Psychonauts 2 returns us to the weird, trippy world created by the minds of developers Double Fine Productions. 16 years since the release of the original Psychonauts and four years since the VR entry Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, not a whole lot has changed for Raz and the core cast of characters dreamt up by creative director Tim Schafer and co.
Psychonauts has become a cult classic for many. It was released by Double Fine back in 2005 after Schafer helped found the studio. While the game didn’t find commercial success, a devoted fan base formed around the platformer and its uniqueness. Players latched on to the character Raz, and the quirky landscape. Although Rhombus of Ruin provided a bit of a follow-up to longtime fans, it wasn’t the true sequel the series needed.
We’re now on the heels of Psychonauts 2’s Aug. 25 release. In the lead-up, I had the chance to sit down and play through segments of the game, and also chat with Schafer and the creative team of Double Fine Productions. Although many years have come and gone since the studio first released the game, it feels as though no time has passed at all. Players should prepare for an introspective journey into the human psyche, and a healthy dose of heart and humor.
So this is it… the mental world
Psychonauts 2 takes place immediately after Rhombus of Ruin. After saving the Grand Head of the Psychonauts Truman Zanotta from the mind of ex-dentist Dr. Loboto, Razputin and his new girlfriend Lili, accompanied by Sasha and Milla, head to Psychonauts HQ. Following the events of the previous games, this is our first chance to see Raz step into the Psychonaut ranks in an official capacity.
“I wanted to show the headquarters of the Psychonauts,” Schafer explained. “I wanted Raz, who has always dreamed of working for the Psychonauts, not just going to their summer camp but for being in the center of the action.”
We get a glimpse of this first hand in the opening moments of Psychonauts 2. In an attempt to get answers on who he is working for, Raz dives deep into Loboto’s psyche. It’s here that we get a refresher course into character relationships, core mechanics, and how creative the Psychonauts world can be. Raz is still very much the character we remember: very well-intentioned, but a bit over his head.
I was treated to a brief tutorial outlining Raz’s Psi-Powers, like telekinesis, pyrokinesis, clairvoyance, and levitation. Each of these powers was introduced in previous games, and Raz still has access to them. However, they will be underpowered at the start, and players will be able to customize which Psi-Powers to invest points into throughout the game.
The gang’s all here
Psychonauts 2, based on what I experienced, is undeniably Double Fine. It has that style, texture, and vision that could only come from Schafer and his team of creatives. It did help to have Richard Horvitz’s voice, returning as Raz, usher players in with a quick recap at the beginning. On top of Horvitz returning, actors Nikki Rapp, Stephen Stanton, Alexis Lezin, and more return to their respective roles.
“Every character was able to return, which was really fortunate,” Schafer told us. “They just help it feel so much like Psychonauts 1. Their voices sound incredible, and they jump right back into character.”
Although we are far beyond the technical limitations put on the team back in the early 2000s, Double Fine kept the authentic art style of Psychonauts.
“When stuff was made for the very first game, we were thinking a lot about Nightmare Before Christmas, the Tim Burton movie,” Schafer shared.
“We definitely started with what we did with the first game,” art director Lisette Titre-Montgomery added. “Nothing is symmetrical, nothing is the same size. Everything is slightly off-kilter. That helps us make sure the player always feels like something is a little off in the construct, and that someone’s mind is unstable.”
This art philosophy shines in the very first level of the game. As you explore Loboto’s brain level, you’ll find that it is composed of teeth, orthodontic tools, and other items all amalgamated into an environment, suited for the unhinged antagonist.
Class is now in session
Once acclimated to the world and the story, Psychonauts 2 really began picking up for me when arriving at The Motherlobe. Echoing Schafer’s sentiments, this is a big moment for players and for Raz. Taking his first steps into the HQ, Raz is quickly introduced to Hollis Forsythe, who took over during Zanotta’s absence.
Forsythe places Raz in her internship program alongside other young Psychonauts. Walking through the hub world of The Motherlobe, I finally gained a real sense of how the Psychonauts operate.
Although Raz still maintains his previous Psi-Powers, Psychonauts 2 introduces some unique new powers. The core move that was showcased in the preview is the Mental Connection. The Mental Connection power enabled Raz to connect feelings and thoughts together while inside a brain level. It can be used to manipulate character emotions – which doesn’t always go according to plan – as well as grapple between nodes and also pull enemies towards you in combat.
“It opened up a really nice design space for us both for traversal obviously, but also for combat,” senior systems designer Lauren Scott told us. “We got to think of some cool ways for the base power to work to pull smaller enemies to you, and grapple yourself to bigger enemies. There are ways to upgrade it and customize the power to add on an extra melee attack at the end.”
Approaching mental health and balancing tone
Mental Connection is a gameplay feature with many levels built into it, and it plays into the game’s themes. Raz will come across thought bubbles with a feeling, a mental fear, or a state of mind in it. Raz often takes it upon himself to connect two bubbles in order to alter the mental state of a character. Psychonauts often placed a magnifying glass on the human psyche, and Psychonauts 2 continues that trend.
Later on during the preview, Raz and his new companions are taken on a mission to the Lady Luctopus Casino. In this section one topic that is dealt with is addiction. Raz uses the Mental Connection power to show that moderation is key when dealing with casinos and gambling, all while transfixed by the bright lights and the temptation of high payouts.
Further into the preview, Psychonauts 2 begins taking a look at anxiety. As someone who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, it was refreshing to see how the game broached the topic. It was relatable, yet completely respectful.
“We tried to do both our own research and research aided by the resources that were given by Microsoft,” Schafer told us. “Near the end, we were testing with actual clinicians and professionals who could tell us where we got it right and where we could improve things, and that was a great help.
“There’s nothing in the game I feel is doing anything but having a really empathetic look at the human condition, and what people go through when suffering from these conditions,” he explained.
Welcoming Raz to a new world
Psychonauts 2 is the chance for players to learn more about Raz and see his journey continue in a meaningful way. Double Fine has explained that the game will serve as a way to deeper explore the fragments of his past that haven’t been discussed before. The sequel is also an opportunity for players to learn more about the original Psychonauts roster, known as the Psychic Six.
News of Psychonauts 2‘s development was first discussed back in 2015. As an indie studio, Double Fine opted to use crowdsourcing to help the game’s development. However, in 2019, the studio was acquired by Microsoft. The acquisition undoubtedly helped Schafer and his team fulfill the vision as they crafted the game for multiple platforms, and also for Xbox Game Pass.
“The question when we joined Xbox was kind of: “What would you do with Psychonauts if you were not as constrained by resources as you are now?” Schafer said of the acquisition, “That really helped us finish the game right with all the polish and the features we wanted. To take the extra time to make sure it was good enough for the players.
“It’s already a perfect kind of game for Game Pass. It’s an unusual and quirky game. I think might be a risky thing for someone in a store who’s thinking about spending $60 on it. To have to think about it for a long time and get really good word of mouth before they take a chance on it. On Game Pass, there’s so much less risk, and it’s so easy to try it. I think it’ll reach a lot more people because of that.”
Bringing home the bacon
For diehard fans of the original, Psychonauts 2 has the trappings to serve a worthy follow-up story. The world feels authentically in line with the original, and the writing is just as introspective and humorous, at least from what I’ve experienced. And newcomers shouldn’t fret about taking a dip: you can become acclimated to the world of Psychonauts 2 very quickly in the sequel.
There is also a bevy of supporting options available in-game to make Psychonauts 2 very accessible. From remappable controls and scalable font and subtitle sizes all the way to an actual Invincibility Mode, Double Fine has lowered the game’s barrier to entry substantially.
Upon release on Aug. 25, Psychonauts 2 will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.