Charming fun with some mild issues
Psychonauts is a very charming game that is a hybrid of a platformer and a more adventure orientated game. This both helps and hinders the experience depending on which genre you favour.
Psychonauts is the story of Razputin, a boy who has broken into a government training facility in order to hone his psychic skills. Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple, and a chain of events starts that Raz decides he needs to get to the bottom of – and quickly, too.
Several things are immediately striking about Psychonauts – the first is the rather bizarre character design, which actually fits the world quite nicely and allows for a lot more freedom in level design; the game already looks eccentric to some degree, and then this is cranked up a notch for each level design. The second is the dialogue, which is well written and voiced beautifully. Tim Schafer’s games always seem to be associated with cracking dialogue, and Psychonauts is no different – all the characters have personality, even people who only have a few lines, and the game works out all the better for it. This combination of odd character design and intelligent dialogue also makes the cast a lot more memorable – which isn’t exactly necessary, but it does make certain events more interesting as to some degree you care for the characters.
The story itself, too, moves along very smoothly generally. There is time for free roaming, and there is little time when you’ll be wondering what to do – there is a point where you can get stuck due to lacking an item but even this won’t hold you up for too long, as it’s still attainable.
While this element of gameplay is very good, the platformer element is a little less polished. This is only mildly frustrating until you get much further in the game, when the amount of platforming suddenly increases and if you’re not familiar with it you’ll struggle a lot, as the difficulty of the platforming also rises. The sudden climb in platforming difficulty is rather jarring among what is otherwise a fairly smooth gameplay experience.
Finally, the controls. Psychonauts has a default control setting that is truly bizarre, and many people have suggested using a gamepad. I’ve only ever played without, and found that curiously the game was alright when played with all detail settings turned down on a computer that barely met the game requirements, as there’s a lot of reaction time. Played on a computer above requirements it seems much more difficult as you’ll find yourself operating both the keyboard and mouse in conjunction with little time to think and relying on remembrance of the control setup. However, the controls are unconventional enough that using the keyboard may not feel natural or be easy to remember in terms of being able to react without thinking. This can make the game complex to learn and frustrating to play, though Psychonauts does generally train you enough in using specific skills that they learn to be second nature… though this isn’t quite as effective in learning to use the default config.
Despite some shortcomings, Psychonauts is a strong game and also genuinely funny – and while there may be some frustration with the controls and some of the platforming elements, it’s certainly a game worth taking a look at.