Fifteen years after the first game (with a VR-only short game bridging the gap), Psychonauts 2 picks up the store a few days after the end of the first (it’s about the same gap I had between playing both games), with Raz joining the Psychonauts and trying to discover who hired Dr Lobotto, a villain from the previous adventures. The first game has a unique charm to it, with creative levels, wonderful humour but also tackling some deep subjects. And Psychonauts 2 just picks up exactly where it left off in terms of feel, but also still feels up-to-date in terms of controls and presentation.
The writing and voice acting are both top-notch. No returning character sounded “off” and it feels like the games could have been released shortly after each other. The humour returns as well, although while mental illness is still a big part of the game, the subject of mental illness is never a punchline for a joke, and is treated a bit more seriously. Despite this, Psychonauts 2 is still as funny as the first, finding other things to be humorous about.
Platforming in Psychonauts 2 feels very precise. The levitation is more predictable, but with the downside of being less useful than the first time. Instead, this leads to Mental Connection, a new ability where you can grapple between “stray thoughts”. This ability is introduced in a level where some of the connections list subjects and linking two together can change their thoughts on a subject. Throughout the level you have a horrible feeling that you’re doing something terrible (it shows what peer pressure can push people to do), and you feel the desperation when you have to fix it later on, seeing the damage you’ve done to this person’ mind. That said, there are some connections that don’t “work”, but I found myself trying all the wrong pens first to hear the dialogue.
The levels are all extremely varied again, with some utterly wonderful settings. And some downright disturbing imagery – the mouth/teeth stuff in the first level is horrific, in a good way, and it always looks detailed. It’s always a joy looking around each level, which makes hunting for the collectibles (which level you up, but aren’t required) nicer. You don’t have to collect these the first time in a level (and most likely can’t due to needing later powers), and can return to them even after the end of the game, although a lot of set-pieces are unavailable and you can teleport between the disconnected parts of a level. One clever thing is that any collectibles that were in these sections get relocated, so you can’t miss any.
Each mind depicts some form of mental issue, loss or regret. Some are caused by the psychic nature of the game, while others are just real issues, such as alcoholism. The journeys into people’s minds and helping them on their path makes every level wonderful to play though, and I really like how the real life issues aren’t always just an instant fix, but is just the start of their journeys, with them getting help from others outside of you entering their minds. It merges fictional settings and real life issues extremely well.
Outside of the main levels, you get to explore the headquarters of the Psychonauts, along with the surrounding areas. It’s quite large, lots to discover and a few side quests, as well as talking to the wonderful character, including Raz’s family, various agents and Raz’s fellow interns. I loved using clairvoyance – a power that lets you see the world from someone else’s perspective – and seeing how they view Raz, as his image changes to a drawing depicting him in a certain state, or as something else entirely. Some are obvious, while some I don’t quite know, such as one agent who sees Raz as a cigarette dispenser. These images, as well as “figments of imagination” in the levels can also provide some early hints about some of the revelations throughout the game.
On top of platforming, there will also be a lot of combat. You can assign up to four powers at once, quickly switching them out for other ones with a “power wheel”. I found myself trying different combinations, and there’s a lot of options you can do. The enemies are based on different sorts of ideas, such as bad moods, regrets, doubt and panic attacks, with quite a bit of variety for you to face. You can find ways to “chesse” the combat a bit, but I just found it fun trying different things.
Psychonauts 2 is an absolutely wonderful game. It works extremely well as both a sequel to a 15 year old game and something brand new, with the whole adventure being a marvel from start to finish.