‘Psychonauts 2’ is a sequel the cult classic deserves, 16 years of waiting and all – East Bay Times
Cult classics are a strange black hole for outsiders. While fans rave about the project being an underrated gem, those who forget the fact courtesy nod at the blind spot of their acquaintance. They know work is important, but there is a lag in the praise.
It’s like describing the “Mona Lisa” in color. It’s brown here, a little tan there, blue in the background. We don’t really have an idea of the masterpiece, and that’s how I felt about “Psychonauts” when a friend described it to me. It’s considered a great game, but you never know the extent of that until you pick up the controller.
Finally, I did it. “Psychonauts” on Xbox Game Pass is awesome – a bit harsh on the eyes, but deserves its laurels. The title also ended on a cliffhanger and those same fans waited 16 long years to find out what happened to protagonist Raz. For me, the wait was much shorter because “Psychonauts 2” was launched a few days ago.
YOU MUST PLAY THE ORIGINALBy playing the games back to back, I have a better idea of what happened next. The follow-up is more polite and broader. Fresh out of his actions at the Whispering Rock psychic summer camp and the Rhombus of Ruin, Raz finds himself interning for the Psychonauts, a secret spy-like organization made up of people with paranormal abilities.
After his exploits, the protagonist finds himself at the bottom of the ladder as the interns – all older than a 10-year-old boy – stare at him derisively. He even ends up being the target of a prank. For all his exploits, he starts at Square 1 like in the original. He must prove himself to the trainees and Psychonauts second in command Hollis Forsythe, who runs the siege of Motherlobe. The big boss, Truman Zanotto, is still recovering from an abduction.
All of this makes “Psychonauts 2” follow the original’s path, but the sequel is more focused. The game assumes that players are already familiar with the first game, and if players are not, they should go back and experience the original to familiarize themselves with the platform and powers.
STREAMLINED GAMEPLAY AND MORE POWERSPlayers control a more experienced Raz, who already possesses a suite of psychic powers: Psi-Blast, Telekinesis, Levitation, Clairvoyance, Pyrokinesis. Controls have been streamlined so that credentials work seamlessly during runtime. It’s a huge improvement over the clunky controls of the original.
Raz also gains more abilities as he advances through the campaign. It picks up the mental connection, which acts like a zipline through anchored thought bubbles. This helps it reach new areas and acts as a grappling hook in combat. Time bubbles slow down a small area allowing Raz to jump on top of turbines and other obstacles. It is also useful for crowd control among swarming enemies. Mental Projection adds a paper-thin copy of Raz to the melee and acts as a damage sponge and a means of getting healing. Out of combat, it is used in puzzles where Raz must access a blocked door.
Players cannot use all of these abilities at once. They will have to change them by pausing the gameplay. It’s boring and it’s one of the limitations of the game. It creates a sense of strategy as players choose the best powers for each encounter and puzzle. Despite the issues, “Psychonauts 2” is still a less frustrating and more modern experience than its predecessor. Players will not encounter puzzles or obtuse situations that require a perfectly synchronized platform. There is no Meat Circus level.
LEVEL DESIGN AND HISTORY COMBINEInstead, players are treated to a more cohesive campaign, with a central mystery that still surprises even with a few telegraphed plot points. Although the original and the sequel were released 16 years apart, director Tim Schafer creates a surprising congruence in the campaign, with the Whispering Rock fiasco impacting the “Psychonauts 2” events. It answers the mysteries of the original and organically expands the universe as players are introduced to the founding members of the titular organization and the Raz Circus family.
The protagonist’s role in all of this is to act almost like a therapist for these psychic spies. They all suffered trauma after battling the game’s main villain, Maligula, decades ago. Although she’s gone, a faction called the Deluginists are trying to resurrect her, and the key to stopping this lies in the brains of these agents.
As a medium, Raz can jump through their minds and the levels in the game are journeys through their consciousness. The premise allows players to explore surreal worlds that explode with creativity. The original games have had their moments, but the levels in the sequel are more done and work to better advance the plot. Players mend the fractured mind of leader Ford Cruller and discover a love affair with Lucrecia Mux. Compton’s Cookoff Level is a parody cooking show where players must serve ingredients and go through a gauntlet of obstacles. He also reveals some of his fears and desires.
The Psi-King’s Sensorium focuses on the five senses and brings together a lost Psychonaut member. Each level peels through a layer of history and Raz uncovers the hidden relationships between the founding members. It’s cleverly woven and the stages will delight players with their mix of traversal, combat and puzzle solving. One of the joys is to dive into a spirit and discover the trippy world below the surface.
While players can rush into the campaign, it’s worth collecting all of the collectibles and bonuses. This makes some of the more difficult battles more manageable and also offers more stories that might otherwise be missed.
All in all, Raz’s latest adventure is worth the wait and exceeds expectations. I didn’t know much about this cult classic before, but going knee deep in it, I enjoyed every narrative thread and how Schafer surprisingly ties two stories together despite the distance of 16 years. Double Fine has finished its story and it was better late than never.
4 out of 4 stars
Platform: Xbox Series X | S, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac (available in the future)Evaluation: Teens