- Total Score - 8.5/108.5/10
Psychonauts 2 is not just a worthy sequel to the original, it’s Double Fine’s finest outing yet.
Developer – Double Fine
Publisher – Xbox Game Studios
Platforms – PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
Psychonauts was originally released in the old times, a.k.a 2005. A debut title from a new studio known as Double Fine, created by Tim Schafer after his departure from LucasArts. Most of his team from acclaimed point-and-click classic Grim Fandango joined him. Psychonauts was a departure from the classic adventure games that were their bread and butter.
Instead, Psychonauts was a 3D-platformer. It had a lot of heart, style, and fantastic characters and writing, but also contained some growing pains as the new studio showed how tough it was to make a game completely outside their comfort zone. Pyschonauts, at the time, was an average platformer that ran okay but was carried to cult classic status with its downright hilarious and comedic writing, inventive level design and fantastic world building.
Through the years, Double Fine grew, as did their game catalog, some of which were fan favorites in their own right. Despite all the success, Double Fine remained small, and fans’ demand for a sequel to the game that started them off grew.
Eventually, a Fig campaign was created, and Psychonauts 2 was quickly funded. The onus was on the developer to finally create a sequel to the beloved game. Despite numerous delays, a complete corporate acquisition, and a whole platform generation shift, Psychonauts 2 is finally here and truly excels at refining what was not so hot, and ramps up its old strengths in meaningful ways.
Psychonauts 2 continues the story of Razputin Aquato, acrobat and Psychonaut in training. This go around, the leader of the Psychonauts is missing, and they suspect one of their own is a double agent. Raz, old favorites and plenty of new characters embark on a journey to solve this mystery and bring closure to his story arc.
I won’t delve too much deeper into the story or its beats other than to say it’s fantastic. Despite the insane art style, timely comedic writing, and truly inventive world design, it remains grounded in themes everybody can relate to. In a world that has seen mental health become a much more socially acceptable topic to discuss, Psyconauts 2 absolutely dives into some of the darker elements of the human psyche.
The game even gives a warning up front about the subject matter, and as a new father during a horrible world wide pandemic, tackling depression off and on and bouts of severe self-doubt, nothing in my experience was triggering. In fact, it’s been quite refreshing to see such topics not just handled with care and empathy, but married to the core level design and a true feeling of satisfaction to endure and complete each stage. I felt better, in a sense, about these themes, and despite the sometimes dark nature of mental health, Psychonauts 2 tackles it with a warmth and a message that makes it feel okay to talk about and feel these things without a stigma branded on our day-to-day mental health.
Even more so, another common theme from the original game and Psychonauts 2, is family. Essentially, Razputin is the Dominic Toretto of the platforming genre. No matter how tough the odds, or impossible victory may seem, family pulls everything together.
How you experience those worlds, and the twisted minds of your fellow Psyconauts, is very much in tune with the original. A big hub world to explore and many opportunities for side quests and skill growth are everywhere you turn.
A handful of powers return, such as levitation and pyrokinesis, joined by plenty of new ones. Each ability can be upgraded several times, and in any order you desire. Using the wide swath of abilities is essential, not just for finding secrets, but almost every world and combat encounter calls for variety.
The need to use all of your powers calls into question my only true gripe with the game as a whole. At any one time, Raz can wield four powers mapped to the triggers and bumpers. Tapping on the d-pad will bring up a wheel of abilities, and tapping a button while highlighting a specific power will map it to that button.
Early in the game, this method is completely fine, but as soon as your power set grows beyond a handful, it quickly becomes monotonous to quickly swap between powers just for a single action, then swap right back to what you were primarily using. Very quickly, almost every level and most combat encounters will start to require a healthy use of Raz’s abilities, but constantly using the method described to access all the tools for the job slow the pace and flow down a considerable amount. I would have much preferred a method where holding either trigger causes the face buttons to become shortcuts for your powers. This would cut out the middleman and allow for a smoother moment-to-moment gameplay experience.
That issue, while frustrating at times, was my only real complaint through the experience. Much of the original game’s shortcomings, such as rudimentary platforming and a troublesome camera, are completely gone now. Psychonauts 2 has much more polish behind every aspect. The level design is top notch and they do a great job of keeping things visually intense but readable for the platforming.
The game also performs great. On the Series X it ran at a rock-solid frame-rate that never dipped. Later stages also featured some terrific and downright gorgeous visuals that excel with the quirky art style.
Combat is also a step-up, and if it becomes too tough or a chore, excellent accessibility options are contained to smooth over the combat and make it a breeze so the focus is purely on adventuring and the story. Boss fights are a bit formulaic, but still nice ways to cap off the world and mind you adventured through to see its climax.
Furthermore, once the main story is completed, Psychonauts 2 also features one of the best post-games in quite a long time. The world is still there to explore, but every character, minor and major, have many story details to discuss. Every level even changes slightly, and more secrets become available to discover in each brain you previously visited.
The voice cast is excellent as well, ensuring the writing is never let down by poor line reads. Each character is brought to life well and absolutely sells each line and joke with ease.
If you were a fan of the original Psychonauts, or a new fan experiencing Double Fine’s brand of story telling for the first time, Psychonauts 2 absolutely delivers a great platformer, with a huge heart and a fulfilling story.