By Ronald Gordon
The mind can be dangerous if left uncontrolled and unhindered. Throw the ability to jump into the subconscious of someone else into the mix and the mind becomes a semi-inescapable maze full of one’s true thoughts, feelings, doubts, and fear. A group of powerful psychics, known as the Psychonauts, seem to be the only ones capable of handling the trip into another person’s mind, but sometimes even a Psychonaut has problems that can’t just be sorted out with a quick look into their brain – a couple of extra steps are needed to get the grey matter in order. Of course, a smart sense of humor will help, too.
After 16 long years making Psychonauts 2 and a crowdfunding campaign to help, fans of the original game can finally return to the mind of lovable young psychic Razputin Aquato through this 3D platformer game developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios. As an abnormal kid with the innate ability to use Psychic powers, Razputin has always admired the tales of the heroes known as Psychonauts, so much so that he ran away from home to join Whispering Rock Summer Camp, run by the Psychonauts themselves. After valiantly saving Whispering Rock from the mastermind that was Coach Oleander, who was stealing the brains of the campers and putting them in psychically powered battle tanks, and becoming an honorary Psychonaut, Razputin has once again found himself in a tough spot. This adventure might just require bigger and better psychic powers than the ones he learned at Whispering Rock.
Taking place immediately after the first game, Psychonauts 2 puts you in the team’s headquarters known as The Motherlobe. After rescuing Grand Head Truman Zanotto from a kidnapping, the Psychonauts once again find that life with psychic powers doesn’t come without hardships. Maligula, a terribly powerful Hydrokinetic long dead after a war of wits with the founders of the Psychonauts known as the Psychic Six, is on the brink of being revived by her cult of followers called the Deluginists. Can Razputin help prevent Maligula’s revival? And is he ready to face the consequences of pursuing the truth of Maligula’s identity?
I was enthralled by Psychonauts 2’s storytelling and gameplay. After recently playing through the original Psychonauts game, I can say that the second game really improves on a lot of what the original had to offer. The main method in which Psychonauts draws you in, shared by both the first and the second game, is the surreal experiences that come with diving into someone’s mind. To move the story forward, you’ll have to take a trip into multiple minds to find out what’s bothering them. The issue can be as simple as a quick broadening of perspective on a matter, or as complex as coping with long term mental trauma like addiction, abandonment issues, or panic disorder.
Each level has its own unique feeling, making every time you dip into the mind of someone else feel as though you’re exploring another world without a map. I found this exhilarating in the first game because of how wacky the levels could get, but Psychonauts 2 brings a whole different spin on the matter because of how gut-wrenching and emotional some of the minds you see are, and how serious the problems you help them tackle can be.
Another thing that Psychonauts 2 brings to the table is a broader arsenal of Psychic abilities. Powers like Telekinesis and Pyrokinesis are unlocked after the first tooth and mouth-filled level. There are newer abilities to learn as Razputin continues his journey, such as Time Slow or Mental Connection. I had tons of fun getting to use the powers; mixing and matching abilities both in and out of battle made me feel more in tune with them when it came time to get into a groove with a boss or take on a lot of enemies.
The uncanny and outrageous aesthetic that Psychonauts displays in both of its iterations is what keeps me enthralled. A new coat of paint isn’t the only thing new after 20 years; now most of the colors and lights in the game pop out in a way that makes each place you visit and each brain you hop into invoke a feeling deep inside. Whether it’s the modern cleanliness of the Motherlobe’s Atrium, the rustic outdoorsy feel of the Questionable Area, or the various emotions that are unearthed when diving into another mind, Psychonauts 2 makes you feel exactly what that level is trying to convey. No two places feel exactly the same, since the music changes depending on the area, and the mood and tone of Psychonauts 2 shifts from light-hearted and fun to dark, dank, and downright dismal depending on the situation.
I’d wholly suggest both Psychonauts 2 and the original to anyone looking for a set of games that really delve into the human psyche and what makes a human mind an individual construct. Although Psychonauts may be 16 years old, I personally believe it still holds up not only as a classic game but a thoughtful first look into what the deeper meaning of Psychonauts could be. When paired with Psychonauts 2, bringing newer and fresher ideas into the fray alongside broader exploration of mental issues, both games blend together to create an impactful journey. A journey of a boy who just wants to use his Psychic abilities to help people through the problems they can’t bear to talk about, through the things that dwell within their mind, and the consequences that come with pushing the boundaries of such abilities.
Bronx native Ronald Gordon is NYVGCC’s senior intern. Most recently, he became our first Rockstar Games intern, in partnership with the Red Dead and GTA creators.