When demonstrating any game at a show such as E3 or PAX, choosing what level or section of the game to showcase can be a tricky move. It mainly boils down to two options: an introductory level that details the basic mechanics and plot setup, or something later on in the game that shows other mechanics. The respective drawbacks are that one may lack the more exciting moments yet to be seen in the rest of the game and one may lack the context or explanations needed to understand everything (more of a hindrance for playable demos, though). So when Double Fine decided to go with the former option when showing off Pscyhonauts 2, was I disappointed that we weren’t seeing the more creative Mental Worlds and mechanics?
Hell no, I wasn’t disappointed. It still delivered everything I wanted!
See, keep in mind that the opening Mental World in the first Psychonauts game was an entire warzone built out of (supposed) memories of military service where children were making their way through a series of insane obstacles, where you could also play Whack-a-Mole games and listen to one camper’s insanely lengthy story about the longest walk of all time. The point is that even the very first world of Psychonauts is home to a grand amount of creativity, even more than other platformers have in their entire games, arguably. And judging by the demo that was shown to us, the same goes for the sequel as well, which acts as a good omen for Razputin’s next adventure.
Oh, and this is where I should point out that this preview will have spoilers for the VR interquel game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. So if you haven’t checked it out yet (which you should), this is your last warning before we proceed.
Picking up a mere three days after the original game and one day after Rhombus of Ruin, we open in Psychonauts HQ, where Razputin finally gets to work at the secret agency of psychics that he’s longed to be part of for quite a while. Unfortunately, as the massive amount of cubicles we zoom over shows, he’s finding that it isn’t as glamorous as he expected. But then Lili arrives to bring him to an employee meeting, where Sasha, Milla and Oleander hand out an Employee of the Year award to…Dr. Loboto, after his escape from the Rhombus. It even comes with a free vacation! All he needs is a signature from his boss, the guy who hired him to kidnap Psychonauts head Truman Zanotto during the VR game’s events.
At this point, Raz is asked to trail him, dons his headgear, and it’s revealed that the team is pulling a bit of an Inception here and has merely created an office construct in order to trick Loboto into giving up his boss (which might make one question how much of the Psychoanuts is actually the office life shown here). From there, we quickly get reacquainted with the old crew, get used to a few basic mechanics like jumping…and then Loboto figures what’s going on, and things slip back into a gleeful cartoonish insanity as he he conjures up an endless hallway that leads into a quick 2D platforming section as gravity gets messed up and we jump on the sides of cubicles, and then a giant version of Loboto appears to do dental surgery on another giant Loboto that we’re residing in so they can get rid of us. Yep, Psychonauts is back.
Oh, and to say the level design got gloriously weird may be an understatement. Once Loboto started taking over his mind again, the office setting began to clash with his dental-themed designs. Flesh and giant gums began to pop up everywhere. Doors opened via a zipper detaching a pair of teeth. Molars crumbled beneath Razputin. Bones swirs about, tiny tooth creatures seemed to fear for their lives when attacked. It would almost seem like something out of a horror game, but the cartoonish style and superb sense of humor swimming throughout the visual and dialogue actually helped turn it into an eye-catching treat instead.
While we didn’t get to see any new PSI powers in action (though fresh ones are indeed on the way), we did see the return of classics such as levitation, telekinesis and pyrokinesis, which all seemed just as easy to control and fun to fool around with as before, and made for great platforming obstacles and puzzles. The latter power, notably, had a bit of a change to it. In the original game, you had to target enemies and objects one at a time and wait for a thermometer to fill up before they burst into flames. This time around, you still hold hold down a button, but now it creates an area of effect that burns anything which gets within a certain radius of Raz. This made one part of the current mission easier, where Raz had to burn multiple posters planted in Loboto’s mind designed to encourage him not to snitch on his employer, taking the form of propaganda ads in a hilarious touch.
So yes, Loboto’s mind is being tinkered with in various ways, either by the mystery villain blocking the reveal of their identity or the Psychonauts getting rid of various blocks in order to assist with said reveal. This leads to a pair of rather clever enemy designs. Psychonauts has always had fun bringing psych-related concepts to life, such as emotional baggage and imagination figments acting as collectibles. And now, we have some more manifesting as Doubts and Regrets alongside the usual Censors. Doubts are small flying enemies dragged down by massive weights stretching out their arms, which cause devastating shockwaves when they hit the ground. Regrets, meanwhile, resemble mud creatures, and can hurl sludge that damages you and slows you down. Aside from adding an extra little burst of variety and challenge, they need to be taken care of to try and get Loboto to open up.
At the end, after Razputin followed Loboto up a huge tower, his mysterious employer appeared, seen only in shadows. All that could be made out was some glowing yellow eyes and an elaborate headpiece. After reminding Loboto of what appeared to be some coded instructions, he warned him not to spill the beans, lest he face the wrath of…her. Cut to a giant woman surrounded by crashing waves letting out a monstrous shriek, before the Hand of Galochio — the symbol of the curse placed upon Razputin’s family dooming them to die in water — flies at the screen. Yes, the demo even ended on a teaser appropriate for a sequel, because this time…it’s personal.
So even a mere introductory level that lasted about twenty to thirty minutes still managed to deliver the same kind of joy experienced upon first playing the original game. Psychonauts 2 is set to be just as big as the original, and yet the opening section shows that Double Fine is still working as hard as ever to raise the stakes this time around, while also still making sure the gameplay is just as smooth, if not moreso. It is a slight annoyance that the game has now been pushed back to 2020, but it looks to be more than worth it. I simply cannot wait to dive into this beautiful, crazy world again.