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Psychonauts (Windows)

87
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Pixelspeech (955)
Written on  :  May 28, 2011
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

An adventure about psychology from a brilliant brain.

The Good

Definitely the best thing about Psychonauts is that it looks at psychology and the many aspects that belong to it, then imagines a way to visualize it with a sense of humor, how to give it context within the story, how it could be used as a gameplay mechanics and then also add a reward system for it. Because of this all the little side-objectives you can do in the game, as well as the way many of the mental disorders are portrayed, work very well and are genuinely entertaining to interact with.

The game is also very good at immersing you in it's own little world because everything you see and do fits the theme perfectly. As I played through the game I could clearly feel that Tim Schäfer was calling the shots because only he can manage to pull off immersion this well.

The characters are simply amazing, not a single one of them is generic or "just an NPC". Every character has a name, a personality, a background and something that makes them utterly and completely unique. Even the characters that get less lines than protagonist of the first Saint's Row game have secrets to discover. I also liked it how you don't just run into a profile of a character like in Alpha Protocol, but had to befriend them and hear them out to slowly figure out who they were (or even eavesdrop on them). There are some real surprises too!

The overall humor of the game is rather lighthearted, but just like with the immersion of the world it has that specific style that you can only trace back to good old Tim. Honestly, I owe the world an apology for claiming he is overrated in my Brütal Legend review because he is just a good game designer (that game was just a misstep). The humor is timeless and clever, if you're the kind of person who likes pop-culture references and memes that only exist for like a month before disappearing than Psychonauts might shock you and put a proper sense of humor in your skull.

The way the levels works is pretty original and can only be compared with the paintings from Super Mario 64. The idea is that all the levels are based on the minds of the people around you and you have to enter them in order to fix whatever is wrong and obtain the items or services the characters have, but refuse to give. My favorite level is definitely the Battle for Waterloo, where a descendant of Napoleon has to win a board game from his ancestor for reasons I won't spoil.

Because you see so many different worlds Psychonauts is naturally rich with variety and that is a good way to keep one interested enough to keep playing it. Another good thing about the levels is that you get some very interesting colors thrown at you. From a rather standard level that switched between overly cheerful and very dark and grim, I went to a very beautiful level based on a certain genre of paintings which focused a lot on purple and dark blue. That level, despite been the most boring from a gameplay perspective was probably the most beautiful level I have ever seen in a game.

Just like in Ocarina of Time you are able to contact help to provide information on enemies and how to kill them. I really liked this because uninspired wailing can only be fun for so long while constantly having to adapt to different enemies with different weak-spots is much more enjoyable and challenging. The combat is not fantastic and it's hardly the most challenging game out there, but this at least made smaller fights interesting enough to bother with (whereas I would skip over all the fights in Brütal Legend).

The controls are overall very nice and tidy. Platforming with Raz is made functional enough to be entertaining rather than frustrating, there are several ways to get from A to B faster than walking and switching between different psychic powers and items is made easy enough to prevent been annoying.

The Bad

The biggest problem is that the Steam version of this game never seems to bloody work. The first time I played the game it was fine, but the second time (when I wrote my original review) the game would constantly crash for no apparent reason. Now that I have tried it a third time I got through the entire game, but the sound was downright horrible. The music was okay, but when characters talk it would often skip or repeat a word or just glitch out entirely. It was so annoying that I just read the subtitles before the characters could even start and then hit a button to skip through the dialogue.

There is one part in the game where you will suddenly need the Cobweb cleaner which up to that point was a mandatory item. I didn't buy any other items, but still I was short 400 arrowheads (currency) for the damn thing, so I had to go out of my way to grind myself silly for three hours. I really think this item could have been better implemented if they were going to make it mandatory for the later stages anyway.

The last level of the game is downright horrendous and totally unnecessary from a story, gameplay and graphical viewpoint. Without trying to spoil anything: You pretty much have to sit through one more level after a pretty climactic boss-fight, but this stage is so poorly designed and makes such a lot of use of fixed camera angles that I just call it void and stop. The villain is beaten, everything is back the way it should be and we have seen everything the game had to offer, so don't put out just another level for the sake of having it. I also hate how we already visited this place, so the design is not special anymore and how it doesn't use any tricks or challenges we haven't done before.

The entire story happens over the span of a single day, which doesn't make much sense to me. The second you start playing Raz has just arrived in the camp, yet he knows pretty much everything there is to know regarding basic information of the people around him (names, activities and so forth). Raz also goes from a complete newcomer to the greatest hero that has ever lived in just this one day and overall it just leaves me with the impression that even the developers noticed this was rather tight for the adventure they had intended. Which leaves the question: Why didn't you change this completely trivial matter? I also like how the teachers clearly state that Raz may not attend to camp activities, yet is order specifically to come to basic training at the beginning of the adventure.

The design of the characters doesn't really rub me up the right way and I doubt it will for anybody. When I first played the game's demo it took several weeks and a sale to finally get me to buy it just because of this fact. The characters don't really look very Human nor stylized enough to be cute and forgiven for this fact. Some characters have huge eyes, some faces are completely malformed and some characters look like they came from that old show: "Doug Funny" or whatever it was called.

The Bottom Line

Psychonauts is definitely one of the better platforming games that came out after the Nintendo 64 era. The humor is clever, the gameplay is entertaining, the story is interesting and the design of the levels is simply beautiful. Get this game on any system other than PC and you can already scratch away my biggest complaint, but even then it doesn't matter that much because the game is overall very good.

I will say that Psychonauts is not as good as the old Nintendo 64 games, but it's still quite a nice game. If you are one of those people who believe games are art (like me), you are obligated to play this at least once. Younger people and people in their 30's will probably have fun with this as well, but the average shooter fan will probably get annoyed by the heavy-story and difficulty curve.