After a slow but steady build-up throughout 2021 it seems we have finally got into the swing of releases from Microsoft Game Studios, and after an impressive showing from Microsoft Flight Simulator, it’s time for Double Fine Productions to strut their stuff with the much-awaited sequel to the cult classic 2005 hit title Psychonauts finally upon us, some 16 years, and 4 months after the original hit shelves back in 2005. With so many years passed, is this platform adventure able to retain the witty and whimsical nature that drew rapturous enjoyment all those years ago?
The events of Psychonauts 2 continue the story from the events of standalone VR experience Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin and takes place just days after the events of the first game. Once more, 10-year-old psychic prodigy Razputin Aquato returns and is now a mind-diving intern at Psychonauts HQ – a lifelong dream for Raz. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not played the previous games either with a quick catch-up available to bring you up to speed on the story so far.
Early on we are thrust into the inner workings of the mind of original villain Dr. Loboto to work through his thoughts and find out who hired the psychotic brain surgeon, before finding the truth to be much more menacing than just the simple workings of the already captivating Dr. Loboto, with Maligula Galochio, another character from the original game thought to be long dead making a show as the games true antagonist here. Through mind invasion, it’s up to Raz to utilise his skills to bring down the murder-friendly villain, whilst also sniffing out the issues from amongst the Psychonauts as to how this is all happening
The story takes players on an adventure through the minds and over-sized mental landscapes of the Psychic Six, the original founding members of the Psychonauts to uncover the real truth of just what’s going on, and it has to be said that even as someone who has never stepped foot into the world of Psychonauts before this outing, Psychonauts 2 presents its gameplay and story in a manner that even newcomers will quickly come to understand, enjoy, and feel at home with.
Accessing each level is done through a hub-world of Motherlobe HQ. From here players can jump into several unique platforming playgrounds with each of the minds of the founding members of the Psychonauts bringing a unique design and mental focus each time with their unique levels. Developers Double Fine has done a fantastic job of nailing the basics too, with platforming within these levels feeling responsive and fresh, whilst environments never fail to fascinate with their dazzling and risqué designs bringing a breath of fresh air to what is otherwise an over-saturated genre in which I thought I’d seen all there was to see.
The Motherlobe itself is an interesting playground of sorts with surrounding swamps, forests and more brought together with all manner of platforming necessities such as swings, ladders, bounce pads and collapsible platforms, as well as a few side quests and tons of collectables.
Despite the cartoonistic visuals and the child-friendly feel to things, it doesn’t take long to see that levels are designed around very mature adult themes such as alcoholism and poor mental health, whilst enemy designs further push into the unique yet adult themes. Even so, Psychonauts 2 never feels like it’s trying to take itself too seriously, with the game bringing a very light-hearted yet slightly complex approach to mental health – with a warning at the beginning of the game to state as much. Enemy types that spring to mind include Censors, Doubts, and Regrets – my personal favourite enemies that look to attack the player by dropping a heavy weight on you should you get too close, amongst countless other enemies.
It’s this level of satirical humour that makes Psychonauts such a unique experience with few games able to match the dark yet fun-loving nature of proceedings.
What’s more is despite the nature of the themes within Psychonauts, the game itself is one of the most colourful and vibrant experiences available with darkened tones undercut by the splash of colour that paints each of the environments in rich detail.
As with the hub world, a big portion of your time within Psychonauts 2 will be spent chasing after the collectables, with hundreds to be collected including the likes of Figments and literal Emotional Baggage plus many more, with each one capable of increasing your overall rank progression once you’ve collected a set amount.
Gameplay progression will require Raz to make the most of his skills with psychic abilities such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and even an enticing clairvoyance ability that can be used to change the physical appearance and characteristics of other characters or aid in platform navigation. Keeping on top of character upgrades is also an important part of play with skills upgraded by earning points towards your intern card by connecting psy-cards into eyeballs, and once earned can give nice bonuses such as extra hits on enemies, new attacks, health stealing and so on.
One slight niggle that I found persisted throughout was the need to consistently be opening the ability wheel to get the best ability to attack different enemy types, and it would have been a much smoother experience being able to switch between these at just the press of a button rather than almost having to briefly hold up play because a new enemy wants to fight. Of course, that could also be attributed to the fact that Psychonauts 2 tries to keep combat feeling fresh and it does indeed manage this well, but still, the option to flick between abilities quicker would have been a positive and comfortable quality of life addition.
Whilst the gameplay is certainly up there with some of the finest platformers available, and the visuals show creative design at its best, the audio is something that feels a little simmered down compared to the rest of the experience. Now that isn’t a negative and shouldn’t be taken as such, as anyone listening keenly will soon hear the grand diversity of composer Peter McConnel’s jazz tones keeping things tied together nicely with soothing melodies on show, however with such weird and wacky environments, you could probably expect something a little unusual or even slightly bizarre from the audio department, however, this is kept quite grounded. That said, it works wonderfully and there should be no mistake that Psychonauts 2 hits the mark in all areas.
The final point to note comes from the accessibility options and as confirmed by developers Double Fine before release, Psychonauts 2 does come complete with assist options for things such as No Fall Damage, Invincibility and Narrative Combat, all of which comes without any consequences to achievements or the overall completion, which is always nice for the achievement hunters out there.
Overall and with no real negatives to speak of, Psychonauts 2 is certainly up there with the best games to have been released in 2021 so far. It maintains a strong showing throughout whilst keeping players engaged with fresh and unique environments, and with satisfying gameplay and a wacky story to boot, there is plenty to sink your teeth into throughout the 15-hour runtime.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.