Game Reviews

Psychonauts 2 Review

The wait is finally over, and it was worth it

by Kyle Hanson

Few games fit the description of “cult classic” as much as Psychonauts. Released way back in 2005, the game was a critical darling and quickly developed a devoted fanbase. And yet, it was a sales disappointment (at first), making the prospect of a sequel pretty low. However, after continued sales off of word of mouth and a successful crowdfunding campaign a sequel was promised. Much happened after that, including Microsoft’s acquisition of developer Double Fine, but Psychonauts 2 was slowly and surely working its way toward release. And so here we are, a short 16 years after the first game’s release, 5 years after the Fig campaign, and 4 years after the VR side adventure. Psychonauts 2 is finally here, ready to be played. Was it all worth the wait? Pretty much, yeah.

Picking up right at the conclusion of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, series star Razputin (Raz) has helped his heroes rescue head Psychonaut Truman Zanotto, completing the mission from the end of the first game. Now he’s ready to become the full Psychonaut that he’s always dreamed to be. But once he and the crew arrive at the Mother Lobe things become a bit more bureucratic. Instead of jumping right into the shoes of a true Psychonaut you’ll have to work your way through the ranks of the interns. But as usual, there’s far more going on here than expected and Raz will need to use all of his psychic powers to rescue his friends, and perhaps the Psychnauts themselves.

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The first Psychonauts gained its rabid cult fanbase off of its effective platforming stages and its quirky, irreverent writing and characters. All of that returns in Psychonauts 2 with some modern enhancements and improvements to the core experience thrown in for good measure. Featuring a somewhat lengthy adventure with side quests, intriguing story developments, and Double Fine’s trademark writing and visual styling, fans of the first game are going to find themselves feeling like they’ve jumped right back to 2005 as soon as they boot up Psychonauts 2.

At least it will feel that way, but this is clearly a modern game in its design, and while players can expect a nostalgic feeling, this game can also stand on its own as a great 3D platforming adventure. While the story does play off of the previous games, and your connection to the characters will be much better if you’ve played them, it also does a good job of working for newcomers who might pick this sequel up to see what all the hype is about.

And that hype is well deserved with Psychonauts 2 delivering some truly amazing visual experiences as Raz explores the minds of various characters around the Psychonauts universe. The game doesn’t even take its time introducing you to its world beyond a short recap before tossing you right into the thick of things. Featuring worlds full of brains, disturbing thoughts, and teeth (which prompted a worrying phobia warning that I appreciated but also had to ignore in order to get this review done), each is unique and full of inventive ideas and charm.

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Whenever you feel like Psychonauts 2 may have run out of fresh ideas you’ll enter a new stage to find something totally unexpected and/or unique. This is mostly true in the visuals, which stretch from dank, moist brain matter to bright, colorful explosions of visual flavor. Exploring these stages is equally enjoyable, as they feature plenty of collectibles and side areas. As you do this you’ll have to wield Raz’s many psychic abilities, either to defeat enemies or navigate the stages.

This is where Psychonauts 2 could use a little more fine tuning, as the multitude of abilities contrasts with the fast and fun platforming. You can assign up to four powers to various buttons on the controller, which feels like it should be enough. And yet players will likely find themselves swapping powers more often than they’d like. This process takes you out of the immersive platforming fun, while also sort of becoming a confusing mess if you aren’t diligent about which power goes to which button. Since you’re swapping them out often, and stages will require the use of more than four abilities at different times, you can take damage or die due to hitting the wrong button or not having the right ability assigned at the time.

And that hype is well deserved with Psychonauts 2 delivering some truly amazing visual experiences

Some abilities are used for combat alongside Raz’s standard combo attack. This can create some interesting situations where you’re wielding different powers against each type of foe being thrown your way. However, there isn’t a ton of variety here in the long run, and typically you can get away with spamming certain attacks or finding other ways to cheese combat. The game sort of slows down when it becomes more combat focused, and there’s a sense of relief when they conclude and you can get back to exploring the platforming stages and figuring out the fun puzzles.

Psychonauts 2 can be a challenging game at some points, with bosses or swarms of enemies that can knock you out quickly. Thankfully though, Double Fine has included a good amount of toggle options to make things simpler if you prefer to just explore and have fun. So while the default difficulty might be a little high at various points, the game lets you choose whether to tackle that challenge or just breeze through to enjoy the characters, world, visuals, and story.

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And all of those things really are the stars of the show when it comes to Psychonauts 2. The characters from the first game are all back and as enjoyable as ever, even if some of them don’t have as much screen time as before. Most of the new characters also live up to the pedigree set by the first Psychonauts, though a few feel underdeveloped or somewhat cliche. The voice acting is once again top notch, as expected from Double Fine and this particular cast. The world is just as quirky and unique as before, with some fresh ideas layered on top to keep things interesting. The visuals may appear somewhat dated at some points, but the overall style and substance of the character and world design are fantastic. And the story is a solid continuation while developing this world more fully than it has been before.

The Verdict

Psychonauts 2 was a long time in the making, but the wait has certainly been worth it. Fans of the first game and its VR spinoff will feel right at home with this sequel while also finding a lot of new stuff to love. Anyone who has missed out on this series before can either jump right into this new adventure or use it as an excuse to check out what all the hype has been about these past 16 years. Either way they’ll find a fun and unique platformer that is full of charm and hilarious, but also heartwarming writing.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

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Psychonauts 2

  • Score: 4.5 / 5
  • Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
  • Published By: Xbox Game Studios
  • Developed By: Double Fine
  • Genre: Platformer
  • US Release Date: August 25th, 2021
  • Reviewed On: Xbox Series X
  • Quote: "Psychonauts 2 was a long time in the making, but the wait has certainly been worth it."
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