I played Double Fine Production’s classic adventure platformer way back in 2005 on the PC, but I never actually finished it. I enjoyed what little I played, but I never took the opportunity to return to it until Psychonauts 2 — a game that I helped crowdfund — finally launched. I’m so glad I went back to finish it because it was a pleasant and wholesome game that stood the test of time.
I played Psychonauts on the Xbox Series X and thanks to the amazing work by Microsoft’s backward’s compatibility team, the game looks like a legitimate remaster. A much higher resolution (1920p) and a mostly smooth 30 FPS framerate yielded a game that was more than playable in 2021. The 4:3 aspect ratio and untouched pre-rendered videos were reminders of the game’s age, but they weren’t enough to complete rob the game of its timeless charm. I wouldn’t describe the art style as my cup of tea, but the exaggerated nature of it allowed the visuals to age gracefully.
The voice work shining through from 2005 was another astonishing feat from Double Fine. Each and every character was on point with fitting voice performances infused with memorable personalities.
Psychonauts’ claim to fame was never its platforming and in the end, I found it to be completely inoffensive and functional. There were a handful of tricky spots, but it wasn’t anything a bit of perseverance and a review of Raz’s psychic capabilities couldn’t address. I enjoyed the fact that they didn’t make it glaringly obvious which powers I had to lean on to overcome an obstacle. It gave the game familiar classic adventure game inventory vibe that Tim Schafer and his ilk were known for. There were a boss fight or two where I had to cycle through my arsenal of powers like a key ring full of keys, but it was still very satisfying when I finally “unlocked” the boss. If all else fails though, I could always ring up Agent Cruller like Solid Snake to the Colonel from Metal Gear Solid.
This classic game’s claim to fame was its distinctive and imaginative worlds. Creating worlds out of the minds of individuals and broaching the topic of mental health and how inner turmoil affects people was very unique in 2005. Mental health in the early 2000s garnered images of straitjackets and asylums which was incredibly cliché and created an unwarranted stigma around the topic. And while Psychonauts leveraged that trope in this game, it handled it with a bit more care than most. They gave the inmates relatable stories and reasons as to why they were caught up in their own minds.
Each world was unique with their own vibes and game mechanics. They weren’t that divergent from the staple of smashing enemies and collecting stuff, but their respective conceits were novel. I was a big fan of the boardgame and conspiracy worlds.
Raz ran away from home and his father to attend a psychic camp believing he was meant to become a psychic secret agent and join the Psychonauts. Raz helped his campmates, helped long forgotten people solve their issues, and eventually took down a rogue instructor’s plans for world domination. He eventually became the Psychonaut he wanted. The pleasant surprise was the little twist in the end where we discovered Raz had his own personal demons. A misunderstanding with his father lead Raz to conjure up unnecessary hardship for himself which he solved through communication with him. The takeaway for us all is that if we cannot read each other’s minds, the best way to overcome our own hangups is to talk to one another; a very useful life lesson.
Psychonauts was a gem of a game and I was so pleased to see it hold up as well as it did. A significant portion of the kudos goes to Microsoft for their incredible backwards compatibility work, but the heaviest of lifting came from Double Fine who made so many smart decisions during development all those years ago. They created something that was so enduring and beloved by its fans that a sequel was backed into existence. I cannot wait to play the sequel!
I liked it