Funny, Charming, and Boring
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.