Psychonauts 2 takes its players into the minds of its characters, literally. The heavily stylised adventure game tackles more than its fair share of sensitive topics including anxiety, alcoholism, addiction, and more. What I didn’t expect from Psychonauts 2 though was to gain a new approach to dealing with my own negative feelings.
In the long-awaited sequel to Double Fine's cult platformer, you play as Razputin Aquato, a trainee Psychonaut and ex-circus performer who assisted the Psychonauts in stopping Coach Oleander from taking over the world in the first game. Psychonauts 2 picks up just a few days later, with Raz becoming an intern at the psychic agent's headquarters, The Motherlobe.
As part of his training – and to occasionally help others battle their inner demons – Raz uses a Psycho-Portal and astral projection to go inside other character's minds. As you'd expect, this can be a complex process as each mind contains elements that are consistent with the human experience – emotional baggage, regrets, doubts, and even some repressed memories.
The most engaging thing about Psychonauts 2 is Double Fine’s ability to bring these feelings and mental concepts to life in some of the most creative ways I've ever experienced in a video game. Each of the brain levels that you enter are unique, a reflection of each character's interests and personalities. For example, inside Dr. Loboto's mind, an amateur dentist/brain surgeon, you'll find a disturbing world made up of dental related things including walls made out of gums and platforms made up of teeth.
In some instances though, a character's mind is a bit more abstract and can be altered depending on their emotions. In Agent Forsythe's case, the ex-medical intern turned second-in-command of the Psychonauts organization, has money worries. So after Raz not-so-accidentally uses the ability of mental connection to pair the idea of Risk with the idea of Money, her mind is suddenly transformed into a slightly questionable hospital casino hybrid.
Although not entirely accurate or realistic, this idea of mental connection resonated with me whilst playing Psychonauts 2. As someone who also finds that their thoughts rapidly jump from one to the next which – similar to Forsythe – can sometimes lead to anxiety, imagining that this spiral of thoughts is actually just a bunch of connections in my mind somehow makes them feel almost easier to unpick and organise.
Your own biggest enemy
The mental metaphors in Psychonauts 2 don't end there though, as the enemies Raz encounters on his mental road trip act as a constant reminder that you’re exploring somebody's mind. Along his travels, Raz will come across combat opportunities involving Doubts, Regrets, Panic Attacks, Bad Moods, and more. With each enemy getting its own introduction that features a subtle nod towards the actual negative feeling it's based on.
For example, whilst traversing Dr. Loboto's tooth-filled nightmare, Raz will find his first Doubt. Not only is it a slimy creature, but also an inclination that Dr. Loboto isn't sure that he’s done the right thing following his kidnapping of Psychonauts head Truman Zanotto. When confronted with that first Doubt, players are presented with a short explanation which in this case reads: "Doubts: Can hold you back" before you quickly realise that this is meant in both the literal and figurative sense as the gooey monsters can slow Raz down if he steps in their slime trail.
Throughout the rest of the game, Raz will also encounter several other enemies in the same manner, which all have ties to real world feelings. After Doubts there's Regrets, which "can weigh you down", Bad Ideas, that "can blow up in your face", Panic Attacks, that "come out of nowhere", Enablers who "support negative thoughts", and Bad Moods which cloud Raz's vision and require him to "find the source" to defeat it.
Again, although these brain-themed enemies were created to fit in with Psychonauts 2's overall concept, having them made tangible in the game has caused me to think about them differently whenever they arise in my own mind. Now, if I ever feel doubts or regrets sneaking their way in where they don't belong, I just imagine I've got the power of Pyrokinesis or PSI-blast to take them out. Of course, it’s not that easy to eradicate them most of the time in real-life, but the thought is enough to make me smile in a potentially tough situation and can sometimes make them feel easier to deal with.
Collect your thoughts
Double Fine didn't just leverage negative energies to help liven up Psychonauts 2's combat. The studio also tied other mental health concepts into the collectibles that are found throughout the game, helping to encourage exploration beyond the critical path and Raz to take a break from battling inner-demons of the mind he enters.
As he explores a mental realm, Raz will come across Emotional Baggage – bags that are dotted around the world and are all upset due to missing their luggage tags. The aim of this collectible is to reunite the tag to its suitable baggage to cheer it up again. Although not as deep as some of the other mental metaphors found throughout Psychonauts 2, I still love the idea of our minds containing literal baggage. For me, it almost takes away the stigma of the term "emotional baggage" because all I can picture is a hat box crying inside my head.
Another collectible worth uncovering are the Memory Vaults. Once spotted by Raz, these four-legged combination locks run away and require Raz to catch up to them before using PSI-punch to open them. Once you've cracked the vault, players will see a slide-show made up of a character’s memories which typically give more context to their state of mind – most of the time, these vaults feature some kind of tragic event that gives reason to why said character is troubled.
There are plenty of other things for Raz to find throughout Psychonauts 2, including Figments, Nuggets of Wisdom, Half a Brains, and more. However the Emotional Baggage and Memory Vaults felt the most relatable in terms of what we may all experience at one time or another in the real world.
A load off my mind
Despite its cartoon appearance and witty humour, Psychonauts 2 has given me new ways to think about what goes on inside my head. Not quite in a profound sense like a heavier, more serious game might, but instead in a fun and unexpected way.
There were however a few occasions in the game where I found that something Raz or somebody else said caught me by surprise with how much I needed to hear it. For instance, during one mission which sees Agent Boole stuck inside a torturous cooking show of his own design, Raz says the phrase: "an important thing to do when you're feeling overwhelmed is to take breaks." Another that stuck with me was when Agent Forsythe noted that "It's not bad to quit, if it’s the right thing to do at the moment." These two quotes, along with probably so many others, served as subtle reminders to take care of my mental wellbeing whilst playing the game.
As a long time fan of the Psychonauts series, I knew I'd come away from the game feeling pleased with what Double Fine has created. However, I didn’t expect to finish the game with a new perspective towards my own mental wellbeing and a new method of dealing with negative thoughts and feelings.