Wednesday, June 30, 2010

150th review special: Psychonauts for the PS2 and Xbox review




Just like the Tomba games, it’s a shame when a great game that was produced or designed by someone famous doesn’t do so well. Let’s take famous game designer, Tim Schafer. He is famous for his unique games like the PC cult classic, Grim Fandango and a recent favorite of mine, Brutal Legend. However, there was a game in-between these two that had a lot of great reviews and is considered one of the best games of all time. Sadly, it didn’t do so well in the sales department and caused the publisher, Majesco some financial difficulties, though it is still considered a great game and an underrated gem. The game I am talking about is Psychonauts for the PS2, Xbox, and PC. It’s been 5 years since this game came out and I remember very little advertising for it, but what I saw looked really cool. Too be honest though, the reason I am playing this game now is that well…how do I put it…I forgot it existed. It’s not that I lost interest, but with how little advertising there was for the game, I just forgot about it as bigger games were put on display. This game, along with Ico and Beyond Good and Evil, were sadly overlooked. Now, you all can hate me and send comments like “ YOU HAVENT PLAYED THIS?!” or “ Fail”, but like I said, I forgot it was around until people in my game classes talked about it and the small memory I had about the game came back, and I just had to play it. So let’s dive right in and see why many people call this one of the best games of all time.

The story takes place in a summer camp called Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, which is actually a government-funded training facility that is disguised as a summer camp. Coach Morceau Oleander voiced by Nick Jameson is briefing the new recruits about the human mind, and their ability to become Psychonauts or they can just die. However, it results in scaring the living daylights of the recruits who end up being kids. If I were scared to death by an army general at a summer camp for kids, I would sue. While debriefing though, they hear rustling in the trees as something falls from them, scaring the kids thinking that it was a lake monster. The two other teachers of the camp, Mr. Sasha Nein, voiced by Stephen Stanton, and Mrs. Milla Vodello, voiced by Alexis Lezin, using their psychic abilities, help General Oleander to bring forth what caused the chaos. They find out that it was a young boy with a pair of red goggles. The name of the boy is Razputin or as he calls himself Raz. He ended up running away from the circus to join the camp so he can become a powerful Psychonaut. While on his stay at the camp, Raz observes that something rather odd is happening to all the students, but seeing how odd the other campers are I can’t see how much weirder it can get. He then decides to train himself and find out what is going on and save the camp from whoever is causing the ruckus. I like the setting because what’s scarier than a summer camp? A summer camp filled with campers and adults who are insanely crazy with psychic powers.

Let’s talk a little about the history of Psychonauts. Psychonauts was designed and created by Tim Schaeffer. I LOVE this guy. He is like the Gennedy Tartakovsky of video games in my opinion. The idea started as a scene from one of his games, Full Throttle, where the main character goes through a psychedelic trance brought up by a cactus known as peyote. Originally, it was only going to be released on Windows and the Xbox, but Microsoft pulled out of the deal. Later, Tim Schaeffer and his company, Double Fine teamed up with Majesco to release it on the Xbox and Windows. In 2004, it was announced it would be released on the Playstation 2 also, which is good for me, since I don’t really need to get an Xbox right now, unless they make a second Conker’s Bad Furday. It was released in 2005 in April for the Xbox and Windows and June for the PS2 version. Sadly, it didn’t do well, only selling 400,000 as of 2007. As a result, this caused Majesco some financial difficulties, but it wasn’t all Psychonauts’ fault that they had a net loss of 18 million dollars that year. Another game they published called Advent Rising was over hyped, and was then panned by critics for being bug-filled and not well made. As a game tester, that is just annoying to me. However, Psychonauts was critically acclaimed and has been nominated for a multitude of awards from best story, best original game, best writing, to game of the year. People have been interested in seeing a sequel for this game, and Tim Schaeffer has shown interest in making one.

The game play featured in Psychonauts is of a free-roaming action adventure game with plat-forming elements. The main gimmick of the game is, of course, the psychic abilities you can learn by getting merit badges. There are multiple abilities that Raz can use. They are pyrokinesis, telekinesis, invisibility, levitation, clairvoyance, psi shield, psi blast, and confusion. The whole campsite is open to exploration and there is a lot to find in the game. There are arrowheads that are the game’s currency, psi cards to form psi challenge markers, and scavenger hunt items that help you level up. The way you level up in the game is to collect a few things. One way to level up is to collect psi challenge markers, which make you go up a rank. The other way is to collect things called figments as different sizes gives you different points. If the points reach 100, you go up a rank. You usually have to go up 10 ranks to gain a new psychic ability, but sometimes, you can gain them by completing different tasks, like getting to Mrs. Vodello in her funkadelic 70’s mind or helping Mr. Nein block out all the censor enemies in his mind. However, you mostly just want to level up to gain more psychic powers. There are multiple different scenarios like where Raz is a giant monster and has to fight what seems to be a parody of Ultraman, having to help put on a play, buying paintings, and wrestling Mexican wrestlers and a huge pink bull. Don’t ask why the bull is pink, you need to find out for yourself. Overall, this game gives you a lot to do.

The graphics in the game are outstanding. It helps that the unique art and character designs are by artist, Scott Campbell, who did artwork for Brutal Legend. The whole world is just mind-bendingly twisted, but not scary twisted like Silent Hill. The whole world is like if Tim Burton founded a summer school and took some form of acidic drug or just bit into a peyote. The music is very chill and calm, kind of like if Neverhood mixed with Mushroom Men and added a bit of ambiance camp sounds. This is helped by composer, Peter McConnell. This music composer is known for other games like Brutal Legend, The Bard’s Tale, Escape from Monkey Island, Herc’s Adventure, Full Throttle, Afterlife, and a lot of Star Wars games. It really fits, and I think it works for the game. It’s like Brutal Legend having a whole list of metal songs. The humor is actually really well done. It is kind of like the humor you find in King of the Hill, very subtle, but funny. There are even some jokes that seem a little odd for kids to say. Let’s talk about the kids one more time. These kids are not normal. Not because they have psychic abilities, but just how odd they are. It is like they ate a big bowl of peyote, which is a certain kind of cactus that can cause some hallucinogenic moments if you bite into it. The voice work, while not as good as Brutal Legend, is very good. You get the talents of Richard Steven Horovitz who did the voice for Zim from the cult classic cartoon, Invader Zim and Orthopox 13 from Destroy All Humans. You also get the voices of Stephen Stanton, Alexis Lezin, Nick Jameson, David Kaye, Steve Blum, David Boat, and probably my favorite female voice actor, Tara Strong. She only plays a minor role in this game, but she is very famous for her talents on shows like Powerpuff Girls and Drawn Together. Overall though, you have a good package of talent in this game.

Sadly, there are a few things that hold this game back. I remember in my game design class, people saying that the game moved slowly. Since I hadn’t been able to play it at the time, I didn’t know what to think. After playing it though, it isn’t sluggish, but it’s slow since you have to walk to everywhere, and each level can take some time to beat. Sometimes, the game gets a little repetitious during some areas like the Mexican art-themed world where you fight four wrestlers who are basically the same besides some different masks and moves, but overall they are the same. The technical issues I mentioned were not defects, but I got a defective disc that crashed on me and I couldn’t get it to run again. I wonder why some versions of games do this and some don’t. It just boggles the mind that of the 400,000 versions of this game that were sold, I got the one that crashed and had to be returned the next day. However, that is just a small gripe.

There is no excuse to not play this game. You can get it on the ps2, Xbox, and Windows, but it’s better if you get either the PS2 version or Xbox version since you don’t have to worry about lagging. This is definitely a well-made game. This game has more heart and soul than most games. I would think it has more heart and hard work put into it than most games. Let’s all hope for a sequel. It is definitely time for one since it has been 5 years. They could do a lot with this game, and I hope Tim Schaeffer does with this great title.

This game gets a 9.6 out of 10

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