I know I'm possibly the last person to play Psychonauts. It came out in 2005, so long ago for a video game that its official website has fallen into disrepair, most of the links returning 404s. Some of the minds you enter in the game are like that, misfiring synapses preventing a cohesive understanding of the situation surrounding their owners. Ultimately Psychonauts is about telling the story to the characters within it, so everyone can get to the end.
Psychonauts is an adventure platformer by Tim Schafer's Double Fine. To illustrate what I mean by “adventure platformer,” I can contrast two other games I played this weekend, Return to Mysterious Island and Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The former is a pure adventure game, also from 2005: all clicking and puzzles and story, though there's some satisfying action at the end. The latter seems to be a platformer, in that you maneuver through a linear level, solving obstacles and dispatching enemies. Island has a fairly small world, and ends in the exact spot it begins. Unlike what of the main game I've played, Anniversary's Croft Manor segment is pretty adventure-y; it's a contiguous area where your play areas for different goals somewhat overlap. Psychonauts has the best of both of these: story, and jumping, and puzzles, and enemies.
Whether there is such a thing as adventure/platformer, Tim Schafer has final say in this interview with Razputin's Domain shortly before they released Psychonauts:
[H]ere’s the thing: I don’t think genres matter. I think quality matters. It doesn’t matter what type of game you’re making, what specific collection of formal rules you are following, what label people put on your game. All that matters is whether it’s a good game or not.
Psychonauts reminds me most of Sly Cooper. One holiday I was visiting some cousins who had just received a PS2 that Christmas, with the original Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, and they were kind (or just enough) to let me play it for the entire time I was there. With both games, the essence was exploring a mostly linear platforming world that was just challenging enough to keep telling the story.
Psychonauts seemed to have a wider array of side activities, as well. Though they were related to the huge variety of different collections to work through, most of the other activity still has a direct impact on the core game, such as revealing more story points, improving your powers, or embiggening your mental health bar.
Controlling Raz was a little difficult in parts, especially near the end where the game does the equivalent of flicking the side of your head and babbling in your ear while you're trying to make demanding jumps and shots. I was playing with the 360 controller, and I don't know how one could do it with a mouse or keyboard without even more frustration.
Altogether it's as good a game as I hoped it would be. Adventure and platforming are two great tastes that go great together, and there was plenty of buzz about the game when it came out. Why didn't I play it sooner? At the time I didn't play many PC games, or didn't have ready access to a PS2, but now I have no excuse: Psychonauts is on Gametap, which I already had for Sam & Max Season 1. It's also on Steam, if you'd rather pay $20 to download the game by itself. If you haven't played Psychonauts either, now's as good a time as any.