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Psychonauts 2, review

Five years.

Five long years (actually, it’s more like five and a half years but what’s six months?)

That’s how long I’ve been waiting for Psychonauts 2 from Lucasfilm alumni Tim Schafer & his Double Fine Productions studio to be released since I backed it on crowd-funding platform Fig in January 2016.

I’ve long been a fan of Tim Schaefer’s work – don’t get into a conversation with me about how good Grim Fandango is – and while Broken Age didn’t do it for me, despite funding that, too, I jumped at the chance to crowd-fund Psychonauts 2 when I learned it needed help to be made. This was a chance to be part of game development history, right?

Psychonauts 2

[Warning: Slight moan from a backer incoming. You have been warned.]

So, I plonked down the princely sum of $US39 (Basic Braining backer that granted me digital copies of the original  Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2 on PC, plus my name in the in-game credits.), joining the 24,109 other backers who raised $3.82 million for the game’s development. Then I waited. And waited. And waited.

As the promised delivery date passed (I think it was December 2019), I started to worry. Worry that it wouldn’t actually see the light of day. That it would become vaporware and never be released.

Then at E3 in 2019, Double Fine announced it had been bought by Microsoft and my worry changed to one of whether the acquisition would burn backers who had sunk their own money into the project. To some degree, I was right as I feel backers have been shafted a little by Microsoft, especially when Microsoft announced that the game would be available “Day One” on its Game Pass subscription service for both Xbox and PC.

I know it shouldn’t have but this grated with me as I personally believe backers should have been able to play the game before people on Game Pass, even if it’s a day or two before general release. After all, those other 24,109 backers took the risk at funding the game.

Psychonauts 2

OK, rant over.

I’m in a weird situation when it comes to Psychonauts 2, too. I played an advance copy on Xbox Series X thanks to Xbox and the esteemed editor of this online publication who knew I had backed the project and how much I was looking forward to it.

I tossed up whether I actually wanted to play it early and that I should hold strong and wait for my backer key but, frankly, my desire to see how it turned out and whether my $US39 was wasted was just too strong: I wanted to play it now. Besides, I’ll play it again on PC when my backer key arrives even though I’ve played it to completion and am now just searching for collectibles that I missed.

OK my mild gripe is out of the way now for the important question: Is Psychonauts 2 worth the wait? Is it worth playing?

Yes. Yes it is.

Psychonauts 2

For me, Psychonauts 2 is the best game Double Fine has made and probably the best game Tim Schafer has made since his Lucasarts days. I enjoyed it more than the original Psychonauts, too.

The original Psychonauts was set in the Whispering Rock psychic summer camp where 10-year old circus performer Razputin “Raz” Aquato was just getting used to his psychic powers but now Raz has enrolled as an intern at the the famed Psychonaut’s HQ (nicknamed the Motherlobe) and must help the team investigate the return of an evil villain and her connection to the original psychonauts (and Raz) and the threat she poses to their very existence.

At it’s heart, Psychonauts 2 is, like it’s predecessor, a game about mental health and all the uncertainty that goes with that. Raz can enter people’s minds through a tiny door he carries around with him, allowing him to see what lurks inside and to a degree influence the person’s behaviour. One thing I noted was that Raz always asks the person’s permission before entering their mind. It’s a small thing but it highlights Schafer’s understanding of the need for responsibility when dealing with mental health.

Psychonauts 2 is a hard game to write about.

I have so many thoughts rushing through my mind about what I just loved about it. For me, the sign of a good game is one that makes you want to keep playing it until you’ve finished it, even if you get frustrated from time to time because, say, the camera hindered your view while you were making a jump or at first you really weren’t sure where to go or what to do.

This was Psychonauts 2 for me.

I played it constantly from the moment I got it, fascinated by the characters and their backstories and intrigued by where the game was heading thanks to it’s tight narrative. The visual style really fitted the game, too, reminiscent of the original game but modern enough to remain fresh. The game opens with you investigating the mind of the evil Dr Loboto – the villain from the original game and whose influence is strong throughout the game.

Psychonauts 2

Central to the game is Raz’s psychic powers, with the young lad able to gain access to progressively more powerful abilities like levitation, mental connection, pyrokinesis, psi blast, projection (which creates a tiny Raz that can fit through small spaces and do things like pull levers) and telekinesis.

Enemies are based on mental foibles: Regrets (flying creatures that carry weights that they can drop on you), doubts, enablers (which buff other enemy types, making them harder to kill), bad moods (you need to find the cause of their bad mood to defeat them), bad ideas (which hurl explosive lightbulbs at you) and panic attacks – the most aggressive of them all. Back, too, are the censors, the rubber stamp-carrying spectacled monitors of thought.

A new ability is mental connection, an ability that lets Raz influence someone’s thoughts by connecting to the right emotional nodes dotted throughout their mind. By making the right connections, Raz can influence what people think, altering the mental landscape not only in the person’s mind but in the real world, too. Think of it as a mental grappling hook, if you will.

A cornucopia of variety

Gameplay is a mix of platforming, puzzle solving and combat and the perhaps the greatest thing about the game is the variety of levels that you’ll visit. As you’d expect, they’re a crazy.

There’s one level set within a casino-medical hospital, with bright neon lights, jazz music and croupiers with syringes for a head and a barman with a half-filled pee jars. There’s another set within a drug-addled, music-festival where you have to activate rainbow pathways using giant stage lights and avoid giant flapping tongues. It felt like something straight out of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

Psychonauts 2

Another is set within a chaotic mail room. Another is set within a bowling alley. Yet another is set in a ’90s reality cooking show where the audience is the ingredients and Raz has to cook recipes that meets the favour of hand-puppet judges. It’s crazy and warped yet completely makes sense, all rolled into one.

As with many games based on platforming, there were some frustrations, especially after you’re sent back to the start location a wee bit away from where you died after spending ages finally knocking off some challenging jumping puzzles that required precision timing, but my niggles are small. I really did love playing this from start to finish.

There is so much to talk about with Psychonauts 2 but I’m going to stop here. I’m just pleased to report that my decision in backing it wasn’t a waste of money and it is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long, long time. It’ll be a strong contender on my GOTY list for sure.

Psychonauts 2 is definitely worth waiting five years for.

Thanks to Xbox for the review code