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Is there anything better than a comeback story? In August 2021, Psychonauts 2 emerged from the abyss, a whopping 16 years after its predecessor (not counting the short 2017 VR game, Rhombus of Ruin), and to everyone’s delight, it has absolutely lived up to expectations.
In case you were unfamiliar, the series follows the exploits of Razputin Aquato, a young psychic hailing from a family of circus performers, with a lifelong dream of joining the Psychonauts - a team of secret agents with psychic powers. In the long-awaited sequel, Raz has joined the team, albeit as an intern, and is soon thrown into a grand quest to stop a mole from resurrecting the murderous villain, Maligula.
Watch the story trailer for Psychonauts 2, below…
The mere concept of the Psychonauts series is incredible, and the latest instalment adds extra touches that make it even more so. Raz (and the other agents) utilise Psycho-Portals, which are literal doors into people’s minds, allowing the user to investigate problems and uncover secrets someone might be hiding in their head. The minds you dive into each form their own wildly imaginative level, based on the personality, backstory, and troubles of the character you’re peering into. These are completely distinct in both design and play-style: one minute, you’re starring in a cooking show hosted by a gang of hand puppets; the next, you’re terrorising a city of germs living inside a bowling shoe.
This premise alone unlocks so much potential for creativity, while still remaining cohesive. It’s difficult to create a platforming game with interesting and varied levels that still feels connected - even though it might not be any less fun, it can feel jarring to jump from an icy snowscape to a barren desert land with no explanation. A few games, like Super Mario Odyssey, pull this off. But Psychonauts 2’s unique levels all make complete sense within the context of them being different individuals’ minds, all of whom you encounter within the connected hub-world areas, which is really immersive.
Another thing that sets Psychonauts 2 apart from its 3D platforming peers is its emphasis on story. Every single level in the game is linked in some way to the main plot, with each character’s mind you enter holding some significance. Gathering bits of information here and there as you traverse the depths of each subconscious is just a fantastic way to build on the overarching story, in addition to the conversations you have with the cast between the action. The story itself is by no means on the level of The Last of Us, but it’s still engaging and full of twists, and certainly goes way above and beyond what your usual 3D platformer brings to the table.
Speaking of story, the game’s writing is an absolute blast. Each character you encounter is worth talking to, and the little snippets of conversation you overhear while wandering around the hub-world are gold. Even the enemies you face in the various mindscapes are aptly named: from the slimy Doubts, annoying Regrets, and rapidly moving Panic Attacks (which might not be as bad as their real-life equivalents but will definitely give you a run for your money).
Overall, Psychonauts 2 does an amazing job of bringing back that feeling of pure fun that everyone remembers from their childhood gaming experiences. Throughout, it’s so obvious how much the writers and developers enjoyed bringing their vision to life - it’s a game that’s impossible to play without smiling at least once, and one that shows us how 3D platforming can still find new avenues of evolution, 25 whole years on from Super Mario 64.
This piece is part of a series looking at outstanding games within a certain genre, exploring what makes them special compared to their peers. Read more: It Takes Two, Splatoon, Hades, Sable, Life is Strange: True Colors. Follow the author on Twitter at @NerdyJourno.
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