Sometimes nostalgia doesn’t quite add up. Our minds have this way of messing with memories, tweaking childhood joys to glorify the things we cared about. Whether it’s the sweet taste of the vanilla icing on a chocolate Dunkaroo, or the colorful burst of cartoon from an old episode of Digimon, sometimes we revisit these things later, and no matter how special they seemed to us as kids, they’re just not quite as special 15 years later. It’s weird how the mind plays those tricks on us. Just like how the reader’s mind might assume this opening implies I’m about to suggest that Psychonauts 2, the sequel to a 15 year old game, might not add up to the wild creativity of the original. But au contraire, reader. Psychonauts 2 is a brilliant exploration of the best the mind has to offer, constantly bucking the gamer’s expectations, all while prodding their wildest imagination.
Psychonauts 2 begins only days after the events of the first title, as Raz and company dive into the mind of the goofily insidious Dr. Loboto. His cranium is filled with twisting and demented record halls in a cerebral dentist office, where the team uncovers Loboto may not be working alone in his evil plan. The Psychonauts must work to uncover a mole in their organization, while Raz seeks to assemble the Psychic Six, his heroes and the original psychonauts, all while the return of the evil Maligula looms in the distance.
Psychonauts 2 boasts wildly inventive levels in the form of the dark and whimsical minds of the Psychic 6. In one moment Raz is exploring a Woodstock style music festival, next he’s in a shady coastal city playing private detective. Then there’s a propaganda theme park ride— then a Price is Right cooking show— then a Gershwin music-backed bowling alley 1920s construction site (I told you they were wildly inventive). This is even true of its overworld. Whenever you explore the Motherlobe’s high tech facility, you feel like you’re a part of a grand organization. But then moments later you’re out in the wild traversing the great outdoors in the Gravity Falls-esque Questionable Area. Every section to discover is so fully realized that you’ll want to uncover every nook and cranny it has to offer.
It’s a testament to how strong this design is that I found myself constantly mouth agape in awe of these environments, even while having some frustrating moments with the game’s controls. Overall, Raz’s movement has strong fluidity, especially when using the psiball to platform a tricky section. And in combat it was fun to get creative by stringing together different psi abilities against mental foes. But there were occasions where a missed jump didn’t feel quite correct, or there was some scenery that tripped me up after what felt like a correct input. The water curse in particular led to a quite a few frustrations. Overall there are still noticeable improvements in controls from the first game, though fans of pure platforming will likely note it feels more like the controls of a platformer released in the early 2000s. It’s good for what it is, but not as razor sharp as new platforming titles like Mario Odyssey
The boss fights on the other hand were grandiose moments where my combat and platforming felt enjoyably challenged. These larger than life gambits against titanic foes included highlights like battling against a neon octopus casino and fighting a three headed plant monster. Sure, even here there were a still a few hiccups that felt a smidge unfair, but I was too busy enjoying the lush art design of these monumental moments to ever consider giving up.
This is truly one of the most artistically developed games in years. In the Psi-King Sensorium, there’s the psychedelic blending of oranges, greens, and yellows to simulate a good music festival acid trip. In Nona’s mind the landscape takes on a plush quilt texture creating a fabric forest. In Celia’s Library of the Brain, a shady seaside city is all built with books, articles, and magazines. The character design is particularly brilliant. The strict agent Forsythe has harsh angles and rigid hair, while the broken Agent Ford has a permanently slumped slouch. Even each of the interns’ body languages visually describes who they are as a character.
And the writing for each of these characters is just as delicate and special. Psychonauts 2 does far more to develop its main character Raz than in the prequel. Here he’s still a ten year old kid who means well, but over the story he has to navigate the nuances of becoming a better agent, all while finding out how to communicate in more meaningful ways and build relationships with the owners of the minds he’s exploring. Then there’s all of the Psychic 6. Each of these characters have fully realized phobias or mental blocks, and Raz uncovers the internal problems and backstories that led to their current states. We get the puzzle pieces to be able to put together not only who they are, but the subtle reasons why they’ve become the people they are now. Then there’s someone like Sam, a side character who’s this awkward horse girl who’s constantly just saying one silly ridiculous thing after the other. But the more the player gets to know her and the more she gives these unexpected quips, the more it just feels like exactly what she would say.
The less known about the plot going in the better. Not only is this a truly terrific mystery that will have the player guessing and gasping as the story unfolds, but there’s so much emotional backbone to each of the story’s twists and turns. There are heart-wrenching revelations. There are joyous, bittersweet reunions. There’s so many small pieces the player will want to talk with each character to learn every single nugget of information.
Psychonauts 2 is a feast— nay smorgasbord— for the senses, the imagination, and the heart. Mixing large explorable environments and hilarious jokes with soft heartfelt moments and jaw-dropping twists, the player is constantly jumping from unique encounter to unique encounter. To quote the game’s Doctor Otto, the wild originality and whimsicality of Psychonauts 2 is a firm reminder that “the human mind is the final frontier, and it must be explored.” You don’t want to miss this opportunity to explore all Psychonauts 2 has to offer.