Mind Games: Psychonauts Gets GoG Release

By John Walker on November 5th, 2009 at 4:15 pm.

Decide to buy!

Once upon a time this platform game came out that no one cared about. Mark Donald was the editor of PC Gamer at the time, and it was given to me because it came from that guy who used to do adventure games, and I’m the adventure game guy. It was down on the magazine’s flatplan for a page. Psychonauts or something. Not knowing anything about it, and with absolutely no PR foretelling us about it, I installed it with confused expectations. Within a couple of hours I called Donald and said, “This needs more than a page.” By the next day I had bargained it up to four pages. Which was all the space they had left. Psychonauts was something special. And is now available for $10 on Good Old Games.

The story continues. I spoke to colleagues on other mags and websites and said they really should be reviewing it, and a few got hold of copies, and of course loved it. Big positive press, but the game came out in the US only, unable to find a UK publisher. Some months later THQ announced they were going to release it, and we got excited again. In fact, Mark Donald commissioned me to review it for a second time (something I’m not sure has happened before or since in the mag), giving it another two pages. There was an advertising campaign. I remember seeing posters in shops with quotes from my review on them. It was happening! The game that deserved more attention that year than any other was getting a proper release.

My face, when playing.

And then, out of nowhere, THQ announced they were delaying the release by three months. All the magazine ads, posters, etc had a date for November. The review in PCG came out in time for that date, completely pointlessly. And when they eventually slipped it out it was without any notice or promotion at all, and it whimpered and died on the shelves, any potential audience already disappointed twice and now completely confused.

It was brutal, for a game that should have been a phenomenal success. In case you never played it, it’s a game set in a summer camp for psy-powered children. Raz, the main character, sneaks his way in despite his father’s opposition. The camp plays as a hub, packed with a cast of wonderfully written and acted kids, as well as an adult staff of camp counsellors. Raz enters the brains of those in the camp, each containing a unique thematic world to explore, collect figments, deal with emotional baggage (crying suitcases), and unlock buried memories. It was and still is outstanding. It never repeated an idea. A level in a lungfish’s head was a Godzilla-riffing metropolis to stomp on. A depressed love-ruined artist had Italian streets and buildings regularly stampeded by a bull. A man who thought he was Napoleon had a multi-scale board game for a brain.

Of course it has some problems. Technical problems for some with the infamous Meat Circus, and certainly there have been better engineered platformers – the edge detection was dreadful, main character Raz frequently falling to his death when he should have grabbed a ledge. But it also had the problem of simply not being like anything before it. It didn’t conform to the rules of platform games as the Crash Bandicoot crowds might have been expecting. It was… it was really bloody smart. It is. It is really bloody smart.

It certainly has gained enough reputation in hindsight. It’s not a forgotten classic, by any stretch of the mind. It was the reason everyone sat up and took notice when the first rumblings of Brutal Legend appeared. But it still hasn’t been played by nearly enough people. Which you should bloody well put right, now it’s an almost insultingly cheap ten bucks, DRM free. Or if you want it on Steam it’s already they same price there (£6).

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95 Comments »

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  1. RLacey says:

    As someone who rushed to import the US version (only to have the shop in question not dispatch it to him for several months), I concur entirely with the above. I’m not sure that I played a better, funnier, more creative game that year – hell, I’m not sure that I’ve played a better, funnier, more creative game ever.

    I remember seeing a single copy in the Oxford branch of HMV once, and every time I went in I’d move the box to the front of the shelf, hoping that someone would buy it. I never do that for games.

    Aside from the last level (which I hated), it’s brilliant.

    I am such a fanboi.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Stense says:

    One of the funniest, grin worthy games I’ve played. Wonderful stuff.

    • Senethro says:

      I’ve always been a little pleased whenever I saw psychonauts avatars in comments threads.

  3. Ginger Yellow says:

    Hmmm. I’m happy for Psychonauts to be released as widely as possible, but at the same time is it really an Old Game? I’d rather GOG concentrated on the backlog of games it’s impossible to find and/or play otherwise.

    And I still haven’t beaten the Meat Circus.

    • sfury says:

      It still is the only game I am still in total awe of and simultaneously the only one I quit and uninstalled nearly at the end of it (yes, the super frustrating Meat Circus level) and still haven’t finished.

      One of these days I’ll give it a second try though, the Milkman Conspiracy is something I dearly miss. :)

    • Magnus says:

      Why not have it on GOG?

      It is old, it was released in 2005, which was four years ago. It’s also not the sort of thing you can usually find in a shop.

      It’s surely the exact sort of headline making title which will boost GOG and help them to acquire the rights to sell other titles from other developers.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      Four years really isn’t that old, especially for PC platformers – what great advances in the genre have there been since then? Psychonauts is available all over the internet, both digitally and on DVD, and as far as I know it doesn’t have any serious problems running on new OSes. I’m not really objecting to it being on GOG, and if it gives them money to get other IPs, that’s great. It’s just that what makes GOG unique is bringing games you really can’t buy, or can’t get to run, to modern PCs and new gamers. Pscyhonauts feels like a dilution of the brand and a diversion from their mission.

    • Paul says:

      Oh stop it.GOG themselves said that they do not have strict rules on what constitutes “old” .And 4 years IS OLD anyway.And even if they released a 6 months old game, I would be perfectly okay with it.More good games on gog, better service it is.

    • Vinraith says:

      I’m happy for GOG to get almost anything, honestly. They’re by far the best digital distribution service out there.

  4. Mo says:

    The distribution was just as bad in Canada, actually. I think it shipped on time (or maybe a month later) but nobody stocked the damn thing! After calling two different Electronic Boutiques every day for two weeks Psychonauts was *finally* available … well, one copy was available, anyway. Of course, I quickly snapped it up, but the casual passer-by wouldn’t have even had a chance.

  5. BigJonno says:

    Psychonauts stand as a great example of what happens when people gush too much about games. I constantly hear about how great it is, but no-one ever says “If you don’t enjoy platform games much, you probably won’t like it.” I finally got to play it via Gametap a few months ago, I enjoyed it, but I’m just not all that into 3D platformers. I’ll give it credit for being funny, creative and intelligent, it clearly is, but I wish people would stop with the unconditional recommendations.

    • jonfitt says:

      I have a similar opinion.

      I played the demo after the fact, probably a couple of years ago now. I liked the look, characters, setting, story, etc., but I don’t really like platformers so it left me cold.

      Now if it had been more of an adventure game with platform elements like Beyond Good and Evil I would probably have been all over it.

    • Smee says:

      Ah, that would have been a terrible thing to say to me, since I don’t like platformers, but I absolutely loved Psychonauts. It was the implementation of the point-and-click adventure game verb inventory into the action-platform world that did it for me, not in spite of.

    • Thirith says:

      @Jonfitt: IMO Psychonauts has a lot more in the way of adventure elements than Beyond Good & Evil did.

  6. nabeel says:

    Is your review of Psychonauts up anywhere, John? I’m pretty sure I read it in the mag back when but I don’t have the issue anymore.
    [EDIT]
    Ah, here it is!

  7. Stupoider says:

    I loved the plot, the writing, and the imagination that went into this game. Definitely one of the best games to ever grace my computer. :)

    • Stupoider says:

      A few more things I loved: The art style. The music. The characters. The voice acting. The animation during the cutscenes. The asylum was fantastic. The events inside the asylum were fantastic. Level design and the idea of using the minds of the characters as levels was genius. Waterlooland was AMAZING. The milk is delicious.

  8. LionsPhil says:

    Quite. I mean, just look at this. Clearly the community can be a bit thick (LucasArts games? Er, they’re still sold by LucasArts, and they just did a remake of CoMI, so I wouldn’t expect the budget original to show up any time soon.), but every waking hour they don’t spend hunting down Looking Glass’s IP is an hour wasted as long as System Shock is still abandoned.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Until the special edition, it was not possible to buy The Secret of Monkey Island from Lucasarts. Nor is it possible right now to buy LeChuck’s Revenge. At least, it wasn’t last time I checked not long ago. They have started rereleasing some on Steam (Loom, The Dig), but there’s a lot more that are not readily available.

      Most of the Lucasarts games got voted up in the wish list very early on, and have remained high. Remember that GOG’s been going well over a year now, and the SoMI special edition, and Steam re-releases only happened quite recently.

    • Magnus says:

      The GOG wishlist is a touch broken, since not a lot of people use it to any great extent. What people do tend to do is look at the wishlist page, vote for the top ten (since that’s easy enough) and not bother to search through the rest for anything more than one or two titles.

      GOG have said they are working on a better wishlist, but it’s low on their priorities in comparison to other work on the website and obviously getting new games in.

    • LionsPhil says:

      @VelvetFistIronGlove: I could have sworn LA were still flogging their back catalogue up until the remake, at near-full price of all things.

      This being a good way to get them or not, it does rather mean that they’re unlikely to hand a redistribution license to GoG.

  9. LionsPhil says:

    @BigJonno: Quite. I had pretty much the exact same reaction to the demo—characterisation good, but will never reach most of it because I hate platform games in general, and this one is not a good example gameplaywise (Jazz Jackrabbit and Earthworm Jim being counterexamples that can overrule the former by being well-tuned).

    Tim Schafer working on things which are not point-and-click adventure games is a waste. A waste, I say!

  10. Psychopomp says:

    I beat Meat Circus in one go :(

    • Stupoider says:

      The only problem I had with the Meat Circus was the part when you had to climb up this splintered, flaming, spiralling wire fence and jump between the pieces. I died an awful lot on that part, but other than that I didn’t have too many problems.

    • HolyShitMatt says:

      Same here and I past it only because I was lucky. There are other wtf design decisions in Meat Circus but that is undoubtedly the most egregious.

    • Jugglenaut says:

      That flaming spiral was total heinous. I had to cheat my way up by bouncing on top of you-know-who.

    • Stupoider says:

      I found that climbing around on the inside of the spiral was much easier than climbing around the outside.

  11. Carl says:

    Practically stole this game on Steam for 5$ a couple years back, and loved it. It’s so hard to recommend to people without describing things they should have the pleasure of seeing for themselves, though. Bottom line is, at bargain bin pricing, everyone should play this game. If you hate the mechanics, you’re out 10$ and a handful of hours, but at least you got a taste of what an innovative, well-written game can be.

  12. Heliocentric says:

    Anyone who had trouble in meat circus needs to collect more crap, eventually you get health regeneration from leveling up.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Helio: Except by the time you discover you’re having trouble, you can’t go back.

      KG

    • Taillefer says:

      Was health the problem for people? If you’re having trouble, you’re probably not utilising your powers (or you’re on the spirally fence bit).

    • Gap Gen says:

      One of my main issues was the bit where the kid was chasing his rabbit – he died if you weren’t fast enough, regardless of regenerating health, and you’d have to start the sequence all over again.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      Health’s not my problem with Meat Circus. It’s time and making the jump from the second spinning wheel early on in the stage – in other words I haven’t even got to the bit that’s supposed to be difficult. I’ve only ever done it a handful of times. Once I was so surprised at making it that I promptly fell off the ledge. The other times I made it, Oly was too injured for me to save him in time.

  13. aoanla says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    Psychonauts stand as a great example of what happens when people gush too much about games. I constantly hear about how great it is, but no-one ever says “If you don’t enjoy platform games much, you probably won’t like it.” I finally got to play it via Gametap a few months ago, I enjoyed it, but I’m just not all that into 3D platformers. I’ll give it credit for being funny, creative and intelligent, it clearly is, but I wish people would stop with the unconditional recommendations.

    Hear hear! I enjoyed what I saw of Psychonauts when I played it, but I never came close to completing it (partly because the edge detection really was dire, you know – I'm not that bad at platformers, but, grrr.). And I actually quite like platformers (I even liked the jumpy Xen levels in HL!).

  14. Gap Gen says:

    Fire is pretty.

  15. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    I really should try this. I only played the first level on an xbox from a demo that was on an old OXM demo CD. I thought that it was “ok”. Now I know that I was just completely tasteless.

  16. gulag says:

    I’m glad that this medium has finally reached a place where stone cold classics are seeing the light of day again, and at the right price point. GoG are fast becoming the gaming equivalent of Penguin Classics, which is only a good thing.

    Low prices, quality releases, a format that encourages sharing amoungst peers. Games finally have a paperback edition.

  17. The Pink Ninja says:

    Took months to arrive in the UK. Picked up the first copy I saw. Loved it.

    One of my fave games ever. It’s just… enchanting.

  18. mandrill says:

    You can get it on GameTap (http://www.gametap.com) for nowt.

    • SquareWheel says:

      Just a disclaimer: Gametap is some pretty bad stuff. The DRM doesn’t work on x64 OS’s, forces you to install on your primary drive, and they have terrible customer support. if you can, I’d get the DRM-free version at GOG.

  19. Hermit says:

    Yeah, the demo level is probably the low point of the game. Good introduction to the basic gameplay mechanics and the platforming, but with none of the awesome powers or locations from later in the game.

  20. Andy says:

    I started to write this comment to mention a single level that I particularly enjoyed but as soon as I began all my memories of the fantastic levels in that game started rushing back and I couldn’t just mention the one.
    Inspired is the only word that can sufficiently describe this game and it’s such a shame that Psychonauts wasn’t better handled (in the UK at least).
    It’s also a real shame that Double Fine couldn’t continue their form with Brutal Legend.

    • Dominic White says:

      Huh? What’s wrong with Brutal Legend? I spent a couple of days loving the singleplayer side of things in it, and the multiplayer is probably the best action/RTS hybrid since Sacrifice.

  21. Guto says:

    Probably game of the decade for me, Tim Schafer is really a genius, it’s a shame that he apparently abandoned us PC gamers.

  22. Joe The Wizard says:

    I love Psychonauts. I’ve purchased it twice, and I’ll probably pick this up again in the dry spot in the coming summer.

  23. sfury says:

    I bought it a couple of months back from a local store – it was discounted, only 5 euros. :D

    Sorry Tim and Double Fine, I’m an awful person and I’ll make it up to you when I buy Brutal Legend.

    When you release it for PC.

  24. Homunculus says:

    I got fed up waiting for this to be released in the UK, so ordered a copy from Doublefine.

    Tim Schaefer signed it in gold ink and wrote me a lovely message. Well, that’s my Psychonauts anecdote.

  25. Lilliput King says:

    YOU USED TO LIKE TO PLAY CATCH WITH ME

    I ended up playing a ps2 version which suffered from poor controls and woeful framerate, pretty much all the time.

    The underlying quality, charm and originality shone through, but it’s a shame the technical and business side of things was so poorly handled.

    • Vinraith says:

      Is the PC version between about these things? The controls, in particular, were a real chore in the PS2 version.

  26. Urthman says:

    Whenever people say Psychonauts is not a very good 3D platformer, I am astonished. Really? I mean, yeah, Mario Sunshine has controls that are a little bit tighter. But are there really a whole slew of 3D platformers that are better than this? That are more fun than bouncing around on that Psi-Ball, zipping through that psychedelic race? More fun than bouncing way up high and floating to your target with the Psi-Parachute? More fun than stomping around Lungfishopolis? More fun than zooming off the edge of the cubic world in such a way that you “fall” way up high on the next side as gravity reorients? More fun than jumping around the crazy milkman level, zipping along the twisty power lines, constantly changing which way is down? Really? Because if so, I desperately need to know the names of these unimaginably fun games so I can try them.

    (And really I’m just talking about the platforming. I’m not even counting all the great adventure-game bits: the way you can use every power on every character and it’s almost always entertaining if not hilarious; the nifty design of Black Velvet Level and how perfectly it illustrates Edgar’s psyche; the awesome 3-level Waterloo game; the lunacy of the G-men, all the hilarious dialog…)

  27. Heliocentric says:

    What can i say, i’m a gaming idiot savant, i had no trouble at all with meat circus. That level with the bull was the only level i died more than a handful of times. I don’t count my throwing myself off the edge of milkman.

  28. Valentin Galea says:

    Urthman is right on the money!

  29. Cpt. Sqweky says:

    If you do not yet own this game go and buy it right now. RIGHT NOW! ¡Cómpralo ya!

  30. Walsh says:

    He’s heading for the orphanage!

  31. Matt says:

    This is quite fortuitous for me. I’m in the process of playing classic games that I missed the first time around, and this was one that I was eyeing next for my continuing education.

    Question though – should I invest in a gamepad (like an XB360 controller or something) to play it, or am I cool with the keyboard?

    • Urthman says:

      I played it on keyboard with no mouse or game pad. Just make sure you set up your keys rationally. Put one hand on the home row or the WASD keys and the other hand on the keypad so you have plenty of keys under your fingers to move, jump, use powers, and swing the camera around as needed. You might get away with keyboard and mouse if you have a good 5-button mouse.

  32. fuggles says:

    Although over time my husband will lose desire for me sexually, he will always love my pies.

  33. fuggles says:

    Although over time my husband will lose desire for me sexually, he will always love my pies.”

  34. LintMan says:

    I bought Psychonauts on Steam quite a while back, really wanting to like it after all the good things I heard. I found it charming and with an interesting story, but sadly I quite playing before even finishing one of the first areas. I just really hate platformer-style gameplay that has you missing jumps, falling off cliffs, and constantly redoing things. My frustration-rage tolerance level for that stuff is quite low. If only there was a way to skip the platformer stuff, I’d love to play through the rest of the game.

    Some people mentioned Beyond Good & Evil… I bought that also, and while its gameplay wasn’t really my cup of tea either, I was able to play it to completion and enjoy its story and adventure elements.

  35. Blahblah says:

    I think my favorite Psychonauts moments were the level in Professor Nein’s head, Kochamara level, and using that ability where you can see from others’ vision. If you use that on the other NPC’s, you can see what others’ perceptions are of you…utterly brilliant piece of detailed design that most other studios would have glanced over.

    It’s been several years since I played it, so memory’s a bit hazy…time for a re-install methinks.

  36. Carra says:

    When will steam learn…

    €9.99 on steam. $9.99(~€6.7) on gog.com without the DRM.

    Difficult choice.

    • Stupoider says:

      Does Steam have DRM? D:

    • Heliocentric says:

      Yes, its called steam

    • SquareWheel says:

      Steam is DRM in itself, but it’s a fairly friendly DRM.

    • Vinraith says:

      “fairly friendly”

      The thing is, it’s really not. I mean, it requires that the game phone home every time it’s started to verify that it’s legitimate. That’s some of the most intrusive DRM on the market, in truth, it’s just that Valve’s made it so convenient, and tacked on so many features, that people generally don’t notice or mind.

    • MastodonFarm says:

      Really? So a Steam game won’t start if I try to run it while my Internet is down? I guess that situation hasn’t come up yet, but oh boy is that gonna piss me off when it does.

    • Vinraith says:

      It MIGHT run, if your clientregistry.blob file has been updated recently enough, but unless you specifically set offline mode before you lose your internet connection there’s simply no way of knowing.

      It’s never come up for you? Wow, what’s your ISP?

  37. Seth says:

    It’s been covered but I must have tried that spiral fence jump like thirty times.

    I’m not one to yell at my vidja games but goddamn who playtested that.

  38. Mister Yuck says:

    Psychonauts is about the only platformer, besides Spelunky, I have ever loved. I’m pretty sure it’s the only one I have ever beaten.

  39. Clovis says:

    I’m guessing I never even made it to Meat Circus. I remember being in a latino inspired area and I had to do some boxing or something. That part seemed broken, I ragedquit, and ended up never going back. It really was quite fun though.

  40. A-Scale says:

    I REALLY wanted to like this game, but I found it utterly uncontrolable on the PC.

  41. UK_John says:

    Funny, tha this came out in 2005 – that was the last year we got original games for our PC’s and consoles….!!!

  42. FleshPrince says:

    Did you guys who don’t like platformers like the new Prince of Persia? They basically made a game that plays itself to cater to you. If you miss those pesky frustrating jumps, you don’t die because you have a sidekick that magically teleports you back.

    • Vinraith says:

      I fail to see how making it impossible to fail in a game is catering to people that don’t like the genre. In fact, I fail to see how it’s catering to anyone but children, honestly.

      I’m not a big platformer fan, I frequently find jump sequences obnoxious and frustrating, but making them impossibly easy just makes the game boring.

    • Taillefer says:

      With 3D platformers, it’s generally a control/camera issue rather than a game mechanic issue. Well, for those who stubbornly stick to mouse/keyboard, like myself. If “left” and “right” turn instead of sidestep it frightens and confuses me.

  43. Lambchops says:

    Psychonauts remeains the only game I’ve ever imported.

    Entirely justified as i absolutely loved it.

    As for the Meat Circus , it took a few attempts (both first time and when I replayed it recently) but I’ve definitely come across more frustrating platform sections.

    Anyway at this price there’s really little reason not to buy it.

  44. BlazerKnight says:

    My favourite game of all time. And I don’t even like the platforming genre! So, BigJonno, I can recommend it unconditionally. I finished it on the Xbox, no control issues there. And Urthboy is definitely right about the gameplay, it has such inspired level design that every level is a joy to navigate and explore. Well, except for Meat Circus, but it’s a testament to the game’s quality that I endured the dozens of infuriating deaths to finish it. It was crafted with such care and insanity, such humour and despair. Every line of dialogue is dripping with wit, every character was brilliantly designed, and every psychic ability is great fun to deploy. It’s a crime to not have at least tried it. And at this price it’s a steal. The new Prince of Persia was what, 6 hours for $60? This is 20+ hours for $10!! What are you waiting for?!

  45. Dean says:

    Also played it on Xbox, no issues with controls at all. And I thought it was a brilliant platformer in addition to everything else. Once you got past those first couple of levels and got the disco-floaty-bouncy-ball thing the platforming became a lot more forgiving and a lot more fun. I still remember bouncing and gliding around now.

    Meat Circus was awful though.

    It’s a brilliant game bookended by fail.

  46. Justin says:

    When I was first playing through this, and got to the part where you go into the Lungfish’s brain, I stopped playing for a second and said “Wow. Now it’s a city rampage game.” Same thing on the Fred Bonaparte level – “Wow. Hex-based strategy.” It’s not really any of these things, but there’s just a hint of something new in each mind.

  47. Urthman says:

    One other reason Psychonauts is awesome: Tim Schafer got writing assistance from Erik Wolpaw who wrote the dialogue for Portal and was half of Old Man Murray.

    This interview with Erik was how I discovered RPS:
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2007/10/31/rps-interview-valves-erik-wolpaw/

  48. Scott says:

    One of my all-time favorites. Still replay it every year or so.

  49. SquareWheel says:

    Amazing game. Awesome level design, plenty of humor, brilliant all around.

  50. bill says:

    Stunning game.

    I don’t really get why people complain about the platforming. I’m hardly a big platform gamer, but i had no issues with it at all. Meat Circus was of course kind of tricky, but it was the last level!

    I think a lot of people complaining only played the demo, which was the worst level in the game, and before you got any powers. Once you have the psi-ball to roll around on and the ability to float, the platforming is great.