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Psychonauts

aka: The Most Excellent Game Psychonauts
Moby ID: 17451
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Description official descriptions

At a summer camp for up-and-coming psychics, a young boy with an unusually high level of psychic ability inexplicably shows up. The boy, named Raz, is allowed to stay at the camp until his father comes to pick him up, but his arrival coincides with very strange circumstances. Soon, evidence that someone is psychically tampering with the campers' minds reveals itself, and Raz is the only one who can stop it. Raz must project himself into the psyches of several different people in order to figure out what is going on and who is behind the recent occurrences.

Psychonauts is a 3D platform game with a rather unorthodox style. The characters' inner worlds are the game's levels. Each world reflects the personality of the person whose psyche it represents, often resulting in unique, surreal creations, and influencing the gameplay style. For example, the psyche of a giant lungfish is presented as a large city populated by fish people, in which Raz himself becomes a giant monster who can destroy entire buildings; the psyche of a mental patient is a huge board game, where Raz has to command armies in order to defeat Napoleon, etc.

There are also many gameplay elements and tasks which are common for all the levels. These include Raz fighting the (not very numerous) regular enemies, defeating level bosses, collecting currency, "figments of imagination" needed to upgrade his powers, and bonus items such as complete sets of the character's memories and others. Many of the game's puzzles require the usage of psychic powers, which Raz obtains in a more or less strict order. These powers range from combat abilities such as Psy Shield to Telekinesis (moving objects without touching them) and Clairvoyance (reading other people's minds).

The camp itself serves as the game's "hub", in which the player can explore, interact with characters, search for secret areas and items, and so on.

Spellings

  • 意识世界 - Simplified Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

257 People (150 developers, 107 thanks) · View all

Creative Director
Lead Programmer
Art Director
Lead Designer
Animation Supervisors
Lead Gameplay Programmer
Executive Producer
Lead PC Programmer
Senior Graphics Architect
Programming
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 86% (based on 55 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 241 ratings with 8 reviews)

Absolutely stunning... Schafer does it again!

The Good
Where to begin? Well, for starters, this is bar-none the most imaginative game I have ever experienced. Razputin's ability to enter the minds of others to battle their anxieties and insecurities is the perfect pretense to let Tim Schafer and Double Fine's inestimable imaginations run wild. Psychonauts has ten mental worlds in all; each has an entirely unique visual design, and introduces a new gameplay twist.

For instance, the first mental level (available in the downloadable demo) is mostly straightforward platforming. Double-jumping over chasms, hanging off ledges, climbing ladders, that sort of thing. The difference is that it all takes place in the mind of militaristic, bombastic Coach Oleander, which means random explosions everywhere, gigantic cannons firing at unseen targets, foliage made out of ammo belts, and propaganda movies projected onto bullet-scarred walls.

Despite the unique setting, it would be easy to come away from that level unimpressed, expecting the rest of the game to be visually interesting but ultimately uninspired. But the level design only improves as the game goes on. Within two levels, you're rolling Raz around on top of his thought bubble in a kaleidoscopic 60's dance-party-cum-pinball-machine filled with lava lamps, bubble machines, and go-go dancers. Two levels later, Raz has to navigate a twisted 1950's suburb while looking for disguises to help him sneak past trenchcoated government agents. And still later on, Raz takes part in a gigantic hex-based wargame, shrinking down to recruit pieces before enlarging to move them around the board. The variety in scenery and goals keeps things fresh from beginning to end.

As amazing as Psychonauts' level design is, the game's artistic style is equally great. It's frequently been called "Tim Burton meets Pixar", and I think that description couldn't be more appropriate. The characters are strange-looking yet endearing, and filled with personality. The environments are littered with lovingly-crafted, surrealistic details. When even the puffs of dust that appear when something heavy hits the ground are heavily stylized, you know that this game has some serious artistic talent behind it.

From a aural standpoint, the game is similarly untouchable. Schafer's games have long been known for their outstanding voice casts, and this one is no exception. Every character is matched with an appropriate-sounding actor, without a single flat or stilted performance. The dialogue they're reading is typical Schafer - well crafted, flowing, articulate... and full of gut-busting humor. The characters themselves are quirky and filled with personality, even the ones who have no effect on the overall plot.

Peter McConnell, who composed the score to Schafer's previous game Grim Fandango, returns for Psychonauts, and the results are impressive. While I feel it doesn't have as many stand-out tracks as Grim, McConnell's music brings an extra level of texture to the game. Camp Whispering Rock's theme sounds appropriately bouncy and carefree, while the eeriness of Boyd's paranoid mindscape is intensified by its soundtrack's droning electronic hum. Performed with a miniature orchestra, the music makes the game feel even more cinematic than it already does.

The Bad
If you blaze straight through without stopping, the game is fairly short, with around 9-10 hours of playtime. And, as noted in another review, it's extremely easy up until the final level. So, to extend the length of the game, Double Fine threw in a tremendous amount of collecting. In the real world, Raz needs to look for psychic arrowheads, psi-cards, psi-cores, scavenger hunt items, and eventually missing brains. In each mental world, he needs to keep an eye out for figments, mental cobwebs, memory vaults, emotional baggage, and baggage tags.

That's a lot of stuff to keep track of, and many people may be annoyed that the game is pushing them to "catch 'em all". Luckily, most of the collecting is entirely optional. Plus, the upgrades Raz gets for doing it, such as multi-target psi blasts and regeneration, are worth the effort. A lot of the collectables are pretty entertaining to look at too, especially the figments, which are translucent neon pencil sketches that reflect the theme of the mind they appear in.

Psychonauts also has a few small gameplay glitches here and there. Occasionally Raz will be unable to move after walking from a platform onto a tightrope. Collisions with some of the scenery will cause Raz to slide off in odd directions. Some of the in-engine cutscenes have problems, specifically Raz facing away from the camera when it's clear he was supposed to be looking into it, or characters getting hung up on obstacles when trying to run somewhere. Aside from these, there are a few other small problems that might've been solved with some extra QA time, but they're hardly game-breaking.

Finally, I wish this game had sold better! Its sales in the United States were dismal considering the time and effort put into it, which is a shame. I feel this is partly because of its unusual look and theme. But, I think it's mostly the fault of a misleading advertising campaign that made it look like a typical kid-oriented platformer, and the immense difficulty publisher Majesco apparently had getting copies of the game into stores (something which they are, as of the time of this writing, about to be sued over). Here's hoping that it has better success in Europe when it's released there next month.

The Bottom Line
This is one of the best platformers of this console generation and, moreover, of all time. It doesn't do much to reinvent the genre, but instead takes what has gone before, tweaks it, and injects it with a rarely-seen level of craft, imagination, and painstaking detail. Anyone who, in recent years, has stared at shelves full of cookie-cutter first person shooters, racers, and RPGs and believed that creativity in game design was dead owes it to themselves to give Psychonauts a try.

Windows · by Ludicrous Gibs! (38) · 2005

Different from all other games i have ever played.

The Good
The story line was fun to play through. Graphics for the game were really weird which made this game really cool to play through. Level designs were really amazing. Characters were cool and they had very different personalities. The powers to fool around with made the game never boring. This game is defiantly replayable because sometimes the first time you play it through you might miss somethings. Most of the powers were really cool to use and made the game very fun.

The Bad
The bosses seemed a bit easy to over come so there really wasn't much of a challenge. Some of the powers weren't really much of use besides for one point of the game. Such as the confusion grenade powers.

The Bottom Line
This game is different from any other game you have ever played.

Xbox · by Todd Bello (28) · 2006

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.

Windows · by Asinine (956) · 2012

[ View all 8 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!! Parf (7871) May 31, 2012
Just Finished it (sort of) Joe Price Apr 29, 2009
Windows or XBox? Matt Neuteboom (976) Mar 4, 2009
I hope the guy who made the final level gets fired Unicorn Lynx (181749) Aug 7, 2008
Does the last level drag the game down a little? Atomic Punch! (186) Nov 5, 2007

Trivia

1001 Video Games

Psychonauts appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.

Bobby Zilch

The annoying bully-type character in the game, Bobby Zilch, is based on the camp bully from Schafer's real life experiences, who was also named Bobby.

Boyd

The dialogue of the paranoid security guard Boyd is partially based on a mentally ill person which used to swipe Double Fine's doorstep once a week and talk with Tim Schafer about his conspiracy theories.

Names

Several characters' last names mean "no", "none" or "nothing", including Bobby Zilch and Sasha Nein.

Ostrich

One idea Tim Schafer had for the game's protagonist was a mentally unbalanced (with multiple personalities) ostrich. However, this idea was dropped as Schafer is a strong believer in games being a form of wish-fulfillment, and he came to the conclusion that not many gamers would dream of being insane ostriches. One wonders if there would have been a personality-changing game mechanic consisting of the ostrich sticking its head in the ground and pulling it out again with a different persona.

Raz

Not only is Raz played by Invader Zim voice acting talent Richard Steven Horvitz (who was born in 1966); if you work hard, you may be able to unlock a Primal Memories journal entry with concept art showing Raz to be simply a non-green Zim with goggles!

The original main character was going to be named D'Artagan, but was cut. He is referenced twice though; in the beginning cutscene, when Coach Oleander is trying to guess Raz's name, he says, "Starts with a D!" Also, the original D'Artagan model can be seen poking out of the outhouse in the ending cutscene.

The name comes from Razmig Mavlian, an animator at LucasArts who later joined the Psychonauts team. It could also be a reference to Grigori Rasputin (died in 1916), the famous Russian "court mystic", who was considered by many a religious charlatan. Raz's special psychic powers is a reference to Rasputin's alleged mystic healing powers.

References

  • In the campfire area there is a tree with a crashed van and three tombstones under it. Some say this is a Day of the Tentacle reference, as the truck looks similar to the one used by three characters in the game. It is also a double entendre stating Schafer's opinion of LucasArts' commitment to adventure games - dead.

  • After getting the canoe from Cruller, you can ask him "Admiral Cruller? That canoe...are you...in love with it?" This is a reference to Sal in Grim Fandango asking if Manny was in love with Meche.

  • When you need a Marksmanship learner's permit and don't have it yet, you can tell Sasha "I left it in my other pants." Guybrush says something similar in Monkey Island 2.

  • The obligatory Star Wars reference: When Clem and Crystal are standing on the roof of the lodge, you can overhear their conversation which includes, "We're going to be so powerful, aren't we?" and a reply of "More powerful than you can possibly imagine."

  • The Russian immigrant Mikhail Bulgakov is named after the Soviet/Russian writer, author of the popular novel The Master and Margarita

  • The character of Edgar Teglee is based on the real artist Edgar Leeteg who popularised the Black Velvet style of painting of that level's art style. Leeteg initially worked as a billboard painter and sign writer in California before losing his job due to the depression. Later he went on to achieve infamy for his cheesy art style.

  • The four painting dogs in the same level are the dogs from the famous Dog's Playing Poker painting, actually called "A Bold Bluff" by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.

Release delay

The PC version was inexplicably delayed to April 27th, even after the announcement that both the Xbox and PC were shipping on their original release date. This is likely due to manufacturing complications.

Xbox exclusivity

The game was originally supposed to be an Xbox-exclusive title. Microsoft dropped the publishing contract in 2004, at which point it was picked up by Majesco, who requested PC and PS2 ports.

Awards

  • 4Players
    • 2006 – Best Xbox Game of the Year
  • BAFTA Video Game Awards
    • October 10th 2006 - Best Screenplay
  • Computer Games
    • March 2006 - #10 Game of the Year 2005
  • GameSpy
    • 2005 – #7 Xbox Game of the Year
    • 2005 – Xbox Platformer of the Year
    • 2005 – Special Achievement in Art Direction (PC)
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 22/2008 - names as having one of the "10 Coolest Levels" for the Milkman Conspiracy. (It manages to connect parody with playing elements and the three-dimensionally twisted environment unifies theme and style.)
  • PC Powerplay (Germany)
    • Issue 02/2006 - #3 Action Game in 2005

Information also contributed by Depeche Mike, Kabushi, Mark Ennis, PCGamer77, Pixelspeech, Rupert Breheny, Tomer Gabel and Pentatonic Duck

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Zack Green.

Linux added by Hamish Wilson. Xbox One added by Plok. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox Cloud Gaming added by Sciere. PlayStation 2, Macintosh added by Kabushi. Xbox 360 added by Parf. Windows Apps added by Koterminus.

Additional contributors: Unicorn Lynx, Apogee IV, Sciere, LeChimp, St. Martyne, Patrick Bregger, FatherJack, glik.

Game added April 21, 2005. Last modified July 10, 2024.