A little look at… Psycho World

You might have bumped into this game on the Master System or Game Gear under the more appropriate name Psychic World but today we’re looking at the original 1988 MSX2 release that both of the more accessible ports are derived from. According to HG101 it’s also the most expansive of all three releases – more levels, more screens in those levels… basically ‘more’ and ‘better’ of anything you can find in the other two. It’s also just 500 yen on Project EGG if you fancy a go yourself!

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The only realistic chance anyone’s got of having heard of Psycho World’s developer, Hertz, without going off looking is through Mega CD RPG Vaytheir biggest original work and proud holder of a 5.4/10 from EGM. Hmm. You shouldn’t let that little tidbit put you off this fine action-adventure game though; Psycho World’s got more than enough great ideas and clever little touches to stand on its own two feet even without a big series or famous developer to prop it up.

As it’s fresh out of the eighties Psycho World is naturally a bit hard, but never to the unrelenting onslaught of Storm or the questionable ‘gotchas’ of Mega Man 2 (all released in the same year, funnily enough). That doesn’t mean you’re in any danger of breezing through it on your first weekend with the game, but there’s no sense of the level design being spiteful either – you never have to worry if Psycho World’s trying to deliberately trick you or trip you up. Enemies are placed fairly with predictable movement patterns and never respawn just because they went ever so slightly off screen, meaning that if (OK, when) you die you’ll find yourself shouting ‘I could have timed that jump better!’ not ‘That &!#$£* spawned right on the edge of the screen! What was I supposed to do about that?!’.

Another thing that greatly helps reduce any potential frustration is Lucia’s ability to not only freely call upon a few seconds of invincibility but also give her health a little boost too. You’d think a skill like that would soon become something of a crutch but it’s tuned just right – it drains too much ESP to be used whenever you feel like it, but not so much so that you feel you have to save it for special occasions that may never come. The end result is an invisible helping hand to use (or not) at your own discretion, softening the blow caused by an unlucky dip in lava or a face full of fireballs. You could argue that this is nothing more than a crude sticking-plaster over some typical eighties game problems that should have been addressed properly by pitch-perfect level design, but if perfect level design was that straightforward everyone would be doing it already. As it stands Psycho World’s  little top-up mechanic may not be the most clever way of sorting things out, but it does work.

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Lucia’s other ESP abilities all either have immediately obvious uses, such as her levitation power letting you reach higher ground, or have an interesting common-sense effect like fire shots burning away vegetation, or water turning to ice in the cold. These neat embellishments really enhance Psycho World’s already excellent branching path style progression through each level – a system that’s open enough to mean your choices will have you seeing things you wouldn’t if you’d picked a different route, but not so freeform that you’re ever left wandering around in circles or have to worry that an enticing door might actually be a lengthy dead-end or a wrong choice. No matter which path you end up on you’ll face a miniboss along the way and end up at the level’s final boss, leaving you free to try out another path on a second or third playthrough and allowing players the simple pleasure of having their own favourite route.

If you want to talk nuts-and-bolts then you’ll find the scrolling to be smooth – far from a given back in 1988 computer-land - and collision detection always seems spot-on. The only real issue is that getting the double-tap dash to work seems to be a bit hit-or-miss, but even then we’re still a long way from classic Prince of Persia-style control difficulties. Graphically the game’s stuffed to the brim with impressive little flourishes like bubbling lava, a special slippy-slidy ice pose for Lucia and level one’s sky going from Sega-blue to dark and ominous as the stage wears on. These are all small things that are often overlooked in any era, never mind a computer game from a relatively no-name developer from almost thirty years ago.

Do you fancy something Metroid-y but you’re not in the mood for an SR388’s worth of exploration? Or would you like to play Mega Man but haven’t the reflexes or patience to survive (both in my case)? Psycho World finds itself in a nice middle ground between the two– enough depth and ideas of its own to be interesting, but not so heavy-going that you need to dedicate yourself to the exclusion of all others before you start making progress. Another one for the ever-increasing list of old-but-fair computer games, I think!