Generally the platforming genre has been known to be rather kid-centric, and often over-the-top. Whether it's Mario, Ty, Crash, Sonic, Spyro, or some other mascot being pushed out the gate, ultimately it's targeted towards the younger audiences. On the surface, Psychonauts can easily be mistaken for yet another entry in the long list of cute/wannabe-hip releases. But a few minutes of play will reveal that the game is in fact, appropriately more suited towards an older crowd. Unlike most older-oriented titles, Psychonauts doesn't draw in players with gratuitous violence, but in a smart, clever, and creative fashion where the storyline serves the gameplay and genre staples are re-imagined to fit in seamlessly with pleasantly bizarre scenario.
The world of Psychonauts is a place where battles are fought with mental superpowers. The psychic secret agents are composed of the cool parts of Austin Powers mixed in with 100% James Bond, and becoming a psychonaut means being the best of the best. Psychics are trained from childhood to use their powers effectively, and Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp is one of the best facilities available. Young Razputin, or "Raz" as he's more commonly known, runs away from his circus home to Whispering Rock to attain his lifelong dream of becoming a psychonaut. He's got a total of one day to do this before his father picks him up, but luckily there's a mysterious plot that needs unravelling happening at the camp, one that will require every skill they teach to sort out.
Raz starts off with the usual variety of platforming hero abilities like double-jumping, tightrope walking, a basic melee attack, and an invulnuerability to falling from great heights, but as the game progresses, he earns new psychic skills that can be used in conjunction with his existing moves. Standard skills like a distance attack, called PSI Blast, are complemented by more bizarre ones like pyrokinesis and clairvoyance. Even conventional platforming skills like a high jump tie in to the psychic theme, with Raz taking his thought bubble and using it to bounce several times higher than normal. He can then take that same thought bubble and use it as a balloon to slowly glide down back to earth, or ride around on top of it for a little extra speed. All these creative skills need creative levels to be used in, and that's where Psychonauts really pays off.
Psychonauts fight in the realm of the mind, and it's here that most of the gameplay takes place. It's true that the "real world" of Whispering Rock provides plenty to do, but the incredible variety of the mind provides the most creative playgrounds. Whether it's traversing the fabulous dance party of camp councelor Milla Vodello, the literally twisted suburbia of the night watchman, or stomping through Lungfishopolis, every level not only looks different but feels different as well. The platforming basics are put to the service in a huge variety of ways, and though double-jumping and swinging from poles are present in just about every level, the incredible variety of themes and goals make it feel fresh with every new mind visited.
As varied as the minds are, within each are a standard set of goals standard to the platformer genre. The ring/coin collectibles here are called figments, 2D glowing neon images that can be gathered to help Raz rank up, and new ranks provide either new abilities or upgraded versions of old abilities. Additionally, mental cobwebs have to be cleared, safes opened up to access locked away memories, and mental baggage found and sorted. Clearing out all mental baggage in a mind has the bonus of unlocking Primal Memories, or concept art of the level and its characters. This is a particularly nice bonus when a game has both such a unique art style and depth of creativity behind it.
That creativity is what makes Psychonauts such a great game to play. It's not just the clever level designs, excellent voice acting, or stylized graphics, it's the way everything feeds into everything else, the way the gameplay concepts tie in to Psychonauts' world. Though gameplay is king, all the other story elements support it in ways that enhance the whole experience. Psychonauts is an amazingly fun, funny, head-trip of a game, and shouldn't be missed by anyone with a console to play it on.