There are certain Xbox games that, criminally, received less attention than they deserved. Psychonauts is one such game. Developed by Double Fine Studios, which now sits under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, the game was praised by critics but commercially wasn’t a success.
Psychonauts was originally intended to be an Xbox exclusive launch title, but development difficulties and a rocky relationship between Double Fine and Microsoft in the early noughties prevented this from being the case. Instead, the game was released a few years later for Xbox, PC and Playstation 2.
According to the definition, a Psychonaut is “someone who experiments through altered states of consciousness, usually via hallucinogenic drugs, for the sake of spiritual or intrapersonal exploration”. That’s the wording anyhow, and the game is certainly based on, and draws on, these themes throughout.
You play as Razputin (Raz), a young psychic cadet who sets out to stop an evil plot spearheaded by someone who is stealing brains. Raz makes use of his wide range of skills to enter the minds of the plotters, and put an end to their scheming ways.
Psychonauts was off the wall, and felt utterly unique. It hailed from the mind of Tim Schafer, a former member of the LucasArts team, who has previously been responsible for such gaming gems such as Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. Schafer also teamed up with Peter McConnell once again, to create the game’s distinctive soundtrack.
Psychonauts is a 3D action and adventure platformer where each level is someone’s “mental world” that you explore – it reflects that person’s state of mind, quite literally. The action is all pinned together by a humorous and entertaining narrative, which instantly grabs you and allows you to get to know, and more importantly care about, the characters.
As previously alluded to, Raz has many abilities at his disposal, which he learns either from other characters or essentially by levelling up. Some of these include telekinesis, pyrokinesis and invisibility amongst many others. As you can imagine, these skills are essential for clearing certain obstacles, and allow you to tackle the game in your own way.
Each mental world is bursting with colour, and could easily represent what things may look like after dabbling with a few hallucinogens yourself, not that you ever would. However, it also fitted the game’s comical theme, driving home the main aim which was simply to entertain and make you laugh. This is something that it very much achieved.
Psychonauts did eventually get a “sort of” sequel a few years ago. Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin was a first-person VR game released for PC and PS4. It was a fairly short, standalone chapter which bridged the gap between the first and upcoming second game.
That’s right, Psychonauts 2 is on the horizon, slated for release this year. It was announced way back at the 2015 Game Awards thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. The game will once again feature Raz as the protagonist, who aims to fulfil a lifelong dream by visiting the Psychonauts HQ. However, shortly after arriving he starts to realise not everything is as it seems.
Hopefully by now I have done enough to convince you that this is a game that deserves your attention. I’m happy to report you can purchase Psychonauts from the Xbox Store and download it straight to your console, and the game is also enhanced for Xbox One X. If you already have an original Xbox copy, then it’s even better news as you can insert the disc into your Xbox 360 or Xbox One and play straight away.
It’s games such as Psychonauts that make me giddy with excitement as I write and recollect about my time spent playing it. The chances are you’ll have heard of it, but not got to know it and see all it has to offer. What better time than being confined indoors to right this wrong? Trust me, you won’t regret it.