For the week of 6/15/09
games from the not too distant past: Psychonauts
Tim Schafer is a name in the game industry that should speak volumes to most gamers. One of the men behind Lucas Arts most beloved games (the ones that had nothing to do with Star Wars except the odd hilarious reference and everything to do with fantastic stories and great jokes), Schafer obviously does not work at Lucas Arts anymore, instead running his own company Double Fine, currently working on the extremely promising Brutal Legend. Of course, most of Schafer's greatness came from the adventure game genre, long since thought dead by most people, and how does a man who's key qualities in game design are dialogue, puzzles and cool stories do in today's gaming society?
If Psychonauts is any indication, he does a rather fantastic job indeed.
Psychonauts is a game that is hard to define, although platformer might be one way to put it. You run around and navigate large worlds, perform daunting jumps and punch things in the face when you are not setting them on fire or shooting them with mindbullets (telekinesis do anything for ya?).
The story starts with Razputin, or Raz, for short, breaking into the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, where young children are trained so that maybe some day they will become Psychonauts, government agents with psychic abilities who solve problems of the mind.
This already rather screwed up and fantastic premise gets better and better the further into the game one gets. Raz dives into people's minds, learns new powers and spouts some truly awesome lines. Every bit of Schafer's sense for humour and storytelling, as well as great problems (some levels feel like an old adventure game, running around getting great items to solve puzzles or changing the setting slightly) are present, which, combined with Scott Campbell's art direction, makes the game a joy to experience.
Raz is many times a joy to control. He jumps, doublejumps, grinds on railings and while not as nimble as later game heroes like Altair of Assassin's Creed or Cole from inFamous, the fact remains that Raz is both an acrobat and a psychic. Of course, Raz is not alone at Whispering Rock, and all the other characters in the game feel just as fleshed out, like you could get to know them all if you just stood around and listened to their conversations, something one has no problem doing because the voiceacting is superb.
Of course, there's things like my sister walking in and claiming that this really does not look like a game for a 21-year old, to which I say “pfeh!” because the fact is, Psychonauts manages to be a fun and cute game, and still feel mature, without overusing a colorpalette based on brown and gray, with some brown and a little gray thrown in for good measure. Psychonauts never feels childish, yet it never feels too grown up either, it manages to be fun, more fun and then some fun, while still endearing and at times slightly sad.
The leveldesign is at many times noting short of genius, but I prefer not to give it away, so you will simply have to see for yourself. Almost no level is even remotely like another one, and the entire experience of invading someone's mind is always a fun one, as you never know exactly what it will bring.
There are other details that make the game adorable, too, that simply makes it feel like a great piece of work. Selecting a slot to save your game on is made by Raz running around, checking bunks to see how comfy they are. “This bunk belongs to: Raz” feels adorable.
Of course, at times Psychonauts has some issues, some highly frustrating ones. This, of course, becomes most apparent near the end, where the curses seem to fly at the console and TV, often to blame for unforgiving jumping coupled with, for once, terribly bad )compared t the usual, at least) camera angles. I spent half an hour playing a passage that, when done correctly, takes maybe a minute and a half, because my jumps were slightly off the millimeter precision one simply should not ask from a 3D-platformer in those scenarios, and it infuriated me to no end, but of course, once I was through, and finished the game, I was still convinced Psychonauts was worth tracking down and paying a rather steep sum of cash for, simply so I could play it on a console, as I am not sure the experience is equally fantastic if played on a PC, in which case I could have grabbed it from Steam for a small sum. Either way, Psychonauts is a game well worth trying to track down, and the PS2 version is available at Double Fine's own webshop.
Now I just hope Double Fine handle metal as good, or maybe even better than, they handle psychic youngsters at a summer camp.
IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT OF Majesco.