Be glad that every scummy tween you see at the mall don't possess the skill sets as these campfire crooners at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. Having fled the circus, Raz enters this community of similar freakazoids, a training ground full of X-Files-ish paranormal activators of the "Kidz Bop" demographic. It's easy to forget how young the cast of the game is, because their words and actions are so large: if they weren't so morose, introspective, and obsessed with their own powers, you feel they could take over the world with their energy. The whole game is brimming with this energy. It's filled with enough spirit, style, and brilliance to fill a dozen video games (not to mention a couple of Hollywood movies and some graphic novels), Psychonauts is creative to the point of exhaustion, wearing the player down by the end. If only such criticisms could be lobbed at every game.
It may surprise you how much of the adventure genre is snuck into this game. Indeed, the beginning feels like a "LucasArts in an alternate world" caper with only intermittent platforming action. And not that there's anything wrong with that! Running around, picking up oblique items with even more oblique uses, engaging in floor-rollingly funny conversations, the kind that make you want to turn up the volume so your roommates can hear. The voice acting is phenomenal, and forces you to question just how cheap every other company out there is, and the artwork and character design makes the game feel like a living alternative comic.
Eventually all games must grow up, get going on their own, and unfortunately the adventure genre simply don't pay the bills anymore. In comes the action element, as well done as any typical console platformer, which takes place in the real world and inside people's cluttered minds. In both worlds, there are enemies to put down, items to collect, and occasionally you'll get new abilities and items that encourage you to go back to cleared areas and reach previously unreachable places. It's all quite fine, but combined with the adventure element that director Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle) is more at home in, Psychonauts is as blissful as a psychotropic mind bomb.
During the second-half, Psychonauts stops gadding about in its charming adventure-rootsy way and barrels towards the finale on an island that is separated from the camp (because of a plot development which I won't reveal, though you probably know it if you've read any other Psychonauts review). A bunch of new characters are introduced, you spend an hour in two in their head to get them out of your path or to get them to give up an item, and then they're discarded.
The game's action is still brilliant, but in the same sense that a Family Guy joke is brilliant: funny, though the crappy setup of each one (in that, there is none) doesn't let it reach their full potential. The head trips of each person you meet are fascinating, but they don't connect as well to Raz's plight as when he was scouring the minds of the people back in his camp. The characters becomes obstacles in the story, when before back at the camp they were the story.
So the events become more suited to the way our mind remembers things: as snapshots without recollection of what lead up to it. But every moment, in the first half and the second half, is so wickedly original that it's forgivable. One head trip involves entering a Twilight Zoney suburbia, easily the most frightening and hilarious of its kind I've ever seen from any medium, full of the paranoia and violent suppression that comes too many nights of chemical assistance and reading the Internet.
And how could forget the game's barbed lash against critics? In one scene set in a theatre, Raz has to take on a fat ass critic who flies around on a hovering jet fitted from an opera balcony, whose gun turrets are sharp quill pens. The critic insults Raz in the only one he knows how: personally yet eloquently, and the bullets he shoots leave smoky adjectives ("strained", "forced", and so on) in the air upon impact. Like the rest of the game, a moment so incisive and clever, we're still stinging. Ouch.