After 16 years, developer Double Fine has finally graced the world with another reality-bending adventure within the “Psychonauts'' intellectual property, and trust me when I say, the wait was well worth it. “Psychonauts 2” is a 3D platformer that uses its endearing characters, vibrant environments and meaningful narrative to create an experience unlike many others. The game indulges itself in satirical fun, yet still manages to deliver some truly heart-wrenching moments. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into this.
If one hasn’t played the original Psychonauts, the current iteration does a pretty good job at catching the player up from the get-go. The player will embody Raz, otherwise known as Razputin Aquato, a former circus performer turned Psychonauts Intern. Even though it’s been many years since the fans last saw Raz, the story continues only three days after the last game ended — a funny fact that the characters poke at quite often.
After catching the culprit who stole the brain of the lead executive at the Psychonauts headquarters, the goal quickly changes as the Psychonauts realize this thief was under the manipulation of somebody else. After setting up the overall premise, the player is let loose as they travel into the broken minds of friends and foes alike.
It’s these broken minds that help breathe life into the game’s many worlds and level designs. For instance, the player could start inside a level themed around oral cavities and giant teeth when they stumble upon a mysterious doorway to the right. This door can then transport them to another level where gravity is manipulated, or perhaps a realm where water is dominant as Raz now traverses on a boat between islands.
Levels can go from a circus, to a cooking show to a garden where a character’s mother has passed. They can go from 2D to 3D, manipulating the player’s reality, building various mental constructs as they go and always keeping the player on their toes.
Each realm bursts with color as Raz explores the bizarre and truly mind-warping landscapes. The actual platforming mechanics are pretty standard — swinging between ropes, using gusts of wind to travel a greater distance and jumping between various platforms — but the environments around them always added a bit of flash that simply never got old. The overall level design is also impacted on the current struggles of whoever’s mind Raz has jumped into.
For example, a character who’s recently lost his partner has turned to booze for his solution in numbing the pain. In this level, Raz is jumping into empty bottles and cans and bringing out seeds, or memories, to plant back into his friend's mind. This is all to remind him not to run away from his past, but instead, to remember the ones he loved and to cherish the memories they shared together.
These themes even stretch past the environmental and platform designs. The enemies that the player will encounter aren’t the typical baddies you’d see in games, but instead are things like Regret, Doubts, Bad Ideas and Bad Moods.
Not all of these enemies can be beaten with just physical attacks. For instance, to defeat a Bad Mood, Raz has to find its source and eliminate it for the enemy to disappear. It’s these decisions that help make all the elements of “Psychonauts'' feel like one cohesive piece of art. Everything is relevant; everything is connected and intentional.
Now, perhaps one of my only complaints with the game is the synergy, or lack of, in the combat mechanics. Raz can gain up to eight different psychic abilities along his journey. These can vary from telekinesis to clairvoyance to range moves like PSI blasts and pyrokinesis.
The game in itself isn’t that difficult, so I rarely found myself dying in these moments of action. However, I did occasionally get frustrated when fighting large groups of enemies. Raz’s psychic abilities are targeted toward specific enemy weaknesses and work rather well when focusing on a single enemy.
But, when fighting larger groups, the mechanics and moves can feel a bit clunky as it becomes complicated to switch between these abilities mid-fight. My only wish was for these moves to work more efficiently together or for more of them to be effective against various enemy types.
I found this issue became less apparent after maxing out the upgrades for each individual skill. However, it takes the full game length, around 15-20 hours, to achieve this — leaving the majority of the game for players to use the lesser versions.
Even with that, I still had an absolute blast playing “Psychonauts 2,” and I think that’s one of the most important aspects of a game like this — having fun. No matter how serious the narrative got, the game knew how to balance it with humor, and its phenomenal platforming outweighed any small moment of annoyance I had with the fluidity of the combat.
It’s important to point out that “Psychonauts 2” allows players to continue exploring worlds, collecting items and finishing side quests after completing the main story. As someone who loves to be a completionist in games that allow it, this was a huge plus.
“Psychonauts 2” has identified itself in its own category. Its environments are truly astounding, its platforming is fun, its narrative is deep and yet humorous and it all comes together in a fantastic display. If one’s a platforming fan, or just looking for a new experience, I can’t recommend “Psychonauts 2” enough.
Contact Daniel Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.