Having recently revisited the original Psychonauts (it’s on Xbox Game Pass), I had a lot of hope for what a modern version of it could be. The original certainly plays like a 2005 game, but its signature goofiness and imaginative level design were still fun and were something I expected to see in the sequel. I was pleased to have those expectations met in my nearly six hours of hands-on time with Psychonauts 2.
I got to play not only the first level shown at E3 2019, but I also explored part of a new hub and rummaged through three other individual’s subconscious. I won’t go into too much detail about the latter two brain games to avoid spoilers, but I can say what I played was a delight.
Psychonauts 2 takes place immediately after Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, the VR game that continues the story from the original Psychonauts. I didn’t get to play Rhombus of Ruin, but Psychonauts 2 has a helpful and stylish recap for that and the first game. In Psychonauts 2, Raz has moved on from the psychic summer camp and finally has a chance at joining the big leagues. However, instead of becoming a full-fledged Psychonaut, he’s shoved into an intern program. He is only 10, after all, but that won’t stop his enthusiasm for adventure and meddling. When an old enemy of the founding Psychonauts unexpectedly reemerges, Raz gets his chance at a new adventure.
The introduction let me roam the halls of the Motherlobe, the Psychonauts headquarters. Like Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, there are plenty of psitanium deposits (in place of arrowheads) to dig up and pocket for currency, platforming opportunities that lead to secret items, and areas blocked by story progression or required psi powers. I spent a decent chunk of time just exploring and talking to the psychic professionals.
Listening to all of the dialogue options with characters around the hub and in levels is enjoyable. They don’t impact anything that I know of, but the humorous responses aren’t something I’d want to miss. Like other Double Fine games, Psychonauts 2 has a great sense of humor. And though the first hit at heartstrings every now and then, Psychonauts 2 seems like it’s aiming right for them — with a heavy dash of comedy in its approach, of course. I didn’t get to know the new characters all that well in the time I played — the second in command of the Psychonauts along with Raz’s mean fellow interns are positioned to play a big part in the story — but I sure am interested in getting to know them.
The Power of an Intern
Raz may not like being part of an intern program, but the extra training is doing him some good. In his first lesson in his teacher’s subconscious, Raz learns how to change a person’s mind through a new power called Mental Connection. Raz hears a change in perspective when two thought bubbles are linked. For instance, linking cilantro to disgust changes the previous pleasant thoughts about cilantro to ones of disdain. This power can also be used to pull enemies to Raz in combat or get Raz to higher platforms while exploring.
Old powers like Clairvoyance are back too. Clairvoyance allows Raz to peer into the mind of others to see what they see. Sometimes that means Raz looks more mature, other times it’s Raz excitedly chasing large pieces of bacon. Even better, using Clairvoyance often reveals secrets in an area, sometimes resulting in a nice little payout for Raz.
Powers can be upgraded this time around too as Raz earns points for raising his rank. I went from slowly combusting things in an area to creating an entire bubble of fire around Raz that dealt serious damage to enemies. You can spend your psitanium on upgrades too, most of which are just cosmetic or for fun. One has Raz dance while idling and another allows Raz to pet animals. The most expensive ones give Raz even more power. Only three pins can be equipped at a time, though, so something’s gotta give — not the animal petting pin. That’s essential.
Aside from using powers for exploration, Psychonauts 2’s combat felt more fun, refined, and chaotic than the original. Enemies in the first game were largely limited to Censors and a few other baddies, but Psychonauts 2 personifies a slew of heavy emotions and thoughts with awesome designs. And like the original, this meant finding the right combination of powers is half the battle, especially when it comes to the bigger enemies. Psychonauts 2 feels a tad more flexible, though, so while I had to use levitation and telekinesis in one battle, I could mix and match my other equipped powers as I pleased.
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What I saw while fighting, exploring, and collecting in the four subconscious I played was immensely charming and imaginative. Yes, I do want to talk to paper cutouts and hear what happens when I link thoughts of mushrooms to death. A mix between action, collectible hunting, and even the occasional 2D platforming kept my time with Psychonauts 2 lively too. I’m looking forward to seeing just how creative the levels get, and more curiously, see what Double Fine is trying to do with Raz’s adventure and its heavier play on emotions.