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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 20th

Get in the right headspace

The twentieth door on the RPS Advent Calendar this year is very small. In fact, it almost looks small enough to attach to someone's head, if you were the kind of weirdo who'd do that kind of thing.

It's time to trip the mind fantastic in Psychonauts 2

Hayden: As a kid, my favourite part about going on holiday was arriving. We’d pull up to a cottage and I’d have no idea what was inside. It looked cosy and warm but felt strange and alien - and it was ripe for exploration. I never knew what was waiting around each corner, but I was always delighted with what I found.

Psychonauts 2, the action-platformer sequel to Tim Schafer’s 2005 cult hit, elicits the same feeling. It gives you some cosy platforming mechanics that you’ll know and love, and sends you into a cornucopia of creative levels that you could never have imagined. As Raz jumps between various minds on his journey to reunite the Psychic Six, the team at Double Fine reintroduce you to a weird and wonderful world that instantly feels like home.

The story of the Psychic Six and Raz Aquato’s quest to bring them back together is told in fun and whimsical ways, but it’s always clear that this is an exploration of the grief, heartache and pain that pulled the team apart. These issues are handled with nuance and delicacy, but it offers a profound backdrop that will leave you thinking for hours if you dig a little deeper. On the surface though, Psychonauts 2 is an eccentric adventure through the human psyche that will fill you with childlike curiosity as you dive into every level.

Rather than overwhelming you with massive skill trees that you could navigate for hours, Psychonauts 2 has a few core powers that you slowly upgrade. As you progress, each level will show you new ways to use these powers, expanding your arsenal while retaining the simple controls that make Psychonauts 2 so accessible.

Two of the Censor enemies in Psychonauts 2 appearing as if they're assistants on a game show (in glittery gold suits) showing off a fake cereal called Tincan Crunch

Take the telekinesis ability, for example. This is one of the first powers that Raz learns. Early on, you can use it to throw objects at your enemies, a simple way to fend off the Censors and other baddies you’ll encounter. As you start to fight larger enemies and bosses, you’ll find yourself catching projectiles in mid-air and flinging them back with a vengeance. A few hours later, you’re running around a frantic cooking game show in which the audience are the ingredients, using telekinesis to carry them around an obstacle course filled with trampolines and grind rails. And despite the grief and sincerity at the hear tof the game, with each mind Raz entered, I found myself descending further into a rabbit hole of hilarity.

Whether it’s the unpredictable chaos of every mission or the many jokes spouted by a rambunctious cast, Psychonauts 2 constantly invented new ways to make me roll with laughter. Whether it was at the well-placed one-liners from the other Pyschonaut interns, or the meandering rambles from the ancient members of the Psychic Six as they recount their past tales, wow, did I laugh a lot.

A landscape in Psychonauts 2, a small town with buildings made of hair plaited or tied together.

I blazed through most of these missions in a weekend, so it was all over in a flash. However, this short journey was one of the sweetest this year. Few games have left the same mark as Psychonauts 2, which parades its blend of simple mechanics and wacky wonders around in my mind even months after the credits rolled. Raz spends most of his time leaping in and out of various heads, but he got stuck in mine, imprinting the memory of psychedelic set-pieces and endless laughter that I look back on fondly.

Alice Bee: Psychonauts 2 manages to walk the line between wacky slapstick and srs emotions, and it's very impressive. Raz is a cute lil fella, and you really want him to be a successful field agent for the Psychonauts. But what I remember most from playing Psychonauts 2 is the look of the thing.

A level landscape in Psychonauts 2, a world of green and yellow towers made of strange plants and stacks of amps. In the distance is a giant statue of a person whose entire head is a giant eye. They're holding a green violin

The mind-worlds you explore are just so wonderful. It feels like, for every level, the designers managed to think totally outside the box, throw every weird idea at the limits of their imagination at the wall, and then pack it all back inside a box (specifically: the black box that makes things appear on my screen) to create a cohesive experience. The levels are so saturated, with colours, design flourishes, new ideas. It's enough to make your own dull grey mind feel inadequate.

It's impossible to pick my favourite level. Is it the one where a town during a tidal wave is imagined as the hair sweepings on a barbershop floor? The Yellow Submarine-esque magical wonderland of eyes and flowers? The library full of 2D paper characters come to life? Or maybe the dentists office with walls made of teeth and flesh? Ah no, it must surely be the flooded garden full of booze bottles? And yet there's also the hospital casino full of neon lights...

Katharine: I'm still creeped out by the teeth, to be honest.

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Hivemind

The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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