Sunday, April 28, 2013

GOT 'IM - Psychonauts

I finally finished a third game in my quest for 13 in '13!  I'm only eight years late to the party!  This is Double Fine's cult classic platformer, Psychonauts. 

Here's the usual intro, in which I discuss my personal history with the game: I own three copies of Psychonauts, but I'm not sure exactly how that happened.  I picked it up when it was an early PS2 Classic on the PlayStation Network for $10, deciding that the price was right and the time was now - Psychonauts is an enormously popular game that I had never played, and I have spent well over $10 on bad lunches in the past.  But then, around ten months ago when I'm the process of moving to where I currently live, I found as copy of Psychonauts for the PS2!  Huh!?  I didn't see tag residue on it, so I don't think I bought it used.  I may have picked it up from a sale bin or a MAGFest vendor, but now I'm thinking I may have won it somehow, either in a MAGFest contest or a Gamers trivia day.  I honestly don't remember.

So that's two copies.  The third came knowingly, as it was part of a Humble Bundle with four other games.  I paid $8 (just above the average) to get the most out of the deal and that left me with three copies of Psychonauts: one PS2 hard copy, one PSN digital version, and one on Steam.  I like playing platformers with a controller (especially a wireless controller), so I went with door #2 and my PS3.  I started Psychonauts in February, then it was derailed by my recent plays of Persona 3 and Persona 4, and then I finally finished it last weekend.  It's a target game and often considered a classic, so I'm glad to have gotten through it.

Psychonauts is the story of Razputin, a young circus performer who escapes the circus to Whispering Rock Summer Camp.  You see, Raz has some latent, untrained psychic abilities and Whispering Rock is a camp for children with psychic powers, in order to train them to use their powers for good and eventually join the Psychonauts, a group of elite international psychic agents.  Raz's journey to become a Psychonaut consists of exploring the campgrounds (and a second hub area later on) and jumping into people's minds to explore their psychic landscapes. 

These "psychic landscape" stages that are a major highlight of Psychonauts.  In the first half of the game, Raz is wandering around camp, talking to the other campers, exploring the nearby woods, and earning merit badges; those merit badges are for skills such as levitation, telekinesis, and firing psychic blasts.  Yup.  Stages within the camp usually involve entering the mind of one of Raz's instructors and completing an obstacle course of their own design.  Then, after a few plot points involving disappearing campers and giant fish, Psychonauts changes settings to an insane asylum where Raz needs to enter the minds of insane inpatients to continue further.  That's when things get interesting.

So that's what we have.  A kid with psychic powers conquering platformer stages in peoples' minds.  It's cool in theory, and cool in practice.  Every stage has a clear theme in place and my reactions ranged from "huh, this is pretty interesting for an introduction stage" to "holy shit I can't believe what I'm seeing" - I'm a fan.  You can also see Tim Schafer and Double Fine's adventure gaming pedigree - in addition to platforming and combat, a lot of the gameplay has to do with solving (occasionally obtuse) puzzles and bringing object A to slot A and so on.  I mean, Psychonauts is a platformer first and foremost, but there's a lot of funky item collection and keys-in-keyholes going on.

Speaking of items, here are the things that Raz has to collect in each stage: Figments of Imagination (which resemble neon string drawings), emotional baggage (you can find them by listening for their weeping), mental cobwebs (they're... purple spiderwebs), and scavenger hunt items.  Finding these can upgrade Raz's Level (...yeah it's just an arbitrary number), which maxes out at 100.  I beat the game at level 72, so clearly I wasn't terribly invested in the item collection sidequests, but they're there if you want them.  There are also mental vaults that give story background to the mental stage's host and a final SPOILER item to collect (that spoiler item increases Raz's Mental Health), but I wasn't 100% diligent with those either.

So with these psyches that Raz is jumping between and tongue-in-cheek joke items to collect, there's an obvious vein of quirky humor in Psychonauts.  From concepts to wacky characters to excellent dialog, this is the funniest game I've played since Okami (which was sneakily a really funny game).  It's rare to see a consistently funny videogame that could be described as a comedy, but Psychonauts is that game.  The writers at Double Fine have outdone themselves. 
So the environments and items are imaginative and the dialog and characters are hilarious.  So how does the game play?  Well, it's okay.  Raz has a few normal platfroming tricks (jumping, double jumping, gliding, punching), plus a few unique psychic abilities (pyrokinesis, telekinesis, psychic blasts, etc.).  Most of these are implemented... in an okay manner.  Targeting enemies for psychic blasts can get a little wonky, and using telekinesis to throw objects at bosses when your vision is impaired by their powers is... a little trickier than it ought to be.

The platforming itself is a little worse.  A combination of floaty jumps with awkward air control and a camera that hurts WAY more than it helps the player... gives you some frustrating situations.  Raz's platforming arsenal is pretty good (lots of acrobatics, a double jump, a glide, super-jumping with levitation, etc.), but its implementation isn't always solid and I died from wacky camera angles and powers unexpectedly not working WAY too often.  The final platforming segments of the game got me screaming expletives more frequently than I'm used to screaming expletives.  Overall, the whole gameplay package of puzzles, powers, jumping, and punching was pretty solid, if not quite up to the level of a great Jak or Ratchet game. 

Visually, Psychonauts is pretty neat, with hyper-exaggerated character designs (towering, lanky adults, everyone has at least one or two funny-shaped features) and a visual consistency that's pretty impressive as a total package.  It reminded me of works from the studio that made Coraline and ParaNorman, and in a good way.  There was some bad screen-tearing and misalignment with the game's audio, but after checking some forums it appears that's just a case of poor emulation on Sony's part.  Remember, I was playing a PS3 digital port of a PS2 game whose best version is widely considered to be on the PC.

The environments are less pretty than the character models, but they're passable and the imagination that went into each one is impressive indeed.  The Psychonauts audio got the job done.  The soundtrack was a mixture of electronic and orchestral and could be described as quirky (you know, like most of Psychonauts) and I generally enjoyed it.  The voice work is excellent, which made that unfortunate lack of proper alignment really frustrating.  Overall, really nice visuals, and pretty good audio.

So that's Psychonauts.  I loved the game's "vibe" with imaginative stages and characters (favorites were Milkman Conspiracy and Ford Cruller, respectively), but was let down with a few technical issues and gameplay that's above average without matching the highs of a few of its peers.  Definitely a good game, and I see how it's a cult favorite, but... FUCK the Meat Circus. 

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force
7. Persona 4 (NG+)
8. Psychonauts

Targets: 3/13


I'm glad I finally finished Psychonauts.  That's a game with a dedicated following and high acclaim that had slipped through the cracks for me when it first landed.  Now that I've crossed off a third 13 in '13 title, I'm looking towards a fourth.  That fourth will be either Tales of Vesperia or Skyrim - I want to get both of those finished before Memorial Day.  Hahaha I wrote that three weeks ago.  I have 50+ hours invested in Tales of Vesperia and hopefully you'll see that review in early May.  I'm also still working on more Persona posts.  No timeline for that one. 

No comments:

Post a Comment