E3 2019: Psychonauts 2

One of my favorite games on the PlayStation 2 was Psychonauts. In the lead-up to its release, I didn’t bother scouring video game magazines for details and websites to see screenshots because I had complete faith in the project. After all, it was being directed by Tim Schafer, the manic mind behind LucasArts’ greatest adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and my personal favorite, Grim Fandango. To me, his departure from LucasArts meant the gaming community could see what Schafer was capable of in a space where he didn’t have to answer to anyone. He could make the game he wanted and that alone was worth the price of admission. That game was Psychonauts, a charming and laugh out loud adventure about a boy who runs away from the circus to join a psychic summer camp for children.

The game was as fun as its premise. Using a myriad of psychic abilities, Raz (voiced to perfection by Richard Horvitz) could enter the emotionally troubled minds of various characters and play in their heads, which made for some fantastic level design. To this day, I do believe “Black Velvetopia” is one of the most gorgeous levels ever made. Psychonauts was really fun for me though it did have its ups and downs. Tthe camera could be a little wonky and the notorious difficulty spike during the Meat Circus level as enough to make you pull out your hair. Despite that Psychonauts is a game I think fondly on and still laugh about.

I wasn’t the only one pleased with the announcement of Psychonauts 2 because darn it, I need more Raz, Mia, and Sasha in my life right now. Set inside a small booth made to look a bit like a dentist’s office, I was invited to sit down and watch a presentation of what looked like the first level of the new game, in which the Psychonauts are trying to Inception their way into the mind of Doctor Loboto, the central villain of the first game, in an attempt to figure out who ordered him to kidnap Truman Zanatto (the Grand Head of the Psychonauts) which led to the events of the PlayStation VR exclusive, The Rhombus of Ruin.

The gameplay trailer published by DoubleFine, which can be viewed below, provides a pretty good glimpse of the footage I saw. Infiltrating Loboto’s mind, the level shows off the clever aesthetic and unique effects that were featured prominently in the original Psychonauts. What I immediately noticed, however, was a stronger level of polish and smoothness of watching one of the DoubleFine folks play through the stage. The movement of the camera as it tracks Raz across constantly switching angles was much better than it was on the PlayStation 2. The demo also served as a fun introduction to new enemy types like Doubt and Anxiety. They didn’t seem to offer much of a challenge as you could just use one of Raz’s psychic powers to dispatch them without a fuss.

It’s a little too early to talk about Psychonauts 2 at any great length but the demo was a nice opportunity to check in on the studio’s progress. I’m hoping that the full game will offer new and exciting challenges because...well, for what was an introductory level, it didn’t look all too different from what launched in 2005. On the other hand, all I’ve ever wanted after finishing Psychonauts was more of it, so I’m really happy with what I got to see.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.