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Feb 05

Geek Games: Psychonauts

For those that don’t read our Geek Flicks posts, a quick explanation is required. Our geek section is a vault of only the best of the best, the geek creme de la creme of films, games and tech that changed history and/or inspired us as geeks to do what we do.

These geek treasures may not be perfect, they may even be terrible in a classical sense, but they have had a resounding effect on geek culture as a whole.

When people talk about the games that define them as a gamers, the first game that comes to my mind is Psychonauts.

Tim Schafer, the producer of the game has been a hero of mine since I was old enough to cognitively understand humor and his first titles really were huge steps for storytelling in games. Unlike a lot of game developers of the time he understood the key to breaking out of the nerdy vibe of the 90s: make it universally funny. From Day of the Tentacle to Monkey Island, the humor is solid and the gameplay was accessible. They are classics of early gaming.

So, unlike everyone else at the time, I was mega excited for Psychonauts. The very mention of Tim Schafer’s name attached to the project had me foaming at the mouth in anticipation, and the waiting paid off. Psychonauts was amazing.

The game had it all, solid control mechanics, a brilliant storyline, sidesplitting humor and one of the most unique of visual styles of it’s time. It is was an almost flawless game. It does have a slow start which could throw off some of the less patient users. But for those willing to put in the time there is so much to offer inside this one title.

The game follows Raz, a circus  runaway who possesses incredible mental powers. Raz unsuccessfully tries to sneak into a special camp for training for mind warriors known as “Psychonauts”. When he is caught, he is allowed to stay for a few days while they contact his parents. Of course, Raz wastes no time in trying to learn all he can before he is kicked out. During his stay he learns how to use all sorts of cool powers, goes inside the minds of many camp patrons, defeats a giant sea monster and falls in love with a boot. Plus the mandatory save the world plot that is in all good games of the time.

Though all of these bits are great, what really sells the experience is the style and attention to detail. Though a little dated in graphics, the world itself is mind blowing and some levels in themselves are works of art. When in the brain of your combat teacher, your level is a war-zone. When in the mind of a paranoid security guard, the level is a warped suburbia with cameras and security everywhere. Each completely unique, with nothing regurgitated from previous levels. On top of looks, a lot of levels will play completely different as well. On one you will be running for your life from a giant enemy, the next you are Godzilla sized and terrorizing a city.

For me Psychonauts truly stands out as a reminder that games can be more than a clone of everything we have seen before. The ideas and techniques used here are an inspiration to all that work in industry and a true geek icon.

– Josh