Psychonauts Review

Double Fine’s Psychonauts has had a long and storied history. Unveiled as an Xbox exclusive (and Microsoft published) game at E3 2002 the critics and gamers out there got pretty excited. The game was being done by Tim Schafer, well known for his time at LucasArts making such great adventure games as Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Grim Fandango, Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. Everything seemed to be bright for the future of Double Fine, the development company that Schafer started. Then things started going downhill.

Psychonauts was supposed to be out for the Xbox in Spring 2003, but it never saw the light of day then. In March of 2004, Microsoft decided to sever publishing rights for Psychonauts and it was left without a publisher for a while. A game that got everyone excited in 2002 was now without a publisher. In early August 2004 Majesco picked up the publishing rights and it took about 8 more months for the game to see the light of day on the Xbox and PC. Majesco also announced it would come to the Playstation 2, but probably after the Xbox and PC release. Last month the PS2 version came out and this is the version I’m reviewing.

Much like another game Microsoft left to hang, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (my review), Psychonauts has ultimately come out as a very good game that unfortunately few will probably buy. Hopefully Double Fine will not end up like Oddworld Inhabitants which is no longer in the game business.

I have played neither the Xbox or PC version of this game, but I can only guess the graphics are better there than on the PS2. It’s not that the graphics are bad, in fact they are pretty good. The big problem is that the framerate is not very constant and jerks around a lot. Nothing gets too action packed in this game, so the framerate fluctuations are not as killer as it may appear.

Psychonauts graphic style is like a cross between Schafer’s LucasArts game styles and Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. All the characters are well animated and it is great to see lip syncing working correctly with what is being said by the characters. Things in the graphical department get really cool when Raz goes into character’s minds in order to solve a puzzle. The mind is an amazing part of the body and some of the characters have some really whacked out minds.

For a platforming game the graphics are pretty good, although if you put them up against a game like Jak 3 it will lose out, but we are talking about two totally different styles of graphics with this one being a little more “out there” than what is in Jak 3.

The music is nice but the real draw in this section is the voiceovers and overall sounds of the game. Every character seems to be well voiced, something a game like this shares with other Sony platformers. Once you listen to Raz and the gang for a while you won’t be able to hear anyone else in the roles. LucasArts also had wonderful voiceover actors for their adventure games, so I’m not necessarily surprised that Tim Schafer was capable of putting such a fine cast together.

There is a lot of voicework in the game and it keeps the story going without any sort of dropoff. This is the sign of a good platformer, one that can keep you entertained through the story and the gameplay itself.

The sounds, especially when Raz goes into someone else’s mind are pretty spectacular. I can only guess the sound is that much better with 5.1 sound on Xbox and PC, but it does a pretty good job on the PS2.

Control is well laid out and they explain it very well in the early parts of the game. Raz’s psi abilities are obviously the biggest draw here and they are relatively easy to pull off. Outside of that addition, Psychonauts is basically a platforming game with all the platforming elements, which brings about a minus that is explained in the gameplay section.

The control is nice and tight, which is always a good thing for a platforming game of any breed.

The game Psychonauts revolves around Raz, a boy with mind abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc. The beginning of the game shows some older Psychonauts teaching kids at a camp to become the Psychonauts of the future. Raz watches all this unfold on a tree until he falls down. He isn’t supposed to be at the camp, but he saw the brochure and was very interested in developing his abilities. He’s allowed to stay at the camp for a day until his dad can come and pick him up, but everyone soon realizes that Raz is a little more important than what he seemed to be at first.

The beginning of the game sees you in an open space where you can explore. Once you get past the initial time you start to enter into contained levels such as going into character’s minds in order to solve a puzzle. You learn the gameplay mechanics early on in the open area and when you get a good handle on them they throw the more contained levels at you. Psychonauts is not overtly difficult and probably is on the level of a Voodoo Vince in difficulty. Yes, you can die during platform elements, but the enemies you face off against are not very hard to beat.

Psychonauts unfortunately falls prey to the problems that other platformers have, namely the collect-o-thon rut. You don’t have to pick up everything, but in order to level up you do have to work on getting some out of reach things. Rare is king of the collect-o-thon crap and Psychonauts does just enough to not feel overtly like you are collecting more than having fun. This is the only thing I can say negative to the gameplay of Psychonauts, but it shares this with almost every other platformer out there.

This game will take you about 10-15 hours to beat unless you have to collect everything, then you’re probably pushing over 20 hours. This really is a fun game and reminded me a lot of another light selling platformer on Xbox, Voodoo Vince. The same type of hilarity is here, but they diverge into different paths from each other. I’d pick this game up simply to keep Double Fine making games because a world without Tim Schafer making games is a sad world in my opinion.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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