Psychonauts 2 Review – A Mental Magnum Opus

Psychonauts 2

As someone who is almost entirely defined by the terms “gamer” and “writer,” games are a huge part of my life, my personality, and my outlook on life. We all have those games that truly changed us in ways both major and subtle. For me, that game was Psychonauts back in 2005.

Now, in 2021, Microsoft graciously provided me with a review code to play and review Psychonauts 2 on PS5. It’s a surreal feeling, to have finally played a sequel I was convinced would never exist. Not only that, but to have it live up to my almost impossible expectations, is nothing short of a miracle. Grab your Psi-pops and your dream fluffs, let’s get started.

After All These Years, it Feels Like Raz Never Left

The year was 2005. I had just left the mall after visiting the local EB Games. With little to no funds to speak of, I just bought the latest copy of OXM magazine to get a demo disc that I could use to fill up my gaming time until I could afford a new game.

That demo disc contained the first level of a game called Psychonauts, and I honestly cannot remember how many times I played that demo and loved every minute of it. I spent countless time and hours working on chores and the like to save up for a copy of the full game.

As someone who played any and all games I could get my hands on, it was truly a unique experience. Name one other game that features a psychic summer camp, levels deep within the minds of its characters, and psychic bears? You can’t, but the true charm of Psychonauts was how it balanced unmatched creativity with heartfelt characters and deep dives into mental health long before the subject became commonplace in video games.

It was and still is one of my favorite games of all time, so you can imagine my sheer shock and excitement when Psychonauts 2 was announced in 2015. I was like a fan at the super bowl, throwing tables stampeding around my living room like a giant nerd. I regret nothing.

Since then, I was privileged to review the PSVR title set directly after the events of the first game called Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. It was the first time we had seen anything past the ending of the first game, but it only made me more excited for the full sequel.

In the time since, Double Fine was purchased by Microsoft, which led to concern about whether the game would still come to PlayStation consoles. It will indeed, and Microsoft provided me with a PlayStation review copy to test on PS5, which features a higher resolution and 60 FPS gameplay. The Xbox version has a few exclusive features that we’ll discuss later on, but the PS5 version is excellent, so no need to worry there.

Now, my fellow gamers, it’s finally here. For those who are fans, and those who have never heard the name before in their lives, let me take you on a journey through this incredible adventure.

Psychonauts 2 begins with an excellent recap of the first two games, narrated by the main character, Razputin Aquato. It covers both the first game and the VR title, leading us directly into the events of the sequel.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Psychonauts is a 3D platformer set in a world where an organization called the Psychonauts complete top secret missions and infiltrate the minds of others to preserve the safety of the organization and of the world. Razputin, or Raz for short, helps unravel a massive conspiracy to steal children’s brains in the first title, and in doing so becomes an honorary Psychonaut himself.

In the VR title, the team goes to find the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, who has been kidnapped and taken to a deep underwater facility in a region known as the Rhombus of Ruin. Having rescued him in the VR title, the sequel begins as the group arrives at Psychonauts headquarters, aptly named “The Motherlobe.”

The storyline of Psychonauts 2 builds upon everything established in the first game and VR game, taking things to an entirely new level across the board. The game kind of throws you into things with a tutorial level set inside someone’s mind before giving you a taste of the first hub area, but it all moves at a brisk pace right off the bat.

For the sake of spoilers I’m going to be vague, but what I will say is that Tim Schafer who is the head of Double Fine and the writer of all the Psychonauts games, has truly honed his craft over the years since the original.

Psychonauts 2’s story simultaneously captures the magic of the original while also delving much deeper into its characters and its world. While it’s not required to play the original and VR game, it’s incredible to see how seamlessly things transition into the new game, and how in-depth the storyline goes for the main characters like Raz, his family, and old favorites like Ford Cruller from the first game.

In between levels inside of various minds, you can explore the Motherlobe and surrounding areas as the game goes on, allowing you to engage in conversations with optional dialogue that goes well beyond the interactions the first game offered. It’s also completely optional, but as someone who can’t get enough of this world, I was very appreciative of the extra dialogue and lore.

Some games make you laugh, others make you cry, and still others just pull you out of life for a moment so you can breathe. For me Psychonauts 2 did a little of all three. The humor, rife with puns, was always appreciated. The way that the minds of characters reflect their personalities and the story within the level designs is also superb and proof that Double Fine’s creativity hasn’t waned over the years.

It’s a story equal parts goofy, ridiculous, and heartfelt as it goes on. It also goes much deeper into issues of mental health, of loyalty, and the very real battles that go on in many of minds each and every day. It’s not heavy-handed, though, instead staying rooted in its story and world while also exploring other themes as an extension of what’s happening in the immediate moment.

Honestly, from a story perspective, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel. It’s deeper, larger in scope, and expands upon everything that made the original great. I would have loved to explore more of the outside world or participate in globe-spanning Psychonauts missions, but the focused nature of the story still takes you to some wild places, thanks to the various minds you find yourself within.

Psychonauts 2

So, with a superb story under its belt, lets talk about gameplay. Psychonauts 2 brings back the classic feel of a 3D platformer like the ones you remember from the golden era of the genre. While the first game had solid gameplay, it did have a nasty difficulty spike near the end, and the enemy variety could have been better. The controls of the first title also feel a little floaty compared to modern titles, but Psychonauts 2 addresses all of these things.

Controls are snappy and responsive, the lock-on is reliable nearly 100% of the time, and the enemy variety is excellent. In the original title, your main foes beyond bosses were “Censors” who were there to stamp out unwanted thoughts.

In Psychonauts 2, this roster expands to include other aspects of mental health. You’ll face off against Doubts, Regrets, Negative Thoughts, and even Panic Attacks in the form of engaging and challenging enemy encounters.

Speaking of challenging, Psychonauts 2 has a much better difficulty curve that stays consistent and provides solid challenge throughout. The boss fights in particular are a highlight, with some truly creative designs and interesting mechanics.

The interplay between your psychic abilities and the enemies also receives a welcome boost in the sequel. For example, Doubts are highly flammable, so your Pyrokenesis is a winning attack on them, which sends them fleeing and potentially setting other enemies ablaze.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of figuring out the best strategies, but know that enemies all have unique quirks that you can exploit with your abilities, which span from Psi-blast, to Telekinesis, Clairvoyance, and several other surprises that work well both inside and outside of combat.

I think the only thing that I would say hurt the combat experience was how you can only map abilities to the triggers, which means that you’ll need to open your quick menu often during combat to change out abilities based on the enemies you’re fighting.

The quick menu pauses the action, but it did hinder the flow slightly when I had to change from something more traversal-focused like Levitation, to something combat-oriented. That being said, even something like the Mental Connection ability can be used for both traversal and combat, so never rule out an ability as it could be a game-changer when used the right way.

Now, I know fans will be wondering how the levels compare to the original. The concept of leaping into people’s minds creates huge potential for interesting designs and mechanics, something the first game did incredibly well. A personal favorite of mine was a level in the original title that had you facing off with Napoleon in a table-top game that allowed you to change your size and manipulate the board in your favor.

Psychonauts 2 has numerous standout levels that left me with my jaw on the floor, a particular favorite being one set within a culinary game show, but it does have a few levels that feel more like standard platforming fare. Even those levels still succeed though, in large part due to the incredible art and designs that make them visually stunning to explore.

Collectibles, a major part of classic platformers, also make a return here. You’ll be able to collect currency, psi-cards and cores, figmets of people’s imaginations, scavenger hunt items, and others that show up both inside and outside the mental world.

Many of these collectibles help boost your rank, which is how you can upgrade your abilities to add new functionality and damage output. Vending machines in the real world also let you purchase health items like Psi-pops for a quick heal in battle, or dream fluffs that revive you when you die.

On top of all this, there are pins now that you can use to customize several things like the color of your levitation ball, or the idle animations that trigger when you’re standing still. Others boost your abilities or change the difficulty. The glass cannon pin, for example, makes you deal and take a lot more damage.

While I did my fair share of exploration, I never quite had enough funds in my playthrough to really purchase a lot of the pins. The game continues once you finish the story, though, so you could go back and purchase more of them, but I think the in-game economy could have been balanced slightly better to allow for more currency that goes beyond buying the essentialls like the pops and dream fluffs.

Really though, the small things that some may find slightly annoying pale in comparison to the rest of the experience for me. With this sequel, my expectations were through the roof, and it somehow managed to meet and exceed them. I’m aware of how little this happens in any creative medium, so for me, these small issues don’t take away from the overall experience in the slightest.

A Visual, Auditory, and Mental Masterpiece

Psychonauts 2

The presentation of Psychonauts 2 is one of its greatest strengths. While the Xbox version is the only one to offer HDR and 120 FPS modes, playing Psychonauts 2 on PS5 offers 60 FPS gameplay, and crisp resolution that does the incredible art justice. It’s near impossible to describe the sheer breadth of styles, both visual and musically, that the game covers across all of its various levels.

Every mind feels like it’s own game from a presentation standpoint. Very few elements are present in every mind, which is a level of variety I imagine many gamers have never seen in a single title. It really drives home the unique personality of every mind you visit, and provides a huge selection of visual styles and musical genres.

I’d like to end my review with one final story in my journey to Psychonauts 2. Back in 2009, I was working at GameStop, and my Store Manager informed me that Tim Schafer, writer of the upcoming Brutal Legend game and writer of Psychonauts, would be signing posters at an upcoming conference.

He knew how much I loved Psychonauts, how much I loved Tim Schafer’s work, and how much it would mean to get a signed Brutal Legend poster. When he came back from the conference, he told me the story of his interaction with Tim:

“Who should I make this out to?” Tim asked, ready to sign the poster.

“To my number one Psychonauts fan,” my manager replied.

“Does he have a Psychonauts tattoo?” Tim asked.

“No,” my manager replied.

“Then he’s not my number one Psychonauts fan,” Tim said.

I still laugh at that story, but I still have that signed Brutal Legend poster framed in my office to this day. He’s right, which is why I have one last thing to say before I go. Tim, if you’re reading this, I’m going to finally get that Psychonauts tattoo.

Final Score: 10/10

A copy of Psychonauts 2 was provided by Microsoft for review purposes

Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 8/24/2021

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