Nearly 20 years on, the weird world of Psychonauts still possesses the power to assault the mind and bewilder the senses.
Levels transform and bend into themselves like a drug-induced hallucination; a banal and clinical medical scene becomes transfigured with beaming neon lights, upbeat jazz and gambling motifs; an office complex becomes twisted into a dental nightmare of teeth and braces.
Released on August 25 by developer Double Fine, Psychonauts 2 is the long-awaited direct sequel to the cult classic 2005 adventure-platformer Psychonauts.
Picking up immediately after the events of 2017’s short VR adventure In the Rhombus of Ruin, Psychonauts 2 follows intrepid young psychic acrobat Raz Aquato as he navigates the psychic espionage agency known as the Psychonauts.
With a mix of platforming, combat and exploration, Raz uses his psychic abilities to explore the Psychonauts’ home base, the Motherlobe, as well as several other locations set both in reality and within the realms of people’s minds. It is here where the game’s creativity is on full display.
Serving as surrealist set pieces, levels peel into themselves and distort with all the fervour of a funhouse exhibition, showcasing dizzying experimental level design and trippy psychedelic visuals.
Raz can astral project himself into the minds of specific characters, allowing both him and the player to explore what makes that person tick in an intimate character study rarely afforded to most characters in gaming.
The game uses these abstract scenes to explore deep-rooted psychological issues such as depression and addiction with deft and respect, balancing humour, intrigue and emotional weight with equal measure.
The levels also allow for experimentation in gameplay styles that deviate from the traditional 3D platformer, such as a 2D racing segment that takes place within an EKG heart scan.
Raz is given a wide array of abilities to play with, including psychic mainstays like Telekinesis and Pyrokinesis, as well as abilities like Clairvoyance, which lets him see yourself through the perspective of others, and Mental Connection, which allows him to shoot from point to point and connect ideas within a person’s mind.
While much of the gameplay has been updated, it is the combat that has received the most significant polish.
In the original Psychonauts, combat was stiff and awkward, with more of a focus given to platforming and character interactions.
In Psychonauts 2, the combat is able to keep pace with those refined elements, with snappier controls and more concise coordination as well as a convenient lock-on feature harkening to games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
Raz also moves as tightly as ever with floaty and responsive controls making for smooth platforming and seamless movement.
Psychonauts 2 also sports an invincibility mode, which allows players to play the game without the worry of health management and avoiding damage, ushering in a new level of accessibility for gamers worldwide.
The game compliments its cartoony visuals with the polish of current-gen hardware and levels boast seamless environmental transitions that the PS2/Xbox-era original could not hope to incorporate.
The game suffers occasionally in its performance, and its loading, which often comes abruptly and without context, often gives the impression that the game has frozen or crashed.
This was the case at least for the PS4 version and I cannot confirm whether it is true of the other ports.
With cartoonish visuals and wacky, delightful characters, Psychonauts 2 is a wickedly funny, well-written adventure brimming with imagination that can appeal to both adults and children alike. Psychonauts 2 is available digitally on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series S and X.