Pass The Controller* is a Slice of Culture series where we highlight video games, both AAA (blockbuster) and indie. Llanes will share honest and balanced opinions on what could be your next favorite game as well as some random tips every now and then!

In 2005, famous game auteur, Tim Shafer and his development company Double Fine released “Psychonauts,” a 3D platformer about a kid named Rasputin “Raz” Aquato.

He attends a summer camp that trains kids to become a part of the psychonauts, a group of agents with psychic abilities.

Upon its release, it received critical acclaim — unfortunately, the game sold less than 400,000 copies.

However, years later the game rereleased on digital storefronts where it received cult status.

After a kickstarter campaign, an acquisition by Microsoft and one spin off VR game, “Psychonauts 2” has finally been released. It had fans waiting 16 years at most, for this sequel. That’s longer than the 13 year wait for Kingdom Hearts III. 

This is a direct sequel to the VR spin off, “Rhombus of Ruin” which is a direct follow up to the first game. 

In “Psychonauts 2,” Raz finds himself working as an intern in the Psychonauts Headquarters after his first mission. There he discovers a conspiracy involving Maligula, a villain that the Psychonauts took down years ago.

One of the biggest improvements in the game is the story and world building. The writers did a great job in establishing the world and characters in the first game, but the sequel takes it to another level. 

Before I only saw things from the perspective of a kid attending a summer camp.

This time around, I learned about the lore and how the Psychonauts operate, along with a history of the world these characters live in.

And speaking of the characters, they’re all great as well.

There are a ton of familiar faces from the previous adventure, some of whom get a whole lot more development.

There is also a boatload of new characters who are all likable as well such as new interns and the Psychic Six, the group of agents who originally took down Maligula. 

(Xbox Game Studios screenshot)

Another thing to highlight is the art style.

It felt like “Inside Out” if it was produced by Laika.

It has that dark and creepy, yet occasionally lighthearted tone that films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline” have. It gets topped up by the super quirky dialogue that drops constantly funny one liners.

The first game is known for its inventive design, and its sequel continues and sometimes improves upon that level of quality.

Each stage takes place inside a character’s mind and is designed based on their own mental state.

For example, an early level is based on a former medical student who has also gotten an addiction to gambling. As a result, her level is set in a hospital that also doubles as a casino. 

Within each of these levels, the character’s backstory is subtly told through the level design and hidden safes that give more details through these projection slides about their past.

There is also a Yellow Submarine inspired acid trip (within the mind of a character fittingly voiced by Jack Black).

The visuals and music all pop out and lead to what is not just my favorite level in the game, but one of the best experiences I’ve had in a video game in a while.

(Xbox Game Studios screenshot)

The platforming segments all feel so smooth and fluid. It was easy to pick up and was not frustrating at all.

Whenever I died it actually felt like it was my fault. Raz also has a variety of psychic powers to aid in combat and exploration. 

The majority of the powers in the first game — such as levitation and pyrokinesis — are unlocked early on, with newer abilities being earned in the later half.

Another huge improvement is the variety of enemies. 

Due to Raz spending a lot of time inside people’s brains, all the enemies come in the form of mental health related obstacles.

One type of enemy is called a regret, they fly around and drop objects to “weigh you down.” Another enemy is called an enabler, these gremlin-like creatures make other enemies stronger.

These are just some of the creative elements that are spread throughout Psychonauts 2. 

Once the 10-ish hour long story is finished, there is also a ton of side content to do.

The Psychonauts headquarters is surprisingly big with a ton of areas to explore. There are collectibles everywhere and some extra missions that will keep any completionist busy.

(Xbox Game Studios screenshot)

Overall, this is by far one of the best games of 2021.

It is nearly perfect in all fields. The only real issue I can find is that some of the boss fights do drag on.

But everything else about this game made the 16-year wait worth it. I would even say that it is better than the first installment. 

In the content warning that appears when booting up the game, it says that “Ultimately, Psychonauts 2 is a game about empathy and healing.”

I think that Tim Shafer and Double Fine did a great job living up to this statement.

It didn’t even feel all that preachy.

Psychonauts 2 is a phenomenal and fun game that just happens to be full of great messages and themes.

I played it through Game Pass, but if my only option to play this game were to pay the MSRP, I would do it without hesitation. 

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