Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Retrospective: Psychonauts

leave a comment »

Psychonauts has still got to be one of the most interesting cases of game neglect I have ever seen.  Okay gamers, lets cut through all the lies we tell ourselves and face facts: when someone tells you a game is a “great game that you should try out”, we rarely do.  As hobbyists that claim to have so much in common we are quite fickle when it comes to altering our plans on what we’re currently playing and what we will play.  As someone who maintains a site destined to never generate the traffic that I would if I focused on contemporary gaming, it’s almost a waste of breath and writing to mention a title from last generation.  This is the world that Psychonauts lives in – no one played it when it released and few will drag themselves back to play it now.  It’s a shame because this is an imaginative masterpiece that justifies the, frankly, so-so releases that Double Fine has offered in recent years.  Don’t get me wrong, I love most of Double Fine’s efforts more than the average gamer, but most of the studio’s games require some sort of caveat as of late.  Not Psychonauts.  It’s a complete package.  Although it’s a waste of my time, I have to say it: You need to play Psychonauts.

Almost every excuse you can clamor is gone for not playing this game.  It’s on every HD platform: Steam, PC download (on so it’s compatible with Win XP-7), Xbox 360 (it’s an Xbox Original), and as of today it’s on PSN as a PS2 digital release.  You won’t even pay more than about $10-$15 for it either.  Okay, so it’s easy to get, but you’re still wondering why to play it, right?

Psychonauts is simply put a 3D action platformer that follows protagonist Rez through his adventures at a summer camp for children with psychic abilities.  Tim Schaefer, best known for his early work with LucasArts in famously popular adventure games like Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, creates an odd world that is as stylized as a Tim Burton film and charming as games come.  As you progress through the game, mysteries begin to unravel and Rez finds himself traveling into the minds of people at camp, which results in crazy level design and art direction.  If you want a bit more variety in your game you truly need look no further.  Whether it’s becoming a Godzilla-like creature and destroying a town, traversing a Mexican-style village that looks like it’s illuminated in blacklight, or trying to imagine what the Meat Circus looks like, there’s no lack of creativity in Psychonauts.

It stands as Double Fine’s best work simply because it came out at the right time.  3D platformers, while not the powerhouses they used to be, still hold up today provided the game is polished and Psychonauts does a decent job with its mechanics.  The game length balances at right around 10 hours without any significant obstacles to make you pull your hair out, and the plot never stops making you chuckle.  It also is recent enough that the graphics don’t look quite like the blurry, dated, 5 frames per second mess that has become of most PS1-era titles.  Most importantly it captures a gameplay style familiar to players while also letting Double Fine’s charming and hilarious writing do its work and not forcing you into the very niche world of a point-and-click adventure.

Needless to say I’m a fan.  But more than that I really feel Psychonauts stands as the apex of Double Fine’s portfolio in terms of both being accessible and demonstrating the talent that everyone touts about when the name is dropped.  Unfortunately it’s also probably the poorest performing title from the studio and sadly enough other works may assist in justifying why not to go back if you missed it.  Don’t make this mistake, it’s worth returning to.  If you play one retro game this year, please don’t go back and replay Metal Gear Solid for the fifteenth time or shoot through Halo: CE because you know you can best it in about eight hours, undo the mistake you made in 2005 by not picking this title up.  Double Fine and digital distributors have gone out of their way to make this title accessible, don’t turn your back in vain.  If you’ve played Psychonauts then hopefully nothing I’ve said in this article is news to you.

Written by Fred Rojas

August 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: