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Psychonauts (PC) artwork

Psychonauts (PC) review


"You find yourself standing on a road that twists in and around itself like a giant knot. An endless void surrounds this demented neighborhood, whose people have the composure and attire to suggest they are secret agents. Their constant uttering of phrases lacking any intellectual value leaves you wondering what kind of sick person's imagination you could be in and how you could possibly fix it. After whipping out a trusty piece of bacon, an old man's head pops out of your right ear and reminds y..."



You find yourself standing on a road that twists in and around itself like a giant knot. An endless void surrounds this demented neighborhood, whose people have the composure and attire to suggest they are secret agents. Their constant uttering of phrases lacking any intellectual value leaves you wondering what kind of sick person's imagination you could be in and how you could possibly fix it. After whipping out a trusty piece of bacon, an old man's head pops out of your right ear and reminds you of your seemingly inane task; Find the milkman. All these quirks are just a small part of genius Tim Schafer's latest adventure game, Psychonauts.

Psychonauts begins with a young, naive boy named Raz running away from the circus where his unappreciative father is forcing him to train. He sneaks into a psychic summer camp, wishing to hone his psychic skills and follow his dream of becoming a Psychonaut. Just as the camp counselors, who are Psychonaut agents themselves, inform Raz that he will be taken home at the request of his parents, a sinister plot begins to unfold. The brains of all but two agents and campers are stolen, leaving Raz and Agent Cruller, a retired Psychonaut leader, to sort out the scandal. But because Agent Cruller has become too unstable in his old age to venture outside the psychic realm, he hides out in Raz's brain to be summoned for brief assistance with the smell of bacon. Then Raz is left to fend for himself, entering and straightening out the minds of various people as he tries to solve the mystery before his parents arrive to take him home. Apart from its bizarre nature, the main plot is very straight forward with few dramatic twists. The game’s attraction lies with the much more engaging side stories, which are held together by exceptional gameplay.

The innate enjoyment in Psychonauts comes from the use of Raz's psychic powers, including PSI Blast, levitation, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis. As Raz earns merit badges from Agent Cruller for completing tasks, he will be able to use all eight psychic abilities, which must be used strategically to stabilize the brains he enters. While accomplishing his given tasks, Raz encounters enemies that can be destroyed in a myriad of ways. Though nailing enemies with PSI Blast is often enough to destroy them, setting them on fire, throwing them against one another, and ground-pounding them into oblivion lead to an even more enjoyable experience. Additionally, Raz's levitation ability allows him to roll around on a ball of psychic energy that can bounce significantly higher than his default jump. Thrusting this ball over his head makes it act as a parachute, allowing him to float across great distances. Telekinesis summons a hand of pure mental energy that can pick up objects and throw them. However, throwing a demon against a wall and watching him explode wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without knowing it’s a manifestation of thought being annihilated in the explosion of color. For that, the creative designers deserve our thanks.

They should be praised furthermore for the conception of all ten brains Raz enters throughout his adventure, all of them completely different visually and functionally. Each brain is a metaphor of the owner's personality and a distinct work of art. One of the most memorable minds belongs to an ex-bullfighter you encounter in an insane asylum. Entering his mind, you find yourself in a congested passage standing before a sombrero-clad anthropomorphic dog. Behind you runs a cobblestone path with towering walls reminiscent of a thin alley in a Spanish town. The sound of rumbling hooves warns of the bull that thunders past every few seconds. Every surface in his mind, including Raz's body, is the darkest possible black with flowing neon colors that outline and stream across the surfaces. The fountain in the middle of a town square splashes with bright pink paint that flows out and over the black landscape. It's a beautiful sight to behold that continues to captivate you. The artistry continuously amazes you with the diversity of all the levels and characters.

The music in the game is nearly as diverse and engrossing as the graphics. The mood is dramatically different in each character's mind and becomes evident through a stylized song. Within the mind of Napoleon’s continually losing descendent, Fred Bonaparte, drums and a line of horns playing the melody from the 1812 Overture foreshadow the battle that Raz must win. The music is further complemented by stellar voice-acting that brings the characters to life. A wide range of emotions are portrayed flawlessly through the characters’ dialogue, allowing their genuine personalities to overshadow their doll-like bodies.

The realism of the characters despite their cartoon-like appearances is one of many incongruities that add to the whimsical nature of the adventure and highlight some of the best script writing ever. The design team went above and beyond to create a very lighthearted and comical atmosphere and may shock you several times with their uncanny but genuine sense of humor. The laugh-out-loud jokes get you engaged in the game at any moments where repetition may be driving you away. Nearly all the characters have intensely exaggerated personalities that create the atmosphere of a stereotypical summer camp. Lili, for example, has a crush on Raz and always develops a completely unrelated conversation with Raz while wishing he would just shut up and make out with her. Raz, as she soon finds out, can read people's thoughts.

Among the unfortunate aspects of Psychonauts are the short play time and the periodically bothersome camera. The game can be completed in ten to fifteen hours and ends with a scene begging for a sequel that will probably never be made. The option to complete a perfect game, which requires gathering all the figments and mental cobwebs in each level, gives the game more play time but feels forced and repetitive. Ultimately the replay value diminishes unless you feel the need to revisit the game solely for its aesthetic value. The auto-correcting camera is also a bit troublesome at times when it won't allow a certain view and rotates to an awkward angle continuously, making a precise jump or fall much more difficult to place. Fortunately, any other errors are minor in the scope of things the game does right.

In the end, Psychonauts is a masterpiece that can be thoroughly enjoyed by children and adults alike. Its inventive gameplay and colorful brainscapes offer a gaming experience unlike anything you've experienced before. The constant wacky humor and amusingly bizarre puzzles drive an entertaining storyline that contains several morals amid the zaniness and chaos. Any sane person should buy this game; Otherwise you just might need to hire a Psychonaut to sort out your mental waves and help you realize what a great game you're missing.

Rating: 9/10

sasqua_mox's avatar
Community review by sasqua_mox (August 23, 2006)

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