Psychonauts is a 3d platformer originally released in 2005. You play as Razsputin, a boy who runs away from the circus to join a summer camp for children gifted with psychic abilities. In the game, you get to enter and explore various people’s minds in order to train Raz’s psychic abilities. Later on in the game, you will help characters overcome their traumatic memories and fears.
Despite being considered a great game tody, Psychonauts had a rocky start. Back in 2005 it sold very poorly and lead to a large financial loss. That said, I’m not sure how I missed this one. I was always rooting through the second hand games and I loved 3d platformers as a kid. The game has since been re-released for PC and a sequel is in development, so it eventually got some well-deserved respect.
The game starts out in the summer camp, and your first task is to do your ‘Basic Braining’. This involves entering a few of the adults’ minds and completing courses and solving problems. Admittedly, I didn’t really pay attention when I first started the game and it took me a while to get into it. But the platforming is good, if a bit poorly taught (I guess an instruction manual would have been helpful).
The summer camp itself is huge. I was a bit overwhelmed being given several locations I could freely roam around with little restrictions in place and ended up just mindlessly walking around collecting things. I actually had a hard time getting into the game at first because of this, but once I was in the swing of things I got hooked pretty quickly.
Throughout the game, you will gain Psi powers, which provides you with a selection of additional powers such as clairvoyance or pyrokinesis. These are not only very cool, but they’re also used to solve various puzzles throughout the game. My favourite is clairvoyance, which lets you see through other people’s eyes. Using clairvoyance, you find that other people do not see the world in the same way you do.
You’re not the only one with Psi powers. The camp setting has various animals who have been gifted with psychic powers as well. You’ll meet enemies able to levitate and enemies that can set you on fire using pyrokinesis (the latter beind extremely troublesome, I was set ablaze quite a lot).
There’s a lot of collectibles to find. I’m a big fan of collectathons, but I actually think Psychonauts goes a little over the top. The main collectable is figments, which are 2d colourful line drawings. Because they’re 2d, they’re sometimes hard to see, but these things are everywhere And sometimes they just float around randomly, so they can be quite tricky to get. I think my best attempt at collecting the figments in a level still left me one short.
Most collectables just increase the strength of your psi powers. However there are the memory vaults, which give you some good insights into the characters who’s minds you are exploring. The memory vaults usually provide some significant background details into what lead the characters to be how they are today. There’s also one memory vault which contains the story of a brain that goes to the funfair and then tries to kill everyone. Although seemingly random at first, this is some obscure foreshadowing.
The story of Psychonauts is actually surprisingly in depth, with lots of nice details through the whole game and I think it makes playing the game a second time a worthwhile experience.
Although I found the first few levels of the game a bit slow paced, they are mostly just training levels to get you prepared for the main bulk of the game. Later in the game you will meet Boyd Cooper, an extremely paranoid guard who keeps talking about “The Milkman”. He doesn’t make much sense and constantly scribbles writings on the wall. You can hop into his mind to find out what’s going on, and this begins a fan favourite level – The Milkman Conspiracy.
There’s a good reason this is a fan favourite, and it’s the point where the game really started to hook me. Boyd’s mind is a sprawling, twisted suburbun neighbourhood. There’s hidden cameras everywhere. There’s workers taking on the roles of plumbers, cooks, gardeners, road workers and even mourners are a well defined role. The workers all have their own areas and these are restricted; you must take on the role of the correct job to enter their areas. If you want to enter the graveyard, you need a flower to show you’re grieving. If you want to enter the sewers, you need a plunger.
After resurrecting the milkman, there’s more levels full of creativity. You must help Gloria Von Gouton, an axious theatre performer, by getting actors to perform the correct script on the correct theatre set in order to hunt down a mysterious figure known as “The Phantom”. There’s a level where you enter a strategy board game and recruit units, then move them around to win a board game. There’s also a level where you traverse streets that are plagued by a rampaging bull in order to fight wrestlers and win cards.
Psychonauts really is a hidden gem of the past, and now that’s it’s been ported to modern systems, it can enjoy the attention it deserves. Also it’s £2.09 in the GOG summer sale.