Originally released in 2005, Psychonauts is an action platformer all about people with psychic abilities. Despite it’s cute graphics, the world of Phychonauts is surprisingly dark, but deservingly so because it’s entwined into the game and doesn’t feel like it’s there for shock value.
You play as Raz, a circus runaway who infiltrates a psychic summer camp. The teachers (who are part of a group of psychic secret agents) are impressed by his abilities, so let him tag along until his dad can collect him. He makes friends (and enemies) and uncovered a nefarious plot.
While the designs of all the characters are cartoony and colourful, they feel very real. I was very surprised by the kids in the game, as they do somewhat understand adult things (just like real kids), some of them just care about making out while others even struggle with deep things like suicide – the latter of which is only something you find out by talking to them, not paraded out in the open to go “look how edgy the game is”. It feels like Physhonauts tackles real trauma, from the perspective of kids and adults.
One key element of Psychonauts is entering the minds of other people, starting with the teachers, who will teach you abilities. You start off being able to perform acrobatics and a double jump (learnt from being in a circus), and learn smoe attacks like a pyrotechnic attack and a shooting attack, along with other abilities like a shield, invisibility and telekinesis. One key power is levitation, where you move around on top of a ball, letting you jump higher and slow down your descent by using it as a balloon.
Later on, you’ll be entering the minds of other people, including patients of a mental asylum, and helping them out with their issues. This setup means that Phyconauts has very unique and creative levels, all with their own style. The objective isn’t as much as getting from A to B, but to solve the objective of the level. One level lets you be a giant monster, smashing buildings, while another has you help someone play a board game, interacting with it at three different scales.
One level that does need a specific mention is the Meat Circus, the last level. Here, the difficulty ramps up massively, as the game has you playing timed segments while introducing new platforming tricks that are either new, or were barely used apart from the tutorial. One segment has you racing up to protect someone (who is constantly yelling for help with an annoying voice), so you’re trying to figure out what to do and failing means you start at the beginning of the segment. This is the only notable place where the camera was an issue. This version is also the “easier” version, so I can’t imagine the frustration playing the original version of it.
That level is really the only main negative of the game, the rest of it is wonderful, with great humour alongside the dark themes. It’s still very fun to play. I’ve played A Hat In Time before and I see now that it got a lot of inspiration from Psychonauts.
If you like platform games, I highly recommend giving Phyconauts a go.