Review : Psychonauts 2 : Instant Classic

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Awestruck. I spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to find the right word to summarize my experience with Psychonauts 2, but I kept coming back to awestruck.

The latest release from Double Fine, and the largest game they’ve ever created, certainly took the long road to release. There’s a lot of context to provide on its development history, but here are the basics. The original Psychonauts released in 2005 on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. But despite critical acclaim, it never saw mainstream success. Regardless, a core group of fans (myself included) continued to plead with Double Fine for a sequel in the years to come.

Then, when the opportunity arose to crowdfund with FIG, Studio Head Tim Schafer finally promised the sequel fans had been longing for. Believe it or not, that was nearly six years ago as it was fully funded in January of 2016. Then, during development, Double Fine agreed to be acquired by Xbox Game Studios, and, as Schafer himself has spoken to, it enabled the team to produce their full vision of what Psychonauts 2 could be.

With a history stretching back so far, I am pleased to begin by saying the humor, personality, charm, and even the characters you love from the original are all back in the sequel. Capturing that essence was essential, and I’m pleased to report that fans of the original have nothing to worry about.

You assume the role of Raz at the beginning of his journey to Psychonauts headquarters and are immediately thrown into a mission that will re-familiarize you with, and introduce new players to, the zaniness of the franchise. After learning of a conspiracy within the Psychonauts, you set out on the long journey to discover the truth.

Psychonauts HQ acts as your central hub, and from there you will journey to a handful of “real-world” locations alongside the many brains you’ll enter along the way. I found the HQ endearing as it contained a wealth of small touches and easter eggs that added personality to the world. As you progress, you’ll also unlock several fast travel points that make navigating back and forth simple. You’re also able to revisit any brain you’ve entered before thanks to the “collective unconscious”, which is just the Psychonauts way of saying “fast travel.”

It becomes apparent near immediately that this game is going to be special. The first, full mission you play through features a casino with a number of rooms representing different aspects of gambling. It’s not only a visual treat, but features inventive platforming, hilarious conversations, and new concepts that further add to the idea of being in someone’s mind. This culminates with a major boss battle that naturally plays along the same aesthetic.

What I didn’t realize at the time of course, is that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps what amazes me most about Psychonauts 2 is the sheer amount of creativity, variety, and quality within each consecutive level. As you progress through the game, you continue to say to yourself “Wow, that was amazing. How is it going to top that?” And then it does. And does again. And again. You see where this is going, so let me put it this way. I’ve been gaming for nearly forty years (oof), and there are very few platformers, or even games, that have put a smile on my face as continually as Psychonauts 2.

What makes the levels so special is a combination of factors. The creativity on display is staggering, and this is further highlighted by a surprisingly gorgeous presentation. Psychonauts always had a unique art direction, but playing on the Xbox Series X in 4K/60fps with HDR brought to life visuals and lighting that were far beyond what I expected.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that the majority of the levels are actually a character’s mind, and each pays homage to that concept in every facet. From the characters within and the conversations you’ll have with them, to the figment designs and the music, no detail is overlooked in creating the psyche of each brain you enter. Each mind is a spectacle in its own right, and I was continually astonished by what was presented in front of me. And then, there’s the writing.

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Double Fine games have always been known for their humor and charm, and Psychonauts 2 certainly carries that torch forward ablaze. As Raz, you’ll interact with many different characters along the way, each with a unique personality and their own story to tell. Many of these interactions, particularly the ones you’ll have within the various minds, will have you smiling ear to ear. They manage to be funny and witty without coming off as corny or disingenuous, which is no small task. Characters are brought to life by stellar voice-acting across the board, and the majority of the actors from the first game reprise their roles as well.

Raz’s family of acrobats also plays a key role in the story, which means you’ll experience levels and interactions directly relating to Raz and his siblings. This adds another layer of charm, particularly for fans of the original.

As you progress, you’ll rank up your Psychonaut power and unlock new abilities which again are represented as badges. There are returning abilities from the first game, along with a handful of new ones, which allow you to approach combat and traversal in many different ways. You can also supplement your abilities with numerous different pins which act as modifiers. It’s not incredibly complex, but it adds a layer of progression and customization to the game. Perhaps the funniest new addition is Projection which allows you to create a paper version of yourself that acts as a sidekick while providing witty commentary.

Perhaps what surprised me the most by the end of the game were the more serious narrative threads weaved throughout. While the game will have you laughing continuously along the way, there’s a deeper human element here as well. At its core, Psychonauts 2 is a story about regret, forgiveness, friendship, and love. The way it manages to mix an important message on mental health with charm and humor is akin to some of the best animated movies.

Fortunately, the act of playing Psychonauts 2 is just as enjoyable as the rest of the game. Movement is precise and fluid, and I had no issues at all navigating the often vast, vertical environments. Save for a few, very minor texture pop-ins on occasion, I also experienced no performance issues. The journey is longer than I expected, taking me about 25 hours to complete my playthrough. As of this writing, I’ve also 100%ed the game which added a few more hours. After you beat the game, you are free to continue journeying, and you should as there are some fun conversations and things to discover once the story is complete.

Through the years, there have been several platformers that rise above all others; classics that we put on pedestals as the best in the genre. I always felt that Psychonauts was on that cusp, as well as being one of my personal favorites. With Psychonauts 2, Double Fine has firmly planted down a pedestal of their own, creating one of the best platformers of all-time. I’ll take it a step further and say they’ve created one of the best games in recent memory. It is an utter joy from start to finish, and the largest complaint I can muster it is that it ends.

There are games that come along once in a while that feel like a breath of fresh air; that take us back to the core of what gaming is all about. They remind us why we adore these pieces of entertainment. Psychonauts 2 provides that magic. I’m not sure what Double Fine is creating next, but I’m waiting with baited breath. And I really hope we don’t have to wait another 16 years to revisit this world again.

Final Verdict: 9.5

Fun Factor: 10
Technical Prowess: 8
Time Investment: 20+ Hours
Replayability: 6

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By Ainsley Bowden (Porshapwr)

Founder of SeasonedGaming.com, avid game collector and enthusiast since the Atari 2600 era. You can find me online or on Twitter as Porshapwr as well. Thanks for checking out Seasoned Gaming!

One Comment

  • Absolutely spot on review Ains, it’s a fantastic game from start to finish. I just hope Tim and the rest of the Double Fine crew will gift us gamers another entry in this amazing franchise sooner rather than later!

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