Psychonauts 2 Review – Sleeper Hit

Developer – Double Fine

Publisher – Xbox Game Studios

Platform(s) – Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility, PC

MSRP – $59.99

Release Date – August 25, 2021

Disclaimer: Review Copy was Kindly Provided for the Purposes of this Review

Let me get this out of the way at the start of this review, I did not play the original Psychonauts released back in 2005. This review will be from the standpoint of someone completely new to the franchise as a whole. It’s also worth noting that this is my first time playing a Double Fine game.

Psychonauts 2 has had a lengthy development cycle since it originally started under a crowd-funded campaign over 5 years ago. In between that time to where we are now, Double Fine was acquired by Xbox Game Studios in 2019. The game has gone through a couple of delays but as of this writing, we’re now a few days away from the release of Psychonauts 2.

Even with not having completed Psychonauts I was still eager to delve into the sequel. Xbox is starting to show the capacity of their first-party lineup, which they’ve started with Microsoft Flight Simulator. They have a great year of games ahead of them with the upcoming releases of Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite. For now, we’re here to discuss Psychonauts 2 and everything it has to offer.

Introduction

Psychonauts 2 is a single-player platformer with an emphasis on combat. You play as Razputin Aquatto otherwise knows as “Raz”. The game picks up right after the events of the original Psychonauts. Those who haven’t completed Psychonauts prior to beginning Psychonauts 2 like me don’t have to worry about being perplexed about where we’re at in the story. Double Fine has prepared a short video that goes over the events leading up to the start of Psychonauts 2.

The fundamental mechanic of the Psychonauts universe is the ability to enter people’s minds. When you enter someone’s mind, you can fix anything defective. Along your journey, many characters you run into will need help readjusting their minds to advance further in the overall plot. The game does a great job of explaining its mechanics, and how the universe of Psychonauts functions.

Art Direction

Psychonauts 2 is an extremely vibrant and colorful game. A lot of people like me who are experiencing the world of Psychonauts for the first time may be a bit put off by the style at first. That being said, I took to the art style of the game fairly quickly because of how the team at Double Fine implemented it. The art direction came to be my favorite aspect of this game along with the level design, which we’ll get to later.

Depending on the game, graphics and art style can represent two very different things. This is 100% the case with Psychonauts 2. The art style in this game is so delightful to take in because of how dynamic each environment is. I found myself willfully exploring the atmosphere of each mind I entered and was eager to see what would be next.

Psychonauts 2 reminds me of a game that was released earlier this year called It Takes Two. It Takes Two had a lot of variety in so many different aspects. Psychonauts 2 is a joy to look at simply because of how varied each level looks and plays compared to the last.

At the start of the game, you enter through someone’s mind that has a theme of dental work and teeth. At another point in the game, you’ll enter this colorful psychedelic type of world. The number of brains you can enter go into the double digits and here I’ve only named two, which I should mention are vast in scope.

Long story short, not only is the art style a standout, it’s by far my favorite facet of this game. Psychonauts 2 is a game that doesn’t need to have mind-blowing photorealistic visuals to pop because it would kill the purpose of what type of game this is. I think Psychonauts 2 looks gorgeous and the direction that it took in its art style is a welcome one.

Level Design

Not only are these levels pleasing to look at, but they’re also pleasing to navigate through as well. Super Mario Odyssey found a way to make its levels open and condensed at the same time. In Psychonauts 2, the levels start off small in scope and get progressively larger the more you progress throughout the game. Each level has its own style varying from casino-theme, mail-theme, barber-theme, and so many more.

I thought the art style had an emphasis on variety in itself but the level design is right up there in that regard. There’s a level called Compton’s Cookoff where you have to cook meals for 3 judges all while under a time limit. You’ll have to pick up the ingredients and prepare the meal the way it’s intended. Each meal preparation is different than the last whether it’s chopping, frying, boiling, or using a blender. Keep in mind you have to do all of this while using your psychic abilities. I can comfortably say that this level was the most fun I had throughout the entire game.

There isn’t much of any hand-holding, you’ll need to figure out how to progress on your own. This can be an easy task for 90% of the game but there will be an odd time where you’ll have to rack your brain a bit. I had an area with bees that I had to get through but I couldn’t figure out how to get past them. After some time, I realized I had to use a smoker to clear them all so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed and stung.

I don’t want to spoil anything further for the benefit of those who want to experience this game relatively fresh. All I’ll say is I think Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine wanted to design absurd-looking levels that feel distinct from many other games you’ll play and they succeeded in this regard. I don’t play games like Psychonauts 2 often, so when games like this do release, it feels diverse to most of my gaming portfolio.

Gameplay

There’s a lot to unpack in terms of the gameplay for Psychonauts 2. There’s a lot more to the gameplay department than meets the eye initially. A lot of the mechanics are based around your psychic abilities and how you use them to navigate through levels as well as combat against enemies.

There are 8 abilities in total and Double Fine does an excellent job at making sure each ability doesn’t go unused throughout the game. For example, Raz has the ability of telekinesis which allows you to lift objects that you can throw at enemies or help towards your level progression such as opening up a massive zipper.

There are other abilities such as the Time Bubble which manipulates time to slow down moving items or enemies. Using time bubble, you’ll be able to pass through a windmill moving way too fast or halt an enemy that has hyper movement. There’s also Clairvoyance that lets you glimpse through the eyes of others to reveal new info. One of my favorite things about Clairvoyance is that when you glimpse through others’ eyes, the animation for Raz will turn into a type of stencil art and his outfit will match what the individual sees Raz wearing. For example, I glimpsed through the eyes of a baby, and his vision showed Raz wearing a doctor’s outfit as if he was the one delivering the baby.

Those two abilities are scratching the surface of what Psychonauts 2 offers. There’s also PSI Blast, Pyrokinesis, Levitation, and so many more. If I went into every single ability we’d be here forever. Simply put, the abilities in this game have meaning and don’t feel thrown in for the sake of it. No ability will go idle for too long because the game doesn’t allow that and it makes the game flow and play well because of it.

Psychonauts 2 opens up with a Mental Health Advisory before you even start the game. It states that the game “contains artistic interpretations of serious mental conditions including addiction, PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, and delusions”. While most of these themes are played off in a humorous manner, the advisory is a welcome addition to the game. Mental Health is a sensitive subject for tons of people and I appreciate Double Fine went the extra route to make their intentions with these themes clear.

Aside from a few boss battles, Enemies in this game are based on thoughts and emotions. You’ll encounter many types of enemies such as:

  • Regret – Carries around a gigantic weight to drop on your head.
  • Judge – Throws a Gavel at you as well as Books.
  • Enabler – Gives extra stability to normal enemies.
  • Panic Attacks – Hyper movement enemies that appear out of nowhere.

Like most of this game, the enemies I named above are just scratching the surface of what hostiles have to offer. I understand the comical way in which these enemies are meant to be portrayed and I suspect most that play this game will as well.

Speaking of boss battles, those are excellent in their own right. It’s weird to think that these boss battles were close to getting cut due to funding issues until Xbox came in and acquired Double Fine. There’s a casino-themed boss towards the start of the game that stood out as a favorite. These boss battles are a bright spot for the game and would be sorely missed if they weren’t included. I’m glad Double Fine was able to keep them in the final product.

Platforming elements aren’t anything we haven’t see before. It’s the standard jump from platform to platform and swing across this big gap. Albeit, Psychonauts 2 does spice it up a bit by making it a necessity to use certain abilities on certain sections. For the most part, it’s just you’re standard platforming you’ll see in most games.

On a quick side note, I don’t know if rail grinding was in the first Psychonauts but I appreciate the inclusion of them here. If anything this is one element that feels underused. Rail-grinding is used substantially on the Compton’s Cookoff level I mentioned earlier, but there’s not much afterward. I’m a massive fan of grinding in video games, it’s one of the reasons why I adore Ratchet & Clank so much, so this is definitely a personal preference that probably won’t bother the average player.

As you progress through all the levels, you’ll find tons of miscellaneous commodities to contribute to your overall rank and upgrade abilities. There’s Psitanium spread all around every area you visit as well as supply chests which can be opened by finding keys. Psitanium is the currency in the world of Psychonauts and there’s plenty to go around.

You can use Psitanium to buy consumables that will heal you while in the heat of battle. You can also use it to buy filters for photo mode (Yes, there is one) as well as pouches to hold more currency and consumables. There are also pins available that slightly alter your abilities such as making your levitation ball a different color or entering clairvoyance in double time.

Rank in Psychonauts 2 goes up in many different ways. You can find nuggets of wisdom (collectible items) or a certain amount of mental figments, which are themed based on the level you’re in. You can also collect PSI cards to combine with PSI cores to gain level. Each time you rank up, you’ll earn a credit that can be used to upgrade any of your 8 psychic abilities and your normal melee. Everything in the gameplay department functions as intended and it helps that new things are always being introduced even into the late game.

Narrative

As I mentioned earlier, Double Fine makes sure to catch up those who haven’t played the original game with a “Previously On” video at the beginning of the game. Psychonauts 2 kicks off immediately after the events of the original Psychonauts. No worries, I won’t be spoiling any major plot points or outlines. I’ll explain how the game starts and how it leads to the rest of your expedition.

Raz is tasked with following Dr. Caligosto Loboto over suspicion of kidnapping the head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto. Loboto eventually realizes this and makes an effort to escape which leads to conflict. Through this process, it’s determined that there’s a mole in the Psychonauts who aided Loboto in capturing Truman and a mission is essential to find out who the mole is. Unforeseen circumstances make it fairly obvious there’s a lot more to this situation than you know and it’s up to Raz to figure it out.

Psychonauts 2 starts off a little slow, but thankfully it picks back up fairly quickly. I didn’t find myself particularly interested in most of the new characters as well as returning ones from the original and I know the fact that I didn’t play the first game might be a big reason for that, but there are still some favorites I had. Lili (Truman’s Daughter) & Hollis (Second Head of Psychonauts) are big standouts for me, especially Lili considering her dialogue is what was the most humorous to me.

I think everyone knows not to expect a deep and heart-wrenching narrative going in. It’s a playful and upbeat story that goes hand in hand with character behavior. I will say that the narrative isn’t one of my favorite aspects of this game. I like some aspects like the fact that NPC’s have tons of dialogue trees and lore. It’s just that the art style, gameplay, and level design that I went over above are by far the most enjoyment I had with this game. Besides Lili, most of the humor itself in the dialogue didn’t hit the mark for me like it might for others.

The main narrative didn’t leave an enormous impression on me, but I do appreciate the themes it tackles as well as the overall message it sends. There are a couple of side missions I enjoyed, there’s one in particular that gives some flavor to Raz’s family and their relationship that stands out. I don’t dislike the narrative at all, it’s just that I have a few small nitpicks and there’s also the fact that the humor doesn’t work for me most of the time.

Conclusion

At the start of the year, I wouldn’t have expected that Psychonauts 2 would be a sleeper hit for me. I had no intentions of playing this game a little over a month ago, but the positive previews from many outlets influenced me to give the game a try. Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine did excellent work on this game.

While we’re at the end of this review, I should take some time to give my thoughts on smaller aspects of Psychonauts 2. This game was 100% bug-free for me, I didn’t experience a single glitch or crash throughout my entire playthrough.

The game is optimized fairly well although there are a few hiccups in the textures. Frequently, cutscene textures will pop in and it’s extremely noticeable. It doesn’t ruin the experience in any way and it’s not too frequent to the point of absurdity but it’s worth noting. I have no knowledge pertaining to a Day 1 patch fixing this issue.

Music is top-notch and proves to consistently be an important aspect in games that implement it as one of their main elements. The performances are excellent and Richard Steven Horvitz as Raz plays his role exceptionally, plus Jack Black is in the game although I won’t say in what capacity. Sound Design was a surprise to me in terms of how much attention to detail there was in little things that most wouldn’t even notice.

Aside from Nintendo Switch, Psychonauts 2 is available on every major platform. It’s likely that if you’re reading this, you have an Xbox, a PlayStation, or a PC. I can’t recommend this game enough to anyone who’s a fan of performers or vibrant-style games.

I’m glad that Double Fine was able to make this game after all this time. The sheer number of backers in the credits blew my mind and shows that this franchise has a devoted fanbase looking forward to this sequel. I’m grateful that Xbox picked up Double Fine and gave them the resources to make the vision that Double Fine intended for the player.

Psychonauts 2 is exceptional in its level design, energetic gameplay, fascinating themes, pleasing art style, and overall creativity. Everyone at Double Fine should be delighted at what they accomplished with this game. It’s a nice and condensed 15-20 hour experience that I’m glad I took the time to sit down and play and I suspect most will as well.

Rating - 9/10

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