Psychonauts is, without a doubt, the most creative 3-D platformer you'll find in its respective generation of consoles.

User Rating: 8.5 | Psychonauts XBOX
Tim Schafer's legacy as the king of point-and-click adventure games may have been common knowledge in the 90's, but in a generation populated by shooters, sports games, and action titles, Schafer's prolific past began to fade from the public eye. Fortunately, Double Fine, Schafer's own development house, was hard at work at a new game for consoles. A game influenced by surreal dreamscapes seen in past Schafer games, Psychonauts entered the gaming circuit with ambitions aplenty. A hilariously written and thoroughly cohesive endeavor, Psychonauts is, without a doubt, the best platformer that you'll find on the Xbox.

Psychonauts follows Raz, a runaway whose psychic-hating father drove him to leave his life as a circus performer behind. Fascinated by the ways of the psychic, Raz arrives at Camp Whispering Rock, a training ground for Psychonauts, psychic soldiers who can enter and explore the worlds created by others' minds. Initially an outcast, Raz encounters a number of diversely characterized campers, some friends and some foes. As Raz progresses up the ranks of the Psychonaut, things start shaking up at Whispering Rock. Raz begins to have obscure visions of his friends' brains being harvested for a brain-powered death ray, and the alumni go missing. Raz must investigate the mysteries of the campsite and its staff, all while saving his friends from their brainless fates. Psychonauts' story design offers ample opportunity for the designers to go nuts with the characters. From the timid Dogen to Raz's edgy love interest Lili, each character is incredibly expressive. You're practically guaranteed to find a character you like. The story is approachable, following themes of overcoming adversity and finding friendship, but possesses a darker essence that platformers like Mario have yet to find. It's a bit edgier and more mature, but it definitely has depth. Platformers don't rely on story too much, but Psychonauts makes its plot engaging and enticing, constantly giving you reason to pursue Raz's aspirations and goals.

Psychonauts does some very interesting things with its world designs, all of which are simply stellar. Instead of focusing on the stereotypical ice, lava, or sky levels, Psychonauts follows worlds created from its character's minds. A Psychonaut is a soldier who has the ability to explore the worlds created by the psyches of others. That's a key point, because Psychonauts seamlessly merges the colorful characterization of its cast with the actual level design itself. It's an ambitious move by Tim Schafer and Double Fine, but it pays off big time. When entering a character's mind, the entire world is constructed from the character's dreams, emotions, and mental stability. Take the first level, Coach Oleander's battlefield for Basic Braining. The Coach's military experience is translated to the level itself, so you'll see enemy planes flying above the stage with plenty of explosions in the background. This is the simplest level, but it already creates a wondrous vision for Psychonauts. Double Fine has challenged the norm superbly with this concept, combining characters and stage design into a cohesive whole that results in some of the most fantastically realized stages you'll ever see in a platformer.

Psychonauts' level design is its purest and most engaging quality, but that's not to say that the rest of the game drags its feet. Gameplay usually is linear, which can be a bit distracting; you're usually able to find your way around each level easily and there aren't many reasons to go off the beaten path aside from some collectibles. Fortunately, the game's narrative takes a superb precedence, making it exciting to find out what happens next. The puzzles are well-constructed, but very instinctual, harking back to the days of Schafer's point-and-click adventure titles. The omnipresence of the story is what truly drives Psychonauts. Though some may scoff at the linearity of the gameplay, the narrative is so enjoyable and fun to experience that you won't mind if the game pushes you towards the next event.

As far as controls go, Raz has a number of basic abilities like jumping, double-jumping, and a simple attack. As the game progresses, though, Raz must collect figments, images seen throughout the respective characters minds. The figments can be used to "level up" Raz's skills and even open up some new powers to use. The powers range from levitation (where Raz rides around on a psychic sphere for extra jumping and speed), Psyblasts (where Raz fires beams of energy from his skull), and more complex ones like Clairvoyance (where Raz can "possess" other characters and see what they see). The powers are fun and very clever, but some lack versatility and only feel useful in certain conditions. The mindless figment collection is rarely required, but does add some tedium to the mix as well. Overall, however, the controls feel a bit rigid and don't possess the fluidity of, say, a Mario game. The platforming may suffer a bit from the controls and under-implemented secondary skills, but Psychonauts' superb level design really backs up the rest of the powers, allowing cool ways to try out each one. Length-wise, Psychonauts is pretty brief at around 10 or so hours, but collecting figments, learning more about the characters' memories and thoughts with hidden film reels, and leveling up Raz's psychic ranking are all reason to return. Even if you aren't into mass collecting, revisiting the story is never a chore. It's a fantastically crafted narrative that gets funnier each time you watch and each time you play.

Presentation is one of the perfect ways Psychonauts is able to show what it's all about. The graphic design is unlike any other platformer out there, focusing on a darker, Tim-Burton-esque aesthetic. The different character appearances are humorously crafted and the animations feel tight, though cartoony enough to get gamers laughing. But the level designs' pure synchronization with the characters whose minds they populate really makes the game shine. Seeing a conspiracy theorist milkman's mind filled with confusing twists and turns just makes his character more engaging, and this works for all of the characters' minds Raz decides to explore. Audio wise, the background themes are well-performed, but it's the stellar (and remarkably plentiful) voice acting that compliments the game's style and premise the most. Raz is voiced by famed voice actor Richard Horvitz (Zim from Invader Zim), who performs a quieter, more reserved role than what many would expect from him. Every character has an amazingly realized personality that makes every single cutscene worthwhile. Just hearing the dialogue alone will entrance you to persevere through challenges. In that regard, Psychonauts could very well be the most creatively designed platformer to be released in its generation.

+ Exceptional level design is mindfully creative and brilliantly engaging
+ Laugh-out-loud voice acting and clever writing
+ Challenging puzzle and stage construction
+ Amazing boss fights

- Slightly floaty controls can make platforming a bit tougher than it should be
- Figment collection can be tedious
- Some under-implemented abilities

Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine have made a platformer with guts to spill. Psychonauts is a simply incredible mixture of narrative and presentation with gameplay and level design. Each world is designed with its respective characters in mind, and the result is some of the most thoroughly inventive and superbly constructed stages ever seen in a platforming game. Mindfully crafted puzzles and easy-to-navigate design compliment the already great stages that Raz must explore. It suffers from a few amateur mistakes like overuse of collection and some minor control problems, but Psychonauts more than makes up for it by making its world inviting and laugh-out-loud funny to experience. The dialogue is very well written and performed, giving each character even more soul. Schafer's legacy of humorous dialogue-driven storyline is in full force in Psychonauts, regardless of whether it's a platformer or not. Every cutscene has purpose and will demonstrate a performance-centered finesse unlike any other game seen before.

Ultimately, though the Xbox isn't well-known for its platforming games, it ironically has one of the best in Psychonauts.