Psychonauts 2 Review
Faithful, colorful, and creative
We’re all creatures of habit. Whether it is the route we take to work or in what order we put on clothes, we perform some tasks without much thought. Psychonauts 2 makes a habit out of diving into the brains of interesting characters and exploring the fantastically warped landscapes found within. The goal of these delightful brain dives is to rectify the owner’s bad habits and expose their true selves. To succeed, players will undertake third-person platforming, mental combat, and endure the game’s strange affinity for the number three. Despite a bit of repetition, Psychonauts 2 is an awesome sequel to a unique adventure game.
Psychonauts 2 picks up directly after the end of the original game. Since that game released 15 years ago, there is a great comic that summarizes the previous events. Players once again take the role of Razputin Aquato, a boy that ran away from the circus to join a group of psychics. The sequel begins after having defeated Dr. Loboto in the finale of the last game. While Raz and the psychonauts are en route to their base, they enter Loboto’s mind to find the name of his boss. But things go awry in an amazing level that will make some people more afraid of teeth than they previously thought possible. While escaping, Raz discovers that Loboto is afraid of somebody called Maligula, a powerful psychic villain that died years ago.
When they arrive back at the Motherlobe base, Raz becomes a mere intern. He’s hazed by fellow classmates and assigned a brainless mentor in the mail room. Raz desperately wants to help track down a group trying to resurrect Maligula but his teacher believes it is too risky, so Raz dives into the teacher’s mind and mentally connects risk with money. Now the teacher cannot wait to send Raz and his classmates on a mission. The mission reveals there is a mole in the psychonauts, working to restore Maligula to her former glory. Razputin is given the impossible task of repairing the mind of Ford Cruller, one of the Psychic Six.
The Psychic Six were the founding members of the Psychonauts. They destroyed Maligula many years ago but at great cost: one died, some lost their minds, and a few became recluses. Ford’s mind has fractured into three and the only way to repair it is to get help from the surviving members. This requires diving into their brains and exploring the world around the HQ.
The story in Psychonauts is complex and amusing. While rarely laugh-out-loud funny, it is chock full of clever puns and interesting personalities. There are many characters but they are all memorable because of great themes and unique designs—character models are awesome and extremely faithful to the original. A minor downside of the story is that a few characters are underused. At first, Raz’s classmates seem like they will play a huge role, but they get minimal screen-time across the seventeen-hour adventure. Part of the reason for this is because Raz’s large family of circus performers comes to visit and offer their version of support. They set up a big top in the parking lot and hang around to remind him where he came from.
The sequel behaves like a metroidvania when navigating the world around the Motherlobe HQ and tracking down the members of the Psychic Six. There are a few open levels to explore, like the Motherlobe interior, quarry, and the waterfall region near the parking lot. Hidden within them are cards that can be used to upgrade Raz’s abilities. Another common resource comes from breaking things (or extracted from the ground), serving as currency that can modify abilities or buy health restoration items.
Raz’s abilities are varied and equally useful. Many are available from early in the game so there are always plenty of tools to choose from. A levitation ball allows rapid ground traversal and, when deployed while in the air, it operates as a glider between platforms. Some objects in the environment can be burned to reveal hidden passages. There is even a paper duplicate of Raz that can slide through narrow gaps to open doors. Some parts of the world are not accessible without the right ability, although it is not always obvious until after it has been acquired.
Basic platforming is required to navigate levels and find collectibles. This includes grinding along rails, using swings, and jumping off poles. The area near the parking lot is the biggest and best place to explore, with hidden caves, tree-top walkways, and a few side missions. While the platforming can get a little finicky, it never gets as bad as the meat circus from the previous game, and traversing through the world requires no mental thought by the end.
But like zombies, we’re all here for the brains. The sequel’s best parts involve diving into the minds of others. Characters from the real-world become strange versions of themselves inside the thoughts of others, which expands relationships. Almost every brain is friendly and relatively sane, so there is no dark horror. Instead you visit a range of vibrant, abstract environments, like the psychedelic music-land that has rainbow-light bridges, a mini-world that Raz must sail around, and a library with giant books. One incredible mind trip involved riding atop a giant bowling ball through a city of germ-people that were waiting for their demise at the hands of a disinfectant spray.
The varied mindscapes are impressive technically. The game often plays with orientation, flipping gravity as you curve around the bent landscapes. It also uses portals where there are huge new areas/rooms within tiny doorways of the environment. These portals are seamless and intriguing, and they can be slightly disorientating. One issue within the abstract worlds is that platforming tends to be harder because minds are often cluttered with distracting visuals and strange moving objects. It can be tricky to know which way to go, and that is why figments, the colorful collectibles found inside minds, are placed to guide the player along the right path.
Within the minds is where all the game’s combat takes place. At various, often contrived, locations, enemies spawn in and Raz must dispatch them before progressing. There are quite a few different enemies, based on mental constructs: doubts leave sticky sludge on the ground, judgements wield a massive gravel, and regrets drop weights. Most enemies are susceptible to a specific ability so swapping mid-battle is the best way to victory. Combat is adequate but levels tend to be more enjoyable without much of it. Action also gets significantly easier toward the end because Raz’s abilities become more potent and he gains access to health bonuses.
Some trips into the mind outstay their welcome, however. A few take about 90 minutes to complete, when finding most collectibles. This would not be bad if there was less intrinsic repetition. For some reason the game has an abnormal obsession with the number three. One brain journey, called Compton’s Cookoff, is an interesting mix between cooking show and obstacle course, and in it the player must create three meals, feed them to three judges, and defeat a boss that has three stages, where each stage involves locating three ingredients. This is not the only time three is the magic number: nearly every boss has three stages and combat encounters are often three waves. This obsession with three just packages up the unique minds into the same triangular container. If there was more deviation or brevity, it might not have felt as repetitive.
Once you finish the game, you can go back and explore areas or dive into the minds again. The areas in the world are good to revisit as you can utilize late-game abilities. It is also worth saying hello to major characters to get extra denouement. Going back into minds does not work quite as well because not all areas are connected like before—fast travel must be used to enter the disconnected parts of the brain. Trying to locate every memory figment is tedious too. In any case, even without returning to previously visited areas, the sequel has a good amount of content that will satisfy fans of the original.
Psychonauts 2 is a great sequel. The story and characters are so faithful to the original it is like no time has transpired over the last fifteen years. Awesome and varied mindscapes are a treasure to explore and the clever dialogue helps solidify what is an overwhelmingly enjoyable narrative experience. With satisfactory combat, challenging platforming, and lots of collectibles to find, the game is a robust adventure. If it were not for an unhealthy obsession with three, Psychonauts 2 could have been better, but we all have a few odd habits.
A digital code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.