Psychonauts 2

released on Aug 25, 2021

Psychonauts 2 is a mind-bending trip through the strange worlds hiding inside our brains. Freshly-minted special agent and acrobat extraordinaire Razputin “Raz” Aquato returns to unpack emotional baggage and expand mental horizons. Along the way he’ll help new friends, like this magical mote of light voiced (and sung) by Jack Black. Raz must use his powers to unravel dark mysteries about the Psychonauts team and his own family origins.

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It had a great beginning, if a little plot dense that relies on both the first game and the VR spinoff. The graphics and art direction were amazing, the teeth based platforming was delightfully gross. And there are a ton of collectibles to invite you to explore the level and your powers to get all of them. But then some of the collectibles are locked away where you need a new power to get to, and the game doesn't always let you know that you're missing a power, and replaying a level just to get a handful of squiggly lines isn't much fun. Thankfully there's a fast travel system when you go to replay a level, but it's still a hassle to get to. Sometimes the collectible isn't even locked by a power, the game will let you see one floating right there, but then go into a cutscene and move you past it.
The gameplay is split into 3 subsections: exploration, platforming, and combat. There is a bit of platforming in the exploration, but they are different. And the combat is just combat and nothing else. As the game goes on it doesn't really change much over time and the gameplay gets somewhat stale. Changing powers and badges constantly gets annoying, I wish they could have came up with a way to map more powers to buttons and combinations. It's weird that there are no puzzles in this game, the aesthetics are cerebral but the gameplay is not. You platform to areas, sometimes fight some guys, and watch really long cutscenes.
The story isn't bad, it deals with a variety of mental health issues and handles them honestly without dumbing it down. But the actual plot is a little too inwardly focused and relies too much on the previous two games in the series. In the first game you're training to be a Psychonaut, some kind of globetrotting psychic super spy that fights crime or something, I don't actually know what they do. And in this game you get upgraded to... intern. Still training to be a full fledged Psychonaut. You go on exactly one mission, the finale of which was excellent, but then the rest of the game is all about following up on the fallout from that mission. It's all about family and the founders of the Psychonauts and what happened in the past, but nothing about what the Psychonauts do. Make me a cool psychic super spy and send me on missions involving psychic powers!

I'm so happy I gave this a chance. One of the best games of the past 10 years imo. This is such a unique and fresh experience. After so many years spent with games I was still in awe while playing this because I've never seen anything like Psychonauts 2 (I still haven't finished the first Psychonauts though).

+ Charming characters and writing
+ Creative level theming
+ Fun and varied powers
+ Tons of collectibles that are a joy to collect

- Story isn't explained well
- Weak combat and boss fights
- Doesn't break the mold for 3D platformers

awesome sequel
i think its an overall improvement to the first
gameplay and levels feels much more polished and theres lots of cool stuff in the story
cant recommend enough

Okay possible hyperbole, but I think Raz might be one of the best video game character designs ever, up there with Mario, Pyramid Head, the King from Katamari, et al. He embodies so perfectly (apart from a lack of gender options which would have been nice, though I understand logistically why they were nigh impossible to provide) what every ten-year-old kid imagines they would look like as a cool spy. Like, oh hell yeah, I would wear some big-ass goggles on my head. I don't know why, I just would—and you bet your ass they would start glowing whenever I put them on. Oh and as a spy I would naturally rock a trenchcoat and gloves. And maybe, like, a turtleneck? Yeah, adults wear those. They seem classy. And one unruly lock of hair would always be escaping from my cool helmet, to show that I live on the wild side...

I fixate on this point because, if Psychonauts 2 illustrates anything, it is the power of good art design. The art team pretty much carries the game imo. Of course there are other elements at work here—gameplay, level design, writing, acting—and they certainly do their part, but I don't think any of it would have gripped me without the visual presentation. Maybe I am just a sucker for stylized graphics over realism, but I found this ineffably mid-2000s vaguely Dreamworks-adjacent eccentric animated film world so gosh-darn inviting. Given that I haven't even played the first game, I was surprised by how nostalgic this one made me feel.

So the throwback vibes are A+, while the rest is...a solid B? I have no major complaints—everything works insofar as I was compelled to keep playing until the end. But I was left feeling that, despite the nostalgia factor hitting me like a bull's eye, the substance of the story was aimed at someone younger. The characterization is, ironically, a little on the superficial side—although you ostensibly spend the game delving into the darkest corners of the psyche, I never felt like I got to scratch too far below the surface. The internal worlds, although visually dazzling and richly varied, are often quite simple thematically, reducing characters to a primary habit, illness, or fixation ("uh oh, this one's got anxiety!"). I am probably asking the game to be something it is not; if more time was spent developing complex character portraits, there would be less time for all the conventional game stuff—the hopping around and punching things and so on. But in my perfect world, there would have been fewer characters and fewer brains to explore in Psychonauts 2, with more unexpected depths revealed in each one.

I have to give a special shout-out to Raz's goofy family of circus acrobats, who are one of the most endearing families in video games. It's kind of wild that I can hardly think of any other games in which the main character has a big family. Usually you're some detached lone wolf with no connections, or your family is dead, or you have, like, a Pokémom who never leaves your house.

EDIT: Upon further reflection I'm docking another half-star because I really think the game bites off more than it can chew thematically and and there are inconsistencies in how things like consent are portrayed—like the game wants to say that tampering with minds, especially without permission, is bad and can't "fix" anyone, but then [redacted for spoilers] in the end?? Ultimately the game oversimplifies its subject matter a little too much to leave a good taste in my mouth, and I really do wish the characters were given more attention and development before you enter their minds.

All the cool fun weirdness of the first game without the clunky jank. Huzzah!

🎵🎵welcome to my mind welcome to my mind welcome to my mind welcome to my mind welcome to my mind🎵🎵