We could describe any level in Psychonauts and you'd probably wonder if we'd lost the plot. This is one of the most inventive, creative, and downright bonkers games out there - let alone being an excellent platformer. Originally released back in 2005, the game failed to capture an immediate audience and was quickly written off as a flop. But here we are years later and Xbox Game Pass members are ecstatic that the title has finally arriving into the service. Why? Because a sequel is on the horizon that looks to be one of the biggest hits of the year.
The journey of Psychonauts coming to where it is today is a story within itself. Over the years many have rallied behind the game, supported it, and even crowdfunded the upcoming sequel - and rightly so. The original is an absolute stroke of genius and deserves to be up there with other platforming champions such as Crash Bandicoot. What works for Psychonauts though, is its absolutely insane narrative surrounding a summer camp that is secretly a US government training facility for children with psychic powers. It's like X-Men mixed in with a Saturday morning cartoon.
That elaborate explanation should be enough to sell you on the beauty of Psychonauts, but if not, let's explain what makes the game so bloomin' great. There's often an argument that style over substance can harm a piece of work, but what if both of those came hand-in-hand? Psychonauts has style bursting out of its seams, suggesting that any idea brought to the table was never rejected. A Godzilla inspired boss battle? Check. A level that revolves around a board game similar to Catan? Yep! There are so many surprises around every corner that every second feels just as fresh as the previous.
As mentioned before, the game often feels like a playable Saturday morning cartoon, in a similar vein to darker children's shows such as Courage the Cowardly Dog. Some of the sights Psychonauts affords you are simply beautiful, and 16 years later they shine better than ever through Xbox's fantastic backwards compatibility. The colours ooze out of the screen and the Tim Burton-esque art style adds a layer of creativity that most games could only dream of achieving.
But we all know the heart and soul of a platformer lies within its gameplay. Luckily, we have an absolutely fantastic adventure that controls with pitch perfect precision. Playing as protagonist Raz is a delight, and the worlds that the game takes you to slowly ramp up in difficulty, whilst providing a wide variety of gameplay - especially as they each take place in a different character's mind. Even better is how this all integrates into the narrative. Whereas other platformers have you collecting inane objects, here every level is littered with collectibles such as 'emotional baggage' for you to collect and unlock cool new things.
Speaking of unlocking new goodies, you'll also earn new abilities as you progress through each imaginative stage. From telekinesis to pyrokinesis, the gameplay is constantly evolving as you make your way through the story, giving you new toys to play with and challenges to overcome. It's not all running, jumping, and attacking enemies though. You'll often slow down to spend time exploring the camp, speaking to characters, or in one particular standout level, solve a mystery surrounding a milkman. It's up there as one of the greatest gaming levels of all time and is only marginally better than the other stages Psychonauts takes you to.
By the end, I think what makes Psychonauts work is how it marries everything together. The plot is surprisingly heartfelt, with emotional and dark moments galore. Sure, the world is a colourful joy to explore, but it often feels as though it's a façade for something much more sinister. This is the brilliance of Psychonauts. Nothing is directly thrown at your face, despite the over-the-top nature of it all. Amongst the bright lights, unique art style, and hilarious writing, there's an emotional core buried within, which I hope the sequel understands made the series so beloved in the first place. By the end of it, you'll be attached to Raz and his friends, and more than ready for the much anticipated sequel on the horizon.
Will you be playing Psychonauts before the sequel? Let us know in the comments below.