Reviews: Psychonauts

Just...OK

I went into this game with fairly high expectations. Pretty much every review Iíve read paints it as one of gamingís most undeserved flops; a hidden gem loved by all who happen to stumble over it. Another factor in my interest in Psychonauts was my love of 3D platformers, a genre that is unfortunately woefully underpopulated, especially in recent years. What I got left me underwhelmed.

The game starts off great. Despite some technical qualms (which Iíll get into later) I found myself really getting into it. The voice acting's great, thereís plenty of Funny Moments, and the characters that were introduced early-on were really interesting. I particularly liked how Sasha and Millaís backstories actually explored some of the implications that growing up with psychic powers would have. You get several power-ups in this part, most of which make the game more fun and remain useful throughout the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the game takes a massive dive in quality after its midpoint. The levels become much less fun, and the characters become a lot more cliched and uninteresting. The power-ups also become a lot more situational and gimmicky, and lack utility outside of a few contrived situations. All of this culminates in a final level thatís frustrating for all the wrong reasons, and a final boss that fails to provide any kind of challenge whatsoever.

I also found some severe technical shortcomings in the game. I didnít really have an issue with the art direction; however, I felt like this gameís engine really couldnít do it justice, despite other games from around the same time looking much better. Despite these lackluster graphics, I also couldnít get a decent framerate out of this game, and some friends with higher end systems have confirmed that these problems persist even for them. Sometimes, after playing for a while, the game would also lag even more than usual, forcing me to restart the game to make it playable again. Poor optimization and a memory leak are probably to blame.

The combination of a promising first half, a tedious second half, and poor optimization average out to a game that I find to be So Okay, It's Average. Psychonauts has taught me that, sometimes, thereís a reason certain works become Cult Classics rather than, you know, plain old classics. Psychonauts may appeal to some that can stay hooked into its story all the way through, and donít mind the rather mediocre 3D platforming, but I simply didnít find the story and characters interesting to the end and felt that the gameplay simply didnít measure up to some of the greats of 3D platforming, such as Mario Galaxy and Banjo-Kazooie. Perhaps Iím being too hard on the gameplay, and unfairly to comparing to games way out of its league, but solid gameplay, as well a low Story-to-Gameplay Ratio, is just something I expect more from platformers than I do other genres, such as RPGs and Adventure Games.

The Game Jesus Would Design If He Was Alive And Not A Pussy

If my time as the budget Yahtzee has taught me anything it's that nothing bad can possibly come from saying what I want to say about a game when he's already said much better. Or worse. Or something. It's also shied me away from ever buying hats. Seriously, the guy has the same birthday as me. It's creepy.

I'd love to have some insight into what, exactly, led to a gaming universe that produced Halo and Barbie's Horse Adventures (which to me sounds like an illegal porno title) to produce Psychonauts, but really, I don't. It's a funny, creative game with a lot of small ideas that are held together with a consistant, overarcing plot and a style that I wouldn't have believed if someone had pitched it to me in an elevator. Ten year old boy delves into the psychosese of madhouse patients implicated in world-conquering Government conspiracy? Where the hell does that come from?

Because of the unique design of the game - a sequence of basically, psychotic visions that represent the psyches of other people you meet - you get to go through a lot of different types of gaming environment, varying in how it chooses to express itself. No idea gets to be developed too hard, but then, that's good because it means no idea outstays its welcome (and some of them can't really sustain themselves for as long as one might like to think).

With a few counterintuitive puzzles, a frustrating collect-em-up aspect and late-game rewards that serve no useful purpose, I love this game to pieces. You can buy it on Steam or Good Old Games, and you should. For the puppies.

When purchasing Psychonauts, be sure not to be caught by shady government types.
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