Review – Psychonauts 2
Double Fine’s Psychonauts first captured our attention and our hearts back when it released in 2005. Many fans (myself included) just couldn’t get enough of plucky Razputin Aquato or his quirky classmates and professors at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. Psychonauts brought us a 3D platforming adventure unlike any other, with creativity and humor seeping out of every pore. Fans were ravenous for more mind-bending action and thought a sequel would be in the works right away. Well, we didn’t get one as quickly as we had hoped, nor in the form we were expecting. In 2017 we were presented with the VR title, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, which was an incredibly short first-person puzzle solving adventure, which was met with mixed reviews. The true sequel, Psychonauts 2, finally released a whopping sixteen years after the first. This left us all wondering, would it be worth the wait?
Psychonauts 2 picks up right after the events of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, and by that I mean immediately after it. Being a Psychonauts game, the whole thing is presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner, with Raz even making comments upon revisiting the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp that he hasn’t been there in days, an obvious nod to the fact that we’ve been waiting for sixteen years to revisit this world. That sort of self-aware humor is woven in throughout the whole game, but not obnoxiously so. Don’t worry, there’s still all the zany shenanigans and satirical commentary in Psychonauts 2 that we’ve come to know and love.
For those who may not have played Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, here’s a brief synopsis. Following the events in the first Psychonauts game, Raz, his fellow cadet Lili, and their professors are called upon to save Truman Zanotto, the Grand Head of the Psychonauts who is also Lili’s father. Raz discovers that Truman is being held in a facility in a dangerous section of the ocean known as the Rhombus of Ruin. After being captured, Raz frees himself and everyone else, and then discovers that ex-dentist, Dr. Loboto, is behind the kidnapping of Truman Zanotto. Dr. Loboto has a change of heart and reveals that he was tasked by someone else to abduct Truman. They manage to save Truman and escape the base, with the game ending as their on their way back to the Psychonaut Headquarters, the Motherlobe.
As stated earlier, Psychonauts 2 picks up right where Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin leaves off. Raz enters the mind of Dr. Loboto to learn who hired him to capture Truman Zanotto, but he finds that there are impenetrable security measures in place within his mind that prevent Dr. Loboto from revealing the truth. However, Raz sees a vision of a woman in Dr. Loboto’s mind, which Sasha identifies as Maligula, an evil and highly powerful psychic with power over water, who destroyed Raz’s homeland before being killed by the Psychic Six. They discover that Maligula might have been resurrected through necromancy, and it’s up to the Psychonauts to stop her once more.
Psychonauts 2 plays pretty much the same as the first game, with players controlling Raz and using a host of psychic abilities to defeat enemies and get past obstacles. However, the platforming aspects of the game have been vastly improved since the original, coming as close to a perfect 3D platforming experience as your likely to find anywhere. The camera is actually reliable most of the time and I had only a couple instances when it went a little haywire trying to navigate around the environment. The controls are tight and highly responsive, which is always appreciated in any sort of platformer. If I missed a jump, it was due to an error on my part and not the game’s fault.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Raz’s psychic abilities that he learned in the first game were still present in his repertoire. Most games have the protagonist needing to relearn their abilities in order to progress the story and get past specific barriers. Psychonauts 2 on the other hand, maintains the continuity of Raz going on this adventure mere days after graduating from the Psychic Summer Camp. Just about all of his powers from the first game are present, with less popular abilities like Confusion and Invisibility being omitted. Psychonauts 2 manages to keep the game feeling fresh by further enhancing those abilities and offering new ones, such as Mental Connections and Time Bubbles. I loved how well integrated each power was with the game and had a blast playing around with all of them.
My one issue with the game was with the combat. It’s not that the combat is unfair or overly complicated. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s somewhat boring, especially in the beginning when you’re mostly fighting waves of Censors. It does get a bit better later on when more enemy types are introduced, many of them requiring specific powers in order to defeat them. That’s when the combat feels a bit more fun and varied, especially with having to strategize which enemies to take out first and which abilities to swap out. I will say that the targeting system when using your powers is occasionally unreliable, which does lead to some frustrating moments.
Luckily, the issues with combat don’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. Psychonauts 2 is an absolute delight from start to finish. Like the first game, there are a ton of things to find and collect, which further enriches the experience. Some of the collectibles remain the same as the first game, such as the Figments, Emotional Baggage, and Memory Vaults, but others have vanished like the Mental Cobwebs, Psychic Arrowheads, and Golden Question Marks. However, these have been replaced by different (and arguably more clever) collectibles, such as Half-a-Minds and Nuggets of Wisdom. You won’t need to find everything in order to finish the game, but the more you locate, the more experience you’ll get, which is used to further upgrade your abilities.
As was the case in the first game, Psychonauts 2 centers around Raz entering people’s minds. While the first game took a more comical approach to the bizarre nature of every individual’s minds you explore, Psychonauts 2 went in a surprisingly more mature direction. Psychonauts touched on various mental illnesses, such as paranoia, obsession, and mood swings, but presented them in a more lighthearted fashion. That being said, Psychonauts never brushed off the seriousness of these afflictions, but rather kept the tone a bit jovial.
Psychonauts 2 on the other hand, tackled some far more serious topics like addiction, alcoholism, and self-acceptance. I was truly impressed by how respectfully the themes of mental illness were handled in this game. Many games have tried and failed to represent these issues in the past (What Happened, Twelve Minutes, and The Suicide of Rachel Foster come to mind), but I didn’t expect to be so thoroughly moved by personal struggles and inner demons so much in a game where you also enter a game show that has you cooking its audience members. The levity is still abound in Psychonauts 2, but it also conveys some really important messages about various mental health conditions and coming to terms with them. Don’t worry, you can still roast squirrels though.
The level design in Psychonauts 2 is utterly fantastic. Each mind you enter has its own unique theme and setup, with no gimmick being repeated aside from collecting things. Every level feels completely different from one another, both in looks and gameplay. One level has you navigating labyrinths of teeth and gums, another ferries you along in an “It’s a Small World” styled boat ride, while another has you rolling a massive bowling ball through city rooftops a la Super Monkey Ball. No two levels feel the same and they’re all masterfully designed.
Even the enemy designs are better this time around. Yes, you still have the Censors, which comprise most of the fights in the earlier levels, but there are a lot more types in Psychonauts 2. They also better represent various mental hurdles. For example: Regrets fly around and throw weights at you, Doubts release an ooze that slows you down, Enablers protect and add buffs to enemies, and Bad Ideas which hurl balls of electricity at you. These new enemy types are not only a lot more fun to engage in combat, but they have a more significant meaning to their presence as well.
Not only are the character and environmental designs more refined in Psychonauts 2, but the visuals as a whole are truly stunning. It retains the same cartoony look as the first game, but the level of detail in everything is insane. Even just looking at Raz, who is wearing the same outfit as before, you can tell an immediate difference in quality. You can differentiate the types of fabrics in his clothes from the textures and see the imperfections in his goggles when the light hits them. The colors are richer and more saturated, the outlines of characters are smoother, and the lighting is more dynamic. It also runs at a stable 60fps, which is impressive for the amount of detail and business going on at all times.
The sound design is also superb in every way. The whole cast from the first game is back to reprise their roles and they are all just as hilarious and amazing as before. There’s also some new talent added to the roster, such as Jack Black, Audrey Wasilewski, Kimberly Brooks, and Rikki Simons, all of whom are wonderful. I won’t lie, hearing Richard Steven Horvitz and Rikki Simons teamed up again stirred up some wonderful nostalgia from the good old days of Invader Zim.
The soundtrack is incredible as well. Each level has its own song which perfectly fits their theme. Most of the tunes have just that right balance of uptempo zaniness along with the distinct melodies to set the stage for each mind. There are also some somber and more melancholy tunes for the more serious moments, which add to the weight of those moments. Jack Black even created an original song just for the game, which can be heard in the psychedelic music festival level. It’s an amazing song too and I’m not just saying that because of how big a fan I am of him. He created something truly beautiful and touching.
Everything about Psychonauts 2 is praiseworthy. I absolutely adore the first Psychonauts and consider it one of my all time favorites. Yet, somehow, this sequel not only managed to retain everything that was great about the original, but also improved upon it in every way. The sound design and graphics are better, the gameplay is smoother and offers more variety, and the level designs are expertly done. On top of all that, it touches on deeper issues with mental health and handles it in an incredibly respectful way, all while still being hilarious and delightful to play. Psychonauts 2 is not just a rare example of a sequel that delivers an experience to rival or outperform its predecessor, it’s truly a masterpiece in its own right.
Psychonauts 2 retains the classic cartoony look of the characters and environments, while simultaneously adding an impressive amount of realism to its details, textures, and lighting effects.
The platforming aspects have been vastly improved upon from the first game and are as close to perfect as you can get in a 3D platformer. The combat can at times feel a bit bland and the targeting system is occasionally unreliable.
This keeps all of the same tunes, sound effects, and voice talent as before, but even better.
Despite a few small issues with its combat, Psychonauts 2 is an insanely great time.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Psychonauts 2 is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.