Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
I once dressed up as a mafia boss for an entire month simply because I'd been on vacation to Italy. I started a (completely unsuccessful) geek stripping company because I thought the name "Rent-A-Geek" needed to be used, and I wasn't enough of a -competent- geek. My favourite character in 8-bit theater is Black Mage, and it hurts me to see him getting hurt. I come from a family so chock full of snappy comments and practical jokes, I've described us as "dysfunctional by choice".
And yet, -I- found myself thinking "that Tim Schafer is one hell of a weird guy!" many times while playing Psychonauts. I'm not sure how he managed to stay out of the asylum and in the video game business, but I can tell you that I'm happy he keeps that one step ahead. Because Psyconauts is a very good platform game, with strong adventure puzzle elements thrown in not just as a tiny diversion, but as proper variety in gameplay.
Psychonauts starts at a summer camp/training ground for children with psychic abilities. Of course, for those of you with a skeptical mindset, rest assured that these kids have as much in common with real "psychics" as Mario has with real plumbers. The characters look like a mixture of the characters from Simpsons, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Rugrats, and Grim Fandago... and then dip that mix in a barrel of nuclear waste. Not exactly your usual assortment.
But it's this assortment that helps this game feeling fresh. Any other game maker would have made the concept "psychic hero-in-training saving the world" a pure cliché feast, but Schafer plays well on the concept of it not only being kids, but bizarre kids, that nevertheless has the needs most kids have. Such as boys discovering that girls can actually be kissed.
And as the game unfolds, the missions you undertake only helps underlining that this isn't your average platform game with some jumping, some enemies, some bosses, and maybe one or two "puzzles". No, to progress in this game, you're going to have to deal with some really, really, out-of-this-world weird ****.
I will be forced to break my "no spoiler" rule here, because frankly, it's the only way to give you a good idea of what to expect. See, a core feature of the game is that you'll have to enter the minds of severely insane people and fix'em up so that they are fit to do you a favour back in the outside world. One of these minds suffers not merely from thinking he's Napoleon. No, his mind is split in half between himself and the historical (fake) Napoleon, and they're playing a weird board game. And you will be able to shrink in size to get on the board, in order to help the sane Fred win against the not-so-sane Napoleon. And when on the board, you will meet real people, and you will have to bring messages (or money) from Fred to convince them to become game board pieces for you so you can fight Napoleon's army. And you'll then use your telekinetic powers to move those board game pieces.
How often do you see -that- in a platform game?
True, there are also several platform elements (and even a couple of the bosses) that are quite standard. But the setting and the often strange missions are usually so well done that you'll easily forgive them that not everything could be different. And even when it's "standard", it's done well enough, if perhaps seldom of much challenge to the hardcore player.
Less easy to forgive is that the controls and camera are often not helping at all. In particular, there is one "rising water" challenge near the end that is much more difficult than it could have been simply because the swirling camera make some jumps next to impossible, unless you're being lucky. And the game developers obviously realised this, because it's a challenge you have infinite lives on, when you'll otherwise be in danger of being expelled from the mind/level if losing all your lives. It's a good thing they did that, but it would be better if they had fixed it up so you wouldn't need three dozen attempts to start with.
It's also carrying a few glitches (such as being stuck in an object) that may force you to reload a save file, or even reboot the PS2. That is nothing less than insulting, considering we're on a console without the chance of patching. But at least those glitches won't actually carry over to save files (I was afraid I'd have to start the entire game all over again once... If that had happened, this game would have been demoted to a D+).
Graphics and music are both doing the job as they should do, both technically and in design. You probably won't be impressed by either, but I don't see any reasons for complaint here. And the voice acting is even quite decent, with only a few of the many jokes falling flat. If you don't find anything worth smiling at here, then you're probably lacking the ability to smile because of some weird brain damage. And this game knows about brain damage...
So, all in all, this game is maybe not the most polished game in some respects... But it's innovative, it's different, and it's weirder than the idea of Santa Claus having a love child with Courtney Lowe who then proceeds to marry zombie Elvis. So give in to your inner deranged child and dig this game out from the bargain bin you'll probably find it in these days. It's recommend by 13 out of my 14 split personalities.