In five days, Psychonauts 2 will finally be out.
For sixteen long years, I have been waiting for this. The first Psychonauts game has been my favorite game for almost as long as I can remember. It’s a game that means a lot to me and my family. And now, finally, the sequel we’ve been dreaming of is going to come to be!
So, today, I’m finally going to talk about the first game. Today, at long last, I’m going to review my favorite video game of all time: Psychonauts.
Psychonauts takes place at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, a secret government training facility for young psychics to learn how to use their powers and become secret agents, Psychonauts. Our player character, Razputin (he prefers Raz) runs away from his life in the circus and sneaks into the camp, eager to become a Psychonaut. But not long after his arrival, he begins to unravel a secret diabolical plot to steal all of the camper’s brains and place them in psychic death tanks to take over the world! When everyone but Raz is taken, it’s up to the young aspiring Psychonaut, along with his hero and mentor Ford Cruller, to rescue the campers, stop the mastermind, and save the day!
It’s not an especially complicated plot. You’re the good guy, there’s the bad guy, go beat ‘im up and save everyone. The characters are all likable and memorable, if a bit flat. The actual narrative itself is perfectly fine, balancing a humorous tone with darker undertones.
What’s interesting is that most of the character writing comes from the levels themselves rather than dialogue. See, each level of the game takes place within a character’s mind. Thus, through the content of the level itself, you can get a deeper glimpse into the character.
The best (and most frequently used) example is the Milkman Conspiracy level. It takes place within the mind of Boyd Cooper, a paranoid security guard who firmly believes he’s wrapped up in a conspiracy theory or seventy. Thus, when you enter his mind, it’s a perfectly normal neighborhood… that is twisting in on and around itself in a distorted space. All of its inhabitants are either spies poorly pretending to be ordinary people or little girl scouts who are slightly better at pretending they aren’t spies. In order to progress, you need to ‘disguise’ yourself as various workers and unravel the conspiracy Boyd himself constructed.
Every single level of the game is like this. Not only are they incredibly fun and memorable on a gameplay front, they each flesh out the characters without wasting your time with exposition or something like that. You learn more about the cast just by playing through their levels.
Even the overworld tells a visual story. Between the first few levels, you can hang out with the various campers all over Whispering Rock. But as the game progresses, they start to disappear one by one. By the time night falls, you’re the only one left. Then, as you collect the stolen brains and return them, you can watch the populace of the camp return!
It certainly helps that each level has its own distinct identity. The war-torn battlefields of Oleander’s mind are nothing like the dark spooky meat-infested forest of the Brain-Tumbler Experiment, which is nothing like the disco party of Milla’s mind. Each and every level feels distinct and unique. Even the overworld has its own visual identity!
Graphically speaking, the game definitely shows its age. You can tell that this is a game from 2005, with those rough textures. However, the game still holds up because of its distinct art style. Primarily with the characters; from blocky heads to misplaced eyes, each character looks completely different and memorable.
You could sing the same praises for the music. There’s a large variety of tracks here, from relaxing summer camp jams to psychedelic tracks. They fit each situation like a glove and they’re a joy to listen to.
And now we come to the core of it all: the gameplay.
At its core, Psychonauts is a 3D collectithon platformer. You as Raz use your various psychic powers to overcome equally various enemies and obstacles in order to collect the next item and move on in the plot. As the game progresses and you level up, you’ll gain all-new abilities and improvements to the ones you have.
Each of Raz’s powers are fun to use and have their own applications. Pyrokinesis can burn enemies and obstacles, Telekinesis can be used to toss them aside, Levitation can speed you up and help carry you from area to area, the Confusion Grenade can make enemies run around acting like idiots, and Clairvoyance allows you to view the world from other perspectives. They’re all very fun to use, even if some are used more frequently than others.
There are tons of enemies in this game, each requiring a different approach to kill. Basic Censors are weak and you can kill them any way you want. Exploding Censors need to be killed at a distance. Big Censors are massive and need to be hit a lot before they die. There are walking cannons that you need to toss into a river, tanks that shoot you with missiles and electricity, four different Luchadores who require use of different powers to overcome, poisonous rats that explode and screw up your controls, on and on it goes! Each level is stuffed with different threats, whether they be platforming challenges or the enemies that chase you from platform to platform!
It’s not all perfect, though. Many of the boss fights are mediocre at best and boring at worst. And many of the enemies are more frustrating to deal with than fun after a while. Not to mention that some areas are riddled with enemies so annoying that it makes going through them a trial of patience as well as skill.
Cough cough Waterloo.
As fun as the platforming and combat is, none of it matters if the items you’re collecting aren’t fun. Luckily, they’re as fun to get as they are rewarding. Within the different minds, you can gather that character’s imaginative figments or the vaults within which they hide their pasts and secrets (those are the best; they give you a fun little slideshow that even further develops the character). Outside of the levels, you can go on a camp scavenger hunt, grab various cards that you can eventually use to level up, or gather the stolen brains of the other campers and return them to their bodies.
Or you can put tags to emotional baggage and walk the funny looking hatbox do a happy dance.
The more you collect, the more powerful you become. Your basic attacks get stronger, your powers become more potent. By the time you reach 100% completion, you’ll be a walking tank that can steamroll anything and everything in your way. The satisfaction is immense!
I could go on for days about all the little things I love about this game. I love how densely packed the overworld is; I always find something new whenever I replay this game. Or I could talk about all the fun little extra areas in each level that you could miss if you don’t explore thoroughly. Even with my gripes, I adore this game.
And now’s the perfect time to get into it! Psychonauts 2 is only a few days away! I can think of no better time to finally play the first game!
You lucky bastards got to skip the 16 year wait…