Psychonauts: Mind Games
Rejoice, tiny friends, for today I have posted another snippet of GameSpite Quarterly 4. Today’s excerpt concerns a game you have perhaps heard of — Psychonauts — though given its reportedly dire retail performance, perhaps you have not played it. To hear this article tell it, though, it seems that you didn’t miss out on too terribly much. And so plays the sad trombone.
Psychonauts: Mind Games
18 thoughts on “GSQ4: Psychonauts”
Man, that’s not what I said at all! Look at the first paragraph!
Most Psychonauts articles gush untold rivers of praise for the game, and yet every time I started writing about it I ended up running into the fact that its reach frequently exceeds its grasp. Unlike most games, though, it’s reaching for something; far better to be a noble failure with great writing than a mediocre game.
I still say Psychonauts feels like it was designed chronologically over an extended period. The overworld and first level or two really have this nasty clunky “I totally don’t know how to make a platformer” feel, but it gets progressively more playable and enjoyable the farther along you get.
On the other hand… figments.
Psychonauts was a pretty boring game. It was charming, for whatever that’s worth.
(Wasn’t worth much at all for Brutal Legend.)
You know, I never understood peoples’ issues with the controls. I thought they were pretty decent, myself. And I didn’t really see the adventure game elements as a crutch. Because of the strength of Psychonauts’s world design, visual direction, music, and writing, the fact that gameplay is merely adequate isn’t that damning. (The Meat Circus was definitely bullshit, though.)
Of course, if we want to talk about Tim Schafer’s reach extending its grasp to disastrous effect, I think his most recent release is a much better candidate.
I once verbally berated Scott C. about the figments. I’m sure he gets enough of that as it is but a little more finger waggin’ never hurt.
I found this article wanting, because it fails to mention the single best level in the entire game: Waterloo World. That’s where all the high concepts and gameplay come together perfectly. That’s where the surreal adventure game and platform game fused together perfectly. That’s where my opinion of the game did a complete 180. It may not have been the most original of the worlds (Napoleon in an Insane Asylum), but I consider it one of the most genuinely best sequences in any game ever made.
I really struggle to replay Psychonauts. I’ve already seen and experienced the most creative and thematically interesting ideas, so it is just a slog to get through quite a lot of pretty naff stages. The above article is spot on about the controls – they are just about satisfactory, which isn’t good enough. I would also agree that the milkman level, whilst the best in the game, suffers because all of the puzzles are solved simply by holding the right item at the right time.
I can’t help but feel the main issue behind all the hate for Brutal Legend is the haters can’t identify with the culture or music the premise revolves around and it would’ve been better recieved if all the music was something faggy like prog rock, Rush, or (worse yet) jpop.
and/or they’re emos and take the sequences where you have to obliterate an emo army very very very very personally
whatever the case, troll article reads like troll article. A shameless Mario 64 clone doesn’t deserve that many words other than “it was at its best when it wasn’t trying to be Mario 64”. Nobody would’ve paid attention to Psychonauts anyway if a famous video game rockstar like Schafer hadn’t been part of it and EGM writers couldn’t separate their bias for him and berated the gaming community in their GOTY lists for not making Psychonauts successful. But its nice to see someone heap some criticism on such undeserving mediocrity.
You guys can hate Brutal Legend all you want, but the one thing it got right was it placed priority on Schafer’s strengths and not on what genre was selling at the time.
On Waterloo World: I didn’t write about it because I chose to talk about the best level, my favourite level, and the level I felt best represented what I wanted to say about the game. Adding too many more felt like padding for something I was already uncomfortable with.
So I’ll say it here: the big problem with Waterloo World, in my mind, is that the platforming and the adventure elements are strangely divorced from one another. What platforming there is tends to come in discrete little segments, usually to unlock an adventure game item. The adventure segments are used to dictate the flow through the level, which is fairly constrained. Doesn’t really match the theme of a strategic board game, and if the board game had been a little less like a linear sequence of events (though not, obviously, a fully-fledged board game), I think it would have meshed better.
I personally like Black Velvetopia the best, because it fuses what adventure games did best – the story – with what platformers do best – movement. It had ambitious level design that had a real narrative to it, although it unfortunately required NPCs to explain it to you. Take the Mario games as a counter-example – even at their best, they’re still exceedingly gamey, with no internal logic to them. Hell, Sunshine was praised for making the levels seem like they were vaguely connected to each other in setting. Psychonauts goes further
“Nobody would’ve paid attention to Psychonauts anyway if a famous video game rockstar like Schafer hadn’t been part of it and EGM writers couldn’t separate their bias for him and berated the gaming community in their GOTY lists for not making Psychonauts successful.”
The problem with writing a negative article is that the Internet does stuff like the above, where ‘I didn’t like it’ turns into ‘this is a travesty of man on par with Chernobyl and the Holocaust’. Certainly, there’s a place for negative article in a magazine with ‘spite’ in the name, but dismissing it as a Mario 64 clone, one generation later, when it clearly resonated with a lot of people, does it a disservice. I guess if the response of those who didn’t like it is ‘tl;dr’ instead of ‘you nailed it’, guess I failed. Oh wells.
I don’t know. Rough around the edges though it was, Brutal Legend was easily one of the most enjoyable video game experiences I have had in a while. I can see most of the complaints people throw at it, and while you might think something like sloppy game mechanics would be absolutely fatal, I had a lot of fun with the game, and have been thinking about going through it again. If the reviews have had you sitting on the fence, I would recommend giving it a go, especially considering how cheap it is nowadays.
“I can’t help but feel the main issue behind all the hate for Brutal Legend is the haters can’t identify with the culture or music the premise revolves around and it would’ve been better recieved if all the music was something faggy like prog rock, Rush, or (worse yet) jpop.”
The “culture” of the music, as you so quaintly put it, was the entire reason I bought the game despite going against my better judgement. Not only was the game a mess from a gameplay perspective, unsuccessfully mixing a very rudimentary strategy section with equally simple combat, but the story was juvenile and the voice acting was flat. That last part was particularly inexcusable. Maybe it was just the PS3 version, but the sound was very…squashed and muddy, I guess. Don’t know the technical term. Sounded compressed.
Also, Rush is a fantastic band. Has no place in BL, but seriously, what is wrong with you.
Sometimes, people have different opinions than I do. And that’s terrible.
You know, I really enjoyed the platforming elements of this game. Don’t see what all the fuss was about. It was merely alright until you got that bouncy ball power up, and I didn’t get off that thing for the rest of the game. Seriously, felt like Jumping Flash. I didn’t even have a problem with the Meat Circus level!
Also the collecting of objects was alright for me, because it gave me an excuse to run around the levels on the bouncy ball. I really dug that bouncy ball.
Thanks for writing this. I agree with a lot of what is written here and am glad to see a review mentioning bad points about the game other than the controls. While I enjoyed the game, I was being motivated almost entirely by the plot rather than by the gameplay, which is a perversion of the natural order of things as far as I am concerned. Lungfishopolis, for example, was hilarious through and through, which made it a favorite of mine, but the gameplay was… well I can barely even remember it now. I just remember that shields were involved and the jump height was reduced.
I am totally on-board the “screw figments” bandwagon, too.
What’s bad about Psychonauts is the collectathon aspect and the horribly frustrating meat circus (the only part of the game that justifies complaints about the controls’ alleged awfulness). What’s good about it is that Tim Schafer’s sheer, unbridled, manic creativity makes…oh, pretty much the entire rest of the gaming industry with the probable exception of Shigesato Itoi (who shouldn’t really count) look like barely-sentient, stumbling cavemen. Okay, maybe that’s not “good” from the rest of the industry’s perspective, but that’s hardly my or Schafer’s problem. Sometimes, there’s a game that comes along and really puts things into perspective. That’s Psychonauts. I just think it would be a shame for anyone to pass it up on the basis of this overview, because MY LORD, for whatever problems it may have, it’s the kind of thing we need to see a LOT more of if we want to see any kind of aesthetic evolution in the medium.
as far as collectibles goes, do what I do – Don’t collect them. It’s something I learned from playing Banjo-Kazooie
Is Psychonauts the 1st Overrated Underrated game EVER??
“Faggy” prog fan here, just to say, thank you Jeremy for helping me get into prog (for those who don’t remember, ten years ago this site was called something different and all the articles were about prog rock, yup)
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