Psychonauts 2 Review
Developer: Double Fine | Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Genre: Platformer | Platform: Xbox One/X/S, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4/5 | Reviewed on: Xbox One
After six years of anticipation and development, Psychonauts 2 is finally ready to open its own psycho-portal to the public — and fans will face a cognitive explosion once it reaches their hands. Tim Schafer and the team over at Double Fine have done an exceptional job bringing the cult classic back to the modern realm with all of its quirks and charms veterans would expect to find within its mind-twisting world. Whether you are a longtime fan or have not played the first entry, Psychonauts 2 is by far one of the best current platformers on the market as it dives back into the glory days of its genre. Psychonauts 2 is yet another fantastic think piece for audiences to explore.
Rather than being a direct follow-up to 2005’s Psychonauts, the numbered sequel actually kicks off directly after Double Fine’s intermediate VR chapter Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. After rescuing Head Psychonaut Truman Zanotto and failing to learn whom Dr. Caligosto Loboto is working under, Razputin arrives at the Psychonauts HQ known as Motherlobe for the first time. Taking on the role of an intern despite his monumental accomplishments, Razputin is thrown into another mystery where he will have to tackle the psychological struggles of others to once again save his friends and innocents from a growing threat.
While a recap video plays before the title screen can even be seen, for players who have not completed either of the previous Psychonaut entries, it is best to read up on the prior plots. Due to the game’s course of events, Psychonauts 2 rightfully takes no time to properly reintroduce every character — it is quite literally a sequel that begins a few days after the original story. It is easy to get a grasp of who everyone is for first-timers, but with the presence of so many characters being introduced and tons of names flying around, having the slightest bit of prior knowledge beforehand will certainly help new players mellow in. For longtime fans of the first entry though, Psychonauts 2 is a dream come true — if it were to be spoiled, it would be a crime.
Without going into a single spoiler, the narrative of Psychonauts 2 is as magical as its acclaimed predecessor. Razputin and the rest of the Psychonaut team members are as lovable as ever. Their newest mystery is jam-packed with both nostalgia and surprises that all audiences will enjoy unraveling. Despite the fifteen-year gap, Double Fine has clearly taken an extensive amount of care in replicating and refining their series to meet its maximum potential. Psychonauts 2 feels as if the development team of the premiere title picked up right where they last left off.
Razputin is back in the spotlight as the story continues to examine his desire to become a Psychonaut and his actual family dynamic along with the curse that haunts them. The sequel also never forgets to hold true to its original cast and lore though. Every character featured in both Psychonauts and Rhombus of Ruin gets their time to shine. The history of the Psychonaut organization is explored as the game continues to follow up on its prior cliffhangers while both telling a new story and expanding upon its foundation. The sequel is incredibly faithful to its source.
What Psychonauts 2 expectedly does best with its characters is diving into their cognitive states. The way in which the game portrays psychological conditions and disorders is nothing short of brilliant. The writers evidently took the time and effort to ensure that players would understand and sympathize with what they inevitably are able to connect with. From enemy names to visual details, Psychonauts 2 is constantly and carefully attempting to create a perfect anecdote for the psychological challenges its cast is experiencing. It caters to reality in a way that is unexpected yet admirable.
But that said, interested adopters of the game should not take its advisory warnings lightly. Before being able to enter Psychonauts 2, the game opens with a note of caution that it embraces quite a heavy number of psychological themes. While the first game definitely featured sensitive content, the sequel gives players a fair and honest word of caution from the developers that has to be accepted before moving forward. Psychonaut 2 dives into themes of depression, anxiety, self-image, and so much more. Despite its friendly visuals, most players will unexpectedly find reliability, comfort, and distress within the story. If you are triggered by visuals such as panic disorders, it may be best to do some thorough research on the game’s overarching narrative to decide if this truly is a title you should be playing
Speaking of playing, in the same fashion as its characters, Psychonauts 2 makes an admirable effort to recapture its old gameplay while also expanding upon it. Razputin has all of his moves fans are familiar with as he jumps hot of the heels of his previous journey. As to be expected, the number of unlockable abilities and upgradable elements of the protagonist has been drastically increased from last time as the player begins the game with what veterans were mostly capable of. It may have been a decade and a half since Psychonauts debuted, but the same gameplay structure its sequel utilizes works almost perfectly in every regard.
Like the first game, players will focus on platforming, combat, and exploration from the beginning to the end of their journey. Everything is more or less still the same — if it’s not broken, why try and fix it? The platforming is still as razor-tight as before, the combat has been further developed to accommodate for new ideas, and the exploration still thrives from its ideas that stemmed from the likes of its fellow masterpieces such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie.
The combat is truthfully the only aspect of the gameplay that has been changed. It provides a ton of different variety this time around as players are thrown into environments that take advantage of the vast array of new abilities. Unlocking upgrades is still done through a ranking system that rewards players with spendable points each time they level up. With a slew of customizable button patterns, the game interestingly creates variety within both its combat and puzzles by only allowing players to utilize four of their abilities at once. However, Psychonauts was never intended to be a fast-paced title filled with constant action.
Combat is by far what players will be the least engaged with as battles are merely occasional. Outside of fighting the traumas of others, Psychonauts 2 will have players on a thrilling collectathon no matter where they are located. The emotional baggage to track down and tag are back along with an overwhelming number of figments to collect. Throughout each world are hidden collectibles including the iconic memory vaults that expand upon each character through a compilation of hand-drawn stills and items that are specifically tied to sidequests. While there are well over a thousand collectibles to find, their spacing across the world is well-thought-out as it provokes players to explore every inch of the map they can reach.
In almost all platformers, usage of space is critical to creating a world the player will want to explore. Psychonauts 2 thankfully falls into the category of games that lacks miles of empty space to mindlessly wander. There is a general thrill to exploring that the game is efficiently able to provide thanks to its combination of visual beauty, meticulous detail, and consolidated areas. Every inch of each world’s space is fully utilized. However, saying the player can initially get lost in the hub world would be an understatement. While the individual cognitive levels of the game are practically perfect, the hub world can on first impression be a struggle to traverse — but to be fair, this is honestly not the world’s problem.
The one aspect of exploration that Double Fine hampered was the game’s user interface, specifically when it comes to maps and navigation. The individual levels of Psychonauts have never needed maps, but the hub worlds in its sequel desire one due to their sheer size. The way the hub worlds are perceived in map form sounds great on paper but can ultimately be a hindrance for some players. In Psychonauts 2, the overworld maps are designed to look like location brochures, literal visual sketches of each place. This does not always work out due to the game’s lack of features to help the player tell where they exactly are and which direction they may need to go in.
The game never visually indicates where a player is on the hub world map. They are supposed to navigate across it by identifying with the environment’s notable structures, yet these overworlds can get slightly confusing to traverse due to how much there can be to pinpoint. Nonetheless, the hub worlds are a blast to explore that just take time to adapt to. Double Fine should have incorporated at least a compass to assist players as they first enter the massive scale locations. The problem will phase out with players over time as they learn the ins and outs of the hub world, but its notable presence during the opening hours was worth mentioning.
Going back to the beauty of those aforementioned environments, the atmospheres and playable sandboxes themselves are gorgeous. The Psychonaut Headquarters and cognitive locations the player explores are trippy wonderlands bursting through the seams with creativity. They are all a banger to comb through. Psychonauts 2 may graphically show some occasional rough edges, yet it accumulatively is lovely to look at. The sequel further accomplishes what the original title attempted to achieve as it builds a world and cast that esthetically may look as if it is jumping out of a cartoon, but can still be taken seriously. It always flaunts a thought-provoking environment due to both visuals and writing.
After six years in development, Psychonauts 2 is exactly what fans have been begging for as it delivers on all of its expectations. Once again, Razputin’s complicated world of psychological disturbances and wonders receives an excellent entry that will have fans begging Schafer and his development team for more. From its educational portrayal of its mental health problems to its dark and witty world packed to the brim with quirky characters, Psychonauts 2 is a follow-up that contains all the reasons why fans loved the original. It may not innovate on top of its numbered predecessor’s magnificent foundation, yet it never skimps out on providing a narrative and gameplay experience that is lacking quality.
You absolutely can not miss out on Psychonauts 2. The long wait was undoubtedly more than worth it as Double Fine comes out on top with one of this generation’s best platformers. It is a game players will be thinking about long after they complete it.
Note: A review copy of Psychonauts 2 was provided to us by Microsoft.