Do not skip over the Psychonauts series

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Unless you’re me or have been living under a rock for the past 16 years, Tim Schafer and his studio Double Fine released Psyhchonauts in 2005. The game stars Razputin (Raz for short) Aquato: a young boy with psychic abilities who comes from a family of circus performers. Raz runs away from his family to a summer camp to pursue becoming a Psychonaut: an elite group of spies who use their psychic abilities to protect the world and help others with their mental struggles.

Fast forward to 2021, and I finally got around to playing the first title. I thoroughly enjoyed it as it reminded me of another charming classic from the early 21st century: Destroy All Humans. The first Psychonauts title was funny and full of charm as Raz develops his psychic powers and interacts with the camp goers who are flat out weird yet create such memorable interactions. Raz uses his abilities as he explores different minds to help the camp goers overcome their fears and pain they’ve experienced in a very Inception-esque manner. One of my favorites was Black Velvetopia due to its abundant neon color scheme and recolor of Raz.

Even though it was an older game, it holds up surprisingly; well unless you’re playing on PC like I did because platforming was hard to do effectively. The psychic powers you unlocked were unique, and there was plenty of in game content to keep you busy as you become a powerful psychic. Being a game about mind exploration and psychic abilities, the game explored many different topics and issues faced by people who struggle with mental health. However, it does it in such an endearing way that you open your eyes and realize that there are people with hidden struggles so be don’t be a jerk (that last part is my two cents).

Our big headed hero.

Gushing aside, the first game was really good but due to sales, a sequel didn’t seem financially possible at all. That was until 2015 when Schafer started a crowdfunding program to help put together the finances to make a sequel. There was a VR title, Rhombus of Ruin, that serves as a bridge between the original and the sequel, but to this day I have yet to gain any interest in a VR set so I skipped the title. You’ll see me kind of disregard it in this post, not out of disrespect, but because I only know 2 people with a VR headset. They got it for Resident Evil 4

Here we are 16 years later with Psychonauts 2 in our hands and minds (bad psychic joke I know). Today’s post is going to about talk my experience with the second game. However, don’t forget that there is a first one, and it’s heckin’ good.

Psychonauts 2 takes everything that made the first game so good and cranks it up to 100. The worlds are stunning and even wackier than the first title, we get more story behind the Aquato gang and a lot of the other important characters, the gameplay is just as addicting as before but polished, and the charm has not been lost.

Moment of honesty here, and I’m sure a lot of fans will think this, but there’s no way in hell Double Fine could’ve pulled this sequel off all those years ago. The “commercial failure” turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Psychonauts 2 has received overwhelming praise and has seen nomination for last year’s Game of the Year after a 15 year gap since we first were introduced to Razputin.

Enough about that though. Let’s talk and look at Psychonauts 2.

Heads up; I had a bunch of good screenshots that I accidentally deleted (I cried a bit when I did) so I had to go back and try and get new ones. So today’s post won’t have the best quality screenshots, but I tried the best I could. I’m sorry!

Second heads up; everything you see was captured on PC. I couldn’t tell you the specs because I’m not a knowledgable PC person, but I believe I have a i7-10700K CPU/2070 Super. I didn’t run into any graphical problems until the end of the game where I had some texture pop ins but nothing crazy. I did have one white screen where I had to completely restart my PC, but it was probably my fault since I had my streaming software up in the background. Despite that, it ran solid the entire time. I think sometime in the future I will go back and play through it on console to see the difference in regards to performance and gameplay.

Story

This will be spoiler free in case you haven’t played the first game yet if you’re like me!

Raz still has a big head.

Psychonauts 2 picks up directly after the events of Rhombus of Ruin (the VR title). Razputin Aquato and the Psychonauts managed to save the Grand Headmaster of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto who was kidnapped at the end of the first game. Truman comes back but isn’t in the best of shape and a return of powerful threat is looming over the horizon. It’s up to our favorite 10 year old circus performer turned powerful psychic, Raz, to save the free world once again.

That’s my recap without spoilers.

You do not have to play the VR title to follow the story at all, but if you have a VR set, it’s totally up to you. I looked up a summary after beating the first game, and the story transitions well across the two main entries where I understood everything. You do have to play the first game, which should be pretty self explanatory. I feel like I had to mention that because I saw an article debating whether or not you had to. Please do.

I think the story was good. There’s a lot of stuff in it that I really liked as far as going more in depth about Raz’s family history and a lot of background on the founders of the Psychonauts. It does get a bit confusing towards the end with one big reveal so I’d highly recommend you pay attention.

Inception-Esque Gameplay

Look at me trying to change up my titles.

As I mentioned in my preamble, the Psychonauts formula revolves around a psychics who use their abilities to help people overcome pain and fears by exploring their minds. They have plenty of cool gadgets and powers to aid their mission, and even though Raz is 10, he is mighty and capable.

Kind of looks like bacon.

As you can guess due to the psychic nature, Raz has some standard abilities. He can shoot a laser beam called Psi Blast for long distance encounters, he has Telekinesis where he can lift and throw objects at high speeds, and he has a Levitation ball he can use to reach heights that can’t be reached due to his shortness. There are plenty of other cool techniques, such as the one above that can slow down speedy objects, but I don’t want to give away the secrets of the trade.

On the other hand, given Raz’s circus performer upbringing, he is very capable of platforming. He can climb, swing from conveniently placed trapeze like set ups and more. When you’re not using his abilities in combat, you’ll be finding yourself using his abilities to help you traverse through the many different areas you explore.

Two of my biggest complaints with the first title were some abilities you got felt less important than others and platforming was a huge pain in the ass (platforming usually is harder on PC from my experience). For example, you would unlock a mental shield or an invisibility power that I never used, and I was losing my mind towards the end of the first game with all of the platforming I messed up. I feel like this game does a good job of handling those issues as the abilities are better designed and important enough to use in combat, meanwhile, platforming feels more responsive and more lenient.

What the Psychonauts games are built on are the world exploration. Raz enters minds in order to help solve problems, or sometimes make more problems, and the worlds that Double Fine have produced are out of this world (cliché I know) in their scale and level of innovation.

Brush your teeth, or this could be you.
This is pretty early on in the game and is one of my absolute favorite worlds.
This one is a second favorite.
Yes that is a bowling ball.

From a gameplay perspective, Raz goes through exploring said worlds, fighting off different enemies and collecting collectibles. Some of the collectibles have deeper meaning such as the “memory vaults”. These vaults trying run away from you, and once you catch them, they reveal repressed memories the person has locked away giving you insight as to what made them who they are today. A lot of the other collectibles are less meaningful in a story aspect, but they help Raz level up his psychic powers giving you benefits such as chaining together Psi Blasts or giving your Telekinesis shorter cool downs. Both games were pretty creative with their collectibles and tying it into progression calling it a “Cadet ranking system”: collecting more collectibles increases your rank, each rank giving you points to spend on your abilities.

On an artistic level, part of what makes the worlds you enter so unique is the way they look and what sort of fear or mental health issue a character is facing. One of the later levels focuses on a person who deals with loneliness and insecurity. Plants are what he feels comfortable with so you help him plant and grow his garden and face his insecurities. His world is lush with plants but is set with him being on a deserted island to sort of contrast his feelings. Another world focuses on a different person whose personalities are at war, and you help her unite her different personalities so she can become one whole being. Her world is designed as a few different sub worlds where you help her face her different personalities while the main hub is a library since she’s a well known writer in the world of Psychonauts.

I’m not going to lie, when I played through both games, my eyes were closed off to the deeper meaning of the world design and problem the host faces. Going off of the previously mentioned minds, I was like “Wow this is really cool how these feelings and world designs contrast in some way.” Maybe it’s my artistic mind opening up as I get older. The game presents these world’s in lighthearted and sometimes comical manner which Double Fine acknowledges with a special message offering links to resources for help. This game isn’t meant to make fun of them; it’s meant to shed light on these issues.

A nice way to track your progression.

You can interact with plenty of characters who are funny and quite charming. Raz’s fellow classmates are your typical preteens who are weird and find themselves in trouble often, but their demeanor changes over the course of the story. Some of my favorites are the parts involving Raz’s family as you learn about the Aquato family history and how they felt when Raz left the family prior to the events of the first game. It might seem repetitive, but I recommend talking to everyone.

Conclusion

I’m pretty predictable when it comes to my blog. In case you haven’t noticed, if I really like it, it gets a post unless it’s a news based post. Surprise, surprise! This game falls into this former category.

I remember always wanting to play the first Psychonauts, but I never remembered to act on that notion. It must’ve been a sign because who knows if I would’ve appreciated these games back then like I do now.

Now, I know I’ve probably come off as overly positive towards this game, and that’s because I don’t have a lot of detractors. I’ll switch up the pace though and point out that the game is kind of easy and the overall formula gets kind of repetitive towards the end (meet someone, enter mind). To me, that’s okay.

I wonder what’s he doing in there.

I think what the Psychonauts games will be remembered and celebrated for will be for a couple of things; its incredibly unique world design, its charming cast of characters, and the issues it brings to light and how they are presented. I don’t think people who play this are going to say “Hey man. My favorite part was the boss fight in this person’s mind” (I’m trying my best not to name any characters in particular). Instead the conversation will go “Hey man. What did you think about the sequence in this person’s mind?” Psychonauts is about the world building, and the stories that are told through the worlds. Also, let’s not forget that they managed to keep what made the first game so good, polish and replicate it 12-16 years later. That’s alone deserves a heap of praise.

I don’t know how old you lovely readers are, but I’m 27. I grew up with the likes of Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Cryptosporidium 137 (or higher depending on how many times you died) and many more charming characters who introduced me to the world of video games. Those same characters made me who I am today through their goofy exploits and years of sheer entertainment . Point I’m trying to make is simple; if you have the time, if you have Game Pass or if you have the money to spend for it on PlayStation, I urge you to experience one of the games that follows the early 2000s formula and see how our boy has gone main stage in 2021 (actual release date for the game, I’m just really slow at beating games).

I loved every second of Psychonauts 1 and 2, and I think you would too.

P.s. If there is a third entry, please don’t wait 10 years to make it. I’m begging you.

P.s.s. If there is a third entry, can I do a cameo or something? Like at least give me one line please.

Extra screenshots I took!

Raz and his Levitation Ball is a quicker way to get around since he’s short and not fast.
Smelling salts brings Raz back to reality… haha.

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