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Game Review

Psychonauts 2 (2021)

Sixteen years is a long time to wait for a sequel, and most are usually just not very good. The people who originally made the thing you fell in love with in the beginning have all moved on. And while not the same staff who worked on the original Psychonauts that came out in 2005 are still with Double Fine, enough of the staff has remained faithful to the company and have come together to continue the storyline of Raz and the Psychonauts to rescue the Grand Head and save the world from paranormal psychic activity. 

Psychonauts 2 was a game only originally made possible by a crowd-funded campaign, and kept the development studio funded long enough to eventually get bought by Microsoft. Through the years, Double Fine would release videos and interviews with the staff that kept backers informed on how the game was progressing. And the end result is nothing more than exactly what I wanted out of a sequel to my favorite game of all time.

The game picks up right where the VR game (or Psychonauts 1.5 if you want to call it that) left off. Lili’s dad Truman Zanatto has been rescued but still left in a pretty bad state. As Raz and the rest of the Psychonauts crew land back at HeadQuarters, Raz is given status as an Intern. Raz has full control of the place but only to a certain extent and must rely on his girlfriend’s clearance to gain more access to restricted areas. 

The game basically breaks down into two main sections. The real world locations of the Headquarters that serve as hub worlds, and the minds of the characters you must help and fix, which are the levels. Just like the original game, there are figments of imagination floating all around to collect, and emotional baggage and tags to sort out, along with Memory Vaults of hidden traumas to crack, there are also two brand new collectibles, half a mind & Nuggets of Wisdom. Giving 5 different collectibles in each level makes exploring a must and there are so many different nooks and crannies to stick collectible things into. On top of that, there are also several collectibles scattered along the outside in the real world as well. Some old, some new.

Each collectible gained will add to your overall progression that will unlock new abilities and additions to your health bar. Collecting Psytainium arrowheads act as a currency that can also be used to buy not only health items but also collectible pins that enhance your psychic powers. Some are cosmetic like changing the color of your levitation ball, or giving your archetype projection a 8-bit theme makeover, or some allowing you to beef up your melee attacks or getting discounts at the shop where you spend your money. Sadly, you can only equip three pins at a time, so you have to switch out the pins on a regular basis if you want to utilize them all, and at some point around a third of the way through, I just stopped caring.

Enemy types have also expanded to include new and fun themes around their creation. Doubts, Bad Ideas, Anxiety, Enablers… They all play into the theme of the mind and our own consciousness in a way you just don’t see anymore in games, that imaginative and creative side of games that gets left in the dust for more basic and easy to understand fodder. The Regret enemy for example is a flying enemy that carries a big weight that is weighing them down, or Doubts that are sludge like monsters that hold you in place, or even the Enablers that actually act as support units for the other enemies in a combat encounter. They blow their horns and march around and provide extra shielding and health to your enemies, so they need to be taken care of first, even if other bad guys are bothering you more.

What might define a Psychonauts game more than anything else is it’s creativity with it’s levels. It’s what drew me into the original. I don’t believe there has been anything close to the original game’s imaginative levels in a platformer. Some games do have a level or two that change things up, like TitanFall 2’s time traveling mission, or Max Payne’s Nightmare dreams, but nothing will rival the likes of Black Velvetopia or The Milk Man Conspiracy. Psychonauts 2 takes the concept of going into someone’s mind and creating a level based on their personality and past just ramps up the way the level is crafted in this modern game. 

While I can’t say that I have a standout level in Psychonauts 2, I can recall all of them being fantastically crafted and enjoyed them immensely. While I don’t agree with the inclusion of the two gay characters and having one of the levels showing off their gay wedding as a huge part of the level and storyarch, I still found the level extremely interesting from a design aspect.

Starting off the game with a disclaimer/trigger warning was odd, but as soon as you are dumped into the first level, the game pushes the mouth/body horror and grotesque nature of mouths and teeth and gums and flesh a bit too much, so I understood where they were coming from. Dr. Loboto’s Dental nightmare level was just as gross as it was hilarious, and it was a great way to start off the game. Once Raz arrives at the Psychonaut HeadQuarters, the interns join on a mission to a casino, where Raz enter the mind of the interim director of the Psychonauts, the new character Hollis. Her mind is part hospital/casio, and the neon lights add a sort of flair to the whole aesthetic of gambling and flashing eye catching nature of a casio. 

Once back from the mission inside Hollis’ mind, Raz’s family show up at the Psychonauts Head Quarters and introduce us to not only his mother, but also his entire family, including his brothers and sisters and even his Grandma Nona. Bringing his family into the mix and being able to see the background of how Raz grew up gives us even more character development to his story, and upbringing. While some of the character traits of his family don’t get fully utilized, it was nice to see them all feel like much more than just a surface level addition to the story. Hopefully if there is a Psychonauts 3, some of Raz’s family will play a larger role. 

One of the most incredible things about Psychonauts 2 is how many characters they actually managed to cram into the game, without it feeling bloated and pointless. The game introduces not only Raz’s entire family, but also the original Psychonaut team as well, which all have fairly deep backstories and histories with each other. As you dive into the minds of each of the founding members, you reveal all their emotional struggles they have had to deal with over the years, along with a battle against the worst foe they ever had to encounter, Maligula.

Maligula is an enemy that tore the original Psychonauts team apart, and no one was ever the same after their encounter.  And hearing that she died in the battle, only to find out that there are talks of some of her followers trying to resurrect her just gives the whole game a larger feeling like there is more at stake than just finding missing brains from a Summer Camp like the original game. 

Level by level, I enjoyed myself more and more with how well the game turned out, and can’t imagine what the game would have been like if the scope stayed the same as the original 3 million dollar pitch Tim Shaffer made back in 2016. The game definitely would not have been this large, nor would it have had the crazy fun levels like Psi King’s psychedelic tie dye sensory overload, or Ford Cruller’s Germ infested bowling ball city. While I enjoyed the levels, and couldn’t find one that seemed to meet my expectations of the original’s levels, there is one that stands out as my favorite, and that’s the last level. 

As the game comes to a close, a Mole is found to have infiltrated the Psychonauts and is trying to resurrect Maligula, and that mole is the Prince of a land called Grulovia, which is the country where Raz and his family is from. After a bit of convoluted twists, Raz enters the mind of the Prince, called Prince Malik; and his level takes the form of a theme park dark ride. Complete with cardboard dancing villagers and splash downs and even a very very catchy earworm song featuring children singing… it just is another creative level taken above and beyond what a normal game would make. Being able to explore the behind the scenes of the level as you get stuck a few times shows off the fun facades of how these rides are actually created. Along with the incredible forced perspective and changes in size that these rides normally employ, are only exacerbated in a video game world and the game takes full advantage of being able to trick your mind at so many turns. 

Psychonauts is my favorite game of all time, and the reason has always been that it’s one of the most unique and creative games ever made. Taking real life concepts like Emotional Baggage and imagination, and turning feelings and thoughts into a video game world. Jumping into the mind of a person and seeing all their innermost thoughts and secrets in the most innovative way possible; and now with Psychonauts 2, it expands on that and delivers a compelling story about a boy and his family who are all connected to a greater story. 

I couldn’t have asked for a much better game than what we got out of Psychonauts 2. And while there is nothing really extra gained for completing the game with 100%, and finding all the figments and everything else in the game, it is a nice feeling to be able to say I did it and feel a sense of personal accomplishment. There aren’t many games that I fully complete like that, but Psychonauts 2 deserves it. I really do hope that either they continue the game with DLC or a third game to expand on some of the loose threads that they leave at the end of the game. Either way, Psychonauts 2 was absolutely worth not just the original investment of funding, but also worth the wait.