The long awaited sequel to the cult classic Psychonauts has finally arrived after years of anticipation and delays. Psychonauts 2, by the Xbox Game Studios affiliated developers at Double Fine Productions, had a lot to live up to and it delivered at every turn. Take yet another psychedelic journey into the minds of the characters we fell in love with all those years ago and sort out their emotional baggage and psychological struggles once again.
Double Fine takes the player back to the days of the classic platformer with a mind-bending use of space. The hypnotic visual delight and quirky storytelling take the front stage in Psychonauts 2. The simple and repetitive combat system leaves a little to be desired, but the player is given a refreshing freedom to explore their own playstyle.
Story – A Therapeutic Mystery
Psychonauts 2 immediately follows the events of the VR puzzle game, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, where Razputin Aquato aids in the rescue of the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto. After arriving back at the Psychonauts headquarters, Raz must unravel a mysterious plot to take down the covert agency of psychic spies from the inside. But, as a lowly intern, his resources are limited and he must bend the rules to uncover a truth that may be much closer to home than he ever could have imagined.
The developers at Double Fine Productions had the ambitious task of tying together the many convoluted plot lines laid out in the original release back in 2005. In true mystery drama form, Razputin takes on the role of an inexperienced detective attempting to piece together the integral characters by literally putting their broken minds back together. Every mind he puts together leads him to another clue in the grand mystery.
In another ambitious endeavor, Pychonauts 2 also tackles many mental health topics such as guilt, depression, unresolved grief, and even a subtle take on substance abuse. Through the the use of humor, and an obvious sensitivity, the writers were able to confront these subjects in a respectful and meaningful way without losing a second of the lighthearted humor this series is known for.
The narrative that the developers of Psychonauts 2 weaved together felt succinct and the characters felt truly individual. I often find that in the setup of a mystery narrative, too many loose ends are created that end up unresolved, or the conclusion is obvious early on. Here, the story is kept simple yet intriguing, and the reveals are genuinely surprising. The characters were all developed literally from the inside out as Razputin explored their minds and helped them confront all their trauma.
Gameplay – A Mental Battle
While the heavy focus of Psychonauts 2 is on the main story line, the minds Raz visits, as well as the real world areas in the game, are filled with side quests and optional objectives. There are several different types of scavenger hunt objectives that involve tracking down different types of collectible items in the many minds Raz visits. These objectives not only encourage the exploration of the dazzling mental worlds, but also increases Raz’s progression as a psychic and allows you to improve his many abilities. Without working through some of these side objectives you risk having underdeveloped abilities as the game progresses. Without certain upgrades, some optional areas are completely unreachable.
In the real world of the game are several side quests that are a little more involved than tracking down simple trinkets, but still mostly facilitate the exploration of the world the developers took much care in constructing and the many side characters that don’t get much time in the main plot. Psychonauts 2 could have used something with a little more depth here. While having an excuse to explore the nooks and crannies of the colorful worlds, it mainly felt like an excuse to spend more time in the game instead of really satisfying side content.
If Psychonauts 2 had one weak point, it would be the combat. It is extremely repetitive and there aren’t that many enemy types. Most of them are merely different versions of the same thing. As your abilities develop, the only way the game makes combat more challenging is by overwhelming you with numbers in smaller and smaller areas. The boss battles are, however, very creative. Each boss felt significantly different and required a different strategy to defeat.
One way the combat was made more interesting was by giving the player a unique freedom to choose their own playstyle. All of the abilities Razputin has can be mapped to any trigger you want. This means you have the freedom to choose the set of abilities that most fit your playstyle as well as how you want to use them. There is no need to enter the options menu to pick a different controller layout, you merely have to open the ability selector and choose where to put what, in or out of combat.
Graphics and Audio – Psychedelic Masterpiece
The ability to create such an immersive and visually stimulating world using such a simple animation style is mind-blowing. The world consists of simple textures and blocky constructions, but the use of color and space brings everything to life. Since most of the game takes place inside the minds of the characters, the laws of physics are thrown out the window. Spatial distortions are utilized throughout to give the impression of shrinking or growing, running down endless hallways, or walking through doorways into another world. In this way, the levels are expanded and made to feel much larger than they actually are.
The voice acting and sound design in Psychonauts 2 add so much character to the game. Each character is brought to life by their performers as they each portray an emotion you can feel in their performance. Some of the characters are lonely and the sorrow comes through. Some are anxious and the panic is palpable in their voice. For a game focused on mental issues, the voice actors excelled in expressing their emotions.
The sound design was utilized to bring each unique level you visit to life. In the mind of the dentist, a space covered in tongues, teeth, and other fleshy mouth parts, the squelching with every step added to the disgust. In the psychedelic color filled mind of the old hippy, the original music and hypnotic droning made it feel like its own kind of trip. Everything Double Fine added to these worlds optimized the immersion.
Psychonauts 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4.