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August 2022

Psychonauts 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2021


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Xbox Series X|S Review - 'Psychonauts 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 23, 2021 @ 10:00 a.m. PDT

In Psychonauts 2, Raz fulfills his dreams and visit the Psychonauts Headquarters as a fully established agent. When he gets there, he finds it's not the perfect place he expected, and he quickly realizes that the Psychonauts need him more than he needs them.

Buy Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts is one of my favorite platformers of all time. It might not have the pedigree of a Mario or Sonic title, but it has a whole lot of heart. It's a quirky, funny, creative game that seemed doomed to obscurity, but here we are a decade later, and the little game that could is getting a full-fledged sequel. It's always a danger to return to something so long after the last release, but Psychonauts 2 succeeds. In pretty much every way, it's the true sequel that Psychonauts fans have been waiting for.

Psychonauts 2 has us rejoining Raz directly after the ending of The Rhombus of Ruin. He and the other Psychonauts successfully rescued the captured head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, who is in a coma and can't say exactly who kidnapped him. Raz's repeated heroics haven't yet earned him a place in the Psychonauts, just entry into the intern program. This leaves everyone's favorite big-headed, goggle-wearing hero to discover who betrayed the Psychonauts before it's too late. Now if only he can stop getting pranked by his fellow interns....

At its core, Psychonauts is a darn good comedy. Not every joke lands, but it's funny far more often than it isn't, with the humor largely built around the wacky world and characters. It's the sort of story that uses the lighthearted humor to make the semi-serious moments hit harder. Psychonauts 2 sometimes errs on the side of being too forgiving but in a largely positive way. The theme of the game is that everyone has flaws and demons and needs support to overcome them. Its central focus is empathy and caring, and that's deeply welcome in this day and age. The dark edge and sense of humor from the first game is still present in the sequel, but it still achieves the fine balance of being appropriate for kids. Aside from one or two moments, it's no darker than a Disney movie, and the humor is well suited for younger gamers.

The child-friendly nature of the game might be the only thing that might turn off some people. It's not simplistic or childish, but there are more fart and snot jokes than a '90s Nickelodeon show. If you love that sort of comedy, you'll feel right at home, but if you feel uncomfortable with a giant, sentient container of urine or using burps to avoid obstacles, then this might not be the right fit. Additionally, if you have any sort of dental trauma, the first level will probably give you nightmares.

Overall, Psychonauts is charming and fun in an honest way. The characters are simple and likeable, the emotions are genuine, and the humor is often laugh-out-loud funny. I think the setting is slightly less engaging than in the first game, but that is simply because "psychic summer camp filled with wacky kids" flows better, while the Psychonauts HQ isn't quite as cohesive. Beyond that, it feels just as strong as the first game in terms of characters and humor.

The core gameplay hasn't changed particularly much. Psychonauts 2 is a platformer/collect-a-thon title that was far more common a decade ago. The bulk of the time is spent in and around the Motherlobe, which serves as the hub area where you meet characters, complete side-quests, and find the collectibles that increase Raz's Psychic Ranking — and power up his psychic powers. This is punctuated by trips into the mental constructs of various wacky characters who live there.

The mental constructs are one of the areas where Psychonauts stands head and shoulders above most other platformers. Each stage is distinctive and tremendously interesting. One has you going through an acid trip through the five senses, while another is a mind-bending trip through a character's entire history as told via "It's A Small World." I don't want to spoil any of the twists because half the fun of the game is discovery, but I found each stage to be memorable and delightful.

Psychonauts 2 is the textbook definition of solid platforming. The one thing I changed was swapping the controls to the setting that causes you to float if you press the jump button three times and instantly convert to your rolling Levitation Ball if you do it four times. Without doing that, you're basically obligated to keep one of your four precious PSI power buttons locked at all times. Once I did that and got past the slight learning curve of not mashing the jump button wildly, it felt comfortably smooth.

The only downside of exploring in Psychonauts 2 is that the viable paths to explore are not always clearly communicated (usually in the outdoors areas). It can be difficult to tell where exploration stops and invisible walls end, especially since it sometimes looks like a reasonable path. This is amplified by the fact that some secrets are hidden behind jumps that are impassable in other places. It doesn't ruin the game by any means, but it made it a little less fun to hunt for secrets.

What would a Psychonaut be without psychic powers? Raz has already completed his basic braining in the first game, so he's more than prepared for the challenges of the sequel. Most of the big powers from the first game make a comeback, including Levitation, PSI Blast, Pyrokinesis, and everyone's favorite, Clairvoyance. For the most part, they work very similarly to how they did in the first game, if admittedly at their base power level. However, each ability has its own cooldown (and PSI Blast no longer has ammo requirements), which makes it much easier to use them in conjunction with one another.

New to the game are a handful of additional psychic powers. Mental Connections lets Raz use a grappling hook to specific "stray thought" markers or enemies in combat. Time Slow allows Raz to slow down (or with certain badges, speed up) items and enemies. Perhaps the most distinctive power is Archetype, which lets Raz make a tiny little 2D cartoon version of himself that chitters cheerfully while it runs around and can be ordered through tight spaces to open otherwise impassible doors.

The new powers are fun, but with the exception of Time Slow, they are situational. Archetype is funny but exists to open certain doors, so while it can be a nice distraction in combat, it rarely paid off to waste a PSI slot on it instead of a direct combat power. Mental Connections is useful in combat, but its use outside of it is limited to specific areas. Perhaps more disappointingly, the gimmick that it is used with only exists in a single mindscape, but the plot provides a reason for this. Most of the time, I stuck to the reliable powers from the original game and Time Slow.

Combat is still a basic by-the-numbers experience, but that is far from bad. Each psychic power has different effects on different enemies, and figuring out the best way to handle a situation is important to beating foes without taking a ton of damage. For example, Telekinesis can be used to throw things at enemies or steal an enemy's weapon, but sometimes, you can't actually hit the enemy until you've slowed them down first. Pyrokinesis takes time to charge but can stun enemies with the power of being on fire, leaving them vulnerable to your psychic fists.

Psychonauts 2 is a good example of how strong art design can go a long way. The game has an intentionally ugly-cute art style that is charming and memorable and allows them to go wild with character designs and psychic worlds. Some of the textures are a little ugly up close, but they're easily ignored when you're skipping through the insane world that stands before you. The music is also pretty excellent, with a huge variety of different tunes that exist to set the mood. What really makes the game stand out is the voice acting. The voice cast is excellent and captures the Saturday-morning cartoon feel of the game well. The voice work and acting carries huge chunks of the humor, and if it weren't as great as it is, the game wouldn't be half as funny as it is.

In pretty much every possible way, Psychonauts 2 is a direct sequel to the first game. It's perhaps prettier and more polished than it would have been if it had come out a decade ago, but the feel and tone are spot-on. It probably won't change your mind if the original Psychonauts didn't capture your heart. If it did, though, Psychonauts 2 is a charming, funny and incredibly welcome visit with some old friends. The gameplay is sometimes too straightforward for its own good, but everything else more than makes up for it. If you're looking for a charming platformer with its own style and sense of humor, Psychonauts 2 delivers in spades. Here's hoping it won't be another decade before we see another entry in the series.

Score: 9.0/10

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