Psychonauts 2 Review
Sixteen years ago, Double Fine Productions’ first full project Psychonauts launched to much fanfare and a cult following. Since then, the production company has launched numerous projects under the leadership of founder Tim Schaffer including Brutal Legend, Full Throttle Remastered, and the successfully kickstarted adventure Broken Age. After much anticipation, the sequel is finally here and comes at a perfect time to kick off what could be the start of the first-party barrage from Microsoft.
In this mascot platformer, you take the role of Razputin “Raz” Aquato, a runaway circus performer hoping to become a psychic spy and become part of the elite organization called the Psychonauts. After successfully aiding and being trained by the best in the field, he’s deployed to extract information from big bad Doctor Lobotto to discover who hired him to kidnap the Head of Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto.
After discovering the shadow organization plotting to resurrect an ancient adversary in Maligula, Raz and his Psychonaut mentors return to the Psychonauts Headquarters, The Motherlobe, in order to get to the bottom of this case. Thus begins the epic adventure of the long-awaited sequel, Psychonauts 2.
In the previous episode…
I have a bias against mascot platformers and Psychonauts 2 was no exception. When I started playing it, it has the typical personal issues I have with the genre: It’s too cartoony, the Cartoon Network visual style, and platforming. It’s not a dealbreaker per se, but like Ratchet and Clank (2016), there’s a bit of a hiccup to get started. My main concern is the visual choice, which is a mixture of sloppy modern animation style mixed in with a Tim Burton-esque aesthetic that, if you’re not into it, will be quite off-putting at first.
Psychonauts 2, unless you’re a fan of the original game or its present art style, may not have the same effect that Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart had. Rift Apart has an impressive way of wowing you into the world. The world is vibrant, the action is present, and the power of the PS5 really puts you into a living, breathing universe.
Psychonauts 2 has its own way of charming you in. It starts out with a recap of the whole story of the previous game so if you haven’t played the first one (you should), you don’t need to worry. Although there are some characters that were haphazardly introduced in the recap that could have used more explaining, you’ll eventually meet them again later on in the game.
As I stumbled through the game, it’s great how Psychonauts 2 doesn’t alienate the player but instead slowly charms you into the story.
Elevating the mascot platformer
At the heart of Psychonauts 2, despite its cartoony platforming exterior, is the brilliant and heartfelt story seen in the best point and click adventures of its heyday. The moment we complete the prologue and are introduced to The Motherlobe, the game flips the script and transforms into a completely different game that it presented itself as. The game takes on a darker tone and despite what we see and hear, has a mature story that takes into consideration the mental well-being of its characters.
Psychonauts 2 eschews the entire linear platforming storytelling that some similar titles are guilty of and drops you into a semi-open world where you can explore to your heart’s delight; running, double jumping, climbing vines, finding pathways, and doing everything that your circus trained body naturally does. You’re rewarded with collectibles that allow you to power up as well as Psitanium that allows you to purchase items at Otto’s Shop.
The way collectibles work in Psychonauts 2 is that it’s designed to either power you up or grant you Psitanium. Think about it as your way of getting stronger, allowing you to increase your mental energy (your life bar) and power up your psychic rank. You start out with the five skills from the previous game and you’ll learn newer skills this time around. When you rank up, you can buy better skills that evolve your use of certain skills allowing you to reach areas previously locked out and apply better strategies in combat.
Otto’s shop opens up items and pins that change the way you play and interact with the world. You can expand your Psitanium and item pouches, change your psychic strategy by equipping pins that change attack outputs (stun instead of kill for example), and even allowing you to get discounts or increase Psitanium collection.
Another cool part of exploration is your actual interaction with other characters. Many of the new characters are antagonistic but will slowly open up through
bribery doing optional sidequests. They speed up your rank increases as well as adding new playable options for the character such as additional moves (Dive button) or adding gadgets (Thought Seeker). After a while, little Raz will be powered up to your heart’s content.
This might sound like a weird comparison but the first thing that pops to my head is how I felt when I first played Mass Effect (and when I played it again for the remaster). Every time I start a new game, I hated Eden Prime with a passion. I have to deal with the things that annoy me with the genre, the same way with how I dealt with the conventions that annoyed me with Psychonauts 2.
The Motherlobe could be compared to The Citadel, where after a few hours of exploration, collection, and some quests, I realize that the game isn’t bad after all and is actually fun. If you’ve picked up this game because of our recommendation or if the review scores have heightened your expectations and you’re feeling the same way with how I felt previously, wait until you’ve explored the Motherlobe before passing judgment on Psychonauts 2.
Take Your Heart… with your consent
The best part of Psychonauts 2 is actually traveling to another person’s mind. Each mind maze is actually unique enough to sport its own unique platforming identity. It might seem a little gimmicky at first, but each mind is its own world and each world has its own play style. A musically inclined mind would have a music festival-like atmosphere, while a disturbed mind can have something like a theme park ride from hell.
The closest thing I can compare it to is a platforming equivalent of Persona 5‘s mind palaces where every palace has a theme that corresponds to the person’s world. The difference is that Psychonauts 2 really tackles the intricacies of mental health to design a level that corresponds to that type of mind. Your opponents are mental constructs of a certain kind of anxiety and depression such as bats carrying weights are the embodiment of regret, panic attacks are speedster-type gremlins that teleport, and bad moods are invincible energy clouds where you have to detect the source of the bad mood to defeat.
It’s seriously creative and while you explore these demented theme parks from hell, they also do have their own unique collectibles such as figments of imagination and emotional baggage which are located in peculiar places, so prepare to platform for your life.
The best part about these labyrinths is that the boss battles are unique and have their own fun pattern to learn and beat. While there are about three conventional boss battles (attack until their life bar reaches zero), many of them have their own unique little gimmick that keeps things entertaining while being challenging in their own right. I really like experimenting on the Psi Powers that trigger a weakness to beat these bosses.
Some levels are fun, some levels can be triggering, and some levels could become platforming hell. The good news is that you can power through them for the story and return to the Collective Unconscious later in the game to sweep up on the collectibles. You won’t be missing out on any as you can return to them after you’ve completed Psychonauts 2.
Psychonauts 2 is relatively short, where a playthrough can take 15-20 hours with another 5-10 hours to sweep up the remaining collectibles. While there is no difficulty selection, the difficulty level is relatively easy, but can get challenging for people with no spatial awareness (raises hand).
What we liked:
- Mind Mazes are unique “dungeons” with their own platforming challenge and unique take of an individual’s mind.
- Collectibles are fun to collect, plus they motivate you to explore the world.
- Bosses each have their own unique gimmick that make their battles enjoyable and less tedious.
- Overall story is heartwarming and you don’t need to complete the first game to enjoy.
What we didn’t like:
- The visual style might not be everybody’s cup of tea.
- Recap could’ve used better introduction to the returning characters, newer players may take a few chapters to get into the game, story-wise versus previous fans.
- We could’ve used more side quests to explore some characters that the main story didn’t give a chance to grow.
Verdict: Buy It!
I really enjoyed Psychonauts 2 despite not having played the first game and as someone who generally ignores mascot platformers. The unique visual style may not be for everybody, but the charming and heartwarming story can really get you into the groove. Coupled with an easy control scheme mixed in with a semi-open world enabling you to explore different mind mazes, there’s a lot to love about this game.
The total game time of Psychonauts 2 is generous enough, giving you around 20-30 hours of story and collectible sweeping, plus it’s enough of a challenge to bring in both casuals and regular gamers looking for a good single-player experience. There’s much to explore and maxing out your character to scour every nook and cranny for collectibles will keep you busy.
I appreciated the whole mental health aspect of Psychonauts 2, expanding on the themes explored by similar titles of this type. The writers didn’t hammer the themes in your head but chose to present it in a quirky visual style, actualizing different anxieties and depressive moods into enemies that you could beat and destroy.
Overall, Psychonauts 2 is such a pleasure to experience and really cements Double Fine as a worthy addition to the growing stable of first-party studios for Microsoft.
Psychonauts 2 is now available for the Xbox (also on Game Pass), PC, and PS4 for $59.99.