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PlayStation 2 Review: Psychonauts

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Summer camp experiences can invoke either feelings of excitement or trepidation; it may be exhilarating to be away from home and learn new skills, yet it can also be scary to adapt to a new environment without parental support.

Razputin, or “Raz,” was understandably excited over the opportunity to attend a psychic summer camp. As an aspiring psychic, he viewed the time as a chance to sharpen his special talents and meet others like him. However, his adventures, chronicled in Psychonauts for the PlayStation 2, take a turn for the worse, as strange events occur and camp members vanish without a trace. Raz has to figure out the cause of these occurrences, and in doing so will witness the immense power of the human mind. You, on the other hand, will witness an unusual adventure that keeps you guessing from the initial scenes to the inevitable conclusion.

Playing as Raz, your adventures begin with your fellow campers treating you as a novice and the staff perceiving you as an inconvenience. As you acclimate to your new surroundings, you earn the respect of the staff and the admiration of the students. This time spent means increasing your psychic ranks, accomplished by collecting various items dispersed throughout the campgrounds and in the various challenge levels that you encounter. You'll find arrowheads, which function as currency for purchases, psi cards that attach to create psi cores and figments of imagination. You'll also encounter emotional baggage and occasionally locate miscellaneous articles such as Psychonauts comic books. You're free to explore the campgrounds at will; however, certain areas are sealed off until you acquire the means to do so.

Increasing your psychic ranks allow you to access new abilities, such as increased accuracy, pyrokinesis, and levitation; these skills prove useful for your survival in the challenge levels that you encounter, which are really manifestations of the thoughts held by the camp’s staff members. Each area requires you to rely on your wits and talents to make it in one piece.

The enemies spread out in the levels will do their best to make sure that you arrive in pieces rather than in peace. Whether they are crazed auditor-resembling censors, deranged brain-controlled tanks or exploding rats that resemble walking pumpkins, outsmarting these foes will require serious psychic expertise.

As determined as the adversaries in Psychonauts are to make sure you return with your brain between your legs, they effectively illustrate the game’s key selling points: its humor and style. Examples of the title’s unique nature can be located in places such as the title screen, where Raz walks on a gigantic brain to determine if you wish to start a new game or load a previous one, to the characters, who scarcely resemble counselors or students that you would find at a summer camp. Sasha Nein resembles a humorous take on James Bond, while Coach Oleander has the looks and personality of a drill sergeant. It is little wonder that his level is a crazed warzone. The students of the camp share the imitable look. Bobby Zilch’s appearance resembles orange cotton candy, a fact that Raz quickly teases him about. Dougan, another camper, has a large brain on his head, proving that the students of this camp are just as warped. As for Raz, his jumpsuit, goggles and pilot’s hat is a look that few characters will match, further allowing Psychonauts to carve out its own identity.

The audio of Psychonauts adds to the game's unique flavor, with voices that effectively stand out from what is available in games. The voice actors portraying the counselors are extremely amusing; the drill-sergeant styled tone of Coach Oleander and the flirtatious voice of the Mia, the Levitation counselor are among the aural highlights. The students around the camp have differing voices depending on their personalities, ranging from western-styled dialects to Doogan’s skittish tones. Raz’s voice has a tone that effectively personifies his determined, outgoing demeanor.

While the audio and graphics do their part in distinguishing Psychonauts from the pack, the controls do their part in reminding players that at its core, Psychonauts is a carefree platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64 and Ratchet and Clank. At the start of the game, you have the ability to double jump and execute a simple melee combo to rid yourself of adversaries. Later abilities are dispersed on the PlayStation 2's buttons in a style akin to the Legend of Zelda games. Camera controls are set to the right analog stick; for the most part, it effectively keeps track of your location, though there are a few points where it can be discordant with the action, specifically when you have to accelerate to a location and the camera is slow to keep up.

The humor and style present in Psychonauts, along with the pinpoint controls, add up to a worthwhile experience for those willing to spend time with Razputin at his psychic summer camp. Unfortunately, once campers have experienced everything that is there, there is little reason to return. For most, it should take around 10 hours to finish, and that is without engaging in miscellaneous activities and item searching. There is also an unfortunate frequency of waiting between activities, which can prove detrimental for those that are eager to move quickly.

Caveats aside, accompanying Raz on his journey to become a psychic warrior is a trek that everyone should take at least once, and Raz’s psychic adventures prove a worthwhile addition to the PlayStation 2’s gaming library.

Psychonauts is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, and Language. This game can also be found on the PC, Xbox, and Xbox 360.


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