What’s Good About: Psychonauts 2

This is still a weird image to see

(Editor’s Note: We talk a bit about the way the game handles the content warnings it has when first booted up and the steps it goes for transparency. If you want to read more on it, check this out. Back to the regularly scheduled chicanery.)

Psychonauts 2 came out this week. Hang on, I need to re-iterate that for my sake. Psychonauts 2. Came Out. This Week. This is one of those sentences that doesn’t feel real like “the pigs are flying” or “old, out-of-touch boomer comedians are recognizing that they’re out of touch.” It’s just not a thing you’d expect to hear. But yeah, it’s out and I got to play a good chunk of it.

Taking place a few days after the VR game Rhombus of Ruin (itself taking place between both numbered Psychonauts), you once again take control of child acrobat turned Psychonaut trainee Razputin Aquato, who this time is inducted into the Psychonauts Intern Program following the events of the earlier games. From there, the plot unfurls into a globetrotting adventure.

If it feels like I’m being light on the plot details, it’s because I am. The story is undoubtedly the reason you play a Double Fine game, and this is a game that you should go into as blind as possible. While I haven’t gotten much of a feel for the new characters yet (I’m only just starting to warm up to the other interns), all of the returning characters are great. Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello, And Coach Oleander all have the same dynamics and in the case of the coach: several jokes are made at his expense regarding his role as one of the antagonists of the first game. Raz and Lily are still the same good, snarky kids they always were, and Loboto is hilarious when we see him. Overall, the fact that we can step into this world after sixteen years and feel like we haven’t skipped a beat is a testament to how strong the writing is.

It also subscribes to the method of comedy writing that nothing outside of Brooklyn Nine-Nine subscribes to that I wish more games did, which is to rapid-fire five or six jokes back to back and let the audience sort it out, making repeat playthroughs a potential joy because you pick up on stuff that you missed on your first playthrough. It’s a great approach to comedy in games that the first game took and I’m surprised that more games haven’t done the same yet. There are also enough references and callbacks to the first game that if you loved the first game will have you tickled.

But how is it as a game? I was about to get to that, annoying voice in the back of the room. Psychonauts 2 is basically a sleeker and more refined version of Psychonauts. A lot of my personal feelings towards Psychonauts as a game can be easily summed up as “These levels are really creative and inventive, but MAN these controls can’t keep up most of the time.” So I was pleased as punch to discover that not only were the levels (at least the ones I’ve finished so far) are still just as if not more creative and inventive as the previous game but that the general control and feel of playing the game are also much better than the first game. You still have a lot of great platforming, but the controls don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep up. You start with most of the Psychic Powers Raz had in the first game; your melee, PSI Blast, Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, Levitation, and Clairvoyance are still in, but a few get swapped out. Chief among them is the Mental Connection, which can be used to change ideas in people’s minds and basically be a grappling hook, A time bubble that does exactly what it says on the tin, and the Astral Projection (a doppelganger that’s voiced by the actor who plays Gir, a nice Invader Zim reference). These can get past puzzles and be used in combat.

Doom, doom, doom doom doom doom, Doom. Look, I had to.

Combat is by far the most improved area because not only is it more responsive, it also fixes a pet peeve I had with the first game in that it lets you use psi powers while moving at the same time. I know this is purely a “me” problem, but it does so much to add to the general feel of the game. And that’s the one of the best parts of Psychonauts 2 for me, it does so much to keep what made the first game work, but they also added a bunch of nice quality of life changes.

Psychonauts 2 has to be my favorite kind of sequel in that it takes what worked with the original and just gives you more of what worked and refined it. The writing (which I mentioned at the beginning of the piece) also goes out of its way to ensure that the subject matter that it deals with is treated with the utmost respect, going so far as to reach out to Take This Clinical Director Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo to ensure they were getting things right in regards to the representations of mental health issues. And that is worth pointing out because you don’t often see games treating mental health issues with much care.

This shit is awesome

This combined with everything else I mentioned makes it probably my favorite game to come out this summer. If you’re looking for a good platformer with some funny writing, then give this one a shot.