One of the best games of the year is as odd as it is wonderful fun.
Psychonauts is undoubtedly a classic, this despite several dubious missteps in control and camera work. When Double Fine makes the second with the players and Microsoft’s millions in the back, there is no doubt left. Psychonauts 2 is one of the hottest, craziest and, most of all, funniest games of the year.
Psychonauts was wonderful, but at the same time it was possible to write a whole essay about the technical mess. Beyond Double Fine’s mentally disturbed but also magically beautiful world, there was a game that time and time again hooked itself. Bumpy camera and imprecise controls in a platform adventure sound like pure frame nightmare, but then Psychonauts focused on the adventure rather than the platforming, we forgave a lot. That is, until the game’s last act that no one can reasonably even have auditioned before release.
Many of us are still suffering from PTSD after the completely sick circus sequence. Imagine the world’s most difficult platform challenges, and add sloppy controls and a camera with psychic breaks. Hood.
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What is it?
The sequel we’ve been waiting for for sixteen years.
Double Fine Productions
Xbox Game Studios
Xbox Series X
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Psychonauts 2 is wonderful. Point. There are no “buts” or “ifs” here. Admittedly, there is both PTSD and mental illness, but only as part of the story. Like panic attacks, anxiety and delusions. Yes, Psychonauts 2 is still Psychonauts, but now it’s as much fun to play as it is to listen to.
Sixteen years, a Fig campaign and a Microsoft deal have passed, but in the world of Razputin “Raz” Aquato, it has only been days since the dramatic cliffhanger in Psychonauts anno 2005. After the VR detour Rhombus of Ruin controls Raz and the gang – finally! – kosan mot The Motherlobe. The headquarters of the international organization Psychonauts, whose agents are fighting their wars in rich inner lives rather than in the real world. Raz is more than ready to take the plunge into full-fledged agent.
Unfortunately, there are those who believe that the crazy agent Ford does not have the right to make such crazy decisions, and the agent’s dreams are shattered before they have even begun. Raz instead becomes a simple trainee whose supervisor is neither parapsychic nor even a Psychonaut. Next stop: the mail room. That is, after Raz was locked in a storeroom in only his underwear by his classmates.
The dreamy courses are perhaps the parade number in Psychonauts 2, but The Motherlobe is a worthy hub heir to the original’s iconic summer camp. It does start on a fairly small scale inside the modern complex with its classrooms and offices, but as the story unfolds, Raz gets the chance to explore run-down mines, magical forests and a disused amusement park. It is to the latter that his acrobatic family joins; mother Donatella, father Augustus, siblings and so old “Nona”.
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This has happened…
Even though it’s only been days for Raz since the summer camp in Psychonauts, for the players it has been sixteen long years since the original. It’s a very long time, which Double Fine is fortunately aware of. Therefore begins Psychonauts 2 with a summary of both the original and the VR game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. Perfect! You can also see the video here.
The hub is crammed with secrets and side quests, and even though Double Fine got both the controls and the camera in order, they have not forgotten what did Psychonauts to the classic game against all technical odds actually became. The story does delve into mental illness, but basically there is still hope that everything will be fine, and what else can you expect with such an ensemble?
Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello and the others are joined by a new group of profiles who are as hot as they are twisted. Co-trainee Sam is the sister of Dogen. He whose mental potential was only overshadowed by how poorly he could control it. At first, Sam seems more grounded than his foil hat brother. The magic word is “seems”.
While the leader Truman Zanatto is knocked out, Hollis Forsythe is allowed to step forward, which she is happy to do with her obsession with order, order and security.
Most people you meet struggle with their inner demons and even though Raz has been demoted to an intern, it doesn’t take long before he is literally drawn into the inner worlds. Hollis’ mania is about a dark past, but when Raz tries to correct her obsession by putting new ways of thinking, he instead creates chaos. Hollis goes from someone who refuses to take risks to becoming addicted to gambling and gambling. The higher the stakes the better. Her past frontal collisions with the new addiction.
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The ability to connect thoughts creates new gameplay opportunities as Raz can drag itself between thought bubbles to get to new locations. The original telekinesis, pyrokinesia and PSI Blast remain but are accompanied by both a time bubble that can slow down the rotor blade, as well as the ability to pick out a paper-thin Raz copy that can help him move forward. The good thing is that the different abilities also boost the battles against enemies who listen to names like “Bad Mood”, “Panic Attack” and “Doubt”. The toy box with fire, levitation and farsightedness can be used in combat in more or less successful ways. Tip from me: the judge likes not to get a taste of their own referee club.
Psychonauts 2 is a creative party without a stop. Although Raz ends up far (farthest?) In the food chain, it does not take long before he is drawn into conspiracies involving Psychonaut’s “big six”, six more or less broken souls (and brains).
The road to the initially vague goal is constantly surprising. A canned Jack Black brain pulls us into a crackling celestial adventure with its own mini-map that connects the platform paths. An inner life of a hairdresser of course includes scissors, hair dryers and lice. In giant format.
My favorite course takes us into Comton Boole’s fragile self-confidence. The grandfather of Dogen and Sam is not who he once was and in a completely twisted and brilliant platform course we overcome both obstacles and shitty self-confidence, in the form of a cooking competition where the audience consists of eggs, pigs and strawberries we cook, split and mix. Absurd and crazy wonderful. As Psychonauts 2 at large.
The only objection is that Schafer and company occasionally yawn after a lot. If they have an idea, they are happy to use it exactly three times over. Example: in Cassie O’pia’s inner world, we are looking for three pieces of evidence that lead to three buildings with three similar enemy confrontations and three 2d tracks inside three books, where letters and notes act as platforms. One by one, the idea works fine, but it becomes annoying and predictable. The game would have benefited from killing some tired copies for darlings.
But it is a smolk in a sickly overflowing cup of joy. Psychonauts 2 is at least as brilliantly written as the first, with even more lovable profiles. Something that should not be underestimated, beyond the creative and collector-crazy platform tracks, is the pace of the story. It constantly strikes a chord with itself in its eagerness to surprise. Chins father on the hill and the turns are insane, but still logical in all reasonable Psychonauts 2-absurdity. I would argue that it is drawn to an even sharper tip than sixteen years ago.
The biggest difference if you compare then and now, however, is that the game is fun to play. The controls are obvious and the camera work is like a charm. The rich inner life in Psychonauts 2 enriches the gaming world like few others this year. One of the best games of the year, without a doubt. The best? Very possible.
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A second opinion
Psychonauts is something as unusual as a 3D platform game I really love. It’s not really my genre, overall – with a few shining exceptions. But despite Psychonauts was drawn with just the shortcomings that often make me difficult for the genre (clumsy camera, imprecise platform jumps), so it was so strong on other levels that it outweighed it.
The same charm, richness of ideas and mixture of genuinely good characters and both humor, heart and blackness in the script are also in the sequel. The concept may not hit quite as hard the second time, but in return we get a more polished game, with a sensible camera and more sharpness and precision in the mechanics and controls. We’ve had to wait a long time for this sequel, but damn it was worth it. Do not let this be as overlooked as the original, now. Give it a shot.
Odd and wonderful. The difference between the second and the first Psychonauts is that this is also insanely fun to play.