Psychonauts – Windows XP, Linux, and Mac OS X 10.6 Game First Impressions

Psychonauts Box Art

Psychonauts Box Art

Psychonauts is a 3D-platformer action adventure game developed and published by Double Fine Productions. The original boxed version for the PC was published by Majesco Entertainment. First released in 2005, its story was written and directed by game design legend Tim Shafer.

The player begins Psychonauts playing as Raz, an adolescent who runs away from his parents to attend the secret Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp in order to learn how to use his psychic powers to become a Psychonaut. Since he is there without parental permission, he is only allowed to train at the camp until his parents arrive to either pick him up to take him home or grant permission for him to continue his training there. While Raz is eager to complete his training more quickly than his parents are able to arrive, most of his fellow camp residents are apathetic to the goals of the camp coaches and just want to go home. When Raz begins to demonstrate his abilities, some attempt to impede his progress.

Getting ready to attend "Basic Braining"

Getting ready to attend “Basic Braining”

Those familiar with Tim Shafer’s other games such as Full Throttle and Grim Fandango will note the same signature charm in the story, dialog, and artistic nature of Psychonauts. However, unlike those previous games, Psychonauts is a true action 3D-platformer, not a relaxing point-and-click adventure game. This makes sense given that a version of the game was also released for the XBox and Playstation 2 game consoles.

A piece of mental baggage.

A piece of mental baggage.

The first forty minutes of the game consists of cut-scenes introducing Raz and the characters at the camp and a tutorial on how to successfully implement the mechanics of the game across an obstacle course known as “Basic Braining.” The controls are a little awkward to get used to for a PC gamer utilizing the mouse and keyboard. I have played many more PC titles in the same genre that felt like they had much better controls. That being said, the effort to learn the awkward controls felt worthwhile in order to progress further into a rich, compelling game.

Swinging on poles was challenging until I learned you're supposed to press the direction arrow at the same time you jump

Swinging on poles was challenging until I learned you’re supposed to press the direction arrow you want to move in at the same time you jump.

Once through the tutorial, it is apparent that Psychonauts is a vast game with a great deal of depth to it. The player may press the “Esc” key to access the game’s journal. The journal keeps track of the quests the player has been sent on, any key game information the player needs, player stats, and games may be saved and loaded from the journal as well.The game may be saved at any time the player accesses the journal; there are no pesky save points.

Then there are these tightropes. A little tricky.

Then there are these tightropes. A little tricky.

Every few moments at the beginning of playing Psychonauts there is something new being introduced. I sometimes hate writing first impressions articles on games like Psychonauts because I feel like I haven’t spent enough time playing yet to adequately describe the essence of the game as a whole, but only a sliver of the tip of the iceberg. The character acting and animation are phenomenal. The game does a good job introducing the player to a large, bizarre story world a little bit at a time to keep it all fresh, interesting, and fun.

But the trapeze was the most challenging of all.

But the trapeze was the most challenging of all.

Psychonauts includes a little something for everyone it seems. Collecting various items throughout the game allows the player to level up their character’s abilities. There are pieces of mental baggage to find and sort through. I felt all sorts of good when I received my first merit badge and could score more as the game progresses. Psychonauts is a challenging 3D platformer, and provides an intense, deep story for adventure gamers as well. This seems to be a classic in every sense in my gameplay so far. I’m eager to continue playing through Psychonauts to really see how good it is.

Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy – Nintendo Wii Game First Impressions

Blast Works Title Screen

Blast Works Title Screen

Blast Works is a side-scrolling shooter game released in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. It was developed by Budcat Creations and published by Majesco Entertainment. From the little research I have done on this game, it appears to be a port of Tumiki Fighters from the PC to the Wii.

Tumiki Fighters was developed by Kenta Cho and released as free software in 2004. Written in the D programming language, it uses OpenGL for graphics rendering. I would assume Kenta Cho had a good deal of creative license with Blast Works given that versions of his other games, rRootage, Gunroar, and Torus Trooper are included as unlockable bonus items in the game.

Come At Me

Come At Me

Blast Works has a unique game mechanic that I don’t believe I’ve seen in any other side-scrolling shooter I have played. When an enemy is shot down and is falling toward the bottom of the screen, the player may swoop in to catch the enemy or the enemy’s guns. Wherever the enemy makes contact with the player’s plane is where the two objects connect. Once connected, the enemy’s guns will fire from that position as the player’s own guns toward other enemies. The former enemy will also serve as a buffer from being hit directly and losing a plane. As a level progresses, downed enemies hook to downed enemies creating a massive structure of firepower the player has accumulated to take on the level’s final boss.

There's nothing quite like a good boss bullet hell.

There’s nothing quite like a good boss bullet hell.

When I first witnessed this game mechanic it surprised me. I had a great deal of fun connecting out enemy planes to the end of the screen and blasting anything in my path with my own bullet hell for once. I then got to thinking that due to this game mechanic the game might turn out to be too easy. Not so. The game makers did an excellent job balancing the game. Each boss I played outside of the first couple levels made me sweat. The player may choose three different levels of difficulty. The bullet hells are intense and Blast Works provides a similar experience to other classic side-scrolling shooters I have played in the past.

Come with me little girl on a magic carpet ride.

Come with me little girl on a magic carpet ride.

Another interesting feature provided in Blast Works is a full-fledged level editor. The player may create their own level, with their own enemies, and custom build their own planes to fly through those levels. Even new bullets can be created and customized. The game offers a CAD-like program to create and save new shapes and modify environments. The amount of detail to which a player can create their own levels is incredible. Blast Works feels like a PC game that still works incredibly well with the standard Wiimote/Nunchuck controllers.

Blast Works features three modes of gameplay for playing through the side-scrolling shooter levels. Campaign Mode allows one or two players to play through campaign levels in a sequential order. I assume extra game features are unlocked through this mode of play, but I have yet to unlock anything yet. Arcade Mode allows one to four players to play through levels sequentially for points. And as mentioned earlier, one to four players may play through a custom level created by a player in the User Levels mode.

Blast Works Game Disc

Blast Works Game Disc

The music in the Blast Works is good. It sounds like a typical Wii game soundtrack, but mixed with the heavy synthetic techno kind of themes I would expect from a classic side-scrolling shooter of the Super Nintendo era. While the graphics are a bit blocky and look quite dated for the time this title was released, Blast Works more than makes up for it in gameplay and replayability. I picked up my copy of Blast Works used for less than four dollars. From a quick Amazon search it appears buying a new copy might cost less than ten dollars. At that price it’s well worth it. I would especially recommend this title for children who enjoy playing with Legos. It’s certainly not Minecraft, but who knows? Maybe this will be a gateway game for getting my son to play with CAD software someday in the future.