It’s here! It’s actually fucking here! After playing it in a state of slow, giddy realization, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that the much-awaited sequel to Psychonauts not only actually exists and wasn’t just a particularly amazing dream I had during a drug-induced coma, I even got to play it early!
A whole 16 years ago (when I was barely 7), Psychonauts, the debut title from Tim Schafer’s (from LucasArts fame) Double Fine Studios came out… to little success. In fact, though it was critically well-received, the masses must just not have been ready for the genius on display with this gem of a game, leading to not only meager sales but also such severe losses for the publisher Majesco Entertainment that they were forced to yeet themselves to the casual gaming scene (the horror!) with games like Cooking Mama and Kinect titles until finally quitting entirely out of the video game market.
Thankfully, over time people gave the niche little platformer with its weird art style a chance, and Psychonauts has since become a cult classic, even being touted as one of the greatest of all time (or to put it in slang, it’s def been goated yo). When I finally tried it out as an up-and-coming game enthusiast more than half a decade ago, Psychonauts with its zany unique characters, brilliant psychological exploration of said characters through gameplay, and the bizarre clay-like art style was one of the first titles that opened my eyes to the potential of the very art form of videogames.
Fast forward to now, what was first merely a scrapped idea for a dream sequence in Full Throttle has gotten a glorious sequel all these years later owing to public support and a crowdfunding campaign through Fig, and boy am I ecstatic to be here for it! Without further ado, let’s get into the brilliance that is Psychonauts 2.
Like It Was Just Yesterday
While 16 years may have passed since the last game, here on the dreary spherical rock we call home, for Raz and crew it’s in fact only been a couple of days. Psychonauts 2 barely skips a beat, picking up right where the first one left off all those memories ago.
For those who (understandably) may not recall, circus-runaway Raz has just saved the trainees of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, preventing the nefarious Coach Oleander and the insane ex-dentist Dr. Loboto from harvesting the campers’ brains to power an army of psychic death tanks. However, it’s no happily-ever-after, right at the end the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto is kidnapped!
What’s that? You remember none of that, you say? Oh, you never even played the first one? Well, I highly recommend you do so – thanks to its bizarrely charming style-over-fidelity visuals, Psychonauts passes the test of time and still surprisingly holds up to this day. While you don’t have to have played the first one to enjoy Psychonauts 2 (there’s a fun little recap right at the start that’ll definitely do a good job catching you up to where we’re at), there are admittedly quite a few references to the events of the first game and some of the character reveals will definitely hit harder if you’ve experienced the first one. Plus, as of me typing this out in my boxers, it’s currently on sale for literally ₹36! Heck, just hit me up, I’ll gift it to you!
Getting back to the story, it starts off simple enough – while on a plane (a nod to Inception perhaps?) to the Psychonauts Headquarters, you and the crew delve into the deranged mind of Dr. Loboto in an attempt to figure out who he was working for and the purpose for which Zanotto was kidnapped. What begins in a boring office setting is soon flipped on its head – literally, in a classic Psychonauts sequence, the perspective is played with as much as your heart was by your ex – when Dr. Loboto susses out that there are intruders in his mind, and thus does his best to mess with you.
Soon after, you learn that there’s a mole in the Psychonauts, and I’ll leave the rest for you to discover. While I wasn’t exactly sure where the story was going during the first few hours, it soon picks up nearing the halfway point and from there on out, I had my eyes glued to the screen, fingers to the controller, absolutely mesmerized by the incredibly engaging storytelling on display. Trust me (a random reiewer), it’s a hell of a ride with multiple twists and great character moments along the way, all coming together beautifully by the end to a very satisfying, worthwhile conclusion, all the while hammering home the theme of empathy. I will note, however, that the very last boss battle with the big bad was slightly underwhelming after all that build-up!
Returning to the characters, the world, and most of all, the weird vibes of the original after so long might’ve proven to be a challenge in the hands of a less capable developer, but the glorious vision of Tim Schafer and the gang over at Double Fine has somehow remained so perfectly intact through the years that that unique, indelible spirit of Psychonauts is undeniably back and better than ever. They’ve somehow managed to capture the genie back in the bottle with this title, it honestly had me transported back to the specific Psychonauts vibe we know and love almost immediately like those 16 years never even happened – nothing is lost to the sands of time.
In case you don’t want any more of the story spoiled (I don’t blame you, you’ve waited long enough not to be spoiled by over-revealing reviews), I suggest you skip this section, but I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible worldbuilding and oh baby, the sweet, sweet LORE that Psychonauts 2 confidently brings to the table.
I was honestly astonished as to how much of the history of the Psychonauts is illuminated upon in this story – from the very events that led to the formation of the Psychic Six and the Psychonauts in the first place, to who they, as well as the mysterious villain ever are, to the watershed moment at the root of Raz’s undying aspiration to finally become a Psychonaut, and even the reason behind the Aquato family being hydrophobic – all of this and more is brought to light with a deft, confident hand to make an extremely rewarding experience, especially for longtime fans. Believe you me, it’s worth the (insanely long) wait!
The only real criticism I have with the narrative is with the pacing – at many points, there are quite a few long cutscenes stacked upon each other, separated by criminally short gameplay sections that give you back control of the characters only to take it back literal minutes later, leaving you to twiddle your thumbs and watch the interesting stuff unfold rather than play them. This is for the most part a mere nitpick – worry not, there are numerous long stretches of gameplay and even the cutscene-heavy parts of the game are quite easy to sit through thanks to the compelling story and characters, not to mention the excellent writing and classic Psychonauts humor. The music is exceptional as always and the stellar voice cast from the original – from Richard Horvitz as Raz to David Kaye as Ford Cruller – is also back leading to fun, captivating performances, with an additional notable performance by Jack Black as let’s say, a Brain in a Jar.
The scope of the narrative is as grand in scale as it is profoundly personal to the characters, and the starring characters this time around are nothing short of extremely interesting. This same sense of scale is also reflected in the overall structure of Psychonauts 2 – while it’s mostly linear in the beginning and towards the end, there is a decent amount of non-linearity and a generous invitation to just explore the game world and delve into some side-quests or collect-a-thon activities in the middle of this delectable sandwich. I encourage you to take your sweet time with this one! The 13 or so hours it takes to beat the main story flies by in the blink of an eye.
The main draw of Psychonauts 2, the elevator pitch that would instantly get any sane person immediately interested or at the very least intrigued by it, is, as with the original, the insanely cleverly designed mental worlds of each of the characters. If you’ve been living under a AAA rock for the past decade and a half, the gist of it is that each major level in Psychonauts 2 is a large, unique setpiece set within the psyche of a character, bursting to the seams with creativity.
The level design in Psychonauts has always been in a league of its own, second to no other game I can really think of (who can forget the iconic Milkman Conspiracy level or the hard-to-forget – but maybe for the wrong reasons – Meat Circus level?), until now with the sequel. Yup, I’m ecstatic to report that Psychonauts 2 manages to surpass its predecessor in sheer creativity and the number of varied, interesting mindscapes to explore!
Not only is each level distinctly memorable and a blast to platform through, being the literal representation of a pivotal character’s psyche, they also directly work to benefit the characterization and narrative of the game. The environmental story-telling is genuinely off the charts, and as the narrative influences the level design, so does the environmental story-telling bolster the gameplay, each offering a fresh new interesting mechanic to experience!
Honestly, each level is a joy to discover as you’ll never know what to expect (thanks to the widely varied characters) – from playing in a life-size pinball machine to exploring a trippy, psychedelic landscape, to sailing through a mini-planet a la The Little Prince looking for bottles to dive into, to racing against the clock in a competitive cooking show (this one being my absolute favorite). Almost every level switches things up in a meaningful way to reflect that character’s specific mental demons.
Pushing The Right Buttons
Each of these beautifully, thoughtfully designed mindscapes are navigated by the fluid, fun platforming which Psychonauts 2 further polishes and builds upon the first Psychonauts. Forget the platforming, just movement alone is a joy with the very satisfying Levitation ability that summons a psychic ball for Raz to run on.
The platforming is for the most part pretty solid, however, there were times where I felt they weren’t as precise as needed and that, plus my own lack of depth perception made a couple of points annoying to get through. Still, Psychonauts 2 is super generous with its checkpoints so it never became frustrating.
A few of the other psychic abilities from the first one make a return as well – Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, Psi Blast, and Clairvoyance – along with a few interesting new ones: the Time Bubble, Mental Connection, and Astral Projection. The latter two are mostly used for exploration while the others are all integral to the combat.
Speaking of combat, Psychonauts is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor – you can no longer just spam the attack/dodge combo to mow through enemies, instead, each enemy is weak to a certain PSI ability which ideally should force you to make full use of your arsenal.
Sadly, the game is for the most part pretty easy to get through even if you don’t use the specific weaknesses against each enemy type, especially once you get the TIme Bubble ability which instantly makes not just combat but even a lot of the platforming laughably easy. If that wasn’t easy enough for you, there’s also an Invincibility toggle in the Settings if you want to just breeze through the story.
A Completionist’s Dream
Even after the 12-14 hours it takes to roll credits including the side missions, there are a bunch of collectibles to seek for your inner completionist cravings. From Emotional Baggages to clear, to the story-serving Memory Vaults to the Half-a-Minds that increase your max health, to the hundreds of unique Figments of Imagination littered throughout every level, Psychonauts 2 will keep you occupied exploring each level to the fullest (as they deserve!).
Just the breadth of creativity here boggles the mind – where Ubisoft games have you repeating the same annoying busy-work at different points in the map, Psychonauts embraces you with hundreds upon hundreds of clever, cute, and interesting unique Figments of Imagination that align thematically to each level! The amount of meticulous care and, word of the day, creativity here honestly puts every AAA open-world game out there to shame.
Apart from that, there’s also a fun photo mode to mess around with, ability upgrades to max out (which were wholly unnecessary since the game is pretty easy), and ‘pins’ that customize the look of your abilities (the color of your levitation ball for example), which are a neat addition that some will definitely appreciate. Plus, the levels are even slightly different post-game as the characters themselves have changed, so they’re worth re-exploring!
What more is there to say? Psychonauts 2 is an absolute master-class in creativity, features solid gameplay, and tells an excellent, rewarding story about relatable human struggles and the uber-importance of empathy, complete with twists and turns that’ll keep you engaged till the credits, unfortunately inevitably roll.
The absolute synergy between the narrative, level design, and gameplay is truly an experience to be cherished and in my humble opinion, a brilliant showcase as to what the medium of videogames has to offer. I loved it while playing it and have only come to love it more reflecting on and writing about it. It is honestly the epitome of great game design and I’ll say it, barring a sudden surprise release by Ghost Story Games or something of that magnitude, Psychonauts 2 is most definitely my game of the year.
Disclaimer: The review code was provided to us by the publisher Microsoft without any riders