Gaming Blog

Why I struggle to enjoy Psychonauts 2

Looking at all the praise from press and gamers, I'm probably the only person who doesn't love it.
I loved Psychonauts 1 so much back in 2004 and helped crowdfund part 2. Being 17 years more experienced now is definitely part of why I'm so bored with it.

I knew the story and ideas were going to be the strongest point but...

- ...the story/characters lost me early on. The game introduces lots and lots of people including their names, and it was just overwhelming hence I didn't care about them when they showed up much later. These moments felt like they are supposed to be meaningful moments but to me they weren't because none of them felt introduced properly.

 

Ok... who cares, I don't care much about story in games anyway and my own games show of how little importance that is to me. But...

- ...the gameplay is not smooth. The running is slow. The lack of depth perception makes jumping frustrating. Using the ball to jump higher or glide is very fiddly. Swinging on those horizontal bars takes out the flow. I won't even mention sliding on rails.

Most gameplay is very generic jump'n run stuff. Jump from one platform onto another. Sometimes an object is moving back and forth between the platforms that you need to avoid. The platform might be a big letter with wings and that looks cool, but the raw gameplay never changes. It could be ok if jumping had a good flow, but jumping around is simply frustrating because...

 

- ...the game does not take its geometry seriously; what you see is in most cases not what you can walk on. Lots of surfaces you slide off for no reason and invisible walls that block you off from places where I thought I see a secret passage. A little fence I could clearly jump over, but no... they put an invisible wall there to keep my natural exploration tendencies suppressed. I gave up trying to do anything besides the obvious main path. I am used to games not taking their geometry seriously, but I've never seen anything exagerate it like this one does. You can imagine how important that one is to me, because my own games lean so heavily into just that and I know players all embrace this seemingly unintuitive jumping around on any piece of geometry that sticks out of a wall somewhere. Everyone automatically tries it and loves it when it works.

 

- Combat feels unsatisfying and takes forever. Most attacks take long to charge and don't feel impactful. For efficient fighting you need to switch back and forth between lots of abilities, but...

 

- ...assigning abilities to buttons is so tedious and stops the flow of experimentation for me because I'm too lazy to switch them all the time. If the abilities are on different buttons all the time, I can't get used to them for instinctive quick usage. Especially during combat I knew I could do much better by using lots of ability variation, instead I just psi-blasted them and it took forever instead of switching abilities forever. Especially the boss fights were taking painfully long by just repeating the same thing over and over.

 

- Very little metroidvania appeal with almost no new abilities and the few that you get are barely used in interesting ways. The slowdown ability for example is used on the ever repeating fans or too fast platforms. It feels like a lot of potential was wasted there. The abilities from the first game are still there, but they also barely get used in any remarkable way. Backtracking can be done but doesn't matter really because you won't get anything worthwhile for it.

 

- The abilities are inconsistent; like sometimes you can burn things, but then there is wood and stuff that you cannot burn that definitely should burn. In the few cases where telekinesis works on critical objects there is a display telling you to do it, because play testers obviously always forgot about it so they had to add more hand-holding.

 

- It holds my hands so much. For a game with brains everywhere, it treats me like I have none. It pulls me through a linear path and tells me the solutions to the few puzzles almost instantly.

 

- Collectibles are often laid out in a very obvious and unchallenging way. They might just sit in the middle of the critical path and not even try.

The collectibles have a funny framing (emotional backage, figments of the imagination etc.) but in the end they are really all the same thing and collectibles don't really matter. The plenty unlockable upgrades are barely worth mentioning and mostly useless.

 

- Most parts of every level look identical no matter where you turn, so you always lose orientation. Have I been at this place already? I dunno, they all look the same. The hub world does not suffer much from this though.

 

- Levels are mostly macguffin hunts over and over again. Bring the 3 seeds, the 4 instruments or whatever. The objects are just an item placed at the end of a linear jump'n run passage. Using macguffins as an excuse for interesting action is cool, but not if you use them to just repeat the same gameplay over and over. The game is filled with fascinating places full of creativity, but often the path to the different macguffins uses the same assets, like the paths to the instruments looked exactly the same. It's like all ideas way overstay their welcome.

 

The mind-levels in the first game had much better puzzle mechanics like the milkman and napoleon levels that everyone loves. The "goggolor" level had no special gameplay, but it was telling a funny story for just the right length and had me constantly amused.

Psychonauts 2 however seems to drag out any idea forever and just has no clue what to do with the gameplay.