In most games you are set in a specific motif for level design; battlefields, warehouses, space based, etc. Also, in most games you have a given theme that you need to stick to in order for the game to make an ounce of sense, but Psychonauts changes this entirely. Sure you have the main world of your summer camp, but the actual game play happens in the minds of other game characters, allowing one level to be on such a completely different plane than another that you get a true feeling that each and every level in unique. Whether you are running across the mentally unstable world of your coach, the defeated Bonaparte relative, or the forlorn artist; each and every world has its own style and as such each level has its own elements for how to play.
So let's start at the beginning. You are a new student at the psychic summer camp, Whispering Rock. You have run away from the circus that your family works at to learn how to harness your awesome mental capabilities. While there you find out that there is a hideous world domination plot that involves stolen brains and tanks. As one of only two people not to lose their brains, it is up to you to save the world. This usually involves navigating levels in the real world, then going into the brains of the insane to cure them and get an item that will allow you to pass to the next area. The story is rather interesting and has a nice splash of comedy in it.
For the most part your abilities work really well. Everything that might make you over powered has a limit. The invisibility and invincibility powers are both on timers and have practical reason for why and when you use it. Pyrokinesis sets enemies on fire, but takes time to charge for larger enemies and once they are set on fire, they can run into you and set you ablaze. As you level in the game, it allows you access to these powers and to upgrade these abilities. For example, pyrokinesis gains a sort of splash damage ability allowing you to catch multiple enemies in one blow. This is actually really handy when climbing the insane asylum.
The controls felt a bit wonky at times and it also felt like I was fighting the camera. This can be quite troublesome when you are in the middle of a jumping puzzle. I was usually able to reign in the controls before it would become a fatal error. However, I was using a XBOX 360 controller on my computer while playing, not the mouse and keyboard combo. The sound was good, but the volume balance could be bad. There were times where I had to boost the volume to hear the characters talking and other times when I had to lower it due to the action sequences being a bit to loud for others around me while playing. It was hard to find the happy medium with the volume. The only way I achieved it came either when no one else was trying to sleep or when I was wearing headphones. The game graphics (please keep in mind this was originally an XBOX 360 game) are pleasing for the era they where made. It has its own quirky style to it so it is hard to judge the game on what would be good or bad. In any case, the graphical style works very well for the game.
Now we come to the important part; was the game fun? Yes, it was a fun game. During the game play of being both inside of the mind and out, there were collectables to find, to satisfy the feeling that wanted to explore everywhere and find everything. This goal is finite and a good reward for getting all the collectables. When outside of a person's mind you had the goal of getting cards and challenge markers to increase your level. While delving in a person's mind the cards and challenge markers are replaced with figments. Collecting all the figments in the game gets some special bonus videos. But be warned, there are 100 levels and it takes 50 figments to gain a level. So even with the other items you will be searching for a long time to get all of them. There is also emotional baggage, the characters carry around with them, that needs to be sorted and it is in the form of actual bags, trunks, purses, and luggage. Sorting all the baggage allows you access to the subject's primal thoughts.
The puzzles also were very enjoyable. Your powers were required in parts to complete them, but it was never so obscure that it was hard to figure out what to do. Examples of this can be seen in the Bonaparte mind where you help a man who has been taken control of by his ancestor to teach him that winning a game is important. You have to give a peasant money, remove people that are walking on a roof, and get enough snails to feed a knight so he can take over the hold.
And this brings us to the end of this review. Yes, it is an old game (ok, a very old game), but is it worth playing? Yes it is and for $10.00 on Steam you have no excuse not to play it. The only excuse at this time of writing would be for StarCarft 2 coming out. However, you can get Psychonauts to play after you beat the Terran campaign and get tired of getting rushed during online games.