Just 100%'d Psychonauts
. To be very brief, this is a breathtaking game. It's an excellent platformer, it incorporates a fairly significant number of vignette stories which all-told build a deep and interesting universe, it's got great characters, it's hilarious
, and it's got some of the most varied and crazy level design of any game I've ever played.
The story is this:
You play as Raz(putin), a teenage kid who ran away from the circus to attend a summer camp for psychic kids. He dreams of joining the Psychonauts, an international organization of secret psychic agents. At first, Raz takes classes at the summer camp and hangs out with fellow cadets in his downtime between them, but things quickly evolve as an evil force begins snatching the brains of other cadets. Every level of the premise is original to games, which is something that struck me immediately.
Levels take place when Raz enters the brains of various people, including himself. Inside, he finds a reflection of the person's psyche, complete with figments of their imagination, emotional baggage, their worst fears, and their mental censors. One of my favourite levels takes place inside the brain of a timid and anxious descendant of Napoleon as he plays a tile-based war-game against the real Napoleon. The level transitions from Raz being in the room with the two to Raz being the size of a playing piece on the board game to a tiny Raz running around the board and taking care of business.
A few of my favourite things about Psychonauts:
- The summer camp itself does a really great job of establishing a "home base" that's fun to explore and play around in between missions. The characters are all hilarious, each kid fits into the mold of a real kid I remember from my summer camp days. I particularly like Lili, Raz's soon-to-be girlfriend and Dogan, the dim-witted and goofy side-kick.
- There are tons of great collectibles. The game has more collection elements than most platformers, but never veers off into the absurdity of later Rare games. New abilities allow you to access to new areas of levels you've been to to collect more loot. This is more limited than a Metroidvania, but still rewarding.
- Really, really deep world building. There's a seemingly endless supply of voice acting quips, scenes with characters, billboards to read.
- Great platforming with generous enough controls that you rarely feel frustrated.
- The Clarvoyance psychic ability you gain allows you to view the world through another character's eyes. This is used a few times for puzzles, but it's more fun to just use it on everyone you meet and see how they all see Raz differently. Your girlfriend sees you as a hero, your mentor sees you as a pint-sized version of himself, a fat woman sees you as a floating steak, a mean and evil critic sees you as one and a half stars, a woman you save sees you as Jesus, complete with halo. Just awesome.
- The final level, Meat Circus
is known to be one of the toughest and most vertical difficulty curve leaps in gaming. Personally, I found it challenging but fair. It was also hilarious. I really appreciate it. A recent patch on the Steam version made this level easier, but I looked at the changes and they don't really involve making the traversal itself easier, rather making it so that certain mistakes don't cost you lives.
Psychonauts was Double Fine's first game, and so there are some signs to show that a few corners were cut. This is a pity, because the game is a masterpiece. A few brief issues: The back half of the game's core narrative is paced a little weird. The individual levels are still great, but the progress in terms of the plot is weird. I think they must have plotted out the levels themselves before stringing them together into the main story. The Theatre / Critic
level is pretty poorly executed. The core idea is great, and the script is funny, but there are periods of long shrill dialogue and the level's main mechanic isn't as nice as it could be. Finally, there's no way to continue after finishing the game. The game auto-saves before the point of no return so you can go back and mop up stuff, but there's no way to just explore the world after you finish the game, which is a pity. I'd like to be able to beat the game, go back to the summer camp, and just chill out, revisiting worlds at my leisure and without having to worry about aggressive late-game enemies. The game does not end on a cliffhanger, but does set up a sequel which will presumably never occur. I don't think this is all that unfortunate, the summer camp frame story really enhances the game and I think any sequel would be missing that and so be hurt for it. All of the game's main issues are resolved and the sequel setup just involves a totally unrelated crisis occurring right at the end of the ending which could serve as the basis for a second game.
This shouldn't be seen as me being negative, the game would be a high 9 for me, one of the very best games I've played in the last 5-6 years
. Rather I intend for those beefs to be more of a retrospective analysis of the ways that more time to polish up could have made it an even more perfect experience. I have similar beefs about the pacing and flow of most of my favourite games.
The game looks very clean despite some aged-looking textures and skyboxes. FMVs were unfortunately rendered in fairly poorly compressed SD, so they will look out of place. The game runs very well on my computer but I experienced one odd texture glitch.
Finishing the game took me about 11 hours, and mopping up all the collectible stuff took me another 2.5-3. The game has Steam achievements and controller support (although in-game prompts use keyboard icons, not controller icons--this may be fixable with a mod, I just dealt with it). I posted a modest collection of 15 screenshots
, some of which contain minor spoilers about levels. Most of the game's style and humour only comes through in motion with the benefit of the writing, so even if you find my screenshots boring, please give the game a try.