civraz's Psychonauts (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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A must-see mental adventure

Psychonauts is an action/adventure game released in 2005 for the Xbox and PC that was later ported to PS2. The game was even later brought to the Xbox Live Marketplace as part of the Xbox Originals line of downloadable games, available for 1200 Microsoft Points (about 15$ USD). You play as a young boy named Razputin, who escapes his family in order to attend Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, a camp designed to train young psychics. The plot soon thickens as a more sinister plot is enacted, and Raz ends up being the only one who can save the world from destruction.

The camp itself is fairly large, with many areas to explore. There’s a lake, some wilderness, a camp-fire area… Everything you would expect from a summer camp. However, you probably won’t be all that interested in exploring these areas unless searching for some of the games many collectibles. This is because the majority of the game is spent inside the minds of other people. You’ll be introduced to this fairly early, as the tutorial level takes place inside the camp coach’s brain, and is referred to as “Basic Braining”. Here you will learn the platforming elements that compose a decent amount of the gameplay in Psychonauts.

The platforming in this game isn’t exactly original, and feels very “classic”. You’ll be double-jumping, avoiding certain death by falling, swinging on poles to reach other poles to swing off of, etc. Occasionally, you’ll miss a jump because of the camera, or you’ll fail to grab a pole for no reason. These incidents happen enough to be noticeable, and on occasion can be frustrating, sometimes to the point where you'll temporarily stop caring about the story or atmosphere, and only see the annoying challenge that lays in front of you. The camera is a big reason for this, and sometimes the angles it gives you are less than ideal for the situation. The game is smart about checkpoints though, so you probably won't be stuck somewhere for too long. But for some reason, the last level contains a massive difficulty spike, meaning you'll need an infiniite amount of patience to complete it.

You don't only have those platforming ablities though. As a psychic in training, Raz has a bunch of powers that begin to develop early on. Powers like Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, and a psychic blast attack begin to prominently figure into the gameplay. You’ll not only use these powers to defeat enemies, but you’ll also begin to use them to solve puzzles, both in the real world and in the collective unconscious of those whose minds you enter.

Should it be needed to progress through the stage, or simply to acquire a collectible, the game does a great job of making you want to try to figure out those puzzles. This is because the game has a “level” system, referred to as “Ranks” in-game. To advance in rank, you can either collect 100 “figments of imagination” (which serve as the game’s main collectibles) or you can make challenge markers, which require a set number of other collectibles to create. You can also find these challenge markers for an instant rank up. Why bother ranking up? Well, every time you acquire five ranks, the game either grants you a new power or upgrades an existing one. Most of the time, the upgrades are well worth the time spent trying to get them, and help you out immensely; making the quest for ranks something that is definitely worthwhile. You can return to previous levels to collect anything you missed, which adds a deal of length to the game. Upon collecting everything from someone’s mind, you unlock concept art, but more importantly, you instantly rank up. This gives you a great reason to go back and seek out those things you missed, for each rank feels like a leap forward in your quest for psychic excellence.

Visually, the whole game has a great sense of style. The characters are all very cartoon-like. The levels are all very twisted, and are great reflections on whoever’s mind you are in. They are all very interesting to see, leaving you excited to see what the next mind will have in store. Psychonauts looks fairly nice, apart from the occasional low-res texture or object clipping through another. The voice acting is also excellently done, meaning the characters are all fairly believable. It’s a shame that it's not a particularly long game, taking you probably about ten hours to complete if you frequently stop to level up, explore, and try to collect as much as you can.

Psychonauts is a great game with some minor faults. It has a great, twisted atmosphere to it that is sure to draw you in and compel you to see as much of it as you can. However, it has most of the same faults as any platformer will. The game is generous with checkpoints though, so you should be able to move forward at a fairly steady pace. But sometimes, these faults can really get in the way of the experience. Available for 1200 virtual bones on the Xbox Live Marketplace, Psychonauts is definitely something definitely worth experiencing if you can tolerate games in the platforming genre and the faults that come along with them. 

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