Cult classic. That’s how I would describe the first Psychonauts entry. When it came out in 2005, the game was a commercial failure. However, it was critically praised, and even gathered a number of awards.
Now, over a decade and a half later, a new sequel is releasing from the same company that made the first – Double Fine. And Psychonauts 2 is more than just fine.
Just like its predecessor, Psychonauts 2 is a game of multiple genres. It’s a third-person adventure where the series protagonist, Razputin Aquato, enters the minds of people with or without consent. Literally. But that’s okay, because he’s a Psychonaut, and that’s what Psychonauts do. He uses his Psi-powers, like levitation and telekinesis to solve the mysteries of whatever psychological drama the brain’s host has.
Each power can be manually mapped to different buttons on your controller at any point in the game. This leads to creative combos when smashing enemies back to their imaginary state.
Double Fine’s latest outing is also a puzzler platformer collect-a-thon. Going off the beaten path leads to discoveries that help you understand the reason for every stage’s design. Just like the first game, Psychonauts 2’s worlds have literal emotional baggage and walking vaults.
You need to collect different tags to pair with the baggage, and the vaults need to be opened by simply punching them to pieces. These vaults contain a back story in comic format about the owner of the brain our hero is currently in.
There are also figments of imagination, disguised as two-dimensional illustrations. And disguised they cleverly are, as some are hidden in plain sight. The wackier a world gets aesthetic-wise, the easier it is to miss one of these collectibles. These doodles represent aspects of the host’s personality. Gathering a hundred of them increases Razputin’s rank. Increasing Raz’s rank means he gets star points to upgrade his psi-powers.
In this entry, we finally get to meet Raz’s f- We get to unravel the mysteries of who- wait, I really can’t talk about anything plot-related without revealing some spoilers. So I won’t. But fear not, I can personally vouch for the story and how much it’s worth playing through. The writers and developers have clearly poured their hearts out into creating this epic.
Psychonauts 2 paints mental disorders in vibrant and playful colors. It never really labels the non-player characters as either heroes or villains. They were portrayed as realistically as they could get, inside the Psychonauts universe.
Every action has a motivation. It even allowed me, personally, to empathize with some of these wacky individuals. As cheesy as this may sound, the writing has tugged a string in my heart. The longer I played, the darker I interpreted the story. And as quirky as the level designs may look, they’re only there to mask out the pain behind each character.
All of the levels are superbly designed. Each ‘mind’ has its own art style and mechanics, more unique than the next. In one world Raz is going through a hospital-casino, helping their patients/gamblers. In the next, he’s collecting evidence by going into books. In each stage, every detail is a symbol.
Every nook and cranny hides a secret. And that’s what makes Psychonauts 2 stand out from most games of this generation. A level design that tells a story is a hundred times more emotional than just watching a cutscene that explains everything.
The game is also well-paced. Every mental world is different, and not one overstays its welcome. Beating up bad thoughts like regrets can get a little repetitive at times, but equipping a pin that boosts or alters Raz’s abilities keep the gameplay fresh. Every world also introduces different enemies with their own special strengths and weaknesses. Players would need to cycle through all of the protagonist’s powers for better damage.
Consumables are also present, for health-restoring purposes. Pro-tip for beginners: save your psitanium for better equipment, don’t just buy the ones for cosmetics. Especially in the early parts of the game. However, getting the in-game currency is as easy as strolling around the motherlobe for glowing purple lights in the shrubs.
For a game this creative, the only gripe I have is introducing the camera a little later. There were a couple of earlier mental worlds I wouldn’t mind taking photos of. The camera, known here as the Otto-Shot, could also use more functionalities, like focal distance and f-stop.
Psychonauts 2 deals about being left alone and losing loved ones, amongst many other serious mental conditions. Playing through can be a burden to one’s chest. The game got personal to me. Especially at the latter parts where emotions are flowing through every NPC’s past. I suggest you take a breather as much as you can. And as much as I enjoyed the game, I had to rest after every boss battle and the following closure to most worlds. The first game sold fewer copies than intended when it launched. And with the fun, I had playing through Psychonauts 2, here’s to hoping it gets the attention it deserves.
Psychonauts 2 – Review
Almost perfect if not for the nitty-gritty. If it’s quite there but not enough to push the boundaries, it’s still an awesome game.
Quirky and creative levels
Deep symbolisms of the human mind
Boss battles are easy and sometimes could get repetitive
In-game camera sometimes goes wonky, especially in tight corners