Psychonauts is a game I’ve had for a very long time that somehow I just never got around to playing. I’ve picked it up multiple times over the years for free or part of some package on a bunch of different platforms.

Now that Psychonauts 2 is out and I keep hearing good things about it I figured it was time to give the original a try. I’d heard tons of good things about the original too.


Psychonauts screenshot

The Story

Psychonauts follows the story of a boy named Raz. His parents are acrobats with a travelling circus but more than anything he wants to become a Psychonaut.

Psychonauts are kind of like psychic secret agents.

The story begins with Raz running away from home to attend a summer camp that trains children with psychic powers to prepare them to eventually become Psychonauts.

You start out doing various training missions and earing merit badges for different psychic powers while doing events around the gamp.

I’m old enough to have gone to summer camp when I was a kid and I have to say that Psychonauts absolutely nails the feeling of being at camp down to every last little detail.

Your fellow campers are all interesting and different and getting to know them in the first few hours of the game is a lot of fun.

After awhile the other campers start having their brains removed by someone with a nefarious plan and the rest of the game is spent trying to stop them.

It’s a wild and very interesting story that’s kind of spooky and also has a ton of humor and wacky fun mixed in too.


Psychonauts screenshot with lungfish

The Gameplay

At it’s core Psychonauts is a 3D platformer and unfortunately this isn’t the strongest part of the game. The platforming has that kind of PS2/Xbox era jank and if you’ve played games from that time period you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Some of the platforms aren’t precise making for some awkward segments here and there.

The main collectables in the game are called figments (like figments of the imagination) and collecting them is not fun. They look like little chalk outline drawings in different colours. They’re often hard to see and since they’re 2D objects in 3D environments you can easily miss them if the camera isn’t rotated at the perfect angle.

There are also figments that move around and if you miss them you have to wait a long time for them to come back into position which is a bit annoying.

I usually like to 100% complete platforming games like this because I usually love exploring the worlds looking for every last collectable but this was the first platforming game in a long time I didn’t bother 100% completing.

You need the figments for upgrading your abilities but I had so many upgrades by the end of the game anyways and they weren’t super important. So my advice is to just grab whatever figments you can and don’t worry about getting them all.

Those are really the only complaints I have for the gameplay though.

You’ve got your standard jump and double jump, melee attacks for enemies and a bunch of psychic powers you can map to the trigger buttons. These include powers like levitation, starting things on fire, shooting projectiles, etc.

You’ll use levitate and the projectiles a ton but most of the others you’ll only use in a few instances.

Overall it’s a fairly solid 3D platformer with a bit of awkwardness and several unique ideas.

One thing I definitely like is the game is quite generous with it’s checkpoints so any time you die you start back at pretty much exactly where you died so you don’t have to waste your time repeating sections over and over.

There are several other collectables hidden in the different worlds and collecting them is much easier and fun. They’re all mental themed too so you have things like emotional baggage where you have to find tags and return them to their bags to unlock extra scenes with more information. Or you have mental cobwebs that you clean out and trade in for ability points.


Psychonauts screenshot with tower of cards

The Worlds

The different worlds you explore are definitely the high point of this game and Psychonauts is worth experiencing for these alone.

You start off in the summer camp which acts as sort of the hub world for the game. It’s divided into different sections like the cabins, the lake, the forest, etc. and you can freely explore all of them.

As you get more psychic abilities more areas open up as well.

Then you get a special item that lets you enter different people’s minds and this is how you enter the different worlds of the game.

Every world is massively different and unique. There’s no ice level, forest level, lava level, etc. here.

One female character is kind of like a hippie flower child and when you enter her mind everything is a 70s disco party.

Another character is an army drill sergeant and the world in his mind is a battlefield with explosions and barbed wire everywhere.

The best worlds that stood out to me the most though were the Milkman Conspiracy where you enter into a paranoid conspiracy theorist’s mind which is full of twisting and turning suburban streets full of spies and other suspicious activity.

Another awesome world was a 3D strategy game between a character who thought he was Napoleon Bonaparte and an employee of the insane asylum he was in. You shrink down to the size of a piece on the hexagonal board and you have to convince the pieces to build bridges, fight and interact in a way that wins the game.

Black Velvetopia is another super interesting location where a bull fighter/painter with a Mexican wrestling past is battling with a bull and everything looks like a black velvet painting.

Another world has you as a giant-sized Kaiju monster in a miniature city populated by lungfish. As you work through the level news broadcasts cover your destruction of the city.

I’m not sure how they came up with these ideas but the worlds are easily some of the most creative things I’ve seen in a game. Each one not only looks unique with unique gameplay gimmicks but they all have an overall story where you have to help the person who’s mind you entered overcome some kind of mental challenge they’re dealing with.

These stories are all very interesting as well.


Psychonauts screenshot

In Conclusion

I highly recommend you pick up Psychonauts and give it a try. It’s not too long and you’ll finish it in about 10-12 hours which is a nice length for a game like this.

And it’s really worth experiencing just for the story, character, worlds, humor and just a ton creativity that you’ll never see in any other game.

Psychonauts is available for pretty much every platform at this point (I played on PC). It’s already pretty cheap but it’s also constantly on sale and often gets given away for free so you can easily pick it up.

Screenshots from the Psychonauts Steam page used under Fair Use