mormonwarrior's Psychonauts (Xbox) review

Funny, Charming, and Boring

Tim Schafer's Psychonauts, like all of his games, is very high concept in setting and style, filled with intriguing characters and great dialogue. Unfortunately, also like all of his games, Psychonauts is at best a derivative and plain gameplay experience. Unless you hold great love for the material or Double Fine's brand of unique humor and emotive faces, there is little to find in the actual gameplay behind this title.
 
I went into Psychonauts expecting a quality platforming experience, akin to Mario, Banjo-Kazooie, and Ratchet & Clank. I hold great love for the genre. When the game began, it held a lot of promise with its unique premise and great cast. I figured that it would start moderately slow and pick up speed, eventually becoming a serious tour de force or at least a very solid platformer. Unfortunately that was not the case, as Psychonauts stumbles and stalls more than it excels. It suffers from the same problems plaguing N64 and PlayStation games of this ilk - namely, bad camera, stuttery control, blind jumps, and unclear objectives. There were many times when I found myself frustrated trying to do what I thought was a proper jump, when it turned out the environment was just not clearly laid out.
 
It's a real shame, too. There are a lot of great ideas behind this game. The premise, as I stated, is very novel. Raz, a runaway circus boy, sneaks into a summer camp for psychic children. He eventually unravels a devious plot to exploit these children's brains and take over the world. He uses his powers to enter the psyche of various people, helping them resolve emotional baggage. This contributes to a wide variety of art styles and locations. Most of these turn out to be dark and bland in gameplay, though, making the whole experience more flat.
 
Some levels certainly stand out. One Godzilla-inspired sequence inside the mind of a mutant fish is particularly amusing, as well as the insane imaginings of various asylum patients. Again, though, the bland core gameplay becomes a serious stumbling block to the overall experience.
 
Visually, Psychonauts impresses, if not for absolute fidelity, then for emotive faces and great artistic style. The exaggerated character models make them more memorable, and also allow a lot of expression. It seems to be Double Fine's forte. Also high-quality are the voice actors, most especially Raz. Each character is really interesting.
 
Despite the great premise, though, the story does fall apart on itself sometimes. Raz acts very fond of all of his comrades in the camp to such a degree that you would think he had been there for countless weeks, although the whole game takes place over a couple of days, if that. It was an odd disconnect for me that he so clearly remembers everybody's name and exactly what they're all about when you barely meet any of them. It may seem like a little thing, but it felt like a large chunk of the game was missing.
 
That's not to say that the game isn't lengthy, because it really is. In fact, it really wears out its welcome a couple hours before it's done, and the most vexing and frustrating levels are right at the end. It took a lot of effort for me to even want to finish this game, which is unusual considering this is my favorite style of game.
 
But I did push through, I finished it, and I enjoyed the experience overall, though the gameplay is a serious bore most of the time. It's funny, charming, witty, well-written, and a generally mediocre video game, making it all the more disappointing.
2 Comments
Posted by FateOfNever

I'm not going to say that you're wrong in your opinion of Psychonauts, it is your opinion, after all. What I will say though is that you do a poor job of explaining why you think it's bland, boring, and disappointing. Sure you say that you didn't find the controls or the gameplay fun, but, you don't exactly say WHY. What was it lacking? Other than saying that you felt the platforming was subpar (which I disagree with and hardly ever remember struggling figuring out where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do) you don't really explain why the gameplay, the combat or anything like that was as bad as you seemed to feel that it was. What could they have done better to make it more enjoyable to you? (I only ask that since it seems like you may have had something more specific in mind.) Were the powers just not cool enough for you? Were there not enough useful powers/abilities? What about the existing combat was not enjoyable?

You seem pretty harsh on the game for the gameplay alone (for gameplay that isn't actively broken or busted or unplayable, just gameplay that you found boring and mediocre.) If you have average gameplay but an above average atmosphere, story, and characters, why is it only a 3 star game? Why not 4 stars? Did the gameplay bother you so much that it actually ruined your enjoyment of the story and characters?

As a small final note, I'd like to point out that - having problems with a psychic powerhouse of a child remembering the names of everyone he meets (he is psychic, after all, and rather mentally strong, and has been kind of desperate for a place to belong) seems sort of silly. Did you have problems with him being able to lift things with his mind? If not, then why would remembering names seem so weird? Sorry, that was just something that really stuck out at me as kind of nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.

So over all, I'd say the review is 'fine enough', but, just doesn't seem like it goes far enough or deep enough explaining the problems you had with it. Again, I'm not trying to say that your opinion is wrong, just that you may need to work on better explaining that opinion.

Posted by MormonWarrior

@FateOfNever: It's hard to put my finger on what it was about the controls that felt wrong but ultimately it wasn't just that. It was that at no point did I have any fun with the game. Not once. There were times when I thought it might go somewhere, but the only thing keeping me from totally hating the game 100% was the quirky characters and situations. I felt obligated to finish the game because of what a fan favorite it is, but the reviews at the time of release were extremely mixed, basically boiling down to how much people were willing to be forgiving about its mediocrity.

I, for one, don't go looking for meaningful story or characters in my platformers. It's practically immaterial to my enjoyment of them. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may as well have no story, but it may be the best platformer in existence.

Other reviews for Psychonauts (Xbox)

    One of the most charming games ever! 0

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    At least it's got personality 0

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