Psychonauts 2 Review
The wait has been enough to drive a person crazy, but Psychonauts 2 is finally available to play. The beloved indie darling has lost none of its charm being developed by a now fully-fledged Microsoft studio. Instead, it’s a must-play platformer that justifies itself over and over again.
Because realistically, a sequel to Psychonauts could have been a disaster. Reviving any classic is tough, especially when there was only ever one entry. But Double Fine have succeeded, and we’re all winners for it.
In many ways the idea is more relevant than ever. Conversations about mental health are far more common than they were a decade or more ago.
And so while we pick up where we left off, Raz and company exist in a very different world. But it’s a world that’s better for their return.
All In the Mind
Psychonauts 2 is a platform game with a difference. It feels like a mix between Banjo Kazooie, Grim Fandango and Ratchet and Clank. There are things to collect, puzzles to solve and baddies to bash, all using a selection of mental powers that you can unlock and upgrade. But it’s also unlike anything else on the market. It’s stylish and pretty, colourful and creative – and it’s written with the kind of trademark zing almost exclusive to Double Fine.
Like our brains, it’s inconsistent, bouncing from idea to idea in ways that are wacky and unexpected. This is not a game where you learn the ropes in the first 10 minutes then proceed to do that same thing over and over for 15 hours. Cutscenes are not the only reward for a long journey, but the journey itself is just as important.
All of this is glowing praise, but every sentence could easily describe something strange and overwhelming. Perhaps there’s comfort in a predictable gameplay loop. A lot of the biggest titles seem to lean heavily into the surprises coming in the form of plot. Psychonauts 2 has that too, but it has more.
At its most simple, this is a game of two halves. You have hub worlds where you can interact with main characters, take part in side missions, spend money. Then there are levels set entirely inside people’s brains. These are surreal and strange, and each one is completely different.
It’s this feeling of never really knowing what will happen next that drives Psychonauts 2 forwards. It helps that it’s just really good fun.
Joining the Psychonauts
Because with all the good will in the world, a game that tries to be different still needs to be a game. Fans of the original will feel right at home, and even if you never played it (or played it nearly 20 years ago) there’s a decent catch-up that covers both Psychonauts and Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin.
One of the things that impressed me the most was that it feels so much like the original game actually. It’s smoother, the design is more modern, and yet it is inarguably in the same vein. Double Fine would’ve been forgiven – or maybe not – if they’d turned this into something completely different, completely modern, especially considering they were funding it themselves to begin with. I don’t think it would have been well-recieved, but I would have understood it.
That they’ve managed to make it so familiar and yet so modern might speak for how ahead of its time the original was, or perhaps to the skill of the developers. I don’t know. But it’s easy to notice. It’s also easy to notice that it runs at 60FPS or even 120FPS depending on your graphical setting, a fact that is very much appreciated by those of us with sets that support it.
The plot is interesting enough, mostly because of the style in which it’s delivered and the strength of its dialogue. This includes conversations with other characters, which are often funny and revealing. I haven’t felt as keen on a world like this since Grim Fandango.
Graphics and Sound
It’s actually surprising to see how beautiful Psychonauts 2 has turned out. It’s incredibly stylised. That means it’ll usually become appreciated in a decade, when everything we’re drooling over today looks funny and outdated. Not here though. It stands on its own two feet throughout, offering up breath-taking level design and characters at every turn. I’m going to go out on a limb and say HDR is essential here – unfortunate news for those who don’t own a Series X or S.
And on top of that it’s cross-gen – which shouldn’t make a difference, but you know how people are.
This game proves that Double Fine have it in them to be a graphical go-to. They might never put out stuff that puts them in the same breath as Naughty Dog – that’s just not their style – but I think future games from the studio are going to be well worth playing, visually. Your OLED will thank you.
Voice acting is very strong and fits into the world well. This is the sort of game that can be made by its voice cast. There are no worries here at all.
In fact, the whole audio side of things is probably well above average. For a type of game that doesn’t really exist, Psychonauts 2 repeatedly proves why that’s a crying shame.
Psychonauts 2 Review – Conclusion
Double Fine is back. It was great to see their logo pop up in front of smaller titles and think back on the glory days of LucasArts. But Psychonauts 2 is a reminder of just what they’re capable of. And with Microsoft money behind them, watch this space.
This is an incredible adventure – perhaps one of the few true adventure games of recent years. And while its dedication to surprise might not be for everybody, it’s a breath of fresh air. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 15 years to feel this way again.
A review code was provided by Microsoft.