July 23rd, 2009

Raz at summer camp, aka Psychonauts training grounds“Mmmm… Bacon!” If that doesn’t ring a bell in your ear, you may have a gaming nutrient deficiency. Previous sources of this vitamin include the Monkey Island games and Grim Fandango. The most potent of Tim Schafer games, however, is the mind-blowing Psychonauts, released by Double Fine Productions in 2005. Initially overlooked by most gamers (except maybe the color blind), Psychonauts went on to garner Gamespot’s “Best Game No One Played” award among numerous other commendations for writing and voice acting.

The story begins with Raz sneaking into summer camp. You know, the one where it’s actually a secret government training ground for psychic soldiers, also known as Psychonauts. Consequently, his dad is called to pick him up, so Raz is determined to train as much as possible before that happens. What Raz doesn’t know yet is that he’s more special than the other kids at the camp (and trust me, there’s some “special” kids there). What’s more, it’s the start of an adventure only a madman like Tim Schafer could produce.

No squirrels were harmed, because I couldn't bear it.

As in other platformers, you start out with basic actions: double-jump, attack, etc. Over time you’ll gain useful psychic abilities and purchase a number of handy gadgets, each offering unique ways to attack, solve puzzles, gather collectibles, or reach new areas. Some of the item collection is practical, but for those that love the challenge of finding every little “figment” in all the hard to reach corners, there’s plenty of that and with suitable rewards.

The exploration of minds is the meat of Psychonauts as well as the greatest source of nostalgia for fans. Each brain is unique and eccentric: an abstract projection of their personal psychoses. This constant change of scenery serves to keep Psychonauts exciting and fascinating throughout.

Gameplay excerpts from the first hour

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Optionally, you can play along with podcasters from 1up FM’s backlog (now Rebel FM Game Club). It’s like a book club for video games. If you choose to do so, start listening after you finish the first two brain trainings (at least). Each backlog is at the end of the podcast, usually about three fourths of the way in. The podcasts and backlog starting times are as follows:

  1. part one @ ~1:09:25
  2. part two @ ~1:16:10
  3. part three @ ~1:23:00
  4. part four @ ~1:15:05
  5. a bonus backlog with Tim Schafer @ ~1:13:35.

Psychonauts is available on a number of platforms, but I recommend either buying it on Steam for $9.99 or using Gametap’s subscription service. However, you’re in luck, because for a limited time you can play the game free on Gametap! Now, git!

Some minds aren't pretty. Watch out for the lake monster! I am ninja! I question the structural integrity of this staircase. Pick a door. No, not that one. Advanced training time. Ready to kick butt. There's candy inside. He looks familiar.

  1. Wow, I feel ashamed everytime people talk about Psychonauts and Beyond Good & Evil because they are the two games I know most people never played but they were some of the most amazing experiences in video games to ever hit that Xbox/PS2 generation. I need to go back and finish these. Nice find on the 1up podcast/playthrough-commentary.

  2. Incidentally, the 1up FM crew did a backlog of Beyond Good and Evil too! It was the last one they did over at 1up. http://www.1up.com/do/minisite?cId=3149975

    When I revisited Psychonauts for this article, I was having a blast. I could speed run it because I knew exactly where to go. My first time playing I’d explore every corner, talk to every person, and grab everything within reach (and even try to grab things out of reach, since I didn’t know you’d be able to jump higher later). It’s pretty enjoyable both ways.

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