Thursday, April 20, 2006

PS2 Review: Psychonauts

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I first found out about “Psychonauts” from one of the X-Play TV show episodes highlighting the PS2 games that have been overlooked in 2005. I have actually seen this title at my “friendly neighborhood” game shop where I would usually buy PS2 game titles but never really considered it. This is mostly because I personally have the reaction time of a drugged tree sloth and the depth perception of a blind goldfish so playing platformer games have always been a frustrating affair. The other platformer game that I have remotely enjoyed before were all from the popular “Ratchet & Clank” PS2 game franchise. After seeing the favorably review the game, I decided to give the game a try and see if I would like it as much as I did the “Ratchet & Clank” games.

“Psychonauts” follows the story of Razputin, Raz for short, who sneaks into a secret summer camp training children with psychic abilities to become the titular psychic secret agents. After being discovered by the camp counselors, who were all Psychonauts in their own right, Raz was only allowed to stay in the camp for one day while waiting for his father to take him home. Raz soon discovers that something insidious happening in the camp when he starts to find his new found friends abducted only to be returned as mindless TV-addicted versions of their original selves. Raz starts to develop his own considerable psychic abilities as his investigations of what was happening takes him on an adventure on both camp grounds in the real world as well as the psychic mindscape of the people he encounters during the investigations. It would eventually take all of Raz’s psychic skills to finally uncover the conspiracies surrounding what was happening in the training camp and save all his new friends.

The look of the world of “Psychonauts” would surely be the first thing that gamers would notice and agree to be a far departure from the other platform games out there in the market. Both character and level design sensibilities in this game is highly imaginative and original making the game a refreshing addition to the increasingly stale genre. While the storyline running through this games does seem to follow strictly to the normal platform game mold, the dark humor and dry wit with which the plot is moved along would surely not fail to entertain if not causing a good number of chuckles from the gamer. This is helped by the colorful supporting cast in “Psychonauts” which are not only very well written and realized but also exceptionally very well acted by the voice cast. Unlike a lot of the games out there, gamers would not find repeated dialogues with repeat interaction with these support characters. These supporting characters may look bizarre but they will always have something hilarious to say every time you see them.

The gameplay of “Psychonauts” starts off a fairly open ended as Raz begins to explore the training camp grounds looking for clues about what was happening to his friends. In addition to finding the clues from one location to another in the real world, Raz also has to collect items to trade for other items and to boost his burgeoning psychic powers. While there is definitely a lot of items for gamers to collect in this games, most of the time it doesn’t feel like a chore as most of the items requires the gamers to make use of the skills of Raz both as a psychic and an agile trapeze performer in imaginative ways to solve the puzzles before getting the items. The game controls are fairly easy to master and camera angles are rarely an issue in this portion of the game. While there were some instances that gamers need to really time their leaps and levitation skills, the game rarely degenerate to a frustrating affair as there is normally more than one solution to the puzzles that gamers need to solve to get to the collectable item.

The game really shines when Raz acquires the ability to psychically jump into another character’s mind as his investigation progress. Each character’s mindscape is a level that Raz has to complete to progress forward in his investigation. While some of the earlier mindscape that Raz has to go through function mainly as a training ground for newly acquired psychic skills, they are no less enjoyable to complete as the other mindscapes levels. Each mindscape that Raz goes through in “Psychonauts” is unique, both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay, making for a more varied experience when playing the game. Most of the mindscape levels involved Raz making his way from one point to the other within the level in a fairly linear fashion but how he makes it there is refreshingly different for each level. As in his real world, there are a lot of items that Raz can collect while within the mindscape to upgrade his powers which the makers of this game have successfully made it feel less than a boring chore.

The learning curve for the game is fairly shallow making it easy even for people with little platform game skill (like myself) to get into the game quickly. Every time Raz learns a new psychic skill in the game, the gamer get to test out the new skill for a bit before having to use it in the levels proper. The puzzles that the gamers run into in this game is usually fairly easy for the average gamer to solve once they have the hang of the combination of powers and moves that Raz can execute. If there is one criticism that could be made for the gameplay in “Psychonauts” is that the game can be a little too forgiving at times compared to other games of the genre. While Raz does have a lifebar that the gamer needs to watch out for, dying in the game doesn’t really the end of the game for Raz since he is only kicked out to the real world when that happens in this game with little consequences to the character. While the impact of the character’s lifebar running out does change a bit in the final act of the game, players would have accumulated enough replay lives by this point that dying here will just respawn Raz in his current location.

“Psychonauts” was more enjoyable and engaging than what I expected from a platform game. The hilarious situations and dialogue that I have to go through while playing this game is still the most original I’ve seen in any game I’ve played before. Overall, “Psychonauts” is a game for jaded platform gamers looking for something original and whimsical at the same time for their PS2 console. Engaging storyline and exciting gameplay round out the reasons why PS2 owners should pickup this game to add to their game library. It is truly a game worth spending the time to experience and I hope is just the first installment of a new platform franchise on the PS2. It would be a shame is we never would be able to revisit the “Psychonauts” world again in the future.

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