'Psychonauts' is the Best Psychic Adventure of All Time

Double Fine's first game has a special place in my heart and my brain.
March 28, 2017, 6:04pm

Guide to Games is Waypoint's weekly short video series diving into a game we love, detest, or find fascinating. If the video above doesn't work, try the version on YouTube!

Psychonauts is my easy go-to answer when people ask me the impossible question of what my "favorite game" is, so I'm pretty thrilled to take a look at it for my very first Guide to Games video. Not because it's perfect (there's plenty of jank to the platforming), but because this game has such vision, heart, and creativity.

I'll try to stay away from hyperbole and instead dig into the hows and whys that make it special. Psychonauts came out in 2005, and blended 3D platforming with adventure game puzzles and logic. It's set in a weird and wild "psychic summer camp" and something is amiss, even in this odd world of telekinesis and bizarro mental monsters.

Levels all take place in people's minds, and the ways in which Double Fine plays with pop psychology conceits (like "mental baggage") and actual, serious concepts like processing traumatic events is the core of the experience. Psychonauts is equally comfortable playing with psychedelic playgrounds and sad, lonely spaces, and it does so with finesse. According to the game, life is really absurd, and painful, and funny, and sad, and it pulls no punches in looking at it all with a wistful, hopeful grin.

Psychonauts gameplay footage used with permission by Play Critically.

Disclosure notice: I worked on a podcast with Double Fine's current Community Manager, though he was not with the company on Psychonauts' release.