Psychonauts is a platformer developed by Double Fine Productions that originally released for the Xbox and PC in 2005. It also recieved a rather poorly done port to the PS2 later that same year. It's about a runaway kid named Razputin who is dead set on becoming a psychic soldier before his father comes and drags him home from the psychic camp he ran away to. This gets Raz entangled in a bizarre conspiracy that threatens the very brains of the world.
The plot of Psychonauts is simple, but excellent. Raz is a fun protagonist with just enough attitude to not be a wet noodle without it being annoying. His dream is being a Psychonaut and using his psychic powers for good. But even when he fanboys over the Psychonaut agents he meets, he never stops being a pleasant character. The acting and writing really sells him.
And that goes for the rest of the cast too, as a great deal of care has gone into them. They're fully voiced and even react to all your powers with unique lines. Hell, if you cheat to get powers early, they still react properly!
The camp is full of kids that are barely given proper screen time in the story, but thanks to their mannerisms and interactions in side cutscenes, you can easily get a feel for who they are in a short time. I highly recommend running around the camp after every plot beat so you can find out what the other kids are up to.
The story has a fun twist or two, but the game's strength really lies in its characters. They're just so damn memorable and lovely.
It's a really charming game all around and quite funny to boot. It's one of few games I consider a comedy, which gives it some rather unique value. It's just so rare to have a game that's so consistently funny. And the mental worlds you explore let the designers and writers present some truly bizarre situations to make jokes about.
Being a psychic adventure, it should come as no surprise that the game's levels are inside peoples' heads. This is a brilliant move, as it excuses platforming tropes, gives room for some great aesthetics and works to characterize the people owning the minds you jump around in.
The game can get pretty dark as well, since most characters are defined by some some traumatic past or a mental disorder. And for many, you can easily miss their backstory, so exploring isn't just about finding shinies, you slowly figure out the mind you're exploring as well.
Every level has a very distinct theme, matching the person it belongs to while avoiding the usual forest, fire and snow tropes so common to the genre. The levels are so distinct in fact, that I think only a scant few collectibles get reused between levels. The rest is new stuff. It's so refreshing to have a game with this much effort put into unique assets.
The game actually has some adventure game DNA in it, making certain levels more puzzle-based than others. It doesn't really get impossible to figure out, except maybe the crow clairvoyance puzzle. I never did figure out the causality behind that one.
But you do need to adapt to the logic of the level in order to make use of the local gimmick. This means that your first few minutes in a level might be confusing, at least until you clear an objective or two.
Raz's verb-set of moves contains just about every standard platforming move there is, owed to his circus background. Double-jumping, pole swinging, climbing, rail grinding, the whole deal.
He controls well, and with the game's platforming being on the easier side, it's more about figuring out how to make progress than making difficult jumps. The last level cranks up the challenge a bit though, which is fun.
The one thing that separates the game from it's peers is the levitation power. It allows you to glide, but it's main purpose is to let you run around on a thought bubble at high speeds and jump higher. It's a pretty fun mechanic to mess around with, even though it's easy to run into a wall if you get overzealous.
The one weakness I found with the platforming is related to the collectibles found in the camp. The place is comprised of only a scant few areas, but it's filled to the gills with shinies. And thanks to some iffy geometry combined with Raz's inability to grab ledges, it can be a bit annoying to collect stuff. It's not a bad experience, but it takes a bit longer than I want it to.
The money system is a bit weird. You collect amall amounts of Psitanium arrowheads from the ground randomly or by beating enemies. But the two upgrades you want are pricey, so after gathering 50, you're supposed to buy the dowsing rod and go around the camp looking for more valuable arrowheads.
Once that's done and you have 1200, money is just not a concern any more, as the other things to buy aren't really vital, except Psi cores, but those only cost 10 a pop and you only need them whenever you find enough Psi cards to combine with a core.
Doing that earns you a rank, which most of the other collectibles also get you in some way. This gets you psychic upgrades every tenth rank or so. The game only requires you to get to rank 30, but getting a bit more is pretty worthwhile.
Going for 100% is rather annoying though, thanks to the figments of imagination you collect. These are flat see-through textures with designs unique to the mind you're in. Certain colour and size choices can make them very hard to see, and a fair deal of them move around as well. I really wish there was something akin to the gem radar in Spyro, if only as a lategame reward.
The best collectible are the memory vaults, which contain slide shows depicting memories relevant to the mind you're exploring. It's a charming way to convey story and even leaves room for some interpretation. Kinda like a children's book version of files from Resident Evil.
The powers at your disposal are rather simple. They're used for combat and obstacle removal, but rarely intersect. If you see wood, you set it on fire. If you need to sneak past someone, you turn invisible, and so on. You never have to set something on fire and then throw it with telekinesis, for example.
The powers are fun to use as they are , but if the game was heavier on action, I could see them being used in more complex ways. The whole concept of psychic powers is brimming with potential and not even the industry as a whole has given it its dues.
Outside of the memorable boss fights, combat mostly consists of punching stuff or blasting it with a PSI blast. Any power more complex than that (like telekinesis), is more of a novelty to be used if you want to spice up a battle.