Psychonauts

This one has been a long time coming. Remember way back when I played Broken Age? Since that would be the first Tim Schafer game I've played, I wanted to do some research on how this guy does games. I started to play Psychonauts before the first part of Broken Age came out. The first time, I got a little ways into it. I restarted a few years later only to get distracted again, maybe because of some RPG or another. Two months ago, I started making a concerted effort to finish Psychonauts, so I restarted yet again. This time, I made it!

"Screenshot of Psychonauts, from the Milkman Conspiracy"

Part of the reason is that this is a platformer. If you know me a bit, you might gather that I don't play these kinds of games at all. Sure, I've played some Mario when I've been over to other people's houses, but never sat down to seriously play it. In fact, 15 years ago, when people were talking about "platform" games, I struggled to understand. Did they mean games that are on platforms, as in specific kinds of consoles? Wouldn't that be every video game? I know better now.

Over the years, I've heard practically nothing but praise for this game. It has some good gameplay mechanics, and has a decent story to tie it together. Like Broken Age (and I suspect most of Tim's games), there's some kind of dark conspiracy going on behind the scenes. You play as Rasputin, a 10 year old that sneaked into a summer camp for psychics. A clever excuse is provided for Rasputin's inability to go into water. Along the way through the story, you will enter several people's minds, gain the trust of the counselors, get eaten by a fish, and fight a doctor de-braining everyone. The roaming brainless zombies are easy to identify by them saying "...tee vee?" occasionally, which I think is hilarious.

"Screenshot from Psychonauts, inside Agent Nein's mind"

Aside from the jumpy and runny mechanics endemic to platformers, Raz gains psychic powers throughout the game. Completing levels grants you a merit badge of the power used to complete the level. Powers range from a shield and levitation, to telekinesis and pyrotechnics.

I'm not sure if the levels are well designed, because I got stuck on many areas. (Again, I'm not used to platformers.) It's quite difficult to judge how far a jump is in 3D, especially in stressful situations, and I kept missing so many times that I landed in frustration. Sometimes, there's a timing puzzle involved, but those are more obvious than in point and click adventures.

The art style is very cartoony, in a way that it's almost reminiscent of poop stained origami. People's faces are full of weird shapes and unnatural angles, like they tripped into a wood chipper as a child. Unlike the people, the environments are more sensible looking. Each level generally takes place in someone's mind, and everyone's mind looks and feels different. Some are pedestrian, like a theater, rave, or a board game, and others have more abstract themes. Each one has the same collectibles used to level up.

"Screenshot of Psychonauts, inside Black Velvetopia"

The controls worked well enough for the most part, if my fingers moved fast enough. I exclusively used an old PS2-style gamepad to play this. The sounds are satisfying and the music supports the themes well. I did not notice any surround sound functionality.

Overall, this is not a game that I would look forward to playing again. While it's certainly not a bad game, I can't tell for myself if it's the utter brilliance that everyone seems to claim it is. Judging by the fact that I've played in fits and spurts over the past 6 years, and that I had to keep on myself to play it through, it's not for me.

Oh look, the sequel is almost here.