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Psychonauts 2 is an adventure / platformer game developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is the sequel to the original Psychonauts and direct sequel to Psychonauts: in the Rhombus of Ruin.
The game follows Razputen (Raz) Aquato as he officially joins the Psychonauts after two death-defying adventures (and roughly sixteen actual years between game releases). Unfortunately, in spite of his growing resume of heroics, he is only qualified to become a lowly intern… you know, because it’s been, like, four days in-game and he’s all of ten years old.
To make matters worse, there is a mole operating within The Mother-Lobe, the main headquarters of the Psychonauts. So, since everyone else is a little useless, it’s up to Raz to save the Psychonauts from this mysterious threat.
The original Psychonauts was one of the first games I played on the original XBOX. It was quirky and hilarious, the story was great, and its levels boggled my mind. Unfortunately, this gem was overlooked at the time of its release and only gained notoriety after the fact, effectively hamstringing any potential for a sequel.
Then, miraculously, in 2017, the VR game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin released. I was literally flabbergasted… which is a weird thing to literally be, if I’m being honest. I had never expected to see another Psychonauts game…
So when I heard that there was a Psychonauts 2 coming down the pipeline, I was ecstatic… which is a much more manageable emotional state than flabbergasted.
Now that I’ve finally had a chance to play this long-awaited game, I’ll let you know if it was worth the sixteen-year wait.
Spoiler: It kinda was.
All Aboard the Nostalgia Train
As I mentioned earlier, the original Psychonauts was one of my favorite games as a kid. So, it’s no surprise that this second game would evoke a pretty powerful sense of nostalgia without even trying.
I mean, the game starts off mere days after the end of the first game, and with almost every memorable character from the original installment making an appearance.
What I did not expect was for Double Fine to not milk that nostalgia for all it was worth.
Psychonauts 2 is almost effortless with its introduction of characters and ideas without hitting you in the face with a sign that says “YOU LOVE THIS STUFF, RIGHT?”. Sure, there is a little pandering, but it was oddly subtle.
What surprised me most was how this second game tricked my brain into thinking that no time had passed between the two. The voice actors are the same, the character designs remained largely unchanged, and the environments maintained the aesthetics of the first game… though the latter two had some pretty severe graphical upgrades.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this game is unobtrusive in its execution.
A lot of games, shows, or movies that get another shot after a decade of collecting cobwebs (not mental ones) turn out to be heartless cash grabs.
Psychonauts 2 is anything but.
A Cavalcade of Kooky Characters
The first Psychonauts took place at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp with a delightfully deranged assortment of campers, counselors, and escaped asylum patients to interact with. Unfortunately, most of the campers received little screen time, and served only to fill out the world a bit and add some personality to the game.
Psychonauts 2 decided to take this idea and expand upon it. This time there are several groups of people to interact with:
- The Interns: A group of up-and-coming psychic teens who are working toward becoming junior Psychonauts. They are the most diverse of the groups, and have some of the more interesting character designs.
- The Agents: A handful of seasoned field agents including fan favorites Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello, and Coach Morceau Oleander, with a couple of new additions thrown in.
- The Psychic Six: The original founders of the Psychonauts. I’m not going to spoil anything here.
- The Flying Aquatos: Raz’s family and acrobatics troupe. Also, not spoiling this.
While I feel like I would have liked to get to know each of the characters better, there is a fair amount of time spent with each group. I especially liked the conversations you can have with your fellow interns.
So, while talking to each and every character isn’t mandatory, I highly recommend that you take the time to seek out—and talk with—everyone to maximize your experience and get some of the better laughs in the game.
The level design of the original Psychonauts was one of its most outstanding features. This was mostly due to the fact that the levels took place inside the heads of different characters. So, you could see what they loved, hated, feared, and (mostly) how they thought about themselves.
Psychonauts 2 takes that idea of exploring someone’s mind and expands on it in a number of different ways. From trying to understand what consciousness really is, to wondering what happens if you were to force a change in someone’s mind, the levels in the second game seem more inquisitive and considerate in nature.
There are, of course, some pretty straightforward levels, but, overall, the designs are more abstract… and I use that word loosely, and also pretty solidly…
What has improved, by leaps and bounds, are the basic controls of the game. Two of my only issues with the original Psychonauts were the somewhat clunky controls and bizarrely-chosen camera angles. While there are still some weird camera choices, the controls (or their responsiveness) have improved immensely.
I will, however, say that the way you map your controls is pretty crap. You can only have four abilities equipped at any given time, and you have far more than four abilities, so you are constantly having to pause the game to switch them out. This can turn regular platforming segments into a tedious trek.
Another improvement over the original game was the expansion of enemy types. The original game had Censors (things inside your brain that stamp out thoughts that don’t belong) as the main enemy type, along with a couple of others. This second installment has added some new enemies, and I loved each and every one of them. They include:
- Bad Ideas: which tend to blow up in your face
- Doubts: which slow you down
- Regrets: which weigh you down
- Judges: which try to hammer you down
- Enablers: which make other mental enemies invulnerable
There was, however, one holdover from the original game that I was not a huge fan of:
These are basically the coins you collect for this particular platformer. The only problem is that they all look different and are completely two dimensional. This makes them almost impossible to see if you are looking at them from the wrong angle.
To add insult to insult the developers also decided that sometimes, if the figment was blue, they would put it up against a blue background, making them almost impossible to find.
Mind the Gap
Despite over a decade between the first game and The Rhombus of Ruin (which was a short VR game), and then another four years until the release of Psychonauts 2, all three games are part of the same direct story.
Basically, the story in the first game is important to the second and third games, and the story for the third game informs the events of the first two.
Not only did this work extremely well, but it actually made me look at the events of the first game in a different light.
So, if you haven’t already, you should play the original Psychonauts before diving into the sequel. I would also recommend playing The Rhombus of Ruin, but, again, it’s a VR title, so maybe just google what happened or watch a YouTube video or something if you’re not planning to invest in a VR.
Peace of Mind
Overall, Psychonauts 2 is a pretty amazing game, all things considered. It managed to bring me back into that particular universe in a completely unobtrusive way. It expanded upon the gameplay mechanics that made the original game great in all the right ways. And it managed to keep the heart that made the original so special.
While there were some things that still frustrated me (FIGMENTS!!!), and by inextricably linking the story with the previous two games, Double Fine sort of ensured that you can never judge one without the other, it is still a solid game.
Since I am, however, of two minds about this game, I’ll have to give it two separate scores.
My nostalgic inner child gives this game a 9.5/10. It gets 9 points for simply existing, and the subsequent 0.5 is for actually being good.
The critic in me says it gets a 8.5/10 because it’s still a really good game, but is almost completely dependent on the first game for half of its score.