Best Of 2021: The Quiet Sorrow Of Bob's Bottles In Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2's journey through grief and loss lets us really feel what it's like to be missing your better half.
If you ask me for the most beautiful love story in video games this year, or perhaps even the last few years, my answer will be the one between Bob Zanotto and Helmut Fullbear in Psychonauts 2. Psychonauts 2 spoilers ahead.
The married couple was ripped apart during the fateful battle with Maligula, and Helmut was presumed dead. While the two are ultimately reunited, we learn so much about their relationship from peeking inside Bob's mind when they're apart, and the result is a devastating portrait of loss. Every mindscape in Psychonauts 2 gives us insights as to how the characters have dealt with their shame and guilt over an incident years prior, but more than any other, Bob's Bottles is a character study that informs his relationships with other key Psychonauts.
The stage revolves around a man adrift in an ocean of self-doubt and loneliness, and both the name and imagery suggest struggles with alcoholism brought on by his trauma. The incarnations of his personality as expressed through "Bob Bulbs" are constantly, drunkenly slurring and making off-putting comments. Moths act as both aggressors and protectors, cocooning Bob from outsiders. The Bob we meet inside his own mind is a curmudgeon, but not because he doesn't like people. He's convinced that people don't or wouldn't like him, and that those whom he once called friends were faking it.
By exploring his mind and hearing his soft-spoken doubts, we get the sense that the real Bob is quiet and withdrawn, and always had trouble connecting with people. We see that contrast with Helmut's sweet, outgoing optimism and zest for life, as expressed in his own stage and how Bob talks about him. It was Helmut who appealed to Maligula as a friend and colleague, and it was Helmut who sacrificed himself to protect his meek husband. We see how the two balanced one another, how Helmut brought out the best in Bob, and how disoriented Bob became without Helmut. The apex of Bob's Bottles is a giant wedding cake, a testament to the loss Bob never recovered from in the 20 years prior. When his vision of Helmut says he never loved him, Bob finally realizes these doubts aren't real only because he knows deep in his heart that Helmut would never say that.
Bob and Helmut ultimately get a happy (albeit strange) reunion: Helmut's recovered brain is placed into a new body, Nick from the mailroom, allowing the two to see one another at last. Bob has aged, and Helmut is unrecognizable as Nick, but the outward appearance makes no difference to either of them.
It's a fantastic moment, but it only carries so much emotional resonance because we've seen inside Bob's mind and understood the enormous absence in his life left by Helmut. Each of the Psychonauts withdrew into their own neuroses and coping mechanisms after the fight with Maligula, but Bob and Helmut are unique in that their loss is tied to one another. When they finally come together, there's an instant sense of ease and familiarity and intimacy, and Bob feels whole again. At that moment, Psychonauts 2 blends its rich themes of mental health, community, and relationships, for an unmatched sense of catharsis.