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Platform: Xbox, PC and PS2 - Xbox version reviewed.
This is a tale of tragedy, tragedy, triumph and tragedy – pretty much in that order.
Tragedy 1: Back in the distant 1990s, the graphic adventure game was in its heyday and Lucasarts was its undisputed king. In games like Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam n’ Max Hit the Road and Grim Fandango, designers like Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer seemed to have hit on a magic formula of cryptic puzzles, lovable characters and crazy humour. These games were smart and funny; the puzzles made your brain hurt, the laughter made your guts ache. Then along came glossy 3D graphics, realism and cinematic presentation, and suddenly people didn’t want graphic adventures anymore. While a few creep out every year, the genre is basically dead. Its once heroic developers now languish in obscurity.
Tragedy 2: Back in the distant 1990s, platform games were in their heyday and Sonic and Mario were kings. In games like Super Mario World and Sonic 2, teams from Nintendo and Sega seemed to have hit on a magic formula of cool level design, colourful characters and flowing gameplay. The games were fast-paced and entertaining; the action made your thumbs ache, the challenge kept you coming back for more. Even when glossy 3D graphics came along, games like Super Mario 64 and Jak and Daxter proved that the basic ideas could be expanded into luscious, imaginative 3D worlds. So why, in the last few years, has the platform game lost its way. Generic kiddie titles bolstered with arcade mini-games and racing sections are now the norm, and the grown-ups left the party long ago. If the platform game isn’t dying, it’s certainly in a terminal decline.
Well, here’s the triumph. Psychonauts is a platform game. In fact, it’s an extremely good platform game. And there’s more. It’s designed by Double Fine, a team led by Tim Shafer, who also worked on the aforementioned Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. This makes it a platform game that feels awfully like an old Lucasarts graphic adventure, which in turn, means it’s ludicrously funny. And that’s just one reason why it’s one of the most enjoyable games of any type in years.