Mario 3D World, if a few more side quests were added this game could easily have made for at least 30 hours, which would be a distinguished amount of time for a platform game to say the least. But unfortunately, it only last for about half that amount of time. It’s a shame, because with a game like this, players will want it to last as long as possible as games like this rarely come about. Whilst it’s certainly worth more than one playthrough, it’s just regrettable that there’s not more to do in it, in my opinion.
Despite all the different minds the character must traverse within to progress through the game, the one mind I would want to be able to get into is Tim Schafer’s. He has written a lot of the most distinct stories ever found in video games, and it would be interesting to know where exactly he draws inspiration from and how these ideas form in his head. The story of Psychonauts revolves around a ten-year-old boy called Raz, who has escaped from a circus against his father’s will to the nearby Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp in order to become a Psychonaut; an agent with psychic abilities used to fight evil. Raz manages to impress the instructors at the camp who see great potential in him, and they decide to offer him more advanced training at the camp. Soon, events unfold into a huge conspiracy at the camp, which Raz must uncover to prevent and impending danger to the other kids at the camp and finally complete his training as a Psychonaut. It’s a fantastically written story, complete with elements such as humour, tragedy and culture. It’s just one of many elements that make this game a disastrously overlooked experience.
Psychonauts is all about originality. There is no other game like it. It’s probably the kind of concept that if put together on paper may seem like it just wouldn’t work. But when brought to life as an interactive story, it’s just difficult to think how so many people chose to miss out on the chance of having this wonderful experience. Just like with Brütal Legend, Tim Schafer had expressed interest in expanding on the world of Psychonauts, but for now, no sequel or spin-off is in development. Maybe one day, he may make something happen. Here’s hoping.
To put it simply, Psychonauts, whilst I think suffers from a lack of quantity in lifespan and side quests, it certainly makes up for in quality in terms of conceptual design, story, humour, gameplay variety and uniqueness. It is a must-have for any fan of platforming games; I highly recommend it.