Psychonauts 2 (PC)


Controls in 2 are much MUCH better and more refined, which is to be expected. In 1 I’m constantly fighting the camera (pro-tip: if you decide to replay it, turn off smart camera) to some degree, the lock-on targeting is clumsier, and so are certain interactions with the environment like rail grinding and climbing poles. In 2 you “snap on” to climbable objects much better. In 2 you can also jump up climbable objects to move up faster, whereas in 1 it just dismounts you.


This is one of those labor of love games. Production is top-notch. Everything retains that Tim Schafer / Tim Burton-esque weird cartoon design aesthetic from the first one. Animation is great and characters animate with actual personality instead of being generic, indistinguishable mo-cap. All of the acting so far is excellent, except for Sasha Nein who sounds really wooden for some reason. I checked and it’s the same actor, so I don’t know what the deal is. Based on the first level, it looks like the level design and the little details are going to be just as inspired as the first game.

The introduction / first level cuts right to the chase which is GOOD. There’s an intro movie on launch and then a brief level introduction when you start the game, but then you get to play through a level right away and get into the weirdness of a mind invasion. The way the level transitions between parts of the level and in-game cutscenes to hide the fact they’re teleporting you around is really well done and doesn’t feel like it’s obnoxiously pulling you out of the action.

So far, it’s pretty much the same style of action-platforming as Psychonauts 1. You also get about 6 powers right at the start as well, so you get several abilities to play with as opposed to a slow trickle of doling out one thing at a time over 6 hours until you FINALLY have enough abilities for things to start to get interesting. There’s still unlockable powers, as well as the ability to level up powers.

Some of the enemies actually have weaknesses to certain abilities, so the combat looks like it’s a bit more than “you have different abilities but they all do interchangeable damage.” I can’t remember the depth of combat in the first game, so I don’t remember if that’s standard.

All of the collectibles are back (figments, baggage tags, etc). I’m not sure how I feel about the figments. I guess if they do a good job of scattering them around and making it fun to navigate around and collect them it’ll be fine, otherwise it’ll just be a chore.

Initially I found that the writing is good. It retains the subtler, drier humor of the first game, in contrast to something more over-the-top like Portal. Characters all feel like they have unique personalities and aren’t just one-note joke machines you find in other shittier games trying to be funny.


The cutscene interruptions never let up. The pacing in this is terrible and is in desperate need of an editor. There’s been so many times where I was just getting frustrated and thinking, “oh, just make a fucking cartoon already.” Tim Schafer should contact Cartoon Network and pitch a Psychonauts cartoon, that seems to be what he wanted to make.

The cast of interns is kind of pointless. It plays them up as minor antagonists at the beginning, sort of campers 2.0, but then right after you meet them you have a Very Special level where you learn the value of teamwork and then they just kind of fade into the background. I would have expected them to be featured throughout the rest of the levels as helpers, but nope.

The levels in 1 are also all (basically) on rails (so far), and the first 3 levels are all training levels for controls and new powers.

Raz’s family shows up, but I’m not really sure why yet. I guess so you can get lots of backstory about them? That’s the other thing. There’s a lot of adventure game dialog where you get a whole bunch of menu options to talk to people about things, but probably 95% of it is optional. Be careful about skipping dialog. Virtually every other game allows you to hit the skip/cancel button to fast forward through a conversation by skipping one line at a time when you get bored of waiting for the actors to read the lines and you just start reading faster than they talk. This game skips the entire conversation and returns you to the dialog menu, often with no chance to ever replay the conversation.

The most fun I’ve had was picking up collectibles in The Quarry and Questionable Area. Those are just outdoor arenas outside of levels with lots of platforming, and spring boards, and Prince of Persia acrobatic poles, and Tony Hawk rail grinding, and so on. The game has some pretty fun platforming mechanics! I enjoyed bouncing around those little playgrounds. On the other hand, the levels are all mostly linear hallways split up into short segments with lots of cutscenes before, after, and in-between. Rather than big platforming arenas with some enemy combat, levels are divided up into small set pieces with a variety of goals, like a giant pachinko machine, using telekenesis to cook food in a tedious game show, or boss fights. Nothing comes close to the milkman level of the first one.

You level up and can upgrade your powers, but there’s no real point. I mean, you’ll gain levels no matter what so you’ll always earn some upgrades, but you’re not going to miss out if you don’t. There’s nothing vital or game changing. I’m not even sure why you would want to level clairvoyance, or why it’s even in the game. I guess maybe because it’s a fan-favorite because of all the little gags when you take over someone else’s vision. As an actual power, though, it’s never come in useful.

The humor and tone of 2 is much sappier than 1. In 1, everything was darker and had kind of a Ren & Stimpy vibe to it (Dogen exploding squirrels, children having their brains sucked out and screaming and crying, children being “killed” and “exploded” inside Coach Oleander’s mind while he laughs, Raz talking about how shooting and burning things is fun and awesome, being able to use pyrokinesis to light wildlife on fire and they turn into little roasts, “Oh my god, the orphanage! The puppy orphanage!”, and well, shit, I could be here all day). It even was mildly subverting the kind of sappy kid’s cartoons with Important Messages, like at the end of Sascha Nein’s level where Raz says, “Is this the part where I get a speech and learn another lesson,” and Sascha replies, “No. Here’s your badge. Now let us never speak of this again.”


The game has the pieces to put together a fun and inventive platformer. The outdoor areas prove they can put together fun arenas to bounce around in, the game has the literal world bending like The Milkman Conspiracy level of the first one, and it also includes portals like Prey where a small room can open up into a stadium or you can be running along and it will seamlessly transition between two disconnected areas. Check out about 10-15 seconds of this clip to see what I mean. However, rather than using all of these pieces to create really mind-bending and exciting levels, most levels are just hallways. Sometimes literally. The levels twist and turn but you ultimately just walk in a straight line. The fundamental problem is that the levels don’t exist to serve the game to make it more fun, they exist to serve the story in order to connect all of the cutscenes together.

The Psi-power system needed to be overhauled. It keeps the selection wheel of the first game and you can assign powers to each of the 4 shoulder buttons, but you’ll always keep levitate on because it’s the only means of fast-travel and you’ll likely keep psi-blast on because it’s a convenient ranged attack. This means you’ll probably have two buttons left over, and you CONSTANTLY have to switch between powers. This just leads to more interruptions as you keep bringing up the interface to swap powers.

Figments and baggage should have been removed. Since the game is just a series of corridors, the figments don’t encourage you to branch out into risky platforming for more fun, they just exist as a time sink to pad the game length and because the first game had them.

This game overall takes a more serious tone. That doesn’t make it bad, and, hey, it’s Double Fine’s prerogative if they want to take it in that direction. But it’s sometimes just so painfully earnest to the point of seeming like parody (spoiler, but you probably won’t really understand what you’re looking at as long as you don’t rewind to the beginning). It was moments like this where I kept waiting for the humor of the old game to suddenly kick in to tell me this game has just been fucking with me the whole time.

The interns helping in the finale feels unearned. You meet them in a cutscene, then in level 2 or 3 they go on a mission with you and help you at the very end, and then they disappear for the entire rest of the game as passive NPCs. They’re hanging around the world and you can speak to them, and a few of them give you optional sidequests, but it’s entirely possible to avoid them completely and forget they’re even there. Then in the finale they jump in to help again, and in the final cutscene the spelled-out moral is that sometimes it’s ok to need help from others. Sure, fine, but the build-up to the finale wasn’t there. They should have been more actively involved throughout the game, perhaps one intern helping per level, instead of going away for 10 hours and suddenly appearing at the end.

The new one is very earnestly trying to be that children’s cartoon with an Important Message where people learn Valuable Lessons. The humor suffers for it. It kind of feels like the video game equivalent of a rock band that decided they’re Adult and Mature and this is their Serious album and so you sit through an hour of slow, somber songs where nothing insightful is said.


The ending of this game misses the mark, I think. The big moral lesson is that everyone, even people and institutions we look up to, makes mistakes and deserves a second chance. I’m not summarizing, a character actually states exactly that message. The problem here is that the mistake of the villain is “genocide.” It’s simply brushed off and she goes to live in the woods with her former boyfriend. If you’re thinking that it’s not fair to criticize because in the first game Coach Oleander stole childrens’ brains in a world domination plot and it was just hand-waved away in the end, I don’t think it compares. The first game wasn’t even trying to be taken seriously. The whole story was just one big joke, and Oleander getting off with a, “ha ha, well, no harm, no foul!” in the end was itself a gag. It worked in the context of comedy. It doesn’t work in the context of something trying to be serious with Important Messages. And in taking a more serious tone, what the game completely fails to acknowledge in making mistakes is accountability. In the first game, Oleander’s actions only affected the campers, Sasha, and Milla. At the end, all of the harm he caused is undone and he’s standing in front of all of them explaining himself and apologizing. Even though it doesn’t actually show anyone sounding off on him, if you wanted you could assume they implicitly had the opportunity to at least confront him. In Psychonauts 2, the villain’s victims (or their families, at this point) never get accountability and the harm isn’t undone. She just gets to go live happily ever after now that her inner demons are under control. What the fuck? The game itself references Oleander as a way to wink and nudge it’s way out of this, but it was just a really poorly thought-out ending.

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