Seriously, Don’t Pass on Psychonauts 2


Seriously, Dont Pass on Psychonauts 2

Sam Kennedy, Staff Writer

The original Psychonauts came out in 2005 as an Xbox exclusive video game, developed by Double Fine and published by  Majesco Entertainment. It was by all accounts afinancial failure, selling only about 100,000 copies in the game’s first year and bringing Majesco Entertainment to bankruptcy. But in the years to follow, Double Fine reacquired the rights to the game and published it on PC, resulting in its gradual rise to becoming a cult classic as more people played this diamond in the rough. It must have garnered enough attention because at the 2015 Game Awards, Double Fine founder Tim Schafer announced plans to start development on a sequel using a crowdfunding campaign on Fig. The campaign was successful, and six years, one VR spinoff, and one acquisition by Microsoft later, Psychonauts 2 was finally released on August 25th, 2021.

Psychonauts 2, like its predecessor, is a 3D platformer, which sees the player completing a series of levels while collecting various items scattered throughout each one. But what makes Psychonauts stand out is its amazing gimmick: each level takes place in the mind of a different character. This creates an excellent marriage of gameplay and story for players to experience.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of Psychonauts 2 is everything it should be as a modern-day platformer. The controls are tight and responsive. In my seventeen hours of play, not once did a mistake feel like the game’s fault and not my own. That’s a high compliment, as a game like Psychonauts 2 practically lives or dies by its controls. I expected the platforming to be great, and it is; jumping around as the protagonist Raz feels awesome. The real worry for me was the combat. And while platforming is where the game truly shines, the combat was better than I expected. I was skeptical of the game’s ability to deliver combat as it isn’t the focus of the game, but it didn’t feel shoe-horned in. Learning how to use Raz’s vast arsenal of abilities to efficiently take down waves of enemies was fun, and the battling never outstayed its welcome. Aforementioned abilities are used interestingly. Raz eventually gains a power called the “Time Bubble,” which is used to stop moving platforms but also to fight extremely fast enemies. Another ability, called “Clairvoyance” allows Raz to see through the eyes of other characters. What’s awesome about this is that each character sees Raz as a unique hand-drawn sprite based on how they view him. It’s an excellent, subtle mode of developing the supporting cast.

Speaking of which, the supporting cast is extremely important, as most of the game takes place within the minds of other characters. Psychonauts 2 occurs largely inside the minds of Psychic Six, who are renowned heroes but, in earning that status, become survivors of a long-past tragedy. The game explores topics such as PTSD, addiction, and loss. While some of this is done explicitly, a lot is done through the environments. My favorite example is a level called “Bob’s Bottles,” in which the player travels through various places contained in bottles and encounters inebriated characters with slurred speech and horrible breath— not-so-subtle symbols of alcoholism. The enemies in the game include Censors, which block out thoughts that ‘don’t belong,’ Panic Attacks, Doubts, and many other mental conditions—what’s cool about them is the selection of enemies changes depending on whose mind the player is in. Keeping an eye out for certain enemies tells the player more about whatever character they are exploring. On top of this, the game features many different collectables, including Memory Vaults, which show slideshows of repressed memories from the character’s past. Learning more about the story is up to the player, and forces them to make inferences about what they are seeing and put the pieces together in a very satisfying way.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Psychonauts 2 is a funny game. The jokes actually landed for me on many occasions with subtle unexpected quips and jabs that I found humorous. The humor is supported by the excellent performances from a stellar voice cast, including Richard Steven Horvitz voicing protagonist Raz (also the voice of Zim in Invader Zim among other roles), Elijah Wood, Jack Black, and many other extremely talented voice actors, who all have excellent delivery. It was seldom that a line felt forced; the dialogue was natural andamusing. The writing, still, never laughs at mental illness. Despite all the wacky situations the characters end up in, mental illness is never the butt of the joke. It would’ve been very easy to laugh at the characters’ illness-fueled mannerisms, but instead Psychonauts treats them with the respect they deserve, and I admire the game for that. It is also able to produce some real emotional moments, which I won’t spoil. My one critique might be that some of the portrayals of mental illness are a bit oversimplified, but the game still does a lot right.

Overall, Psychonauts 2 is a unique gameplay experience. It masterfully combines tight platforming with interesting levels and a diverse cast of characters, which remain grounded despite the humour. It sheds light on a subject rarely touched on in the games industry, especially not in a big-budget AAA release. If you enjoy platformers, strong narratives, and/or more graphically stylized games, then you owe it to yourself to check out Psychonauts 2.

Psychonauts 2 is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Playstation 4 for a retail price of $59.99. It is available on Xbox Game Pass as well.

Images courtesy of Double Fine Entertainment