As a longtime fan of the original Psychonauts and its developer Double Fine Productions, Psychonauts 2 has proven to be everything that I hoped it would be. Despite this sequel coming about 16 years after the first installment, Double Fine has found a way to tap into the same energy and charm that made the franchise a cult classic in the first place. And in a time where 3D platformers are less common than they were in the early 2000s, Psychonauts 2 proves to be video game comfort food of the highest degree.
Psychonauts 2 picks up mere days after the events of the first game (and its spinoff, Rhombus of Ruin), which makes it very easy to jump into if you're a returning player. This also means that essentially every familiar face from last time around makes a return in some capacity. Rather than simply sticking with the same cast, though, Psychonauts 2 also introduces a number of new characters. Although there are some new characters that I liked quite a bit, not all of them get enough screen time to lead to you feeling strongly about them. This is the same for the returning characters, as well. While I enjoyed every character that did show up in Psychonauts 2, it almost suffers from having a more bloated cast than before.
Still, even with so many characters rotating in and out of the game, Double Fine's penchant for writing continues to shine through no matter who might be on-screen at a given moment. Tim Schafer has always been one of my favorite video game writers and his work (along with Erik Wolpaw) continues to shine here in Psychonauts 2. What made this game more impressive to me than previous Double Fine outings is that the story touches on some darker, more complex topics than normal. Humor permeates throughout almost every aspect of Psychonauts 2, but the throughline narrative itself is also far more serious at times than I would have anticipated. Double Fine does a great job of balancing these qualities as well so that the story never feels too aloof or grim at any one time.
On the gameplay front, Psychonauts 2 also continues to largely be quite similar to the last game, but with a larger scope. Raz has a number of abilities at his disposal that he can use for the dual purpose of combat and platforming. For the most part, I think all of these moves work especially well when it comes to platforming, as many of them synergize well with each other. One example of this comes in a level where Raz must navigate a number of obstacles by slowing down time, all while continuing to use other abilities like levitation and telekinesis to get around the world.
However, combat is perhaps the key pillar of Psychonauts 2 that I have to say I was never engaged by. Even though you have tools in your kit to fight off enemies in different ways, most engagements don't come with a lot of complexity or nuance, leading to them all playing out in the same fashion by just spamming basic attacks. Boss fights are the one saving grace of this, however, with most battles boasting some wonderfully unique ideas, both in presentation and gameplay execution.
Far and away the best aspect of Psychonauts 2 is its level design. This is perhaps the quality of the first game that fans loved the most and it continues to be a standout in the sequel. Psychonauts 2 features a multitude of levels that players will explore over the course of its roughly 15-hour play time, and in my own estimation, not a single one is boring. This is primarily because each world offers up a completely different theme and goal, which means that you never feel like you're doing the same thing twice.
In one world, you'll find Raz navigating a 1970s-inspired landscape in a hippie van so that he can get an old band back together. Another world will see you sailing around the world on a "boat" so that you can collect seeds to plant in massive bots. And another level will then throw out the platforming format almost entirely and will instead ask you to compete in a cooking challenge. The level design in Psychonauts 2 is so good that even the worst worlds in the game would be considered the highlight stages in other platformers.
Like any good game of its genre, Psychonauts 2 will also awaken your collector's itch, assuming that you're someone who likes to find everything that there is to offer. Although I don't think some of these levels are as fun to explore a second time around to pick up every object that you missed before, those who are looking for a good collectathon will find it here.
Psychonauts 2 also just oozes style in every way. If you haven't played a Double Fine game before, perhaps you're not familiar with this, but the studio almost always finds a way to craft unique worlds that are unlike anything else you'll see from video games. From the music, to the art style, to even the characters, everything within Psychonauts 2 has a distinct, zany tone. And despite being so off the wall, all of the game's different elements work together in great harmony to create something that is novel in every way.
As someone who has loved Psychonauts since I first played it over a decade ago, I cannot stress how much joy this sequel has brought me. If you're someone that also loves the original, I have a hard time believing that you won't enjoy this experience from beginning to end. And even if you're a newcomer who has been interested in Psychonauts 2 from afar, there is still more than enough here to keep you smiling from ear to ear on a regular basis. Psychonauts 2 is absolutely one of the best games so far in 2021 and serves as a fantastic example of why Xbox looked to purchase Double Fine in the first place.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Psychonauts 2 is set to release later this week on August 25th and will be coming to Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PC. A review code for Xbox was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox Series X.