Review: Psychonauts

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: T - Teenagers
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: 3D Platformer
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2005
Review Published On: March 1st 2017
Played on: Martha & Thaddeus

Available from:

Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

There is an autosave feature, but you're better off using the actual save option in the game's pause menu. You can reach this by hitting ESC whenever you're not viewing a cutscene.

Summary of
Major Issues:

Aside from the fact that just about everybody has psychic powers, a lot of very heavy subjects are explored over the course of the story. These include touchy subjects like personal tragedy and suicide.


[view screenshot]
Memories of war

[view screenshot]
My favorite season: road construction

[view screenshot]
A bag without an owner

Game Overview

Psychonauts is unconventional in almost every aspect. The protagonist is a young boy that ran away from the circus to attend a summer camp for children with psychic abilities. Although the counselors are initially less than pleased with this situation, they agree to let him attend until his parents arrive to pick him up. In the meantime, Razputin (Raz for short) can study and learn better ways to control his abilities like the other campers.

In order to do this, the campers enter the minds of the various counselors. In these mental worlds, they are shown new ways to focus and use their gifts. But, not all is well: as Raz continues through the different activities, it slowly becomes apparent that someone is planning on forcing the children at the camp to act as unwitting soldiers in a bid to take over the world. Naturally enough, the adults are preoccupied with other matters, leaving Razputin as the only person who can stop the evil mastermind and save the children.

The journey is filled with twists and turns, but it's also filled with clever jokes, visual gags, and a lot of other humorous surprises. The developers clearly had some fun as they made this game, and today many of the lines and absurd situations have led to some rather unique memes. They also clearly thought things through, as it's made clear that everyone has problems they need to deal with in order to be better, happier people.

While this is definitely a game that everyone should try, there's enough going on that you might want to hold off on playing it until you're old enough to both get most of the jokes and handle the topics that are presented. Also, keep an eye out for the Milkman. His milk is delicious. It's fortified with what the world wants. What the world deserves.

Points of Interest

Loads of humor
The writers certainly had a lot of fun with the dialogue and concepts for this game. There are so many puns, jokes, and other humor that it would probably be impossible to list them all. My favorite example is something you'll find in every mental world -- crying suitcases. These represent the person's emotional baggage.
Lots of collectibles
Just about every area of the game has something to collect. The camp itself has a scavenger hunt going on, while there are also items called "psi cards" and "psi cores" floating about for the campers to find. Inside mental worlds, there are figments of imagination, emotional baggage, and mental cobwebs. Gathering these items is very important, as they contribute towards your Psi Cadet Rank. In turn, your Psi Cadet Rank determines how powerful Raz is and what abilities he can use, so you want it to get as high as possible.
The developers thought of everything
Just about everything results in a unique response. For a simple example, try using the Clairvoyance ability on many different characters. This ability allows you to see the world through their eyes, and Raz almost always takes on a different appearance. There's even an achievement for trying this out on many people, by the way.
Tons to explore
The campground alone is absolutely huge. You don't need to wander off the paths, but if you do, there are a lot of things to find out there. In fact, it's easy to miss a lot of the content because different things are happening in different parts of the camp throughout the day and night.

Taking things one step further, there are a bunch of minds to explore. While most of them focus on the main issues their owner has dealt with in their life, there's still a lot of room for wandering around.

Unfortunately, one of these little hidden away surprises is also known for being one of the most disturbing scenes in gaming history, and that's no exaggeration. In the end, a mind is a terrible thing to read.
Steam community features
The Steam release of Psychonauts features a lot of extras, from a slew of achievements to Steam trading cards. Some of the achievements are for finding every instance of a type of collectible, so you'll need to search around like crazy to find 'em all. Players going for 100% completion do this anyway, but now they'll get solid proof of their effort! Seriously: less than 7% of people playing this classic game have earned these achievements. There's even a hidden achievement that can only be obtained by doing a specific (yet everyday) task on a specific day of the year.
Newer machines might need to tweak settings
Psychonauts was released a long time ago, and while it's aged very well, there are some graphic issues that can appear when it's run on newer machines. To fix them, you'll need to fiddle with the utility that manages your computer's graphics card. This is fairly easy to do, but not everyone knows how to do this and it seems like something the game should handle automatically or via an in game option of some sort.
Things can get frustrating at times
Most of the levels are designed around crazy landscapes, and several of them spiral into impossible geometry. You're still expected to navigate them, and in some cases you'll need to navigate the worlds at high speeds. In some cases, you might not be able to see where the next platform is, requiring you to try and fail many times to get the jumps right.

Things only get worse in the final level, known as the Meat Circus. This level is notorious for being hard to navigate, and since the first half of the level is also an escort mission, it has a reputation for being nightmareishly difficult!

Concerns and Issues

Psychic abilities
Almost every character in the game is a psychic. This is hardly surprising, given game's setting. Just about everyone has supernatural powers, including the ability to lift objects by thinking about it, though others can also do things like start fires or throw bolts of pure thought at enemies.

Taking this one step further, a psychic cursed Raz's entire family to die in water. This explains why Raz isn't able to swim, but it goes a step farther than that. If he gets too close to water (or even props designed to look like water), ghostly hands will reach out and try to drown him.
Mild swearing
You'd think people would be more on guard about their language when they're around children, but some mild naughty words still end up being used by the adults. This is limited to words like "damn" or "ass", though it's still a little crass.
Mild to moderate violence
There is a lot of combat in Psychonauts, but it's handled carefully. Most of the time, Raz uses his mental powers to project giant hands that he can use to slap enemies, but he'll also learn to use his powers in more destructive ways. For example, he'll learn to throw bolts of mental energy, set enemies on fire, and reflect their own attacks back at them.

Although this might sound a little serious, everything is treated as slapstick or comedic. This gets even sillier when Raz visits Lungfishopolis, where he goes on a godzilla inspired rampage and even fights an over the top cartoon superhero.

But, there are examples where the violence is much less funny. This is often the case during boss fights, where Raz directly confronts the representations of a person's nightmares and pain. In one case, the battle is a bullfight, complete with having Raz weaken the bull by stabbing it with spears. Things get very nightmareish in the infamous Meat Circus, where Raz battles a giant evil person known only as "the Butcher" in a world made from zombies and raw meat.
Everyone is broken
This might seem overly pessimistic, but it's an honest truth that you don't see in media very often. Everyone has had some bad experience at some point in their lives, and many people respond to their experiences in negative ways. Psychonauts is very frank about this, and most of the minds you'll explore reflect the key events that have made their owners who they are. Some have responded by bottling everything up inside, others lock their pain away and use a cheerful mask to hide their loss from everyone, including themselves. Others are trapped in prisons of their own design, as they aren't able to move beyond the event.
Some things are not funny
While this game is hailed as a masterful comedy, there are many points where the humor is set aside to showcase something much more serious. These topics include things like dealing with heartbreak, rejection, accidentally viewing your dad's memories of when he was rather intimate with your mother, traumatic disasters, and even suicide of a loved one. Each of these greatly affected the people who encountered them, and they need your help to overcome the traumas they've left unresolved.
As you might expect, the aptly titled Meat Circus is a level created out of raw meat and childhood terrors. This is the result of a rather cruel parent, as one of the characters' fathers was a butcher that saw little to no value in animals beyond their use as food. The character in question had a pet bunny, and, well, you can probably guess why this was seriously traumatic for him.

On the other side of the coin, the main villain is a dentist that steals people's brains. In order to do this, he makes the victim sniff a powder that causes them to sneeze their brains out. Literally. It's kind of hilarious to watch.