I must admit when it came to Psychonauts, I was somewhat unaware of the game. I did know about it and knew its genre, but other than that, it was a mystery. When Psychonauts 2 was announced back in 2015 what I saw had me instantly hooked about its premise, comedic narrative, and gameplay. Over the last few days, I finally got to jump into the crazy and wonderful world that Double Fine has created as Psychonauts agent Razputin or Raz as I got to know him.
Psychonauts 2 starts off with a recap of what happened in Raz’s previous adventure in the original game and then kicks you right off back Psychonauts HQ. It’s here we see Raz looking to become a fully-fledged agent, but for now, he’s just an intern looking to make his mark. The main story of the game is that there is something not right at HQ and there is a mole that needs to be sniffed out, but who could it be? We also find out that they are looking to bring back Maligula and reign terror on the world. So, it’s up to Raz and the rest of the Psychonauts to figure out who wants to bring her back and why!
The story in Psychonauts 2 is a mixture of humour, intrigue and revelations that play out in twisted and sometimes warped Mental Worlds that you get to experience throughout your playthrough. Each world you visit has its own unique environment to traverse and puzzles to solve, and you also get to battle peoples’ inner demons and feelings that they have like Regret and Doubt. Each of these enemies you meet have their own strengths and weaknesses, like Doubt which can hold you back, quite literally by sticking you fast to the ground, but are susceptible. These can be defeated by using one of your abilities, Pyrokinesis, which can create a bubble of fire and when released can burn everything that’s caught in it.
People also will have some emotional baggage that you will need to resolve, which is indicated by a sobbing bag, suitcase or purse and you need to find it’s corresponding tag to resolve its issues. You should also be mindful to keep an eye out for any repressed memories that you may see running about a world. These are little vaults that run about the level like a little puppy, and you need to whack them to open them up and free whatever memories that are inside. Inside these vaults you will uncover memories that will give you a better understanding of the characters mind and what their motives were that led them to do the things that they did or do (this was a bit of a kerfuffle to say without a spoiler😊).
Through the worlds that you run, jump, and traverse, you will have other Psychic abilities to burn, levitate, slow down time and blast strange enemies with. The abilities offered to you in Psychonauts vary from melee attacks to projectile attacks, like the PSI-Blast for ranged attacks and your Levitation power that lets you roll about on a ball of energy slamming enemies into the ground. As you progress further in the game you will rank up by collecting PSI Cores and combining them with PSI-Cards and unlock more abilities that will help you on your journey, from being able to slow down time in an area rather than a single target with your Time Bubble, to being able to alter peoples mind with Mental Connection and heal yourself in the process. Each of the abilities you acquire will aid you in the game and even give you access to areas that were previously unattainable on your first passing. I concentrated more on firepower and fighting, but it’s up to yourself on how you want to tackle each ability.
Your full list of abilities are Melee, Pyrokinesis, Telekinesis, PSI Blast, Mental Connection, Time Bubble, Levitation, Mental Projection and Clairvoyance,. Clairvoyance can be used on almost every human or creature in the game, and you may notice that some people’s views of Raz change over time. With this useful ability you can find hidden Psitanium which is what you use to purchase upgrades from the Shop (an Otto-Matic vending machine). You can also find this precious commodity in Otto’s Supply chests, but you must find the keys first.
Mental Connection is a big part of Raz’s abilities as it allows him to alter the mind he is currently within. By jumping Raz into ‘nodes’ he can link up thoughts and create new connections thus changing that person’s mind for the better, or worse. For example, early in the game, Raz jumps into the mind of Agent Hollis Forsythe, who is the Second Head at Psychonauts HQ and Teacher. While inside her mind, he can change her mind to allow Raz and fellow Intern Agents to go on a dangerous mission, while also causing some problems in the process. Raz then needs to visit Forsythe’s mind once more to undo the damage he caused as she gets hooked on gambling at the Lady Luctopus Casino. Raz connects to thoughts via nodes to make Forsythe realise that her gambling is not a quick fix for her cashflow problems back at HQ.
While Raz needs to be careful inside of peoples minds, he can also use the Mental Connection ability to reach new heights by jumping from node to node to reach a higher platform, as it acts like a grappling hook and allows you to move about an area quicker.
As previously mentioned, Pyrokinesis is great for burning enemies in a small circle and can be upgraded to cover a larger area and burn longer. Levitation not only allows you to reach higher levels with the aid of fans or large gusts of wind, and it lets you move about much faster, but you can upgrade it so that you can slam a ball of energy down upon your enemies. Your PSI Blast is most effective as a ranged attack and can be used to keep pesky Regrets at a distance. You can also use it to activate switches and smash through barricaded walls and floors.
I won’t go through to them all, but one of my favourite abilities that you acquire much later in the game, which also happens to be the last one to unlock, is of Mental Projection. When you use this ability, you will see Raz draw a 2D archetype of himself (Doodle Raz) that sticks by him to aid him in opening doors, pull on levers and even fight alongside you in battles. Now, when I say fight, he is more of a distraction than a fighter, you could say he’s fodder. However, he can also be upgraded with his rank, and this will increase his damage resistance and he will even heal you.
Speaking of healing, your health bar consists of brains, thus representing your mental health. Once depleted, you will need to start the level again, or at a particular checkpoint. To keep your mental health full, you will need to find green water dispensers, green barrels, green sludge and so on. You can also carry with you some PSI-Pops and Dreamfluffs which are consumables you can buy from the Otto-Matic vending machines. It is also worth noting that upgrading your pockets and belt will allow you to carry more of these much-needed health boosts (pressing down on your D-pad to consume) and to remember to stock up before each mission.
Also at these Otto-Matics you can acquire some Pins that will increase your abilities effects and power. Each Pin alters how an ability works such as allowing you to drain enemies’ health using Mental Connection or using your PSI-Blast to stun enemies rather than kill them to even using a Pun called Glass Cannon, which gives you a higher damage output, but makes you more susceptible to damage at the same time. While you can acquire many Pins throughout the game, you can only equip three at a time, so choose wisely. I would suggest investing in your PSI-Blast and Melee attacks first to do massive damage early on.
While running, jumping, and traversing through Psychonauts 2, you will come across some stray thoughts that linger in each area that won’t mean much to you, until you check in with Otto Mentallis at his lab in the Quarry area. He will ‘lend’ you two pieces of tech that you can use throughout the game.
One is the Otto-Shot Camera which is for taking screenshots via the games photo mode and the other is The Thought Tuner! The Thought Tuner is an invaluable piece of tech that will allow you to turn stray thoughts into nodes that you can then use your Mental Connection ability to reach previously unreachable areas for valuable Rank increases, PSI-Cards and more. Also, when you are wandering in the Quarry make sure to check out the Secret Intern Treehouse, as both lead to side-quests and parts of the game you might miss if you pass it by.
The core gameplay mechanics within Psychonauts 2 is a blend of combat, traversal and puzzle solving. Raz being from a circus family of acrobats can leap through the air, traverse on tightropes and trapeze in a variety of different levels. You get to equip four of your abilities at a time to the LB, RB, LT, and RT buttons and makes it easy to switch between your abilities on the fly. You can switch out your abilities by holding up on the D-pad and selecting an ability to your preferred button of choice by just pressing that button. Everything in relation to the layout for your moves are quite intuitive and responsive. The missions you get throughout the game are spilt into your story missions and optional missions, with the optional missions be given to you by your fellow interns and family members. Optional missions will vary from fetch and grab missions to hide and seek. Also scattered through each level/world you visit are figments of the imagination, which are outlined drawings of what a person perceives something to be. Collecting these will help you increase your rank and thus improving Raz’s abilities and power.
On a visual level Psychonauts 2 is truly beautiful with the worlds you get to explore, from the lighting effects that break through the windows from the sun or outside light source to the moon beaming down on a murky landscape. In some levels there are books scattered across a floor or high against a wall, with the dust from these old books enveloping the floor around them. Everything in a room or landscapes dancing together in an enchanting mixture of visuals and art style as they collide with one another. Like running through flowers or brush against plants and bushes, and see everything react to Raz in the world as he moves through it. The worlds that are created within each person’s mind that you visit vary on that person’s view of the world. One such world sees you traverse through a psychedelic 60s world that is an attack on your senses and everything has its colour ranked up to MAX. Then you visit places on the opposite side of the scale that are tranquil and stitched together out of fabric and cotton or a quaint little park that is filled with animals running about as you scale large trees and jump over lakes and into waterfalls.
When you are back at Psychonauts HQ it’s clean and crisp with the light bouncing off reflective surfaces from the overhead lighting in offices to the strobe lighting around a doorway and in corridors. It gives a more realistic view of the world that Raz lives and works in, with workers going about the Atrium doing their daily work and moving about that is a complete contrast of what is hidden within their minds.
The characters themselves that Raz teams up with or meets along his journey are all slightly off skew, with some of them looking like a mixture of a human and a robot, while others will have a hand or ear for a head. . Each ‘person’ you meet has their own crazy characteristics that stand out in your mind, like a gardener whose head resembles a turnip that seems to love to belch any chance he gets. With every character your meet, they seem to get more weirder as you move towards the inevitable end.
When it comes to audio within the game, everything clicks together beautifully with the level/world you are currently inhabiting. While Raz runs through Psychonauts HQ or the Quarry between Otto’s Lab and around by the Secret Intern Treehouse, you can hear his shoes tip-tapping against the rocks and cliffs or when he is inside the mind of one of his teachers or fellow agents, you can hear the squelching noise his shoes make as he runs along a tongue or brain and get a sense of how it feels. Getting stuck in honey or sludge left by Doubt also gives of a satisfying effect. The music for each level fits perfectly with a tranquil melody that flows and dances across the screen in the Questionable Area Park to the frantic rush when you are being faced down by a Panic Attack. Everything works together in tandem with what’s happen on screen perfectly and never a note is missed.
During my gameplay of Psychonauts 2 I enjoyed it immensely with the puzzle solving that is scattered about the levels to the combat mechanics in each area with the two getting an almost perfect balance throughout. Like I said, almost perfect balance, as there were a few hitches when it comes to the combat and movement, as I feel it is a bit loose in terms of the controls and tightening it up a notch would have made everything flow more. During combat when it comes to evading multiple enemies at the same time in certain areas it can feel a little awkward or clunky as you move about on screen when certain battles get heated. When traversing through certain sections worlds the movement can also seem a little off too if you missed your mark while jumping, but these are too sparse to affect your fun through the game, but when it happens, it can be frustrating at the time it happens. However, this quickly dissipates, and the funs kicks in again. It’s just that much of a joy to play, but worth noting.
Psychonauts 2 is the perfect blend of chaos, calamity, and all out mind-bending fun in this mental manipulation acrobatic third-person adventure platformer, and I LOVE IT! The game is visually beautiful and the mental worlds you traverse through vary from dark and gloomy to a truly psychedelic experience, showing that each one of us is unique in our own weird and wonderful way. Finally, we get a fantastic platformer on Xbox and long may it continue!
GoG Rating: 9/10
** A game code was provided by Microsoft/Xbox UK for the purpose of this review **