Going back in time with Psychonauts is a journey. Tim Schafer wasn’t quite the industry juggernaut he is today, even if Grim Fandango and the Monkey Island games did have a small but devoted fan-base. Even now, over a decade after its release, it’s still an excellent game, well worth revisiting and still full of the same great since of humour Schafer and his cohorts are known for.
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Psychonauts is very much a product of its time. It’s a 3D platformer made in an era when they were at their heyday. It’s almost a collectathon release only a few years after Rare’s N64 platfomers captured hearts everywhere. There’s something about Psychonauts that’s still unique, though, all these years later.
At its core, this is still a platformer, but one that’s open-ended at full of room to stretch out and explore. Certain areas of the game are inaccessible until main character Raz has some better control over his psychic powers, but it’s impressive how much of the game is accessible right off the bat. Raz is also definitely rewarded for making careful jumps, and it feels like he’s being rewarded for finding secrets throughout the camp.
Psychonauts is a surprisingly precise game, though. Jumps are occasionally finicky, and Raz will need to switch out his psychic powers quite regularly in order to deal with the bevy of challenges he will face throughout his journey. The reliance on going back into the menus time after time to switch out abilities is probably the most frustrating part, but it’s a small complaint in an otherwise great release.
Aside from the overworld, Raz can investigate the minds of others in the world, each one a reflection of that person and their struggles. Each of these worlds is a visual treasure, filled with unique scenery and interesting challenges. They also do a great job of diving deeper into the characters in contrast to the larger narrative.
The plot is pretty straightforward; Raz is a young psychic who sneaks into the Psychonaut training camp in order to join their ranks. While there, however, he uncovers a sinister plot that threatens the entire organisation. The plot takes some great twists and turns and maintains a great sense of comedy throughout. Not that there aren’t serious moments, but they are not the main focal point of the narrative. It’s a rewarding story, either way, and one worth seeing through to the end.
Psychonauts blends a compelling mix of storytelling and comedy, with solid platforming mechanics, in a way few have done before or since. Psychonauts is just one of those rare titles that’s almost impossible not to like. The humour is infectious, and the gameplay makes it hard to put down. It’s definitely got its faults, but for all the good it does, it’s something of a modern classic.