Final Thoughts 01


Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.

Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in November 2012.


Developer: Double Fine Productions

Release Date: April 19, 2005

Psychonauts was the first video game created by Tim Schafer's studio Double Fine after he left Lucasarts in 2000. It was released to critical acclaim thanks to witty dialogue and creative level design, but sold below expectations.

Primarily a platformer, Psychonauts tells the story of Razputin, a runaway from the circus, that joins up with a Psychic Summer Camp designed to teach budding young psychics how to properly use their powerful abilities. The game has a level up system called Psi Rank though it lacks any skill trees or attributes. The first couple ranks Raz learns lots of new abilities to defeat foes or solve puzzles, such as Pyrokinesis, Telekinesis, and Levitation, while later levels offer upgrades like a chain attack for his Psi Blast. Raz can also collect some items both in the real world and in the psychic levels in order to solve puzzles, teleport back to Headquarters, and remove obstacles.

I had become a big fan of Double Fine and their games in the last year after playing Costume Quest, Brutal Legend, and Iron Brigade. All their games had a wonderfully unique and well incorporated theme, funny dialogue, and solid game play. The company actually shifted focus after their second game, Brutal Legend, took several years and a large budget only to disappoint in sales, and primarily worked on smaller titles that could be released on Xbox Arcade or Mobile devices.

I was especially excited to try Psychonauts, as not only was it their first game as a new company, but is very well regarded amongst gamers, earning cult classic status from many who have played it. It comes in at #79 on G4's Top 100 Games o f All Time List.

The game has a unique mix of platforming, action, and adventure that I don't think I've ever experienced before. The concept of entering people's minds, and having their psyche's manifested through the level design and creatures you fight and people you meet was clever and fun and allowed for a huge variation in art and design. Unfortunately many of the enemies you face are the same Censors which are hilarious little lawyer guys that run at you with rubber stamps. Each mind level has maybe one or two unique levels, and all of them end in a boss fight. The levels range from being a giant monster smashing a city to uncovering a murder mystery in a twisting suburb to moving giant pieces around a strategy board game. Some levels were much more fun than others, but all of them utilized their subject's dreams, fears, and childhood traumas to great effect.

The summer camp proved an adequate place to explore for the myriad of collectibles the game through at you. Psi Cards could be collected and turned in for additional Psi Rank, a Scavenger Hunt side quest  also rewarded extra ranks on completion, and lots of little hidden scenes between campers could be uncovered. Within the minds of others you could collect Figments, of which were floating around in abundance (to give you an idea of how many, 100 figments = 1 psi rank), sort the subjects Emotional Baggage by joining the literal crying luggage with the correct tag, and remove the Mental Cobwebs (which you could then turn in for...wait for it....psi rank)

The plot gets moving shortly after the fairly lengthy tutorial levels, and puts you on a very linear course, none of which involves exploring the campgrounds. I was disappointed, actually, when I realized about halfway through that this one thread was the only direct path to proceed through the game, and made a conscious decision near the end to go back and explore the rest of the campgrounds for some additional collectibles. I've never been a big fan of 3D platforming, and while powers like Levitation make it interesting, it still manages to be quite frustrating getting to just the right spot, even with using a controller.

The adventure game elements I enjoyed immensely, and wished there were more puzzles of the thinking variety instead of the jumping or clobbering variety. The clairvoyance power, which allows you to see through the eyes of whomever you're targeting, is woefully underutilized after the level that you obtain it. A few sections were quite tricky, and several boss fights caused me to take pause (especially one that I couldn't touch at all until I had obtained a psi power from that same level). Thankfully, the game includes an item you can use anytime to summon up the aging Psychonaut master Ford Cruller, and he gives advice both on what the next objective/solution is, as well as specifically how to deal with each and every enemy in the game. Oh and it also teleports you back to his HQ where you turn in all those collectibles to rank up. It's a piece of Bacon, because bacon is awesome like that.

The impossibly twisting levels inside some people's minds were some of my favorite effects, and worked seamlessly as you wandered around the levels creating a surreal experience that's hard to capture in a screenshot. Although ascending to the top of the insane asylum near the end of the game had some incredibly difficult and frustrating platforming sections, the aesthetic of the walls crumbling away into nothing and the walls and stairs twisting as you moved was pretty awesome.

The final level, which took place in a nightmarish conjoined mindscape of Raz and one of the antagonists lived up to its reputation of being brutally punishing and ultimately not that enjoyable. I was literally making a checklist in my head: Constantly spawning enemies? Check. Difficult jumps that if you fall you start over? Check. Stupid thing that you have to protect else you both die? Check. It was a slog and nearly caused me to have to just stop and try again another day. But I got through it, and the final boss fight as well as the last minute reconciliation with Raz's father was very rewarding.

Ultimately, I found the game a unique and fun experience, though not without its frustrations. I also found it to be rather short, and would've liked to explore more mind levels, as well as having more dialogue trees rather than just one off conversations with all the campers. I clocked in around 15hrs, and easily could've added a few more hours if I really wanted to dig in and search around for every last psi card and figment. I'm glad I played it, but maybe it was one of those that you just had to play back in the day to really appreciate it, as I can't help but feel it's a tad overrated. That's not to say that it wasn't a fun and enjoyable experience, and Double Fine has yet to let me down.