I finished playing Psychonauts 2 the other night. What a great game. Cute and funny writing, incredibly clever and varied gameplay, a solid (if heavily foreshadowed) story, and great voice acting (including Elijah Wood)!
The game has decent character diversity, featuring a disabled character, a gay couple, and characters dealing with all sorts of mental difficulties. The game focuses on the founders of The Psychonauts, who experienced a traumatic event together long ago, and has the player character, Raz, jumping into their brains to help them work through their responses to that event. Its treatment is light-hearted but not trivializing (all of the characters are treated with a lot of empathy), and the physical manifestations of these characters’ minds is absolutely stunning in their creativity. The level design is off the charts.
In spite of the game’s inclusiveness, it has some blind spots. Its use of Eastern European stereotypes throughout is uncomfortable, and the treatment of the inside of an East Asian character’s mind in one of the later levels is more than a little problematic. If you make a joke about how smelly a fish market is, you’ve made a joke about fishes; but if you make a joke about how dirty a fish market is in this context, as Phsychonauts 2 does, you’ve made a joke about the sanitariness of an East Asian culture. It reminds me a bit of the term “wet markets” and the demonization of those Chinese markets in the early stages of the pandemic. The level only has a few missteps like this, but better to have avoided them altogether.
The story was very emotionally engaging in the first 80% of the game, but unfortunately the ending fell a little bit flat for me, not living up to what I think could have been something really, really special. After the final battle, it just sort of…ended.
In spite of some cultural missteps, the rest of the game is truly wonderful. If you feel like giving it a try and you have Xbox Game Pass, it’s available there!