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Bloody hell, Psychonauts is still a bit good, isn't it?

Trip the mind fantastic

Double Fine's most treasured son (apart from Jack Black, who is not a real man and was obviously designed by a committee of wacky game developers some time in the late 90s) is undoubtedly Raz, protagonist of their 2005 cult hit Psychonauts.

Psychonauts is classic Double Fine. It's a 3D platformer with some puzzley bits that sees Raz training to be a psychonaut at a secret government facility disguised as a children's summer camp by having adventures that take place inside people's subconscious brains. This premise, you will note, is a cracker, even if not that many people thought so at the time. It's become more popular in recent years, though, and every so often I go back and give it a look, most recently being this weekend. So let me be the latest in a long line of people to say, "Blimey, it's still a bit good, isn't it?"

Psychonauts 2 isn't even on my radar, really. It was announced way, way too early back in 2015, and even though Double Fine are apparently targeting release for this year, it's entered that zone of games that I sometimes remember exist and go, "Oh yeah, what's happening with that again?" But I'd argue that Psychonauts 1 still holds up so well that you kind of don't need a new one.

Raz's repertoire of powers, including producing telekenetic fire at will, isn't too outlandish, but the arenas in which you use them are incredible. Double Fine take full advantage of levels being the weird and theoretically limitless battlegrounds of the human psyche. There's one where you find yourself in a weird theatre haunted by a masked phantom, and have to switch out different sets for different plays so you can get up into the lighting gantries. In another, you end up helping a character play a strategy board game against Napoleon, and can shrink to run around the board, and then shrink one smaller again so you're to scale with the pieces. The first time you play, it's almost impossible to predict what might happen next.

And all the extra bits are so perfectly in line with the theme, from boss fights to collectibles. The best are the bits of Emotional Baggage you find lurking in the recesses of people's brains. They're bits of luggage crying big cartoony tears, and if you find their luggage tag and reunite them, the bags become happy! And, presumably, the brain-owner in question perks up as well. Imagine if dealing with real-life baggage was that easy.

Sure, the controls feel a little dated now - it's a massive pain in the arse selecting the ability you want to use each time, especially if you need to switch between more than one - and some of its platforming is a bit ropey. But even the look of Psychonauts hasn't aged that much at all. It's got a sort of classic Cartoon Network look where everything is slightly the wrong colour, objects feel either way too big or too small, and all the characters have weird hair and buck teeth. Viewed in the harsh light of 2021, where we have more infinitely polygons at our disposal, it still just looks weird and blocky on purpose.

It holds up so well, in fact, that I was actually shocked by how good it looks. I suppose what I'm saying is that if you're at a bit of a loss on what to play right now, you could do much, much worse than Psychonauts. Especially if you've never played it before.

15 years later and it still feels like there isn't much like Psychonauts around. It still feels new. Instead of a sequel, I'd sort of rather Double Fine took all the money that people threw at them via Kickstarter and used it to make something as new and different as this all over again.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.