Psychic World is an interesting side scrolling action game from an unknown little game company called Hertz. Although initially released on the MSX2 in Japan, it was ported to the Sega Master System (in Europe) and Game Gear (in America, Europe, and Japan). The original title for the Japanese computer release was Psycho World, but the word “psycho” usually means “crazy” to English speakers. As such, it was renamed to the more appropriate Psychic World by Sega for all subsequent releases in all territories.
Usually when one thinks of psychic powers, one thinks of mind reading and other such mundane stuff. In Psychic World, it’s all about using extra sensory perception to levitate, set things on fire, shatter stone, and basically just kill stuff. You play as a girl named Lucia, who bears a suspicious resemblance to Alis from Phantasy Star. She’s an assistant at a secret laboratory, but some monsters have broken loose and kidnapped her twin sister Cecille. After taking it up herself to rescue her sis, she’s gifted with a special headset that amplifies her psionic powers, allowing her to fight through the the usual standard range of video game stages, including volcanoes, ice caverns, and forests.
Despite the cool premise, Psychic World gives off some pretty bad first impressions. The cutesy looking girl wearing a psychically powered headset, is equipped with the wimpiest of weapons and a tiny little gun that fires off tiny little waves which barely seem to damage enemies. The controls, while not bad, feel just a bit off. There’s no invulnerability period after taking damage, and, like Turrican, it’s far too easy to take continuous damage from a single pesky foe. At first, the whole thing seems like a cheap Mega Man ripoff.
But a few minutes into it and it starts to pick up. For starters, your main weapon can be upgraded a number of levels, eventually turning your wussy pea shooter into a full wave blaster. As you beat each level, you obtain a new weapon, each with an elemental affinity. Unlike Mega Man, each weapon works in the same manner (a short ranged, forward firing shot), but each can be used to overpower certain enemy types, and each has their own cool uses. The fire weapon can be used to melt ice blocks, the sonic weapon can destroy stone, the ice weapon can be used to freeze baddies in their tracks, and the wind weapon can solidify certain vapors, allowing you to jump on them. Each of these can be switched by pressing Down and Jump, and each can be used as often as you desire.
In addition to all of the standard weapons, there are a number of secondary support psychic powers, which drain your limited ESP gauge. The Teleport power sends you back to an earlier spot in the level (which is of limited use), the Explosion damages everything on the screen, and the Levitation power lefts you float for a number of seconds. The most useful is the Restoration skill, which will temporarily render you invulnerable. If you invoke the Restoration skill while you’re already being shielded, you’ll regain a bit of health, at the expense of ESP power. In some ways, this makes the game a bit too easy, since ESP boosts are common, and it just requires a bit of patience to sit down and heal up for a minute or two. On the other hand, you can generally only use these skills when there aren’t any bad guys around, so it’s difficult to regenerate in the heat of battle.
The psychic powers are cool, but ultimately doesn’t make it stand out much from the crowd. Unfortunately, the most notable aspect of the original MSX2 game was completely removed from the Master System and Game Gears – the huge levels. The MSX2 version feature eight fairly large stages, most with a number of branching paths. Both of the Sega ports have drastically cut down stages with different layouts, which makes it feel like a more generic side scroller. The Master System version hacks out one level entirely (the Forest stage, which is stage four in the MSX2 version) and reduces most of the stages to a handful of screens. The Game Gear version is even shorter, with only four stages, although it ends up combining elements of the stages into single levels. This makes for even shorter stages, since levels that used to take over ten minutes to explore have been reduced to a few linear screens. Furthermore, the MSX2 version begins with a ladder leading up into the sky, where you can see a view of the whole land. This cool little touch is completely missing from both of the Sega versions.
The MSX2 version was released only released on disk and contains the options to save your game after each stage, which is missing from the Sega versions. The MSX version also has better quality cinemas. However, the Sega ports do have cute added animations that preface each stage. Handily enough, the Game Gear version pauses the action when selecting a power, which makes things a little less chaotic. Running is handled differently between the versions too. In the MSX2 version, you need to double tap the controller, although it works erratically. In the Sega versions, you pick up speed after walking straight for a few seconds. This is pretty annoying and leads to a lot of uncalculated stumbles. The MSX2 version is also impressive from a technical standpoint, as it’s one of the few titles on the platform (along with Konami’s Space Manbow) with smooth scrolling.
In both the MSX2 and Master System versions, the status bar takes up the lower third of the screen, making the action feel a bit cramped. The graphics are similar, but a lot of detail was lost in the transition, and the SMS version ends up looking kind of bad. The Game Gear version has completely redrawn graphics to better accommodate the smaller resolution, and actually keeps most of the detail of the original version. The only areas where the Sega ports really improve are the boss battles, which looked a bit lame in the MSX version. The MSX2 version uses FM synth for its soundtrack while the Sega versions use PSG, but the actual music is basically the same between all three. While the first level tune is pretty catchy, the rest is fairly unmemorable.
Psychic World may not be an outstanding game, but it’s worth checking out. The Sega versions are passable action titles, but the relatively immense scope of the MSX2 version elevate it beyond the typical console action-platformer.
Gaming Sanctuary – Psychic World Review of the Game Gear game.
GDRI: Tsunetomo Sugawara Interview with the graphic artist and level designer.