This is unlike anything you've ever played before.
Psychonauts is one of those golden gem games that don't get priority place on the store shelf, and despite raving reception from the critics, still don't sell as well as they should. This is why you should buy Psychonauts. It is a very unique platformer which, thanks to the amazingly creative mind of Tim Schafer, has stunning level designs and humour that no other game can match, and will just have you begging for more.
The game takes place in a summer camp for children with psychic powers. You control the main character Razputin (whose nickname is Raz) who ran away from his home in the circus and now wants to become a psychonaut. The camp leaders take him into their arms for a day, but cannot accept him as an official cadet without parent consent - unluckily for Raz, his Dad is coming to take him away the next day. However, odd things start to happen involving nightmares and psychic interference. Soon all the brains of the kids are gone, which leaves them craving TV (which apparently is bad - who knew?). It is now up to Raz to save the day.
The camp basically acts as the hub world. You can wander around and talk to all the characters that'll be strolling about, or you can just stand near them and listen in on their conversations. These act as tiny little sub-plots, as each camper will have their own life. As the game progresses, so do these little stories. These range from anything from crushes, to one guy trying to hunt down bears, and it is very rare you'll ever hear the same line twice. You can burn loads of time just exploring and talking to people even before you've started the main chunk of the game.
The game is very open-ended, and you will find yourself counting away the hours just exploring all the nooks and crannies that the camp has to offer, along with digging for arrow heads. These are the games currency, which allows you to buy cobweb dusters and other upgrades from the store, some of which are vital for further progress in the game. Certain people will enjoy digging for all the arrow heads, but for others it won’t be their cup of tea. Luckily you don't have to do a whole lot of it if you don't want to. The whole 'take-it-at-your-pace' method it is a neat way of doing things, and is a refreshing change from a linear path of level after level that you might see in other platformers.
The levels are where the game really shines, and never once do they fall flat on their face. Each one is a delight to play and each has something very different to offer. It is hard to describe the worlds without spoiling it all as the game shines in surprisingly you in offering something you wouldn't expect at all. You'll find yourself trying to solve a conspiracy inside a milkman's head (some of the best lines in the game occur here), and shrinking down into a board game and helping the locals to try and win the match. It sounds wacky, and it certainly is, but that's just what makes Psychonauts what it is.
Visually the game still stands strong at the time of writing, 2008. Everything is in full 3D and just by glancing at some screenshots you can appreciate zaniness of it all. The game runs perfectly without a hitch and has sharp, polished graphics that will not disappoint. Although some people may tell you that graphics do not matter, they certainly do bring Psychonauts into a league of its own here, supporting the vast array of level styles, giving a different atmospheric feel to each.
Unlike Tim Schafer's past creations of straight up point-and-click adventures, Psychonauts is a classic platformer, and adds nothing new to the mix if you've played the genre before. You'll still be swinging from bars, climbing ropes, jumping and punching. However, does this bring the game down because of it? Completely not. It is the way in which all of this is presented that makes it fresh. As you work your way through the game you will be awarded different psychic powers which are needed to complete certain tasks in the game, as well as using the objects that you collect in your backpack. You'll have to get your brain into gear to try and solve some of the problems, as this isn't a full-on platformer like you might expect. These tasks fit in with the craziness of the levels they are in, and everything plays together beautifully.
Using the keyboard may be an acceptable control method for you, as it would be for me usually, but in Psychonauts I found that I couldn't configure it to just how I wanted. In the end it just comes down to personal preference, but I connected up my XBOX 360 controller and played with much more ease using this. The d-pad allowed for easy physic powers selecting, and the analogue stick was much easier in terms of navigating Raz about.
The people you'll encounter in the game are full to the brim with personality, and every character is different from each other in both design and attitude. There are the three camp leaders - Sasha Nein, who is a very mysterious person, and also acts as your tutorial for the first part of the game; Milla Vodello, a disco-loving woman who just wants to hold a good party; and Coach Oleander, who may not be the person he seems. You will additionally become accustomed to Ford Cruller, who is Raz's mentor and idol. Of course there will be a whole host of people to meet along the way too, each one being as unique and funny as the last.
Dialogue is an important part in Psychonauts, and luckily the game succeeds in it with ease. Genuinely funny lines have been written, and there are countless laugh-out-loud moments, which is something that is hard to pull off. However, the writing would be nothing without the voice acting, which too can be ticked off and stamped with a smiley face. The voices bring real feeling to the personalities, and never does any line fall flat on its face. In fact, the acting is so good that it beats that of a lot of major animated films, and you'll find yourself becoming emotionally attached to Raz.
Not everything about the game is top notch, however. You will not find yourself being particularly challenged as the boss fights, enjoyable as they may be, are hardly any more difficult than the actual gameplay itself. Rookie gamers may find it harder, but veterans will move quite swiftly along. The game will also last you a good fifteen-seventeen hours at most, and this is no bad thing, but you will be left wanting more and with the chances of a sequel not that high, your wishes may never be fulfilled.
Don't have second thoughts about buying Psychonauts. Granted, the game is not particularly challenging, but you can get it cheaply now and you will not regret it at all. Psychonauts is an amazing game with experiences that you cannot get anywhere else. This is Tim Schafer doing what he does best - creating an expansive world full of brilliant characters, environments and gameplay, which is ultimately one of the best games he has ever created.