When Psychonauts 2 was first revealed, it wasn’t a game I ever thought I’d play. Having never played the first game, I wasn’t sure what I’d get myself into. Combine that with the fact that I wasn’t too taken with what I saw in the early reveals and the fact that I generally find platformer games challenging, I expected to skip past Psychonauts 2 without a second look. However, with more and more gamers talking about Psychonauts and with previews for the sequel illustrating that it’s likely to be a Game of the Year contender, my interest in the franchise piqued. When Xbox ANZ provided me with a code to review the game, I figured it was time to see what the hype was all about and delve into what looked like a psychedelic adventure.
So what is Psychonauts 2? Well, as its name suggests, Psychonauts 2 is a sequel game to the 2005 cult classic, Psychonauts. Developed by Double Fine Productions, the game is a platformer spy adventure, with a host of interesting characters and a quirky storyline.
Despite a quick recap of the events that had transpired in the first game, including a backstory on the lead protagonist, Raz, I felt a little left out delving right into the heart of the story in Psychonauts 2. It felt as if I’d started a book midway into the story as opposed to the beginning, which made my foray into this new world a little unnerving. This was combined with the fact that I was still trying to learn about Raz’s abilities and the psychic world, while navigating an area that gave me the creeps, that is, inside the mind of Dr. Lobato (a dentist). That’s right! I was learning how to play the game inside a mind that was filled with teeth! It wasn’t just teeth though, there were gums aplenty, braces and dentists tools, the whole she-bang. As someone who gets a little put off teeth (I don’t get it either but I have a thing about losing teeth), it was really quite a struggle to push through and use Raz’s psychic abilities to pull teeth out and use them to defeat enemies, among other combat abilities.
Thankfully, this was a short lived chapter and the game was kind enough to provide me with a tutorial throughout, allowing me to learn all the controls necessary to proceed to the proper beginning of the game.
The narrative of Psychonauts 2 is full of depth and clearly well thought out, given it continues the story from a game that was released more than a decade ago. This is cleverly carried out throughout the game through dynamic relationships between characters and impressive dialogue that allows players to truly feel a sense of belonging within the world of the game. Each of the characters in the game are unique and quirky in their own way, offering a variety of different ‘lessons’ as you play through the game. Playing as Raz, a Psychonauts intern, you’ll be able to interact with several characters, including going inside their minds. This connection and interaction with other characters in the game offers a relationship building experience that feels organic and very much needed given the rather isolated world we live in due to the pandemic.
The gameplay can be quite challenging to begin with, especially if you’re like me, and aren’t adept at platformer games. However, after going through the tutorial, the gameplay becomes quite fun, with psychic abilities being the core focus. There’s plenty to do in the game, from performing investigation tasks to learn more about the enemy to going within someone’s mind to play a variety of mini games that can result in changing the way someone thinks or planting new ideas in their mind. It is the combination of gameplay, story and characters that truly make the game a standout title. The deeper meaning behind the tasks, such as changing a character’s mind and the way they think by rewiring their thoughts, teaches them and reinforces the notion that changing the way you think and see things can often yield positive results. For example, in the game, the character, Hollis Forsythe, believes that she can only really rely on herself to get things done but when Raz implants the idea that asking for help is okay, she realises that asking for help can make her work a lot easier and help her as a result.
The way in which the game deals with thought and mental health is profound and offers life lessons that can be applied in real life, something that really gels well with my values. Games often get a bad rep for encouraging violence, or causing distractions in life, but titles like this really help showcase the value and benefits that gaming offers.
Of course, there’s something definitely to be said about the Psychonauts 2’s graphics and soundtrack that adds to the appeal of the game. The soundtrack is on point right from the get go, with a very spy-ish theme that plays throughout the game. This fits so well with the story and gameplay that it was hard to not feel like a secret agent while playing the game. Artistically and graphics wise, Double Fine Productions did a superb job with incorporating a psychedelic look that gels with Raz’s psychic abilities and the mind related environments in game. The immense amount of colour and visually aesthetics help make the game all the more exhilarating and enticing.
Overall, Psychonauts 2combines an Inception-like adventure with spy shenanigans. With zany characters, ‘mentally’ challenging tasks, & psychedelic visuals, this is game you can really sink your ‘teeth’ into, especially given its accessibility on Xbox Game Pass.